Your Friday Firestorm #55

“The handbook is doctrinal”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Worldwide Leadership Training, Feb. 12, 2011.



  1. Chris Gordon says:

    Though I suspect this isn’t the context of the statement, the Handbook is steeped in scriptural background and thus heavily based in doctrine.

  2. I guess I don’t know what “doctrinal” means here — does it mean that the Handbook’s contents are doctrine, or does it mean that the Handbook is primarily discussing matters of doctrine but is itself not doctrine, or what?

  3. In context, it seems to mean the principles of the handbook are based on doctrinal principles.

    I’ll admit, when I first heard the broadcast, I thought he said, “The handbook is doctrine” – and I think that would be worthy of a firestorm. But ‘doctrinal’ – to me – presents the idea that it is based on applied doctrine, and is not established as stand-alone capital-D Doctrine.

  4. David, do you think that the difference between calling something “doctrine” vs. “doctrinal” is meaningful? Is it meaningful when Elder Oaks says it to a group of leaders?

  5. Steve #4: I think it’s an important and intended nuance, especially coming from a Legal mind like Elder Oaks. Whether the majority of rank-and-file leaders to whom it was addressed will recognize the distinction is a different matter.

    Remember how the reference to the Family Proclamation as a Revelation was revised to ‘A Guide’ in President Packer’s Conference address?

    Plus, there were many times in the broadcast itself where the first chapters which expound Doctrine were presented as the foundational principles upon which the rest of the handbook rested.

  6. StillConfused says:

    Can women see the handbook? If not, can it be doctrinal to them?

  7. #6 – Anyone can see it: It’s here on the church website for any and all to view. (Handbook 2, which is what was discussed in the broadcast).

  8. David, makes me wonder if Handbook 1 is doctrinal/doctrine (indeed, could it be doctrine if it is not accessible to the general membership?).

  9. What else would it be? In some ways, I think that one could argue that the only thing that is doctrinal is the handbook. Of course, this means that what is doctrinal is not also eternal since the handbook can and does change. But that seems like a healthy view of doctrine.

  10. Mephibosheth says:

    Doctrinal is a made-up word. Like “truthiness.” It’s ok though because prophets are allowed to make up words:

    1 Chronicles 22:5 …and the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries…

  11. #8 – I don’t think availability is relevant. I could assist in compiling and writing a plan for my local Ward Mission that is doctrinal – based on applied gospel principles – even though the rest of the Church outside of my ward does not have access to it.

    That, I think, is the difference in pronouncing something as Doctrine, and presenting something that is ‘Doctrinal’, or based on (or with an emphasis on practical exercise of) doctrine.

  12. Mark Brown says:

    The really trick thing is that there are parts of the handbook which explicitly announce that local leaders should be guided by the handbook’s principles but that they should prayerfully adapt those principles to the local sutuation. So it is entirely possible that ward A does something differently from ward B, but they are both following the doctrine.

  13. #10, thinks it’s legit. ;)

    Doctrinal: (adj) of, pertaining to, or concerned with doctrine.
    Doctrine: (n) [1]a creed or body of teachings of a religious, political, or philosophical group presented for acceptance or belief; dogma [2] a principle or body of principles that is taught or advocated

  14. Mephibosheth says:

    It was a joke, son.

  15. Mephibosheth,

    Where’s the punchline in said joke?


    In some ways, I think that one could argue that the only thing that is doctrinal is the handbook

    What are those ways? And what exactly do you mean?

  16. Important difference, especially since it was stated explicitly in the first session that the CHI is not doctrine. The current statement probably is a clarification of that statement – that, while it is not “doctrine”, it is “doctrinal”.

    The new statement is kind of a given to me. If the leaders didn’t believe the policies and procedures in the CHI were based on doctrine . . . or if they really believed they actually are doctrine . . .

  17. I hope it doesn’t mean the handbook is doctrine. Last time I checked, the authors of the handbook didn’t have the authority to elevate any obscure teaching about a random bit of social policy to the level of doctrine.

