The Matter of Majority
To All Covenant Brothers and Sisters:
In response to a proposal put forward by Jeff Savage and myself concerning the statement of principles assignment, Karen Strong has written a paper commonly referred to as BofM Appeal to Majority.
The purpose of my paper is to examine the ideas discussed in Karen’s paper, providing further insights and clarifications to what was presented there. Though her paper has obtained significant notice, I believe some of the ideas presented contain substantial error and ought to be reconsidered. Her effort also could be viewed as misrepresenting the proposal Jeff and I made, and therefore correction is in order to prevent further misunderstanding.
(Please note all scriptural references are from the Restoration Edition, most recent PDF version.)
I post this as an exercise in respectful disagreement, and want to make the following clear at the outset:
1. Karen is my sister and my friend. Though we may disagree on certain points, it does not change the fact that we are united in the covenant and in the desire to follow Jesus Christ. I do not call her motives into question, nor do I question her sincerity. No criticism written here should be construed as applying personally to Karen. We are discussing ideas, not motives and desires, and most certainly not character.
2. Karen is courageous. She put in a great deal of effort to provide a well-written argument, which is commendable. She has worked hard to advance that argument by publicizing it in many forums and online venues. She has advanced the conversation we all need to have, and though we may disagree, as long as we are willing to respectfully engage in conversation, the possibility remains that we can succeed in accomplishing what the Lord has asked of us.
3. I will refer to Karen throughout this article simply as a convenient way to identify the ideas being discussed. I do not like the idea of calling anyone out by name, so I want to emphasize that her name here is only to make the writing more readable. I’ll say it again: we’re discussing ideas, not my sister, Karen Strong.
With that groundwork in place, let’s move forward to examine Karen’s paper. I’ll address her points in the order in which she made them, rather than in order of importance. This necessarily means you’ll need to read this whole paper to understand the full array of issues I’ll address.
Karen rightly asserts that agency must be preserved in the process of preparing the Statement of Principles—and in all things, for that matter. I wholeheartedly agree. The Lord has given us a very interesting conundrum in the assignment to write and adopt by mutual agreement a statement that will become scripture. This goes well beyond merely writing some guidelines or instructions to future generations. This statement will come to be regarded as God’s very word, and a guide to how we serve Him. Compelling anyone to accept it as such, and treat it as such, when they do not agree that it is correct, violates agency in a fundamental way.
Whatever process we use to adopt this statement by mutual agreement, it must respect the agency of every single person who is asked to accept it. If someone disagrees, we have no right to compel acceptance, no matter how many of us there are.
Agency is only preserved when each person, independently and of their own free will, can say, in effect, “Yes, I agree. That is a correct statement of my faith and a standard by which I voluntarily agree to abide without compulsion.”
This is, of course, a lofty goal. We’ll discuss that later.
Book of Mormon
Karen correctly reminds us that we have covenanted to “accept the obligations established by the Book of Mormon as a covenant and to use the scriptures to correct yourselves and to guide your words, thoughts and deeds.”
Here are a few facts to keep in mind regarding the Book of Mormon:
1. It is a record of, and produced by, individuals who successfully trod the path back to the Lord’s presence. It gives a great deal of instruction concerning that path and the way we each must walk it. As Joseph said, “A man [will] get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.” That statement speaks of an individual, not a group, which is a correct reflection that redemption is always an individual undertaking between man and God.
2. The Book of Mormon also serves as a warning about the foolish errors and wholesale destruction of those civilizations that kept the record. It is the chronicle of a fallen people, who failed to achieve Zion and ultimately wiped themselves out. The few individuals who succeeded on the Lord’s path have given this record to us as a gift and a warning to us “that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” (Mormon 4:11)
Therefore every teaching in the Book of Mormon must be examined in its proper context to see if it is actually a warning of what NOT to do, or a guide for what succeeded. Since we cannot point to any group in the book that actually succeeded as a group, there is little there by way of positive example for group dynamics and government. There is, however, much to show us what failed.
It’s an interesting, and sometimes challenging, exercise to glean the true principles of Christ’s gospel by examining the ultimate failure of two mighty civilizations in this record of personal success amidst group failure. The mere appearance of an idea in the book does not make it a good idea. Just because something is written there does not mean God is advising us to do it. Context is everything.
