Folk belief

In a recent post I tried to clarify a comment I had made in which I described a particular idea a “wildly popular folk belief” in Mormonism. I think that I need to flesh that clarification out a bit.

First, in the nineteenth century there were no church handbooks, or rule books. There were a few popular works like Jacque’s Catechism that were popular instructional tools and the now frequently maligned Journal of Discourses that was essentially an official publication of the Church. Mostly, however, Mormon beliefs were disseminated in Mormon communities through folk channels of instruction, namely oral instruction and proximate example. In the twentieth century there was a concerted effort to modernize and formalize church bureaucracy, liturgy, and theology. This formalization was tremendously successful and it is easy to point to things like the General Handbook of Instructions as an exemplar of all three.

What I am asking, and it is difficult, is that you, for the purpose of this conversation, forget the word “doctrine.” It’s usage within Mormonism renders it pretty much useless for any meaningful analysis. Instead I want to talk about beliefs and teachings. In formal settings and authorized publications, church leaders teach beliefs that are to be considered normative in the Church at the time they are given. First, and this is another difficult idea for some, it is necessary to understand that some of what church leaders have taught has changed over time. Second, sometimes different Church leaders have taught different and conflicting ideas. That poses an interesting conundrum for the extension of this discussion into the past, but for now, let’s focus on the present.

As examples, let’s look at a few beliefs related to the last post.

Jesus was conceived by sexual union between God and Mary. Yep, I just went there. It is not too difficult to find 19th and even some 20th century examples of Church leaders teaching this idea. It has certainly not been taught through formal channels for many, many decades and the church has made statements against the idea. Still, I’m willing to bet that there are a few people in the church who believe this. This is an example of a “folk belief.” It is not transmitted by current church teachings, but some people believe it. Another example that fits this pattern almost exactly: Jesus was married. Once a common teaching, now folk belief.

Now let’s look at a more complicated example.

A conscious intelligence receives a spirit body through some sort of spirit birth, after which the spirit eventually gets a physical body. This idea which I have called the Tripartite Model was invented near the turn of the 20th century and championed by BH Roberts and a few other church leaders. The First Presidency hated it. So did Elder McConkie. And despite formal attempts to limit its traction, over the hundred or so years after its arrival, it is perhaps the most popular premortal belief system in the church today. Clearly some Church leaders believe it and may on occasion teach it. Due to the flexibility of language, it is not always clear what church leaders mean, so while it is another wildly popular folk belief, it is not formally taught by the church. Once a folk belief (though championed by General Authorities), still a folk belief.

Now for the whammy.

Black people were cursed in the premortal life because they were [insert reason here]. When Brigham Young introduced the temple and priesthood ban, he outlined a very particular reason that was rooted in cosmological language that fell into disuse by the end of the 19th century. Even though his narrative remained the formal teaching of the church for several decades into the 20th century, it was widely incomprehensible. Consequently, other reasons arose among church members—folk beliefs—to account for the priesthood and temple exclusion. These reasons were poo pooed by church leaders, but they became so powerful that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve adopted them in their formal teachings by the mid-part of the century. After the 1978 revelation announcement, these teaching fell out of use with nothing to replace them. However, these teachings still circulate and are common enough that the most popular religion professor at BYU proclaimed aspects of them to a national audience this year (then early retirement baby). It is an example of a folk belief, though I don’t know how popular it is. Once a folk belief, then a formal teaching, now a folk belief.


  1. Magazines like Millennial Star were extremely influential (and of varying quality) here, as were newspapers, though the latter tended to have limited circulation. But community papers often passed on information from places like the Deseret News. The church mags of the later 19th century/early 20th century were vital upwellings of tradition and occasional speculation. Very interesting stuff. Thanks.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Agreed about the periodicals, WVS. I love me some Huntington. It is actually a very complex thing, which you get at, and I have only outlined the most scant dynamics at play.

  3. Nice post. I think these folk beliefs are a result of a “vacuum” of doctrine – for lack of a better term. The sad part is that we have a mechanism to minimize these types of beliefs. We believe in an open canon. We believe that God can continue to reveal scripture through His prophets. But we don’t use it. It has been a long, long time since we’ve had much added to our canon besides a couple of declarations. As a result, we tend to treat things church leaders say in a variety of settings as “official” – hence the development of “folk doctrine”.

  4. I hesitate to say it, but I will. In the more recent past, CES probably played a major role in continuing some of these folk doctrines. I heard all of the above in my released time seminary in the late sixties. I had issues with my kids released time seminary teachers over a few of these and others, like NDBF Gary’s close kinsman, No Rain Before the Ark. My take now is that the volunteer early morning seminary teachers my kids had after moving to Washington were less likely to push these folk doctrines. I can’t speak for institute classes, as I think I only registered for two classes, and and only attended one. In the absence of a magisterial doctrine scheme, CES instructors became de facto “paid professional clergy,” as it were, and their pronouncements took on a greater weight.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Mike S, I think it was JS himself who moved away from canonized text to council decision and discussion. As much as I appreciate the early revelations, I think a critical comparative approach suggests that council approach was much more successful (though I guess that depends on how you measure success).

    kevinf – Totes.

