Doctrine . . . Not

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.[1] 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.”[2]

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.[3]

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.”[4]

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.”[5]

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.’[6]

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.[7]

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.”[8]

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.[9]

I. The practice of polygamy after 1890 is not in accord with the teachings of the Church.[10]

J. There is no ban on priesthood ordination of Black men after 1978.[11]

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.[12]

M. The Lectures on Faith are not doctrine.[13]

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.”


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Finally, a lawyer in the Bloggernacle! Welcome Chris. (I assume you are related to SWK in some fashion.)

    I always like to say that Mormon Doctrine is a pamphlet, not an encylcopedia.

  2. It is ironic that your opening remark suggests that teachers employed by the Church Education System, the religious education arm of the Church, cannot be relied upon to teach accurate doctrine.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    Dave’s right — there is real irony there. I think this post is more about the tricky definitions of doctrine in our faith than about identifying any particular things as “doctrine” or “not doctrine.” It’s a fun process-of-elimination exercise, but CEK just hints at what doctrine actually is instead of putting forward a definition or framework…

  4. David Brosnahan says:

    Read 2 Ne. 31 for an excellent explaination of the Doctrine of Christ.

    After explaining the principles of faith, repentance, baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost, Nephi continues:

    20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a asteadfastness in Christ (FAITH), having a perfect brightness of hope (HOPE), and a love of God and of all men (CHARITY). Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and dendure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

    21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the away; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ,

  5. Indeed, the ironies abound. For example, are any of the “not-doctrine” statements on Chris’s list, themselves, not doctrine? The epistemological dilemmas are fascinating. If, as points A and F suggest, Elder McConkie sometimes took it upon himself to define Mormon doctrine without having the authority to do so, what does that mean for point E, on which McConkie is the cited authority?

    A second point: what is the relation between “doctrine” and “truth”? (A question J. Stapley has reflected on in the past.) Clearly, something can be true without being doctrine. For example, consider point F. It is certainly not Mormon doctrine that progression between kingdoms is possible, yet actions taken after McConkie’s speech clearly suggest that it is also not doctrine that progression between kingdoms is impossible. However, as a matter of fact, progression must be either possible or impossible. Hence, something which is not doctrine must be true; the difficulty lies in determining which non-doctrinal claim is true. I won’t touch the related question of whether something can be both doctrine and false.

    I think that the real value in this list may be in the way it forces us to rethink our conceptions about authority and doctrine in the church. High church leaders often make non-doctrinal or counter-doctrinal statements, as with the promotion and implementation of polygamy in the roughly two decades after 1890. So determining doctrine is a non-trivial task.

  6. This seems to be a popular topic lately as well.

  7. Ah, we need NDBF Gary to come and give a nuanced analysis of evolution.

    Indeed, it is interesting to start a list of what something is not when a definition of what that something doesn’t seem to exist. Algebraically, doctrine is x and we only have negative definitions (x ≠ 5).

  8. Rob Osborn says:

    I have a question then concerning doctrine.

    Is teaching that we will after judgment go to one of 4 seperate places a true doctine of Christ, or is it just the informed general opinion of the church? 3 Nephi 27:16-21 states that there will only be 2 places- heaven or hewn down into the fire. Christ himself then says that that is his doctrine.

    So is teaching that there are two other places besides these (telestial and terrestrial) where man can go after judgment a false doctrine of Christ and not his gospel?

  9. J., I had secretly wished for NDBF to come by the Thang for my guest post there as well. Maybe he went south for the winter?

    On a Blog like this, isn’t it at least safe to say that Official Doctrine is what has been agreed to “By Common Consent”?

  10. Rob, as a curiosty, do you go to the LDS church on sundays?

    I’d say the subdivision of heaven into multple “mansions” is consistent with 3 Ne 27, and as it is sustained BCC, it is doctrinal.

  11. Rob- such a teaching would not be false doctrine if Heaven can be subdivided.

  12. RT-
    Could you remind me what actions were taken after McConkie’s speech?

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    I think a variegated heaven is doctrinal, but saying there are exactly four locations illustrates the difficulties of elucidating clear doctrinal statements in LDS thought.

