Leading up to the Civil War, the Mason-Dixon Line demarked the North from the South; it was important for everyone to know where "the line was drawn" between the slave states and free states.
Likewise I have observed spiritual lines forming in the Church. Let me give two recent examples.
1. Someone posted online a simple question: "I often hear people say that a transgression is different than a sin. Why is this? Where does this idea come from?"
I commented, "I heard a professor say once [at BYU] that in Hebrew there is no difference between sin and transgression, which are the same word in the original text. I am not a linguist and have not fact-checked the professor, but I remember hearing that the LDS precept of distinguishing transgression vs. sin arose from Joseph F. Smith giving an apologetic for Adam and Eve's "transgression" (2nd AofF) creating a distinction where there is none."
That's it; all very ordinary. I just wrote a quick response off the top of my head; but from the response it received, you would have thought I was on a tirade trying to discredit the prophet.
a. One person said, "Tim, the prophet has a right to draw a distinction and clarification if directed by the Lord whom he serves."
b. Again, "It doesn't matter whether that distinction did or did not exist in the Hebrew. A prophet isn't bound by what is written in prior scripture. A prophet's role is to serve as the Lord's messenger and declare His will, and if that means declaring new doctrine or giving a clarification to existing doctrine or scripture, he is the man to do it."
c. Another: "Scripture is limited by the language available at the time it is given. And as language and context drifts or changes, a prophet can, at his discretion, provide another translation into the language and context of his day for the benefit of the saints in his stewardship. So I guess I am saying what was written previously in Hebrew doesn't matter if a loving prophet feels the need and inspiration to offer an entirely new one."
I found this interaction interesting because it showcased how lines are being drawn to divide us into two camps:
(1) Those who profess to follow the prophet (regardless of whether they do); and
(2) Others who members in Camp No. 1 subjectively label as "not-following-the-prophet" (regardless of whether they do).
Notice who is drawing the lines, and of them beware.
I used to think it was funny how members got so worked up about "following the prophet" in small things, like how many earrings a person had, while ignoring him in bigger things, like donating to the Perpetual Education Fund.
It highlights the fact that we all pick-and-choose the counsel we keep; and why LDS #DezNat extremists get a pass (advocating violence against "apostates" in the name of following-the-prophet, but in fact doing the opposite) whilst people like you and me (who do not present the proper public persona in Church) get called into the Stake President's office under suspicion of apostasy.
When someone claims to "follow-the-prophet" it begs the question: which prophet? since prophets do not speak with a unified voice; neither do they agree on important issues (as we've seen with the new For Strength of Youth pamphlet that removed many of the jot-and-tittles taught by previous administrations).
The solution? The Church has tried to solve this quandary in recent years by introducing a novel precept: let's make the living prophet the most important one. (See, Sheri Dew, "Prophets Can See Around Corners," November 2, 2022, under her 'Truth No. 2'.)
In doing so, the problem only becomes worse, as illustrated by polygamy: if we lived under Brigham Young and rejected the principle of polygamy, we'd be deemed "apostates" and be damned; and today, if we accept the principle of polygamy, we'll be deemed apostates and excommunicated.
Following the living prophet is no guarantee our children's prophets will not disavow our most precious beliefs.
And thus we see that "follow-the-prophet" creates an arbitrary standard; it advocates a sandy foundation instead of our Rock, Jesus Christ and his unchanging word, upon which we are to build.
Example No. 2
I wanted to share one more illuminating interchange from online.
Someone posted, "The simple message of the gospel is the kingdom of God is within you; no earthly church can be the kingdom of God."
Here is my comment, "I think it is worth considering Joseph Smith's statement to the Council of 50: "There is a distinction between the Church of God and the kingdom of God. The laws of the kingdom are not designed to effect our salvation hereafter. It is an entire, distinct and separate government....The literal kingdom of God and the church of God are two distinct things." (Joseph Smith, Administrative Records, The Joseph Smith Papers, Church Historian Press, 2016, p. 128)."
That's it; all very basic. One of the responses I received was, "Tim, okay, but this is not canonized doctrine. This was something Joseph Smith said to the Council of 50 and that is all that is right now."
I replied, "To your point: the Church Handbook is not canonized. So the governance of the Church is currently based on something as authoritative as Chicken Soup for the Soul, and that is all that is right now."
I don't comment much online anymore because it doesn't seem to do any good.
Speaking Past Each Other
By nature I am questioner; I am drawn to other truth-seekers; I have been called a 'true believer' (not a compliment but an indictment from my atheist friend), but some in my family view me as a black sheep?
So what am I, really? What are we? What's funny is that people usually aren't seeing us (not as divine beings, at least); instead they are seeing themselves through us; whether we confirm their beliefs or contrast them.
And so a person's worth becomes the product of another's ego; whether our existence affirms or threatens their conception of the world.
The "sifting" we have been discussing in this Series is happening all around us, as groupings organically emerge. For example, I am repelled by the brash, dogmatic positions of many of my friends and family; at times it seems as if we're speaking two different languages, and the divide is growing, much to my dismay.
We attract what we are. Those who adhere to the "follow-the-prophet" mentality will find themselves surrounded by likeminded individuals who weigh another's worth based on their allegiance to a man they call prophet; the Church will become a museum of virtue signaling as members rehearse their blessedness of being led by such a man; such will maintain their endorsements from the Ecclesiastical Clearance Office and continue to hold temple recommends; they will congratulate one another from the pulpit and the congregants in the pews will feel their hearts swell with pride knowing they belong to the One True Priesthood; and they will exult in a holy God who favors them whilst He casts down to hell all those misguided souls who were not as valiant as they.
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; whilst all around us are elected to be cast, by thy wrath, down to hell; for which holiness, O God, we thank thee.