Why I Don’t Care About the Doctrine/Practice Distinction

Dalle-3 depiction of “Legalistic religion”

One of those interminable discussions we members like to get into is whether a particular teaching is a “doctrine” or “practice.” 

The issue behind the issue is what is changeable or not. Presumably if something is defined as core then stakes are placed in the ground and it is beyond discussion. At the same time if the “doctrine” label is used as conversation stopper for current teachings, the “practice” label is imputed to past teachings that did change, even if leaders at the time specifically said they wouldn’t change. At times it feels like it’s an attempt to have a cake and eat it too, to be able to dismiss past teachings that aren’t followed anymore, while granting privileged permanence to the current ones. 

People occasionally claim there’s some system very clearly demarcating the two: if it’s presented to the Church as a sustaining vote as canon, if it has passed through the correlation committee, if it’s a revelation that says “thus saith the Lord,” if it’s in the quad, whether Joseph Smith taught it, etc., but taking a step back I’ve always gotten the sense that these are post-hoc parameters that are thrown up to try to turn the gospel into some sort of systematic, legal schematic. Besides, they beg the question of what those rules are based on, and in many cases you can find disconfirming counterexamples that checked a particular box but are still not held up as doctrine anymore. 

Latter-day Saint personal epistemology of belief is rooted in a numinous, personal, revelatory experience, not legal/rational argument like some other faiths. The Restoration was founded on an unlearned boy “driving the plough” receiving eternal truths from Gods and angels, Moroni did not did not unload a multivolume legal treatise on Joseph Smith delineating specifically which institutional triggers have to go off for something to be considered binding, as if our discipleship is based on “commanding in all things” and legal coercion. With a few exceptions such as disciplinary courts and baptism protocol, the D&C is relatively sparse on legalistic details. Even the endowment has always been seen as a work in progress. 

Again, I think that’s a feature more than a bug; this isn’t a case of “holy envy” of religions where the core is more legalistically demarcated from the periphery. “There are greater things in heaven and in earth…” and all that, but there is still enough structure to not lapse into doctrinal nihilism.

If God meant to manage His Kingdom by some legal/rational schema, Joseph Smith would have had a successor tidily picked out, with a revelation clearly outlining the laws of Apostolic succession far in advance. God didn’t give one. It was up to the Saints to use their own discernment to figure it out in the chaotic aftermath of the martyrdom. We like simple rules and heuristics—they’re comfortable, but we have to use our own discernment too, and again I think this is a good thing. Overreliance on some systematic schema can make our own discernment atrophy from disuse.

This is not to make an argument for hierarchical anarchy when it comes to teachings. I do believe that there are concentric circles of authoritativeness for contemporary Church teaching. If I had to make a diagram it would go something like: the D&C at the core, followed by statements made with the unanimous authority of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12, followed by statements made by the President of the Church in formal setting, then statements made by the other leaders, etc., with the more “doctrinal” core items more to the interior, and the more flexible policy items on the outside. 

Still, this is in general. The point I am making is that, with the possible exception of the D&C, our theology is not nearly systematic enough to claim that there is some kind of airtight, unambiguous schema about where exactly the boundaries between different tiers of authoritativeness end and begin. Rather, Latter-day Saint “doctrine” is more of a system of overlapping Wittgensteinian “family resemblances.” 

Again, that is not an excuse to simply dismiss the words of the prophets. As members we should logically “doubt the doubts” of items closer to the core if we have received revelation that the whole is true, but still, there isn’t some roadmap that we can just follow on autopilot without using our own spiritual discernment. If President Nelson hit his head tomorrow, released his counselors, appointed new ones, and announced with the unanimity of the First Presidency that Chtulhu is the only God with which we are to do, I think I’m safe disregarding that bit of authoritative prophetic teaching. 

Of course, nine times out of ten this line of thought goes directly to “see, and therefore the Church should adopt [insert conveniently fashionable social view here]” when one doesn’t necessarily follow from the other.

For the Church to function you do kind of need a “follow the prophet” ethos, especially when God keeps having the Church do very counterintuitive things that turn out in the end. Already experiencing extreme persecution? I know, let’s introduce polygamy. We can either settle sunny, green San Diego or a salty desert. Let’s go to Utah! 

