Prove Me Wrong

May 7, 2011 | 61 comments
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I’m still not satisfied with how my two posts on doctrine and policy have wrapped up, so let me come back to that for one more minute. In those posts, I said that when members attempt to define doctrine, they essentially end up with “doctrine” meaning “things I agree with”.

My attempt to get around that was to define doctrine as broadly as possible — anything taught by church members counts as doctrine. Most of the responses said that my definition was too broad, and put limitations on it like:

if a general authority says something, we pray and ponder about, and the answer we get is that it is the doctrine of God

or

In order for church doctrine to be true it must be revelation. Revelation can be found in the standard works or the words of a sitting President of the church.

or

it does not become a doctrine of the church until it is affirmed and repeated by other leaders as religious precept or principle and reduced to written form in an official church publication. And then it only remains a doctrine of the church as long as the leaders of the church make a continued effort to keep teaching that precept or principle from year to year.

The problem is that none of these criteria are objective, and so I believe that a person who uses any of these to define doctrine will ultimately come to a place where “doctrine” means “things I agree with”.

So here’s my Saturday night challenge to you: if you believe that “doctrine” can be defined more narrowly than “anything taught by church members”, yet more broadly than just “things I agree with”, share in the comments an example of a teaching that you accept as a doctrine, but that you don’t agree with.

61 Responses to Prove Me Wrong

  1. Rob Perkins on May 8, 2011 at 12:12 am

    That’s hard to do, Dane. If I accept a teaching as doctrine, then I agree with it. My acceptance is agreement; I have called it doctrine. The two terms are too close in action. But, there are things which leave me with a sense of ambivalence, when I hear them or read them from people I’ve sustained as general authorities of the Church.

    Is there a rephrasing of your question which might help me answer it?

    In any case, I don’t know why a teaching, consistent with or coming from the standard works, accepted in conference assembled by common consent, couldn’t be an objective definition of Church doctrine.

  2. Bryan H. on May 8, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Yeah, that’s like saying “Name something that is true, that you disagree with.”

  3. James on May 8, 2011 at 1:12 am

    It makes sense to me to distinguish first of all between policy and doctrine. This is, of course, difficult, slippery, and sometimes can overlap. We can teach about the inspired nature of both policies and doctrines, which is one of the reasons the distinction is a bit slippery. Let me give you an example of both a policy and a doctrine with which I struggle, and I will explain why I see each as belonging more concisely with one or the other categories.

    The language of prayer is an example of policy. When I say “language,” I’m not referring to the two central features of prayer (Addressing the prayer to God, and doing so in the name of Christ), but to the pronouns we are taught to use. The use of antiquated pronouns (thee, thou, etc) and associated verb declensions (lovest, wouldst, etc) is nothing more than policy, and a flailing one at that. The original reason for the use of “thee” goes back to when English still made use of informal (thee) and formal (ye) pronouns, the purpose being to communicate intimacy with God. This same approach to prayer can still be seen any language (that I’m aware of anyway) which still uses formal and informal second-person pronouns. Since intimacy is no longer communicated by the use of “thee” in English any longer, our leaders have provided new reasons for this tradition, that of showing proper respect to God, a reason, I might add, which is the exact OPPOSITE of its original usage. If you happen to pray in another language with formal/informal usages intact, then this whole point of this paragraph I’m writing is irrelevant. That is why “thee” usage is policy, because it only applies to a select group within the church, and it cannot be translated because English has changed in ways that other languages haven’t. I don’t think you can truly call something “doctrinal” when it only applies to a small group of people and can not be translated. It may be an actively taught policy, but it is still a policy and one I don’t much like.

    As for a doctrine, well a good example here is the role of the father in the family. The idea of a man presiding over his family is one which is supported all over scripture, amply supported by modern day prophets, and one which is substantively found even in temple liturgy. But there is an interesting tension here because in recent time we are seeing more and more often leaders move away from this framework of Male stewardship in the family and an emphasis on the total equality of parents in making decisions together, and being in a partnership of equals. You can’t very well be totally equal and at the same time conclude that one of those “equals” has a final say in all things (of course, some in the church have interesting ways of making just that argument, but it always seems to be a strained apologetic to make the former doctrine look like the latter). What this means is that there are two doctrines at work, one which puts the man at the head of the family, and the other that puts the parents as equals at the head of the family, and people in the church will often shift between these two without really noticing the tension, but it is there.

    Either idea of presiding (alone as a man, or together with a spouse) are doctrine, but it represents a doctrine in transition. So I openly admit that I disagree with the doctrine that puts men in a place over women (whether through scriptures in general, through women being told to hearken to their husbands, or through women giving themselves to men and men only receiving the woman), but it is most assuredly a doctrine. I say it is a doctrine because both sides play an important role in understanding Mormon soteriology, they play into how we teach, what we believe, as well as how we live and interact with others. A policy doesn’t have the scope of a doctrine, and a doctrine is a doctrine when it has broad relevance in multiple aspects of existence. I chose this doctrine to illustrate because just as I struggle with it, church leaders seem to be trying to navigate it very carefully as well by shifting more emphasis on to the equality between spouses, rather than the presiding of one over the other.