• Should we obtain stolen records by beheading as did Nephi?
• Should we perform missionary work by violence as did Ammon?
• Are we advised to murder our enemies in their sleep as did Teancum?
• Shall we tie up people and drag them before the authorities for their beliefs, as did both the righteous people of Ammon and the wicked people of Ammonihah?
As I said, context is everything.
And this becomes problematic for many of us, who come from the LDS tradition where the Book of Mormon is employed as little more than a source of single-verse soundbites used to prooftext opinions we already hold.
To move ahead, we will need to dig deeply into the Book of Mormon to get a better understanding of the situation than we might get by grabbing a few isolated verses. We will also, along the way, get a better understanding of what is meant by “equality.” This will take some explanation, but I believe the result will be worthwhile. I’ll try to move along quickly.
King Mosiah’s Proposal
With that background in place, let’s examine King Mosiah’s proposal, found in Mosiah 13 (RE).
King Mosiah was the son of King Benjamin. He was there when his father secured a covenant from God for all his people, which they all agreed to by mutual agreement; it was on the very day Mosiah was anointed king. Therefore, Mosiah began his reign as king of an entire generation of covenant people. On that occasion, Benjamin taught the principle that the king must answer for the sins of the people, and he therefore has an obligation to teach them righteousness. (Mosiah 1:8 RE) This notion is completely foreign to us—that a leader can or must answer for the sins of the people—but it was utterly common among the Nephites. (2 Nephi 7:11, Jacob 1:4, Mosiah 1:9, Mosiah 13:7 and others.)
This sort of kingship was known in antiquity as a , and it gave the king the responsibilities of both high priest and judge. Benjamin functioned as both, as did his son, Mosiah, at least until he gave the responsibility of high priest to Alma partway through his reign, thus beginning the separation of church and state.
Now, let’s fast forward to the end of Mosiah’s life. He planned to confer his kingdom on one of his righteous sons, as had his righteous father, but all his sons refused to accept the kingdom. Fearing the consequences of bestowing the kingdom on another, Mosiah elected to establish another form of government. He wrote an edict, speaking passionately in favor of his proposal, in hopes of convincing the Nephites, who had only ever known kings, to accept this new form of government.
In doing so, he clearly stated that this new proposal was not his preference:
Therefore, if it were possible that ye could have just men to be your kings who would establish the laws of God and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people, I say unto you, if this could always be the case, then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you. (13:3)
Had one of Mosiah’s righteous sons been willing, he would have immediately conferred the kingdom on him and continued the monarchy (13:2). But since this wasn’t possible, he proposed the following:
Therefore, choose you, by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct and which were given them by the hand of the Lord. Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right, but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right. Therefore, this shall ye observe and make it your law, to do your business by the voice of the people. (6)
Mosiah established a new form of government—not a democracy—but a republic. One in which the people elected representatives to rule over them, in the form of a hierarchy of judges. Mosiah expressed that this approach was only possible because, in his experience, the people tended to favor that which was right. Remember, it was the king’s responsibility to teach them righteousness, or else answer for their sins himself. (Mosiah 1:8) Benjamin, Mosiah and Alma had taught them correctly, and they therefore tended to choose righteousness under King Mosiah. (Mosiah 1:2)
It’s also worth noting that Mosiah already governed by the voice of the people, even though he was king. (13:2, Alma 1:1, 2) With his new proposal, Mosiah did not change the importance of the peoples’ voice; rather, he changed the hereditary kingship to an elected judgeship. This was the only change he made.
Lest we should think this a small thing, we need to realize the implications of this change were immense. There would no longer be a hereditary monarch standing between the people and God, to answer for their sins if he did not adequately teach them. No longer would there be a family dynasty for the king to consider and protect by teaching his sons righteousness. Instead there would be elected officials, not accountable to God, but accountable to each other (13:7) with no obligation to teach truth. The king’s religious obligation to his people would be transferred not to the judges, but to the high priest who had no political power. The separation of church and state became complete. (Ever heard of such a thing?)