The history of the Church is a history of an institution operating against the comfortable, conceived wisdom, that counterintuitively became larger than many of the faiths that took the easier roads. There is no way that would have happened had we not had a strong, centralized hierarchy of authority. Still, unless we are so incredibly restrictive about what we define as “doctrine” that hardly anything is left in that category, there really isn’t a clear legalistic schematic for determining in the contemporaneous moment which prophetic counsel will be deemed clearly inspired in generations to come versus which ones will be sort of relegated to the back shelf, of interest mostly to ex-Mo redditors and history nerds. (Don’t worry, the difficulty in knowing which beliefs will stand the test of time probably applies to your liberal or conservative political views as well.)

And I suspect most members grasp this intuitively. There’s a certain class of member that loves to point out that the Proc has not been canonized. That’s true, but even if it was I doubt it would actually change the minds of members who see it as problematic simply because it technically passed through the filter from “quasi-canonical” to “canonical,” so why don’t we talk about the substance of the thing instead of relying on an appeal-to-technicality?

Ultimately, the Church’s teachings provide the overall scaffolding and structure, and there’s no reason why the same spiritual discernment that leads one to embrace the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as God’s Kingdom can’t also be used to parse out the true “doctrine” from the “practices” while using the concentric circles of authority as general guides. 

40 comments for “Why I Don’t Care About the Doctrine/Practice Distinction

  1. Great post. Iterative improvement is a central feature of our doctrine and practices. It’s always best to be fully committed to the gospel as understood today while also fully flexible at updating that commitment as greater light and knowledge come along.

  2. If I believe it, it is doctrine from the courts of heaven. If I don’t, then it’s a practice or policy of, by, and for men. Am I getting it right?

    Or, as I heard before, one member’s doctrine is another member’s folklore. This applies even when both are upstanding, stalwart members. To quote scripture, “This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?”

    I am okay with this. I do not want us to have a comprehensive and systematic theology. I want each member to be able to learn and grow and decide for him- or herself.

  3. Great post, I think some of the confusion some members have (especially the more liberal ones who think the church can change beliefs and practices that are considered core) comes with using words and terms whose definitions have gotten more specific today such as “ordain”. When Joseph Smith “ordained” the leaders of the first Relief Society he did not ordain them to Priesthood offices, so today we use the more general term “set apart”. Also the word doctrine was probably used a bit too fast and loose to describe church policy, especially when it came to plural marriage: plural marriage was a practice that could be changed/discontinued as opposed to the eternal, immutable doctrine of celestial marriage, whether polygamous or monogamously practiced.

    Ive always viewed D&C as in many ways the “constitution” of the Church with additional “amendments” aka sections being able to added and with the Church leadership holding a combination of executive, legislative and judicial power among the FP and Q12, being able to lead the Church (executive, especially the First Presidency), institute new policies and programs to live the doctrine (legislative) and define and clarify what the doctrines of the Church are (judicial)

    I have been in at least one meeting (a why I believe outreach to less active members) where a prominent member who was a federal judge (not a leader, who will remain nameless) said that “everything was on the table to change” which I interpreted as a sort of dogwhistle to less active or inactive members “Hey just wait around and maybe in the future gay marriage/women ordination will happen, just be patient!” I confronted him afterwards saying the Church wont change doctrines, where he immediatley hit me with what is a doctrine. I said the doctrine of celestial marriage as being between man and woman and he sheepishly (and grudgingly) said yea that probably wont ever change.

    So my point being there are many who dislike the whole doctrine/practice/policy semantics because they want the door to constantly be at least a little open, when there are clearly bridges the leadership (and God if you have a testimony) will not cross, which you lay out with your diagram of authoritativness.

  4. JI: I’d also add that there are probably cases that aren’t neatly dichotomized between written-the-sky doctrine and a random idea some person had. It can obviously be more complicated than that. None of this is saying that there is no such thing as “written in the sky” doctrine, of course, just that the devil is in the details about what those are.

    Nate: When addressing the fuzziness of doctrine there is definitely the risk you point out that people try to take advantage of it to obfuscate. Sure, there aren’t multiple tomes of Latter-day Saint canon law that have clearly stipulated the conditions on which certain statements about the Church’s positions on gender are infallible, but that doesn’t mean that the thing itself can’t stand on its own (with some support from the different authority sources you mention) without appeal to some airtight schema defining doctrine.