    Some people may have things they consider doctrine that others don’t, you’re absolutely right about that, but I would say that doctrine has a communal element where other ideas could more be termed a Mormon concept, convention, tradition, or opinion. The distinction here runs a fine line, but I think it’s there.

    I’ve been thinking about this since your first post, so I’d be interested in any refutations or challenges to my thoughts here. Since I’ve been working through it for a while now, I would welcome anyone pointing out where my thinking breaks down or anything like that.

  4. CraigH on May 8, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Dane, useful here might be the writings of Sebastian Castellio on heresy. He worked with Calvin in Geneva until Calvin started condemning people who disagreed with his “true” doctrine. After watching Calvin push for the burning of Servetus for heresy, and after many years of reflecting on the subject, Castellio concluded that heretic was nothing more than “someone who doesn’t agree with me” on doctrine. Which would support your point the other way.

  5. Mark D. on May 8, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Dane L, there is nothing particularly subjective about my suggested definition. You claim it a proxy for “doctrine is whatever I agree with”, but you do not provide the slightest evidence for that position.

    On logical grounds, you are dead in the water. There isn’t the remotest chance that you can successfully argue that “official teaching of the church” is logically equivalent to “whatever I agree with”.

    This logical dis-equivalence is completely independent of the co-incidence or lack thereof between what the church officially teaches, and what any individual or individuals actually believe to be true.

    However, you are correct that non-coincidence between any individual’s beliefs and what they believe to be the doctrine of the church provides a practical example of this disjunction, so I offer you the example of Mike Huckabee. He believes (correctly) that the church teaches that Jesus and Satan are both sons of our Father in Heaven, and hence are spirit brothers. However, he himself does not so believe. QED.

  6. mkemp on May 8, 2011 at 1:49 am

    not to be tedious, but this might be helpful to the discussion. the OED defines doctrine in the following ways:

    1. (a) The action of teaching or instructing; instruction; a piece of instruction, a lesson, precept.
    (b) Public instruction; preaching.
    2. That which is taught.
    (a) In the most general sense: Instruction, teaching; a body of instruction or teaching.
    b. esp. That which is taught or laid down as true concerning a particular subject or department of knowledge, as religion, politics, science, etc.; a belief, theoretical opinion; a dogma, tenet.
    3. A body or system of principles or tenets; a doctrinal or theoretical system; a theory; a science, or department of knowledge.

    interestingly, none of these definitions are evaluative claims or claims about whether one believes a certain teaching taught by an institution. a doctrine can *be* a belief, but it isn’t necessarily a feature of doctrine that one must believe it. for instance, i can say something like the following and it makes perfect sense:

    “transubstantiation is a doctrine of the roman catholic church.”

    i don’t believe in transubstantiation, but the above statement makes perfect sense.

    it seems to me that unless mormons are using the word ‘doctrine’ in a non-standard way (which very may well be), it is wrong to think that doctrine is an evaluative term. doctrine just *is* what a church teaches. perhaps, as definition 1 (b) suggests, we might limit doctrine to official, public teaching or preaching, since, when my sunday school teacher says that kolob is the sun, this very clearly isn’t church doctrine.

    however, when church officials give general conferences addresses about how blacks shouldn’t have the priesthood, this is doctrine. after all, doctrines aren’t, by definition, eternal truths. it makes no linguistic sense to say, “oh, i know the lds church taught that blacks shouldn’t have the priesthood, but it was a mistake: that wasn’t *doctrine.*”

    so, to sum up my view rather tautologically: if a church teaches something, it is a doctrine (or teaching) of that church.

  7. Ardis E. Parshall on May 8, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Hmm. You say that members attempt to define doctrine by saying, in effect, that “the set of church teachings I agree with” is identical to “the set of church doctrines,” and you ask us to prove that wrong. Disproving that shouldn’t depend on which set is larger, as long as they aren’t identical. That requriement is arbitrary, and doesn’t accord with what some of us said in the earlier threads, to specify which of those sets must be larger, as long as they aren’t identical — and as others have said, your specification requires someone to say that he believes something is doctrine while simultaneously saying that he doesn’t believe it is true. Not going to happen, and it’s unfair to demand it!

    But if you’ll agree that either set may be larger, then it’s easy to show that members — or some of us — don’t believe that doctrine is just something I happen to agree with:

    Some church teachings I agree with, that I do not believe are doctrinal:

    Tattoos and body piercings are disrespectful of the human body (my conclusion is drawn from what I believe to be doctrines, but my conclusion, which is frequently taught in church, is not in itself doctrinal).

    Masturbation is a violation of the Law of Chastity (a position I believe to be in accord with the principles of the LoC itself, but which is not usually included on the list of specific acts recognized as violations, so is not doctrinal)

    Flip-flops are immodest as Sunday wear (not because they bare skin, for cryin’ out loud, but because they draw immoderate, inescapable, unpleasant attention to a wearer whose every slapping footstep is heard as she walks out of the chapel during a meeting, even when my head is bowed, even when she isn’t in my line of sight)

    Those are three items which are regularly heard as church teachings, and with which I agree, but which are not doctrinal. Therefore, “doctrine” does not mean “things I agree with.”

