There's a new type of prejudice now widely available to those of discriminating taste. It's the fruity-flavored "prejudice toward past prophets." It's a huge improvement over the old variety. In fact, the creators of past-prophet prejudice have completely reversed the age-old Pharisaic formula that used to constitute the revering of dead prophets, like Moses, while at the same time persecuting the living, breathing ones. This new and improved strain will have you tolerating current prophets while absolutely questioning the sanity and inspiration of any prophet that served before you were in Primary.
But seriously. When we begin to discount the prophetic utterances of past servants of the Lord, does it not erode our belief in ongoing revelation and discredit the power of God? "We believe all that God HAS revealed (9th Article of Faith)." God is the same yesterday, today and forever, therefore yesterday is a necessary segment in the flow of eternity. Granted, just as Ezra Taft Benson outlined in 14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophet: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works...[or] than a dead prophet. But if we rely on the Lord's promise that he "will never permit the living prophet to lead the Church astray (Wilford Woodruff)", we must also trust that, as every dead prophet was once living, they were not permitted to act contrary to the Lord's instruction either.
"Doctrines are eternal and do not change; however, the Lord, through His prophet, may change practices and programs." If doctrines are unchanging, it behooves us to not discount the sayings of past prophets. Their words may not be completely pertinent to the policy of today, but they play their part within a timeless system of government and communication with the heavens. Those mouthpieces may just understand something we don't. Their words are a valuable piece of the puzzle that we are all trying to work out. Statements made by past presidents of the Church that seem to contradict themselves deserve a closer look and a mind more open to understanding. In my experience, there has always been an "aha" moment that follows when trying to work out what seems, on the surface, to be a contradiction.
One of the most startling and prevalent modern prejudices is the vilification of Brigham Young based on statements of his backing the then-held policy that black men could not have the priesthood conferred upon them. Brigham Young was every bit a "man of his time" just as the Apostle Peter was a man of his. But he was also the stalwart head of the Lord's peculiar people. Which side of this dichotomous environment triumphed in the inner strivings of Brigham Young's soul, being the product of his time OR being peculiar in following the trend-bucking commands of the Lord? He was able to master his own wishes and inclinations in order to comply with a total revamp of the world's marital institution; how, then, could we possibly entertain the thought that he was weak when it came to the question of whether or not he would be swayed by the prevalent cultural notions of race.
Was Brigham Young prejudiced? Or are WE? I WONDER.
PREJUDICE = an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge (good ol' Websters, Ninth Edition, 1983)
I have no doubt that Brigham Young had sufficient knowledge to perform his duties as prophet for his day. If he had let his personal feelings or cultural prejudices cloud his ability to be guided by the Lord, he would have been removed from his position by the only One who had the right to remove him. And, although our modern prophets have never provided an official reason for the priesthood ban nor have they corroborated any of the theories advanced by their predecessors, I believe Brigham Young was acting in obedience to the Lord. It should go without saying that what was contrary to the will of heaven in 1850 might not have been contrary to the will of heaven in 1978 (Adapted from a quote by David O. McKay, Stand Ye in Holy Places).
OUR prejudice should be what alarms us. When we approach doctrine with preconceptions and then come in contact with ideas that deviate from what we had previously thought (or believed, or even cherished), our response is so telling. We can either react humbly and patiently, working out the contradiction in our mind with the intent to understand, OR we can stick to our man-made assumptions, in essence, saying to the Giver of understanding, "I have been instructed sufficiently on this subject and am satisfied with how I understand it. These new possibilities must be wrong and the result of gross human ineptitude because if they were really from God they wouldn't fly in the face of everything I thought made sense. This is where I draw the line." Is this not the definition of damnation, to draw a line in the face of the Lord or His prophet? But the danger is not just that we will merely be unable to progress further (as damnation implies); it is that our minds will then be darkened, and our upward course will be reversed, for the Lord hath said of those that will not receive more that it "shall be taken away even that which they have." (2 Nephi 28:30)
Are we too ready to trample under our feet the "controversial" statements made by prophets of yesterday? Or is there a feeling within us that we would like to be able to understand what they knew? How quick are we to embrace the rhetoric that the creators of Past-Prophet Prejudice are spinning just as fast as consumer demand requires?
The questions about things like race and the priesthood and plural marriage in the LDS theology cannot be answered without taking every piece of the puzzle into consideration: the eternal past, the Biblical, the Restorationist period from Joseph Smith to now, and the eternal future. Discounting any particular piece, especially when it is so freely offered through prophets living and dead, is to say, "I have enough without that." It can sometimes cost us our pride to trust in the Lord (via his prophets) with all our heart instead of leaning on our well-read, informed, intelligent but, nonetheless, incomplete understanding. Lest we forget... to be "learned" is only good if we hearken unto the counsels of God (2 Nephi 9:29).
What say ye?