    Also, anecdotally it seems that membership activity that is conditional on some hypothesized future change doesn’t typically last very long. Wherever you land on whatever issue, people have lives to live.

  5. Every doctrine has changed. No doctrine is constant in LDS history. So many practices have changed. I actually agree with there being no distinction but it means that the only constant is the refrain to obey the leaders. It is really hard to understand the insistence that the church can’t or won’t change when it has and will.
    1. Nature of god. First something closer to Trinitarian, then evolving to the Lectures on Faith vision of the godhead, then to a more like current view of the Godhead by the time Joseph died. Then Brigham tried to change that again to have separate roles for Jehovah and Adam and Elohim. Then that was changed again in the early 1900s and has stabilized maybe after Talmadge.
    2. Priesthood – all the priesthood roles have changed over time. Deacons used to be grown men. Bishops, stake presidents and the Melchizedek priesthood vs Aaronic has changed over time. The role of the first presidency. The apostles. The high council. All have changed and evolved.
    3. Temple sealings and ordinances. Have also changed multiple times. Some within my lifetime. Endowment has changed. Also anointing have changed. Sealings used to include like adoption of peers and adult members of both genders. Family history didn’t used to be so important.
    4. Marriage – no polygamy, then polygamy, then kind a polygamy, back to no polygamy and insistence on its role in traditional marriage but not gay marriage. Plenty has changed.
    5. The way wards work. Deacons used to be grown men. Different orgs between wards and stakes and seventy. Relief society changes. Boundaries. How often there is sacrament. Activity for youth. Seminary. All these things are not constants.
    6. Pick anything else. It has changed. The importance of the Book of Mormon. The first vision. Missions. The word of wisdom.

    Anything and everything. Sure some attitudes and morals have relative constant considering the church is morally conservative and close to other Christian denominations.

  6. Nate, Plural marriage certainly was doctrine (and not a mere changeable practice or policy) — have you ever read what President John Taylor, third President of the Church, said about plural marriage? It was a doctrine, a real doctrine, but it isn’t anymore. Similarly, the priesthood restriction was doctrine, real doctrine, core and fundamental doctrine, but it isn’t anymore.

    Yes, the church’s doctrine changes. I am okay with changes in doctrine. I sustain the 9th Article of Faith. I do not understand why some Latter-day Saints, including some highly-placed, insist on pretending like doctrine never changes and church doctrine is perfect.

  7. I think there can be an unfolding of core doctrine that enlarges the scope and meaning of principles–and even practices–associated with those doctrines without changing the eternal truths upon which they are founded. And so what we have is a bedrock of eternal truth that goes unchanged even though how we understand and even engage with that truth may be adjusted from time to time. One could roll out a long list of eternal truths and then an even longer list of doctrines, practices, and policies associated with them–and we’d see rather quickly that those truths remain unchanged regardless of how immediate counsel might channel our engagement with them.

  8. I’m quite curious as to when American English started shifting away from the common use of “doctrine” as “a teaching, an idea” (lots of references to “the doctrine of evolution” or “soviet military doctrine” etc.), and Church leaders followed that and started redefining “doctrine” as “Eternal unchangeable truth.”

  9. Again as I said, early Church leaders used the word “doctrine” more expansively than we would use today. And just because John Taylor, when President of the Church, said or thought plural marriage was a doctrine does not make it authoritaive in the Church unless the entire leadership endores that view. After all that is the false claim fundamentalists continue to make (Brigham Young and John Taylor said it was an eternal doctrine that will never change!). Brigham Young and John Taylor (among others) are dead, their opinions and beliefs (while no doubt inspired and correct on most doctrinal matters) are not binding to the Church, we are lead by living prophets, why is this so hard to understand?