    (Typed blind; apologies for inevitable typos.)

  8. Howard on May 8, 2011 at 8:17 am

    In 3 Nephi 11:40 Jesus taught: And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

    Isn’t His rock revelation? So doctrine is not more nor less than revelation. The trick is deciphering what is and is not revelation.

  9. Ben on May 8, 2011 at 8:33 am

    No death before the Fall. It’s in the scriptures, and it’s been taught recently and not so recently by Apostles.

    (It’s closely tied to evolutionary/age-of-the-earth issues, but those are much less clean cut, imo.)

    On the other hand, I think there are various interpretive ways around that, but as it currently stands and has historically been taught in the Church, it seems fairly well established.

  10. Bob on May 8, 2011 at 9:23 am

    What is Docrine in the Mormon Church__is a topic that has been worked on since the founding of the Church. Maybe peaking with BRMc’s book. It seems to me, the debate is not going to end, so maybe we need a new word(s)(?)
    It could be that this “We don’t have a doctine is our doctine” is a funny oil that keeps the wheels of the Church going__ I don’t know.
    But it does make it hard for those outside the Church to understand what we fully believe.

  11. Grant on May 8, 2011 at 9:46 am

    I still say the Doctrine of Christ is Atonement, Resurrection (Judgment), Faith, Repentance, Baptism (ordinances), Holy Ghost, and Endure to the End. (3 Nephi 27). The Church teaches all kind of stuff to try and get us to the their which I suppose you could call doctrines of the Church. But it is the Lord’s Church. So maybe he just wants us to keep trying to figure it out as we get closer to those basic principles. I still have a lot of work to do on the Doctrine of Christ.

    Now, I gotta go to church and teach teachers quorum about mothers.

  12. Dane Laverty on May 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

    True dat, Grant. We’ve got 9 AM church, so I’ll try and hammer out a quick response now.

    mkemp (#6) — I think that the common LDS usage of “doctrine” is non-standard. When church members say that one particular teaching is “doctrine”, what I believe we generally mean is that the teaching is true. In other words, Mormons use the word “doctrine” no so much to signify what is taught or believed, but which teachings constitute revealed, eternal truth. So it’s a higher bar than the OED definition of doctrine.

    Mark D. (#5) — “affirmed and repeated” is very subjective. Does “affirmed” mean it has to be taught in General Conference? In manuals? Or merely mentioned in church magazines or at a stake conference? Does “repeated” mean three times a year? By a variety of authorities? There’s a lot of fuzzy edges about determining whether a particular teaching has been “affirmed and repeated”, and my guess is that you’ll privilege the teachings you agree with and ignore the ones you don’t.

    Bryan H. (#2) — That’s because you assume that everything you believe to be doctrine actually is doctrine. It’s convenient if it works out that way, but you’re granting yourself omniscience in the process.

    Ardis (#7) — That’s an interesting approach, to identify teachings you agree with but don’t consider doctrinal. Let me think about that some more.

    Howard (#8) — Your statement, “The trick is deciphering what is and is not revelation,” is exactly what I’m addressing here. And my theory is that, in lived experience, “deciphering what is and is not revelation” is the process of determining which teachings you agree with.

    Rob Perkins (#1) — I don’t have a good rephrasing for you, but as for your suggested objective definition of doctrine: “a teaching, consistent with or coming from the standard works, accepted in conference assembled by common consent” — that would leave nothing, for me at least. I haven’t seen any particular teaching sustained by general common consent in my lifetime.

    And for the rest of you, I’ll try an give you responses after church :)

  13. Dane Laverty on May 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Oh, and Ben (#9) — you’ve done exactly what I asked…congratulations, you proved me wrong! :)

  14. Bob on May 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

    @ Grant: I am not saying you are wrong__but that’s the question of the Post: Is doctine what one says it is “I still say the Doctrine of Christ is..” (Grant), or what the Church says it is (and how/where does the Church say it?).

  15. mkemp on May 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    @Dane:

    Maybe that’s just it. Mormons sometimes use ‘doctrine’ in a non-standard way, to denote teachings that they think are true/authorized by God. What muddies the water is that, as English speakers, we also use it in a standard way. Thus the confusion. There might not be a way to make sense of how Mormons use the word, since we use it in two different, contradictory ways.

  16. Ben on May 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Personally, I think doctrine is anything official and clearly sanctioned by the GA’s – I would go with 2 or more citations in official church publications. Just one random quote from Gen. Conf. is probably not enough, as weird stuff sometimes sneaks in, but if it’s been quoted in a manual or in a non-conference issue of the ensign, that probably means that at least a significant portion of the leadership accept it as valid.