  6. Good continuation to the previous post!

    I think I am perpetually stuck in the same issue though. In my view, it would be such a tremendously positive thing if the leadership would simply face these beliefs and shed light, clarify or dismiss as needed. They could even offer open ended answers like “we don’t know for sure but it is our opinion that…” You know, something normal and approachable. At the end of the day, what is the big deal about addressing things?

    There are still terms that can be debatable in the post: “formal channels,” “formal teachings,” “not formally taught by the church.” These terms are part of the problematic.

    See, we hear directly from our leaders for a few hours for a couple of days a couple of times a year (most of the material will be inspiring stories on well founded ultra basic beliefs and little to no clarification of any other type of belief). We hear from manuals in Sunday school and priesthood/relief society meetings, two hours a week, some of the material is a regurgitation of what we hear in general conference, and still, very limited amounts for clarification of beliefs beyond the ultra basic beliefs.

    Then, we have CES. Members with access to it get to hear from teachers about a much wider variety of beliefs in a lecture-question and answer setting, five hours a week. The amount of time spent and the efficacy of the teaching setting easily trumps anything else we receive “officially.” Yet, we are calling CES a pandora’s box of folk beliefs and the machine that perpetuates the most folk belief in the Church (and I fully agree).

    Oh, what about that word “formal”? CES is an officially sanctioned organization of the church for the teaching of our system of beliefs during the most formative years of the education of a person. And it is an organization where certainly the Church puts a lot of resources into. But, then, their teachings are not to be considered formal church teachings? Huh? Something is a bit out of control here.

    Vacuum, that is another term I find interesting. The program is getting quite a bit of vacuums within our belief system. “We haven’t mentioned that in quite a while therefore it is no longer official.” That’s the system. That’s how so many vacuums are created. The human mind does not work well with choppy information and vacuums here and there. Especially vacuums where once substance existed. Minds are not computers, and there is no delete button to allow for vacuums to exist in a mind that is trying to understand a system of beliefs. And the leadership offers no clarification, no dismissal, nothing. Just silence. To humans that long to understand their system of beliefs, their status with God, and that naturally try to create a coherent picture with whatever information they have been provided (no, no room room for vacuums). My prayer is that this nonsense will someday change. It doesn’t take human sacrifice, and it doesn’t take a genius. It takes leadership willing to address these things. That’s it.

  7. wondering says:

    This is a useful distinction, but it’s also important to note that the lines are pretty fuzzy.

    How many times does something have to be taught, and in what ways and by who, before it becomes a “formal teaching?” And how long does it have to languish before it reverts into a “folk teaching?” How do we rank the various ways that teachings are propagated (manuals, magazines, conference, newsroom, unpublished communications, etc.) What if it’s in the scriptures, but the leaders never talk about it? And so on.

  8. What you generally describe, and the primarily oral and selective nature (e.g. leader A teaches doctrine 1, 2, and 3 to audience B, but leader C teaches doctrines 2,3,and 4 to a different audience) is generally what we find in early Christianity, and why different groups become so doctrinally divergent so quickly. In this model, the Church was never established and THEN came an apostasy; rather, there was never any doctrinally-coherent large-spread geographic Church. It couldn’t be maintained.

  9. Thought-provoking post, J. Thanks.

    Count me in the camp that doesn’t want official pronouncements on everything and likes the fact that folk doctrine can continue to exist until the membership refuses collectively to accept it – with the exception of certain folk doctrine I consider to be particularly heinous, like the justifications for the Priesthood ban that some members still believe. I know that can be seen as fence-straddling, and I know it is highly subjective, but I just don’t like to be commanded in all things and like the ability to worship God according to the dictates of my own conscience. I prefer lack of dogmatic proclamation over creedal insistence in most cases, and I like having to function as an agent unto myself (being held responsible to God).

    I understand why that can’t be the majority view and have the Church maintain enough stability to attract and retain most of its membership, but it’s one of the central paradoxes of life in Mormondom – the mix of a liberal theology with a conservative hierarchical structure and the blending of explorers in the same community inhabited by settlers. (and I don’t mean either of those terms to be disparaging in any way whatsoever)

  10. Oh, and as I emphasized in my Sunday School lesson on Sunday, 3 Nephi 8-11 makes it explicit that pretty much everything outside of the core Gospel (Jesus was the personification of God’s will; faith, baptism, repentance, receipt of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end) is folk doctrine in the end. I love me some folk doctrine, but, outside that core, it’s all subject to change – and has changed in some way over time.

  11. thanks J. for such a wonderful follow-up post. After reading through all the comments, am like: must [our revealed] religion always have all the answers? huh?!
    I think I’ll go with Ray here, that aside from what 3Nephi describes as “doctrine of Christ”, all other teachings can change.

