What Is “Mormon Doctrine?”

January 19, 2008
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In my first post I discussed why God was concerned with creating creeds and using them as a test of one’s allegiance to God. In my last post I explained what it means to not have creeds and gave examples of the LDS Church following that pattern. I am now prepared to tackle the question of “What is Mormon Doctrine?” To outsiders, our doctrines must seem slippery or downright fluid. It’s impossible to pin us down on anything that they care about!

What informed (semi-informed?) outsiders want to know is what our specific teachings are on all the juicy subjects they’ve heard through the anti-Mormon grapevine:

  • Was Mary really a virgin?
  • Did God once live on another planet and live a sinful life?
  • Do Mormons secretly worship other gods?
  • Do Mormons want to take over the world?
  • Do men in the LDS Church get to decide if their wives are resurrected or not?
  • Why were African Americans banned from the priesthood?

I can’t say that I blame them. Thanks to our Evangelical neighbors, a half-true version (and by this I mean “a lie”) of many of our “doctrines” has long since leaked out. Worse yet, every juicy statement made by our 19th century leaders has been carefully combed through for any bombs and all have been dropped.

Do Mormons Even Have Doctrine?

I think part of the problem is the way we misuse the word “doctrine.”

“Doctrine” actually means “what a religion teaches.” Any false teaching in our past are still a “doctrine” of ours in this sense. But as members of the Church, we don’t use the word “doctrine” that way. Somewhat protectively, we transmuted “doctrine” to mean “that which we teach which is true and will not change.” We muddy the waters further by branding “true things that change” as “policy.” But here is the rub, if “doctrine” can only mean “that which is true that cannot change” then in fact Mormons have no “doctrine” at all except for the uninterrupted statements in scripture.

Revelatory Truths vs. Doctrine

I would like to propose a different way of thinking. Recently a poster on Times and Seasons asked: “We can’t have ‘truths’ and ‘doctrines’ be separate things. Or can we?”

In fact, we can! It works like this to me:

It starts with the underlying profound truths taught in the scriptures or other revelations. We have a hard time comprehending these truths because we are so much less than God and He had to condescend to even get the basics into our heads. We believe the truth, but naturally have to form the idea about that truth into our minds as something concrete that we can wrap our minds around.

That concrete version of the truth is what gets taught (often with several competing variants) and that is our “doctrine.” Because the “doctrine” is really just an approximation of the truth, there is nothing wrong with refining or changing it later so long as the underlying truth is maintained.

This idea is not new. Nor is it mine.

Want Proof?

Despite the misuse of the word “doctrine” here, this official LDS Church statement is getting at this idea:

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. (link)

Think this is a modern interpretation? Guess again. Here is the same idea from B.H. Roberts back in 1907:

And yet these gentlemen [who wrote an anti-Mormon new article]… make ten long quotations from a repudiated work, and one quotation only from a work that is accepted as standard in the Church, viz., the Doctrine and Covenants! For a long time the Church has announced over and over again that her standard works in which the word of God is to be found, and for which alone she stands, are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price. All else is commentary, and of a secondary character as to its authority, containing much that is good, much that illustrates the doctrines of the Church, and yet liable to have error in it for which the Church does not stand. (Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Volume 2, p. 296)

100 years not good enough for you? Well how about this statement from Brigham Young back in 1855! (and please forgive the racist view of Native Americans and try to understand the point he was making instead):

I am so far from believing that any government upon this earth has constitutions and laws that are perfect, that I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness.[sic] The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling [sic], sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities, as we have to do with these benighted Lamanites; it would be of no benefit to talk to them as I am now speaking to you. Before you can enter into conversation with them and give them your ideas, you are under the necessity of condescending to their low estate, so far as communication is concerned, in order to exalt them. (link)

Still not convinced? Well consider this explanation from Elder John Smith on behalf of the Church in 1835 concerning the difference between the Lectures on Faith and the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants: “[he] bore record that the revelations in [the Doctrine and Covenants] were true, and that the lectures judicially were written and compiled, and were profitable for doctrine.” (History of the Church, Vol 2, 176.)