This put the people in the position of having to answer for their own sins:
And I commanded you to do these things and that ye have no king, that if these people commit sins and iniquities, they shall be answered upon their own heads. (13:7)
And now it came to pass after king Mosiah had sent these things forth among the people, they were convinced of the truth of his words. Therefore, they relinquished their desires for a king and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins. Therefore, it came to pass that they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land to cast in their voices concerning who should be their judges to judge them according to the law which had been given them. (13:9)
The people already enjoyed liberty under the laws established by King Benjamin and perpetuated by Mosiah. The newfound liberty the people rejoiced in—the new “equality” they extolled—was the right to answer for their own sins, rather than being dependent on their king to gain or lose favor with God. That’s what the text says. Twice. (9, 30)
Even in their election of judges, they were cautioned about the results of iniquity:
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you. Yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction, even as he has hitherto visited this land. (13:7)
Unfortunately, Mosiah, much like Joseph Smith, may have placed too much trust in his people when he dismantled the Sacred Kingship. He began his reign with an entire population consisting of 100% covenant people (Mosiah 4:1). But within a few years, the rising generation (including Mosiah’s own sons) increasingly refused to accept the covenant and began to practice iniquity. (Mosiah 11:18) When his reign ended after 32 years, the population was a mixture of believers and non-believers, requiring the king’s intervention to keep them from persecuting one another. (Alma 1:5)
After Mosiah’s death, lacking a religious king to establish righteousness, priestcraft began immediately—like in the very first year. This was the first time priestcraft had been introduced among the Nephites—ever—and despite the supposed righteousness of the people, priestcraft took hold. (Alma 1:2) Next came pride, persecution and hard heartedness. (Alma 1:5)
Within five years, civil war erupted following a “voice of the people” vote, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of Nephites; which then led to war with the Lamanites, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands more. So many were killed, the dead weren’t numbered. The Nephites, though eventually victorious, suffered greatly because of the loss of their people, their flocks, their crops, and their morale. Their society was all but destroyed in less than five years. (Alma 2:1)
Did you catch that? Mosiah changed the management of affairs among the people, and they didn’t last five years.
But it gets worse.
Within nine years of Mosiah’s change in government, the church began to fail, with the greater part of church members becoming wicked and abusing the humble. Keep in mind this is among those who claimed to follow Christ! In response, Alma resigned as chief judge so he could devote himself solely to the ministry, in hopes of saving the failing church. His preaching was successful until he reached Ammonihah, where the people utterly rejected him because he had no political authority and they didn’t recognize his religious position. The loss of a Sacred King harmed Alma’s ability to even preach the gospel. And so the story continues.
The take-home point is that changing to this form of government was directly and immediately responsible for unmitigated disaster and destruction among the people. Now, to be sure, it was the fault of the people, and not Mosiah. But this speaks directly and forcefully against the idea that there’s some sort of magic in the voice of the people. The Book of Mormon clearly informs us exactly the opposite. The final destruction of the Nephites came because the voice of the people chose wickedness.
And we see many parallels to our own society today.
I’ve now said enough to make the following points before we continue:
1. Our false LDS traditions use the Book of Mormon in a superficial way that involves examining single verses, not the larger context. Regardless of what our Primary teachers told us, there’s much more to the story than a king deciding to let the people have a voice. In fact, that’s not the story at all. The people already had a voice, and already did their business that way. This is the tale of a sacred king relinquishing his responsibilities in such a way that the people could destroy themselves. And they did.
2. Mosiah reaffirmed the voice of the people as the means to choose their rulers and do their business—but with the caution that this system would not work for a people who would choose iniquity. His warning was not heeded, and the promised destruction followed.
3. After many years of peace and stability under Benjamin and Mosiah, the new experiment in government fell apart almost immediately. It became an unmitigated disaster, leading directly to the near-destruction of the society and near-failure of the church. Note that this is not because the righteous laws were changed, but rather because of choices the people made under the righteous laws that already existed. The fault was in the people’s hearts.
4. Mosiah’s people had a covenant, like us. They had the gospel, like us. They had prophets, like we do. They failed spectacularly, and quickly. Are we somehow better than them? Are we sure?