  12. Thanks to #4 and Google I just now learned that No Rain Before the Flood is a thing, and I might lose hours in this ridiculous doctrinal rabbit hole. Wow.

    Anyway, as far as the O.P. — where can one learn more about debates or disagreement surrounding the Tripartate Model of spiritual birth? I’ve heard the idea and one or two competing ones but have never studied the issue historically so that sounds interesting.

  13. What I’m having a really hard time with are the doctrinal vacuums co-existing with very exacting rules. No one can tell me if we believe in eternal progression, or whether eternal marriage is plural marriage, but everyone seems to know exactly how many earrings I should wear and exactly how I should wear my underclothes.

  14. Great post. I’d also add that Mormonism (perhaps other religions too) has a great capacity to invent new folk beliefs. Skousen’s theory of the atonement springs to my mind as a belief I’ve heard several very different members swear by. Also, if I am correct, he originated the idea that the earth literally fell from the presence of kolob when Adam fell, no?

    I think there are some doctrinal hot spots that attract speculation like a magnet. Women’s purpose vis a vis the priesthood is a well known one, but what about all of the beliefs on the fate of the lost 10 tribes? Go over to FMH and ask them about what church leaders have said about modesty and sexuality, but then also pay attention to what people’s local leaders have said.

    If CES has any part in nourishing folk beliefs, I’m pretty sure EFY birthes them. And so do missionaries. While not strictly a folk belief in the same vein as these other examples, I have yet to find a recent RM who couldn’t tell an almost identical story about back in the day, before his time, when his mission was filled with apostate missionaries who practiced secret combinations, blah blah blah.

  15. WI_Member says:

    This makes me think of a concept economist Dan Ariely discusses in one of his books – arbitrary coherence.

    I’m borrowing someone else’s summary of the concept here, but I think it sums it up very well. “Just like when a gosling hatches and unquestioningly assumes the first moving thing it sees is Mom (called imprinting), so do we uncritically accept the price of a new product we’ve never seen before. After which, they assume an “arbitrary coherence,” meaning however arbitrary the initial price was, once established and “imprinted,” it will shape the present and future price (thus its coherence).”

    Even after the folk doctrine is disavowed many will still cling to it, which really raises the stakes of teaching simple and correct foundations, which is really the crux of the matter.

  16. Last Lemming says:

    I question the validity of “arbitrary coherence” over the long term. I remember a time (1972) when hamburgers cost $0.25 and calculators cost $400. I have long since given up any expectation of seeing those prices again.

    Also, I’m pleased to report that at no time prior to 1978 was the Germany Duesseldorf mission filled with apostate missionaries who practiced secret combinations. (It was, however, filled with missionaries who got sick because they spent too much time reading the Bible instead of the Book of Mormon.)

  17. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for all the interesting comments. I want to reiterate that my post only outlines a very simple (almost caricature) model of the dynamics at play. As several have pointed out it there are very many complicating factors. Still, I stand by the overall ideas. Perhaps, I’ll flesh them out in a paper or something.

    Casey, on the Tripartite Model, the best treatment is still forthcoming. WV Smith has an awesome writeup in association with his volume on JS’s funeral sermons. However, here is a starting place.

    Ruth, I think what you are describing is the difference between orthopraxy and orthodoxy. Personally, I would rather have a few rules, even if some of them are odd, then rigid creedal tests of faith.

    DavidF, Skousen’s atonement theory was based on Orson Pratt’s intelligent atomism and the falling of the Earth through space is classic BY. He was sort of a refiner and popularizer of folk belief. And regarding the missions, there has been a lot of great work on folklore in Mormonism, and you are correct that missions often have wonderfully rich folklore cultures.

  18. Ray #10, I frequently end up teaching Senior Primary. The concept of “core doctrine” is something I stress repeatedly, often in response to some item of folk-ish doctrine they’ve learned elsewhere. I usually draw a big bulls eye on the board and put Jesus in the center, then point out that the less an idea has to do with Jesus and his direct teachings, the less important it is that we all agree on it. I’ll sometimes subject it to a “scripture test” – can we find support for the idea in the scriptures?

    And Ruth, I recently stopped following the single-earring edict. When GBH said it, I removed my 4 extra earrings and was obedient until earlier this year. In all those years of obedience, I never came to any understanding of the underlying principle. I gave it a good run, but I think it’s an empty rule, obedience for the sake of obedience and nothing more.

  19. Sharee Hughes says:

    No rain before Noah? That’s a new one on me. Was that something the church taught? I know a lot of Mormons believe there was no death before the fall, but hopefully everyone is moving beyond that. Some things can be accepted on faith, others require common sense.

