On the bridge of the Spanish Navy’s Victoria F-82 frigate, Xavier, at the helm, talks to an experienced boatswain. During the conversation he clarifies.
— Progress is greater if everyone oars badly in one direction than if they do well in opposite directions.
Xavier asks you to explain that better, you don’t understand it well. The boatswain responds.
— On a ship, if the commander makes the wrong decision, it is better to follow him than to divide the command in other directions.
— But if he’s wrong…» answers Xavier.
The boatswain, after a pause, looks for the right words.
— A ship has more options to succeed in a crisis if the chain of command is maintained, it is that and not just the hull that makes the ship float. A chain of command can recover from an error. If it breaks, there is no way out. In the middle of the sea the chain of command reaches every member of the crew, just as the frames reach every part of the ship.
I received this story from Xavi, a co-worker, in the third week of June 2019 while we were on our way. I wrote it down in my scripture study notebook because it has a lot to do with Zion’s ship and its voyage.
The journey that doesn’t end.
The church hasn’t come to port. We are in the middle of a voyage and we ask ourselves how much longer? We only see the sea and its ever stronger waves against our side. In 189 years we have gone through orders of extermination, frozen deserts, economic crises, the end of plural marriage, enlargements in the granting of the priesthood. More recently the extension of ordinances to children of homosexual couples. Some perhaps see a renunciation of the route entrusted to us.
But that would be to ignore the means by which we travel. A liquid medium not the steel rails of the old world, iron rudder, which allowed no swaying on the road. But our means is not that
«Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and aredriven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.» (James 3:4)
Perhaps some of us hope for a railway governance, but it is in the Tiberias that we navigate. We observe the nodding of Zion’s ship and worried we think, «Master, carest thou not that we perish?» (Mark 4:38) Since the scriptures choose nautical as an example of the church, we must analyze the terms to better understand them.
- Course. The course is defined as the angle measured in the horizontal plane between the north and the direction of advance of the ship, measured in a circle, that is, from 0º to 360º.
- Defeat. This is the name given to the path that the ship must take and the path that it actually takes, whether by one or different directions, in order to move from one port to another.
- Drift. Displacement of the defeat of the ship, produced by the current.
Therefore, to demand from the church a straight and drift-free course and defeat, perhaps based on a lack of knowledge of the environment in which it moves. And even more, it conveys the belief that we live in a flat world.
Change of course, 6 October 1890.
We have not had a change in the direction of the church as clear as Wilford Woodruff’s October 1890 manifesto for the end of plural marriage. There was an unexpected defeat on the established route. Many saints needed some pedagogy to assimilate that change in the prevailing idea of the Lord’s immutable commandments. Critics then and now accuse the church of adapting to its problems with the then government or to the social demands of today.
But no one would be surprised by a change of course on a ship in the face of a storm, it would be a responsible decision. But before Zion’s ship the squalls are expected to disappear and the seas to calm down. And that is what the saints expected, that the Lord would say to the United States government «Peace, be still.» and then «the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.» (Marc 4:39)
Yet the Lord asked a long question through the prophet:
«Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances… to cease the practice and submit to the law… and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?» (Excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding the manifiesto)
The Lord uses nautical terms again. The Church follows a course, not a road or railroad. A change of course is not a renunciation of port.
The divine intervention necessary to prevent the confiscation of the temples in 1890 would have turned the nation of the United States into a Red Sea. To pass through would represent the breaking of its laws. And this would be a contradiction since the Savior recognizes that «law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.» (D&C 98:4.7) Therefore being God, respect the law. Even when it is promulgated by men.
The ship of Zion does not go to its destination on immutable rails, previously fixed to sleepers waiting to be traversed. Nor on the route of an asphalt road from origin to destination. It sails in a hostile environment, subject to unknown variables where the elements generally work against the course to be followed. That requires a negotiation with the situations and that is what El Salvador did.
«Therefore, the Son of God felt disposed to have that thing presented to the Church and to the world for purposes in his own mind. The Lord had decreed the establishment of Zion. He had decreed the finishing of this temple. He had decreed that the salvation of the living and the dead should be given in these valleys of the mountains. And Almighty God decreed that the Devil should not thwart it. If you can understand that, that is a key to it.» ((Excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding the manifiesto)
If you can understand
That’s what President Woodruff is asking. And it’s the question for our time as well. Can we understand that?