    First, exactly what is Outer Darkness, and who are the “sons of Perdition” that will go there? Will they be destroyed, exist as spirits, retain their bodies, or what? And how extensive is the roster of sons of Perdition? Are there going to be millions or kajillions of them, or will you be able to count them on the fingers of a single hand?

    Second, there is dispute as to whether the Celestial Kingdom is really subdivided into three subdegrees, and whether they are or not, what that means. Perhaps the CK will be personalized, so that there are as many degrees of glory as there are people who inherit it. And perhaps we can say the same thing for the other kingdoms.

    Third, is there progression (or regression) from one kingdom to another (one of the Seven Deadly Heresies)?

    Et cetera.

    So on one level, yes, it is “doctrine” that there are four possible rewards in the Judgment, but when you look more closely at it the certainty starts to crumble a little bit.

  14. I wish I had seen the comments on other blogs that Matt W (#6) points to. I would have referenced and probably distinguished.

    Irony (#2, #3, #5) and “non-trivial task” (#5) are at the core of what I’m describing. Everything on my list (including the speculations of seminary teachers) references something that has at one time or another been suggested as doctrine with a certain degree of authority. Some things have clearly changed over time (I and J). Some probably never were correct (H is an easy example).

    How is one to know? By study and prayer is probably the best answer. My comment is to say “probably not by citing to authority.”

  15. CEK, while on the one hand it seems pretty valid that God is ultimately the only authority we can appeal to, on the other hand, what does that say to the relevancy of general authorities? Does it diminish there relevancy, or does it merely correct that relevancy to a different role.

  16. Doctrine:

    c.1380, from O.Fr. doctrine (12c.), from L. doctrina “teaching, body of teachings, learning,” from doctor “teacher”

    Source: The Online Etymology Dictionary at

    If the word “doctrine” really means a body of teachings, regardless whether or not the teachings conform to some universal noetic standard of truth, then any of the items listed from A to M can be considered “doctrinal”.

    I don’t have access to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, but the website referenced above seems fairly authoritative.

    I mean, really….”informed opinion”, when taught by one having authority, becomes doctrine. This is the crux of the matter.

  17. CEK,
    Some are policy, not doctrine, just to muddy the waters a little further.

  18. Excellent post, Chris.
    Here’s the rub, though: very few people (in relation to the whole of the LDS Church) read BCC, so they won’t see what you’ve said. I agree with everything you’ve mentioned, but the reality is that probably the majority of LDS families
    have _Mormon Doctrine_ on their shelves and use it as a “reliable” source. Nobody has told them there are entries in that book which are patently false. And (in the area which holds my most intent interest–Blacks and Mormon folklore), teachings which started as speculation but then found their way into books like _MD_ and _Doctrines of Salvation_ are still repeated, and the upcoming generation, though far more sensitized to race issues, often get taught the same old nonsense I was taught by my seminary teachers back in the 60’s and 70’s. If they PERCEIVE it as doctrine and then perpetuate it as such, what difference does it make if we call it something else?

  19. Kevin,

    Can you elaborate on the debate over the CK being subdivided into three levels? See D&C section 131. My understanding is that the case for this is pretty compelling.

    The gist of this post is correct which is why when taching in church I always use “weasel words” like in my opinion or according to this GA when discussing many issues.

    Unless there is a clear scriptural and a compelling trail of GA statements to back something up its not doctrinal in my opinion

  20. This post makes me feel oh-so-much better about my understanding. Sometimes- no, often- as a newbie, I’ve felt I just don’t understand. Now it’s clear- no one really understands!

  21. Doctrine- “I have learned that Man is nothing, which thing I never have supposed.”

  22. bbell, see this post and comments.

  23. Steve Evans says:

    Tracy, you are wise beyond your years.

  24. As Terryl Givens said, Theology is what happens when Revelation is absent.

  25. #22,

    I would say that the case for section 131 meaning what it says according to a plain reading is pretty compelling.

    Tracy. This is why you need to find out for yourself about something that sounds strange when you here it from other LDS people. Look for compelling scriptures and lots of GA quotes to determine if you believe something and of course the HG. Also look to see how recent the GA quotes are.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    bbell: “Look for compelling scriptures and lots of GA quotes to determine if you believe something and of course the HG”

    or, better yet — look to yourself to see if you believe something! Really odd, man, to list the Holy Ghost as almost a sidenote in determining whether an idea is doctrinal.