  20. I’d heard the “no rainbows before Noah” but not the no rain bit.

  21. J. I’m still not seeing the delineation of a “current church teaching” or “common teaching” and “folk belief”.

    For example, is Robert’s Tripartate existence “intelligences tabernacled with spirits would receive a body” in the April 2010 General Conference by Elder Scott(1) now a “current church teaching” but will revert back to “folk belief” once he dies?

    As talked about in the previous post, is the belief expressed in the Gospel Principles Manual, that “Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents” (2) a current teaching until the manual goes out of print and it becomes then a folk doctrine?

    Also, as the Gospel Principles manual was just changed to no longer say that the “spirit children [of the exalted] will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father.”(3). Does this mean this view of exaltation is now folk belief, and the current teaching is more like Ostler’s view of the KFD?


    Btw, just now getting to your/Wright’s recent JMH article and enjoying it.

  22. The “whammy” is the only time I’m aware of something being singled out specifically as a folk belief (by Holland on PBS).

  23. J. Stapley says:

    jpv, thanks for your thoughtful questions. And I agree that it is very complicated, much more so than my post suggests (even with my caveats). It is most clear with time and and most fuzzy up close. Regarding the Tripartite Model, it is particularly difficult because so many people have taken so many positions using very nearly the same language. That one Q12 member taught it in GC is suggestive that it may be a formal teaching, especially if there are no conflicting teachings, but on contested ground, a much clearer distinction is needed, I believe.

    Regarding your second example, I am not certain what the Gospel Principle manual means by that statement. Many readings are possible, from viviparous birth to adoption. I think that birth of some sort, however, is definitely a form teaching of the church.

    And regarding your last point, yes. The beliefs caricatured in the 70s and 80s that exalted humans get their own planet is fundamentally folk belief. That is not taught by the church, and if you look at recent statements by the church, they have taught otherwise.

  24. I appreciate your explanation of folk beliefs. Would Heavenly Mother fall into this category? I know that she was taught about more explicitly at one time but now if you search the exact phrase “Heavenly Mother” on not much comes up, and nothing more recent than the late 80’s.

  25. J. Stapley says:

    Emily that is a good question. I think certain ideas about mother in heaven certainly are. However, if you look at “Heavenly Parents” then I believe her existence is currently and solidly a formal teaching of the church.

  26. Thanks for the reply. I guess even the Proclamation talks about “Heavenly Parents,” it’s just always a wonder to me that no one in my ward ever mentions Her like we do Heavenly Father… sometimes it makes me question if she really exists in current mormon teachings, but you are right that she can be found… as long as She is beside HF then she is acknowledged, just never (or not often) talked about as an individual. Maybe the idea that she is too sacred to talk about is the folk belief in this case.

  27. The Proclamation on the Family is folk belief.

    Essentially EVERYTHING is folk belief. We do not have a magisterium of scholars who argue and rationalize and decide what doctrine is, and thank goodness for that! EVERYONE in the Church is invited to teach others. The D&C says that every man can speak in the name of God. We teach each other, and bear witness to each other, an the Holy Ghost teaches us and bears witness. The members on the Church’s curriculum committee are friends and neighbors who are trying to be helpful. Those who speak to us in General Conference are friends and neighbors who are trying to be helpful.

    A General Authority teaches a stake president, and the stake president teaches the high council members, and the high councilor teaches the elders quorum president, and the elders quorum president teaches an elder, and the home teacher teaches his assigned family — the Gospel of Jesus Christ is in the scriptures and in the teachings of fellow members.

    And the Gospel is really as Ray described above in 9 and 10 — anything beyond that is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ and may or may not be true, even if taught from time to time in certain places in the Church. We don’t have a creed — I hope it stays that way. And I hope that all those who purport to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ will keep it simple, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really very simple.

  28. Ji,

    I like the idea of reducing all true doctrine to the fab five principles (faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, and enduring to the end), but it just doesn’t work that way unless by endure to the end we mean obey all of the other principles of the Gospel. Is the law of Chastity folk belief (or based on it)? What about the instruction we get in the temple? Jesus’s first and second commandments, to love God and love our neighbors doesn’t fit anywhere in the schemata above, so are all the things we believe about charity folk beliefs? In reality, the faith, repentance, baptism, etc. principles are only one of thirteen articles of faith Joseph Smith laid out. It’s hard for me to think that these things are the only pure truths in Mormonism.

  29. J. Stapley says:

    ji, that is not, I believe, an accurate characterization. The Proclamation on the Family is most certainly a formal teaching of the Church. Now, I do agree that folk channels of instruction still exist. For example, women praying in sacrament meeting. Not long after women were officially barred from praying in sacrament meeting in the late sixties, President Kimball repealed the prohibition. However, certain general authorities continued to teach local leaders into the late 1990s and perhaps into the early twenty-first century that women were not to either open or close Sacrament Meeting. Then the 2010 Handbook officially and formally stated that women could indeed pray.