    The immutable doctrine is found in Section 132 dealing with Celestial marriage. How that is practiced is can be altered based on revelation to the Prophet AND a sustaining of that by the membership (1890!). Plural marriage is NOT nor WAS a doctrine. No doubt many in the early church (even leaders) viewed the two interchangeably but they were mistaken as it obvious by the Church has always practiced monogamous celestial marriage even during the time plural marriage was practiced

  10. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff etc all said it (polygamy) was doctrine. As was the Law of Adoptions as was the Second Anointing’s. They did not do these things for giggles! Just because someone said we “practiced polygamy” does not take the doctrine away and call it a practice. Heck I was told in church my entire youth that I would be required to live polygamy in the next life if I wanted to qualify/reside in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom because that was our doctrine. The entire leadership endorsed this belief during these early church times, including the majority of the members! What man or woman would enter polygamy for no religious benefit? Why do you think it was so hard to stop… because the members and leaders thought/believed/knew it was doctrine! Not long before polygamy was stopped, bishops, stake presidents and higher were told to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage or resign their position in the church. Why would that be an issue if it was not doctrine? Why would church leaders and members go to prison if it was just a suggested practice?

    Living prophets only trump past prophets when they are actually prophesying and we dont even know when they actually do that.

    Yes they practiced monogamous marriages in temples but why even do both kinds if it doesn’t matter in the eternities? Why would Joseph not just be sealed to Emma if it did not matter? I like that Nate can call out past leaders of the church as mistaken but not the current ones…? How does that work? If the past got it wrong then the current can as well in my book. The reason Sections 132 was even written down was at the prodding of Hyrum so he could convince Emma of its truth so Joseph could have peace regarding him already having plural wives. Heck Hyrum even asked Joseph to use the seer stone for the revelation so it would be thought more valid! Joseph told Hyrum he didn’t need it, he knew it well enough and they found a scribe and wrote it down many years after JS first got the actual revelation.

    Anyone that thinks the early leaders did not believe that polygamy was doctrine, has not read much church history. IMO.

  11. REC911: If I remember correctly Chad had a nice post not too long ago on 19th-century views of polygamy. Even then, views weren’t unanimous – some saw it as absolutely required, others saw it as optional. Whatever that means for the discussion of what constitutes doctrines is another question.

    As for this: “I was told in church my entire youth that I would be required to live polygamy in the next life if I wanted to qualify/reside in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom” – no, this did not happen.

  12. I had a seminary teacher in Boise Idaho in the 90s that insisted that the celestial kingdom was all about polygamy. He used go on and on about it. I had a friend that was a new convert and she tried to argue with him about it but he told her she wasn’t going to the celestial kingdom anyway because her mom never married. He was a jerk. Certainly there were teachers that taught polygamy this way with total confidence. So at least in Boise, it happened.

  13. Johnathan – Really? Just because you say “it didn’t happen” doesn’t change my personal experience and the fact that it did happen in Utah in the 80s. You must be of a younger generation as they have not taught that for a long time so the past knowledge/belief has disappeared. But who is right? The past church or the current church? Nelson or Smith? (Young, Taylor, Woodruff etc)

    Heck why would Pres. Nelson be married to 2 wives for the next life if it did not mean anything? Does he have to pick one or the other then? If you dont need multiple for salvation/exaltation what is the point of doing it at all in this or the next life?

    What the saints went through regarding polygamy back in the day when it was ended would be like us today being told we dont do eternal marriages anymore in the temple. The ordinance is no longer available. How can you take my path to the CK away? What do we do now? That’s what they experienced back then. We have just forgotten this over time and therefor changed the narrative that it didn’t mean much and was just a practice they once did for whatever reasons. BTW my family lived this back in the early church days and we have journals from them and I guarantee they thought it was doctrine for CK. But hey, I am sure they were the only ones….One last thought, if it was not doctrine and essential for salvation why did we not just stop doing it when the gov ask us to? Would have saved the church and members a lot of trouble back then.

  14. I was also taught in the 80s that polygamy was an eternal principle that we’d all live once we were dead if we wanted into the CK. I can’t remember how pervasive it was, but it gave me a huge fear and horror of being forced into polygamy by my spouse that I’ve carried ever since.

  15. Growing up in Utah in the late 90s, early 2000s, I was taught to believe that polygamy was a reality in the afterlife and to expect it. In my experience, though, the insistence on polygamy being essential for exaltation had faded in favor of just having a worthy, enduring temple marriage as the requirement for exaltation. That’s a generation after REC911 and ReTx, though.