    An example of one that I think is doctrine, but that I don’t agree with, is gay marriage. It’s pretty clear that the church is officially against gay marriage, and that by basically any standard, it’s doctrine. I, personally, however, don’t get what’s wrong with it. Sure, a gay couple can’t have kids the natural way, but plenty of straight couples have sex not for purposes of procreation all the time. If we’re going to say that all sex outside of marriage is wrong, that’s fine, but then why exclude gay people? Is there something inherently morally wrong about gay sex, that isn’t wrong with straight sex? Can gay people not have committed, loving relationships? It’s doctrine, but I don’t get it, and I don’t agree with it.

  17. Ben on May 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    #15- This is similar to the usage(s) of “gospel.” It has a very narrow meaning in the Book of Mormon, whereas general LDS usage seems to encompass nearly everything LDS (culture, policy, activities, etc.)

    (On the first point, see http://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=6054 )

  18. Ben on May 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Ben #9 and #17 are not the same Ben as #16…

  19. Cameron N. on May 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    So, how about ‘things I agree with, that the Spirit has confirmed to be at least one correct perspective or consideration on a particular principle.’

  20. PaulM on May 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I think official Church doctrine ties the calling of prophet to “President of the LDS Church” with a possible extension to the members of the Quorum of the Twelve. I disagree with this limitation, else where might we find a modern-day Abinadai.

  21. Grant on May 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I’m not sure “doctrine” can be separated from “things I agree with” or at least choose to follow because it is so related to agency and choice (at least for me).

    And taking some risk on Ardis’s valid point about it not being fair to list things taught as doctrine that we don’t agree with. An awful lot of what is taught in church I either don’t agree with, don’t understand, or the jury (in my head or spirit) is still out. But I still accept and try to live it as long as it comes from some authorized (by the priesthood) church source through proper channels because I believe they will lead me closer to the Doctrines of Christ essential for salvation. And I have chosen and made covenants to be loyal to this church. And if I choose to reject any particular teaching, I accept that there may be some consequences attached if only on the failure to practice obedience. “I know not except the Lord hath commanded it.”

    So, more narrowly defined than anything taught by a church member?

    Only slightly so as it includes what is specifically authorized by proper priesthood authority. The way to confirm if you have some problem or question is to check on up the chain of current priesthood authority because I choose to accept the Church as the Lord’s, and respect the authorized messengers.

    Specific examples of teachings or doctrines I accept but don’t agree with?

    I thought of several examples. In fact, the list could be quite long. But to spare me any trouble with my standing in the church, the whole point is that I keep them to myself and willingly accept consequences for how I act in relation to them.

    One silly example sufficiently dated:

    A GA (proper priesthood authority area president) came to our mission and told us to comb our hair back from our forehead so we look more mature in preaching the gospel. While I agreed bangs across the forehead made you look kinda Jim Carrey dumb (or dumber). I’ve been parting my hair to the side since I had enough to part and I kept doing in on my mission in defiance of “doctrine.” I can’t say that it was “false doctrine.” It certainly was a teaching through proper priesthood channels not necessary for salvation -except for maybe that obedience part.

    Bottom line, I have no authority only my choice (agency) to follow the Doctrine of Christ (those basic principles) as aided by all the authorized teachings of the church which I choose to follow again in faith that they will lead me to Christ.

  22. James on May 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Grant,

    I really don’t see how combing your hair as a missionary could in any way be viewed as doctrine. Those things that are doctrine should apply to all members AND directly and substantively tie into Mormon soteriology. The Church, both leaders and members, spend a lot of time discussing “inspired counsel” or “inspired practices,” but those things should NOT be confused with doctrine.

    My basic position is that, like I said above, doctrine must be universal in its application to all saints, and fit substantively into our views of soteriology. Of course, salvation is in itself not so simple, but the point is that there should be a direct connection to some conception of salvation, and not just saying that any little policy or piece of counsel is doctrine because obedience is a doctrine of salvation.

    We should be careful, in my opinion (which I’m certain could be challenged), to not confuse doctrine, and implementation of doctrine, practices informed by doctrine, or policy based on doctrine.

  23. Dane Laverty on May 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    James, your #22 illustrates what I’m getting at here. Your first paragraph lays out your definition of what doctrine is, but it’s really just your own definition that you made up. You close by talking about the importance of distinguishing between doctrine and other things, which is exactly why I’m writing these posts. I think several people participating in this discussion feel strongly that it’s important to understand what’s “doctrine” and what’s not, but the problem is that each of us is using our own definition of “doctrine” without realizing that we’ve each made up our own definition for ourselves.

  24. Dane Laverty on May 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    James, I just now went back and read your #3. So, if I’m reading you correctly, you’re describing something of a “doctrinal marketplace”, where different, conflicting doctrines co-exist (e.g. “fathers preside” vs. “parents preside”). Each doctrine gains or loses support over time as beliefs and values shift. Is that right?

  25. Howard on May 8, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    12 Dane I agree deciphering what is and is not scriptural revelation can be problematic but what has been revealed since the D&C was published? I think only OD1 and OD2, the family proc didn’t made canon. Church presidents offer a lot of counsel but it isn’t couched as revelation. ETB’s Fourteen Fundamentals suggest that anything a president says could be revelation but his 1st fundamental contradicted his authority to even present them given he was president of Q12 not a sitting church president at the time.

