A conversation between the President of the Church and a member of the Twelve teaches us a lot about how the Brethren work together in guiding the kingdom.
The conversation occurred when President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder David B. Haight were once discussing a Church matter on which they didn’t see eye to eye. As they talked, the extent of the difference became clear. At that point, Elder Haight, age 96, said to the prophet, age 93: “That’s OK, Gordon. I used to think like that when I was your age.”
This story, besides being funny, is instructive about how the Brethren typically work together. Sometimes we think that the President of the Church is the only prophet: that he typically works in isolation, prays for revelation, and then tells his counselors and the Twelve what to do. But if that were always true, the conversation between Elder Haight and President Hinckley could never have happened. After all, if that’s how things worked, why would it even matter if Elder Haight disagreed with President Hinckley? Not only did their difference lead to a discussion, however, but Elder Haight implied that President Hinckley’s opinion was incomplete and would change! How is that possible, if we are supposed to “follow the prophet”?
The Council System
The answer, of course, is that the prophet does not work alone. His status is unique, of course: he is the only person on earth who holds and can exercise all priesthood keys, and he presides over the rest of those who are called as prophets, seers, and revelators. He is the designated mouthpiece of the Lord; and, in the words of Elder Cook, “guidance for the Church as a whole” comes through him.
But this does not mean that the President of the Church works in isolation. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, for example:
Even the President of the Church, who is Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and whose right and responsibility it is to make judgments and direct the course of the Church, invariably consults with his counselors to determine their feelings. If there is a lack of unity, there follows an absence of action.
The Lord certainly can and does formulate and deliver divine messages to His prophet (through the pure intelligence of the Spirit, visions, dreams, and the like). But He also follows a council system. In an earlier article (“Here [in the Quorum of the Twelve] We Play Hardball”), we saw that the Lord generally requires of his prophetic leaders what He required of Oliver Cowdery. Just as Oliver was to “study it out,” rather than merely ask, so they are to do the same: they intensively study issues together in council, seeking the guidance of the Spirit as a body.
Testimonies of Russell M. Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks
As a member of the Twelve, Russell M. Nelson spoke of this council system. He described the “varied educational and professional backgrounds” of the fifteen men in the presiding councils of the Church, and said that they have “differing opinions about many things. Trust me!” But, he observed: “The calling of 15 men to the holy apostleship provides great protection for us as members of the Church. Why? Because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous. Can you imagine how the Spirit needs to move upon 15 men to bring about unanimity?”
This is reminiscent of what Elder Richard G. Scott reported of meetings in the temple. He said that as council members discussed important issues—including their different perspectives and thoughts—over time, “the Spirit begins to enter and there begins to be identified a certain path…Any one of us, anytime, once that’s accomplished, can say, ‘I move that we do this, this, or this.’ And President says, ‘any more discussion?’ There isn’t any. There is absolutely no exception to uniform 100 per cent supporting what’s done.”
Demonstrating this way of working, Dallin H. Oaks wrote of his experience as a member of the First Presidency. He said in one place that “our First Presidency meetings continue to be very revelatory for all three of us: open discussion of different points of view followed by sweet coming together in unity.” On another occasion, he wrote: “In the First Presidency meeting, we had an outpouring of revelation to all three of us.” He said at another time: “President Nelson is receiving . . . inspiration, and it is always confirmed to President Eyring and me. Thrilling!”
Specifically regarding temples, President Oaks’ biographer reports: “Within the first month of the presidency’s formation, President Oaks wrote in his journal that during their meeting that morning, ‘we had an outpouring of revelation to all three of us’ on subjects related to temples.’” The biographer adds that “the inspiration continued throughout their months and years together.”
Like Russell M. Nelson and Richard G. Scott, President Oaks’ experience testifies of the council system and of how revelation is received as the Brethren work together.
All of this helps us see how David B. Haight of the Twelve could be so comfortable in disagreeing with Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church—and even in teasing him. Their relationship was not merely that of a superior and a subordinate; it was also that of two members of the same prophetic council. Thus, besides being delightful, the conversation draws attention to a crucial dimension of how the Lord works with His prophetic leaders: He established a council system for them . . . and He uses it.
Duane Boyce and Kimberly White are father and daughter. Learn more about modern prophets in their new book, The Last Safe Place: Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times.
 Shared by Lawrence Flake, reported in Tad Walch, “Tales of LDS Leaders’ Wit a Big Draw at Ed Week,” Deseret Morning News, 21 August 2003, http://www.mission.net/missouri/independence/Photo006Flake03. htm.
 Quentin L. Cook, “The Blessing of Continuing Revelation to Prophets and Personal Revelation to Guide Our Lives,” General Conference, April 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/04/52cook?lang=en.
 9 Gordon B. Hinckley, “In … Counsellors There is Safety,” General Conference, October 1990, https:// www.lds.org/general-conference/1990/10/in-counsellors-there-is-safety?lang=eng
 Russell M. Nelson, “Sustaining the Prophets,” General Conference, October 2014, https://www.lds.org/ general-conference/2014/10/sustaining-the-prophets?lang=eng
 Transcription of Richard G. Scott’s comments, appearing at https://www.amara.org/he/videos/cB1UNLpEs5CV/en/539200.
 Cited in Richard E. Turley, Jr., In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2021), 356.
 Ibid., 358.
 Ibid., 359.
 Ibid., 366.