    Along those lines, I was reading a forthcoming biography of Joseph White Musser the other day and I’ve been musing on how much cross-talk there’s been between fundamentalist Mormons and active Latter-day Saints in Utah. I’m starting to suspect that there is more than I thought there was. (Not saying anyone here is advocating that position, but I’d be interested to tease out how much of the ideas we were taught growing up in Utah were influenced by fundamentalists.)

    Also, Steven, not that you knew this, but you stole my post, haha. I’ve been mulling about doing a post very similar to this one for a while, just haven’t had the time.

  16. Careful, Stephen, you’re starting to sound like one of those heretics at the Maxwell Institute.

  17. REC911, I’m at least as old as you are. It’s plausible that you heard the idea at some point. But that you were taught it at church uniformly and consistently? With no curriculum or conference addresses to support the idea? No, sorry, didn’t happen. People have crummy memories, especially decades after their teenage years. I do too! But there’s a huge difference between

    1. There will be polygamous relationships in the Celestial kingdom. (Of course, this has long been taught)
    2. Only people in polygamous relationships can make it to the tippy top of the Celestial kingdom (not taught by any authority for a long time)
    3. One or two of my teachers thought that only people in polygamous marriages can make it to the tippy top. (Quite possible, some teachers say some wild things.)
    4. All the talks in sacrament meeting and teachers in Sunday School youth classes taught #3 in the 1980s. (Nope, you’re imagining it.)

  18. Regardless whether Jonathan Green believes REC911 about what he was taught or not, can we all agree that the doctrine of marriage, polygamy, and their role in the celestial kingdom has changed over time?

    It really doesn’t matter if it was a fringe belief or a somewhat mainstream or totally mainstream teaching – the point is that the doctrine and policy has changed.

  19. We could break it out maybe like this…
    Early church members/leaders – believed and lived polygamy as doctrine to receive salvation/exaltation. (“tippy top”)

    Up to my generation – believed and were taught in the walls of church owned buildings (by possible rouge teachers) just for you JG, that to reach the tippy top you will need to accept and live polygamy in the next life.

    JG’s generation and after – polygamy is whacked and we should have never “practiced” it and I would rather go to hell as a virtuous person than to heaven as a whore.

    I agree with Brian that the “doctrine has changed” but from my research point of you and opinion, its because it was just forgotten and not updated through modern revelations. Woodruff HAD to stop polygamy or the church would have had to close its doors. This event did not change the doctrine, time passed, is what changed that doctrine. How do you tell members that the “tippy top” ordinance is no longer available? (I know, tell them they will have to do it in the next life because we cant do it here anymore…genius!)

    Much like the change of our sacrament ordinance (and lots and lots of other things we used to do as Brian G pointed out) we have forgotten it was any other way than how we do it today so it is deemed doctrine or policy now. Members would freak if next sunday the bishop got behind the sacrament table and raised both hands above his head and said the sacrament prayer (while members kneel) then members came up and drank out of the same cup like our Catholic friends do. FREAK! We did this until the Spanish flu days. God did not change that, life did and we as members then changed it to doctrine or the right only way. So the right only way today is one spouse in the temple and forget we ever needed multiple wives in the next life for the tippy top.

    JG – Pretty sure I did not say “ALL talks in sacrament meeting and teachers in Sunday School youth classes taught this in the 80’s. I think you imagined that. ;)

  20. John, your comments on here are a trip. We all came out of active church and seminary attendance with the understanding that polygamy was a prerequisite for exaltation. I sense an implication that that misunderstanding of doctrine is on us. It’s not.

    As others have noted, BY, JFS, and John Taylor made the point clear. To 17 year old future wife Lucy Walker Joseph Smith said failure to accept polygamy would mean “the gate will be closed forever against you.” And yet, according to Nate, “Brigham Young and John Taylor (among others) are dead, their opinions and beliefs (while no doubt inspired and correct on most doctrinal matters) are not binding to the Church, we are lead by living prophets, why is this so hard to understand?”

    It’s hard to understand because the Prophets Seers and Revelators have NOT disavowed any of the prior statements or understandings (misunderstandings?) we all grew up with. I was googling this issue last night, and the best I could find on the subject was this from the D & C seminary manual: “Do not speculate about whether plural marriage is a requirement for the celestial kingdom. We have no knowledge that plural marriage will be a requirement for exaltation.” What? This seems like a pretty important thing for us to know. And it should give you a bit more patience with those of us who were repeatedly taught by people who took the early prophets at their word.