  26. Dane Laverty on May 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    The “Fourteen Fundamentals” are a great example of “is it doctrine or not?” I find that it’s considered doctrine by those who agree with it and opinion or policy by those who don’t.

  27. Howard on May 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Yes I agree the Fourteen Fundamentals open the flood gates to the question what is doctrine but I wonder how many would still find them doctrine if they understood the slight of hand involved in this contradiction.

  28. Geoff-A on May 8, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Ardis 7 Flip flops (called thongs here) must be culture ? because we have a lot of polynesians here and we quite often have deacons passing the sacrament wearing a skirt and thongs-(bishop is only concerned that they wear white shirts (doctrine?) and ties. Many of the polynesians also have tattoos.
    In outlying areas there is a doctrine that “if it doesn’t come from SLC its not acceptable. I wrote a 30 page booklet on financial awareness for a p’hood committee and gave some seminars in my ward but when other wards and stakes wanted to have me do it P’hood leaders said “it doesn’t come from SLC so no”
    Harold 8 Also have to separate out the Utah culture.
    Ben 16 agree- put this in Utah culture category.
    Paul 20 agree this one should be questioned/think it’s tradition and avoids problems/politics.
    Modesty has become a doctrine-but not aware of any revelation/scripture. The figures for teenage pregnancy in Utah do not support that it works-compare to Canada or European countries.

  29. Rob Perkins on May 8, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    #12 Dane — OD2 and sections 137 and 138 were accepted during my lifetime by the Church through a General Conference common consent motion.

    As well (and this is the interesting part), the Lectures on Faith were *removed* from the Pearl of Great Price at about the same time. If you’re younger than 32 or so I suppose that’s not “your lifetime”, but I don’t consider that to be so stale that it can’t count for something.

    Further, I don’t agree that a Church doctrine can’t be a Church doctrine, if its common consent action took place before my birth. You are not left with “nothing”, you’re left with a legacy of statements and concepts accepted into doctrine by those who came before us.

  30. Bob on May 8, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    @Rob Perkins,
    “…you’re left with a legacy of statements and concepts accepted into doctrine by those who came before us.” (Perkins)
    “Forget everything I have said or that has been said by others …” Said by the king of Mormon doctrine__BRMc.

  31. Jax on May 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Dane,

    I think you’ve proved your point….that we all use definition for ‘doctrine’ that we like….not necessarily that our definitions make doctrine what I like, but our definitions of doctrine are just whatever seems right to me… I now have a range of options for my definition to choose from, and I guess I’ll choose the one that I like most, because there is not concrete definition.

  32. Rob Perkins on May 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    @Bob (30) — That’s not a refutation; McConkie’s positions on race and the Priesthood were never accepted as a common consent action. Rather, they were expressed as a folkway consensus, with the worst of the suppositions openly denied by Church leadership, when pressed on the matter. (See blacklds.org, for references and a timeline.)

    I reiterate: I think Church doctrine is the body of ideas in or from the standard works of the Church, accepted by the Church through a common consent action. That means the body of doctrine can change. The fact that we don’t see a change more frequently than every few decades doesn’t mean anything to that definition.

  33. Mark D. on May 8, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Dane L, Accusing me of bad faith without any evidence isn’t particularly kind. I agree that determining exactly what the official teachings of the church are can be difficult.

    That does not mean that “affirmed and repeated by leaders in official publications” does not provide an extremely strong, fundamentally objective guideline for determining what those teachings currently are. You could assign two different committees to do the research, and they would come up with essentially the same list.

    The idea that the doctrine of the church includes every idle remark made in Sunday School classes is rather more dubious. On occasion, I think I learned more non-doctrines of the church when I was growing up than the reverse. But that is probably just because I paid more attention to the outlandish and the exciting.

    “Fast, pray, and read the scriptures” isn’t half as entertaining as debates over the location of the lost ten tribes. As far as I can tell, there is no contemporary church doctrine on whether the lost ten tribes are in a group, scattered beyond recognition, or even on the planet.

  34. Bob on May 8, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    @Rob Perkins #32,
    I don’t think BRMc was limiting his comments to race only, but that ‘live’ revealations trumps past thinking.

    (Perkins) “… Rather, they were expressed as a folkway consensus,(*Race) with the worst of the suppositions openly denied by Church leadership, when pressed on the matter”. I was born 1945__this is not how I recall things happening.

  35. Rob Perkins on May 8, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    @Bob, the denials predate your birth. I take no responsibility for what Mormons in their various communities were telling each other.

    Here’s one: 1912: LDS First Presidency Again Denies the “Neutral in Heaven” Idea
    Just as Brigham Young denied it, Joseph F. Smith and Charles Penrose deny this theory in a First Presidency letter written to M. Knudson on January 13, 1912. “There is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church… [in support of the idea] that the Negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him.” (As quoted in Neither White Nor Black, Bush and Mauss, Signature Books, pg. 86) (I took this from the History timeline at BlackLDS.org)

    The “neutral in Heaven” idea was certainly a notion propagated by Mormons among Mormons. It’s consistent with the things my own parents told me when I asked them about it, at a very young age. Under Dane’s broad definition, that’s a doctrine. Under a definition narrower than his, but broader than mine, (such as, “all authoritative GA statements, which doesn’t include B. McConkie’s book, not by any imaginative stretch”) it’s not.