  18. Something made me do this. Might have been Scott.

    Oxford English Dictionary:

    doctrinal, adj. and n.
    Pronunciation: /ˈdɒktrɪnəl/ /dɒkˈtraɪnəl/
    Etymology: The n. was < French doctrinal (13th cent. in Littré); the adj. was perhaps more directly < late Latin doctrīnāl-is (Isidore), < doctrīna learning, doctrine
    A. adj.

    a. Of or pertaining to doctrine; containing or inculcating a doctrine or doctrines. Doctrinal Puritans, those whose puritanism had reference to doctrines rather than discipline or ceremonial.

    1570 P. Levens Manipulus Vocabulorum sig. Bi/1, Doctrinall, doctrinalis.
    1611 Bible (A.V.) Transl. Pref. 11 Not in doctrinall points that concerne saluation.
    1702 Clarendon's Hist. Rebellion I. i. 70 He had some doctrinal Opinions, which they liked not.
    1732 D. Neal Hist. Puritans I. 579 The Calvinists were‥branded with the character of Doctrinal Puritans.
    1753 Jennings & Doddridge in Watts' Improvem. Mind ii. Pref., A doctrinal controversy.
    1856 J. A. Froude Hist. Eng. I. 115 If he believed that in their doctrinal conservatism they knew and meant what they were saying.
    †b. Derived from instruction. Obs. rare.

    1628 T. Hobbes tr. Thucydides Peloponnesian War ii. xxxix, When‥upon natural rather than doctrinal valour [μὴ μετὰ νόμων τὸ πλεῖον ἢ τρόπων ἀνδρίας] we come to undertake any danger.

    2. Serving to teach or instruct; instructive, didactic. Obs.

    1597 R. Hooker Of Lawes Eccl. Politie v. xxi. 38 The word of God‥serueth then only in the nature of a doctrinall instrument.
    a1633 G. Herbert Priest to Temple (1652) xxviii. 118 In a doctrinal way, saying to the contemner, Alas, why do you thus?
    1641 Milton Reason Church-govt. 38 Whether those Dramatick constitutions, wherein Sophocles and Euripides raigne shall be found more doctrinal and exemplary.

    B. n.
    a. The title of a text-book on grammar by Alex. de Villedieu; by extension, a book of instruction in any subject; a text-book. Obs.

    c1450 Cov. Myst. 189 In alle this scyens is non us lyke, In Caton, Gryscysme, nor Doctrynal [rhyme over alle].
    1481–3 Caxton Bk. for Travellers in Promp. Parv. 63 George the booke sellar hath doctrinals, catons, etc. oures of our Lady, Donettis, partis, accidents.
    1509 A. Barclay tr. S. Brant Shyp of Folys (Pynson) f. lxi, If he haue onys red the olde doctrinall [rhyme all].
    1531 T. Elyot Bk. named Gouernour i. xiii. sig. Gij, Comedies‥they suppose to be a doctrinall of rybaudrie.
    ?1533 T. Elyot (title) The doctrinall of princis.
    1653 T. Urquhart tr. Rabelais Wks. i. xiv, An old coughing fellow‥who read unto him Hugotio, Hebard, Grecisme, the doctrinal.

    b. transf. An instructor. Obs. rare.

    1503 S. Hawes Example of Vertu (Arb.) xiii. 55 Also saynt Ierome the noble cardynall‥Whiche euermore was a good doctrynall.

    2. pl. Matters or points of doctrine or instruction.

    1619 S. Ward in Ussher's Lett. (1686) 68 Our consent was only asked for Doctrinals, not for matters touching Discipline.
    1681 R. Baxter Apol. Nonconformists Ministry 48 We differ in Doctrinals as well as in Ceremony.
    1718 R. Wodrow Corr. (1843) II. 398 The‥controversy about doctrinals is again revived.
    1876 J. J. G. Wilkinson On Human Sci. lxv. 212 Doctrinals are the indispensable readers of all reality.

  19. “Of or pertaining to doctrine; containing or inculcating a doctrine or doctrines”

    Right, but that doesn’t really advance things for us much, does it? Which is it here?

  20. Mephibosheth says:


    Who pissed in your cornflakes this morning?

  21. I first thought of President Hinckley’s statement on 60 Minutes, in which he said “polygamy is not doctrinal.” I don’t think that has anything to do with history or D&C 132; Rather, it seems to suggest that I “doctrinal” has become synonymous with “authorized and approved.”