    The church needs to recruit the guts and insight to take a stand on this. It’s unethical to waffle around. First,, because the question has eternal significance; and second, more practically, because the ambiguity causes suffering. Spend an afternoon with The Ghost and Eternal Polygamy for a sample. It’s bonkers how many faithful women fret and suffer over this. Meanwhile, Dallin Oaks (an eternal polygamist) makes jokes about the implications of being an eternally polygamous wife in his 2019 talk, where he refers to part of a private letter from a poor woman worrying about her status as a second wife for eternity. “I told her to trust in the Lord” LOL, ha ha ha. What? (go re-watch the video from this. It’s honestly gross that everyone, was laughing. Elder Oaks could barely conceal is smile.)

  21. I was a teenager in the 80’s and attended church and seminary faithfully, and nowhere along the way do I recall being taught that living polygamy was a prerequisite to exaltation. I certainly didn’t absorb such an idea if it was ever taught to me. The only possibility of polygamy that I foresaw for myself would have been had I been sealed to someone here on earth who was previously or afterward sealed to someone else–but that seems to be an outlier situation in my mind. It could happen, but is not something I have ever worried about.

  22. Lisa – Curious as to what state you grew up in? I am guessing the farther away you get from Utah the less this was taught??

  23. REC911: Your breakdown of history is incorrect. In the 19th century, belief in the necessity of polygamy was not universal, even among apostles. Examples aren’t hard to find. I don’t know what you mean by my generation/your generation – we’re the same generation!

    Here’s you: “I was told in church my entire youth that I would be required to live polygamy in the next life…” That would imply consistent teaching in at least Sunday School, priesthood quorums, Seminary, and sacrament meeting talks. Did I miss anything? I have no doubt that’s what you now remember of your impression at the time as a teenager, but human memory is awful and teenagers are terrible at paying attention and they misinterpret the parts they do manage to hear. They overgeneralize the insular peculiarity of their own family and local circumstances.

    Hopefully your parents are still alive. What do they say when you ask them: “Did you teach me as a child that polygamy was required for exaltation?”

    Teenage memories and other ideas that everyone seems to have heard sometime aren’t unimportant. But they don’t provide any basis for the history of the development of church teachings. For that, we need concrete sources like church publications or public addresses.

    Jesse: It is, in fact, our responsibility as adults to figure out what really does belong to the gospel and what are misunderstandings based on cultural traditions, rogue teachers, or speculation.

  24. Fair enough Jonathan, as long as you add to that list prophets of the church ;). Totally sincere question that I don’t the answer to: what is the most recent statement in a church publication saying that polygamy is not required for entry in tippy top of the celestial kingdom?

  25. Which apostle opposed polygamy or taught that it wasn’t a commandment or that celestial marriage wasn’t polygamy?

    From the 1880’s presidency and apostles 100% were polygamists. All had way more wives and children than I had realized. They did this because they believed and taught that this was a necessary commandment.

    1. John Taylor – 8 wives. 34 children. Son excommunicated for opposing end of polygamy. Last wife was 52 years younger than him.
    2. George Q Cannon – 6 wives. 43 children. Adamant defender of polygamy.
    3. Joseph F Smith – 6 wives. 45 children. First wife divorced him after she was disenchanted by polygamy. Smoot hearings. Second manifesto. Author of Origin of Man opposed evolution.
    4. Wilford Woodruff – 10 wives, 34 children. Wrote first manifesto.
    5. Orson Pratt – 10 wives. Sarah Pratt and drama with Joseph, Bennett. Briefly left the church. Was excommunicated but came back and publicly annouced polygamy and wrote series of essays defending it and the doctrine
    6. Charles C Rich – 6, 51 children. Supported polygamy and had 6 slaves, but that is another issue.
    7. Lorenzo Snow – 9 wives, 43 children. Changed how presidential succession worked so John Willard Young wouldn’t be the president of the church. Separate issue.
    8. Erastus Snow – 4 wives, 36 children.
    9. Franklin D Richards – 11 wives. Didn’t find out number of children, but I bet it it’s a bunch.
    10. Brigham Young Jr – 5 wives. Youngest daughter – Klara Young Cheney died in 2004.
    11. Albert Carrington – wives, 15 children. Excommunicated for having affairs, but he said it was OK because he pulled out.
    12. Moses Thatcher – 3 wives. Later dropped from the quorum of the 12 because he opposed the political manifesto. Testified in Smoot hearings about doctrine of polygamy.
    13. Francis M Lyman – 2 wives. Fun facts father and sons were also apostles and both were excommunicated and rebaptized. Father Amasa had 8 wives but denied the reality and necessity of the atonement of Christ and became a Godbeite and the president of the Church of Zion and was excommunicated a second time.
    14. John Henry Smith – 2 wives, 19 children
    15. Daniel H Wells – first wife divorced him. Then seven wives. Issued extermination order against the Timpanogos tribe. 100s dead. Not so Fun facts. Also was never sustained as an apostle.