Perhaps this is what Joseph Smith meant when he said, “Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 320)

Creedless in Action

Let’s give an actual application of scriptural truth vs. doctrine using some of the questions above.

If I am a 19th century Mormon who only knows about Newtonian physics, believes the universe is infinite, and believes D&C 132:20 that God will exalt us by making us gods, I would naturally envision that truth as an infinite universe proportioned amongst all previously exalted beings with a future world or two being my future charge if I am exalted. If God was once a man, I could only envision such a thing as happening a long time in the past on some world far from here. To me God being “Eternal” would simply mean that he has been God for so long that I can’t imagine it otherwise. [1]

As a 21st century Mormon familiar with post-Newtonian physics, the big bang, and the finite nature of space and time, I naturally envision this same truth as God creating the universe via a the big bang and the universe being His alone. Other exalted beings would create their own universes that I know nothing about. And if exalted myself, I imagine I’ll create universes too, not just a world or two. If God was once a man, I envision this happening in a different space and time in a different universe, thus making God — for all intents and purposes — Eternal to us for there was never a time He wasn’t God. (Yes, this is how big bang physics work; it creates time as well as space. I know we can’t comprehend it.)

Explanations of the priesthood-ban follow this pattern. In a 19th century world where the superiority of the caucasian race and darwinism between the races were considered scientifically proven, a question on everyone’s mind was “why would God create an inferior race?” [2] Pre-existence explanations were the only sensible conclusions. It would be natural to see the priesthood-ban in this light.

But in a modern world where eugenics has been eradicated and science has proven there are no inferior races, just inferior circumstances [3], there is no longer a need to answer why God would make an inferior race. So naturally we see the priesthood-ban more as a protection of well-meaning racists beliefs of a Church body not ready for the whole truth yet.

Now consider how a 19th century Mormon might differ from a 21st century Mormon on their interpretation of these truths: God having a body, the literal Sonship of Christ, and the virgin birth?

If I’m a 19th century Mormon that is actively practicing polygamy and recently learned to reject the Catholic and Protestant notion that sexuality is for weaker believers that can’t put God first, I would be very likely to envision those truths as being a literal marriage between God and Mary and possibly even an appropriate sexual act between them for the birth of Jesus. I would have to make the word “virgin” figurative here, but this is no worse than figurative interpretations of the earth as having four corners (Rev 7:1) [4]

But as a 21st century Mormon familiar with such modern wonders as in vitro fertilization, I am not likely to envision these truths as being sexual in nature but rather as a miracle similar to the wonders of modern science.

Who is right? It doesn’t matter; these are things unrevealed. This is the natural process by which we wrap our minds around an scriptural truth that may not yet be comprehendible by us. The truth is probably none of these. But these “doctrines” allows us to conceptualize the scriptural truths.

Conclusion

So in answer to the question: “What is Mormon Doctrine?” It is the profound truths of the scriptures mixed with an infinite and changing body of traditions allowing us to envision such truths.

Footnotes

[1] In defense of this point of view, which I don’t even share, it should be noted that the literal interpretation of the word “Eternal” in the Old Testament means “time out of mind.” See Strong’s 5769. See also Strong’s 6924 which approximately means “ancient.” In the New Testament the word “Eternal” comes from the Strong’s 166 and 165 which mean “an age.” I have no idea if this is significant or not. But in any case, the Bible literally leaves open the possiblity of Eternity not being forever. This might just be a language issue.

[2] For more information on this topic, I would highly recommend Jennifer Burn’s excellent American History podcast available through U.C. Berekley. Professor Burns brings to light the wide spread belief during the 19th century of the darwinian struggle between races and even, to a lesser degree, eugenics. Amongst other things, this belief was used to justify sterilizing a retarded white woman to remove her from the gene pool and protect the white race. Such beliefs were considered scientifically proven and the great scientific minds of the time supported it. So widespread were these beliefs that even people dedicating their lives to help the African American’s still considered them an inferior race. Even the best of them were racist by today’s standards.

[3] The studies used to disprove that African Americans had a genetic mental inferiority were done by studying Afrian American’s raised by caucasian parents. This group performed exactly the same as other caucasian children. This indicated overwhelming evidence that any statistical difference detected up to that point was in fact environmental in nature only.

