Watching General Conference has been a reminder of the humanity of the General Authorities. Errors of emphasis routinely occur, doctrinal mishaps spring up in statements, and in general there are just things that are hard to say correctly. By error of emphasis I mean statements that are largely true but by making them without a variety of correcting statements what comes out is a problematic overgeneralization. Some doctrinal mishaps are about as important as spilled milk. Remembering some from this last conference (Elder Perkins, Priesthood session) King David likely didn’t have an ‘eternal family’ that he lost because there is no scriptural indication that eternal family sealings were being performed at the time (especially since the Melchizedek priesthood was not held broadly or commonly, if at all) nor did King David “squander” his ‘priesthood’ because he wasn’t a priest. Othertimes the mishaps may not be really meant, but taking statements as literally true could only drive one into bizzare doctrinal “off roading” like a previous conference where a man stated that he was the final arbiter and judge in his family of what right and wrong were. All he meant to say was that he should have the right to read his children’s picture books the way he liked, but what came out was something having a lot more to do with cultural expectations of the past rather than LDS doctrine that would even stand a basic comparison with, say, the covenant structure of the temple.
Overall, truth is hard to say. There is almost no basic practice or idea that doesn’t have some obvious counter example. Take the church principle that one can only receive revelation for those under your stewardship. This is a well established church principle whose effect is that not any person off the street can tell the church what to do and that personal revelation doesn’t give you power to undermine church power structures. Seems well thought out, logical, even inevitable. But to whom did Jesus first give the revelation of his ressurrected person? To a woman not part of the priesthood power structure. He told her to carry this revelation to the twelve. They dismissed her and Christ had to reveal himself multiple times to get the point across, when the original revelation had come outside the power structure. Knowing this counter example, there is no way we can say the principle of limited personal revelation is TRUTH in an absolute sense. If it is TRUTH in an absolute sense, it comes along with a bunch of rules and intricate exceptions that just haven’t been revealed and honestly 99% of the time probably don’t matter.
Or take the example of the infallibility of the president of the church. This doctrine came fairly early, with the basic premise being that if the President of the church ever lead the church astray God would essentially kill the prophet to allow him to be replaced. Seems logical, I mean there has to be somebody with whom the buck stops. There is even a scriptural example to go along with it of a prophet who has received an injunction to not eat any food during a particular journey, but partakes anyways and is almost immediately killed, I think by lions. However, that is not the only example. Moses misleads the children of Isreal by misperforming the designated ritual to bring water to the people in the desert. God doesn’t kill him, but ensures he does not enter the promised land. It suggests that the whole do it perfect or drop dead rule has a lot of ins and outs and grey area. Generally speaking we can accept the inspiration of the church leaders and trust what they say. But, given the counter example it would be rediculous to consider every word of the President of the church as absolute TRUTH as if it has just falled from the lips of the God. When it comes down to it, TRUTH is as hard to say completely as individuals are unique.