Q. Do Mormons blindly follow their leaders and simply do what they’re told?
A. (by Sam Katich) While many critics often repeat this tired claim, a historical cross-section of latter-day teachings clearly shows just the opposite to be true.
As opposed to writing a lengthy treatise on this subject, I will leave it to the Latter-day Prophets and Apostles. Their words are more authoritative on this subject. And since the critics of our faith claim that it is our leaders that impose this “blind obedience” standard upon it’s membership, it seems only right to use the words of our leaders to answer this question.
Boyd K. Packer stated that
Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. We are the sons and daughters of God, willing followers, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and “under this head are [we] made free.” (Mosiah 5:8)
Those who talk of blind obedience may appear to know many things, but they do not understand the doctrines of the gospel. There is an obedience that comes from a knowledge of the truth that transcends any external form of control. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see.1
Joseph F. Smith said on September 3, 1892,
Concerning the question of blind obedience. Not a man in this Church, since the Prophet Joseph Smith down to the present day, has ever asked any man to do as he was told blindly. No Prophet of God, no Apostle, no President of a Stake, no Bishop, who has had the spirit of his office and calling resting upon him, has ever asked a soul to do anything that they might not know was right and the proper thing to do. We do not ask you to do anything that you may not know it is your duty to do, or that you may not know will be a blessing for you to do.
If we give you counsel, we do not ask you to obey that counsel without you know that it is right to do so. But how shall we know that it is right? By getting the Spirit of God in our hearts, by which our minds may be opened and enlightened, that we may know the doctrine for ourselves, and be able to divide truth from error, light from darkness and good from evil.2
N. Eldon Tanner stated that “We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing.”3
Elder George Reynolds said,
I have always regarded, and do today, that the first thing most important in connection with our Sunday schools, and indeed with all the other auxiliary organizations of the Church, is to make Latter-day Saints of our children, to develop within them a faith that shall grow with increasing years, an understanding faith, a faith that, while it appeals to the heart, will also appeal to the head, and be able to give a reason for the hope that is within; not a blind obedience, as it is sometimes called, but a comprehensive understanding of the revelations of God and the work that He is performing in this generation.4
Elder George F. Richards remarked that
It is a rare thing to find a man in this Church, in full standing, who refuses to do anything that he is asked to do. Why? Because he has an intelligent understanding of the plan of life and salvation. He knows that it is God’s work, and that man does not elect himself to office, or assign to himself the part he is to perform in this kingdom, but every man who has heard the word and had the privileges of the Gospel is expected to give his time his talents, his means–all that he has, if need be–for the building up of the kingdom, the salvation of the human family, but he does not yield a blind obedience.
It is a mistaken idea, prevalent in the world, that the perpetuity of this work depends upon the authorities keeping the masses of the people in ignorance. The truth is the direct reverse, else why have we all these auxiliary organizations and quorums of priesthood in the church, for the education of the rising generation. Their being established in the faith depends upon their knowledge of the Gospel. Our greatest fear concerning our children in Zion is the possibility of their growing up in ignorance of the everlasting Gospel…As a matter of intelligent obedience–not blind obedience–we should observe to keep the word of wisdom. For the same reason we should observe to keep holy the Sabbath day, and the name of our Father in Heaven, and His Son Jesus Christ, and intelligently yield obedience to every requirement that is made at our hands.5
Elder Sylvester Q. Cannon stated,
Now, we do not believe in blind obedience, but we do believe in discerning obedience. Every one of us is entitled to enjoy discernment. What is discernment? It is recognizing the difference between right and wrong, or developing clearness of judgment or insight. If we are living the Gospel we are entitled to enjoy the light of the Holy Spirit to guide and bless us, to enable us to judge rightly. We do not have to accept the judgment or counsel of the man who stands at the head of the Church here upon the earth; but we will know that the things he advises are right, if we will divorce ourselves from personal or political desire or ideas. We should strive to enjoy the spirit of discernment. The Apostle Paul tells us that one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost is the discernment of spirits. In like manner one of the gifts is discernment of right and wrong. What a wonderful thing it will be when we shall all learn correct principles, and have the discernment to govern ourselves in righteousness. Then we shall grow in justice and fair dealing, we shall avoid strife and contention, we shall enact and administer equitable laws, and improve in temporal and spiritual things. The Lord will prosper this people temporally as well as spiritually if we control our selfish feelings and strive to carry out his purposes.6
Elder Henry D. Taylor said “Compliance to counsel without knowledge of the reason therefore is often referred to as blind obedience. But obedience is not blind when it is based on faith–implicit, trusting faith.”7
President Stephen L Richards states that
The foe is attacking our unity. We in Zion have enjoyed a most uncommon reputation for unity of purpose and achievement. This has come about because it has ever been our disposition to follow and yield obedience to our leaders. Our critics, who have not understood our concepts, who have observed our unanimous voting in sustaining officers, and other evidences of our concerted action, have called it blind obedience, induced by some sort of fear or other compulsion.
I haven’t time to analyze and point out the false premise of this criticism, but I flatly deny its validity. The obedience we render is voluntary and not blind, but intelligent; and the unity we manifest arises out of a common understanding of our purposes and a common devotion to their achievement. We seek for and enjoy the influence of the Holy Spirit, which, in the larger aspects of life, motivates us all alike. Our unanimity is in response to that Spirit.8
Finally, Brigham Young stated in regard to Latter-day prophets controlling their people,
I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man. Brother Jackman has said that our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.9
It is clear that blindly obedient faith, which latter-day critics so often make claim of, does not exist in Mormonism. Yet there does seem to be a hint of it in anti-Mormonism as critics repeatedly quote each other with little understanding of where the claims originated from and the circumstances that surround them.
Was it blind obedience for Naaman to follow the direction of the Prophet Elisha, to be healed from his affliction?10 Was it blind obedience for the people of Jerusalem to follow the direction of Peter and the other apostles after they asked, “what shall we do?”11 Of course it wasn’t blind obedience; it is faithful obedience. It is demonstrated faith in God and in His chosen prophets. It is obedience through the Holy Spirit.
While there are many that find it difficult to separate “blind” from “obedience,” (a symptom of the times we live in), there is no need to conclude that obedience to the doctrines, practices and teachings of the Lord’s Church and His chosen leaders must be considered “blind” obedience. It is simply not so.
For further study, see Spencer W. Kimball’s “Blind Obedience or Faith Obedience” talk in the October 1954 afternoon session Conference Report.
1 Boyd K. Packer, “Agency and Control,” Ensign, May 1983, 66
2 Josehp F. Smith, Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, Vol. 3 (Burbank, B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992)
3 N. Eldon Tanner, “Obeying the Right Voice,” Ensign, November 1977, 43-44
4 George Reynolds., Conference Report, April 1906, Afternoon Session, 24-25
5 George F. Richards, Conference Report, April 1907, Afternoon Session, 15-17
6 Sylvester Q. Cannon, Conference Report, April 1937, Afternoon Meeting, 83-84
7 Henry D. Taylor, Conference Report, April 1966, Afternoon Meeting, 82
8 Stephen L Richards, Conference Report, October 1951, Morning Meeting, 114
9 Brigham Young, “Eternal Punishment,” Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 12 January 1862, Vol. 9 (London: Latter-Day Saints Book Depot, 1862), 150.
10 See 2 Kings 5:10-14.
11 See Acts 2:37-38.