  27. MikeInWeHo says:

    This interesting post led me to read the wiki entry on systematic theology:

    It seems to me that Mormonism, being such a young faith, does not yet have its own fully-developed and accepted systematic theology.

  28. Steve your snark is uncalled for. My advice is basicly read ponder and pray.

  29. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, that was no snark — it was a straight-up criticism of your comment #25. I can get on board with “read, ponder and pray,” however, which is a far better model for determining one’s course through life.

  30. This is an interesting post. Aside from the removal of the priesthood ban and a push for more missionaries, President Kimball is widely perceived as a conservative administator unwilling to overturn precedent. CEK’s list demonstrates that our assumption is wrong.

    I find C. especially interesting. Have we ever had a church president denounce a previous president’s teaching the way SWK did to Brigham Young’s Adam-God doctrine?

    Thanks for a good post, CEK.

  31. I think we can add to the list:

    Anything that is NOT published by the church.

    Anything that a past authority says that contradicts a current one.

    Anything said in an informal meeting. (Although this is perhaps more because of pragmatics in verifying it was actually said than anything to do with the setting.)

    On the note about doctrine not coming from CES, the website of the department of religion at BYU reads: “The mission of Religious Education ast Brigham Young University is to build the Kingdom of God by teaching and preserving the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    If that opinion represents the main-line then I think it’s actually the (growing?) minority of members that define Mormonism as adverse to doctrine.

    As for this particular exercise, the role of negative theology (or a negative dialectic), has prominence in other streams of thought. While I’m aware of it used in Christianity, I’m more familiar with Buddhist/Daoist implimentations. The idea is to strip away what is not, to reveal what is. Kind of like a banana. Although, of course, what I just said is an oversimplification.

  32. smallaxe,

    thank you, i know have that song in my head.

  33. Steve,

    Then I will have to criticize your comments. I do not believe that its wise to “look to yourself” when determining if you believe a church teaching or not. We should look to the scriptures, GA’s, and the holy ghost in no particular order of importance. All three are vital. Read ponder and pray is a common way to describe this.

    If I looked to myself to determine if I believed a doctrine. I would believe that a variety of moral teachings of the LDS church are wrong mostly based on natural man leanings that are in all of us. In addition in no way would I pay tithing, observe the sabbath etc. Only by studying the scriptures, listening to GA’s and following the HG would I go along with these ideas.

    Mormonism offers its adherents a model to follow described as read ponder and pray that stands in direct opposition to “look to yourself” type of new age thinking that has decimated the mainline Protestant denominations in the last 2 generations.

  34. Rob Osborn says:

    Why yes I do attend the LDS church on Sundays. The reason I bring up the question of differing places is that according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must be baptized in order to be saved while those who remain unbaptized at the great last day are hewn down and cast into the fire (Sop). Now if one is baptized, they are born again into the celestial kingdom of heaven.

    So to say that there is a doctrine in our church that teaches contrary to this (saved without baptism- telestial etc..), I would have to say that it is not the true teachings of Jesus Christ, but just the generally informed opinion of the church. Am I correct, or is the Book of mormon not the true teaching of salvation in it’s fullest?

  35. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, the problem with your critique, and with your comments generally, is that you make no distinction between believing something and figuring out whether a given idea is doctrinal. OF COURSE you cannot know whether you believe an idea without examining yourself! By the same token, whether you believe something is of only partial worth in determining whether an idea is doctrine. Because you conflate these two concepts, both your comments and your critique of my comments make no sense.

  36. As I’ve said elsewhere:

    “There is no real official doctrine, certainly not the kind that can be equated with truth. Members are essentially allowed to believe whatever they want, as long as they remain within some basic parameters–parameters which have more to do with cohesiveness and community than truth. The hierarchy of authority helps provide some structure for this, but the “doctrine” put forth by the hierarchy could potentially be less truthful than the personal revelations and opinions of laymen.”

