Getting Acquainted With Our More Dubious Doctrines

Reading back through the recent posts at Keepapitchin (sorry Ardis, I haven’t been keeping up :)  ), I found a great piece on those long-lived, die-hard “doctrines” that aren’t really doctrines at all. Things like how Jesus was married…with children…to multiple wives(?!?!). Or how blacks couldn’t receive the priesthood because they were [insert made-up reason here] in the pre-mortal life. Or any number of other eclectic tidbits (I had mission companion who had been taught that Cain survived the Flood in a specially built one-man submarine).

She closes with this question:

Why the heck do we do that? Why do we perpetuate these wild speculations from the past, when we know, or ought to know, that they aren’t true?

Here’s my theory on it: it’s like relationships with old friends. I have a few friends I’ve kept in touch with since middle school. Our relationships have developed and matured, and it’s been wonderful and rewarding.

In contrast, Facebook has allowed me to re-establish contact with acquaintances I haven’t seen in 20 years or more. My elementary-school best friend, my CTR B classmate, my secret “like” from fifth grade. The thing that’s been most interesting to me is how these relationships pick up exactly where they left off. My friend David showed me his rosary beads when we were kids, and he told me how it’s a sin to let them touch the floor. Now, 25 years later, he’s still a devout Catholic in my mind. My memory took that one experience and blew it out of proportion to define his entire persona.

The speculative, “hush hush” doctrines in the church are like those friends that you haven’t seen in years. Because we never talk about them, we also never examine them, or allow them to develop and mature. Many of these underground doctrines are ones we picked up in our youth, at a time when most of us didn’t have much perspective or any kind of framework for assessing them. They remain frozen just the way we understood them as six-year-olds (when Mom made an offhand comment about only taking the sacrament with the right hand).

So how do we resolve that? I think the only solution is to engage them. Like with the old friends, you connect with them, talk a bit, and get some perspective on what they’ve become since last you saw them. If church teachers proactively address “speculative doctrines” in lessons where they’re relevant (for example, bringing up the “the earth is hollow and the Ten Tribes live inside it” bit during a lesson on the gathering of Israel), it can allow people to re-engage those teachings with the added wisdom they’ve gained over years.

I imagine that many of them (like me) will find themselves saying, “You know, I haven’t really thought about that since I was a kid. I just assumed that it was true because that’s what I was taught, but now that you mention it…” Then the brain pulls it out from those cobwebby corners of the memory and puts it in the light, and it is illuminated for what it is — maybe something interesting and thought-provoking, maybe something personally useful but institutionally dubious, or maybe just something groundless and sensational.

54 comments for “Getting Acquainted With Our More Dubious Doctrines

  1. Couldn’t agree more, although with some of those “out of touch” people & doctrines, it’s best to just say to yourself “Well, bless your heart” and move along.

  2. I read that post, too, but I’d be more worried about this:

    There is a concern that public affairs, or the urge to be attractive, goes too far toward assimilation. You strain out anything that would be unusual. And for many Mormons it’s the distinctive, far-out beliefs that are the most exciting part of their religion. — R. Bushman

  3. For sure, stamping out far-out beliefs has its fans, too. To each their own. For what it’s worth, I think the OP’s solution (engagement) sounds more sensible than pretending the rank-and-file are just bein’ stubborn. Maybe they’re just living their religion as they learned it.

    I’m not so much interested in compiling a list of these underground “doctrines,” but I’m very interested in hearing why you think they persist, why people insist on perpetuating them, and, more than anything, your suggestions for stamping them out, or at least firmly branding them as dead historical artifacts. — A. Parshall

  4. In response to Bushman, I would say that as long as Section 88 and Sections 127-133 remain in the D&C (which I believe they should, with the possible exception of portions of Section 132) we will have no shortage of distinctive, far-out beliefs.

    And, until we get clarification through Sections 139 and beyond, we will also have no shortage of speculation on what all that means. I’m less interested in stamping out underground doctrines than in properly labeling them as speculation. If they are presented that way, people will feel much less obliged to believe then. And who knows–maybe some speculator will actually hit upon something that is true.

  5. I’ll have to write a follow-up post about taking a deep breath and bringing up this subject in Sunday School, reading a list of the non-doctrinal stuff I’ve heard taught in my very own ward or whispered in the hallways in the last two or three years, and promising the class a chance to discuss any of them two weeks later (the next time I taught) after they had had a chance to do their own homework. We did that this past week.