  30. DavidF (no. 28), The law of chastity is an eternal principal — the way it often manifests itself in our teachings are folk beliefs, and they vary from place to place and from time to time. And I’m fine with that — the Lord expects us to do the best we can and to teach and help others in our own neighborhoods and within our own cultures. One wife or three? Depends on time and place. Holding hands? Time and place. Being alone without a chaperone? Time and place. Showing a little skin above the ankles or on the shoulders? Time and place. A little tongue in the kiss? Time and place. Stoning an offender? Time and place. No absolute right or wrong, it all depends, doesn’t it? But here is what is really important: Everything boils down to loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and our neighbor, too, and getting the saving ordinances for ourselves and helping others to get them. A person who does this will find a place in the celestial kingdom of our God even if he doesn’t believe all the folk beliefs common among those who are culturally from the center place. Those folk beliefs may be true, but many are merely cultural.

    J. Stapley (no. 29) Women praying or not praying in public meetings is a practice, a folk practice. Believing that it must be one way or the other is a folk belief. If the Church moved into a culture when women praying in public meetings would be offensive, it would be easy for church leaders not to ask women to pray in those places as an accommodating practice.

  31. But ji, in #27 you reduced all true beliefs to the Gospel, narrowly defined as faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. So I pointed out some counter examples (i.e. chastity and love) which you agreed are also true beliefs, even though I think we both can agree that they are not derived from the 5 principles of the Gospel. These two posts aren’t consistent. I point this out because I think it is often really hard to nail down the difference between doctrine and folk belief. I appreciate this blog post by J. Stapely because I do think that tracing the origin of a belief can really help us judge its validity. I think the examples he used are all very good ones. I also think the things you say about applying the law of chastity is also very good. However, I hesitate to draw the line in the sand so quickly on this topic.

  32. DavidF, I would say there are a very few core principles that underlie policies, practices, doctrines (what is taught at any given moment as normative) and beliefs – and that all of those policies, practices, doctrines and beliefs, if “true”, can be placed under those core principles. Likewise, using those core principles as an analytical lens is a good way to measure the immutability, if you will, of the policy, practice, doctrine or belief. I see those principles as faith (in the Lord Jesus), repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end and, at the most basic level, love of God and humanity (on which hang all the law and the prophets).

    What moves something from “Gospel principle” to “belief” (and, particularly, “folk belief”) is its cultural and time elasticity – and I believe “folk belief” is a good description of current as well as past policies, practices and doctrines. In that sense, the Law of Chastity as a principle might not change over time – but the specifics of how it is interpreted and implemented absolutely have changed over time. It’s clarifying what is the underlying, eternal principle and what is cultural interpretation and implementation (“folk belief”) that often gets tricky, since many people latch onto a particular interpretation and/or implementation and then end up rejecting the defining institution when that folk belief changes. The Law of Chastity is perhaps the best example of that tension.

    In saying that, I’m NOT arguing that policies, practices, doctrines and beliefs that don’t seem to align perfectly with those core principles be ignored or rejected – or even criticized, necessarily. I’m not saying folk belief is bad, in and of itself. I’m just saying that folk beliefs need to be understood for what they are – culture- and time-based attempts to actualize intangible principles in a way that is appropriate for that culture and time.

    As an example, when the President of the Church said explicitly that it was his opinion that men should not wear earrings and women should wear only one pair, my wife and others decided to wear only one pair – but my wife did it knowing it was not a commandment based on eternal prinicple but rather an opinion expressed by the leader of her church at the time. She was following a prophet, but she wasn’t obeying God – and that is an important point. In that light, if she decided today to wear two pair (or if my sons decided to wear earrings), they would not be acting in opposition to eternal principle; rather, they would be choosing to act differently than the accepted cultural norm of their time. They don’t do so, and I don’t advocate doing so, but that is based more on the concept of not eating meat in the company of those who abstain from meat than on the belief that they would be sinning or transgressing if they did so.

    I think the distinction is important, since I know too many members who judge and even condemn others for, in essence, interpreting and implementing current “folk belief” differently – even though, when you get right down to it, they are living the core Gospel principles every bit as faithfully as those who are judging and condemning them.

  33. Sharee Hughes says:

    “The beliefs caricatured in the 70s and 80s that exalted humans get their own planet is fundamentally folk belief. That is not taught by the church, and if you look at recent statements by the church, they have taught otherwise.”

    Are you saying here that “As man is, God once was; as God is man may become” is just a folk belief? The idea that men may be exalted and become Gods is what sets our religion apart from others. Take that away and we might as well be Baptists or Catholics, Methodists or Presbyterians. And while I don’t believe that Heavenly Father will say something like, “Well, Bro, and Sis. So and So, you are now exalted and you may have this planet over here,” I do believe that Gods will do what Gods do. Our God took billions of years to create this universe, and likely billions more to create all of the worlds without end he has created. When men are exalted and become Gods, I believe they will begin that process of creation and, over billions of years, will create their own worlds as well. The exalted are promised eternal increase (or is that just a folk belief, too?). What happens to all those spirit babies if their Heavenly Parents do not create worlds for them? Of course, if you debunk the Tripartate model as merely folk belief, maybe we don’t create spirit children, so we don’t have eternal increase.