  37. I’ve seen people go off the deep end because of their “personal revelations” and do truly horrible things. On the other hand, I’ve seen people so fearful that they’ll mis-step that they’ll hardly step at all–unless someone with “authority” says it’s okay. I hope to never be in either camp.
    My faith rests on the foundation of the two great commandments: Love God; love your neighbor. As Rabbi Hillel said: “That is [religion]; the rest is commentary.”
    So as far as this discussion goes–I suspect we all could be kinder to each other, not so dismissive, not so eager to prove our points that we insult others for their opinions. Three degrees in the CK? Why does that matter now? What matters at this moment is that there are people ON EARTH, probably around the corner, who need to be taught, visited, included, attended to.

  38. Mark IV: “Have we ever had a church president denounce a previous president’s teaching the way SWK did to Brigham Young’s Adam-God doctrine?”

    Another example from SWK himself has to do with “blood atonement.” However, the denouncement of the Adam-God theory took place in conference, and off the top of my head the only SWK blood atonement communication I remember is his instructing McConkie to retract some of McConkie’s own teachings regarding B.A. via a letter sent in response to a query from someone at the Utah Law Review.

    Ed Kimball mentions in this in a letter to Sunstone:

    “In 1978, at the request of the First Presidency, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote a letter for publication about blood atonement. The letter is quoted extensively in Martin Gardner’s article, “Mormonism and Capital Punishment” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12:1 (1979), 16-19). Elder McConkie wrote [in part],
    We do not believe that it is necessary for men in this day to shed their own blood to receive a remission of sins. This is said with a full awareness of what I and others have written and said on this subject in times past. . . .You asked if the statements of our leaders of the past . . . represent the official stand of the Church. . . . [T]hey do not. The statements pertain to a theoretical principle that has been neither revealed to nor practiced by us….

    The Dialogue article is at Mormonism and Capital Punishment: A Doctoral Perspective, Past and Present

  39. Aaron,

    If memory serves me right, in another post you were advocating the post-modern nature of mormonism/mormon doctrine.

    Could you please provide concrete examples where “post-modern” thinkers have influenced authority figures in the church? Who are these “post-modern” thinkers? And whom have they influenced that have been so influencial in making mormonism post-modern?

  40. Aaron,
    What is truth?

  41. Steve Evans says:

    HP, that’s easy; ’tis the fairest gem that the riches of worlds can produce. Alternatively I have seen it defined as “the brightest prize to which mortals or Gods can aspire.”

  42. Someone needs to set CES straight. When I called the principal of our seminary last year to complain about one of his teachers presenting blood atonement and the death penalty as doctrine, he told me that it was required CES curriculum. That was also his explanation of why my daughter was being taught that God had actual sexual intercourse with Mary. He didn’t give that explanation when I also complained about the “war in Iraq is righteous and so is Bush” lessons that were being given.

  43. greenfrog says:

    (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?

    Chris — nice post, and good to see you here. I’ve spent the last forty-five minutes trying to figure out whether I can fairly stuff into the context of your post and this thread a dilemma I have respecting the unresolved ambiguity in the quoted passage. Not sure I’ve succeeded in figuring that out. If this is a derail, ignore the rest:

    Recently I’m finding myself more frustrated by the imprecision of Mormon doctrine than gratified by its “flexibility.” I agree that the temple recommend belief questions are probably the best articulation of the Church’s limited orthodoxy requirements. But what do they mean and how are we to know it? With respect to the passage I’ve excerpted, for example, what is intended by “priesthood keys”?

    Does an affirmative response to the question entail only allegiance to the belief that the organizational authority to govern the LDS church is lodged in the specified person? If so, I could easily provide such an affirmation.

    Alternatively, does an affirmative response entail not only organizational authority, but some additional implied belief that God (writ large) confers knowledge and authority to act in God’s name upon only those who trace their lineage and exercise of such authority through the specified person? If the latter is the intended meaning (as I think it is, but am not sure), I don’t qualify for a temple recommend, as I believe that God is affirmatively delighted by all people who, in God’s name or not, act for the benefit of their brothers and sisters, and I believe that while the LDS Church as an organization cares about lines of such authority, God is much less interested in it.

    Given my views, I have concluded that the proper course is to decline a temple recommend. If the implications are limited to the first set I articulated, I might be able to accept one. Without further understanding, I expect to watch from the doorstep as my wife takes my eldest son (born into Hyde Park Ward 19 years ago) to the temple in a few months.

