Loyalty is a good and desirable attribute when lived and applied properly. The Lord made it clear that He expects our devotion and loyalty as part of our discipleship. He taught that, “No man can serve two masters.” He said that when we have choices to make concerning our loyalties, we “will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” (Matt. 6: 24) When teaching about the need for loyalty, the Lord intended that our devotion and admiration were to be directed to Him only, because, “ye cannot serve God and mammon.” The early Israelites were told, “thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20: 3) That commandment still is effective upon us today. The Lord appreciates our devotion and loyalty to Him. He delights to bless those who give their devotion to Him. He has said, “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.” (D&C 76: 5)
It seems to be a natural human tendency to want to please other men. It is a rare person that simply won’t be influenced by those around them. This human tendency is very often taken to unhealthy extremes. Joseph Smith the prophet succumbed to the urge to bow to the influence of men and was chastised by the Lord for doing so. Joseph was told, “And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men. For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words—“ (D&C 3: 6-7) Fearing men, paying devotion to men, giving our loyalty or unrighteous admiration to men at any level is offensive to God. Nephi lamented his own weakness and declared, “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.”
I recently read the Last Confession and Statement of John D. Lee. Brother Lee was the only man that received any legal retribution for the horrible events of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It is not my purpose to treat the events of the massacre in this posting. For current purposes, I want to restrict attention to statements made by Lee in His last confession about the horrible events. I will say however, that reading Lees confession and statement was disturbing for me. I came away from the reading shaken at what had been done. I recommend it be read.
It is not the purpose of this post to try and determine what Mormon leaders gave what orders or necessarily even who may have been complicit in the massacre at Mountain Meadows. The mindset of John D. Lee is what we want to consider for now. In his confession, he describes the motivation that led him to his part and participation in the bloody events at Mtn. Meadows. In his words there is something to be learned about unrighteous devotion and loyalty to men. After having received orders for the contemplated killing of over 120 emigrants from Arkansas, Lee describes his feelings, “While in bitter anguish, lamenting the sad condition of myself and others, Charles Hopkins, a man that I had great confidence in, came to me from the Council, and tried to comfort me by saying that he believed it was all right, for the brethren in the Priesthood were all united in the thing, and it would not be well for me to oppose them.” (All quotes and references of Lee in this post are taken from Last Confession and Statement of John D. Lee WRITTEN AT HIS DICTATION AND DELIVERED TO WILLIAM W. BISHOP, ATTORNEY FOR LEE)
According to Lee, about ten days prior to the killings at Mtn. meadows, apostle George A. Smith came to southern Utah and visited for some time with John Lee. Lee describes parts of his conversation with the apostle as follows: “Brother Lee, I am satisfied that the brethren are under the full influence of the reformation, and I believe they will do just as you say they will with the wicked emigrants that come through the country making threats and abusing our people.” I repeated my views to him, but at much greater length, giving my reasons in full for thinking that Governor Young should give orders to protect all the emigrants that he did not wish destroyed. I went into a full statement of the wrongs of our people, and told him that the people were under the blaze of the reformation, full of wild fire and fanaticism, and that to shed the blood of those who would dare to speak against the Mormon Church or its leaders, they would consider doing the will of God, and that the people would do it as willingly and cheerfully as they would any other duty. That the apostle Paul, when he started forth to persecute the followers of Christ, was not any more sincere than every Mormon was then, who lived in Southern Utah. My words served to cheer up the General (George A. Smith) very much; he was greatly delighted, and said, "I am glad to hear so good an account of our people. God will bless them for all that they do to build up His Kingdom in the last days." Notice that the “sincerity” of the apostle Paul in his persecution of followers of Christ before his conversion to the Lord is set up as an equivalent of the zeal felt by Mormons in southern Utah. Knowledge of this, according to Lee, served to cheer up the apostle George A. Smith very much.
Describing his feelings at the time of the murders, Lee says, “I knew that I was acting a cruel part and doing a damnable deed. Yet my faith in the godliness of my leaders was such that it forced me to think that I was not sufficiently spiritual to act the important part I was commanded to perform.” Lee’s orders in the execution of the murders were “to help kill all the sick and wounded who were in the wagons, and to do it as soon as they heard the guns of the troops.” Because of his “faith in the godliness of (his) leaders” Lee felt he was “not sufficiently spiritual” to murder sick and wounded people in the back of a wagon where he had lured them making them think he was taking them to safety.
The elevation of men to a status of “godliness” is evil and damnable. Even acts of cold-blooded murder perpetrated against women, children, sick, and wounded, can be accepted if leaders approve.
To summarize the illustration of unrighteous, even evil loyalty and devotion to priesthood leaders, consider this statement recorded by John D. Lee. As speeches were given prior to the cold-blooded murder of over 120 men, women, and children, John D. Lee remembered the following being said: "Brethren, we have been sent here to perform a duty. It is a duty that we owe to God, and to our Church and people. The orders of those in authority are that all the emigrants must die. Our leaders speak with inspired tongues, and their orders come from the God of Heaven. We have no right to question what they have commanded us to do; it is our duty to obey. “ No right to question. Their order comes from heaven. It is our "duty."
Many, especially perhaps those who wish to cast a more favorable light on the church and its leaders will argue that John Lee cannot be believed. Perhaps they are right. On the other hand, Lee was a condemned man. He was about to step into eternity himself. His fate and execution were set. There would be little purpose in lying about oneself at the doors of death. I personally believe much of what Lee said and recorded is based in truth, especially those statements that express his personal feelings. Every man’s feelings are his reality. It is clear John D. Lee considered his priesthood leaders the final word and the final and supreme authority, even if their word meant cold-blooded murder. If we exclude all else from his confession and try only to learn from the mindset of John Lee himself, the lesson may be learned. Leaders are not to be adored or elevated above anything more than a mere man. That is after all what they are.
I am disturbed when I here over and over the mantra “follow the prophet.” It has become the number one “doctrine” of the church in our day. Children begin to hear it in primary as they sing, “Follow the prophet. Follow the prophet. Follow the prophet. He knows the way.” If the prophet did indeed know the way, there will be very little talk of, or singing about, “the prophet.” Things would begin to be spiritually healthy for us as a people if our children never sang about “the prophet” but instead sang praises to our Lord and Redeemer exclusively and continually. A true prophet will never bring attention or focus upon himself or his position. He will never assume that others are to bow to him or his position. A true prophet would teach and require subservience and obedience to no one but the Lord Jesus.
A true prophet will never speak or do anything whatsoever that would even remotely draw attention, devotion, and loyalty away from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus and our Father have no surrogates on the earth. “Following” any man be he “prophet,” or apostle, or pope, is not now, nor ever will be, in the economy of God, the same thing as following the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is no man, not the pope, not the president of the church, not a political leader or king on the earth that deserves, or should righteously require our loyalty, adoration, or obedience. The Lord alone has required that of us. He has no surrogates among men only humble servants that, "if they desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." (Mark 9: 35)