The new useless statement on church doctrine

May 5, 2007 | 45 comments
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Reader Rebecca V. points out a fascinating new church newsroom statement intended to clarify the meaning of church doctrine. As she notes, the statement appears to adopt the approach long suggested by Robert Millet. The lengthy statement reads:

SALT LAKE CITY 4 May 2007 Much misunderstanding about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolves around its doctrine. The news media is increasingly asking what distinguishes the Church from other faiths, and reporters like to contrast one set of beliefs with another.

The Church welcomes inquisitiveness, but the challenge of understanding Mormon doctrine is not merely a matter of accessing the abundant information available. Rather, it is a matter of how this information is approached and examined.

The doctrinal tenets of any religion are best understood within a broad context (see here and here), and thoughtful analysis is required to understand them. News reporters pressed by daily deadlines often find that problematic. Therefore, as the Church continues to grow throughout the world and receive increasing media attention, a few simple principles that facilitate a better understanding may be helpful:

* Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
* Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.

Based on the scriptures, Joseph Smith declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

* Because different times present different challenges, modern-day prophets receive revelation relevant to the circumstances of their day. This follows the biblical pattern (Amos 3:7), in which God communicated messages and warnings to His people through prophets in order to secure their well-being. In our day, President Gordon B. Hinckley has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the family in our increasingly fractional society. In addition, the Church does not preclude future additions or changes to its teachings or practices. This living, dynamic aspect of the Church provides flexibility in meeting those challenges. According to the Articles of Faith, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
* Latter-day Saints place heavy emphasis on the application of their faith in daily life. For example, the active participation of Latter-day Saints in their community and worldwide humanitarian programs reflects concern for other people. As Jesus Christ declared, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
* Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.
* Those writing or commenting on Latter-day Saint doctrine also need to understand that certain words in the Mormon vocabulary have slightly different meanings and connotations than those same words have in other religions. For example, Latter-day Saints generally view being born again as a process of conversion, whereas many other Christian denominations often view it as a conversion that happens in one defining moment. Sometimes what some may consider an argument or dispute over doctrine is really a misunderstanding of simple differences in terminology.

Journalists, academics and laymen alike are encouraged to pursue their inquiries into the Church by recognizing the broad and complex context within which its doctrines have been declared, in a spirit of reason and good will.

This is a welcome clarification — official doctrine is found in statements on important church issues that are promulgated by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, which generally means the standard works, official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. This definition is very helpful. In addition, if one accepts this definition, then a number of problematic statements over time by church leaders (e.g., pre-existence status of Blacks) can be dismissed as not doctrine.

However, if this standard is applied, the new statement itself cannot be viewed as doctrine. It is a church news release, with no apparent claim to doctrinal status. There is no indication that it was promulgated by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. If one accepts the statement’s own definition, one is compelled to view the statement itself as non-doctrinal.

Can a non-doctrinal statement serve to properly define the boundary between church doctrine and non-doctrine? Probably not. Non-doctrinal statements are, as a group, potentially subject to personal bias, insufficient vetting, and so on — the problems that motivate Millet’s approach in the first place. (If they weren’t, there would be no need to set out the distinction, or to downplay non-doctrinal statements.) Because of this, there is no reason to think that anything less than a truly doctrinal statement should be allowed to define doctrine.

So this statement is a nice gesture, but because of its status — a self-defined non-doctrinal statement — it is not capable of accurately setting out a doctrinal definition of doctrine. And anything less than a doctrinal definition of doctrine is only an opinion.

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45 Responses to The new useless statement on church doctrine

  1. Julie M. Smith on May 5, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Great post.

  2. Ivan Wolfe on May 5, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    But your post itself is self-refuting, since your statement about doctrine is non-doctrinal……

  3. Maria on May 5, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Good point on the statement being non-doctrinal by its own standards. However, its mere placement on the lds.org official website, which must be vetted through a correlated committee of general authorities, indicates that it does have higher authoritative value than, say, some book written by a professor at BYU.

    Speaking of which, Millet himself recognized the self-collapsing nature of his theory; I once heard him express that it would take something akin to GBH reading his book, chapter by chapter, in general conference, over several consecutive general conferences, to raise the theory to doctrinal status.

    On a related note, I’ve noticed a surge in “official”-like statements on the LDS newsroom site of late. According to many insiders at LDSPA, this is due to the forward-looking leadership of Mike Otterson. He seems to be very pro-internet, pro-media, pro-taking the church into the 21st century. He even has his own blog.