    I’m more than willing to respect the orthodoxy requirements of the Church — indeed, even with my obviously attenuated belief structure, as a matter of personal integrity and respect for the institution, I don’t want to simply “slide through” the process.

    But knowing only what doctrine isn’t really doesn’t help when there are clear and difficult outcomes that hinge on knowing what it is.

  44. HiveRadical says:

    I like to look at doctrine as similar to the constants of the universe. In the context we generally observe them in they remain constant. But even the ‘constants’ of the Universe start to change at extreme levels of energy.

    I also really like the fact that “upon this rock” phrase of Christ was referencing Revelation over Peter. Certainly Peter was the organizational oracle, but to apply the true Rock leaves all the responsibility on each and every individual. Thus no one can ever entirely brush their bad deeds NOR have their good deeds attributed entirely to anyone else.

    I like David Brosnhan’s comment #4. However he leaves out one clarification I’d add, I’ll do so below–

    20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a asteadfastness in Christ (FAITH), having a perfect brightness of hope (HOPE), and a love of God and of all men (CHARITY). Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ(REVELATION), and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

    21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the away; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ,

    Faith (with it’s own lineage of Repentance, Baptism, Gift of the Holy Ghost), Hope (that which we gain when we are at present in the path of either repenting or enduring to the end), and Charity all link up and culminate in a kind of combination between the Sealing power and Revelation.

    To me it makes sense. Why would God have our binding to him ever be dependant on anything beyond direct communication with him and a continual process of trying to see things “as they are”– even if how they are is far different that what any of our little minds can come close to fathoming.

    I mean if doctrine ultimately entails all truth it would seem reasonable, especially with present revelations and dirrections in the cutting edge of physics, there would be TONS of nuance. Why would anyone expect anything more lacking nuance from the creator and organizer of it all?

    Any way. I enjoy this post and everyone’s comments

  45. While I appreciate and agree with Steve’s answer to my question (I’m humming as I type), it was a legitimate question. If Aaron is going to discount Mormonism because of a loose or flexible grasp on the “truth,” then he needs to explain what truth he is offering in exchange and why he offers a superior position (for that matter, he needs to explain what truth he sees Mormons occasionally grasping). Until he does such, I shall assume he is engaging in sour grapes behavior.

  46. HP, I think Aaron’s version of the truth his somehow linked with this sweatshirt:

  47. Steve Evans says:

    Sigh….. Aaron’s idea of truth is an evangelical one. His site’s goals:

    -To promote the rejection of Mormonism by providing easily accessible information about it. (Ephesians 5:11)
    -To respect Mormons by providing easy access to opposing viewpoints. (James 3:17)
    -To promote the Jesus of Biblical Christianity by doing the aforementioned, as well as providing an appraisal/critique of Mormonism from a Biblical worldview.

    Aaron really ought to know better than to do drive-bys at faithful LDS blogs.

  48. Hello Chris Kimball (aka CEK), I’m R. Gary Shapiro (aka NDBF Gary). I couldn’t help noticing that you listed thirteen non-doctrines but footnoted only twelve of them. What happened to B.? Even going to your footnote 7 for item F., page 101 in Lengthen Your Stride doesn’t give any support for what it implies about organic evolution.

    A couple of months ago, I put up a post about the Church’s strict policy of political neutrality and how it helps us see what Church neutrality really looks like. In that post, I challenged LDS evolutionists to produce a list like this one that says the Church is neutral on evolution. No one even tried. It can’t be done.

    By the way, the Church has taken a definitive position on the matter of No Death Before the Fall (NDBF), which more or less rules out organic evolution.

  49. greenfrog,

    I admire your integrity. My guess is that your local leadership will take your first approach to the question as a “yes.” As to your second approach—they’ll probably agree that God works through all who seek to do good and not worry about any further ambiguity in the question. But, if for some reason your concerns do bring your “worthiness” into question then I suggest you lie. The ins and outs of doctrine weigh far less in the balance of life than the positive experiences we have with our loved ones.

