There are many interesting things about the 11th article of faith, not the least of which is that it is the only one that fails to begin “We believe…”. Instead, we get “We claim…” which is a pretty interesting difference. Unlike the others, which lay out the axia of Mormon faith, the 11th article defends a right, the right to believe as we choose. We are even gracious enough to allow those outside of our faith to believe what they choose (misguided though it may be ;) )
In the bloggernacle, I became acquainted with the term heterodoxy. Guessing from usage, it appears to mean believing anything that you believe is sufficiently unorthodox to have a blog-post regarding it. Apparently, heterodoxy includes beliefs ranging from “believing that not every word out of the mouth of the Brethren is inspired” to “there is a weird form of reincarnation at work here”. Obviously, the term is meant to express a wide range of belief, but I think we probably need a little more discipline regarding how it works.
First of all, we need to establish what orthodoxy is. Some people propose that it is the gospel according to Elder Bruce R. McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith. I am not sure that we can really say that as both men have a rather idiosyncratic approach. A better approach might be to use the Articles of Faith as our definition of orthodoxy. They are scripture after all. However, some might find this too restrictive as many characteristic doctrinal ideas (like those found in D&C 76) are not found in the Articles of Faith, whereas other more controversial ideas (like the literal restoration of the ten tribes) are. That said, I think that, with their canonized status, the Articles of Faith are the closest we come to a statement of things that we have to believe in order to be Mormon.
This, as stated earlier, leaves us with a lot of wiggle room doctrinally, and this is why we have brought up the term heterodox. If the Articles of Faith are our rigid definition of orthodoxy, then there are a lot of currently orthodox ideas that would be deemed heterodox. As a result, we might suggest an expansion of our definition to include the entirety of the standard works. However, the multitude of Christian denominations and Mormon offshoots indicates that there is insufficient clarity regarding the doctrines found in these works to clearly state what they do and do not allow us to believe. Furthermore, a retreat to the interpretations of Apostles and Prophets only elucidates patterns of interpretation, without unambiguously defining what belief should consist of. As a result, even our best attempts at defining orthodox leaves us with a rather heterodox outlook.
Seemingly Mormons can believe almost anything. But can they really? Often in our discussions accusations are made on the sly regarding the testimonies or activity of our fellow disputants. We derive ideas regarding the relative spirituality of each other based on our stated beliefs all the time. Is this just? Should we do it?
I am not sure. In the 11th article of faith, we state that “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” This is great as an ideal. Today, I heard Elder Uchtdorf say that we must respect the beliefs of others outside the church, even as we introduce them to the good in what we believe. But should we apply this internally, to ourselves?
Are all believing approaches to Mormonism equally valid? Do we need to correct those who approach Mormonism differently than we do? Or should we be grateful that there are people willing to do their home-teaching, no matter what they believe about Book of Mormon historicity or our relationship to God?