  22. Mephiboseth,

    Huh? I just didn’t get the joke and was hoping for some help.

  23. Christopher, Mephiboseth asked you a question — WHO PISSED IN YOUR CORNFLAKES?

    or are you AFRAID to answer??

  24. This reminds me of a post Clean Cut put up a while back about how Mormonism has two very definitions of the word doctrine. One means “Eternal Truth” the other means “official Teachings or policies of the church”. It seems patently obvious that the Handbook is the”official teachings and policies of the church.”, So I guess my reaction to Oak’s Statement is a shrug of the shoulders. I think we imbue it with more significance when we conflate “Eternal Truth” with “teaching of the church”

    We could add a third definition of doctrine, that Oaks also may mean, which would be that for something to be doctrinal, it needed to be supported by the official scriptures, which would also be fine.

  25. Matt, I don’t think the persons articulating the policies/teachings view them as anything less than eternal truths.

  26. doctrine : doctrinal
    policy : ??

  27. Chris, re-read #10. That’s where the joke is. Having someone explain it makes you look like an idiot. Or that someone pissed in your cornflakes.

  28. trying to figure out what he meant by it seems more important than splitting hairs over definitions, but I guess that may be too much to hope for given that this is the internet and all.

  29. I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what: WVS’s #18, along with his alleged inspiration, is a joke.

  30. JTB–are you trying for a Mephisobeth-style joke? I was under the impression the “splitting hairs” was the attempt to figure out what he meant…

    But I can be dense sometimes, so if I missed it, carry on.

  31. Steve Evans: I don’t think you are giving the persons articulating the policies/teachings enough credit then.

    For anyone who doesn’t want to hit the link, it says :

    “…Because different times present different challenges, modern-day prophets receive revelation relevant to the circumstances of their day…”

    ie- Not eternal truth.

  32. All revelation is Eternal Truth, because it comes from he whose name is Eternal. See e.g. “eternal punishment.”

  33. sorry I wasn’t very clear and I probably spoke to harshly but when It seems that dictionary definitions are sometimes not as helpful as just trying to discern what his intent behind the statement is. I could of course be wrong.

    Also I wonder if we read far to much into things sometimes given all the time people have to analyze things word by word. I’m just glad I’m not an apostle as every single thing they say is analyzed and deconstructed to an amazing degree. But I guess that’s part of the game when you’re trying to drum up a firestorm of sorts.

  34. typos about reader beware.

  35. “abound” another typo, sorry

  36. Not being the big Mormon Studies buff who could cite prior references and statements to this effect, for me, Prince’s McKay biography is what makes this something of a sticking point. The quotes, documents, and discussion of the Priesthood ban’s removal in that text create this very clear, important distinction between “doctrine” and “policy” and sets “doctrine” up as something that cannot be changed, while emphasizing the realization that the PB could be changed precisely because it’s only a policy.

    Hence, when we start calling a manual which has changed–and indeed, the entire purpose of the meetings has been to illustrate/emphasize the changes–a “doctrinal” manual, it creates a bit of a stupor.

  37. JTB, they can’t ask us to read these manuals exhaustively, pray over them, ponder them, etc. but not analyze things word by word….

  38. “trying to figure out what he meant by it seems more important than splitting hairs over definitions”

    Uhm, isn’t that why we look at definitions, to try and figure out what he means?

    It wasn’t so much the harshness as the oddly conflicting sentence that said, in essence, “We should define what he said, but we should define the words he used.”

    As to what Elder Oaks means, I would assume that he thinks that the policies in the CHI are based on doctrine. I would not be surprised if he felt that these were along the lines of Eternal doctrines that have been adapted to modern circumstances.

  39. JTB,

    Also I wonder if we read far to much into things sometimes given all the time people have to analyze things word by word.

    Of course we do. That is the defining characteristic of the entire Mormon blogging world: parsing statements and latching on to the snippets that we love/don’t love so we have something to bicker about.

  40. The manuals yes, but those things were combed over exhaustively in the writing. When an apostle gives a talk about the manuals, or any talk really then I think we should cut a little slack in the word by word analysis.

