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. - Joseph F. Smith, Sept. 3, 1892 (as quoted on the FAIR LDS website)
But I told them that a prophet was only a prophet when acting as such. - Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by B.H. RobertsThis sounds all well and good, but then consider these quotes:
The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. - Wilford Woodruff, Official Declaration 1, Verse 14
When the prophet speaks the debate is over. - N. Eldon Tanner, First Presidency Message, Ensign August, 1979How is a member supposed to respond to counsel received from Church leaders? Quoting further on from that same statement by Joseph F. Smith:
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. - Joseph F. Smith, Sept. 3, 1892 (as quoted on the FAIR LDS website)Yes, the members are taught to study and pray in order to receive their own witness concerning any counsel that is given to them by the leaders of the Church, but let's consider how this actually works. Let's say someone attends an official Church conference, and is given some particular teaching, or asked to sustain an action or practice. He or she then proceeds to study and pray about it, in order to receive their own witness or confirmation. Fine so far. But what happens if that person comes to a different conclusion? What if they become convinced that the teaching or practice in question is not true?
If they then share this with Church leaders, inevitably the validity of that person's spiritual experience is denied. Either they are getting their answer from the wrong source, are being deceived, haven't prayed sincerely or long enough, have some sin in their life that is clouding their judgment, etc. If the only acceptable answer is the one already identified by the Church leadership, how is this any different from blind obedience?
As a simple example: years back, prior to 1978, when I examined the Church's teachings and practices regarding Blacks and the Priesthood, I came to the conclusion that this was a mistaken policy, and was not of God. If I were to voice this conclusion, I would be identified as an apostate, as speaking against the Lord's Anointed, and would be subject to Church disciplinary action. If I persisted in maintaining my position, I would likely be excommunicated.
And yet, I would eventually have been proven correct. Ironically, if someone today would take the position that the Church's original teachings and practices on this matter were in fact correct, they would similarly be subject to Church discipline. In this way, the Church effectively does teach blind obedience, regardless of any statements to the contrary it might make. Members are expected to obey their leaders, regardless of their personal thoughts or feelings. For all practical purposes, this is blind obedience.
An extension of this is even more worrisome, and very reminiscent of the defense used by German soldiers at Nuremberg ('we were only following orders'):
My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray. - Pres. Heber J. Grant to Marion G. Romney, as quoted by Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, October, 1960 General ConferenceThis problem is often humorously summarized as follows:
The Catholic Church teaches Papal Infallibility, but the Catholics don't believe it, while the Mormon Church denies the Infallibility of their Prophets, but nobody in the Chuch believes it.
The primary message of the Church here is to obey your leaders, even if you think they're wrong. I find this both frightening and unacceptable.