    Maybe they’re just living their religion as they learned it.

    Last time I rode in a car driven by my aunt, who learned to drive in Uruguay in the ’50s, she didn’t want to wait in a long line of cars waiting to turn left on Salt Lake’s Main Street, so she pulled over onto the commuter rail tracks, sped past all the waiting cars, and turned left on a red light.

    She was just living her driving the way she learned it, you know.

  6. Oh, I don’t think it’s merely an amusing difference between the endearingly naïve hoi polloi and the rest of us (who know better, wink wink).

    The same dynamic gets played out in the rarefied space that is the Bloggernacle™…

    I caution against putting a copy under the tree for every LDS relative on your Christmas list as the book’s candid discussion of certain textual problems with the Book of Mormon is a bit much for the uninitiated. — D. Banack

    Regardless of credentials or pedigree or affiliation, we all get an equal kick out of possessing insider knowledge.

  7. Or turning left from the right lane on a red, as the case might be.

    Hardy’s bracketing of the historical question is neither caprice nor cowardice, as it often is in defensive treatments of the Book of Mormon. — R. Welch

    One egghead’s brackets are another driver’s train tracks. Your aunt sounds like my kind of people.

  8. I think there is a danger in any discussion of Mormonism’s “dubious doctrines” of thinking that this is somehow unique to Mormonism. It’s not: every denomination has its “dubious doctrines,” many of only historical interest but a few still alive and well at the margins if rarely addressed publicly.

    There’s also a tendency by some to think that Mormons should own up to all their “dubious doctrines,” while other denominations should be forgiven theirs. Strangely, this view seems almost as prevalent among liberal Mormons as among Mormon critics.

  9. Most of the dubious ‘doctrine’ I was taught came from my seminary teachers. (My caveat: I come from a town where, for some reason, the general level of loopiness seems to be quite high–don’t take any of this as a comment on all seminary teachers.) I think they thought that in order to keep us engaged, they had to come up with exciting stuff. So I heard about disappearing underground passageways in the Arctic and all sorts of things. I have been very happy to see the high quality of seminary teachers here where I live now.

  10. IMO__Mormons value the subjective over the objective. Being subjective ( as in valuing “speculations”, “far-out” doctrine, or even beliefs), they see themselves as being Faithful. Being objective is feared because it could lead to the losing all your Faith. The work around in all of this is thinking “feeling the Spirit” is an objective event.

  11. The frisson is all about enjoying the good fun of winking-and-nodding among one’s peers that BOM historicity cuts an intriguing profile in brackets. The hypocrisy is all about behaving as if historicity would spoil the party if it ever forgot to show up fully-dressed on a Sunday morning. In lieu of risking one’s own standing by spilling the beans to the proles, let’s just talk about how their flavor of speculation is so utterly déclassé. Lord knows they don’t follow along anyways.

  12. The most dubious doctrine I know of is the belief that we don’t have dubious doctrines.

    My aunt (a cautious driver) told my father the other day that Joseph Smith didn’t really practice polygamy. They were not really marriages, and most were performed after his death, and you know people write books to make money… Her husband, known throughout the extended family as the go-to guy on church history, nodded in sage agreement. You need not worry your 85 year old head about these things.

    This from life-long Mormons, and college educated; who have served as the Bishop in a ward next to President Monson’s home, Ward and Stake Relief Society President, Primary President and Young Women’s President, Stake President, foreign Temple President, two full-time couples missions to Kirtland and Nauvoo, taught in the church education system, a variety other teaching positions, etc.

    Dubious doctrines thrive in a culture of secrecy and denial.

  13. Bob and Mike, good points. Our culture incentivizes holding on to strange doctrines.

    Chino and Ardis, I appreciate your opposing viewpoints what constitutes doctrine. To me, this issue isn’t about determining which of our beliefs are “true doctrines” and which are “speculative doctrines”. It’s about bringing any/all beliefs into the sunlight by discussing their sources and provenance. With that information handy, it’s much easier for each member of the church to make informed judgments about which should be considered doctrines and which should not.

  14. @10: I’m not asking you to own up to anything, except maybe that you’re afraid to mention to your fellow believers that you liked Hardy’s book.

    Seriously. What’s up with that? Unless they’ve put the voodoo on you and you’re under their sway, your reticence doesn’t sound like something you can blame on ‘liberal Mormons’ and ‘Mormon critics’…

    @11: I distinctly remember the obituary mentioning the cause of death was coloring outside the lines.

