Feb 19, 2010

Who's The Prophet?

Recently my husband and I watched the movie "Gandhi." Of course, we all know he was a fascinating character and an exemplary man but the more I thought about him, his message, his motivations, and how the "gospel" that he preached could change the world for the better if human beings would actually take it to heart, I wonder why we (as Mormons or Christians in general) don't consider him -- or anyone outside of the Judeo-Christian scriptures or the modern-day LDS Church -- to be a "prophet."

Even within the Judeo-Christian scriptures, questions arise for a Mormon. As a friend of mine recently said:

"On the one hand, we declare that the President of the Church is the prophet for the whole world. On the other hand, all of our ancient scriptures have examples of prophets, and prophetesses, who are not necessarily the "line of authority" church leaders."

Gandhi was a Hindu. He wasn't a Christian and he wasn't a Mormon. And yet what he preached seems to have more similarities to what Christ himself preached than most of the modern-day "Christians" that I know in terms of creating peace of earth and turning the other cheek. Gandhi was not a man of lip service. He was, of course, a man -- a fallible man -- just like all those in the Mormon faith that we consider to be prophets, but don't always want to believe really were fallible. But I do wonder why we consider some to be "prophets" and guys like Gandhi to be merely "good men."

There were several times throughout the movie when a passage in Matthew kept coming to mind:

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly
they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather
grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth
good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot
bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the
fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
(Matt. 7: 15-20)

I couldn't help but contrast Gandhi's words with, for instance, Brigham Young's fiery rhetoric -- the kind of stuff that preceded Mountain Meadows, for instance. And I'm not trying to diss Brigham here. I realize that he did great and important things in his lifetime and that we must allow for mistakes. The same can be said of Gandhi, no doubt, who certainly made mistakes.

But who's the prophet? "By their fruits ye shall know them...."

How does one examine the "fruits" of people like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or Mother Teresa, or any of the other peacemakers that have risen throughout time and inspired the world to do better and given their lives to their noble cause, and conclude that they "just didn't have" what Brigham had or what Thomas S. Monson has? Why is studying Mormon prophets over and over again, year after year, so important that the others will never even make it into the lesson manuals?


Kaylanamars said...

Because unless they're in the scriptures or have modern-day authority in the Mormon church then they aren't prophets, just good men. That's kind of a blanket statement, of course, but that may be some of the thinking anyway.

I've wondered the same thing what's the difference between those minor prophets and prophetesses found in the OT and those same kind of people today.

Wonderfully thought-provoking, FD. I don't have too much to add, unfortunately...maybe C.S. Lewis can be considered one since the modern-day prophets quote him so much and they make it into the Ensign which many consider "scripture!"

Moniker Challenged said...

Love to lurk here. Anyway, I've been thinking of this lately as well. Am I allowed to steal an analogy if I cite it? Pure Mormonism's shocking and fascinating post on "The Best Conference Talk You Never Read" compared the LDS Church to a delivery service- the UPS of the gospel. Well, what if a certain person (or a whole lot of people) are not within the service area of UPS? Does God just use another courier, or does he decide to refuse delivery to anyone who's not good enough to live in a proper UPS-sanctioned delivery area? Does it matter if enlightenment comes wrapped in UPS brown, Fed Ex White, or DHL yellow? I think I'll start accepting any bundles of knowledge I can get, and might expand my list of appreciated delivery persons accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I probably don't have time to check out other delivery services unless there is something about my own that breaks down. Just as I don't have time to look for new jobs unless I become very dissatisfied with the one I have.

However, I do have to be aware at all times that I can't assert that "my prophet's better than your prophet" without making myself look very foolish.

The standard is Christ (i.e., the aspect of God that both Christian and Hindu answer to).


Mitch said...

This concept is always confusing to Mormons. A prophet is anyone who testifies that Jesus is the Christ. That means any regular Mormon can be a prophet, as well as anyone in another church.

For the purpose of today "the" prophet is the current leader who presides over all the affairs of the church. President Monson works with those under him to handle all the financial affairs. Does he have the authority to receive revelation for the church? Yes. Has he acted as a revelator? No. We haven't seen our past prophets work as revelators in quite a while.

C.J. said...

I've asked myself this same question many, many times. This is one of my favorite passages from Matthew (and from the Bible in general), and I've used it in speeches before, re: equal marriage. If you look at some of the "fruits" of so-called "godly" movements all over the globe (but particularly in the US, recently, with the equal marriage movement), it's pretty horrifying. And this is supposed to be God's work?