[4] Contrary to anti-Mormon smears, I’ve never actually found a definitive quote from 19th century Mormons leaders confirming a belief in a sexual act between a sealed Mary and God. Brigham Young is usually quoted here, but he never confirms this belief. It’s possible he was hinting at it, however. I am here only postulating that some did believe this, though I do not know for certain. My point is only that such a belief, from their point of view, would certainly be natural. It does not strike me as offensive even though I personally don’t believe it.

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26 Responses to What Is “Mormon Doctrine?”

  1. TJM
    January 19, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    In response to:
    ”Why were African Americans banned from the priesthood?”

    Do mormons believe that the color of ones skin has anything to do with their position in the pre-existence?

  2. Bruce Nielson
    January 19, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    >>> Do mormons believe that the color of ones skin has anything to do with their position in the pre-existence?

    Not any more that I know of, but some did at one time. Or at least they offered it up as a theory. I haven’t heard any one espouse this theory in a very long time, like since the early 80′s (it died shortly after 1978.) McConkie was the last I heard of to pursue this thinking, but he was asked to remove it from his book “Mormon Doctrine” (and got in trouble for this and other views he pushed.)

    But I can’t presume to know what every Mormon in the world believes or doesn’t believe.

  3. John Nilsson
    January 19, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Bruce,

    You should collect all these posts and produce a book! You have obviously thought about these issues at great length.

    Several points:

    1. One of my mission presidents apparently believed in a physical sexual act between God and Mary. I called him on it as he was teaching it at a mission leadership meeting, and he backed down once he saw at least one other missionary near me was very opposed to the idea as well. Would you consider this to be a fundamentalist doctrine? He was aware of in-vitro fertilization, so I am at a loss as to how to explain his motivation for believing in something so blasphemous, especially if you hold that God already has a wife.

    2. I still think that if we substitute the phrase “God’s personal view” for the word “doctrine” it captures nicely how most active LDS use the word. We are encouraged to believe all that the Church teaches, so we assume it’s all “God’s personal view”.

    3. De Gobineau, not Darwin, was the first to suggest the existence of inequality between races. Darwin was less interested in the social implications of his ideas that people like Herbert Spencer who appropriated them to justify pure capitalism, opposing safety regulations, child labor laws, etc.

    4. I doubt there were more than a handful of 19th century Mormons who had read Darwin, let alone heard of him. 19th century statements justifying the priesthood ban use biblical references to Cain and POGP references to Ham, not eugenics. Eugenics was a pet theory of Eastern intellectuals and didn’t die out until after the Holocaust had been uncovered. Western Mormons simply weren’t imbibing this stuff until the twentieth century…

  4. Bruce Nielson
    January 19, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    John,
    #1: I think modernly this position is taken if one believes that the writings of 19th century Mormons should be taken more doctrinally or literally than most believe they should. Unlike you, I don’t find the position offensive, merely wrong. I suppose I believe your mission president has a right to study these things out on his own and form his own opinion and I don’t think it’s blasphemous. (Or at least it wouldn’t be for someone that accepts the idea of plural marriage as being an Eternal principle. I’m willing to guess that your MP did. If he didn’t, then I have no idea how he would justify his position.)

    However, he should not have been teaching such speculation to anyone else as if it was “truth”. That *is* blasphemous in my mind. However, I would be willing to assume he had the best of intentions and simply didn’t understand the difference between his speculations and actual doctrine. This is the very problem that creates creeds in the first place. We Mormons are not immune to the urge.

    #2: I like your substitute phrase better than mine.

    #3 and #4: I am going to defer to Jennifer Burns on this. I did not suggest that Darwin backed the view of darwinism between races. This is a theory that I’m sure arose after his death and he would have disowned. But it was widely believed in the 19th century according to Burns. Likewise, I’m not suggesting people sat around reading about eugenics. The cultural elite did that and they created the culture that everyone else subscribed to. It’s not much different than today. Ideas permeate a culture and people don’t even know where they come from in most cases. But they don’t think to challenge the ideas either. Cultural assumptions are rarely challenged. You simply grow up believing them.

