“And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it epresumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 18:21-22, ESV
The warning given by Fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs to the court in Texas prior to his conviction should have come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Mormon prophets. The doom and gloom that he pronounced on the county, if he were convicted, was a calculated manipulation related to his personal circumstances. That’s very typical of the sort of thing that the Mormon church’s “living prophet” comes up with all the time. Mormons believe that their church “prophet” is a latter day restoration of the old line of prophets who appeared in the Old Testament. From a theological perspective, that completely changes what the New Testament says about Jesus and who he is, and is thus a major deviation from Biblical Christianity. But the Mormon prophet generally misses the boat altogether.
The typical pronouncement from Mormon prophets have generally been what I call “revelations of convenience” related to the immediate needs of the church, or of its presiding prophet at the time. Most of the long list of revelations that have come to Mormon prophets have to do with changes that put the church in a better business position, or which conveniently improve its political position. The revelation which declared that polygamy was no longer something God required of Mormons conveniently came at a time when Utah was seeking statehood. It was that revelation, by the way, which prompted the departure of many members of the church who could not understand how God could change his mind on a theological matter that Joseph Smith had declared essential and unchangeable just for recognition by the federal government. The various groups fractured and divided over leadership, as dozens of individuals claimed to be recipients of divine revelation and heirs to the prophet’s throne of the church. The Jeffs group, which isolated itself in the remote canyonlands along the Arizona-Utah border, is one of many.
Like those of his predecessors, Jeff’s prophecies tend to elevate his own position and power within his own church, and to motivate people to do things to enhance his position, and remain isolated from the culture at large. Many of the revelations received by Mormon prophets over the years are contradictory, removing awkward doctrines that were put in place in a different time and era by previous prophets. The removal of polygamy was perhaps the most contradictory, the removal of the church’s long standing teaching that dark skin was the mark of Cain was another.
In light of the record of his accuracy in predicting the future, the county officials in Texas on which Jeffs declared that disaster would fall if he were convicted should be able to sleep well and have few worries about the future. The only way that Jeffs appears remotely accurate with regard to his previous revelations and predictions is within his own interpretations of them. Otherwise, he’s been quite presumptuous, according to this passage in Deuteronomy. The hold that he has over his people is tragic. They are trapped because of family ties and relationships, and because they fear an outside world of which they have little knowledge because Jeffs has been their only source of information about it. Even so, there are people who do succeed at leaving, at a high cost in terms of virtually everything they have in the way of family relationships, financial support, and just about everything else.
Thinking about Warren Jeffs turned my thoughts to another Mormon “prophet” of sorts, whom I happened to catch on the radio this week. Glenn Beck has really gone over the edge in his prognostications of economic gloom and doom for America. I don’t recall that Beck was all that prophetic when the economy was falling apart during the Bush administration, though he claims that he was. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Beck was one of those who was absolutely certain that America’s economic future was secured when Bush was elected. Now, he is absolutely certain that disaster is just around the corner. And like the prophets in the church he belongs to, it takes changing the record, sometimes after the fact, to make him look right. What it actually looks like, as he has become an extreme fringe voice, is that his ratings are down (seehttp://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2011/02/02/glenn-beck-in-free-fall/)
And though I don’t think Glenn Beck falls into the category of “prophet” that the writer of Deuteronomy was speaking about in the verse I cited, I don’t think there’s much to worry about when he speaks.