  50. greenfrog:

    I’d like to discuss, either offline or in a separate thread. The general case is a question where I see a literal interpretation that can be answered in the affirmative, but I believe the questioner intends something different. How much credit do I give to my belief about the questioner’s meaning? How much to my ability to find alternate meanings in the words? What if I believe (whether objectively true or not) that I am better than the questioner at manipulating words?

    I tend to give substantial weight to what I believe the questioner means to ask. There are costs to that approach.

  51. Can we please avoid the threadjack of evolution on this thread? This isn’t a thread about evolution; rather, what does or does not constitute doctrine.

  52. greenfrog,

    I do not believe it is necessary to lie about the question, nor do I think that interpretation 2 is the “true” intent of the question. And I say that with all sincerity.

    I think the portion of the question on “keys” is intended, in significant part, to relate to the question on affiliation with apostate groups. Some plural marriage offshoot organizations believe that individuals other than President Hinckley were secretly given, and can pass on, the sealing power and “keys” outside of the order and structure of the mainline LDS church. I think the “keys” portion of the question is intended to exclude from the temple someone with that belief (or a similar belief that there may be other valid “Mormon-type” priesthood “keys” that are possessed by other persons or entities (i.e., apostate “splinter” groups) outside the institutional mainline church). [Thus, I think someone like Warren Jeffs probably could not, in good conscience, answer the question affirmatively.]

    I do not think the question is meant to address our personal views whether other religious traditions have merit in God’s eyes, or even if they are “true” in some or all relevant senses.

    I lean towards your interpretation #1, perhaps because my own beliefs are similar to yours. I believe there is great merit, and that God is in general very pleased with the works of our brothers and sisters in other religious traditions. I think He holds great respect for the rites, ordinances and ceremonies performed in other traditions, in particular the intentions behind them.

    With respect to how to answer the question, given the alternative interpretations: Many years ago, a great bishop told me that God wishes as many of His children as possible to come into His temple, so much so that where a temple recommend standard can be reasonably interpreted in more than one way, the ambiguity should be resolved in favor of admission to the temple. I thought that was great advice, and I have come to believe it is true.

    As a person who has long admired your wisdom and kindness (although, to my knowledge, we have never met in person), I would respectfully suggest that if you can become comfortable with interpretation 1 as a reasonable one, I think you could answer “yes” with complete integrity and, moreover, I sincerely hope you will choose to reenter the temple in the near future (particularly with your wife and son).

  53. greenfrog,
    DavidH speaks truth.

  54. greenfrog, if your view were more commonly adopted (that expansive views about divine grace and revelation bars one from the temple), a large percentage of us would lose great blessings. The fact that you’re confronting the issue is I think a good thing, but I’m not even sure that Pres. Hinckley sustains himself in the way you imply. I’d go to the temple with your family. I agree the question is primarily aimed at keeping Mormon sectarians out of the temple and assessing a certain sense of allegiance to the Church generally. Best of luck in any case.

  55. I appreciate the thoughts and kindnesses expressed. In the light of day, I suspect this probably does belong on a different thread. Chris — I should have mentioned previously, I’m aka Sean, BTW.

  56. I’m not even sure that Pres. Hinckley sustains himself in the way you imply.

    Note what True to the Faith (the new Mormon catechism?) says about “Prophet”: “We sustain the President of the Church as our prophet, seer, and revelator—the only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church.”

    This is about sustaining the “prophets” as the exclusive, ecclesiastical heirs to Joseph Smith. Now, most Mormons believe that the prophets are more than that, but the TR is asking only for a minimal touchstone of belief. As Sam says, I think the origin of this lies with the Mormon “sectarians.”

  57. R. Gary,

    The same political neutrality message is read from the pulpit every election year because members would utilize the building for political purposes if they didn’t. You would see a similar message read from the pulpit if people started holding pro/anti Caffeinated-Soda rallies or staged pro/anti evolution protests from church buildings or any other meetings promoting a side to something the church has stated a neutral opinion on. Your caffeinated soda argument is similarly invalid. One could easily argue the church avoids caffeinated beverages on church owned property to avoid the appearance of promoting any particular interpretation.

    Tying this back to the original post, implicit promotion of a side of doctrinal neutrality due to a lack of statements read on the subject from the pulpit, or lack of product on church owned property, is improvable.