  4. Margaret Young on May 5, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    So do you think this clarification was added because of Darius Gray’s quoting John Taylor about the seed of Cain being representatives of Satan?

  5. DavidH on May 5, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    True, the news release is not doctrinal. But at a minimum, it indicates it is probably not heretical to believe in the principles it sets forth.

  6. Ugly Mahana on May 5, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Based on what I read here, the statement was not intended as doctrine, but as a piece of public relations, and not in any negative sense. I am willing to bet that each one of the statements could be explored and found to be supported in scripture, conference talks, etc. I am less inclined to believe that other definitions of doctrine or the opposite statements could be find support in authoritative works. To make a regulatory comparison: This statement is not the constitution, nor statute, nor implementing regulation, but it may be guidance put forward by an agency to help the public comply with laws and regulations, and certainly is comparable to an announcement to the press of how new regulations are supposed to work. Such an announcement often is explicit that it is not legally binding, but such an announcement may also be quite useful for those who are working backward to understand the more fundamental regulations and statutes, and may be essential to someone who is just writing a news piece about the new regulation and does not have the time to understand it.

    In conclusion, I do not think that this announcement should be treated as the final word on what is and is not doctrine. I do not think that it is intended to be such. I think it is an explanatory piece that will be helpful to people who do not have the time or inclination to dig deeper. As such, it is probably useful. Don’t try to make it more than what it is.

  7. Peter LLC on May 5, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    And even if it’s easy to dismiss wild and crazy statements by Church leaders from the distant past as non-doctrinal, doing so while they are still alive and kicking isn’t.

    Mormonism lacks the nuanced approach for members that it demands from outsiders. I mean, “Follow the prophet” suggests more of an emphasis on good old-fashioned obedience than time-consuming (it must be, see the press deadlines above; or maybe reporters just aren’t thoughtful) consideration of the “broad and complex context.”

  8. Peter LLC on May 5, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    “it may be guidance put forward by an agency to help the public comply with laws and regulations…. Don’t try to make it more than what it is”

    Yes, but sometimes the guidance may as well be the law. For example, a new aliens’ law went entered into force on 1 January 2006 in Austria. When the new government was formed in 2007, the new minister of the interior “explained” to his fellow civil servants that the law was to be applied to all pending applications for asylum, even those that had been turned in before the law took effect. The law itself does not apply retroactively, but the minister’s instruction means that for all intents and purposes it does.

    Anyway, the point is that while we shouldn’t make more out of such a statement than what it is, we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand the powerful effect such, well, non-doctrinal statement can have. A more minor point might be that maybe law isn’t always a helpful figure of speech.

  9. Maria on May 5, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Ugly Mahana:

    I like the admin law analogy. Within that context, however, you would surely distinguish between a statement issued through official PR channels of the agency and some outside source writing an interpretive book, no?

    That’s my only point re: the statement’s placement on LDS.org.

  10. m&m on May 5, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Hmmm, Kaimi, I think calling this useless is unnecessarily strong. By your definition, anything non-declaration/proclamationish would be useless, and I think that sort of thinking is, well, useless in its own right. I think the Church demands that we think and ponder and figure a lot out for ourselves and I think that is a good thing. Something doesn’t have to be officially binding to be useful, IMO.

  11. Nate Oman on May 5, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Kaimi: I think that your analysis is mistaken. This statement may or may not be Church doctrine. It clearly does not become Church doctrine merely by virtue of being published on the church website. On the other hand, the statement “Christ is the savior of mankind” also does not become doctrine by virtue of being placed on the church website. This does not mean that the statement itself cannot be church doctrine, only that its doctrinal status must derive from some source other than its mode of publication. To give an anlogy, if I read in Williston on Contracts that a promise in the absence of consideration is normally not a legally binding contract this statement does not thereby become the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In contrast, were the same statement made by the Virginia Supreme Court, it might thereby become Virginia law by virtue of who and how it was stated. Nevertheless, as a substantive matter, the Williston statement is an accurate statement of Virginia law.

    In other words, just because this statement is not church doctrine on procedural grounds does not mean that it can’t be an accurate statement of church doctrine as a substantive matter.

  12. Nate Oman on May 5, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    “A more minor point might be that maybe law isn’t always a helpful figure of speech. ”

    Nonsense! Legal analogies are ALWAYS valuable. Regardless of context. Always….