Criticisms of Majority Rule
Jeff and I wrote the following regarding majority rule, which Karen criticized:
In a majority vote, there are winners and losers. The many rule over the few. If the many choose wrong, the few are forced to comply, or perhaps depart. Majority voting is not a reliable way to determine truth, as it is easily swayed by campaigning, popularity, false traditions and groupthink mentality. The minority are pressured to “get on board” by an argument based on nothing more than numbers. Ultimately, this approach allows the many to abuse the few, and if the few attempt to speak up or press their dissent, they are labeled as rebels, usurpers, or worse. Repression is the inevitable result. Rebellion and division follow. Though this is the world’s way, it is not the Lord’s.
The Book of Mormon narrative bears out these assertions. Rebellion by a marginalized minority led to hundreds of thousands of deaths within five years of Mosiah’s government change; wickedness in the church created “great inequality” and nearly led to its complete failure, all within nine years of the change, despite having no less a light than Alma, as both the chief judge and the high priest (Alma 1:3-5). Therefore, I stand by these original assertions. They are absolutely correct, and the Book of Mormon narrative bears them out in every point.
Am I Advocating a King?
No, I’m not—not yet. We are not to have kings on this land—at least not political kings. The Book of Mormon is clear on that point. And truly there’s much to be said for doing business by the voice of the people—if the people continually choose righteously, which is such a rare thing that we know of only two examples in the entire history of the world.
But consider this: will the government of Zion be by the people? No. It will be a kingdom under a righteous king. Let that sink in for a minute. The voice of the people, for what it’s worth, will NOT be the government of Zion.
If Christ will be the King there, in a perfect theocracy, how soon will we begin practicing obeying HIM, learning HIS will and doing it, rather than simply assuming a majority vote will suffice?
The Voice of the People, Then?
If we want to follow the Book of Mormon example, there’s little to inform us what “the voice of the people” actually meant. Though some derivative of this phrase occurs over 20 times in the book, we never get actual details about how it operated.
What did “the voice of the people” entail? Simple majority? Two thirds? Unanimity? Mutuality?
The text says “they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land to cast in their voices.” (Mosiah 13:9, Alma 1:9) Does that mean they voted as groups or individuals? Did each assembly vote, or did each person? What was the purpose of the assemblies?
One vote per person, or per family? Did they vote for representatives, who then cast votes? (Sound familiar?) Or did all people vote directly on every matter? Did they have any role in making laws, or did they only choose rulers by the voice of the people, who made the laws for them?
Since we have no rulers, how would this apply to us? Should we assume they applied it to other things?
Were women allowed to vote in this patriarchal society? The history of other patriarchal societies, including our own until 1920, suggests they had no voice. Likewise the dearth of female characters in the book and the names of political factions (king-men and freemen) suggest a male-only electorate. Luckily, the Book of Mormon is silent on male-only suffrage. Otherwise, would we be obligated to deny women a voice? You know, to follow the Book of Mormon?
No matter what we may tell ourselves, we have no idea how to pattern our form of group decision making after the Book of Mormon—because the book simply doesn’t tell us what they did. And that’s not surprising, as the book is not a manual on group dynamics or civics. It is primarily a religious treatise on how to individually come unto Christ—even in the midst of a failing society like our own.
The only societal success in the book, recorded in 4th Nephi, tells us precious little about their form of government. They all simply obeyed the Lord. But then we’re back to a righteous king.
And of course, the ever-present specter of a wicked majority reared its head again and again as the Nephites struggled to choose righteously.
For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction. For the laws had become corrupted, yea, and this was not all: They were a stiffnecked people insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction. (Helaman 2:15)
So What Did they Actually Do by the Voice of the People?
The Book of Mormon does tell us the sorts of things that were decided by the voice of the people, and they were always matters of law and government, not religion. The church was never run by the voice of the people. Not once.
Rather than going through every example of what they did by the voice of the people, let’s just hit some categories. If you do a search on “voice of the people,” you’l find the following:
• They chose rulers
• They enacted laws
• They decided political matters
• They decided military matters
• They tried people and put them to death
• In one disturbing case, after a majority vote created a minority, the voice of the people authorized Captain Moroni to put to death the minority dissenters. He killed four thousand of them. (Alma 23:4-5) Shall we follow the Book of Mormon example and kill the minority dissenters?
