Authority And Abuse

Part 2 of 3:

When men get a little authority almost all will immediately begin to abuse their supposed right to control others. (D&C 121:39.) Assuming there is any right belonging to the priesthood, it can only be exercised by “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness and pure knowledge[.]” (Id., v. 41-42.) If authority is abused because it is “the nature and disposition of almost all men” to do so (Id., v. 39) then a solution is to revoke the right to control. Revoke the right to preside. Revoke the right to lead. Once that is done then the only method a man has to function as a minister is by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge. There is no other method or means left for the minister. He is powerless to control, dominate, gratify pride, or obtain vain ambition. He can be ignored–unless his pure knowledge and persuasion attracts the heart and leads people closer to the Lord.

Joseph Smith’s dispensation denounced and destroyed the consolidation of power. He set in order a system that would have precluded any man from insisting he could control others. Two days prior to the revelation in D&C 107, Joseph Smith gave a discourse about fractured authority within the church. The discourse was reported in minutes kept by several different scribes, including one written by William McLellin and copied by Warren Cowdery into Minute Book 1.

If the pattern given by Joseph Smith were followed, there would be no “President of the Quorum of the Twelve.” Instead each member held no greater right than any other. Joseph “stated that it would be the duty of the twelve to appoint the oldest one of their number to preside in their councils, beginning at the oldest and so on until the youngest has presided and then beginning at the oldest again, &c.” (JS Papers, Documents Vol. 4, p. 301.) In other words, the right to preside rotated from the oldest to the youngest, then back again to the oldest. This rotation of the role to preside made all of them the presiding authority in turn.

The twelve were missionaries, whose administrative authority only existed outside organized stakes. Joseph explained, “the Twelve will have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof where there is a standing High Council.” (Id.) When the twelve were outside the stakes, and among unorganized areas of the world, they had administrative authority there. However, it required a “quorum” of them (at least 7) to take administrative action. Joseph taught that “where there is not a quorum they will have to do business by the voice of the Church.” (Id., p. 302.) Meaning that any administrative action taken where the twelve did have jurisdiction could only be done if 7 were involved. If less than 7 of the twelve were present, then the administrative authority was in the “voice of the Church” and not in any presiding man or men. In any organized stake, the highest authority was the high council. The seventy were another body of missionaries who assisted the twelve. The members of the seventy were called by the “seven presidents of the first seventy” (Id.) and were independent from the twelve.

Joseph never moved any man from the twelve into the first presidency. Joseph did not call or ordain the twelve, they were chosen and ordained by the three witnesses. The twelve, in turn, did not have authority to call the seventy. Their members were called by the seven presidents belonging to that quorum.

This splintering of authority precluded any single man or small body of men from dominating and dictating to the church. Ultimate authority was vested in “the voice of the Church” who could revoke any man’s position or authority. This is similar to the Constitution which divided authority between co-equal branches of government. This form of government was designed to weaken power of any single branch so as to preclude any single man or group from gaining autocratic control. Freedom (or agency) is protected best by any system that prevents one man or group of men from controlling others. Unfortunately, in both the Federal Government and the various restoration churches, autocratic power has accumulated and the voice of the people has been subverted.

Two days after the March 1835 conference, D&C 107 was presented to the church. Like Joseph’s earlier explanation, authority was splintered among equal bodies with limited jurisdiction. The person with the duty to administer spiritual things, dispense spiritual blessings, have the heavens opened to them, and to enjoy the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ was the president of the high priesthood, who belonged to a presidency. The presidency consisted of him and two counselors. (D&C 107:9-22.) These men were never part of the twelve during Joseph’s lifetime. The twelve were “equal in authority” with the first presidency. (Id., v. 24.) Although the twelve had no rights inside an organized stake, in the mission field they were equal to the first presidency (provided there was a quorum of 7 acting). The seventy were also “equal in authority” with the others. (Id., v. 25-26.) And the stake high councils were likewise “equal in authority” with the foregoing. (Id., v. 37.)

In this organization, the greatest authority was vested in “the voice of the Church.” But administratively, the authority was fragmented between co-equal bodies of a presidency, twelve, seventy (which could be unlimited in numbers) and high councils (which could also be unlimited in number). The discourse by Joseph and the follow-on administrative outline in Section 107 diffused the authority in that dispensation. It was not consolidated or amalgamated into the hands of any single man or men. It contemplated such divergent and potentially opposing bodies that it would be impossible to manage such an arrangement unless the person or persons who tried to control the direction of the body were to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge.

There was one other office (it no longer exists) which was held by a single man. He held the office of “Priesthood and Patriarch” (D&C 124:91). The twelve eliminated that role in the 1970s and its last occupant died in April 2013.

The diffused authority died with Joseph, and the twelve assumed administrative control over the church. Their oldest member now gets the automatic right to own and control everything. The voice of the church is limited to saying “yes” at conferences. A “no” will not change decisions or the right of the twelve to control the church.

The essential division of authority, and its obvious inefficiencies, are easy to criticize. It clearly did not have an objective of making the church easy to control. The pattern was a behemoth that fractured the organization into such potentially competing parts that there is little surprise it did not last long in practice.

Trading diffused authority for consolidated control made the management of the Mormon religion efficient, effective and powerful. But it came at an astonishingly high price. The religion founded on revelation, angels and communing with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ traded its spiritual core for earthly mammon. The world envies the bargain. Modern Mormon factions are all surprisingly wealthy–even the small fundamentalist groups. There are two great principles this history has proven. First, a body of believers who are equal are not easily governed. If the only tools to employ are persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge, it will require the wisdom of God to keep believers together. As soon as they are allowed “to govern themselves” there will be ill-defined margins and straying believers in need of teaching, preaching, persuading and long-suffering. Second, it is easy to aggregate power, wealth, influence and authority if religion is used to control people. If one claims to speak for God and there is a population who accepts that claim, outrageous abuses can be perpetrated; and power, wealth, influence and authority can be retained.

From these two principles comes a conclusion that almost all men will choose the second principle over the first. (D&C 121:39.) Even if a man who would give his life to follow Christ were to found the organization, as soon as he is taken, the organization will remain behind. It will fall into the hands of other men. Dispensations are founded by Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Peter, and Joseph, but they quickly become the property of Pharaoh, the priests of Baal, Eli, Caiaphus, Annas, Constantine and Brigham Young. The pattern is so inevitable that it seems self-evident it would be foolish to repeat a failed pattern.

If Zion is to have people of one heart and one mind, who live in righteousness with one another (Moses 7:18) then however cumbersome, inefficient, difficult or daunting it may prove, only the first principle can be chosen. If it fails, then there is no residual institution to add another abusive tool for the god of this world to employ in deceiving and chaining men using another inherited false tradition.

The Law of Moses did not produce Zion. The New Testament Primitive Christian church did not produce Zion. Modeling after either of these, as the church established by Joseph Smith did, has likewise not produced Zion. Zion will be produced by a journey begun in equality, pursued by equals, with no man able to command another man’s actions. Persuasion, meekness, unfeigned love and pure knowledge are the only tools necessary for Zion.