Curtis Cox said...

There is only one man on the face of the earth that holds the keys of the priesthood. He is the presiding high priest and when Christ comes it will be him. It is very possible that ghandi was a prophet for one of the lost tribes of Isreal but he could not be the leader of the Kingdon of God because he does not have the Priesthood keys. Moses wished that all men were prophets but still even if that were so there would only be one presiding over the Kingdom of God.

Isaac said...

It isn't just about "doing good things." Curtis is right in regard to priesthood keys, and back in the old days, when access to other areas of the planet was pretty well out of the question, there were multiple capital P Prophets. We don't need to do that now, for obvious reasons. So why wasn't Gandhi a prophet? Because he wasn't called as one, and he didn't have the priesthood authority to be one.

Mitch, I'm curious about your claim of non-revelation. What do you base this on?

Isaac said...

Moniker Challenged, yes, truth is truth regardless of the source, but just because you're out of the service area doesn't mean you don't get a chance to get your delivery at some other time. Everyone gets a fair shot.

Mitch said...

There has only been two cases of revelation since the 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban: Elder Haight with his near-death experience, and Elder Lee with his visions of the spirit world. (he left the church in 1990)

When was the last time Elder Monson said in General Conference he had a dream or vision?

Isaac said...

Why do you presume he has to tell you whether he did or not?

Ninjata said...

Don't paint this too darkly. Gandhi may not have been a prophet, but leaders of the Church have certainly acknowledged him as a great man (e.g. here are search results of 'Gandhi' in the Ensign).

And let's not forget this: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.… We believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation” (Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, 15 Feb. 1978), quoted in: James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 12).

I daresay that Gandhi falls under those qualifications to be someone who has received a portion of God's light. So while there will probably never be a lesson manual dedicated to Gandhi's teachings, it is certainly appropriate to quote him in the context of a Gospel lesson. The Church isn't as closed-minded as you think.

Mitch said...

Isaac, they are only a seer if they don't us a thing. To be a revelator they have to tell us. Most Mormons don't understand that concept. We just sustain anyone in the top fifteen to be a prophet, seer, and revelator without giving it much thought.

Isaac said...

Ninjata, that was an interesting quotation.

Mitch, what I meant was why do you think he has to say, "Mitch, I'm telling you this is a revelation. listen up!" I understand quite well the difference between prophets, seers, and revelators. All I'm saying is that maybe you don't realize you've been told, that's all. Is that a possibility?

mormongandhi said...

Dictionary definition of prophet:
- a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God, like the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. The Prophet among Muslims is Muhammad. The Prophet among Mormons is Joseph Smith or one of his successors.
- a person who advocates or speaks in a visionary way about a new belief, cause, or theory.
- a person who makes or claims to be able to make predictions.

Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventies said at last year's General conference: "Prophets often raise a voice of warning but also provide steady, pragmatic counsel to help us weather the storms of life. In the opening section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reminds us, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). Prophets help us confront the changes and challenges we constantly face".

I don't know. Do we have to be so damn exclusive about Prophets of God? For example, in the Book of Mormon both Lehi and Nephi were prophets of God and having direct communication with God and angels - at the same time. Later after Lehi's death, Jacob and Nephi were both acting as prophets at the same time. Nephi and Lehi, as sons of Helaman, were also both prophets at the same time.

Isn't there going to be two prophets - and not one - who will be killed in the last days in Jerusalem? (Rev. 11 and D&C 77:15) "They are two prophets that are to be raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration, and to prophesy to the Jews after they are gathered and have built the city of Jerusalem in the land of their fathers". So I don't think there is an exclusivity to the title of prophets.

Of course, Gandhi was a prophet - and so was Martin Luther King, Jr. They were not Mormon prophets, they did not have the priesthood keys - but think of what they have done... They raised the dignity of millions of peoples, they helped redress the wrongs that have been committed against oppressed populations for centuries. They taught that there is a higher law, they testified of Christ and challenged our conceptions of Christian pacifism and communalism. They walked the extra mile and both got killed for it.

So I think I will go with Abinadi's definition of a prophet: Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed. And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!

Isaac said...

If you're defining a prophet in the secular sense, then sure, they can be prophets. You could say Bob Marley was a prophet. But if you're using a restored gospel definition then you have to realize that prophets have to be called and given authority. And there can obviously be more than one prophet at a time, but there can only be one presiding high priest. Lehi was the presiding high priest, regardless of anyone else being a prophet.

