In October of 1955, Elder Hugh B. Brown gave an address at BYU wherein he cited a conversation he had with a renowned judge that led him to identify 11 characteristics exemplified by Joseph Smith that make up the “profile of a prophet.” The irony of this talk is that Hugh B. Brown himself was later sustained as a “prophet, seer, and revelator,” and yet he might not pass his own test.
Now, Hugh B. Brown is one of my favorite figures from church history, so I’ll go easy on him. After all, even though he was sustained as a prophet he wasn’t, you know, THE prophet. So we’ll cut him some slack. The real person we need to evaluate is the head honcho, the Lord’s mouthpiece on earth, the president of the church.
Thomas S. Monson has been president of the church since 2008. Prior to that, he was an apostle since 1963. That’s over half a century of being a prophet, seer, and revelator! Surely, if anyone can measure up to the profile of a prophet, it will be him.
Here is Elder Brown’s criteria for a true prophet:
1. He will boldly claim that God had spoken to him.
If you’re expecting President Monson to brazenly testify of visitations from God, Jesus, and angels like Joseph Smith and the other prophets did, you’re going to be disappointed. In the few times President Monson has mentioned God speaking, he has only cited the still small voice—you know, the one that speaks to common members and non-members alike, not just to prophets.
2. Any man so claiming would be a dignified man with a dignified message—no table jumping, no whisperings from the dead, no clairvoyance, but an intelligent statement of truth.
There is no doubt President Monson is a dignified man. Nobody could question his intelligence. But heartwarming stories about elderly widows doesn’t really constitute a direct message from God.
There are so many pressing issues today that aren’t being properly addressed. Members are leaving the church in droves with concerns over polygamy, the Book of Mormon authenticity, historic racism, and gender issues. LGBT members struggle with depression instigated by moral double standards and doctrinal ambiguity. Yet there is no authoritative word from the Lord’s mouthpiece on any of these issues. The best we get is the mouthpiece of the Lord’s mouthpiece–employed public relations professionals and anonymous writers of apologetic essays.
What’s the point of having a mouthpiece for the Lord if he never acts as one? Where’s the disconnect?
3. Any man claiming to be a prophet of God would declare his message without any fear and without making any weak concessions to public opinion.
Though we could cite polygamy and race issues as obvious infractions of this qualifier, we’ll stick with the administration of President Monson. Does the church’s failure to prevent gay marriage and its subsequent involvement in pro-gay legislation count as making concessions? Does its continuing partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, despite its strong moral hesitancy, count as making concessions? Does its attempt to begin coming to terms with its dark history through the Gospel Topics Essays count as making concessions?
4. If he were speaking for God he could not make concessions, although what he taught would be new and contrary to the accepted teachings of the day. A prophet bears witness to what he has seen and heard and seldom tries to make a case by argument. His message and not himself is important.
To my knowledge, President Monson hasn’t taught anything new. Heck, even though a lot of Mormonism contradicts the “accepted teachings of the day” (you know, like the genesis of man, the global flood, and Native American origins), I’m not sure that President Monson has personally said anything that contradicts general public sentiment. I mean, his talks are about being nice and following the spirit. That’s not exactly revolutionary or inflammatory.
If a prophet testifies of what he has seen and heard, then can we conclude that President Monson has neither heard nor seen the Lord since he has not testified of either?
If the message, not the person, is important, then why all the hullabaloo of throwing grandiose celebrations for his birthday, performing for him at temple dedications, calling him by his proper title and middle initial, and standing when he enters the room?
5. Such a man would speak in the name of the Lord, saying, “Thus said the Lord,” as did Moses, Joshua, and others.
Not only has President Monson never used such language, but I am unaware of ANY prophet who has used such language in over a hundred years. Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nephi, Joseph Smith, and just about every other ancient prophet of whom we have record used such language. Why not now? If we want to stick to the narrative about God always speaking to prophets, then let’s at least be consistent. If all the ancient prophets had the guts to say, “thus saith the Lord,” it doesn’t seem that crazy for a prophet to say it today, especially since we are apparently living in the most tumultuous time in history.
6. Such a man would predict future events in the name of the Lord, and they would come to pass, as did those predicted by Isaiah and Ezekiel.
This criterion certainly makes sense. If a prophet is one who prophesies, then it stands to reason that any person claiming to be a prophet should be able to offer a prophecy. Joseph Smith gave prophecies. Granted, many of them didn’t come to pass, but at least he did what a prophet, by definition, is supposed to do. Has President Monson given any prophecies? If so, do any of them even come close to the scale of prophecy made by Isaiah or Ezekiel?
7. He would have not only an important message for his time but often a message for all future time, such as Daniel, Jeremiah, and others had.
Inasmuch as being nice and serving people are important timeless principles, then yes, President Monson’s message, which bears no citation of supernatural origin, is for our time and the future. Though really there is no comparison of President Monson’s sermons and the prophecies of Daniel or Jeremiah. His teachings more closely resemble those of Joel Olsteen (heck, Joel even authored a book on one of President Monson’s favorite subjects—Your Decisions Determine Your Destiny)
8. He would have courage and faith enough to endure persecution and to give his life, if need be, for the cause he espoused, such as Peter, James, Paul, and others did.
