As a missionary, I loved being the Lord's standard bearer, carrying The Truth with me to share with any who was willing to listen. I had no doubt that the message was true; true with the biggest capital "T" anyone could imagine. How could I be so sure? Because I had no doubt that, as I had been taught from a young age, I was led by a living prophet. God had a mouthpiece on earth, and through him I could know God's will.
In primary, we sang songs in creepy minor keys about following the prophet. Later, in sunday school, we learned about how the prophet could never lead us astray, and how "whether by My voice or the voice of my servant, it is the same. The servant, of course, being the prophet. These concepts were further reinforced in seminary, and later at BYU. When the prophet speaks, the debate is over!
And thus I believed, and lived my life accordingly. The brethren are not to be questioned; their word is God's will. I served my mission faithfully, came home, graduated from BYU, married, and actively sought to follow these men who God called as his earthly representatives.
My disaffection from Mormonism is not unique, but at some point along the way for anyone who is questioning the church, the question has to be asked: Is the prophet wrong sometimes? With a little digging into church history, I had to admit that the answer was "Yes." And further investigation led to another question: Is the prophet wrong a lot? And with a little more digging, I had to admit that again, the answer was "Yes." And after further studying came the final question: Is the prophet just plain making things up sometimes? And the answer again is a resounding "YES!"
This post is not meant to be a comprehensive discussion of things prophets and apostles have been wrong about, but for the sake of the discussion some must be named. Here are the highlights I can think of off the top of my head:
1) Blood Atonement
2) Adam-God Theory
3) The Lamanites being the principal ancestors of the Native Americans
4) The Book of Abraham being an actual translation from the papyrus
5) Blacks being banned from the priesthood
6) The reasons given for blacks being banned from the priesthood
7) Native Americans' skin becoming lighter after being converted to the gospel
8) The cause of and nature of homosexuality (including that it is caused by masturbation)
Apologists chafe when critics point out these falsehoods. "God works through imperfect men, and sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they speak as men." This explanation does not cut it for me. I can think of examples of prophets speaking as men in instances where they were wrong, but their being wrong did not affect anyone's salvation or well-being.
In 1961, Joseph Fielding Smith addressed a congregation in Hawaii and said: "We will never get a man into space. This earth is man's sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it." He was obviously wrong, and guess what? It doesn't matter. To anyone. THIS is an example of a prophet speaking as a man, and is an acceptable instance of one speaking outside of his prophetic role. I have no problem with this whatsoever.
On the other hand, teaching, and propagating the teaching, that an entire race is unworthy of the priesthood because they were not valiant before coming to earth? Telling gays they have same-sex attraction because they are selfish, and that they can make it go away through repentance? That is not someone succumbing to their imperfection, unless their imperfection is a penchant for inventing false doctrine and teaching it as if God had revealed it. And if that is one of their imperfections, I would think God might avoid calling them as His living mouthpiece.
So what does it mean if the Lord's anointed are making up doctrine? I can think of 2 basic scenarios, and neither one is particularly encouraging for the faithful:
1) They are not actually the Lord's anointed, and not only did they make up the above-mentioned items; they made up all of it, and it just so happens that the items above are actually refutable. Most ex-mormons end up coming to this conclusion. If this is the case, no more discussion is needed- ignore them and go on your way.
The second scenario is more complicated:
2) They are God's representatives, but they can't differentiate true revelation from their own random thoughts and biases. And when new issues arise, they seem to feel the need to speak out, often forcefully. Perhaps they feel that they are supposed to have an answer for everything, and when no clear revelation comes forth, they speak on their own. Unfortunately they often seem to do so without truly understanding what they are speaking about, and as such end up teaching their own flawed philosophies as doctrine. And when this happens, the obvious question becomes, "what good does it do to have a prophet at all?"
For me and many others, this issue leads us to a breaking point where we lose belief in the entire system. If the prophet is just a coin to flip randomly, sometimes landing with the "Truth" side up, and sometimes with the "Random Bullshit" side up, what use is he to me? Each and every time he comes up "Bullshit," his position of authority is eroded. Unfortunately for the church, the internet now makes available a comprehensive list of all the past coin flips, and the "Bullshit" tally is impressive.