• In another case, the same Captain Moroni, who was an exceedingly righteous man, obtained the right, by the voice of the people, to kill all the Nephite dissenters who would not enter into a covenant to support the current government. (Alma 21:14) Covenant or die! So said the voice of the people.
What about Majority?
We likely can—and should—find a way to do our business by the voice of the people in some situations, recognizing that we run a terrible risk against which we must be ever vigilant, and also recognizing that the voice of the people is completely the wrong approach for some situations.
For example, shall we choose the site for the temple by the voice of the people? Or by revelation? Shall we vote to bestow the titles of prophet, seer and revelator on anyone because a majority desire it? For that matter, nobody voted on whether we wanted Denver to go to the Lord and obtain a covenant for us. Nobody voted on whether the scripture committee should work to recover a more correct set of scriptures, nor on who should be on that committee. Yet that very work was the catalyst that allowed the Lord to offer us a covenant at all.
Karen Strong did a wonderful thing for us all when she, with two others, established a temple fund—and she did it without the voice of the people. She took some criticism for doing so, but I, for one, publicly defended her efforts. Because I know a bit about what it took to get the fund established, I know it could not have happened by the voice of the people. It required the individual efforts of a few, led by the Lord. The voice of the people would have complicated it to the point that it could not have been accomplished.
In some situations the voice of the people is both cumbersome and unnecessary. The entire body cannot vote on every minor decision. For example, we recently had a conference in Boise. Many, many decisions had to be made. How many tables? How many chairs? What about venues? Insurance? Dates? Broadcasting method? Number of porta-potties? Speakers? Schedule? Hymns? The list goes on to hundreds of decisions.
Obviously, there never would have been a conference if every one of these decisions required the voice of the people. Sometimes it’s best to simply trust people to get things done. Somehow, the conference happened without a majority vote.
In fact, it seems most of the Lord’s work happens when the Lord inspires individuals to do things. If they required a vote to give them permission, nothing would ever get done.
Likewise, it’s totally unreasonable and impractical to attempt to do our business by mutual agreement. The original proposal Jeff and I made had NOTHING to do with trying to do ALL our business by mutual agreement. It was confined to adopting the statement of principles only. I believe Karen mistakenly thought we were proposing that mutual agreement was required for every decision going forward. This is not correct.
Future decisions might be made by majority vote, by individual fellowships, by small groups or committees, or by individuals who are called by the Lord to labor in the vineyard. There needs to be flexibility based on each situation, rather than a rule about how all decisions must be made.
Majority votes may work well in small groups where people can work together face to face, and where all can be heard. They become much more cumbersome in the general body where our only means of group communication is the internet. Insulated from one another by keyboards and screens, too often we see rancor gleefully hurled by those with more alacrity than acuity, in attempts to score points rather than reach agreement.
The word “Majority” DOES NOT appear in the Book of Mormon. Not even once. And yet, I’ve heard that word more times in the last month than I have in the rest of my life, combined. Some have assumed that “voice of the people” means simple majority, without any evidence that this is the case. As I pointed out above, we simply do not know how they viewed or applied that phrase among the Nephites, but it’s likely not what we assume it is. So perhaps it’s wise to stop the constant barrage of completely unfounded and unscriptural “Majority” assertions and tying them somehow to God and godliness.
Majority rule is NOT the holy and godly principle some make it out to be, and is NOT directly taught anywhere in the Book of Mormon. There is NO evidence it was inspired by God as a higher form of government or decision making. All these assertions are errors, yet they form the foundation of the proposal in question, as well as many ridiculously erroneous assertions filling our forums and social media groups. If we indeed covenanted to take the Book of Mormon as our guide, we ought to study it a little more carefully.
In the end, majority votes allow the majority to control the minority, rather than helping all come to agreement. This appeals to our baser instincts for “control, dominion and compulsion,” rather than unity, agreement and understanding. A majority controlling a minority is most certainly not a principle of Zion.