I’d be a fool to say President Monson hasn’t given a lot for his faith. How that guy has been going so strong for so long is incredible. I was exhausted just reading his biography.
Perhaps it would have been okay if Elder Brown hadn’t made the comparison to the original apostles. I mean, President Monson isn’t exactly persecuted. Have you ever seen him testify before rulers like Paul? Have you ever seen him get mobbed like Joseph Smith? Back in the day, apostles went without purse or scrip to preach the gospel. Today, they enjoy cushy stipends, first-class transportation to friendly assemblies, and an army of young, naive missionaries who can do the dirty work of tracting in the sweltering heat, living in poverty, and endangering their lives to spread the message. It’s just not really the same is it?
9. Such a man would denounce wickedness fearlessly. He would generally be rejected or persecuted by the people of his time, but later generations and descendants of his persecutors would build monuments in his honor.
Again, nobody is persecuting President Monson. He’s not rejected by the public because his message isn’t distinguishable enough from the rest the Christian white noise to raise any controversial conversation. .
It’s interesting to note that most historical prophets were rejected BY THEIR OWN PEOPLE. As Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). That doesn’t seem to be the case today. The world isn’t persecuting President Monson and the saints aren’t rejecting him. Being a prophet has never been so easy!
10. He would be able to do superhuman things—things that no man could do without God’s help. The consequence or result of his message and work would be convincing evidence of his prophetic calling: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).
I’ve heard President Monson has a photographic memory. I don’t think that’s one of the “superhuman things” Elder Brown was referring to. If we are going to talk about prophetic fruits, let’s look at some of the ones mentioned in scripture:
“In my name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:7).
Today, the gift of tongues has been replaced by translators and we are told to have faith “not to be healed” by apostolic blessings. There is a story of a young Thomas Monson using the priesthood to heal his seamate,Leland Merril, so I’ll give him props for that, even though it was before his call. Besides that, I’m not aware of any “superhuman” element of President Monson’s ministry.
11. His teachings would be in strict conformity with scripture, and his words and his writings would become scripture. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).
[Aside: I can just imagine Brigham Young sweating profusely, hoping that this qualification doesn’t apply to him. Otherwise we’d still be worshipping Adam God and practicing Blood Atonement]
I think the sum of Jesus’s ministry is to love others. I think President Monson relays that message well. In that sense, he definitely conforms to scripture. The departure from scripture comes when we compare President Monson’s prophetic stature to any other prophet of scripture. They just don’t look anything alike. President Monson, doesn’t pass Elder Brown’s test.
Following his list of prophetic criteria, Elder Brown said, “I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God because he talked like a prophet. He was the first man since the apostles of Jesus Christ were slain to make the claim that prophets have always made—viz., that God had spoken to him. He lived and died like a prophet. I believe he was a prophet of God because he gave to this world some of the greatest of all revelations. I believe that he was a prophet of God because he predicted many things that have come to pass—things that only God could bring to pass.”
Those very things are the reason I do not believe Thomas Monson to be a prophet. He doesn’t talk like a prophet. He has not been slain or persecuted. He has not made the claim that God has spoken to him. He has not given the world great revelations. He has not predicted many things that have come to pass—things that only God could bring to pass.
The conversation Elder Brown had with that judge could aptly be applied to the present day. Here it dialogue, modified to match present circumstances:
‘[Revelation] stopped shortly after [the death of Joseph Smith].’
‘Why do you think it stopped?’
‘I can’t say.’
‘You think that God hasn’t spoken since then?’
‘I am sure He hasn’t.’
‘There must be a reason. Can you give me a reason?’
‘I do not know.’
‘May I suggest some possible reasons? Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because He cannot. He has lost the power.’
He said, ‘Of course that would be blasphemous.’
‘Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because He doesn’t love us anymore and He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.’
‘Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science and we are so well educated that we don’t need God anymore.’
And then he said—and his voice trembled as he thought of [terrorism, global climate change, rampant poverty,hunger and disease, LGBT issues, historical messiness, and doctrinal ambiguity]— ‘Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why He doesn’t speak.’
I issue that same query. If God spoke so boldly to mankind all throughout history and again through Joseph Smith, why has he grown silent since then? Why can’t we expect a prophet, seer, and revelator to—I don’t know—prophesy, “see,” or reveal?
At the conclusion of his talk Elder Brown said:
“This was a judge speaking—a great statesman, an intelligent man. He threw out the challenge: ‘Do you appreciate the import of what you say?’ He added, ‘I wish it were true. I hope it may be true. God knows it ought to be true. I would to God,’ he said, and he wept as he said it, ‘that some man could appear on earth and authoritatively say, Thus saith the Lord.’”
I wish it too, Elder Brown. I wish it too.