    @15: Dubious doctrines thrive in a culture of secrecy and denial. Huzzah. Glad to see I’m not the only one who agrees wholeheartedly with the OP.

  15. 17: Dane, if you’re going to crib my post, you ought to be fair enough to admit that other than giving examples for illustration (not providing a scrap of evidence in an attempt to persuade anyone to my point of view), neither in my own post nor my comments here have I attempted to “determin[e] which of our beliefs are ‘true doctrines’ and which are ‘speculative doctrines.'” The difference between Chino and me in this case isn’t debating the truthfulness of doctrines, it is *precisely* your point about discussing the provenance of beliefs and what that provenance means. I believe we should examine the sources and discard that which is mere speculation; Chino seems to feel that the speculative, less defensible ideas are the essence of Mormonism.

    But I’ve already had this discussion, and had twice as many hits on it as any other Keepa post ever, barring the marijuana post. Repeat it here if you must.

  16. What — dead?


    My father-in-law was that kind of driver. So much that after about our fifth year of marriage, I refused to every ride in a car he was driving again. He actually did die in a car accident. :(

    …Mom made an offhand comment about only taking the sacrament with the right hand

    The use of the right hand WAS taught explicitly for years. Obviously not doctrine, but policy and practice that is easy to trace to all sorts of traditions of hand shaking, the “sinister hand,” etc. I’m glad you brought it up, because I think it’s the perfect example of WHY many of these things persist.

    As far as I know, the church never formally REVERSED this teaching. They just DROPPED it. I had the right hand discussion on Mormon Momma a few years ago with some insisting it was still correct form. My take was that if the church still wanted this done, they would have included it in the missionary discussions OR the Gospel Principles manual OR the handbook OR SOMEWHERE so people could learn it and reference it. Given the absence of direction on the topic, I think it’s safe to assume it’s not policy.

    The problem was, it WAS taught for years, but never explicitly UNtaught. And not everyone is willing to reverse years of practice based on “I can’t find it anywhere.”

    Same thing (if I may be personal) with how to wear garments. The practice used to be “wear next to the skin.” Sometime (at least by the time I married in 1985) this changed to “wear them how you are comfortable.” When I went through the temple, however, this NEVER came up in the matron’s instructions. Only when my mother (who was 39 years my senior) brought it up in the Q&A, did the matron explain that it was no longer policy (due, she said, to women with mastectomies and numerous other women’s issues).

    Point being, if my mom has not ASKED, everyone in that session would likely have been taught by their ESCORTS – who didn’t know of the change in policy.

    Mike #15, in defense of your grandparents:

    I grew up in the church, in Utah Valley, going to church every week if I wasn’t deathly ill and attending Mutual (or MIA or YWMIA or Activity Night or whatever it may have been called that year). My dad was a bishop multiple times and in a stake presidency. Every year our schools took field trips to the Beehive House. I graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties (when I read Mormon Enigma) that I ever heard Joseph Smith was also a polygamist.

    I was blown away. First, I assumed that I had just somehow missed every single reference to this and that everyone else knew it. So, a few weeks later, when introducing a hymn in Relief Society, I mentioned that Eliza R. Snow (the author of hymn) was married to both Joseph Smith AND Brigham Young. (We lived in Florida at the time.)

    Holy cow. Let’s just say it caused an uproar. No one knew and no one believed it. The only thing I had going for me is that I had an unofficial assignment to “correct nondoctrine the teachers teach in Relief Society lessons” — so I had some kind of credibility. But I did not really want to be the one to address that can of worms.

    Anyway, given the communication means of the day, I suggest that lots of people didn’t know about it and when they, later, found out, often tried to makes sense of it in a way that wasn’t troubling.

  17. Ardis, I apologize for misrepresenting you here. I’d misread your OP and comments as focused on separating the true doctrines from the false ones. Now I see what you say here — that your interest is in bringing facts to light.

  18. @19: I believe we should examine the sources and discard that which is mere speculation…

    Just out of curiosity, who does “we” refer to in that sentence of yours, Kemosabe?

  19. Chino seems to feel that the speculative, less defensible ideas are the essence of Mormonism.

    Ardis E. Parshall is absolutely right about that, but since her statement fairly describes my feelings about every other religious belief system that I’m aware of, color me underwhelmed at our apparent agreement.

  20. There are some speculative doctrines that we hold ridiculously close. For example: the idea of women being baby factories in the afterlife, the idea that certain ordinances are absolutely essential for exaltation and the idea that people who live righteously in this life without marrying will marry someone in the hereafter.

