In the society where I was raised, those two letters, “vs,” would seem a little odd sitting between obedience and morality. They would, at minimum, provoke some curiosity in much the same way that a phrase like “right vs correct” would. That’s because I learned in my youth that obedience and morality are the same thing, at least within a certain narrowly-defined context that constituted pretty much my entire existence. I learned this because I was raised a Mormon.
For Mormons, obedience is the first law of heaven. You must obey. God has established a simple set of seven or so ritual ordinances that must be performed by each person in order to return and live with Him in glory forever and ever.
When your rituals are all done and you’re waiting to die, you can prevent any screw ups (eg. watching a movie with sex in it, or getting too many ear piercings) by obeying the living prophet. God loves us and doesn’t want anything, like a missing ritual He requires, or a sin he can’t tolerate, to keep us from living with Him, so He gave us a living prophet to tell us everything we need to do to prevent any goofs that would keep us out of heaven forever. It’s really simple; just obey!
But this obedience thing could present a conundrum of sorts. Peradventure the prophet should tell us to do something that isn’t right, like kill somebody.
Well, that’ll never happen — The prophet is God’s mouthpiece on Earth. What does God do with a bad mouthpiece? He throws him out and gets a new one; Dead prophets don’t preach false doctrines.
But the prophet is not the only person in the long line of authority between God and His people. There are lots of men in various positions of authority over certain aspects of church activities the Lord’s sheep participate in. The living prophet may be incapable of leading us astray, but there’s something of a descending scale of fallibility as leaders get further from the top. It’s possible for one of these leaders to slip up occasionally, or make a decision out of sync with God’s will. All it takes is an inappropriate joke, loud laughter, or a dirty thought and the guidance of the special ghost is lost, leaving the man to the folly of his own reason.
What are we to do when this results in incorrect guidance or commandments directed to followers?
This only seems troubling. But the answer is as beautiful as it is simple: Just obey, and the lord will bless you for it. This is because whatever god commands is right, and the church leaders are called by inspiration directly from God. We need not worry about a conflict between obedience and morality; obedience is morality.
Now obviously this does not apply everywhere in all circumstances. Bosses, military leaders, presidents, and kings who are not privy to the mind of God can and do give orders which are contrary to the will of God, and therefore morally wrong. We should all have the courage to stand for right in these situations even when it means disobeying direct orders from an authority. But when that authority traces back to God through a legitimate chain of priesthood, we obey because it is right and the Lord will bless us.
Having a living prophet and knowing that obedience is always good is a great boon to Mormon righteousness. Obedience + Living Prophet means as long as we do whatever the prophet says, we can know with absolute certainty we are doing exactly what God wants us to do. The latest guidance from God through his living prophet is: pay tithing, read scriptures daily, pray always, wear sleeves (women), don’t get too many piercings (mostly for women), and oppose the gays while still having Christ-like love for them (admittedly a tough one). Man, having a living prophet is such a blessing.
Now, those of you who have not yet gained a testimony, through that special spirit, that the LDS church is indeed the one true church of God established on this Earth might find this absolute deference to religious authority a bit disturbing. But that’s only because you mistakenly assume that church leadership is made up of mere mortal men with all their imperfections, biases, and prejudice. If that were the case, absolute obedience would be a terrifying prospect indeed.
Blindly following the direction of uninspired men is a certain path to social problems so subtle and pervasive, we wouldn’t even know they were there. But rest assured, these are men of God. They can be trusted. Your disagreement regarding the correctness of the things they teach does not make them any less true and your criticism of God’s mysterious ways certainly falls on deaf ears. While your absolute deference to a fallible human authority figure would be deeply disturbing, our obedience is firmly rooted in rock-solid faith that God is behind that curtain somewhere, speaking to and guiding the living prophet. The comforting assurance that we are right without having to exercise our imperfect mental faculties to figure it out is one of the greatest blessings God has given his children in these latter days and further evidence that God definitely exists and loves us. Amen.