When Snow said "Prophets help us confront the changes and challenges we constantly face," does that mean that everyone who does that is a prophet, or does it mean that those who have already been called to be prophets perform that function? I don't think it means a high school guidance counselor automatically gains prophet status. That seems a little too broad.

mormongandhi said...

I see your point about being called and given authority. But the idea about only one presiding high priest is clearer in a latter day context than in an old testament context. Lehi was the presiding high priest for those who were with him, but there were other prophets in Jerusalem as well during his time there with his family. Furthermore, I doubt also from an Old Testament point of view that we can talk about a clear lineage of prophets handing over their authority to the following prophet, and so on. I think that makes more sense in a latter day context where the priesthood keys have been restored from Moses', Elijah's and Peter, James, and John's apparitions to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. What is interesting in this case, however, is that it was not sufficient for one of those prophets to appear to JS and OC to restore ALL the keys of the priesthood, but it was essential that several of them came to make those restorations.

But are we denying the spiritual calling that MLK and Gandhi were given and the authority that they exhumed and derived from the ideals that they attempted to abide by and their example in helping us doing the same? Of course, they were not latter day saint prophets, but they were prophets in the latter days.

Carl said...

The Book of Mormon, as well as Joseph Smith, defined prophets as anyone who speaks when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Nephi and Enos both say that there were "many" or "exceedingly many" prophets among us. Joseph Smith said that anyone who has the testimony of Jesus is a prophet and that anyone who reveals new truth, light or knowledge is a prophet. This is still, of course, different from the President of the Church, and some of the confusion comes from the different ways we use this word. But really, your definition of prophet is WAY too narrow. Ghandi was a prophet, as well as tons of other people. Anyone who is inspired to reveal further light and knowledge in any of its varied forms is a prophet. Prophets also don't have to speak exclusively about philosophical or religious truths. Scientists can be prophets too. All of us are called to be prophets. Moses said, "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29)

mormongandhi said...

Couldn't agree more, Carl. Thank you.

Tom said...

I just want to say that you are right on with this. There are many who proclaim to be prophets and are not and many who are humble and are true prophets of God. I am not LDS but I am a Latter Day Saint or restorationist. I think all good knowledge should be sought out. Even Joseph Smith said to seek knowledge out of ALL good books. So why not good people too. God has prophets in all generations and peoples too. Gandhi was a true prophet of God who sought after peace and unity with all people. The LDS church only wants to convert people to the gospel of clean cut 1950's America.



Unicornman said...

My belief is that the Church is about the Church -- first and foremost. As one writer commented, "the Church is in the business of growing the Church". Adding to this are claims to absolute truth, succession in the presidency, and the concept of authority, and you get a religion that acknowledges good ideas from good men, but certainly won't elevate them to the status of prophet.

And being a member of the Church is not only about being a good Christian, it's about being a good Mormon. Obeying leaders is a key component of being a good Mormon,as evidenced in temple covenants and worthiness interviews.

This reminds me of an excerpt from Ben Franklin's autobiography, where he describes a similar situation

Tho' I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of
its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I
regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only
Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He us'd to
visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his
administrations, and I was now and then prevail'd on to do so, once for
five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher,
perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for
the Sunday's leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were
chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar
doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and
unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or
enforc'd, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than
good citizens.

At length he took for his text that verse of the fourth chapter of
Philippians, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest,
just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any
praise, think on these things." And I imagin'd, in a sermon on such a
text, we could not miss of having some morality. But he confin'd
himself to five points only, as meant by the apostle, viz.: 1. Keeping
holy the Sabbath day. 2. Being diligent in reading the holy
Scriptures. 3. Attending duly the publick worship. 4. Partaking of
the Sacrament. 5. Paying a due respect to God's ministers. These
might be all good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things
that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them
from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more. I
had some years before compos'd a little Liturgy, or form of prayer, for
my own private use (viz., in 1728), entitled, Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion. I return'd to the use of this, and went no more to the public assemblies. My conduct might be blameable, but I leave it,
without attempting further to excuse it; my present purpose being to
relate facts, and not to make apologies for them.[/quote]

Personally, I like Ben Franklin's reference to a Personal Articles of Faith, with can be drawn from all sources, whether LDS prophets, general authorities, or Ghandi, Mother Theresa and so on.

And by the way, I'm an active member of the LDS Church....