    The truth is that, even knowing as much doctrines as we do “know,” we really don’t know anything. If we know that there are three degrees of glory, we really don’t know anything at all about what that means in any practical sense. We can speculate based on scriptural phrases about separating the righteous from the unrighteous, that “the same sociality” will exist there, and so forth. But we really know almost nothing.

    Likewise, we know almost nothing about God’s nature. We’re heard that he has a body of “flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” and that we were “created in his image.” Sure, Joseph Smith saw God and Christ as separate beings in a vision. But St. John saw Christ with a sword sticking out of his mouth in a vision. Why do we hold up one example as the literal appearance of God and the other as something else?

    We know from modern scripture that Abraham is an exalted being, but we also know from scripture that there has never been a temple endowment ceremony prior to this dispensation. Why, then, do we insist on believing that that temple endowment is absolutely essential to exaltation?

    If someone’s righteous in this life and is content to be single, why do we insist on telling them during Sunday School lessons that their good decisions in this life will condemn them to being paired off with someone for the eternities? If the Celestial Kingdom is further separated into three categories with married inhabiting one of them, why do we assume that that is where everyone wants to be?

    I could rant for much longer about this. But the crux of my point is this: Why do so many Mormons insist on hanging their hats on doctrines that we simply do not know anything about. There’s so much we do know that by resting our testimonies on things we don’t, we’re taking an awful big risk. If we make our testimony reliant on X truth, how will we react when the Church decides that X is not doctrinal.

  21. Ardis: Was it comedian Steven Wright who said he wanted to die peacefully in his sleep, like his grandfather, and not screaming in fear like the passengers in his car? My son had some harrowing rides to early morning Seminary with his friend’s one-eyed Mom, in an old minivan whose door fell off one day while they were going down the Highway 101 freeway.

    I specifically remember my deacon’s quorum advisor telling us that, in answer to our question about the preference for the right hand in taking the sacrament, he had only been able to find references to use of the right hand in ordinances (as specified in the temple) and in sustaining votes in church, and when performing a baptism, and then reasoned by analogy that it appeared that the right hand was the one we should use in making covenants, and the Sacrament is a renewal of a covenant. Obviously there have to be limits (some people don’t have right hands, or any hands. The story is told of President Kimball calling a man as a patriarch who had lost his hands.) And we use BOTH hands when doing the “laying on of hands”, and only go to the right hand when there are too many brethren in the circle to use both. So I guess the left hand is sort of a deputy covenant hand (and come to think of it, also gets used in the temple ordinances). The biological fact that most people (except the tribe of Benjamin) are right handed, so that the right hand is the skillful hand, the one that expresses our intent, seems to be a more obvious reason for customary, default use of the right hand when not specified in scripture or ordinances.

    I think Hugh Nibley, in a number of hs essays, wrote about how ritual and practices endure long past the point when the reason for the actions has been lost, and then new reasons are invented to explain them. The human mind has a talent for finding patterns, and whether the patterns reflect reality or not is a secondary issue. Thus, the discovery of the face of Jesus or Mary in toast and tree bark. Of course, there is the possibility that some patterns our minds create are real: Percival Lowell’s canals on Mars had one huge counterpart, visible from space, the Valles Marinaris, largest canyon in the Solar System, something he usually gets no credit for.

    The Restored Gospel gives us new rituals that don’t necessarily come with as much explanation as possible, so our pattern seeking system kicks in. The various lacuna in scripture (e.g. location of the Lost Ten Tribes) are “strange attractors” that tempt us into forming the bits and pieces of random information we hold into some kind of narrative picture. Back when the North and South Poles had not been well explored, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to kill two mysteries with one stone by putting the Lost Tribes into the North Pole. (Heck, there was even a Walt Disney fantasy movie about a lost kingdom of vikings in a secret warm spot in the Arctic.) Adding in UFOs makes the solution a 3-fer. It seems like half the shows on cable TV are about speculation of a similar nature related to Atlantis, UFOs, the Nazca Lines, and the builders of Stonehenge and the Giza pyramids.

    And I feel that, as a Mormon, I DO have a commitment to believing in a number of things that sound fantastic to most people, but my belief that they are stone cold, sober reality is what makes them marvellous and awe inspiring intrusions of the supernatural into our mundane lives. Thus the significance of visiting the scenes of attested miracles and revelations in modern times.

