Living with Fallibility

But I don't believe that those called by God, whether a Primary President or the President of the LDS Church is only another human being. I believe that callings can be and usually are inspired, and I believe that inspiration means something. It means that the person called has access to inspiration about his or her calling that I don't have.

That inspiration will almost always come as a feeling or intuition about needs or directions. It always requires that the person who receives it make decisions not only about what it means but how to implement what it suggests, and mistakes both of intellect and of will are always possible. But since I believe that those people are called and inspired, I am willing to allow what they say to have more authority over me than I would allow someone who is just another person like me.

How far am I willing to go with that? There can be no definitive answer. Obviously some could go so far as to violate the trust I've put in them. I know such a violation when I see it. But I give people I love and respect more room for mistakes than I do others. My children can do a lot more than can strangers before I lose faith in them. People whom I have had good experiences with previously also get extra leeway. And if I sincerely believe that a person has been called by God, I am willing to continue to trust them though I am aware of their failings.

Hans-Georg Gadamer has argued that to passively submit to someone's edict is not to recognize authority at all. Instead it is to agree to tyranny. So recognizing someone as an authority and having faith in that person doesn't mean following them blindly. Faith in an authority needs to be wide-eyed. But being wide-eyed doesn't mean being unable to look beyond a person's mistakes and even some wrongdoing. Within parameters that I cannot specify in advance, I can do what a leader asks even though I think he is mistaken, especially if I remember my own fallibility.

My hope is that the conversations the recently published materials create will help us learn that being called by God isn't an either/or. It isn't that either the person is called by God and never makes a mistake in their calling or he isn't called by God at all. I hope we will begin to see the falsity of that dichotomy, that we will develop a more mature understanding of our relationship to those who lead us, one in which we neither idolize the prophets nor assume that their humanity means we ought to no longer follow them.

11/21/2014 5:00:00 AM
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  • James Faulconer
    About James Faulconer
    James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.
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