  58. Ronan,

    What is a Mormon Sectarian?

    Splinter groups as opposed to the “mainline SLC group”?

    True to the Faith does seem to be an attempt to get a handle on what is actually “doctrinal”. True to the Faith seems to me to be very narrowly written. Probably intentionally so.

    Ia it just me or are we seeing a decrease in GA written books in the last decade or so that attempt to define LDS doctrine? Books like MD, Miracle OF F, and Answers to Gospel Questions where GA’s go off and say it how they think it are not exactly coming off the presses as of late. Instead we get books like GBH recent book that had a very different tone then his peers books of old.

    I do think that there is an attempt to rein in the speculations and hobby topics recently. The question remains if this is a good thing or not. I am not sure myself. I miss what can be described a “muscular Mormonism” but understand that we are now a global church with the media actually paying attention these days to us.

  59. KyleM,

    A followup on comments 48 and 57:

    Re: Regular or Caffeine-Free Cola Drinks.

    Selling both or neither would show no preference. Selling one and not the other, however, does show a preference. In fact, caffeine is banned on Church owned property precisely because of what that policy implies.

    Re: Organic Evolution.

    According to BYU evolutionist Duane Jeffery, 90 percent of LDS think the Church is against evolution. Why is that? Why isn’t the Church’s so-called neutral stand better clarified in Church publications or in General Conference talks? Why don’t the Brethren state their neutrality instead of allowing this confusion to continue?

    And, by the way, Church buildings are used to promote the anti-evolution side of that controversy. See numbers 2, 3, 4, 7, 22, 25, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 36, and 43 here:

  60. I think selling cafinated soda on church property would promote the interpretation that caffeine is not prohibited in the WoW. I guess we’ll have to agree that to have truely neutral policy, they should get rid of all soda and replace it with watered down Kool-Aid.

    The statistics I have seen regarding evolution show a lower number than 90%. I find it amazing how much personal opinion finds it’s way into correlated material, but in any case a sunday school lesson is hardly a launching point for an anti-evolution protest.

    I would guess that more people in Utah think that a man wearing a blue shirt and sporting a goatee at church should be meeting with the bishop to get a copy of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” than an white shirt and tie wearing, clean shaven, evolutionist who drinks Coke. If anything, our disagreement furthers the idea in the origional post that it’s much easier to determine what isn’t Mormon doctrine than what is.

  61. KyleM,

    Re: 90 percent. The following is from the Deseret Morning News (Sat., Mar. 19, 2005, pp. E1  E3):

    “Professor Duane Jeffery, a professor of biology at Brigham Young University, estimates that  ‘ probably 90 percent of people who are LDS think the church is against evolution. But they don’t get upset about it being taught in public schools. ‘  The reason, he says, is the church seminary system, which provides junior high and high school students with a class period of religious instruction during school hours.

    ” ‘ Most parents feel their religion is being take care of in seminary, ‘  Jeffery says. [But he] thinks Mormons misunderstand his church’s take on evolution.”

  62. Gary, yet a couple of generations ago — before evangelical Protestants mobilized against evolution — survey data showed that a clear majority of BYU students believed in evolution. The change in belief systems seems to have coincided not with any revelation to our church leaders, but rather with a political battle in the US over evolution in the classrooms — initiated by our denominational rivals. Isn’t that strange to you?

  63. Gary, in case you are interested, USU conducted a survey in 1985:

    57% of these students regarded evolution as contrary to official doctrine of the church…

    THat’s a bit more empirical that estimating “probably 90%”….

  64. Re: #62 and #63:

    Richley Crapo, in the linked article, concedes that “grass-roots members now typically view evolution as contrary to the doctrines of the church.” And as far as numbers go, Crapo’s study involved “LDS students” specifically, while Duane Jeffery spoke of “people who are LDS” generally.

    It is not only possible, but likely, that LDS students reject evolution in different numbers than LDS members generally. Therefore, Crapo’s study doesn’t necessarily have any effect at all on Jeffery’s 90 percent estimate.

    Also in the linked article, Crapo seems to agree with Duane Jeffery that the shift in belief systems among Mormons regarding evolution coincided with the agressive anti-evolutionary teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie during the second half of the 20th century.

