“Authority” takes many forms. According to the gospel writer Mark, people responded to Jesus’s teaching in the following way: “And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:22). What does that mean? What is going on between the speaker and the hearer that would cause the latter to react like this? And how does this sort of authority differ from authority that is embedded in one’s particular position?
What does it mean when someone or some text is described as “authoritative”? What is the obligation of a member of a group that sees certain people or scriptures in that way? Are they required to agree with everything that person or text says, or is there room for each person to weigh these words, this person, or this text against their own lived experience and what it leads them to think or believe is true and/or inspired? And, if so, are there bounds to what they can say about their disagreements within group settings?
What about “priesthood authority”? Does it differ from “priesthood power”? If so, how? What might Joseph Smith have meant when he wrote from Liberty Jail that “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” Is someone acting out of alignment with the principles of righteousness no longer “authorized” to serve within the priesthood office to which he (or she–coming soon?) has been ordained? That doesn’t seem to be the case. So what is it that is lost?
In this episode, you will find an expansive conversation between LDF host Dan Wotherspoon and his partner in Latter-day Faith and the Faith Journey Foundation, Mark Crego, on these and other aspects of “authority.” What are the qualities of someone who we might designate as an “authority” for us? Does this make them “authoritative” in our lives in all things? And, finally, what about the title of “general authorities” that is granted to certain LDS male church leaders? How do most Latter-day Saints view that title with regard to their own spiritual lives? Is there a different (and better) way to understand this title?
Bernard Loomer, “Two Conceptions of Power,” Process Studies 6, vol. 1 (1976)
Dallin H. Oaks, “General Authorities Teach General Rules,” Talk: “The Dedication of a Lifetime,” May 1, 2005
Mark Crego, “Responding to Authority,” LDF Blogpost, October 1, 2021
Retreat: “Spiritual Surviving/Thriving as a Latter-day Saint,” December 3 – 5, 2021
Dan, Dinner, and Birdtalker, Concert October 26, 2021