  13. Ugly Mahana on May 5, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Peter and Maria:

    I think both of your points are well-taken. This statement could be doctrine, except that- as pointed out in the original post- it fails its own test. I rather think that it is the equivalent of an agency press release or explicitly nonbinding guidance. Both of these would appropriately appear on an agency website. Thus, if the analogy holds up, I think it is appropriate that this statement appears on lds.org, especially in the newsroom.

    As to a nuanced perspective of ‘follow the prophet’, I think the guidance given to church members has always been ‘study it out in you own minds,’ and pray to gain spiritual confirmation of the course set by our leaders, with the unspoken caveat that if you decide that prophetic counsel or guidance is ungodly, then you may need to cut your ties to the organized church. Depending on your outlook, this may or may not have painful familial, earthly or eternal implications that should not be minimized. However, no one but the Prophet has the authority to give direction to the entire church- and he only has authority to do so insomuch as he follows established procedure. This thing is not done in a corner. And that which is done in a corner has only limited efficacy.

    In addition, I think that the principles described in the article are apply to individuals who are struggling to know what they need to study out in their minds. Do any of you believe the statement is undoctrinal? Where?

  14. David on May 5, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Anyone here wish all church doctrine were codified in one central location? That way we wouldn’t look at Mormon Doctrine and our priesthood manuals trying to cobble together the big picture. For example, the Book of Mormon is doctrine, but do the general authorities really believe that pre-marital sex is a sin second only to murder, as is written there. What about evolution?

    General Conference and the church publications are reputed to contain doctrine but this are really a source for faith-promoting stories and not doctrinal distinctions. Maybe we need a new and expanded articles of faith. How can we “follow the prophet” when all we get from him are homilies and vague urgings to, well, follow the prophet.

  15. Ugly Mahana on May 5, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    In other words, we should be careful about what we assume is doctinal and what isn’t. Don’t try to make anything more than what it is until you are certain what to make of it. (How’s that for useless?)

  16. DavidH on May 5, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    “with the unspoken caveat that if you decide that prophetic counsel or guidance is ungodly, then you may need to cut your ties to the organized church”

    Not necessarily. Some times the right thing to do is to wait it out or ignore it, and the wrong teaching (Taylor’s comment on black Africans) or wrong counsel (past encouragement for gay men to marry as part of the “cure”) will be corrected over time.

  17. Ugly Mahana on May 5, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    I concur.

  18. Nate Oman on May 5, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    David: It strikes me that if you read the scriptures most of what you find from the prophets are homilies, in other words exhortations to live righteously and follow God, rather than startling doctrinal announcments or theological synthesis. For myself, I think that some sort of attempt to centralize all church doctrine a la the Catechism of the Catholic church would be a tragedy. I like the play in the joints and the intersticial development. The common law is better than the civilian approach on this one IMHO.

  19. David Brosnahan on May 5, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    The point of this is to prevent people from mining through the extensive LDS archives in search of some esoteric quote and then consider that official LDS Doctrine.

    True LDS Doctrine need to be inspired and go through a kind of inspired peer review. If they end up in the mainstream manuals and church magazines, then they can be considered reliable.

  20. ed42 on May 5, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    “On these two commandments [Love God, Love Neighbor] hang all the law (doctrine?) and the prophets.” What else is doctrine, what else really matters?

  21. Maria on May 5, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    If you haven’t visited the newsroom site directly, it is interesting to follow the hyperlinks the statement utilizes to provide a broader context for, presumably, non-LDS readers. It was interesting for me to see what “doctrine” this “non-doctrinal” statement was referencing–perhaps to imply its own “doctrinality”? Some of the links are to general conference talks, scriptures, and official declarations, while others are to “mere” prior newsroom statements.

    And I agree with Nate re: what a tragedy a formalized “Mormon-chism” would be. The current approach is heavily reliant upon personal revelation. While I may not have felt this way in the past, of late I find the concept very empowering.

  22. Ardis Parshall on May 5, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    This discussion goes to my private idea of why BRMcConkie’s Mormon Doctrine was such a popular purchase among ordinary (non-axe-grinding) church members. A lot of people long for a simple, black and white codification of doctrine, because that would be spiritually easier than exercising faith and reason by listening and seeking and confirming and understanding. Most copies of books like that aren’t read (except by debaters, or by those who boringly open their lessons and talks with “According to Mormon Doctrine, ‘Principle X’ is defined as …”) — most copies of books like that go on the shelf, unstudied, but with a sense of relief that “all the answers are there, if I ever need them.”

    One of the most satisfying aspects of my religion is that doctrine is dynamic, not static.