    You make a good point on the Ham and Cain references. I’m sure that played a huge role since such ideas were not challenged back at the time. I should have mentioned that in my article. Then again, it was already dang long.

  5. January 19, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    I remember the last post here on creeds. I thought that again this discussion might like to read a post discussing many similar issues over at NewCoolThang found here:

    http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2007/12/does-mormonism-have-a-theologyies/478/

  6. January 19, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Sorry, I actually meant this link:

    http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2007/11/an-interpretive-tradition-rather-than-church-doctrine/471/

    But the last one is good for this topic also.

  7. Something to Think About
    January 19, 2008 at 11:25 pm
  8. Mark D.
    January 20, 2008 at 12:25 am

    I agree 100% that the problem lies in the unconventional way many LDS use the term “doctrine”. It is a unnecessary perversion of the English language that causes endless confusion and deprives us of a simple way of making an extremely critical distinction in teaching and practice.

  9. Wade Nelson
    January 20, 2008 at 11:41 am

    This is a topic that bedeviled me for the last 6 months. In my former ward our gospel doctrine instructor would routinely opine on topics that he declared to be doctrine of the Church that I disputed to myself. Calling and election being made sure, second Comforter, Second Anointing were just a few. Everything had some imaginary ordinance associated with it, of course, just to make the doctrine appear more important and his ideas more trustworthy. I endured several months of those classes, many scriptures in the New Testament being twisted to conform to his doctrine. Some may believe these esoteric concepts. I don’t even though there may be some scriptural backup for them.

    I was going to link to the Millett talk as well.

    He quotes an Evangelical stating that determining LDS doctrine is much like nailing Jell-O to a wall.

    Millett’s conclusion is that LDS doctrine consists of those principles and teachings that regularly appear in General Conference and LDS publications. I have found that to be useful tool as I sit in classes or hear other members declare that washing of the feet is an ordinance that must be performed every time a new church President is chosen.

    Maybe it is, but I don’t want to have to hear President Hinckley deny it to Larry King.

    BTW, Calling and Election hasn’t appeared in General Conferernce in 40 years.

  10. January 20, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Who is right? It doesn’t matter; these are things unrevealed.

    Nicely said, though it is also true that we just don’t have the language yet.

    I like your quote, that I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fullness and have to note that it wasn’t a singular time that Brigham Young addressed that theme, he hit the point over and over and over again as did Joseph Smith.

    They were both looking for a pure language and both very aware that the one they had was so terribly limited by both its context (their lives) and its meanings and vocabulary. That we could not denote because we did not have the right connotations, somewhat turning the traditional approach around.

    Excellent post Bruce.

  11. Chris W.
    January 20, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for the post, Bruce. You’ve clearly spent a lot of time thinking about these things. I’m sorry that my response won’t be as clearly stated as your original thesis!

    My concern is that this approach doesn’t allow us to evaluate any teachings ex ante – we can only say ex post “that wasn’t a doctrine, I guess, since it got changed.”

    What teachings of the church now are merely “policies” and which are doctrines? Is there any way to know for sure? Obviously, men that we consider to be very inspired believed that the priesthood ban was eternal truth (doctrine), and now we say it was just a policy. If they can’t tell what the doctrine is, how can we?

  12. January 20, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Likewise, I’m not suggesting people sat around reading about eugenics. The cultural elite did that and they created the culture that everyone else subscribed to.

    John A. Widtsoe did. When he was president of the then-named Utah Agricultural College, he invited eugenics speakers to campus and wrote favorably about the concept. I’ve done research in his official university files, and found these, much to my surprise.

  13. January 20, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    “Calling and election being made sure, second Comforter, Second Anointing were just a few. Everything had some imaginary ordinance associated with it, of course, just to make the doctrine appear more important and his ideas more trustworthy.”

    Wade, are you seriously suggesting that these are mere folk doctrines, and that they refer to some “imaginary ordinance associated with” them? If I read you correct, I’d love to know more about your background, that would lead you to this conclusion.

  14. Bruce Nielson
    January 20, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    >>> What teachings of the church now are merely “policies” and which are doctrines? Is there any way to know for sure?

