Submitted by Chris Kimball (CEK): a father of three, husband of one, son of two, a tax lawyer and a rock climber. His guest post helps rectify the sad lack of the lawyer’s perspective in Mormon Studies.
Mormonism is essentially a sacramental religion, defined by ordinance and ritual more than doctrine or belief. Any effort to define “Mormon doctrine” is fraught with difficulty and virtually certain of error, although one might venture that the “belief” portion of the temple recommend interview defines doctrine. As Edward Kimball says, “Church history shows that General Authorities frequently declare, clarify, refine, and qualify interpretations of doctrine, but these statements generally constitute only informed opinion.”
On the other hand, there are numerous statements, writings and beliefs that have been put forward as doctrine, or believed as doctrine, at one time or by some people, that we can be fairly confident are not doctrine. We have somewhat more confidence about what is not doctrine than what is.
Only half-jokingly, one might start with the obvious-to-most-adult-Mormons statement that your high school seminary teacher was not a reliable source of doctrine.
So what do we know is not doctrine? Here is a short collection of ideas about “doctrines” we might reject, meant to invite comment and addendum. These are presented in no particular order, although the inspiration for this investigation is chapter 11 of Lengthen Your Stride, which depicts Spencer W. Kimball’s contributions to the discussion of doctrine and even more “not” doctrine.
A. Neither ‘Man, His Origin and Destiny’ by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, nor ‘Mormon Doctrine’ by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church.
B. Despite numerous requests (and positions stated or implied in the publications noted in A above), the Church has never taken a definitive position on the matter of organic evolution.
C. “We denounce [the Adam-God Theory] and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.”
D. Other churches are not all wrong. “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”
E. References to blood atonement (leaving aside the atonement of Christ), if understood as applying to modern circumstances, ‘do not . . . represent the official stand of the Church.’
F. Elder McConkie’s talk at BYU on “The Seven Deadly Heresies” (including acceptance of organic evolution, a belief that God progresses in knowledge, and the idea that progression from kingdom to kingdom in the afterlife is possible) were Elder McConkie’s personal views and not doctrine.
G. The Joseph Smith Translation is “not the official Bible of the Church.” It is “interesting,” a “fruitful source,” and an “invaluable aid to biblical interpretation and understanding.”
H. Church policy set in 1967 allowing only Melchizedek or Aaronic Priesthood holders to pray in sacrament meetings had no scriptural basis and should be abandoned.
I. The practice of polygamy after 1890 is not in accord with the teachings of the Church.
J. There is no ban on priesthood ordination of Black men after 1978.
K. There is no authoritative or doctrinal explanation why the ordination of Black men was not allowed before 1978.
L. There is not an absolute prohibition on abortion.
M. The Lectures on Faith are not doctrine.
In modern form the belief questions are: “(1) Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost? (2) Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer? (3) Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days? (4) Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?” These four questions are, of course, not wholly self-defining and lend themselves to a number of interpretations.
Lengthen Your Stride, The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, by Edward Kimball (Deseret Book 2005), at page 95.
Letters and journal entries from President David O. McKay in 1959 and 1960, among other sources.
Spencer W. Kimball at October General Conference in 1976.
Statement by the First Presidency on February 15, 1978.
Bruce R. McConkie, in 1977, responding to a question at the request of the First Presidency.
Lengthen Your Stride at page 101 and clarification in the version published in 1980 BYU Speeches of the Year, changing “we” to “I” and saying “my reasoning causes me to conclude.”
Quotes from the dictionary included in the LDS edition of the Bible.
Priesthood Bulletin 3, no. 3 (July/August 1967).
Official Declaration 1.
Official Declaration 2.
General Handbook of Instructions, which describes certain exceptions where abortion could be the better choice.
Not included in the 1979 and 1981 editions of the standard works. Ed Kimball notes in Lengthen Your Stride that inclusion was proposed at that time but not approved, and that “Several studies had recently concluded that Sidney Rigdon was the principal author of the lectures.”