Line upon Line
Gary James Bergera, editor

Stephen L Richards

[p.183]I interpret the gospel in terms of life. It was brought to humanity; it is our duty to bring humanity to the gospel. Election not compulsion is the genius of Christian philosophy. Ridicule and ostracism often amount to compulsion. I deplore their existence. I fear dogmatism. It is a tyrant guilty of more havoc to humankind than the despot ruling over many kingdoms… .

The church believes in new and continuous revelation and ever holds itself in readiness to receive messages from the Lord. To that end the people sustain the president in particular and others of the General Authorities as the media through which God’s word may be delivered. A revelation to our living president would be as readily accepted and become as much a part of our scripture as the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph [Smith].

In the absence of direct communication from heaven, however, the church and its people must be guided by the revelations already given and the wisdom and inspiration of its leadership. I have great confidence in the wisdom of the presiding authorities in all departments of church service, first, because they hold the holy priesthood and second, because I know them to be good men… .

In matters of church government and discipline, the judgment of presiding officers is mandatory and controlling. In matters of individual guidance to members, their counsel is directory and persuasive only. In the interpretation of scripture and doctrine, they are dependent on their knowledge and experience and inspiration.

[p.184]I make this frank avowal of my own personal understanding of these fundamental principles as a premise to certain observations and conclusions I desire to present. The views I give I trust sincerely will not be repugnant to those held by my brethren.

First, I hold that it is entirely compatible with the genius of the church to change its procedure, forms, and interpretations as changes in thought, education, and environment of people from time to time seem to warrant, provided, of course, that no violence is done to the elemental concepts of truth which lie at the basis of our work. I would not discard a practice merely because it is old. Indeed, I believe that one of the tests of worth is the test of time. But, on the other hand, I would not hang on to a practice or conception after it has outlived its usefulness in a new and ever-changing and better-informed world.

Old conceptions and traditional interpretations must be influenced by newly discovered evidence. Not that ultimate fact and law change, but our understanding varies with our education and experience. One man sees the meaning of a scripture so clearly and definitely that he exclaims with contemptible deprecation of a contender’s view, “Why it’s as plain as the nose on your face,” and the other replies, “It is silly and foolish.” Both are sincere. Who is right? What position does the church take? Generally, I think, the church takes no official position and ought not to in the large majority of mooted questions. Men are permitted to hold individual views and express them with freedom so long as they are not seditious to the basic doctrines, practices, and establishments of the church. When men lose their regard for the church, of course, they are no longer entitled to place and influence in it.

I believe it appropriate to reannounce what I hope is a generally accepted proposition in our church that no man’s standing is affected by the views which he may honestly hold with reference to the beginning of man’s life on the earth and organization of the universe or the processes employed in the working of the miracles of the Bible. Personally I find more peace of mind and comfort in what may seem a rather lazy disposition to attempt no explanation of these seemingly inexplicable matters. But if anyone holds views and gets satisfaction from them, I say let him have them, and for one I won’t abuse him for them… .

[p.185]Another aspect of the changing process that must necessarily go forward in a live, vital institution such as the church is relates to the modification of forms and procedure. We do not have a great body of set forms and rituals, I am glad to say. The very elasticity of prayers, ceremonies, and procedure is additional evidence to me of the adaptability of our religion to human needs and therefore of its divinity. Some important changes have been made in recent years. In some instances they have considerably disturbed some members of the church. I am sure that the concern and alarm so created have been unwarranted. The critics have failed to recall that the items which have been modified were originally interpreted and adapted by good men occupying the same ecclesiastical positions and endowed with the same power as the good men now occupying these positions. Personally, I highly approve of the changes that have been made, and I hope and believe that the presiding authority will be led to make other changes along various lines that will advance the cause we represent. I am not afraid of change: it is the mother of growth… .

Dogmatism and bigotry have been the deadliest enemies of true religion in the long past. They have made it forbidding, shut it up in cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery out of the sunlight and fragrance of the growing world. They have garbed it in black and then in white, when in truth it is neither black nor white any more than life is black or white, for religion is life abundant, glowing life, with all its shades, colors, and hues, as the children of men reflect in the patterns of their lives the radiance of the Holy Spirit in varying degrees.