  23. Maria on May 5, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    The reason this statement is so exciting to me is that, for the first time, I will have a place to direct my occasionally-misguided relatives and friends who believe that bizarro statements from the 1800s are part of the church’s current doctrine. Frankly, most of them will not be concerned with the nuances we are discussing here, and will accept the statement as “doctrine” based solely upon its location and official-looking appearance.

  24. WestBerkeleyFlats on May 5, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    “This is a welcome clarification — official doctrine is found in statements on important church issues that are promulgated by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, which generally means the standard works, official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. This definition is very helpful. In addition, if one accepts this definition, then a number of problematic statements over time by church leaders (e.g., pre-existence status of Blacks) can be dismissed as not doctrine.”

    This seems problematic. The First Presidency issued a statement on August 17, 1949 on “The Negro Question” in which they stated that the denial of priesthood of priesthood to those of African ancestry and thus descendants of Cain could be further understood with reference to the actions of people in the pre-mortal existence. The First Presidency further stated on December 15, 1969 that all church presidents from Joseph Smith had taught that “Negroes” were not yet allowed to receive the priesthood and quoted the statement of “our living prophet David O. McKay” that “revelation assures that this plan antedates man’s existence, extending back to man’s pre-existant back to man’s pre-existant state.” These statement was not issued jointly with the Quorum of the Twelve Amortal postles, but certainly reflected consulation with them on these matters. Then again, the statement with regarding to the extension of the priesthood to all worthy males on June 9, 1978 was also issued by the First Presidency, with no mention of the approval of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the text although this was subsequently affirmed by N. Eldon Tanner in the following General Conference and this statement is included as part of Official Declaration 2 in the Pearl of Great Price.

    I think that we would need to infer from Wegner’s post that the notion that Blacks were prohibited from receiving the priesthood until 1978 because of events in the pre-existence was and is doctrine, having never been repudiated by the First Presidency by themselves or in conjunction with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I think that a more useful definition of doctrine might be that which is scriptural as well as the opinions supported by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. By this standard, the idea that Blacks were excluded from the priesthood as descendants of Ham is doctrine, being supported by any reasonable interpretation of Abraham 1:21, 27. The notion that Blacks were excluded from the priesthood because of events in the pre-existence, however, would not be doctrine then, although it was at one time.

  25. Blain on May 5, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    I think it’s a great statement. I might keep it handy for use in Priesthood Meeting (or if I attended GD) for when someone starts talking about what is and isn’t doctrinal, because I think it does a good job of exploring the question and pointing out that the answers aren’t all that simple.

  26. Kevin Barney on May 5, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Given Nate’s approval of all legal analogies, here’s another one. When I went to law school, I had the naive idea that there was a big leather-bound book somewhere that said “LAW” on the spine, and all you had to do was look up the answers in it. I quickly learned that approaching the law is much, much messier than that. And approaching Mormon doctrine is similarly messy, but I agree with Ardis that for me at least that is actually a virtue and part of what keeps me interested and engaged.

    Perhaps somewhat contradictorily, I’ve always thought it would be cool if someone were to do a Mormon systematic theology. But unlike other systematic theologies, this one wouldn’t define doctrines, but simply articulate the various schools of thought on different issues. So, some Mormons follow B.H. Roberts’s tripartite view of the soul with individuated intelligences for reasons A, B and C, while others prefer to think of a primordial intelligence soup for reasons D, E and F, while still others deny that there is any difference between intelligence and spirt for reasons G, H and I, and here are the theological ramifications of the various theories. In other words, it wouldn’t try to define doctrine, it would simply be a map of the playing field to help the neophyte get up to speed on the different positions as painlessly as possible.

  27. Peter LLC on May 5, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    “As to a nuanced perspective of ‘follow the prophet’, I think the guidance given to church members has always been ’study it out in you own minds,’ and pray to gain spiritual confirmation of the course set by our leaders, with the unspoken caveat that if you decide that prophetic counsel or guidance is ungodly, then you may need to cut your ties to the organized church.”

    What I had in mind with my comment above was the apparent lack of a commonly accepted mechanism to reserve judgment on statements from Church leaders without having to go as far as you suggest.

    For example, the prophet might announce a preference for a single pairs of earrings in a context outside of official declarations or proclomations. What is the well-intentioned member to do? Wait it out or ignore it until it becomes apparent that it wasn’t just a well-considered opinion and is in fact doctrine, as DavidH suggests? Maybe, but what would you tell your bishop or other members in the meantime who might think your lack of prompt obedience is evidence that you consider the prophet’s utterings ungodly and that perhaps it is time to review your membership?