    Hey… maybe that’s an example that meets his challenge. Dane?

  36. Dane Laverty on May 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Yup Rob, that works. Good call.

    Mark D., I don’t accuse you of any bad faith. When I say, “my guess is that you’ll privilege the teachings you agree with and ignore the ones you don’t,” all I mean is that I expect you’ll do what most people tend to do. You’re welcome to prove me wrong (which is the point of this whole post) by naming a doctrine that you accept but don’t agree with (as several other commenters have).

    Ardis, I haven’t forgotten your inverse approach. If you’re still checking on this thread for my response…well, I guess I’ll just say to keep checking :)

  37. Bob on May 8, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    @Rob Perkins,
    When was “neutral in Heaven” ever brought up in this Post?

  38. ji on May 9, 2011 at 9:58 am

    This posting illustrates the problems we create for ourselves when we focus on the Church if Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution, rather than as an assemblage of individuals. I have no problem with learning in history that Elder ___ and President ___ had differing opinions on a particular matter. For me, it shows that Elder ___ believes one way and President ___ believes another. I err if I take either of these and turn it into the Church’s doctrine.

    When I was a kid, my father never allowed me to say “they” told me something — I always had to name names. That was good instruction. Today, it is very easy for me to say that Brother ___ says ABC and Bishop ___ says XYZ. I don’t mind a few disconnects in individual belief among the membership of the Church. But I do object to people preaching their own interpretation of a particular matter at the time as the doctrine of the Church, and imposing it on me and calling me unfaithful if I differ. That’s unkind.

    I even go so far as to note say the Church curriculum committee expressed its opinion from time to time, especially in a book like Gospel Principles. Thus, I look at that book as being written by the Church curriculum committee, not by THE CHURCH, but written for a particular purpose and audience.

    This approach sure makes life a lot easier. I recommend it…

  39. Dane Laverty on May 9, 2011 at 10:22 am

    ji, I think that’s a useful approach. I think it’s good to consider (or at least know) the source of statements taught in church.

  40. Adam Greenwood on May 9, 2011 at 11:08 am

    A distinction between ‘doctrine’ and ‘things I agree with’? Hmm. If you accept, as I do, that I am morally obligated to accept the doctrine, a better question would be ‘what doctrines do you accept only because they are ‘doctrine’?”

  41. Adam Greenwood on May 9, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Or, you could reverse the question: What do you agree with but don’t identify as doctrine? It would be fairly easy for everyone to come up with theological beliefs that they think are true but not LDS doctrine.

  42. Jonovitch on May 9, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Oh my gosh, I can’t believe there’s still so much confusion and debate about this.

    “doctrine” = that which is taught (i.e., literally anything)

    “church doctrine” = that which is taught in a church by members of a church (i.e., almost anything, as long as it gives you warm fuzzies)

    “official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” = that which is taught and approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and (almost by default) the general body of the Church

    Seriously people, if your dad taught you about it, and he couldn’t back it up with canon or an official statement, then it’s your dad’s doctrine. If a general authority said something in stake conference last year, then it’s still possibly his personal opinion, because he doesn’t speak for the church, and therefore it’s not “church doctrine,” rather “some random general authority’s doctrine.”

    We have to remember, this is Jesus Christ’s church. He makes the doctrine; not individual members (no matter how high on the org-chart they are). This is why I’m so adamant about the fact that when we go searching for “official Church doctrine,” we look to the canon and the interpretation/revelation of the collective, unanimous governing bodies of the Church. Because when they are unified they speak for Jesus Christ. (Individually, there’s just too much fallibility and too much room for error, even among apostles.) Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, is the only individual who gets to determine what his doctrine is. The rest of us get to listen very carefully to his servants, the prophets, and not get caught up making stuff up that we think sounds good (or listening to any individual other than Jesus Christ). Sheesh.

    Instead of starting from the extreme of including everything you could possibly hear in Sunday School or Seminary, let’s start from the other side: the accepted canon, it’s current official interpretation, and other official statements issued by the collective governing bodies. I think we’d be surprised how far that will take us, how satisfied we truly are with it, and how the rest of the stuff in comparison just seems irrelevant or even silly. [End rant.]

    BTW, I really like ji’s statement above, too (comment 38). If more people would cite (or even know) their sources, it would be a better world. :)

    Jon

  43. Jonovitch on May 9, 2011 at 11:28 am

    As for examples of “official Church doctrine” that I don’t agree with? Well, since I consider “official” to mean “originating with Jesus Christ, the true head of the church, and distilled down to us through the prophets and apostles” (and not bubbling up from some other individual human), I’d say I try not to disagree with the Creator and Savior of the world. I honestly can’t think of anything right now. But if I do happen to have a problem with something, I chalk it up to “I guess I don’t know as much about this as he does” — which I think is a pretty safe bet.