    Mormonism tells me that reality is much more interesting and powerful than our unaided abilities can comprehend. Modern science (as distinct from some modern scientists) appears to tell us the same thing, and therefore science affirms to me the expansive material Mormon cosmology, rather than threatening it. It is versions of Christianity that insist that reality is fully comprehended, bounded between the limited pages of the Bible, that is afraid of what we can learn through other means.

    The fact that we believe that there are many things yet to be revealed means that even our religious knowledge is limited, but is always subject to being expanded, and we should seek opportunities for that to happen. That, for me, is one of the meta-lessons of the Endowment, and of the promises that are made to us when we enter celestial marriage. Our Mormon willingness to learn new spiritual things gives us a certain vulnerability to error, but that is preferable to being encased and confined in a “hard shell” like some of our Christian neighbors that is impervious to further light and knowledge. I think that is part of what Joseph Smith meant when he spoke of the confining spaces within the traditional creeds. The only solution for Latter-day Saints is to fully engage our mental and spiritual faculties as we encounter new ideas.

  22. RTS was quite thorough again.

    Ardis’s curiosity about the provenance of the folk doctrines is very interesting, but I fear it is beyond human capacity. So much stuff comes in a quiet corner in the foyer (I expect often during Sunday School or Priesthood/RS), half-whispered, and affirmed with a wink and a nod.

    Someone already said that we tend to like pretending we possess inside knowledge. Perhaps it gives a thrill and a feeling of being “privileged” somehow to have “privileged” information. Often I suppose the way this is conveyed alone would tell us, that the sources aren’t all that clear. Someone in the elevator in the Church Office building? A temple president, who had all the symbolism figured out? Or just plain wishing to look better.

    The “snob” factor seems to play a part. I remember being taught about taking sacrament with right hand only–by a member who had invited me and my comp over for dinner on a Sunday. Never heard of that again for a while after that. But never did it come through any publically available, authoritative channel.

    Secret knowledge is very alluring. It is so common, for example for investors, to believe there is a “formula” that is secret, that only the richest know and scoop the cream off the top. That is why Bernie Madoff made off with so much money. People thought he possessed secret knowledge. Voodoo is based on the same psychology.

    Kung Fu Panda was only a cartoon movie, but why I like it is, that there was a lot of talk about a “secret ingredient”. Until it turned out that there is no secret ingredient! We all are subject to same weakness we should overcome, and none of us will get a free pass in the end, although sometimes it looks like the neighbour “gets away with murder”.

    This speculation is by no means unique to Mormons, or even religious people. Look at all the superstition in professional sports. Someone has to wear the same underwear or do some routine, or their game is off. As I said, many investors also think there must be a secret knowledge, a “tip” if you will, just like in horse races (stocks, and especially commodity markets are no more predictable in some ways, and to make money one should be 100% involved and immersed in playing them).

    Someone did say that when taxi drivers and barbers start talking about stock tips, it’s time to sell, as a crash is about to come. For the last 30 years that has been true. I don’t know that this last bit would be directly applicable to religion, though.

  23. The word “doctrine” is ambiguous, and using it in discussions like this invariably leads to confusion. Sometimes it is used to mean “something that is taught,” and sometimes it is used to mean “something that is true,” and sometimes people don’t seem to realize that these meanings don’t always coincide.

    So I would suggest we use words like “teachings” or “official teachings” instead.

    Then, maybe you could clarify which of these categories you are talking about?

    (1) Things that were/are believed by many Mormons, but that were never taught by the church by official sources.
    (2) Things that have been taught by official sources in the past, but are no longer taught by such sources.
    (3) Things that were taught by official sources, but have since been repudiated by such sources.

    (And, of course there is a range of how “official” a source can be considered to be, and how prevelant a teaching is in official sources.)

  24. 26. “Back when the North and South Poles had not been well explored, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to kill two mysteries with one stone by putting the Lost Tribes into the North Pole.”

    My personal theory is that the story is connected with John Symmes’ hollow earth ideas. He was going around the US doing popular science lectures about his belief that the earth was hollow and nearly got the government to approve an expedition to look for an entrance in the Arctic. He was quite popular and a lot of people believed him. I figure somebody thought that would be a great hiding place for the Ten Tribes.

  25. Speaking of dubious doctrinal ideas… Can we drop the whole thing about the Sacrament being a renewing of baptismal covenants? Talk about a record that gets replayed ad nauseum without having any scriptural foundation.