    Jonathan, you can insist all you want that Rec911 is somehow lying or exaggerating, but the reality is that at one point the church leadership all believed in polygamy as celestial marriage. There is this apologetic argument that they didn’t teach it was required for exaltation, but it sure was required to be an apostle. They all did it and they wouldn’t have if they didn’t believe it was a commandment.

    As we move away from the 1880s to the current day, that teaching, that policy, that doctrine it changed. We moved away from calling polygamy a commandment. But leaders of the church have never condemned it either or came out and clearly said that it wasn’t a commandment. They side step that by saying it was a commandment then. And that we don’t currently practice it. This leaves the door open for people like my terrible seminary teacher to teach that it is still a celestial commandment. I certainly heard that argument and fundamentalists use it still. That is all the previous comments were trying to say and you keep harping on the wrong details.

    Polygamy was a mess. What a mistake that was for the church. Personally I don’t think it was ever a commandment and I think it hurt the church and will continue to hurt it in the future. It is a messy ugly thing in our history and I am glad It changed.

  26. If polygamy was not doctrine (I still say it was) and had nothing to do with the tippy top CK entrance, then it was all about sex OR an avenue for women to receive exaltation through men. They must have thought a woman was not qualified for exaltation without being sealed to a man in this life so you better pick a man! After they stopped the “practice” the leaders would have HAD to start telling women (again something I have heard my entire youth in every talk in church and in every lesson I ever had, like ever….(sorry JG) “dont worry sisters, (never brothers) if you dont find a man that will marry you, you get to pick in the next life”…or something close to this. Again, I was told if I dont pick a woman to be sealed to in this life for whatever reason, I was hell-bound. Actually was more than one or I was going to be a slave to a polygamous family in the tippy top section of the CK.

    JGreen- My parents didn’t teach me anything regarding doctrines in the church. Maybe those conference talks on polygamy you want were all redacted? It was probably over- zealot CES teachers that taught me the polygamy doctrine. Back then, that was good as church doctrine. Where does the law of adoptions and being sealed by the holy spirit of promise come to play in all this?

    If polygamy was just for fun, is it the law of adoption that we need or is it the holy spirit of promise that seals the deal?

    FYI- I have never had a talk in all my days, in church, SS, seminary, quorum, conference that explained how I get my marriage sealed by the holy spirit of promise to validate said marriage. According to the D&C we are hosed if we dont.

  27. In my sixty-plus years I don’t remember ever being taught that polygamy is a must for exalted beings. I’ve no doubt that if we were to go back (say) sixty or seventy years and check all church curriculum and conference talks we wouldn’t find one mention of such a doctrine.

    Some of have hinted at the idea that “rogue” teachers have taught such things–and that’s certainly possible. But even so, those ideas would be outside the scope of the church’s official teachings for our times.

    That said, there’s no question that many of those who practiced polygamy back in the day verily believed that it (polygamy) was the celestial order of things. Even many of the leaders preached it as doctrine–and who knows but what they were right. But the point is the church–in our times–is pretty-much silent on the issue. It is nowhere to be found in any official church publication–not even in the canon of scripture.

  28. I’m in my mid 50’s. I was taught in seminary and at church in rural Utah that polygamy would be required to be in the highest tier of the celestial kingdom. I don’t think those beliefs arose out of nowhere even if they weren’t actively being taught by the apostles at that exact time. They were previously taught and never refuted. I don’t recall hearing it in General Conference but then I don’t recall hearing anything ever about polygamy in General Conference. I didn’t even know about the existence of polygamy until I was about 12. I also had people teach me that you could reach the celestial kingdom without polygamy so I know there was (and is) disagreement on that.

