Second Response from Rick Miller (BYU Sociology Department) to LDS Answers

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Rick Miller has responded to our recent post, An Open Letter to Rick Miller, BYU Sociology Department Chair.

After sending my initial response to the LDS Answers team, I was determined not to send any more responses.  However, I want to make two comments to your open letter to me.

  1. In your letter you said, “You claim that “. . . what we teach in the sociology department, is approved by our university administration and our Board of Trustees, which includes the First Presidency and other church leaders. We are teaching what the Brethren want us to teach.”  So everything at BYU is endorsed by the First Presidency?  How do you feel about these BYU “highlights”?”You left out the crucial word, curriculum, from my quote.  And the answer is, yes, our curriculum is approved by the Board of Trustees.  I made no claim that everything at BYU is endorsed by the First Presidency.  (To say that is trying to twist the argument.) Again, what I said was that our curriculum is approved by the Board of Trustees, and our curriculum includes discussions of Karl Marx and other sociological thinkers.  I have stewardship over my sociology faculty and what they teach, not comments made by professors in other departments. Based on that stewardship, I assured you in my first response that our curriculum is approved by the Board of Trustees.  Your inclusion of rogue comments by other professors at BYU outside the sociology department has no bearing on whether or not our curriculum is approved by the Board of Trustees.
  2. We are very loyal to our church leaders, and our strongest desire is to follow them, including our living prophet.   Your main argument against our teaching of Karl Marx is based on quotes by Ezra Taft Benson and others.  Here is another quote by Ezra Taft Benson, from his 1980 BYU Devotional talk, Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet:

    “Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

    God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the Ark. Noah needed his own revelation. Therefore the most important prophet so far as you and I are concerned is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us. Therefore the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the prophet contained each month in our Church Magazines. Our instructions about what we should do for each six months are found in the General Conference addresses which are printed in the Church magazine.Beware of those who would set up the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence” (June 1981 Liahona, First Presidency Message).

As much as we revere and honor our past prophets and apostles, our focus is on following our living prophet, along with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Our curriculum is 100% consistent with what our current Board of Trustees wants taught in the sociology department.

In your open letter to me you stated that “We welcome any comments if you feel that we are not understanding this issue correctly.” In my mind, what you are not understanding correctly is the difference between a living prophet (and First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) and words spoken by church leaders 45 years ago and longer.   According to Ezra Taft Benson’s teachings, the former always supersedes the latter.  That is why we are following the guidance of our current leaders in our curriculum.

Best wishes,

LDS Answers is dedicated to providing real answers to the tough questions regarding LDS history and doctrine. Many struggle to resolve concerns dealing with Joseph Smith's polygamy, evolution, education, parenting, latter-day prophecy, historical issues and many other "Mormon stumpers". LDS Answers will provide accurate, faith-filled answers that tell the real story with the real facts and the real history.


  1. Wow! This brings up a lot more questions for me that I’d like to ask Rick Miller. 1st, please show me where the living prophet encouraged us to joke about and make light of a system of government responsible for the torture of countless children of God? I’m serious. Please, if you are using “I follow the living prophet”, as a shield to justify your actions, show me the quote where Thomas S. Monson has stated we should put Karl Marx on a t-shirt letting others assume or atleast wonder if it is an endorsement of such, so that I may do it also. I want to follow all the commandments. Please show me where this one is contained.

    If you cannot, are you humble enough to say sorry for your actions that strike the conscience of so many LDS? Would that really be so bad, to say, ‘maybe I should check myself and adjust myself to the revealed word of God’?

  2. People just need to read the scriptures, man. Some people are deceiving themselves and really do not have the spirit simply because of the decisions they make.