    Well, if I read my own article correctly, the answer is “it depends.” We have a doctrine that we become gods. That’s straight up scriptural, so there should never be a doubt about it. We might also have a “doctrine” (or did have a “doctrine”) that this means we’ll own a world in some corner of the galaxy and populate it with our children. This is interpretive and not scriptural. Thus it may or may not be true and may or may not stick around later on. But even if it’s not literally true, it does still serve a useful purpose. It helps us (or the 19th century Mormons in any case) turn a more abstract doctrine into something concrete that they can wrap their minds around. Does this help?

    >>> Obviously, men that we consider to be very inspired believed that the priesthood ban was eternal truth (doctrine), and now we say it was just a policy

    I disagree. Every quote I’ve seen on this subject said that African’s would eventually receive the priesthood. Thus there was never a belief it would be etneral. Then again, there was a belief it wouldn’t happen until the Millenium which didn’t turn out to be true.

  15. January 21, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Every quote I’ve seen on this subject said that African’s would eventually receive the priesthood

    Indeed, that is the striking thing about the practice, was that everyone agreed it was temporary. They just disagreed about why it was temporary and when they could expect it to end.

  16. Wade Nelson
    January 21, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Nick
    Thank you for making my point so succinctly for me.

    The doctrines I mentioned were declared by Joseph Smith in the early years of the Church. Apart from McConkie et al I know of very little if any subsequent exegesis. I know there are journal and diary entries that refer to ordinances. Does that make it doctrine? How do we learn of their existence? Are they ever taught by General Authorities? Are they taught in Gospel Doctrine classes? Calling and Election is referred to every 4 years when 1st Peter cannot be ignored. Of course it is never explained because no one really understands it. How do we learn about these secret doctrines?
    Whispered late at night perhaps between missionary companions or in a car on a long drive to zone conference.

    Sounds like folk doctrine to me.

    Are these doctrines so precious that no one must teach them or understand them?

    If we relied on all of the utterances made by 19th century Church leaders that had since been officially abandoned we could just as well believe that Adam was our God and the only God with whom we have to do.

    As J. Hamer might ask, where is our credibility?

  17. January 22, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Part of the frustration regarding Mormon Doctrine being “slippery” may rise from a desire to have everything in life neatly spelled out in a “thou shalt” “thou shalt not” way. When I was younger I saw this “letter of the law” approach as the gospel. I have concluded, however, that the letter does indeed kill, and the Spirit giveth life, as an ancient apostle taught. The commandments being “schoolmasters” are not a list of heavenly “do” and “do not” statements; they are means to an end. I believe the closer we get to God the less we will need specificity in all things, which is crucial because not all things are black and white.

    In regards to official doctrine of the Church, I have stated elsewhere there are several views on the topic. It may look as though Mormons are trying to be slippery by “conveniently” dismissing a statement they disagree with as not being official doctrine. However, this is the freedom granted us by God in His Church.

    The nature of religious thought and doctrine is a lot more ambiguous than some people might like to think- including Mormons and otherwise. The lack of a catechized Mormon theology has been part of the “creed” of the Mormons perhaps since the Church was organized. There are statements of belief, faith, history, etc. and we are to discover the doctrine.

    (I would add, the most critical doctrine may be the least studied; that of gaining faith in Christ, hope, and finally, charity, and all that entails. Hence, Christ instructing his followers to “do” His will in order to “know” of His doctrine, whether it is of God, or whether Christ was just giving some nice ideas, or incorrect theories, see John 7:17).

    As members we may be prone to desire a comprehensive theological treatise on doctrine. B.H. Roberts pined for such a work. Bruce R. McConkie, among others, attempted to complete something similar to a complete work on doctrine. But overall in the history of this Church we find that God was as interested in telling stories, history, as He was in dictating lists of doctrine.

