Today we have another guest post. Jacob D. (JD) grew up in the church in an area he affectionately terms “Zion Lite.” He served a mission in a country with police with semi-automatic weaponry and weird fatty foods, went to BYU, did more than enough graduate school, and still goes to church. Look around this Sunday, he may be sitting down the bench from you, possibly wearing fantastic socks.
He could still really use a friend there.
President Nelson gave the devotional address recently at BYU, where he felt impressed to share some explanation on the development of the November 2015 policy, as well as several truths. One of these was “Truth is truth” which he illustrated by recounting his time during advanced surgery training when he learned of the ability of potassium chloride to stop the heart from beating. This ability, this law, had opened up advances in cardiovascular surgery.
Since medical science has known aspects of this law for nearly 140 years, why did it take nearly a century until such surgeries could be successfully performed? Evidently, the knowledge of the law of potassium chloride wasn’t sufficient alone. In my area of medicine, radiology, I am regularly reminded that diseases rarely read the textbooks. While the principles and laws of radiographic disease presentation may often be direct, the way a disease looks in reality seldom fits within any textbook categories, and must be approached using knowledge of the patient, the experience of diseases under similar influences, and recognition of the many competing factors at play. Similarly, surgeons are rigorously trained in principles and laws. Through direct experience, this training can then be applied to individual patient situations. A successful cardiopulmonary bypass took years to accomplish, as the first human subject did not survive (Pres. Nelson was on this surgery team.) Even with knowledge of laws, people are complex and cannot be reduced to simplified principles. It takes a nuanced and thorough understanding of both the principle and the person in order to help them thrive.
Similarly within the gospel, principles and laws may be simple and straightforward, but our perception and application of these laws are always nuanced and based on many factors. President Nelson stated emphatically: “Prophets are rarely popular. But we will always teach the truth!” Prophets DO speak truth – as much as they are able to comprehend. Over a century of evidence testifies that they “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12) even when at the pulpit.
What is the proper response to such earnest prophetic pronouncements of truth?
Here is a very small sampling of such pronouncements, and the responses they engendered:
1 ”Some of God’s children were assigned to superior positions before the world was formed. The preexistence of our spirits,…and the doctrines that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we may be born, have a relationship in the life heretofore. Furthermore… intermarriage of the Negro and White races [is] most repugnant…and contrary to Church doctrine.” 
2 “I am a firm believer in Slavery. A strong abolitionist feeling has power over [many]. I know [slavery] is right, and there should be a law made to have the slaves serve their masters, because [Negroes] are not capable of ruling themselves.” “My voice shall be against [making the Negro equal with us in all our privileges] all the day long.”
The first was a letter from the First Presidency to Dr. Lowry Nelson. He responded by thanking them for their thoughtful attention and care. He continued by relating his knowledge of the principles within the scriptures and his significant experience with honorable individuals of other races that were under the classification of “Negro.” He simply would not believe that these individuals were not inherently worthy of temple ordinances and the full blessings of the gospel. The First Presidency responded by stating that “the doctrines of the Church…are either true or not true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men however well-founded they may seem to be. You are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning. We prayerfully hope that you can reorient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed word of God.” 
The second is two quotes of President Brigham Young on the topic of slavery. Apostle and territorial legislator Orson Pratt fought ardently against Pres. Young on slavery in general and the issue of legalizing slavery in Utah specifically. (Careful note: Saying Brigham Young was simply a product of his time rejects the efforts of many thousands of anti-slavery activitists around him who were also a product of the same time, including Elder Orson Pratt.)
In the church and in life, we are presented with statements and situations that challenge us on many fronts.
- With our historical record, how can we engage with the idea that “Prophets always teach the truth”?
- What would you practically do if you were on the receiving end of these historical teachings?
- What is our responsibility today if a member of the FP+Q12 teaches something that goes against our deeply held beliefs?
- Letter to Dr. Lowry Nelson, from the First Presidency, (Pres. G. A. Smith, Elder Clark, Elder McKay) on July 17, 1947
- President Brigham Young, Address to Utah Territory Legislature 23 January 1852