    I also believe very strongly that Jesus was married. I have believed that since before Dan Brown was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye, and you would have a hard time convincing me otherwise.

    I do believe that the reasons given for blacks not being given he priesthood are folk beliefs. If you are familiar with Darius Gray’s NACBAC (Not a curse, but a calling) revelation, which I have read and discussed with him, we were all called before birth to our circumstances in life. Makes sense to me.

    Well, one day we will find out what is really true and what someone just made up.

  34. Nick Literski says:

    I’m sorry, but in my 26 years as a Mormon, and my six years post-Mormonism, it’s apparent to me that “folk doctrine” is code for “longstanding, established teaching, which has become inconvenient for public relations purposes.” Many of the things that made Mormonism beautiful to me, are now being relegated to “folk doctrine” by youthful upstarts who confidently insist “our church never taught that—it was just speculation by a few outliers!”

  35. J. Stapley says:

    Sharee, that fact that you believe it, and yet the church has made contrary statements is a perfect illustration of the prevalence of folk beliefs.

    Nick, did you happen to see my comments about “doctrine” in the original post?

  36. Ray, I think that is too simplistic. Is the belief in continuing revelation a true belief? Sure. But on which one of the core principles you named does it rest upon? How does it tie to any of them? What about the gathering of the lost tribes? The premortal existence? What do you mean when you say that beliefs, presumably such as these, can be placed under the core principles you mentioned? And how do we use those core principles as a lens to determine whether these principles are true, or merely folk beliefs? I recognize that you say that not all beliefs need to align perfectly with those core principles, but I’m not sure how any of the beliefs I mention align at all with the core principles you named.

    I believe that faith, repentance, love of God, etc. are core principles. But I’m not sure that they are the principles of all other principles. That seems to elevate them to a level they don’t fit on. It’s a very Preach My Gospel approach to Mormonism, but I don’t see how it works. So I don’t know if it is a very good way of looking at things such that you can parse true belief from folk belief.

  37. Sharee Hughes says:

    If exaltation is not our goal, then what is the point?

  38. I love Nick’s response. Sometimes someone just has to say it the way it is!

    As a convert, I do feel cheated that I was fooled into converting since the teachings I cherished and which made me feel in my heart I needed to join the Church are not well… folk beliefs. LOL. What a waste of time and money my religious journey has been for the last two decades. At the end of the day, the actual core beliefs are those I already had with my family along with our own folk beliefs (and without the racist shit). I didn’t need to join the church and cause so much heartache and anguish to my loved ones.

    But I am not surprised the position of some. I mean, it is the perfect scheme to manipulate anyone into believing anything and then turning around and saying… “oh, did you actually believed that? Because a man claiming to be a prophet stated it? Because you were taught to be obedient to them or else? Because we told you they speak on behalf of God? Well silly you, it was nothing but folk beliefs!” What a joke.

  39. #37 – Sharee, nobody here has said exaltation isn’t our goal. In this case, based on J’s definition, it’s just the specifics (each married couple gets their own planet) that constitutes folk belief and that isn’t taught as doctrine.

    DavidF and Manuel, “This is my Gospel,” and “On these hang all the law and the prophets.” When it comes down to it, based on our vicarious temple ordinances, what else is necessary for exaltation as a “universal” principle? The details for you and me might be different than the details for the person who never heard the Gospel or even the name of Jesus, since we are held to the standard of living according to the dictates of our own conscience and judged by how we try to live what we understand individually, but, as universal standards applicable to all, what else is necessary? What else hasn’t changed in any way since the beginning of time?

    Those are serious, sincere questions.

  40. There are two basic truths — one is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Eternal God — the second is that this same God used Joseph Smith to restore His priesthood and saving ordinances to mankind in this dispensation of the fullness of times. One of the brethren (was it J. Reuben Clark?) taught such a while back.

    A person gains his or her exaltation by loving God, loving neighbors, and attending to ordinances, all as best as he or she can based on his or her circumstances. Faith, hope, and charity are what really matter. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ makes it possible on our part; His own atonement makes it possible for all who truly seek it.

    The esoterics and gnosis of Mormonism are wonderful for study and discussion, but they aren’t essential for salvation (and some of them might not even be true). Mormonism is wonderful! But for me, Mormonism is the priesthood of Jesus Christ restored in these latter days — it isn’t the dynamics of Mary’s conception or domestic arrangements in the afterlife. As heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant, we are playing our part as leaven in a lump to save the entirety of mankind.

    Let’s convert the world through our faith, hope, and charity! We will never convert the world by teaching esoterics and gnosis. A man or woman will come closer to knowing God through faith, hope, and charity in daily life than through study of esoterics and gnosis. Indeed, a person can know all the esoterics and gnosis of Mormonism and still be a complete stranger to God.

