How Can I Tell When Authority Is Being Used Improperly?

Korihor had a persuasive argument against the church: Members consistently obeyed church leaders; therefore, church leaders must be exercising inappropriate authority over the members. In Korihor’s defiant words:

I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words (Alma 30:23).

To usurp is to take something illegally or by force. Korihor believed that church leaders were coercing members to obey. But how, since the members affirmed that they were obeying these commandments willingly? Korihor’s theory was that they had been brainwashed:

Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so (Alma 30:16).

Why would church leaders deceive the people? For personal gain: “That ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands” (Alma 30:27).

For Alma, the high priest, this last assertion was easy to refute:

Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support (Alma 30:32).

Alma was following the guidance given by his father when the church was first organized at the waters of Mormon. His father had taught that “the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support” (Mosiah 18:24).

If Alma and the other church leaders were not growing wealthy from their service, then how to account for their hard work? Alma suggested a simpler motive: “What doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren?” (Alma 30:34).

Occam’s razor, also known as the law of parsimony, states that the simplest explanation for a set of facts is most likely to be the correct one. Notice how much simpler Alma’s explanation is than Korihor’s:

Fact Korihor’s explanation Alma’s explanation
Church members obey the commandments willingly They have been brainwashed. Living the gospel brings them joy.
Church leaders teach the members how they should live. Leaders are enriched at the expense of members. Church leaders want members to be happy.

I think this story identifies two questions which are useful in distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate uses of authority:

  1. Is the leader taking advantage of the followers, gaining something of value at their expense?
  2. Are the followers obeying by choice or by compulsion?

Today, I will remember the example of Alma as I act in my leadership responsibilities. I will strive to lead by persuasion, not by compulsion, and I will be careful to use the authority I have been given to benefit the people I lead, not myself.

3 thoughts on “How Can I Tell When Authority Is Being Used Improperly?

Add yours

  1. Great message that meshes well with recent teachings of how Satan seeks to deceive us by playing to our emotions to distract us from plain & simple truth. Thanks Paul!



    1. That’s an interesting point: Korihor’s argument was an appeal to the emotions, while Alma’s was an appeal to the facts. Thanks for the comment!


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