    I guess my point is that it’s difficult for active members to justify not immediately following current counsel of Church leaders for any reason, including personal revelation, without rocking the boat. Saying “I’m waiting for that to become doctrine as outlined in Article IV Para 3 of the Official Statement on Church Doctrine” won’t cut it in most cases, I suspect.

    Old statements are something else entirely. These we can safely ignore, especially if they are in contradiction with newer statements and not canonized.

  28. Nate Oman on May 5, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    “When I went to law school, I had the naive idea that there was a big leather-bound book somewhere that said “LAW” on the spine, and all you had to do was look up the answers in it. I quickly learned that approaching the law is much, much messier than that. And approaching Mormon doctrine is similarly messy, but I agree with Ardis that for me at least that is actually a virtue and part of what keeps me interested and engaged.”

    Amen. This is why the world needs more legal analogies…

  29. Peter LLC on May 5, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    “This is why the world needs more legal analogies…”

    Or more lawyers…

  30. Ben Huff on May 5, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    I think this is a great statement and very timely. To a large degree I think it just reflects common sense: on points where only one or a few church leaders have ever publicly expressed position X, chances are there are one or a few other church leaders who have publicly expressed position Y which contradicts X. I would love to see someone do a thorough assessment of what the scriptures have to offer us in the way of indicating what the boundaries of binding doctrine are.

    On the topic of encyclopedic treatments of church doctrine, I tend to think systematic theology in a Mormon context should be done roughly as Kevin Barney suggests (#26), as a way of exploring the possibilities, not as a matter of pinning down all the answers. As Mormons we believe in eternal progression and continuing revelation, not just to the church but also to the individual. This means that as much as it would make life easy, the project of writing down one set of right answers which we could all put on our bookshelves rather misses the point. Lots of religions operate this way, but I think this is one of the fundamental mistakes of traditional Christianity. The belief in continuing revelation is as fundamental a distinguishing feature as can be and fundamentally changes what religion is. It also makes Mormon theology much more interesting–eternally interesting one hopes! Some time ago I wrote a post about this in more depth.

  31. DavidH on May 5, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    “I guess my point is that it’s difficult for active members to justify not immediately following current counsel of Church leaders for any reason, including personal revelation, without rocking the boat.”

    This is true and, in my judgment, is part of why passive aggression (and perhaps image management) is such a well developed art in our Church. Many of us may think home teaching or family history or year supply or inviting nonmembers into our home is not particularly important, but dare not say it aloud. And so we vote with our feet.

    Or we may not agree with a new “doctrine” (say, Elder Nelson’s article that God does not have unconditional love). It would be bad form to attempt directly rebut this in Church or on the internet. But it is not bad form to “forget” what Elder Nelson said, and to continue referring to God’s love as unconditional. Or, if that becomes untenable, to use other terms that mean essentially the same thing (“universal, infinite love of God for all, even when we sin”). Or, some times we simply never talk at all about the subject.

  32. David on May 5, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    I still think if the authorities codified all the doctrines so far it would leave lots of room for personal revelation. Perhaps even more because we could comfortably worth through certain problems in a creative or legal way without fear of heresy (maybe flirting with heresy is fun?) This could also help make the church more kind and member-friendly. An open system of floating and competing doctrines is going to make it easier for leaders to abuse their authority. If you are ever summoned to a church court, say, you can defend yourself by pointing to doctrine or ask your accusers. Most will never participate in a court, but knowing they can effectively advocate for themselves could be comforting.

    One doctrine I would like to see codified is that personal revelation is not a substitute for common sense or factual knowledge. If you child is bleeding from the head, for example, call an ambulance, not the home teachers (this is an actual case … and the child died). Or consider the poor guy in the PBS Mormon program who lost his wife after they prayed about having an eighth child even though they knew she was considered high risk.

    Maybe I love reason and science too much. A fact which makes me the heretic I have become. But I have become suspicious with the process of praying until you get a good feeling. I wish the church would provide some leadership on this point.

  33. Cameron on May 5, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    I do not think for one second we pray until we get a good feeling. We are to figure it out first and come to a conclusion and then pray to know what to do and to see if it what God would have us do. We do the homework and God gives the increase.

  34. Doc on May 5, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    line upon line folks, if we don’t ponder and study and pray, we going to have a flat two-dimensional picture where it could be three. Pity the poor journalists.