    Or anyway, that’s how I see it.

  41. Ray, I still hesitate at the thought that all that is necessary and universal for salvation can be found in the temple ordinances. Perhaps that is true. But when I sit down and read the scriptures, I see a whole lot of other things getting talked about that doesn’t tie in very well with the saving ordinances. Is the rest of it all irrelevant? Food for thought?

    But to answer your question: “What else hasn’t changed in any way since the beginning of time?” Well, something that HAS changed is the requirements to enter the temple. So to receive a saving ordinance that is necessary and unchanged (at least basically so), I must first qualify by obeying something that is is contingent on time, which makes something NOT universal (i.e. Word of Wisdom as presently described) as important as something that is (the endowment), but not for everyone throughout history, just for us.

    Why is this important to this discussion? Suppose I want to know if the Word of Wisdom as presently described is true doctrine or folk belief. If all that is essential for me to get salvation is found in the temple, and that is all I am interested in, and because the Word of Wisdom must be obeyed to enter the temple, then I decide that it is true doctrine. But go back to the early Utah period. Suppose I want to know if the Word of Wisdom is true doctrine or folk belief. I don’t need it to receive the saving ordinances, and since I think the only really important things are found in the temple, I decide that it is folk belief irrelevant to me. Now come back to the present time. Suppose I want to know if it is evil to gamble and will affect my salvation. Right now, if all I am interested in is the temple, I could say it isn’t important and gamble away. But then tomorrow, when it gets added to the recommend interview questions (hypothetically), a game of blackjack will jeapordize my soul. Do I say ignorance is bliss and move on? Or do I say to myself, maybe there are other important things than those directly connected to the saving ordinances? Do you see how putting all of our attention on the saving ordinances, and being potentially dismissive of everything else, is a very poor tool to figuring out what is important?

  42. Sharee Hughes says:

    Can someone give me a reference for where the church said exalted humans do not “get their own planet”

  43. J. Stapley says:

    Sharee, my comment earlier was about Jesus being married. However, the idea that Mormons get their own planet upon exaltation does, I believe, go against the Church teaching about the social celestial kingdom. I’m unaware of any church leader making such a statement. In fact, I think that anti-Mormons are the only ones who have ever stated that formally. The church did respond to a similar question here, though.

    Manuel, I’m sorry you feel the way you do, but you aren’t engaging my thesis at all. I also disagree with your characterization.

  44. Sharee Hughes says:

    Thank you, J.

  45. You can’t be serious about us not getting our own planets. I already have mine pretty much all worked out, including the elimination of mosquitos, the addition of unicorns, and inborn mental telepathy abilities for all higher animal forms.

  46. DavidF, I didn’t say all that’s necessary is the temple ordinances. I said that believing everyone will receive them vicariously means the only thing that will affect their final judgment is how they tried to live according to the dictates of their own consciences and how well they internalized the principles of the Gospel. I believe the existence of our temple **theology** is the key that unlocks our understanding of the “power of godliness” and symbolizes “the grace that so fully he proferrs us”.

    We have moved away latelty from the almost obsessive focus on “doing” that was the norm when I was young to a focus now on “being” and “becoming”. I really like that, since it acknowledges that we can be Pharisaical in observing all 613 laws of religous observance and still not be connected spiritually to God – that we can be totally obedient by all outward appearances and still not be involved in the process of becoming like our Savior and our Father in Heaven.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in doing – but, at the most basic level, that’s all wrapped un in faith and repentance, and the specifics of the doing changes for each person based on what they understand. Our temple ordinances make that possible theologically – and those ordinances, imo, make the process of becoming that is detalied in the first principles and ordianances of the Gospel the core of eternal progression.

    In fact, I’m saying that, at the most practical level, our temple ordinances themselves aren’t what’s necessary. I’m saying what is necessary, and what is the genius of Mormonism, is the liberation theology behind the ordinances. The specifics of the ordinances themselves can chage and have changed over time without giving me any heartburn whatsoever, as long as the theological underpinnings of the meaning of the ordinances remains essentially the same.

  47. DavidF, I just re-read my #39 and see why you interpreted it as you did. When I asked what else is necessary, I meant what else other than the principles referenced in, “This is my Gospel . . . ,” and, “On these hang all the law and the prophets.”

    Sorry for the confusion.

  48. Okay. Yes, that’s where I got confused. Thanks for clearing that up.

  49. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks HnaMorena. I was thinking that there was a clear statement somewhere, but I couldn’t remember where.

  50. “Manuel, I’m sorry you feel the way you do, but you aren’t engaging my thesis at all. I also disagree with your characterization.”

    Well, don’t feel sorry. I have made many mistakes that have brought heartache and lessons learned and in the end have made me a better person. Joining a church where their basic teachings have been decorated with a Taj Mahal of folk beliefs (some of them incredibly destructive) around them was just another one of my poorly made decisions.

