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Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Challenging issues and keeping the faith, Part 16

The past four issues of this series have focused on the fact that prophets can be both fallible as well as divinely called to lead the church. Some readers may wonder if it is appropriate or useful to point out that leaders can make mistakes. In the context of this series, I believe it is. As explained in Issue No. 10, if members would remember that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such, a lot of heartburn could be avoided.From my experience, this is one of the primary factors for a member struggling with an "intellectual" apostasy. If a member believes that a prophet is infallible and then discovers that a prophet said something that was in error, they may conclude that the prophet is false and that the church is therefore false as well. If, however, we realize that prophets can make mistakes or state opinions as well as revelation, then our testimonies shouldn't be harmed if we discover a statement that proves contrary to additional enlightenment. In what ways might a prophet err? In deed, thought and word — the first two, of which, will be discussed in this issue.Deed: Prophets, while great men, leaders and revelators of the word of God, are not morally perfect. Only Christ was morally perfect. Bible prophets also had lapses of judgment and moments of weakness. We shouldn't expect perfection from modern-day prophets.Thought: While we, as members, claim to believe in continuing revelation, some members seem surprised when a prophet receives new or additional revelation. These same members are often bothered to learn that some doctrines or practices evolved as new revelation was given. Why, for instance, wasn't the Kirtland Temple utilized in identical ways as modern temples? Why wasn't the Word of Wisdom a commandment for the first generation of church members?The answer, of course, rests in the very fact that we do believe in continuing revelation. Either prophets receive revelation on every single facet of the gospel (and they receive it all at once), or revelation is an ongoing continuous process. Since I doubt that most members think that prophets receive one enormous revelation about all gospel principles the moment they are called as a prophet, it surprises me when these same members are bothered when newer revelations are added to the light we already have.In some instances this additional light may be at odds with long-held assumptions. Bruce R. McConkie, for example, had previously made statements about blacks and the priesthood that became outdated when President Spencer W. Kimball announced the revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males. Following this revelation, Elder McConkie said:"Forget everything I have said, or what ... Brigham Young ... or whomsoever has said ... that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world" ("All Are Alike Unto God").Other members expect prophets to know everything about all gospel issues — or anything that remotely relates to a gospel topic. Why do some past or present leaders disagree about Book of Mormon geography or the population mix in ancient America? Why would a prophet have erroneous views about the solar system or the history of the Bible? We might likewise ask: Should a prophet know everything about quantum physics or chemistry? Do we really want to believe that Old Testament prophets had a complete understanding of the cardiovascular system or operating laws of photons? We shouldn't expect prophets to have a complete understanding of all gospel principles or all gospel-related issues, nor should we expect them to be free of prejudice, cultural bias and traditions.When it comes to those issues for which we have no revelation (such as Book of Mormon geography, as one example), prophets may offer speculations like any other student or scholar. Those speculations could arise from analysis, evaluations and arguments based on their understanding of the evidence. Their intellectual reflections, however, do not carry the same weight as revelations.According to the Lord, the Holy Ghost will "manifest all things which are expedient unto the children of men" (Doctrine and Covenants 18:18). What is "expedient"? Old Testament prophets had pre-critical and incorrect views of the earth, space and a multitude of other scientific matters. Is it expedient for modern-day prophets to have infallible views on the location of the Hill Cumorah or the breadth and depth of Noah's flood? Those things that are expedient (profitable or useful) deal with the principles that help us return to God.We will continue this topic and explore how the "word of God" can be both fallible and "true" in the next and future issues.