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What if they got what they want?

For the past two weeks, almost every news article about Mormonism has focused on the impending disciplinary councils of two of our members. The media would normally take no interest at all in these cases were it not for the value they present in maintaining a liberal, secular narrative that the Church is backward, rigid, and intolerant because it refuses to ordain women to the priesthood or allow gays to marry.

Kate Kelly leads protesters at LDS General Conference
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Redefining Priesthood

Kate Kelly was the founder of Ordain Women, a small group of feminists who sought to force the Church to redefine priesthood. Kelly is an “international human rights lawyer” and a graduate of American University. She was a rebel without a cause. In a world where one of the major religions stones women to death for not wearing a burka and practices female “circumcision,” Kelly decided to turn on her own faith and try to correct it's course.

Kelly gathered a small group of like-minded women who staged various events to try to embarrass the Church into allowing women into the General Priesthood Meetings of the Church in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Although the facility seats some 21,000, seating is still limited. The Church's priesthood is numbered in the millions and most of the priesthood watched the proceedings by a closed satellite television. The Church responded by making the usually closed meeting available on an open satellite network so anyone can watch the meeting.

Not satisfied with this olive leaf of openness, these misguided sisters threatened to stage protests, marches, etc. The Church offered to let them do so in the designated “free speech zones” along with the anti-Mormon street preachers who always turn out to harangue us at General Conference. There was a not-so-subtle message in that. The sisters were intent on defying the very authority they sought to usurp for themselves, thus denying that the power they coveted was truly revealed and restored by God.

If the priesthood belonged to the Church, the Church could make the change if there was popular will to do so. However, the priesthood does not belong to the Church. The Church is the product of the priesthood. Before the Church could be restored, it was necessary to restore priesthood authority—the keys of the kingdom—which had been lost centuries before. The Church did not create the priesthood. The priesthood has power to establish the Church.

It was for this reason that it took so long for the Church to remove the ban on ordaining African-Americans to the priesthood. Most Church members felt uncomfortable with the ban, especially in the post-civil rights era. However, the Church does not have authority to make such changes. The priesthood is the Lord's and only he can make those adjustments. He did so by revelation in 1978.

In the sectarian and secular world, this is a radical position—that God still speaks to prophets today. Other churches don't anticipate any current of future revelation; their creeds essentially prohibit listening to any current revelation. By way of example, consider this passage from the Westminster Confession of Faith, one of Protestantism's foundation documents, regarding scripture and revelation:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

This kind of language is used among the doctrinal statements of various sectarian churches. It is a de facto prohibition against God speaking again to mankind. With hearts closed to further revelation from God, it isn't surprising that these believers should find Mormon claims that living prophets and apostles currently receive guidance from the Lord. Visions, dreams, revelations, inspiration, miracles, angelic ministrations, and even appearances of the Lord himself are a part of the Mormon religious experience.

Therefore, it is truly a departure for a latter-day saint like Kelly to seek to overturn an established order that was given to the Church by angelic messengers. Divine revelation not only restored the priesthood to the earth after a period of general apostasy, but it is also an element in determining who is ordained to the priesthood and the calling of men to serve in various offices. No one “campaigns” to become a bishop or an apostle. No one earns the position to which he is called. Men are called to these positions by revelation. This is also in accordance with the Bible. Paul wrote that a man must be called of God, as was Aaron, the brother of Moses (Hebrews 5:4). How was Aaron called? By the voice of the Lord to a prophet.

Those who claim authority falsely or who administer gospel ordinances without authority defy God and may incur his wrath. In the Old Testament, King Saul offended God and lost his kingdom because he took it upon himself to offer a burnt offering, a task that was reserved to prophets and priests (1 Samuel 13:10-14). Dathan, Korah, and Abiram challenged Moses for the Levite priesthood and received God's punishment (Numbers 16).

The Bible speaks of inspired women and prophetesses. A woman can enjoy all the gifts of God that any man can. Yet the scriptural record is clear. The priesthood belongs to God and it is his alone. It is not ours to change. Our understanding of the revelations is clear. We know by revelation what God intended regarding priesthood. Even if all Kate Kelly and her supporters wanted was for the current prophet to ask God about it, the question would be superfluous. We need not ask about what we already know through prior revelation and instruction

What revelation? What instruction? The years immediately before and after the calling of Joseph Smith were filled with religious “innovators.” Among those innovators, were Ann Lee of the Shakers, Quaker Jemimah Wilkinson, and British “prophetess” Joanna Southcott. In response to questions about some of these movements, Joseph Smith stated:

Johanna Southcott professed to be a prophetess, and wrote a book of prophecies in 1804, she became the founder of a people that are still extant. She was to bring forth, in a place appointed, a son, that was to be the Messiah, which thing has failed. Independent of this, however, where do we read of a woman that was the founder of a church, in the word of God? Paul told the women in his day, "To keep silence in the church, and that if they wished to know anything to ask their husbands at home;" he would not suffer a woman "to rule, or to usurp authority in the church;" but here we find a woman the founder of a church, the revelator and guide, the Alpha and Omega, contrary to all acknowledged rule, principle, and order (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Four, 1839-42, p. 209).

