In the church, we learn how to be good followers. There are many things we are told to follow: the prophet, good examples, our parents’ instructions, the gospel, the brethren, the Spirit, and the dictates of our own conscience. We are told, on the one hand, NOT to follow the world or the crowd. But we are told to surround ourselves with good people and follow their good examples. So, what do you follow when you sense a conflict between two of these?
Let’s first tackle the implications of the different things we might follow:
- The Prophet. Even toddlers are taught the song “Follow the Prophet,” not a personal favorite either musically (it’s the ”100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” of the Primary songbook) or lyrically (the line “if you don’t believe me / go and watch the news” sounds like something Archie Bunker or Sean Hannity should be saying acerbically, not tiny tots singing sweetly). Frankly, listening to an angelic chorus of youngsters sing this song makes Mormons sound creepy and cult-like. I’d totally sign a petition to kill this song. However, there’s no doubt that Mormons are taught to follow the Prophet, the living head of the church who is responsible to define the gospel for Mormons globally during his tenure (which only ends when God “releases” him / he dies).
- The Brethren. This is similar to the Prophet, but generally includes all modern-day apostles, both living & dead, but all white (with an emphasis on the living ones). Some would expand that beyond the apostles to include other high level leaders such as the 70, and possibly even the unseen correlation committee.
- Christ. Obviously, the purpose of the church is to come unto Christ. Of course, this implies that WWJD covers all the scenarios you encounter, and that you feel confident in your interpretation of WWJD. Of course many who wear a WWJD tee shirt are doing all kinds of things I don’t personally think J would D. So, there is some interpretation here. Are you really following Christ, your interpretation of him, your best version of yourself, or what others have told you?
- The Gospel. Because there are many ways to interpret some aspects of the gospel for specific situations, this would usually mean the gospel “as you understand / interpret it.” You might base your interpretation on some favorite scriptures, teachings of leaders, personal experiences, etc. But your basis and understanding may differ from others’ in some particulars. For cafeteria Mormons (and there really are no other kinds), it’s whatever is on your tray.
- The Spirit. In Mormonism, this can mean different things to different people, but it generally means that when you need to know what to do, you seek personal spiritual guidance through whatever means have worked for you in the past: prayer, thinking about it, dreams, reading scriptures or other inspirational materials, etc. The more superstitious folks might use means like “Bible dips” (opening the scriptures to a passage and then using that to determine their course of action).
- The dictates of your own conscience. This can mean using your own personal life experiences, wisdom, opinions, and preferences to determine your course of action.
A few times in leadership trainings, I have done what is called a Rokeach Value Survey. In this exercise, you are presented with various values or life goals, most of which are probably desirable to you, and you have to rank order them. This is done by comparing two of them and asking “If I could have A but not B, would I prefer that or to have B but not A.” Basically, through this “false dichotomy” exercise, you determine which is your most dearly held value. (Values considered are things like: freedom, human love, a comfortable life, health, etc.) Consider these types of dichotomies for yourself personally as you answer the poll.
- What if something a current Prophet says differs from something the Brethren have said? Do you assume the prophet has more authority and is more timely than the other statement? Does how you feel about what is being said (the dictates of your own conscience) change your feeling?
- What if a spiritual prompting differs from the dictates of your own conscience? Would you take a leap and follow the spiritual prompting or would you assume it was indigestion?
- What if something the Brethren say differs from your interpretation of the Gospel? Do you (generally) assume they know better and get on board? Or do you assume they are mistaken and that your view is correct?
I’d like each of you to consider the following possibilities using this same methodology to choose the most important one to you personally. Discuss.