Our Lord has tasked us with writing scripture. He has given clear, distinct instructions about how the statement is to be adopted. As we’ve heard numerous times:
I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people…
Jeff and I wrote extensively on the definition of mutual, pointing out that this word has a specific and clear meaning, and it involves each person agreeing.
Some have suggested we really don’t know what the Lord meant by that word. But if that’s the case, then we really don’t know what the Lord meant by any of the words in the covenant and it all becomes meaningless. If words don’t mean things, then we have no covenant at all.
No, words mean things, and the word mutual has a specific, single meaning in English. Whether we like it or not, whether it’s comfortable or not, the Lord said it, and we have to deal with it. It’s an English-language word, in the English-language dictionary. It’s not a mystery.
Karen suggested in her paper we could “mutually agree” to use a majority vote to adopt the statement. I’d like to suggest two major problems with this idea:
First, it is illogical. She decries mutual agreement as Luciferian when applied to doing what the Lord commanded, but then proposes it as a method to employ as a means to change the Lord’s command. If mutual agreement is either evil or imposible, why propose it? Heck, why did the Lord command it?
Second, despite the fact that the Lord requires us to adopt the statement by mutual agreement, she proposes we mutually agree to adopt it in some other way, thus entering into a mutual pact to disobey our Lord.
I’m sorry, but there is no argument on earth that will convince me we can change the Lord’s requirement by voting. There is only one way to adopt the statement, and it’s by mutual agreement. We can’t change that. If the Lord thought a majority would be OK, He would have said so. He is perfectly capable of using correct words. We are fools if we think we can change what He said, or design a way around it.
Maybe the Lord knew what He was talking about. Maybe adopting scripture by a majority vote leads to mischief that lasts for thousands of years (Nicene Creed anyone?). Maybe making religious decisions by a majority vote causes disasters that last for hundreds of years (Brigham Young anyone?) Maybe we should do what the Lord asked and stop looking for loopholes to avoid it. And maybe we should carefully consider whether a majority-rules vote is EVER appropriate in a religious question.
Allowing 51% to tell the other 49% what they must accept as a government and social contract is one thing. Injustice happens, but eternal salvation is not at stake. On the other hand, saying that 51% can dictate the scripture that the other 49% MUST believe to be saved, and reject at their peril, is the worst form of religious abuse. People must accept scripture by their own free will. When asked to adopt something as scripture and a standard for our faith and salvation, all covenant holders, by virtue of the covenant, should be on the same page.
Even if the Book of Mormon taught majority rule (which it does not) and even if it taught majority rule applied to questions of scripture and religion (which it does not) we would still not be in a position to use the Book of Mormon to change this situation. Using Christ’s words as justification to oppose Christ’s words is a very bad idea, to say the least.
No, He told us how this must be done. We can fight about it, we can look for loopholes, or we can figure out how to get it done.
Which will lead to success?
Karen asserts that the Lord’s requirement of mutuality makes a king of anyone who will reject any part of the document, thus making the one unequal to all others. She fails to mention that since EVERYONE has that right, we are yet all equal. In fact, Joseph Smith explained to Edward Partridge how mutual agreement prevents one from acting as king over another:
The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties; for to give the Bishop power to say how much every man shall have, and he be obliged to comply with the Bishop's judgment, is giving to the Bishop more power than a king has; and upon the other hand, to let every man say how much he needs, and the Bishop be obliged to comply with his judgment, is to throw Zion into confusion, and make a slave of the Bishop. The fact is, there must be a balance or equilibrium of power, between the Bishop and the people, and thus harmony and good will may be preserved among you.
Therefore, those persons consecrating property to the Bishop in Zion, and then receiving an inheritance back, must reasonably show to the Bishop that they need as much as they claim. But in case the two parties cannot come to a mutual agreement, the Bishop is to have nothing to do about receiving such consecrations; and the case must be laid before a council of twelve High Priests, the Bishop not being one of the council, but he is to lay the case before them. (HC 1:364)
In our present project it IS possible to ultimately come to mutual agreement. How do I know? Jesus said so, and I believe Him.
It’s really that simple.
It may take time, it may take several failures. It may take people changing their positions, and it may require heat and hammering to refine and shape us, but it IS ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE, and WE WILL EVENTUALLY GET THERE IF WE CHOOSE TO.