  26. While I don’t know how much the phenomenon Alison describes in 20 can account for, I do think it’s a really important aspect of how the church operates. (And I think it does it for a good reason…namely, it can quietly disseminate new policies or doctrines without alienating people who believed strongly in the old doctrines. Even if doctrines are dropped, never to be mentioned again, at least they aren’t refuted, which could be potentially jarring for people who highly prized those doctrines. Additionally, the less public a change is, the more likely it is someone can just go ahead and keep on believing it is true/right.

    Unfortunately, this leads to a weird discontinuity of Mormonism…where one “generation” strongly believes x is appropriate doctrine, where the next “generation” strongly believes y is appropriate doctrine, and there is another cohort of people like the Bloggernacle bloggers who lived through both doctrines aware of the changes (and thus able to navigate between generations.)

  27. Knob (#30), the sacrament prayer itself implies that renewal. But we don’t have to have a “scriptural foundation,” just an authoritative one. The “dubious doctrine” you claim is referenced over and over again.

    As we partake of the sacrament each week, we ponder the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and we reaffirm and renew the covenants we made when we were baptized.

    When we consciously and sincerely renew our baptismal covenants as we partake of the sacrament, we renew our qualification for the promise “that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]”

    Dallin H. Oaks

    When we are baptized, we take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Taking upon us His name is one of the most significant experiences we have in life …

    Each week in sacrament meeting we promise to remember the atoning sacrifice of our Savior as we renew our baptismal covenant. We promise to do as the Savior did—to be obedient to the Father and always keep His commandments. The blessing we receive in return is to always have His Spirit to be with us.

    Robert D. Hales

    The Savior emphasized that the tangible bread and water of the Sacrament were to remind us continually of the sacrifice he made for us and for renewal of our covenants of righteousness. The Sabbath day, one in seven, is set apart that we may be reminded of our spiritual duties and, on Easter Sunday once a year, that we may remember the resurrection of the Lord

    Spencer W. Kimball

    Baptism is for the remission of sins. Those who are baptized worthily have their sins remitted because of the shedding of the blood of Christ. Their garments are washed in the blood of the Lamb. When they thereafter partake worthily of the sacrament, they renew the covenant made in the waters of baptism. The two covenants are the same

    Bruce R. McConkie

    Do you think a man who comes into the sacrament service in the spirit of prayer, humility, and worship, and who partakes of these emblems representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, will knowingly break the commandments of the Lord? If a man fully realizes what it means when he partakes of the sacrament, that he covenants to take upon him the name of Jesus Christ and to always remember him and keep his commandments, and this vow is renewed week by week—do you think such a man will fail to pay his tithing? Do you think such a man will break the Sabbath day or disregard the Word of Wisdom? Do you think he will fail to be prayerful, and that he will not attend his quorum duties and other duties in the Church? It seems to me that such a thing as a violation of these sacred principles and duties is impossible when a man knows what it means to make such vows week by week unto the Lord and before the saints

    Joseph Fielding Smith

    If a person, not a member of the Church, is in the congregation, we do not forbid him partaking of it, but would properly advise that the sacrament is for the renewing of covenants. And, since he has not made the true covenant of baptism or temple covenant, he is exempt. However, his partaking of the sacrament if he is clean and worthy and devout would not bring upon him any condemnation as it would for those who have made solemn covenants and then have ignored or defied them

    Spencer W. Kimball

    And on and on…

  28. Andrew S
    Respectfully, why doesn’t your comment fall under “Dubious Doctrines”?
    I have heard members say this, (your reasons), is how doctrines come and go__but has the Church ever said this is how it’s done?

  29. re 33:


    I think the ONLY reason my comment doesn’t fall under “dubious doctrines” is because I don’t think I personally described a doctrine.

    But I completely agree that my comment is speculation, because, as you say, the Church hasn’t (to my knowledge) ever laid things out, “This is why we do this.”

    Perhaps speculation and dubious doctrines go hand in hand?

  30. I see some irony in Alison Moore Smith’s answer (no. 32) to Knob (no. 30). Knob found no scriptural foundation for what he called a dubious doctrine, and even after reading all the heavy quotes from Alison, there is still no scriptural foundation — but there is authoritative foundation. A major source of dubious doctrines is quotations from general authorities, where serve as an authoritative foundation for dubious doctrines. A circle, you see…

    One person’s dubious doctrine is defended by another as absolute truth.