    Any other teaching that I can’t ascribe directly to Jesus Christ (through his apostles and prophets), I’ll argue about ’til I’m blue in the face. Or I’ll admit I don’t know enough about it yet. Sometimes both. :)

    Jon

  44. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    When you read general Christian literature, there is concern about the conflict between the centrifugal nature of charismatic practice that relies on live guidance from the Holy Spirit, on the one hand, and the need for unity and central governance to accomplish anything, on the other.

    The LDS Church is viewed by many as highly centralized in its governance and doctrines, even though the weekly operation of the Church for most members involves a local congregations that operates with great independence, with a totally unpaid staff that largely performs in a poorly supervised manner unless someone makes a complaint to a higher authority. It is clear to me that the emphasis of the last thirty years on use of the scriptures as the primary text, supplemented by documented teachings of presidents of the Church, synopsized in works like Gospel Principles, has been aimed toward making clear what the core teachings are, while giving us practical freedom to speculate, expound, or deduce, provided we understand that is all we are doing. We are free to have personal viewpoints, even beliefs, as long as we don’t claim authority for them that is binding on others, and they don’t directly conflict with the core teachings of scripture and modern prophets.

    Mormons are not in the business of splitting hairs and counting angels dancing on pinheads. We have the freedom to acknowledge we just don’t know many things, because we affirm that we are eligible for more revelation, which has the direct logical corollary that there are always things we will not know! We can afford to be ignorant and indeterminate, because what we think we know is always subordinate to what may be revealed next year by the prophet. We are not under the burden assumed by Protestants of having to demonstrate their article of faith that the answer to every question can be deduced from the Bible. We can afford to wait for God to reveal the answer, when He is ready, and our role is to be ready to respond to the answer, as the Saints so enthusiastically did when the Priesthood revelation was received in 1978.

    My sense is that apostates are born among people who cannot stand to wait on God, who insist on having answers to all questions on their own schedule, and so end up adopting false teachings because they give a false sense of security.

  45. psychochemiker on May 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    K, Jonovitch, question for you.

    Say an apostle comes to your Stake Conference and teaches an understanding of the word “agency” which is counter to what other apostles haves said in General Conference? It’s being taught by an apostle in an official mode (a talk at SC, not around the dinner table).

    Is this new definition only true in this stake?
    Is this his personal view?
    Is this a shift in the church’s view?

    It came directly from an Apostle, but I still reject it as authoritative because it doesn’t jive with the scriptures, it doesn’t jive with the other apostles, it was certainly a “New” doctrine, and only the President of the Church is authorized to receive “New” doctrine for the church.

    So I guess my point is, just because it’s directly ascribed and taught by an apostle does not mean it was directly taught by Jesus Christ.

  46. Jonovitch on May 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Yeah, what Raymond said.

  47. Jonovitch on May 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    psychochemiker (45), I’m not sure where I was unclear. You made the exact point I’ve been arguing this whole time: we can’t completely trust any single individual (other than Jesus Christ himself), regardless of how high the calling.

    It doesn’t matter if the general authority is an apostle or just a random seventy. It doesn’t matter if it’s in stake conference or around your kitchen table. There’s just too much room for personal opinion to flavor any individual’s teaching. The smart ones know that lots of people hang on every word, so they’re very careful with what they say.

    Unfortunately not all general authorities are so careful, and too much of what is spoken in random stake conferences gets repeated and passed down and slightly altered with each retelling until some Seminary teacher tells your teenagers something that’s really fantastic but not actually true.

    One last time: The only way something can be defined as “official” Church doctrine is if it comes from the true head of the Church himself, i.e., Jesus Christ. Since he’s not on earth at the moment, we look to his hand-selected servants, the apostles and prophets. We know from past experience that even these great men can sometimes get into trouble. So we account for that by listening not to any one of them, but to all of them together. It is their *unified* voice, all 15 speaking as one (and collectively for Jesus Christ himself) that will guide us to truth.

    Any deviation that favors an individual other than Jesus Christ invites the potential to end up following just some person who used to speak for Jesus Christ. But I guess the upside there is, in that guy’s church you could teach whatever you wanted. ;)

    Jon

  48. Bob on May 9, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    @Jonovitch,
    You assume all 15/17 are in agreement. I don’t know that has ever been the case.

  49. Jonovitch on May 9, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Bob, the 1995 Proclamation to the World has all 15 signatures. Ditto on the Jan 1, 2000 Testimony of the Apostles. I would assume, since they all meet together weekly, that although we only see three signatures from the First Presidency on letters that are sent to local leadership, that the other 12 are implied, but you can never really know, can you? :)

  50. Bob on May 10, 2011 at 12:14 am

    @Jonovitch,
    They do not meet all together once a week. In Joseph Smith’s time most Apostles were out of the country on missions to Europe when JS was stating doctines. Many times when modern meetings/votes were held (1978)
    some Apostles were not there.

  51. Geoff-A on May 10, 2011 at 12:33 am

    In 28 I said modesty has become a doctrine although no scriptural support, and no evidence that it improves outcomes for youth.