Joseph Smith further instructed the saints:

...And again we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case; and that in a council of High Priests...It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into His presence; and we feel fearful to approach Him on subjects that are of little or no consequence, to satisfy the queries of individuals....” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section One 1830-34, p.22)

The first quote from Joseph Smith above clearly indicates that he considered the matter settled. Women were not to hold priesthood offices. The “previous revelation to suit the case” in the Prophet's mind, was the New Testament. This is the reason that it is unreasonable for Kate Kelly and Ordain Women to demand that President Thomas S. Monson, the successor to Joseph Smith's mantle, to ask God to petition for something on which he has already given clear guidance. According the the Paul in the New Testament, the “spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:32). This means that there is going to be harmony between the revelations of modern prophets and their predecessors because the source of that revelation is the Lord. So far as the Church is concerned the matter is settled.

Katy Kelly and Ordain Women crossed the line when they decided to resist and defy the body of revelation, ancient and modern. When counseled to change their course, they refused and placed their salvation at risk. The Church is within its rights to clearly define its boundaries and excommunicate those who seek to redefine them.

Redefining Marriage

A similar situation has developed in the Church among liberals who advocate for same-sex marriage. The Church has taken measures to teach all members that people who experience same-sex attraction deserve compassion, respect, and acceptance. However, the standards of sexual abstinence for unmarried members are applicable to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

Similar to the attempt to redefine priesthood, critics outside and within the Church are trying to redefine marriage. Members like John Dehlin and Joanna Brooks have been praised by the liberal and secular elites for their advocacy for gay marriage. Like Kate Kelly, these members either do not know or deny the straightforward teachings of ancient scripture and modern oracles. They seek to use social pressure to force the Church to comply with their personal preferences rather than submitting to the decrees of a living, speaking God who directs his Church today.

Like priesthood, marriage belongs to God. The Church cannot redefine it to suit the unbelieving world. Even if every other Christian sect decided to kowtow to the opinions of the world around it, the Church must hold fast to the revealed will of God. John Dehlin has jeopardized his own membership in the Church because he has used his agency to instill doubt in the revealed foundations of the Church

As an editorial aside, I should mention that John Dehlin once joined us on the Society for the Prevention of Anti-Mormonism social network several years ago, before he became “famous.” The administrators of the site ultimately had to toss him from the site because it became clear that his intention was to undermine the faith of Church members. He was one of those “false brethren” of whom Paul warned:

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 1:4).

Steadying the Ark

If you're a Bible reader, you may be familiar with the story of Uzza in 1st Chronicles, chapter 13. King David had the priests move the ark of the covenant. While it was in transit, one of the oxen bearing it stumbled and the ark lurched over precipitously. It was forbidden for anyone to touch the ark. The priests moved it around on long rails that were inserted through rings on its exterior. When Uzza the priest saw the ark about to topple over, his natural reaction was to extend his hand and steady it. He meant well—he didn't want it to fall—but it was forbidden. God struck him dead for his moment of carelessness.

The story of Uzza is a reminder to us. The ark is the symbol of God's covenant with his people. The people submit to God and recognize his sovereignty. He commands and blesses, we obey and are blessed. He is forgiving and merciful. Yet he expects us to obey. We are not permitted to “touch the ark” and steady the Church contrary to the Lord's decrees. At times he gives us object lessons, like Uzza.

There are limits to our rights. We do not make demands. We do not override his revealed will for convenience or for popular acceptance. God sets the boundaries and we are to abide within them. Today, when a Mormon sets himself against those boundaries and declares them antiquated, rigid, obsolete, or intolerant, he places himself in jeopardy. The Holy Spirit ceases to strive with them. When it is clear that they will not repent, the Church withdraws fellowship and the individual is left to “kick against the pricks.” His or her agency remains intact. He has complete free will. What he or she loses is the ability to influence the Church from the inside.

It is always amazing to see how these individuals strive to remain within the Church whose doctrines they no longer accept or uphold. Rather than use their agency to pursue an individual course with others outside the faith, they fight to remain in the Church and cause contention and controversy. When fellowship is withdrawn, they are stripped of that power.

What If They Get What They Want?

The question should be, what would happen to the Church if these critics were able to affect the changes that they seek? The Church would become a man-made organization that bends to the will of the secular world around it. It would become like the fallen sects that the Restoration was intended to replace. The Lord did not try to repair the “breach in the wall.” He decided to build a new wall. It's the “new wine in old bottles” thing that Jesus described. If Church members abandon the revealed teachings and the restored priesthood, they are as the salt that “lost its savor,” and is good for nothing but to be trodden underfoot. We must remember that the gospel has been on earth numerous times, but it was lost to apostasy because the saints stopped standing in holy places and ceased following the shepherds ordained to protect them. Standing fast in the faith despite worldly pressure is the only viable choice or we will lose the Spirit and lose the keys that have been conferred upon us.

Regardless of the outcome of these recent disciplinary cases, the media will support these liberal activists for a time as they leap off the cliff into apostasy. In time, they will fade into obscurity and the media will move on to more contemporary disputes. Their 15 minutes of fame will pass and they will discover that Satan has led them astray and abandoned them. Their lives will become a quest to get back into the spotlight somehow, but never succeeding in a satisfying way. The other option would be to repent and return. That door remains open, even when excommunication is the Church's only remaining option. The hand of fellowship can be extended again if and when a sincere change of heart comes. Meanwhile the work of God will go forth “boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:540).