Instructions in a chain of command are not intended to please the majority as in a democracy. They pursue the goals. In this case with the manifesto, retain the temples and their ordinances at the price of abandoning plural marriage. A change of course as mentioned by El Salvador, because of the great currents at that time in history.
He himself fulfills his teaching when he said, «Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.» (Matt. 5:25).
This is what the church did by accepting the Manifesto. Understand the change of course that the Lord made.
The changes of course
Most of us have always understood divinity as immutable. We associate it with the immovable and timeless. Perhaps an inheritance that we bring from our particular Egypt. His church should therefore be like tablets of stone. The law of Moses stoned the adulterous woman, but Christ taught us to forgive and repent. There has been a change, which of the two is right?
In D&C we read «And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.» (D&C 88:38) Here He presents the modulated law with limits on its application and with conditions. He then clarifies «All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.» (39) Here he presents the modulated law with limits on its application and with conditions. Not only obedience to the law we do know, but also to its limits and conditions that are somewhat beyond our knowledge. Apparently, we can interpret it as detours on the road.
While Israel, who possessed the priesthood, needed Pharaoh with his «…blessings of the earth and with the blessings of wisdom» (Abraham 1:26) he was in Egypt where those blessings were at the time. But they could not leave Egypt because their promises were conditioned «…for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.» (Gen. 15:16)
In the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham business with Jehovah to the limit of the law and its conditions. There was a drift in Jehovah’s decision at Abraham’s insistence.
Personally, I sense that even when His law is eternal, we are approaching a point in the plan of salvation where we will touch unsuspected limits and conditions for His laws. Wilford Woodruff tried to explain this to the saints, If you can understand, that is the key to it.
Our current course
Under President Nelson’s presidency, we are experiencing many changes at an accelerated pace. Some are schedules, others organizational. Changes in the temple ceremony. It would be long to mention.
No wonder, none of his works are static. In apostasy the society of that time was estamental. It transmitted to its inhabitants the same idea of a hieratic, immobile God. And so the cosmology of that time tried to obtain a thought and a static Earth by means of complicated theories, such as that of the epicycles. When Copernicus or Galileo affirmed that the Earth moved, the foundations of faith and of the society of that time were moved.
But the God of restoration moves and «…hath set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons, and to blind their minds, that they may not understand his marvelous workings» (D&C 121:12) When the Lord refers to His creations when He says, «And again, verily I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons;» (D&C 88:42) I cannot help but infer that so it is with their laws, limits and conditions, which also move in their times and seasons.
It is clear to me that the world in which we live brings a permanent opposition. But Pharaoh’s wisdom also made its contribution in Israel. Now the world and its criticisms place us in a reflection on ourselves. Not so much in our doctrine but in our culture, which in 189 years is also part of our baggage. And in a certain way this reflection obliges us to be humble.
The justice of the Lamanites
Jacob, who grew up in the desert, did not carry the Jewish memory and its conditions. He was perhaps more objective in analyzing the situation of the Nephites than the Lamanites when he said, «Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?». (Jacob 3:7) The true gospel which the Nephites had did not prevent Jacob from recognizing their shortcomings as believers and the virtues of their enemies. In some respects closer to Christ than they.
Mormon needed an altercation among his people to consider that the custom of baptizing the little ones had become a doctrine… «if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children.» (Moroni 8:5) How long were there disputes? How long without them but with that practice? It does not make it clear. But the true church had a custom that did not agree with the mercy of Christ. Mormon acted in response to the dispute not to the doctrine, because he knew of the previous practice, but did nothing. We know that Mormon did not know what to do because «…immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter.» (7) This same sequence has occurred, for example, in our relationship with our homosexual brothers and sisters.
The Zion ship
Belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ does not guarantee that the Latter-day Saints and their culture are in complete harmony with the head of this church. Changes of course, such as Mormon in 420 B.C., are now also there. Just as the family righteousness of the Lamanites made Jacob reflect. It is no wonder that calls of attention from the world cause us to reflect on certain aspects of our practice. To regard changes in direction in the face of new challenges, realities or problems as negative is not to understand the governance of the ship of Zion.
As long as we have the Quorum of the Twelve and the keys of the priesthood everything will be fine. There will be more changes, we must all understand that we are sailing, we are not traveling on roads or highways.
With all the affection I have for this word, we must separate the «Mormon» way of thinking about things, just as Jacob did for the Jewish way of doing things. In short, to be more of Christ.