Does the church encourage leader worship?

That depends on how you define "worship".

If you are expecting Hindu style altars to president’s of the church in the member’s homes where they burn incense and make sacrificial offerings and pray to the Quorum of the twelve - no, you won’t find that here.

However, if you define worship as "inappropriate obeisance to the dictates of church leaders", I would say yes - the church does encourage this. Though, here too we must ask what constitutes "inappropriate". In my view, it basically boils down to whether the teachings of the church encourages its members to abdicate the throne of their own mind. That is - whether it encourages them to think and act, in relation to questions and circumstances that weigh on the question of the church's validity, its leader's authority, and any subject of special interest to the church, differently than they would when facing analogous questions and circumstances that do not pose such a threat.

Elsewhere, I've written the following in relation to this topic:

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One of the oldest accusations that has been leveled against the LDS church is that it “brainwashes” its members. This accusation is both annoying and perplexing to most members of the church, who, in contrast, feel that the church is a strong advocate for education, intelligent inquiry, and free-thinking… I believe that the church does _both_ of these things, and the fact that it does both is a big part of why this can be a frustrating, even confusing, debate.

But, _how?_ - If the church’s teachings, policies and so on are, actually, _both_ promoting free thinking _and_ controlling the thoughts of its members, how is this taking place?

Consider the mind of a human being - are all of the thoughts that run through your mind consistent? Most people can readily identify with the internal battle of one voice crying out for ice-cream while another cries out for a flat stomach, or of one voice advising you to go to bed while another says “just one more episode”. The reality is that our minds are full of competing voices, and sometimes the call of one voice overpowers or undermines the efforts of another, better voice. In a similar manner do I find that, while there is a set of voices within the church that promote intelligence and the pursuit of “truth”, there is another set of voices within its teachings and practices that promotes quite the opposite message but they are delivered in a manner that makes it difficult for most members to notice their true character and influence.

The effect of these anti-truth-seeking voices goes unnoticed for several reasons. One of the most important is that they are only deployed against a particular set of topics - namely, anything that might threaten the professed validity and authority of this church and its leaders. Consequently, we find that church leaders will sincerely promote free-thinking, education, intelligence and the value of truth in regard to matters that don’t threaten its validity and authority, while in more-or-less the same breath undermining those same principles in relation to topics that do threaten the church. The result is that along with the message to educate yourself and think freely, there comes, as a whisper, the subliminal message **“... just not about** ___this___**”**.

The character of what goes on the church is perfectly captured in this quote by Noam Chomsky:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” (The Common Good, 1998)

Of course, all that I’ve said so far only conveys my conclusions about what is happening in the church. To prove my claims, we’ll have to look at specific examples.
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The above quote is taken from a much larger work where, among other things, I address an article from a church magazine that was at one time a flash point for this debate, looking first at rebuttals of it as a valid proof of the claim that the church engages in "brainwashing", and finally show that, contrary to the claims made in those rebuttals, these messages really are common within the church.

The article that I examine, titled, “Sustaining the General Authorities of the church”, was published in the June, 1945 edition of the Improvement Era magazine[This document can be found at: archive.org/details/…] (pg 354), and has been dubbed by some as an “old favorite” of those who accuse the church of mind control policies.

The sum and substance of this brief article can be gleaned from these excerpts:

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"No Latter-day Saint is compelled to sustain the General Authorities of the Church... There is no element of coercion or force in this or any other Church procedure.

However... When a person raises his hand to sustain Church leaders as "prophets, seers, and revelators," it is the same as a promise and a covenant to follow their leadership and to abide by their counsel as the living oracles of God. Consequently, any subsequent act or word of mouth which is at variance with the will of the Lord as taught by the leaders of the Church places the sincerity of such person in serious doubt…

Any Latter–day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the "prophets, seers, and revelators" of the Church is cultivating the spirit of apostasy. One cannot speak evil of the Lord’s anointed and retain the Holy Spirit in his heart… [Satan] wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to "do their own thinking."… When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan — it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.”
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I won't include here all else that I wrote in the essay that this is taken from but I will finish by including a sampling of the many quotes I include in it which demonstrate that indeed, the objectionable messages contained in the article above really are taught. I assert that many of the specific quotes listed below, and certainly all of the concepts, should be familiar to most Mormons because they are regularly referenced in every venue of the church. From General Conference talks, to Sunday School lessons, to Family Home Evening sessions - all of these messages are in circulation _today_. Consequently, it is my opinion that the only reason this article raised eyebrows was because it gathered together in _one place_ - where their cumulative meaning could not be mistaken - the sum and substance of several teachings that together constrain the membership’s thinking in ways that violate the spirit of genuine free thought and truth seeking and, indeed, encourage leader worship within the church:

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“No true Latter-day Saint will ever take a stand that is in opposition to what the Lord has revealed to those who direct the affairs of his earthly kingdom. No Latter-day Saint who is true and faithful in all things will ever pursue a course, or espouse a cause, or publish an article or book that weakens or destroys faith.” (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report, October 1984, p. 104)

