Hiram Page and What To Do When the Prophet Gives Controversial Counsel
Hiram Page was a good man.
He was one of the 8 witnesses of the Book of Mormon, present at the organization of the Church and baptized 5 days later. He was earnest in faith, stalwart in affliction, brutally beaten by mobsters for his testimony. And although he became disaffected with the Church around the same time as Oliver Cowdery, he remained true to his witness of the Book of Mormon until the day he died.
That's important context for D&C 28, a revelation that seems as timely today as it was then.
While the Church was in its infancy, Hiram found a seer stone through which he received a number of revelations about organizational matters for the Church, including the future location of Zion. We don't have the substance of what was revealed to him, just Joseph's description that they addressed "the upbuilding of Zion the order of the Church and so forth, but... were entirely at variance with the order of God's House, as it is laid down in the scriptures. and our own late revelations." ("History, 1838-1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805-30 August 1834],"53-54, The Joseph Smith Papers.)
Whatever was revealed to Hiram was persuasive enough to draw a large following among the early Saints, including even Oliver Cowdery to some extent. Troubled by this development, Joseph (and presumably Oliver) spent a sleepless night supplicating the Lord for direction and He responded with a revelation through Joseph that was directed to Oliver.
Among the important principles that were taught to Oliver and that apply to us still today are the following:
There is one man who is authorized to receive revelation for the Church and to write by way of command. That is the prophet and president.
Even apostles are not to write by way of commandment, but by wisdom. They do not have the right to command the prophet.
The prophet holds the "keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed."
We have the right and responsibility to receive revelation for our personal lives and ministry.
Satan has an interest in deceiving the Saints.
When a faithful member gets deceived and starts promulgating falsehood to the Church, the first recourse is for their file leader to go to them privately and explain that they've been deceived.
After receiving that direction, Oliver took Hiram aside and helped him see that he had been deceived. Hiram then broke his unreliable seer-stone in pieces and burned the dubious revelations. He sustained the prophet.
This all feels important to me because of an outpouring of distress in social media about Pres. Nelson's response to COVID-19. There seem to be a significant number of gospel-loving Saints who deeply and sincerely believe:
a. that the pandemic is either planned or exaggerated in order to promote an international plot to overthrow national sovereignty in favour of one world government; and/or
b. that vaccinations are at best, ineffective and unsafe, and at worst, immoral (when produced in cells that can be traced to abortion) and a mechanism used by evil and designing people to promote their anti-liberty agenda, and
c. that President Nelson, because of his medical training, is blind to these dangers and unwittingly forwarding their evil agenda by treating the pandemic as a serious threat and by urging members to be "good global citizens" by getting immunized.
I have heard that the January 19, 2021 First Presidency Statement on Vaccinations was out of order; that it was President Nelson speaking as President of the Church, but not as God's prophet. And that if he had been speaking as prophet, he would not counsel people to consult with "a competent medical professional" about personal decisions with regard to vaccination; he would tell them to counsel with God.
For someone who is certain that the medical system as a whole is part of a secret combination to overthrow our liberties, such arguments are an anguished effort to reconcile faith in a prophet with their understanding of the world.
But what if they've been deceived in their understanding of the world? What if their sources of information are as deceptive as Hiram Page's seer stone? What if the pandemic is real, vaccinations are generally effective, and the medical system is, for the most part, geared at actually helping people? Then, wouldn't it be part of the prophet's role to give sound counsel for health and to bolster their confidence in competent medical advice? And wouldn't it be the role of the prophet to direct us on the morality of accessing vaccinations that may be traceable to dubious origins?
Is it not likely that a secret combination that was intent on overthrowing liberty would infiltrate the Right as well as the Left? And in an era of misinformation and deceptive technology like deep fakes, does it not become increasingly difficult to discern political truth from falsehood? Isn't that why we need a prophet?
Is it possible for a prophet to be deceived? I think it is. I think that Joseph Smith was deceived for a time by John C Bennet. But, it can only happen insofar as God permits it. And He has promised to keep this boat afloat. The Church is in His hands as surely as the ark of the covenant was in the ancient days.
I am reminded of how the priests who carried the ark on poles from place to place were warned never to touch it. There was only one man who had that right: the High Priest. Yet once, when the ark was being carted by oxen, Uzza, one of the men who drove the oxen saw the ark in danger of tipping because the oxen stumbled. He raised his hand to steady it and fell down dead (1 Chronicles 13:9-10; D&C 85:8). Despite the wording of the story in the Old Testament, I don't think God was angry with Uzza -- not if he was acting in good faith. I think he went to an eternal reward. But the Children of Israel got an important lesson that day: God is mighty enough to protect for Himself that which He warns us not to touch. And as he watched over the ark, so He watches over the Church.
God has both the capacity and the commitment to reveal His mysteries, in His due time, unto His servant, the prophet. In fact, He makes several significant promises in D&C 21 that indicate our safety lies in following His appointed mouthpiece. He says that if we will heed the counsel of the prophet, as if from the mouth of God, in all patience and faith:
1. the gates of hell will not prevail against us,
2. God will disperse the powers of darkness from before us,
3. He will cause the heavens to shake for our good and His name's glory (D&C 21:5-6)
I'm banking on these promises. I pray that I'll continue to have the faith to bank on them when the prophet says something that contradicts my personal or political views.