In a recent BYU Commencement address, Elder William Clayton of the Seventy gave this advice to the saints:
“One does not need to listen to assertive apostates for long to see the parallels between them and the Korihors, Nehors and Sherems of the Book of Mormon,” Clayton said. “We should disconnect, immediately and completely, from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith, and instead reconnect promptly with the Holy Spirit.”
As a lifelong LDS and student of the scriptures, this counsel seems odd. Not odd from a practical sense, but odd from a scriptural and doctrinal sense.
Generally speaking, in a situation where an LDS is talking with an “assertive apostate”, there are only two realistic outcomes. The faith of the LDS is unchanged or slightly diminished, or the faith of the LDS is fundamentally altered for the worse (or even destroyed). Elder Clayton is simply acknowledging that the odds of the average LDS making a positive impact on hardened atheists is almost nil, so the most prudent course for faith preservation is to cut your losses.
But more interestingly, Elder Clayton invokes the stories of Sherem and Korihor as a reason to “disconnect”, as if the average LDS hearing his talk should understand these stories as warning us of the dangers of crafty apostates to believers. But that’s not what these stories teach! In both cases, Sherem and Korihor are confronted by strong, faithful believers who use their faith and priesthood to work miracles and defeat these enemies! There is no indication that the Lord’s preferred method is to disengage when faced by such enemies.
If modern day proselytizing “people who have lost their faith” are the equivalent of Sherem and Korihor, than we can only conclude that these modern day enemies are actually far more powerful than Sherem or Korihor was, or that the modern day defenders are weaker than Jacob and Alma were. Either way, we’re screwed, and the counsel to “disconnect” is a sad, weak attempt to deal with something that they are otherwise totally incapable of dealing with.
So any chance we could get Elder Clayton to clarify which he thinks is the case? Are modern enemies of Church mega-Sherems and Mega-Korihors? Or is the capacity of modern LDS diminished to the point that we can’t deal with them in the way that believers used to (curse with priesthood power, confound with wisdom from God etc.) Because if it’s the latter, it might be good to know what happened, and to find more analogous stories in which the faith and priesthood of the Saints isn’t up to the task of facing those who would argue against the Church, lest the wrong message be sent.