Iron Rod vs. Liahona Mormons

Individual vs. Authority
There is, according to Latter-day Saint author Terryl Givens, "a dichotomy in Mormon culture between Iron Rod Mormons and Liahona Mormons. He also uses the terms, Authority and Radical Freedom and others have termed the dichotomy as Individual vs. Authority. Terryl is first to acknowledge that this paradox in Mormon culture has unfortunately has placed labels upon the members of the LDS faith. "I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint," says LDS prophet Brigham Young, "and do not believe in the doctrine… away with stereotyped Mormons!"[1] There is in the Mormon culture, an inevitable distinction between these two types of Mormons that is impossible not to stereotype. The Iron Rod Mormons embrace Lehi’s dream, "always knowing where they are and how they are guided. Liahona Mormons, named for Lehi’s compass, are given information but must puzzle out the directions and find their own way."[2] Thus are the Mormons silently divided on the problem of having the freedom to interpret versus authoritative blind obedience to hierarchal leadership. As Terryl says in his book People of Paradox there, “will always be disposed to see unquestioning obedience to priesthood counsel as weakness and abdication of moral autonomy . . . others will see independent-mindedness as a euphemism for the fetishizing of difference and pride”[3]

The Iron Rod
The Iron Rod theory is taken from the Book of Mormon wherein two ancient (600 B.C.E) prophets on the American continent had a vision that interprets the "word of God" as not only authoritative but as salvationaly critical for one to receive eternal life.[4] Iron Rod Mormons find great comfort in the words of the prophets and are strict in adhering to the letter of the law rather than becoming spiritually discerning and using the law as interpretative. The Iron Rod member use Latter-day Saint scriptures to give evidence for their strict adherence to the religious institution and the words of the prophets. Speaking of the strict command to obey the words of the prophets the "saints" resort to the scripture found in their Doctrine and Covenants. "Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you…for his word ye shall receive as if from mine own mouth.[5] Different Latter-day Saint church leaders have also contributed to this type of Iron Rod thinking such as Boyd K. Packer "The mantle [of holy office] is far, far greater than the intellect."[6] At another time we read in an LDS article, "He (Lucifer) wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to 'do their own thinking. When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan-it is God's plan. When 'they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy"… "[7]

Liahona

Early church leader Brigham Young was very critical of those who aspired to simply "Iron Rod" their type of thinking without first "Liahoning." They place so much confidence and assurance in the prophets words that, "they will not inquire for themselves of God... I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that itself would thwart the purposes of God."[8] In response to the above LDS article about blindly sustaining church leaders was according to LDS church leader George Albert Smith, "not prepared by one of our leaders. However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed…to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts."

Mormon Literature

Mormon literature is replete with this paradox of the Liahona vs. the Iron Rod. Most Mormon fiction authors share this dilemma within their stories because the conflict that arises in their stories is what sells. Melissa Larson's "Little Happy Secrets," Douglas Thayer's "Opening Day," and the film "Nobody Knows" are just a few LDS theatrical, literary and film media types that portray this kind of paradoxical thinking. In Little Happy Secrets, author Melissa Larson tells of a woman torn between her religion and her desires to have a relationship with her girlfriend. The authoritative Iron Rod side of her is compelled to thwart the idea of her lesbianic emotions by an appeal to and doctrinal demands of her religious institution. The Liahona side of her is trying to do her best to puzzle out the authoritative instructions and finding her own way of approaching and solving her struggles through both authority and her own independent-mindedness. Douglas Thayer's Opening Day is a terrific story that has also (intentional or not) used this concept of Individual vs. authority. A returned missionary must battle within himself if he will continue his childhood hunting expeditions with his father. As a missionary he had decided to quit hunting but upon returning home decides to attend his father on a hunting trip. Remembering his commitment and vow to abstain from hunting was previously affirmed by him through the authoritative Holy Spirit. The Liahona side of him knew that it was good family time and any knowledge that he was not to hunt was to be suppressed and dismissed. The struggle between his authoritative inklings vs. his individual is intense and suspenseful. As he looks through the rifles scope one wonders if he will pull the trigger or not. These are just minute literary examples from the vast amounts of Mormon fiction books and stories. The concept of individual vs. authority or in other words, Liahona vs. Iron Rod will ever be present in upcoming Mormon Literature. Why? Because conflict sells.


[1] Brigham Young Journal of Discourses 8:185
[2] Terryl L. Givens. People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007 Reviewed by Claudia L. Bushman
[3] L. Givens. People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture pg 19
[4] See The Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 11
[5] Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-5
[6] https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=5472
[7] A 1945 Perspective - Dialogue – A Journal of Mormon Thought www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/.../sbi/.../Dialogue_V19N01_37.pdf
[8] Brigham Young; Journal of Discourses 9:150




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