All who have accepted the covenant have ALREADY mutually agreed to its principles. Therefore, we already have mutual agreement on a set of principles. We simply need to recognize this fact, put down our disputes about the process, and unite around the principles upon which WE ALL ALREADY AGREE.
The Lord would not have given such a direct and explicit commandment if it were impossible. He does not expect us to fear. He does not expect us to ultimately fail. He expects us to do it. And though there may be failures along the way, there will ultimately be success if we keep trying. The only question is how long it will take us to get our hearts right.
Therefore, I suggest that the best use of our time is not spending it in writing arguments against what the Lord has said, nor even in writing defenses against those arguments. The best use of our time is to figure out how to get this done.
Karen makes the case that mutual agreement would never have worked in the Council of Gods before the world was formed, and that such an approach actually originated with Lucifer. Let’s examine this argument.
First, it’s important to recognize that, just as we know very little about the Nephites’ concept and practice of “the voice of the people,” we also know nearly nothing about the Highest Council of Heaven. We have a few items given in scripture, and plenty of conjecture to fill in the gaps, leading us into the false belief that we understand what went on there and can judge our present efforts by that standard.
We really don’t know much about the Council. We are therefore well advised to stick with scripture—which is something our primary teachers didn’t do. Let’s address a few common misconceptions we’ve all heard in our LDS past about the Council that are not supported by scripture:
1. There were not two plans presented. There was one. It was presented by the God of heaven.
2. There was not a vote taken. Such a notion appears nowhere in scripture. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith uses the word “vote” once in the King Follett discourse, but that was an interpolation added by Joseph Fielding Smith. The original note takers at Joseph’s sermon did not include the notion of voting.)
3. This was not a case of the majority prevailing over the minority in a “voice of the people” scenario.
4. This was not a meeting of equals, with each person having an equal voice. God, who is above all, ordained the method that would be used and the Savior that would make it possible. Lucifer did not have a vote, nor did anyone else.
5. This was not a group effort to attempt to figure out what to do for the progress of mankind. This was an edict from the King, directing what was to be done. Jesus Christ was already chosen to be the Savior, and Lucifer attempted to usurp that position, demanding God’s honor and removing mankind’s agency. This was a rebellion, not an election.
In summary, Father presented THE plan. It was not up for vote or mutual agreement. Lucifer rebelled against Father, and he was cast out for rebellion. Those who supported Lucifer in his rebellion were cast out with him.
Now, if the God of Heaven had given an assignment that everyone come up with a plan and mutually agree to it, and Lucifer had refused to agree, thus preventing the plan from happening, then Karen’s point would apply. But that is not what happened at all.
Likewise, in our present situation, if the Lord had dictated to us the statement of principles by his own edict, telling us how it would be, our failure to accept it would be rebellion against God.
But that’s not what happened either.
The Lord gave US the responsibility to recognize and record true principles, then mutually agree with one another concerning them. Clearly, the assignment is NOT about getting the right stuff down on paper in the most efficient way possible. Revelation would have taken care of that. No, the obvious and important part of this assignment is that we learn to work together and come to agreement. Attempts to dodge that requirement frustrate the purposes of the Lord. Attempts to deny that mutual agreement is both possible and required demonstrate our refusal to believe the Lord’s words. Relegating this to a majority vote frustrates the primary purpose of the Lord in this thing—that His people all come together. Our refusal to accept the Lord’s plain requirements for this effort places us in a position of rebellion.
We can play “what if” scenarios about our fanciful ideas about what we think did, could have, might have, or would have happened in the Council of Gods, but in the end we’re concocting imaginary situations based on our ignorance.
Likewise, we don’t know much about how gods relate to one another. But we get a beautiful glimpse into that relationship in the prayer Jesus prayed for us—you and me—before his atoning sacrifice:
I pray not only for these followers, but also for all believers who learn our words from them. I ask that all followers and believers may be united as one, as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, that they also may be united as one in us. By them becoming one, the world will have reason to believe that you sent me. And the light which you gave to me I have given to them. This allows them to become united as one, even as we are one: my light in them, and your light in me. The light will lead them to be made perfect in one. That light I have given to them is evidence to the world that you have sent me. (Testimony of St. John, p. 27, emphasis mine)
The Father and the Son are one with each other, and Christ wants us to be one with each other and one with them. He said he gave us His light to make this possible. We cannot become one by a majority vote. By its very definition, a majority vote means there is a minority and a separation. It is the opposite of oneness. It is the antithesis of what the Lord wants for us, prayed that we might become, and sacrificed to offer to us.