    I assume the purpose of modesty is to prevent teenage sex/pregnancy?

    Utah rates lower than US average but higher than most of developed world by a large margin.

    Is modesty a doctrine or just culture that is attached to the church?

    We certainly hear enough about it from the stand.

  52. Jon on May 10, 2011 at 12:35 am

    You probably have seen this:
    http://newsroom.lds.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

    Does this help or hinder the definition?

  53. Dane Laverty on May 10, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Adam G. (#41), that was also the approach Ardis took in #7. I don’t think it works. My point in the post is that if the set of teachings you accept as doctrines is a subset of the things you agree with, that implies that you only accept teachings you agree with as doctrine — in other words, your definition of doctrine if functionally, “things I agree with,” which isn’t an especially compelling definition. If you can identify a teaching you accept as doctrine but that you don’t agree with (as in Rob’s #35 and Ben’s #9), then you’ve given evidence that you have a useful, objective definition of doctrine that can be used in discussion.

  54. James Olsen on May 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Dane, reading your post, followed by the very limited number of persons willing to take up your challenge has been a sort of bubble bursting experience for me: maybe I’m a lot more heretical than the rest of y’all. Or maybe your readers are just worried about publicly airing their heresies! But you’ve built that added tension into your post.

  55. Jonovitch on May 10, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Bob (50), in our time, the apostles don’t go on missions, and they meet together weekly. You can always find exceptions, but this is the rule.

  56. Ardis E. Parshall on May 10, 2011 at 11:56 am

    My point in the post is that if the set of teachings you accept as doctrines is a subset of the things you agree with, that implies that you only accept teachings you agree with as doctrine

    No. Your definition is as flawed and useless as it was the first time you proposed it three posts ago — you’re not satisfied with how the discussions have gone because you aren’t successful in persuading people to accept your flawed definition.

    It doesn’t work because for most people an element of “doctrine” isn’t just that something was taught, but that it is true, that it comes by inspiration. Your definition requires people to say “I reject truth,” and people who realize that your definition calls for that are not going to accept the definition.

    You have drawn only two examples from people attempting to meet your definition, and neither example is doctrinal. The “neutral in heaven” idea has been specifically repudiated throughout the 20th century (not just since 1978) as a false teaching. Although the “no death before fall” idea has not been repudiated as unambiguously as the other, it has never won full acceptance from either the body of the church or from church leaders — because, IMO, it is a misreading of scripture and is not true, and therefore cannot be doctrinal no matter how prominent its most vocal supporters.

    That doesn’t help you with your definition, granted. You need to approach a definition from another angle, then, because no matter how often you repeat this one, it won’t become any more acceptable.

  57. Dane Laverty on May 10, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Ardis, looking back at your #7, you’re right. I was working from the assumption that if you agreed with everything you identify as doctrine, that your definition of doctrine was essentially, “things I agree with”. But, as you pointed out, the fact that there are church teachings you agree with but don’t accept as doctrine implies some other more restrictive hurdle than “things I agree with”.

    As for my definition of doctrine (“things taught by church members”), I’m not ready to give it up just yet. You’re right that “no death before the fall” and “neutral in heaven” aren’t doctrinal in the sense you describe, but they’re doctrinal in that they’re taught and accepted by many members in the church. So if an outsider were to ask, “Is ‘no death before the fall’ a Mormon doctrine?” it would be misleading to answer with either “yes” or “no”. My sense is that other religions have official doctrines (creeds?) that make it easy (or easier, at least) to identify what the church as an institution believes. Since we don’t have creeds in that sense, I’m not convinced that I can say we have doctrines in a sense that is meaningful to outsiders (see mkemp’s #6).

  58. Bob on May 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    @:Jonovitch,
    In my time, ETB was sent to Germany to be Mission P. Some said because of how he opposed things in the Q12. Just because the Q12 meets (maybe) once a week does not mean all 12 are there, only that a quorum is there.
    The Q12 does try to speak with a “Unified Voice”, but that does not mean members agree.

  59. Jonovitch on May 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    @Dane, if your definition of “Mormon doctrine” is “something that is taught by some Mormon individuals,” then yes, “no death before the fall” might meet that definition. And plenty of other stuff, too. You might even want to write a book called “Mormon Doctrine” (I tease!).

    But if you define it as “the official viewpoint and teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ,” then the answer is a clear no — that’s not “Mormon doctrine.”

    The most telling sign perhaps is which direction the supposed “doctrine” came from. Is it bubbling up from the lower regions of the general membership? Or is it from the highest authorities, those whose callings are to interpret and reveal the word of the Lord? In my book, top-down is valid and official; bottom-up is not.

    @Bob, you’re reading my comments too literally. There are exceptions and there are rules. Currently and in general, the top 15 leaders of the Church meet together once a week, unless they are otherwise unable. Is that vague enough for you? ;)

  60. Bob on May 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    @Jonovitch,
    Yes__that was plenty vague. Thank you

  61. Jax on May 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I love a good discussion where we ask each other to be more vague….LOL