"while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.’ ” (Deseret News Weekly, 3 Nov. 1869, p. 457. As found in Enrichment F "As If from Mine Own Mouth": The Role of Prophets in the Church, Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 389–392)

"No man, however strong he may be in the faith, however high in the Priesthood, can speak evil of the Lord’s anointed and find fault with God’s authority on the earth without incurring His displeasure. The Holy Spirit will withdraw itself from such a man, and he will go into darkness.” (Gospel Truth, ed. Jerrald L. Newquist (Salt Lake City: Zion’s Book Store, 1957), p. 278.; As quoted in: "Follow the Brethren", By Alma P. Burton; Ensign, October, 1972)

"One of the first steps to apostasy is to find fault with your Bishop; and when that is done, unless repented of a second step is soon taken, and by and by the person is cut off from the Church, and that is the end of it. Will you allow yourselves to find fault with your Bishop? (Discourses of Brigham Young, 86)."(As found in: Teachings of Brigham Young Student Manual; Chapter 12; Preventing Personal Apostasy)

“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”(D&C 1:38)

“The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.

Sometimes there are those who argue about words. They might say the prophet gave us counsel but that we are not obliged to follow it unless he says it is a commandment. But the Lord says of the Prophet, ‘Thou shalt give heed unto all his _words_ and _commandments_ which he shall give unto you.’ (D&C 21:4.)

… Said Brigham Young, 'I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture.' (Journal of Discourses, 13:95.)” (President Ezra Taft Benson, Of the Quorum of the Twelve, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet", First Presidency Message, Liahona Magazine, June 1981)

"Recently, at the Churchwide fireside meeting held for the women of the Church, Young Women President Elaine Cannon made the following statement:

“When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 108).

I was impressed by that simple statement, which carries such deep spiritual meaning for all of us. Wherever I go, my message to the people is: Follow the prophet... Latter-day Saints should be able to accept the words of the prophets without having to wait for science to prove the validity of their words. We are most fortunate to have a living prophet at the head of the Church to guide us, and all who heed his counsel will be partakers of the promised blessings which will not be enjoyed by those who fail to accept his messages... We cannot serve God and mammon. Whose side are we on? When the prophet speaks the debate is over."(“The Debate Is Over”; The First Presidency Message, by President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency)

"There are the so-called learned people who have let their intellect undermine their spiritual moorings and who would also attempt to lead the faithful away from those who are appointed by the Lord to lead. There are those who feel that our leaders are out of touch with the realities of the day. They would attempt to lead members by substituting their own knowledge for the revelations from God to His prophets... When the prophets speak, let us listen and obey." ("Keep the Faith", by Bishop Richard C. Edgley, Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; General Conference, April 1993)

"Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.

Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: “I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God’s word. I wasn’t with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it.

May you ever frame your life with faith."("The Lighthouse of the Lord: A Message to the Youth of the Church"; First Presidency Message, by President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency; Ensign, February 2001)

"Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, “as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4–5). There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory” (D&C 21:6)"(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee; Chapter 9: Heeding the True Messenger of Jesus Christ)

Why do people apostatize? You know we are on the "Old Ship Zion." We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. "I am not going to stay here," says one;"I don’t believe this is the ’Ship Zion.’" "But we are in the midst of the ocean." "I don’t care, I am not going to stay here." Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the "Old Ship Zion," let us stay in it. (Discourses of Brigham Young, Chapter 6 The Power of Evil[archive.org/details/…])

“The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.” (President Wilford Woodruff, As found in Official Declaration 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants; Original source: Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.)

“The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother's arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth.”(Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 9, p. 289)

“Follow your leaders who have been duly ordained and have been publicly sustained, and you will not be led astray.”(Apostle Boyd K. Packer, General Conference, Oct. 1992, as quoted in Ensign, Nov. 1992)

“We don't have to question anything on the church. Don’t get off into that. Just stay in the Book of Mormon. Just stay in the Doctrine and Covenants. Just listen to the prophets. Just listen to the apostles. We won't lead you astray. We cannot lead you astray.” (M. Russell Ballard, Provo YSA Devotional, October 24, 2015)[Full transcript: mormonthink.com/files/…
Audio: hipcast.com/podcast/…]

"I sat in this tabernacle some years ago as President Joseph Fielding Smith stood at this pulpit. It was the general priesthood meeting of April 1972, the last general conference before President Smith passed away. He said: 'There is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, or the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the lord'." (L. Aldin Porter of the Presidency of the First Quorum of Seventies; Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 63)

"I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.'" (Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson Of the Quorum of the Twelve, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet", First Presidency Message, June 1981)
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fbb

No, but when you believe that certain men are the only ones privileged to receive revelation for all humans... you can see how it can happen.

Brandon Shumway

Yes. That was part of my problem.

heather-borean

Yes. You have to support them to enter the temple.

downingj

Yes. Primary children sing "Follow the Prophet" as one of their songs. An unwillingness to sustain and follow the living prophet is an offense that will keep you from full participation in Mormonism.

Joshua Biggley