In His mercy, the Lord has given us as light an assignment as possible. He doesn’t expect us to agree in all things. He doesn’t expect us to be one in much at all. He’s only asked the minimum—that we become one in a few simple, true principles. And since we’ve already done this, in the covenant, He’s made the assignment that much lighter.
Truly, this is only a first, baby step to becoming of one heart and one mind. But we can never, and will never, take that step by a majority vote, leaving some behind. We take it together or we don’t take it at all.
The mutual agreement standard is a special case, not to be applied to all decisions, and perhaps not to any decisions unless the Lord requires it. A special case like this has never happened before, that I know of—God asking a group to write scripture and adopt it through mutual agreement. This is a unique way to begin the preparations to become Zion.
We cannot meet the Lord’s standard until we accept the Lord’s standard. It may take many tries, much more humility, much more willingness to come together and much more understanding than we now have.
We may fail repeatedly before we succeed. And this is OK. As Denver said at the Covenant Conference:
To my surprise, the Lord did not expect us to do things right at first, He expects us to learn how to do things right. Failure is part of learning…God alone will establish Zion; his instructions are vital and necessary for us…But the path to Zion is to be found only by following God’s immediate commands to us. That is how He will bring it. He will lead us there. There is no magic, there is no sprinkling fairy dust that will take you to where God is. It does not, and cannot happen that way. He will lead us, teach us, command us, guide us, but we have to be the ones who become what He commands. We have to be the ones who do what he bids us do.
The Lord has bid us come to mutual agreement on a set of true principles. I cannot say how we will get it done. But I can say, with certainty, that fighting against the Lord’s standard only delays success. The more of us who become convinced we can set a different standard in this thing, the more of us cannot “be the ones who do what he bids us do.”
Immense effort has now been expended in contradicting the Lord’s statement and debating with one another. As a people we’ve collectively written hundreds, perhaps thousands of pages of argument over a statement that will likely occupy a couple of pages when it’s finished. My plea is that we stop arguing against what the Lord has said, and instead expend our efforts seeking to fulfill His word.
1. The Book of Mormon teaches that the voice of the people only works when they consistently choose righteousness. The more likely scenario among people whose hearts are not right (and ours are not) is that the voice of the people chooses incorrectly. The Book of Mormon gives us ample warnings and illustrations of the expected results when this happens.
2. The Book of Mormon also illustrates the abusiveness of the majority-rules system. The majority exercises dominion over the minority, while the minority stirs up rebellion. The only way to avoid both of these problems is for the people to all agree as one. This prevents both abuse and rebellion.
3. There is no magic, special godliness, or heavenly approval in the voice of the people. It is merely one method, among many, of making choices. It is a useful way to keep a wicked king in check. But it also failed the Nephites and destroyed them.
4. In our present circumstances, some decisions might warrant seeking the voice of the people. Others certainly do not. Flexibility will be required and each situation will be different. Setting a rule about how decisions must be made is a recipe for disaster. Nearly all the work that has gotten us all to this point has been performed by individuals and small groups, doing what the Lord has asked of them, without seeking the voice of the people.
5. Whatever we do undertake to decide “by the voice of the people” should be approached with extreme caution, and even fear and trembling, in the recognition that in our present condition, there’s a strong possibility we’ll get it wrong.
6. The Lord specified how the statement of principles is to be adopted. He didn’t say how it must be designed or written, who must write it, or even when it must be done. But He did say that, when complete, it must be adopted by mutual agreement. We are not at liberty to change the method of adopting it.
It’s my continual prayer that we will recognize, as a people, the duty devolving upon us all, quibble much less about process, seek much more to unite in the principles of our covenant, and accomplish this initial, light thing the Lord has asked of us.