  3. Rick Miller, can you show me where a living prophet has told us that a living prophet was more important than a dead one? You, thus far, have only used dead ones’ quotes to prove that point, which contradicts what you’re even saying…

    Also, did “not commanded in all things” come up in anyone’s mind when reading this? We have been previously warned of the dangers of socialism. Many prophets have tried so hard to get us to listen! I mean, come on, you can’t get a whole lot clearer than President Benson on this topic. Maybe the Lord is teaching us the Samuel principle… He’ll only warn us so many times. We haven’t been listening, and He’s going to let us have our own way and lead ourselves into destruction.

    • “Maybe the Lord is teaching us the Samuel principle… He’ll only warn us so many times.” I’m not sure this idea holds water. We just spent a year on the teachings of President Benson (and as you note, “you can’t get a whole lot clearer than President Benson on this topic”), and yet his teachings on socialism were not highlighted. Is the current Church leadership not listening to the Lord then?

      • Jack of Hearts,
        “Is the current Church leadership not listening to the Lord then?” This is a personal issue/decision and in no way connected to this discussion. It is a gospel principle that if we as a people blatantly disregard the teachings of prophets (such as Pres. Benson’s on communism) the prophets will cease to teach them (see my comment below with Alma 12:11 and examples). However, this tangent is in no way connected to the issue being discussed: the ills of communism and how we as church members (and the BYU sociology department) have a responsibility to shun and refute it.

        • “It is a gospel principle that if we as a people blatantly disregard the teachings of prophets . . . the prophets will cease to teach them.” Indeed it is. My question was if that principle applied in the situation LC Brooke outlined, given evidence that seems to indicate otherwise.

          “However, this tangent is in no way connected to the issue being discussed.” That’s fine; you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. LC Brooke and I can have the conversation ourselves.

          • Jack of Hearts,

            It is important to confirm the validity of President Ezra Taft Benson’s words in regard to socialism and communism therefore I will do my best to answer this as it relates to the article. This part is pertinent to the article. The tangent is getting into an argument over whether current church leadership is listening to the Lord.

            “My question was if that principle applied in the situation LC Brooke outlined, given evidence that seems to indicate otherwise.” Which given evidence? You make this comment but fail to share any evidence as to why this principle does not apply to Pres. Benson’s teachings about communism.

            As Bradley and LC Brooke have noted, the Lord will cease to give us instruction if we ignore it. President Benson was (as has been noted) very vocal on the dangers of communism. I find today that most members of the church are completely oblivious to the dangers of communism, socialism, and Pres. Benson’s words on the subject, as evidenced by the fact that Bernie Sanders (an open socialist) was the most popular candidate at BYU. As Bradley noted, the article we are discussing is also evidence: “the nonchalant attitude of the Sociology Department is characteristic of a great casualness among church membership toward the teachings of The Book of Mormon and modern prophets on matters such as communism.”

            The lack of knowledge on communism suggests that the church members have chosen to ignore Pres. Benson’s teachings. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the church leadership is no longer vocal on this exact subject. Now they teach the principles (agency and freedom) and leave it up to the members to make principle-based decisions. This does not make the application of the principles less important. They leave the Book of Mormon and words of past prophets to speak for themselves. BYU should not be joking about Marx or his communist philosophies that are Satan’s plan.

      • Jack of Hearts,
        Caleb makes a very valid point that a discussion about the current flow of modern revelation is a different discussion which is completely separate from the evils of communism and socialism. Historically and religiously there is no doubt that communism, socialism, and Marx are BAD news. BYU, especially as a church school with a responsibility to teach the whole truth, needs to be actively teaching the evils of communism and Marx…not making jokes about the issue.

        Another principle that should be remembered is that the Lord takes away from a people the light and knowledge that they reject because He does not want them to be responsible on the day of judgement for higher laws that they are unprepared to follow (consider the children of Israel and the Law of Moses). I feel that perhaps the nonchalant attitude of the Sociology Department is characteristic of a great casualness among church membership toward the teachings of The Book of Mormon and modern prophets on matters such as communism. Such casualness is a sure way to have taken from us the talent we have received. Loosing our ‘talent’ puts us another step away from the establishment of Zion…hardly something we can afford now as the last-days roll on.