    Richard Bushman pointed out that people, in their desire to comprehend the Book of Mormon, brought their own views to what they read. Mormons believe in “likening the scriptures,” but when does “likening” become “wresting”? Bushman related the problem with an example from the Book of Mormon, how some people read “republicanism” into the record. He concluded, saying “The preconceptions of the modern age led Mormons as well as critics to see things in the Book of Mormon that are not there.” (Believing History, pg. 122)

    Hence, some Mormons may read Alma’s letter to his son Corianton and come away believing that whatever sin (usually interpreted as sexual) Corianton had engaged in was literally second only to murder, or denying the Holy Ghost. So we have some members teaching a view of different “weight” of sins, but a different reading of the text could yield different results. There is a definite “cultural doctrine” aspect to the Church, and critics can use this to criticize the Church just as members can use it to relate incorrect traditional renderings of text. I am reminded of Henry Eyring, the scientist, when he said “you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.” I don’t feel compelled to believe anything that isn’t true, even if my whole ward or stake believes it.

    We should also keep in mind these “doctrines” can ultimately lead to divisions and contentions, something Jesus Christ warned the New World disciples about during His visit in 3 Nephi.

  18. January 22, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Bushman does make a good point about what we read into the text vs. what the text actually says. I find that striking at times. For example. Lehi and company. That is pretty clear, they take only their family and leave the retainers behind. But when they go back for friends, they bring the whole “house” or household. How many people was that? Good question. If it had been Abraham it would have included 300 men raised specifically for war plus all the herdsmen, etc.

    No wonder his brothers doubted he could build a boat. When they withheld their labor, was he talking about individually or withholding the servants and slaves they controlled? When they talk of making them slaves in the wilderness, is it just a figure of speech, or did Nephi insist, as each came on the seven year point, that they either submit and have a hole bored in their ears, becoming slaves or go out into the desert alone? The party could have easily numbered several hundred, not just a score or so, when they came to the new world. Vast differences in the way the text looks, all from things we read into it.

  19. hawkgrrrl
    January 22, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Wow, Bruce – I think you just blew my mind (in a good way)! Well said!

    Bruce: “the profound truths of the scriptures mixed with an infinite and changing body of traditions allowing us to envision such truths.”
    This is a great description, although we need to become more cognizant (not just in retrospect) of what are traditions and what are the profound truths lest we slip into the creeds (per your point) and start teaching the “doctrines of men.”

    Bruce: “[4] Contrary to anti-Mormon smears, I’ve never actually found a definitive quote from 19th century Mormons leaders confirming a belief in a sexual act between a sealed Mary and God.”
    True story, someone just quoted this in sacrament meeting 2 Sundays ago. My eyebrows immediately went up (I tell you I can smell folklore a mile off!). Happy ending – the next speaker who was there from the stake kindly clarified that there is no official stance on how Jesus was conceived. But a quick google search revealed the following three sources (two by prophets, both unclear, one by Orson Pratt, the likely culprit):

    “The birth of the Savior was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood- was begotten of his Father, as we are of our fathers.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 8:115) Frankly, not that clear about the “act,” as it were.

    “The fleshly body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of Husband and Wife; hence the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father: we use the term lawful Wife, because it would be blasphemous in the highest degree to say that He overshadowed her or begat the Savior unlawfully… Inasmuch as God was the first husband to her, it may be that He only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in the mortal state, and that He intended after the resurrection to again take her as one of his own wives to raise up immortal spirits in eternity.” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, page 158) This is the one the guy in my ward referenced. Clearly not a canonical reference, and it fits very nicely with your above statements about not being able to envision in vitro fertilization.

    “They tell us the Book of Mormon states that Jesus was begotten of the Holy Ghost. I challenge that statement. The Book of Mormon teaches No Such Thing! Neither does the Bible…Christ was begotten of God. He was NOT born without the aid of man and that man was God!” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1:18) Again, not that clear about how it was done.

    Bruce (2): “he had the best of intentions and simply didn’t understand the difference between his speculations and actual doctrine. This is the very problem that creates creeds in the first place. We Mormons are not immune to the urge.”
    Immune to the urge? You would think it was jello the way some LDS lap this stuff up. My parents, converts in the 1950s in the midwest, eat the folklore with a spoon because they feel like they now have the inside scoop. That’s one reason speculation is so damaging. I really believe the current crackdown on folklore and speculation (that I perceive) is the best thing that could happen in the church. I got called to repentance by a fellow student at the Y for expressing my frustration over the folklore that has been perpetuated over the years in the church (I was talking about McConkie specifically) that has misinformed people and capitalizes on a base desire in people to lord it over others that they know something others don’t know. It’s still frustrating to me. Joseph Smith comes out of the grove with the knowledge that “their creeds are an abomination” and they teach “doctrines of men.” Then, the church is founded, and the first thing people do is start coming up with more doctrines of men. If I had a nickel for every time I had to tell my parents, “That’s not true” . . . Oy vay!

