Cover image: Photograph of Howard W. Hunter via History.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
We all know our prophets and apostles have human flaws. No one is perfect, and that includes those the Lord has chosen to preside in His Church.
But while it is important to recognize that these presiding Brethren exhibit flaws, it is also important not to exaggerate them. Though they certainly have mortal imperfections, those who hold the apostleship nonetheless fall in the class of God’s children whom he specifically calls “holy,” his “choice spirits,” and his “noble and great ones” (D&C 107:29; 138:55–56; Abraham 3:22–23). Their dedication to the Lord and to becoming what he wants them to be qualifies them for such descriptions. They work at repentance and spiritual refinement.
Elder Boyd K. Packer once said that those who have been called to lead the Church are ordinary men and women with ordinary capacities. He remarked that those who want to find faults in them have an easy task! “We are sorry for our inadequacies, sorry we are not better than we are,” he added. But he also declared that those who look for such faults do not examine prophets and apostles “more searchingly” than the prophets examine themselves.[i]
Now we might wonder what it means to examine oneself “searchingly.” Well, here’s a clue. Howard W. Hunter, who served in the apostleship for more than three decades, including as the prophet, once asked his stake president for a blessing. Why? Because he had had a negative thought about someone, and he felt he couldn’t fulfill his apostolic calling if he had even a single negative thought about anyone.[ii]
Now that is examining oneself searchingly. And that is why someone like this would be called, and why the Lord would support, strengthen, and defend him. He no doubt had different flaws, of course, just as all the prophets and apostles do.
But what these leaders are not, is complacent. They are not self-satisfied, smug, or lazy. They are qualified for their call not because they have achieved perfection but because they are so earnest in seeking to serve the perfect Lord.
The presiding Brethren have many critics. Indeed, being a target of criticism is part of what they signed up for in accepting their callings. But here’s a question: How many of these critics would even try to accept the standard that Howard W. Hunter applied to himself?
There are those who delight in criticizing and questioning the prophets, even ridiculing and scorning them, in print and in public. Perhaps they would feel less justified in doing so if they knew how fervently—at least as indicated by one of them—prophets avoid scorning and criticizing them.
Learn more about modern prophets in the authors’ new book The Last Safe Place: Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times.
[i] Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” General Conference, October 1989, https://www.lds. org/general-conference/1989/10/revelation-in-a-changing-world?lang=eng.
[ii] One of us heard this report firsthand from the stake president who gave the blessing.