  29. E, imagine that? We were all taught the same never-withdrawn doctrine first taught by multiple prophets seers and revelators–by God’s mouthpieces on earth. I think I know someone who could set everyone straight if that doctrine has been withdrawn, but to my knowledge he hasn’t said anything to correct the record. ;)

  30. I’m yet another data point of a 90s teenager who was taught by SS teachers (a married couple) in the wasatch front that polygamy was required to obtain the highest station in the celestial kingdom. My teachers used scriptures to support their claim. I asked my parents about it and they acknowledged a lot of people believe this but they did not. So when the same thing was mentioned in release time seminary later that year, I was prepared to brush it off thanks to my parent’s input.

    Mr Green and others are free to discount me as a dumb teenager incapable of remembering things. It’s extremely uncharitable to churchsplain my lived experience but hey some mormons gotta mormon. If we were to extend this same thinking to all the experiences Joseph Smith had before the age of 26 when his amygdala was fully formed, well, is that a rabbit hole we really want to go down?

    Otherwise I agree with the OP. Doctrine and policy parsing isn’t really helpful. Doctrine can always be floating out in the ether threatening to impact our eternal welfare, but policy is what affects us now. Unless you agree with Elder Price that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people, then we have to recognize that policies matter.

  31. “It’s extremely uncharitable to churchsplain my lived experience but hey some mormons gotta mormon.”

    Beautifully said!

  32. The reason that we seem to be talking past each other is that polygamy has become a “shadow doctrine” along the Mormon Corridor. That is why I at least partly agree with every comment.

    Yes, I heard ruminations about plural marriage growing up in Utah (which was before most of you). Especially with pockets of polygamists practicing in my own community! There were formal church teachings which did not reinforce the notion of continued or eternal practice of the “principle.” But there was little to no pushback on the ruminations. So they lived on in the shadows, not quite fundamentalist, but not quite orthodox.

    To this day there are older people in my ward who privately repeat teachings regarding plural marriage. It does create a doctrinal tension whenever the subject comes up in a formal church setting, which is pretty rare these days.

  33. See, now we’re hearing some much more plausible stories. One or more people said something while you were a teenager, and one or more people said something else. But nothing to substantiate the suggestion that this was taught uniformly or officially in the 1980s.

    Again, read Chad’s post. You’ll find a variety of church leaders in the 19th century both for and against the idea that plural marriage was required for exaltation. Or check the FAIR pages; they’ve got a decent collection of relevant material.

    And by the early 20th century, the church was very much interested in distancing itself from polygamous sects, so you have to ask: Why would it promote a teaching that would seem to cast polygamous apostates in a favorable light? Look at the writings of 20th century general authorities, look at conference talks – the issue had been worked out by the time we get to the 1980s.

    None of that prevents crazy stuff from getting taught from time to time. Why do you think the bishop decided to teach Seminary that one morning, just after a super interesting week with a substitute teacher? Sometimes the teachers mean well, and sometimes they turn out to be tinfoil-hat level conspiracy theorists.

    The fact remains that “lived experience” isn’t something you record as it happens; it’s something you construct, and as liable to faulty perception and analysis as anything else we do. Chadwick asks: Well, what about Joseph Smith’s experiences as a teenager – my man, where have you been? People have been pushing back on his self-reported accounts and scrutinizing the details and examining the tensions for 200 years! Among other things, it’s a basic part of what historians do.

  34. Jonathan,

    That’s all well and good — but the simple fact remains that church doctrine has changed over time.

    I am okay with most or all of these changes — the restoration is still underway, ninth article of faith, and so forth.

    I do not understand why some insist on asserting that church doctrine has never changed.

  35. JI, I agree, mostly – both that various teachings have been modified or even rejected after a trial run, and that having mechanisms in place for change is good. I’d only add that there’s also persistence and stability as well, and since there’s no objective scale for measuring doctrinal stability, sometimes people read what I see as an insignificant shift in wording or a sensible modification as a 180 reverse.

  36. Polygamy as a requirement for exaltation, then grounds for excommunication, is about as 180 as it gets.

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