    Mark D.: “I agree 100% that the problem lies in the unconventional way many LDS use the term “doctrine”.”
    The etymologist in me has to add that IMHO, the word “doctrine” is only problematic in an LDS context because we’re the only religion that eshews (or tries to anyway) the traditions and doctrines of theologians and committees that are the doctrines of other churches. If you belong to a church that doesn’t have both kinds (revealed doctrine and human policies in support of doctrine), there’s no need for another word. We need to come up with another word for the “policies” that masquerade as doctrines. Any takers on creating the new word?

  20. Bruce Nielson
    January 22, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    >>> I really believe the current crackdown on folklore and speculation (that I perceive) is the best thing that could happen in the church.

    I agree 100%

    >>> We need to come up with another word for the “policies” that masquerade as doctrines. Any takers on creating the new word?

    I smell a contest idea!

  21. Doc
    January 25, 2008 at 9:23 am

    How about doctrinish, or perhaps midrash mish-mash, or temporopraxia. :-)

  22. JO. RAUS
    February 26, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Just browsing, noted the site. Interested in several questions raised. Saddened by Wade Nelson’s missive of the 20th Jan.
    If the local administration is functioning properly, Sunday School is always at the centre of the consolidated meeting schedule – this is both symbolic and a necessity for the vast majority of the saints who do not fully support their Sunday School programme by reading their scriptures[and 'studying with a question'].
    Too often we see the mischief maker masquerading as a spiritual intellectual. Leading a Sunday School class would not be my first choice for this individual and I am amazed that A] nobody complained to the bishopric that the teacher was deviating so greatly from the lesson manual [we can safely say this 'cause in none, are these 'concepts' pronounced ] that they were in danger of leading the flock astray; or B] the level of classroom civility was such that the

  23. Jo. Raus
    February 26, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Just browsing, noted the site. Interested in several questions raised. Saddened by Wade Nelson’s missive of the 20th Jan.
    If the local administration is functioning properly, Sunday School is always at the centre of the consolidated meeting schedule – this is both symbolic and a necessity for the vast majority of the saints who do not fully support their Sunday School programme by reading their scriptures[and ’studying with a question’].
    Too often we see the mischief maker masquerading as a spiritual intellectual. Leading a Sunday School class would not be my first choice for this individual and I am amazed that A] nobody complained to the bishopric that the teacher was deviating so greatly from the lesson manual [we can safely say this ’cause in none, are these ‘concepts’ pronounced ] that they were in danger of leading the flock astray; or B] the level of classroom civility was such that the ‘teacher’s’ posturing was tolerated. I assume by this level of docility this took place in eastern Canada.
    It is interesting to note the recent changes to the role of Ward Sunday School President and just how this calling like every other, demands a raising of the bar.
    It is so important to remember the link between prayer and scripture study. So important not to be a passive imbiber of the word but an active seeker of truth through action.

  24. Jo Raus
    February 26, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    First visit, second response – must get a life.
    Hawkgrrrl raises some interesting points. Hamlet was right when commenting on the vast unknown and the opportunities for speculation therein. It irritates me to see how spirituality is so frequently confused with sentimentality. During the angels craze a couple of years ago I lost count of the number of times I heard the ‘Birdies’ story [you know, the one about the toddler trapped under the garage door] from the pulpit. It was and still is my cherished belief that visiting High Councilmen on speaking assignment are in danger of perpetrating some of the most careless crimes. I live in fear of doing just the same when on assignment. We all bear a responsibility for supporting those we know who find it difficult to tell the difference, or do the work. I guess it is the nature of some men to want own some ‘secret’ knowledge – the shaman is still there, whilst there are others only too willing to fawn on those they deem to have the knowledge. Leaving me deeply frustrated with those who chase the sacred thinking it a secret to be exposed when, hey the foundations are slipping!

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