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.
I’ve thought about this statement a lot. It seems that most members of the church (at least, most of the ones who say anything about it in church meetings) read this as saying that a prophet can’t teach anything that’s false—if that happened, God would summarily kill the prophet (or, though this is mentioned less often as a possibility, the prophet would be removed from office by action of a disciplinary council).
I like to look at it a little differently. I think another possibility is that a prophet can teach any amount of falsehood—but that the body of the church won’t be led astray by it. (It it were about to be, then i suppose death or removal would be an option.) This allows some nice finessing of historical discomforts—consider Brigham Young’s teaching of the Adam-God theory. (And, despite what some Mormon apologists would like to believe, he most certainly did teach it, and publicly.) Well, it’s pretty clearly recognized as a false teaching—and notice that the prophet didn’t lead the church astray. It isn’t in the programme, after all, as Wilford Woodruff helpfully pointed out—the body of the church is able to be worked upon by the Spirit very nicely in such situations, it seems.