    Dane’s suggestions in the last two paragraphs of his original posting sound like good ideas to me — now, who do I trust to actually do it right, so that my own ox isn’t gored in the process? In my ward, I might have to do it myself. :-)

  31. Knob: The ordinance of baptism itself includes few words. It is followed by the ordinance of confirmation and the gift of the Holy Ghost. The explanation of the covenants we make at baptism/confirmation appears in scriptural passages like Mosiah 18, D&C 20, 2 Nephi 31 and 3 Nephi 27. And what do you know, they are the same covenants we make explicitly in the Sacrament: to have faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, to identify with Christ, taking His name on us, and witnessing our affiliation to the world, to obey and follow Christ, and to have the Holy Ghost with us in our lives, enduring to the end of our mortal lives.

    Connecting the dots is not that hard.

  32. Raymond, I agree that connecting the dots isn’t that hard…but then again, that’s the case with most of the examples in this post. Everything from premortal valiance to “man not walking on the moon” is a case of rather straightforward attempts to connect dots, and all of them offer fairly convincing pictures. But that doesn’t make them doctrinal.

  33. Dana,
    “…all of them offer fairly convincing pictures”. I agree this is a problem. But also, it’s made harder when someone says “I know it’s true because the Spirit confirmed it to me”, then it becomes ” When the Spirit speaks, the debate is over”.

  34. On an unrelated note, I’m always surprised when people write my name as “Dana” or “Dave”. It’s not just you, Bob, I get this all the time here on the blogs. In spoken conversation it makes sense to me, since it’s easy for people to mishear things. But since it’s written out on the screen, I guess it says more about how we interpret objective input through our subjective categorizations of the world :)

  35. Alison + Raymond + others:

    To clarify my comment a little further: in eality, what we’re doing in partaking of the Sacrament is its own covenant separate and apart from baptism.  To further study this idea, research the covenants the people make in both Mosiah 18 and Alma 7.  In those examples, the act of (re)baptism is a witness on behalf of the person getting baptized that they’re making a covenant.  The baptism itself isn’t the covenant, but a simple witness of a separate covenant.  This simply means that instead of placating yourself by professing to change and follow a new course in life (words/intentions only), in this instance you also do an act, a physical act which demonstrates in deed those words you’re intending to live by. With the act, the words are not empty (as so many of our words tend to be).  The baptismal (and re-baptismal) covenants we make, therefore, are to (a) keep the commandments and (b) serve God.  The covenant occurs when we turn around and repent.  We then prove our willingness to actually give more than lip service by walking down in the water and re-entering the waters of baptism.

    That’s not to say the covenants at baptism AND the sacrament aren’t similar (they are), but similarities in language and purpose don’t quite mean that the covenants made are simply a renewing of each other. A needless conflation, IMO.

  36. Dane,
    I am sorry I mis-spelled your name. That’s why my mom named me Bob__so I would/might get that right. Sorry.

  37. jl #36:

    I see some irony in Alison Moore Smith’s answer (no. 32) to Knob (no. 30). Knob found no scriptural foundation for what he called a dubious doctrine, and even after reading all the heavy quotes from Alison, there is still no scriptural foundation — but there is authoritative foundation.

    Which is exactly what I said in the only sentence that was my own. :) So where’s the irony? Certainly authorities can provide “dubious doctrine,” but since our church does give authorities, well, authority, you simply do have to deal with it on those terms. (As if scriptures themselves didn’t also come from authoritative human voices…)

    Knob (#41), that’s an interesting idea, but certainly not the only reasonable interpretation. Given that general authorities have confirmed the notion that the sacrament is, in fact, renewing the baptismal covenant — over and over and over again — leads me to take their authoritative word over your non-authoritative one. :)

  38. So, if the words of the apostles aren’t canonized scripture, when do they become scripture? At what point do we say, “This here, what Elder so-and-so said is scripture?”

    Is the Conference issue of the Ensign scripture? It’s written by prophets and leaders who have prayed and listened to the Spirit before giving the talks. Which is what Nephi did, isn’t it?

    I’m just saying, when do we consider what these men say over the pulpit as coming from the Lord, and when do we dissect it and say that could just be “authoritative foundation for dubious doctrines”?

  39. Amber, canon and scripture aren’t the same thing. We have lots of uncanonized scripture. Canonization is a formal process.

