There is a gulf between two views regarding Mormonism which makes it very difficult for us to speak and understand each other. This gulf is problematic because it labels one group as blind and the other as faithless. It is possible to hold either view and still be very believing, committed and prayerful. Therefore, it is wrong to accuse one another.
Below is a contrast between the two sides illustrated by the extreme. There are shades between the extremes, but the extremes are the best way to illustrate the separation:
I call the first position the “brethrenites” because it is a shorthand way to capture the view: These Mormons believe that everything done since the death of Joseph Smith through Brigham Young and successors in the Presidency and Twelve of the LDS Church has been entirely conforming to God’s will. They believe “keys” were passed and, as a result, these successors control God’s power and can seal on earth and in heaven. They believe the statements made by the successors are invariably in the status of “prophet, seer and revelator” and therefore inspired by God (or binding upon Him by reason of the “keys” held). The general authorities are able to give binding statements as mentioned in D&C 1: 38. They speak the “mind of the Lord” as described in D&C 68: 4. As part of this construct, any criticism of the Brethren is by definition ‘evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed’ and therefore criticism is apostasy. These people also believe the scriptures are secondary to a “living oracle” and therefore the scriptures are not as important as whatever the president of the church says now.
I call the second position the residue [of the saints]. These people believe the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s Smith divine calling, but do not agree that everything that began with Brigham Young conformed to God’s will. They believe the Lord spoke to this generation through Joseph (D&C 5: 10) and it was binding on everyone, including all subsequent leaders and members. They are skeptical of the claims to “keys” and authority, and believe the leaders after Joseph are not his equal. They believe the scriptures hold a higher priority than church authorities and when the scriptures are contradicted, the advice or direction can be safely ignored. They do not think criticism is evil or apostasy, but believe all who claim to believe in the Restoration through Joseph Smith are similarly bound to accept the Lord’s will through Joseph until the Lord decides to call another like Joseph (if He does).
When the brethrenites quote long passages from Talmage, McConkie, Grant, Brown, Widstoe, Lund or Romney to make a point, it has no persuasive impact on the residue. Likewise, when the residue quote the scriptures, it does not persuade the brethrenites as long as there is something contrary from Snow, Young, Taylor or Pratt. The arguments that one side believes should settle a question never succeeds in persuading the other because the underlying assumptions are so very different. Until the different groups decide to agree on what matters, what defines the faith, and whose statements carry authority and weight, there can be no agreement.
This is an odd gulf confronting Mormonism, because the brethrenites quote Eph. 4: 11-13 (leaders given to bring “unity of faith”) and the residue believe D&C 38: 27 (“if ye are not one ye are not mine”). Both ends believe sincerely in their position.
To the Brethrenites, I would pose this question: If apostles and prophets were given to bring “unity of faith” why do the doctrines differ so greatly between Brigham Young and Thomas Monson? What is this “in the absence of revelation” that changes very important doctrines?
To the residue, I would pose this question: If you believe your position, why do you remain silent in sacrament meeting, sunday school, priesthood, relief society and ym/yw classes? (Your position will never unify Mormons if the strength of your position goes unarticulated.)