George B. Handley discusses how there has always been a tension between Church members accepting leaders as inspired and the question of their fallibility.

George B. Handley

George B. Handley, Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2023), 56

University of Illinois Press
George B. Handley, Lowell L. Bennion
Reading Public

Because of the Latter-day Saint belief in modern prophets and modern revelation, the question of authority has remained somewhat of a Gordian Knot for members and church leaders alike. The LDS Church has never taught that prophets are infallible, even if it has been repeatedly insisted on the central importance and exceptional nature of its leaders’ authority and the unquestionable need for members to follow prophetic counsel. As a result, Latter-day Saints tend to implicitly, if not explicitly, defend a particular definition of infallibility that rests on the idea that the prophet will never lead the church astray, which has been interpreted by some to mean that when the prophet has spoken, the debate is over. Blanket trust of this kind was worrisome to Bennion and to anyone else, including church leaders, who prized individual conscience and wanted to protect and encourage individual accountability for belief. But how to do so while duly recognizing and honoring the sacred nature of apostolic leadership has remained a challenge. If truth should be at the service of moral behavior, obtaining a knowledge of the truth secondhand robs an individual of the growth and development that can come from individual striving. Since this is counter-productive to the gospel’s aim for self-realization, blind trust puts knowledge to bad use, even if that knowledge is otherwise true.

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