  40. Alison Moore Smith (no. 45) — the irony is that you are playing the game, defending what one reader wondered about as a dubious doctrine (“without having any scriptural foundation”) by providing numerous heavy quotations from elder __ and elder ___, “and on and on,” rather than providing the missing scriptural foundation. If you can do this with this one subject matter important to you, why can’t another Latter-day Saint do it with another subject matter important to him or her, such as blacks and priesthood or Cain and the flood? With the same eagerness and honesty that you want to teach Knob so he can see the matter as you do, some other member might want to teach someone else about a matter that is important to them. That’s why I observed that “[o]ne person’s dubious doctrine [to wit., Knob] is defended by another [to wit., you] as absolute truth” and wondered how the engagement sought by the original poster could be successfully approached and handled.

    Where is the line between dubious doctrine and absolute truth? In my mind, there isn’t one — or if there is, none of us have the ability to discern it with exactness. We each do the best we can, based on our own learnings and circumstances and experiences, and with whatever measure of the Holy Spirit we can find at the time. I actually prefer this uncertainty over other possibilities I can imagine.

  41. JI: There are “dubious doctrines” used by members that are not accepted by the Church. Why should these be allowed to go on?
    There are staements of “dubious doctrines” used by leaders in the Church, but do not conform to Mormomism. Should these be allowed to continue? (Example: “The Mormon Church defines marriage as between one man and one woman”__it doesn’t).

  42. I think one reason the words of living prophets should hold some weight (vis a vis the “scriptures”) is that we believe in continuing revelation. It’s not a zero sum game, in which it’s either the scriptures or prophets.

  43. It’s easier to extrapolate some made up reason or explanation for something we don’t completely understand than to rely on faith and defer curiosity to the next life. It’s the easy way out for us when we are lazy. It is tempting, since we have been given more of the ‘fulness’ than any previous dispensation, but the Lord still withholds the vast majority of the picture, and we are left to see through a glass, darkly for a short time.

    It’s fun to speculate, but it should be limited lest it distract us from actually living the Gospel.

    In time, we eventually will see with our natural eyes the things we now behold ‘with an eye of faith’ (Ether 12:19 I think).

  44. Sorry for joining late.

    Alison, re: your “authoritative” comments from Elder … and Elder … and whoever else it is. Simply because something is repeated (endlessly) and done so from an official pulpit doesn’t make that something more important than someone else’s words. Sure, repetition can signal something, but I would hesitate to respond to that repetition when and where it deviates from the scriptural foundation we’re supposed to hold to. Truth is truth independent of who said it and when/where that person said it. I agree that the church officially teaches/condones/presents the notion that the sacramental covenant is merely a “renewing” of the baptismal covenant, but I’m not really interested in that particular idea. I’m interested in scriptural foundations. In the scriptures themselves (i.e. those works we refer to as “standard works”), the notion that the two covenants are merely the same thing, rehashed, doesn’t hold a lot of water (pun intended). That’s why I originally raised the issue in light of this discussion… we have a lot of ideas thanks to GC or the JoD or other semi-“official” publications, but where they deviate from the standard works I’m apt to disregard them (see Joseph F. Smith’s thoughts on that idea).

    I prefer this take on this topic:

    As Harold B. Lee said, “It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write.” To claim that anything taught in general conference is “official” doctrine, notes J. F. McConkie, “makes the place where something is said rather than what is said the standard of truth. Nor is something doctrine simply because it was said by someone who holds a particular office or position. Truth is not an office or a position to which one is ordained.”

    There are lots of ideas spread about in Church which first gained traction with some leader here or there, then slowly spread until the point where it’s just “understood” that that is how it is, only to be shown later on down the road how screwy that idea really was. I’m – personally – hesitant to latch onto those ideas for these very reasons. I’m all for personal interpretations, opinions, ideas, etc., but a problem within LDS culture is that people latch on so quickly to ideas given over official pulpits simply because we have a skewed idea of truth (i.e. our leaders are always speaking unfiltered truth at GC or somewhere else). So, when some leader says such-and-such, we take it as the gospel without thinking about it, without verifying it, without applying it in our own lives… it just is because Elder So-and-So said so.

  45. Except that when that idea is continually repeated by prophets and apostles, it no longer is just “understood.”

    We’re not talking here about blood atonement or Adam-God. We’re talking about something that is consistent with the scriptures and is taught today, by prophets and apostles.

    You, of course, are free to reject the words of living prophets. You are also free, I guess, to follow the Old Testament and have relations with close family members. After all, there is clear scriptural precedent for that happening, and a bunch of out-of-touch old men who tell us it’s wrong.

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