  4. Brother Miller,
    You have quoted above a First Presidency Message warning us against those who use the word of dead prophets against the word of living prophets. You then state that: “our focus is on following our living prophet.” You imply that you can ignore the words of past prophets and apostles because you are only “following our living prophet.” We hold the words of prophets (living and dead) to be the word of God. The Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants are all words of prophets deceased at least “45 years ago and longer.” Does this mean the principles they taught are no longer true?
    Are you suggesting that you are following President Monson instead of President Benson? Will you show me where President Monson has contradicted President Benson’s teachings in opposition to Marx? Thomas S. Monson vocally supported President Benson in his stand for freedom saying: “I think it is the inspiration of the Almighty God that at this particular time we have serving as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Ezra Taft Benson, one of the greatest advocates of freedom.”
    We are not talking about whether we should build an ark, we are talking about the eternal principles that under-gird Satan’s plan vs. God’s plan. Are you implying that because President Monson has not recently warned us about communism that it is no longer dangerous or that these eternal principles have changed? Might I suggest that when prophets cease to speak it is often because the people are unwilling to listen. Consider how the children of Israel lost the higher law because of disobedience or how the early saints failed to live the law of consecration.
    “They that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.” Alma 12:11
    Perhaps, instead of assuming that principles have changed we should consider whether or not we need to change.

  5. I’m curious to know exactly what the BYU Sociology Dept. teaches about Karl Marx’s ideology. Is it different than it was 45 years ago? 100 years ago?

    I understand that a living prophet always trumps a dead one with respect to revelation, but is Rick Miller implying that Pres. Monson (or other recent prophets) have changed positions with respect to what the Sociology Dept. should teach regarding Marxism? The fact that he states that the Dept follows the “guidance of our current leaders in our curriculum” makes me think he’s defending the Sociology Dept’s position on Karl Marx. If he’s defending it, I have to ask myself why? Has the curriculum “evolved?”

    To me, the issue is not so much whether the BYU Sociology Dept is following the current Brethren or the early Brethren (as Miller focuses on here), as much as it is “what is being taught?” True doctrine about who Marx really was or Marxist doctrine?

    • By his own admission we are no longer discussing the ‘joke’ about the t-shirts as he claimed in his last response but now their “teaching of Karl Marx.” To quote him: “Your main argument against our teaching of Karl Marx is based on quotes by Ezra Taft Benson and others.” This topic started because of the t-shirt giveaway. Is he avoiding taking responsibility for the t-shirt giveaway? Or is he admitting that it counts as part of their “teaching”? If it does, is it “approved by the Board of Trustees”?

  6. I am amazed that Rick Miller seems to have become so defensive that he is stepping away from the actual issue in order to jump into a justification struggle. Let me try to clarify a few things and maybe refocus and cool a few heads.

    Brother Miller complains that LDS Answers quoted a few, “rogue” professors and declares that he does not claim stewardship for their words. He also makes the very valid point that it is the, “curriculum” that is approved and not, “everything at BYU is approved by the First Presidency.”

    I hope that Brother Miller recognizes that our concern is not that the curriculum of the sociology department is flawed, but that Rick Miller and the rest of the sociology department themselves went, “rogue” and started publicizing Karl Marx in an inappropriate way. We are not criticizing the entire sociology curriculum but rather speaking out against a very bad, “joke” from the sociology faculty.

    Brother Miller completely misses the point and starts talking about the importance of the living prophet over the dead prophet (which is completely true) when he ought to be realizing that neither the teachings of the living or the dead prophets support the, “joke” (which wasn’t a joke by-the-way) of the sociology department. The curriculum, or the general layout, of what is taught is approved by the Board of Trustees, but the words, tone, and specific teaching methods that are used in the classroom are the responsibility of each professor and, eventually, the sociology chair. Brother Miller, as that chair, is responsible to know the teachings of the prophets on subjects like Karl Marx and then encourage classroom practices that will inform students of the serious nature of topics like communism. When Brother Miller supports, “jokes” about such matters, he is going, “rogue” and not fulfilling his stewardship in a manner that is in accordance with divine principles.