    It’s because of things like this that the Apostles really can’t speak freely. I went to a training recently with Elder Nelson and he said that he will be speaking more freely than in conference as their words in conference are (can’t remember the exact words) are sterilized because people judge them for every single word they say.

  41. There’s no need for anyone to apologize about using dictionary definitions to try to add clarity. I found both references illuminating. And aren’t dictionary definitions a requried element of sacrament meeting talks? They usually come right after the other required element–when the person talks about how they got the invitation to speak from the member of the bishopric, and then makes an attempt at humor. As I see it, the handbook is clearly doctrinal, in that it is based on the efforts of our general leaders to apply doctine into practice. And yes, the handbook will change over time because times change and interpretations of how doctrine should be applied to life will change. And by the way, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat cornflakes again.

  42. Scott,

    I have come to realize this which is why I mentioned in my original post that it would be a little too much to hope for being the internet and all.

  43. my post in 40 was a response to Steve by the way.

  44. re: #40 JTB: Yes, it’s sad that our general church leader’s have to make conference talk or press release something of a sterilized communication because of concern about every word being parsed, judged, etc. (I’ll bet Elder Packer is still taking flak for his last conference talk). Being in a less formal meeting with an apostle who feels empowered to speak freely and not from a script is very rare, but what a joy when it happens.

  45. Actually, I’d go so far as to say the church teaches plenty of doctrine that I wouldn’t consider “eternal truths”. That’s part of what makes studying church history interesting — you try to sort out eternal truths from the constantly changing doctrine.

    That said, I’ve never checked the new handbook to see if vasectomies are still no-nos… Gotta’ be some eternal insight there.

  46. 37 – But they (meaning the local leadership of the Church)do tell those who need to use the CHI that we should review it often and be familiar with what our responsiblities are. So in that sense we are supposed to read, pray, ponder, etc.

  47. Disregard my last comment. I misread the original comment. Sorry.

  48. When I watched it the first time, I could have sworn that Elder Oaks said, “It is doctrine,” not “It is doctrinal.” I went back relistened to it several times (here @ 4:20). Perhaps he is swallowing the “al” just a bit.

  49. Stapley #48: Exactly my experience.

  50. I can’t decide whether these sorts of discussions are fun or tiresome.

    It’s often not self-evident whether a Mormon using the word “doctrine” is suggesting that the teaching referred to by that word is supposed to be official and immutable, or just official. Until the Brethren decide to define the word formally and to stick to their definition, we’re destined to debate this sort of thing indefinitely.

    Word games are fun.

  51. Doctrinish.

  52. Doctrininess.

  53. Jakob J:


    your welcome.

  54. No, no.



  55. Friday Firestorm . . . . I would have opted that we just all sit down to share some lime Jell-O . . . . hasn’t this whole week been a firestorm?

  56. Don’t know what it’s got to do with “doctrinality,” exactly, but I was intrigued by the “Women in Council” bit.

  57. No. 6 “Can women see the handbook?”

    OF COURSE! How else do we do our callings in the manner according to doctrine? We use the handbook in the same manner as the men. Sheesh.

    The question is absurd as it implies that women in the church blindly follow and NOT LEAD. It’s insulting. And it actually shows that commenter supports the worldly view that women are blind followers. If the commenter was a supportive LDS male, he would know how the women in the church were treated and how they lead.

    Perhaps it’s time to get yourself to an LDS church and experience reality instead of buying into all the anti-mormon, anti-women talk.

  58. Steve Evans says:

    Leslie, welcome to a Mormon blog, where pretty much every commenter is mormon and where people are commenting based on their experiences.

    PS — I’m a supportive LDS male, and I know how the women in the church are treated and how they lead. And it stinks.

  59. ha!

  60. I wonder if Leslie knows what handbook is being discussed.

    I also wonder if Leslie realizes that commenter #6 is a woman.

  61. Hey, last year at BYU Women’s Conference I heard “For the Strength of Youth” referred to as scripture. Rather off-putting, I must say. Dang those classes that sound good on paper and then end up being full of crazy talk.

  62. He also directly calls it doctrine.

  63. We thank thee Oh God for the handbook
    to guide us in these latter days

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