Friday, March 23, 2012

Leaders and Legacies

The different approaches that each prophet took to leading the church confused me when I was a kid.

There were three relevant facts that I knew to be true:
1.  The Prophet was God's mouthpiece
2.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever
3.  When the Prophet dies, the next senior apostle will become the next Prophet

What confused me, however, was that even though God was the same yesterday, today and forever, the stuff his prophets taught wasn't necessarily the same yesterday, today and forever.  I'm not talking about doctrinal changes or two prophets teaching opposing things a hundred years apart--I wasn't really aware of that stuff.  I'm just talking about how a lot of the presidents of the church had their "things."  Each prophet had a legacy or a favorite issue.

I was born during Ezra Taft Benson's administration.  He was the Book of Mormon prophet, always teaching from it, stressing its significance, and urging us to read it more.  Then, for a little while, we had Howard W. Hunter, who loved to teach about the importance of temples and temple worthiness.  When he croaked, it was on to Gordon B. Hinckley and a mainstream pop-psychology style of preaching.  That and building a kazillion temples.

But why would this be the case?  If all these guys were prophets of the Lord and God was giving them the same messages, why would anything like a prophet's "legacy" exist?  Shouldn't they all be saying pretty much the same thing?

The best answer I could come up with was that each prophet shared what God felt the church needed to hear the most at any given time.  God's word may be constant, but the specific needs of the church and its membership are fluid.  I considered this reasoning to be logically sound and it was in harmony with the first two relevant facts.

But, eventually, I began to think about the third fact.  And that made me wonder if God decided to kill his prophets when the church needed a new message.  Maybe the church didn't need to be told to read the Book of Mormon so much anymore, so God zapped Benson to death and let Hunter preach temple worthiness for a while.  This was a disturbing possibility.  Why couldn't God just alter the message and let Benson focus on something different for a while?

But it's exactly the kind of weirdness that so often arises when you try to ascribe logic to Mormon teachings.    Mormonism makes a lot more sense the less you think about it.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

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