    We are hoping that Brother Miller will recognize the inappropriateness of his joke, apologize for his mistake, do everything he can to make it right (take efforts now to inform students of the true nature of Marx), and change in the future to make sure that each student leaving a BYU sociology class will realize the dangers of Marx and Communism.

    Brother Miller, the concern is NOT the curriculum! … it’s the specific move for which the sociology department, and especially you as the chair, are personally responsible; namely, publicizing Carl Mark in an inappropriate way. We are confident that the Board of Trustees and the living prophet did not approve of that specific, “joke.”

  7. In his first response Rick Miller stated, “What better place than at BYU for students to be exposed to the ‘philosophies of men'” Evidently, the student body is not being “exposed” to these philosophies with the perspective of President Ezra Taft Benson (nor any other President of the Church), namely, that Marxist Communism is a “godless gospel counterfeit,” as Caleb noted above, it is Lucifer’s plan incarnate, the complete antithesis of the Restoration.

    Rather than denouncing that Marxism was being taught in a rosy glow at BYU he went to lengths to dismiss the revelation of what he refers to as a “dead prophet”. Sadly, one doesn’t have to wonder to understand how Marxism is really being taught in the classroom. I pray, for the sake of the instructed and instructors, that changes.

    Does this mean that the teachings of Isaiah and Moses are worthless because they are dead, and that the instructions of Christ are of no more force because He was crucified? Such a suggestion is ludicrous, should we start saying anything President Monson hasn’t spoken on is no longer binding? Should we forget the Word of Wisdom then? Or Temples? Though the body of the Church may be swayed at times upon societal whim, the gospel is, like the Creator, the same today, yesterday and forever from everlasting to everlasting. He doesn’t change based on any universities curriculum, nor can BYU supersede the mouthpiece of the Lord upon communism, the Prophets and scriptures on evolution and the host of others.

    • Great point Aaron. I agree that if Rick Miller actually understood, believed, and taught the teachings of the prophets, he would be quick to denounce that Marxism is being taught with a rosy glow. Instead, he seems determined to justify himself by raising a mute point about living vs dead prophets.

  8. I have heard a lot of people talk about following the living prophet. Similar to LC Brooke I have never heard a living prophet tell us to disregard what past prophets have said. Along with that statement, theirs a reason we study and read books from the past prophets in church every year.

    I have Come across a comment in the book “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball” that should help bring sufficient reliance on following quotes from past prophets as a well as living:

    “Following leaders is the path of safety. Every normal person may have a sure way of knowing what is right and what is wrong. He may learn the gospel and receive the Holy Spirit which will always guide him as to right and wrong. In addition to this, he has the leaders of the Lord’s church. And the only sure, safe way is to follow that leadership–FOLLOW THE SPIRIT WITHIN YOU AND FOLLOW THE PROPHETS, DEAD AND LIVING.” PG.459

  9. Wow, I just found this and felt that it should be on the record. Here’s a President Benson mic drop on the subject!
    “As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. President Joseph F. Smith referred to false educational ideas as one of the three threatening dangers among our Church members. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children; and if they have become alert and informed as President McKay admonished us last year, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, John Dewey, Karl Marx, John Keynes, and others.
    Today there are much worse things that can happen to a child than not getting a full college education. In fact, some of the worst things have happened to our children while attending colleges led by administrators who wink at subversion and amorality.
    Said Karl G. Maeser, “I would rather have my child exposed to smallpox, typhus fever, cholera, or other malignant and deadly diseases than to the degrading influence of a corrupt teacher. It is infinitely better to take chances with an ignorant, but pure-minded teacher than with the greatest philosopher who is impure.”
    “A Plea to Strengthen Our Families” Oct 1970

    Well, that just about sums in up doesn’t it. 🙂