    Yes, I know, some individuals take the position that President Smith and Elder McConkie were merely echoing the Protestant theology of their day.

    But, here’s the catch: even though Smith died 35 years ago and McConkie 13 years later, Church neutrality toward evolution has still not been clarified. On the contrary, their anti-evolution legacy is being carried forward today by Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelson.

    Skip the list (requested in #48). Just show me one First Presidency statement, published by the Church in its magazines or curriculum, that says the LDS Church is neutral on evolution. It can’t be done.

  65. Maybe this one?

  66. The 1909 First Presidency statement on “The Origin of Man” is an excellent choice, Matt. According to Boyd K. Packer, it officially rules out organic evolution as an explanation for the origin of man&nbsp[1]. And on the other side of the fence, BYU’s respected and outspoken evolutionist Duane Jeffery calls it “anti-science”&nbsp[2] and “quite anti-evolutionary” [3].


    [1] Boyd K. Packer, “The Law and the Light,” The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990). pp. 1-25; reviewed here.

    [2] Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005), p. 30.

    [3] Deseret Morning News, March 1, 2006, p. B3.

  67. I’ve contemplated how to respond to you, but I’m pretty much agnostic on the actuality of what the Church espouses as Doctrine on the issue of the theory of evolution. I respect you opinion, even if I am not singing along with you. I just thought Crapo’s actual survey data might be interesting to you. It is dated, and I would love to see a current survey with a wider base performed.

    Anyway, what I really would love to ask you is how binding do you feel this is on the membership of the Church? It is not in the Canon, nor has it been sustained by common consent, so far as I know, as doctrine of the Church. If you are interested in where I am coming from on this, see here.

  68. I’ll give up on trying to keep things directly relavant to the origional post. Evolution isn’t my niche, so I’m sure you can cite alot more studies and quotes than I can, but…

    Six months after the 1909 statement, the Improvement Era ran a response to questions that arose because of the feeling that the statement wasn’t neutral.

    “Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.”

    The article was unsigned, but the editor was Pres. Joseph F. Smith. The apostles who despised evolution and those that espoused evolution were all entitled to their opinions according to Pres. Smith, as was the general membership. What is interesting to me is A) NDBF isn’t mentioned or even implied in any scenario presented, and B) all three scenarios describe events that would be considered heretical to evangelical, NDBF creationists.

    Anti-evolution thought is less important to mormonism than white shirts and green Jello.

  69. KyleM,

    Re: #68:

    1. There is no reason for you to suggest that this discussion is not directly relavant to the origional post. We are in fact discussing item B. in the original post, which falsely claims that “the Church has never taken a definitive position on the matter of organic evolution.”

    2. The number of apostles who “espoused evolution” is zero, zilch, nada.

    3. The evidence is overwhelming that the April 1910 comment you quote was NOT made by Joseph F. Smith. Quoting it as such is spurious. It wasn’t even attributed to him until at least 55 years after he died.

  70. Gary, did you just blow me off?

  71. Matt,

    Re: #67 and #70,

    No, I didn’t forget you. But you broadened the topic quit a bit. Please stand by.

  72. I appreciate it. It is this broader topic which I was hoping to hear from you on earlier.

  73. And your response to David O. McKay’s letter to Professor Stokes?

  74. I’ve come to largely agree with Gary that the Church is not “neutral” on this issue. I’ll defend the evidence for evolution all the day long, but the simple fact of the matter is that in its publications and its pronouncements, the Church is generally negative on the issue.

    Yes, we have evolution at BYU. No, the Church doesn’t make a big stink about it. Yes, various general authorities have had differing perspectives, and members are granted latitude in their views. But when you boil it all down, I don’t think the Church’s publications and pronouncements can be labeled “neutral,” though perhaps for peacemaking reasons they let that perception continue.

    What is the position of the Church? My answer is the BYU packet and the scriptures. To what degree the position is correct or eternally true, is in my mind, a separate question.

  75. Matt,

    Re: #67, please click here for a response.


    Re: #73, please click here for a response.


    Re: #74, once again, although we still don’t agree on evolution, at least we understand each other. I appreciate your comment.

  76. Gary: I sincerely want to thank you for your view. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question in such a sincere and in-depth manner.

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