  35. Phouchg on May 5, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    there is a doctrinally incorrect statement in this statement defining church doctrine!

    “With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church)…”

    Bzzzt! Wrong according to D&C 107:22-24 (especially 24)

    22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
    23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
    24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

    Back to the drawing board, I am afraid…

  36. Allen Lambert on May 5, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    So, KW seems to want a formal “doctrine” about what constitutes doctrine. Presumably that means an official statement by 1st Pres., sustained by members in Conference, and published in the D&C as a Proclamation.

    Yet, the point is well taken that the statement is not signed or issued by 1st Pres. (at least not so far as we know).

    However, it is useful, especially the reminder about statements from individual Apostles not being doctrine.

    I suspect that this thing was issued as much in rsponse to the PBS program, including the statement by Elder Oaks, as anything else.

  37. comet on May 6, 2007 at 3:53 am

    I think DavidH (#31) nails it on the passive aggressive approach adopted by most members when they are in disagreement with a promulgated doctrine or policy. It’s a greater sin to steady the ark than to withdraw support which can always be passed off as mere slacking. Also, I like the voting with your feet image too.

  38. Ardis Parshall on May 6, 2007 at 5:20 am

    The “passive aggressive” approach, if you want to call it that, of neglecting, say, home teaching or family history because for whatever reason you “disagree” with those things does not, of course, change the fact that they are prescribed practices promoted by the church and based on core doctrine; no journalist should make the mistake of writing that home teaching or family history is not doctrinal just because some unconverted member distances himself from its practice.

    That’s a very different circumstance from the one addressed by this press release, which asks journalists to distinguish between core, mainstream doctrine, and something that was once said by somebody somewhere, or which may be true but which is hardly as important as other beliefs are.

  39. mlu on May 6, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Philosophy (and law and theology) usually proceed through systematic oversimplification. The either/or fallacy is the bedrock of much logical thinking, including the original post and this response.

    It can be useful, except for people who take it too seriously and think their ever so logical conclusions can trump experience, including the experience of revelation.

  40. Ardis Parshall on May 6, 2007 at 11:53 am

    I’m purdy shure I’ve just been dissed, but I’m too danged dumb to know exactly how.

  41. Joseph Walch on May 6, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    This is another good example of the over-intellectualization of doctrine that does more to siphon the spirit from the law, and leaves a shallow legal philosophy in its place. I fear that it is exactly this type of legalism (no offense Nate—no Anti-law bias here—really) and intellectualism that leads to creedal (i.e. dead) Christianity. People can read this press release and probe its merits by the sprit and find ways to apply it in their lives.

    We might feel better about ourselves when we catch those little weaknesses or logical fallacies in the scriptures, conference addresses, or church publications, but I think the admonishment of Moroni and Nephi applies here; that we not demean the merits of what the church produces because we find mistakes or weaknesses. Otherwise, we may be standing on some very shaky ground indeed.

  42. Wacky Hermit on May 6, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    The barber of Seville shaves every man of Seville who does not shave himself. Who shaves the barber of Seville?

    The best piece of advice a young mother can be given is to not take anyone’s advice, including this piece, unless it feels right to her.

    And yet, despite these paradoxes, people continue to raise children and be shaved.

    Doctrinal? Who cares if this announcement is doctrine? Certainly not the kind of journalists who would fall for the erroneous thinking that is described in this press release.

  43. DavidW on May 6, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    “\’This is why the world needs more legal analogies…\’

    Or more lawyers… \”

    Oh yes, if there\’s one things this world needs it\’s more lawyers. That would fix
    just about everything.

  44. annegb on May 9, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Mormon Stories has a podcast (I think that’s what it’s called) of a talk Robert Millett gave on how to talk to people about the church. I thought it was awesome. I especially like his comment that we don’t have to answer everyone’s questions, we can’t answer their questions, and we all have questions that will probably never be answered.

    He also spoke highly of a big cheese who always directed the questioner back to The First Vision in a friendly manner.

  45. mlu on May 9, 2007 at 2:15 am

    Ardis,

    I hope you didn’t think I was dissing you. I wasn’t. The thread just reminded me of how often, reading philosophy, I’ve been made to laugh at how sure those guys sometimes seem that the right answer must be one of the ones they’ve imagined, when it seems to me there are billions and billions of possibilities that they didn’t and couldn’t even consider. . .

    Just musing. . .

    The basic structure of my paragraph above is either/or. . .logic is woefully inadequate to the complexity of reality.