    As for your thesis, I am not finding a well defined one, so I am going to assume it is your third paragraph which begins with “What I am asking…” In which case, I have embraced it and been aware since my teen years, much more so now as a grown up and having participated myself in the behind the scenes of the Church’s facade, but this has never been the issue to me. The issue is that the community as a whole has continues to be distracted with the Taj Mahal of folk beliefs around the fundamental beliefs, and they go on sometimes believing something that simply does not exist, and sometimes enforcing destructive attitudes based on the folk. All the while, the sources of all this folk receive their devotion without ever having to clarify or face any of what they wrongly created for the sake of public relations, the acceptance of others and politics (oh, and in the naive thought of some here, so that liberalism can exist within the church, whatever).

    The sense of disappointment, and the feeling of having been played by people playing to be guiding me in God’s behalf with some of the most intricate mind games and manipulative guilt trips is overwhelming to me. I guess my deepest regret is that I myself was once part of polluting the minds of others with the same garbage.

  51. J. Stapley says:

    Manuel, it is clear that you view aspects of the church’s systems of belief and authority pejoratively. My sense is that you are approaching the church with some fundamentalist presuppositions. In any case, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t use BCC to vent.

  52. Sharee Hughes says:

    J., I read the link you provided yesterday and I have to say I am in a crisis of faith I never knew I could be in. I am 70 years old, and for most of that 70 years I have believed that “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” But now I am learning that it isn’t “as God is, man may become,” but “as God is, man may aspire to be, but won’t quite make it.” I thought God loved his children so much that He wanted us to truly be like Him–that we could become Gods, as that is the only way to truly be like Him. But now I am being told that He doesn’t love us quite that much, and my heart s broken. I cried myself to sleep last night and awoke in tears this morning. I never knew I could feel such spiritual pain. I poured out my heart to my Heavenly Father last night and asked for comfort and understanding, but have yet to receive it. I am in tears now as I write this, I feel somehow betrayed.

    I had a professor in college who said Mormonism was a romantic religion because we were the only church that believed men could become Gods. If he is still alive, I wonder if he has now learned that it is all a fairy tale?

    We have also been told that exalted couples will have eternal increase. Is that also a “folk belief?” If not, what’s going to happen to all the spirit babies such couples are going to be making throughout the eons of eternity, if they aren’t also going to be creating worlds for them to live on?

    When the folk beliefs about blacks ended (or should have, although some people seem to have held onto them) in 1978, that was through revelation. I haven’t heard the brethren declaring that a revelation has been received saying that what so many of us have believed for so many years is not true, that if we believe we can become Gods, we’d better forget it because it ain’t gonna happen!

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to lose my testimony over this. I believe that Jesus is my Savior and Redeemer and that God loves me. But right now, I hurt. I really hurt.

  53. J. Stapley says:

    Sharee, I’m really sorry that this post has given reason for so much sorrow. The church has been more careful in recent years, and ideas about exaltation have change somewhat with time. I don’t claim to have the absolute truth about the topic, but perhaps you will appreciate that the Lorenzo Snow manual for next year includes the “As man is…” couplet. I also don’t mean to say that folk belief is tantamount to falsity. They are not fairy tails. The beliefs that you state are legitimate. I think that in place and time with a recognition of the complexity at play we are seeing more focus on core tenants.

  54. Sharee,

    I think J. Stapely brings up a good point. It may be a folk belief but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. But then again, perhap we don’t go off and populate our own planets, perhaps we become part of the council of Gods and assist Heavenly Father continue on with His creations with Him still at the head. Perhaps there is something else. I’m sure there will be a lot of big discoveries in the afterlife.

    I actually don’t much like the idea of us going off as couples and making our own worlds. It sounds like God exalts us and then franchises parts of the universe out. I much prefer to think of us becoming exalted by having our lives and wills intertwined with God’s and sharing in the same kind of unity with Him as He has with Jesus.

    I of course could be wrong about that, but I think there is an incredible amount of beauty and comfort in any way that I can conceive of one day becoming connected with my Father, who is filled with love for me.

  55. Sharee Hughes says:

    Thank you, J and DavidF. I was discussing my concerns with a friend at church today and she found a great scripture for me: And I have received the comfort I prayed for and my tears have been dried:
    D&C 132: 19-20 (edited slightly as it is long):
    19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, … and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life,… it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

    20 THEN SHALL THEY BE GODS, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from aeverlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have call power, and the angels are subject unto them.

  56. Sharee, I think there’s a distinction between the doctrine (sorry, J, but yes, doctrine) of exaltation and theosis, which are clearly expressed in the standard works and are therefore official Church teachings and the separate (but possibly related) idea of “getting your own planet”. The disavowal of the latter is not the same thing as the disavowal of the former. The Church officially teaches that exalted men and women are gods, but it does not officially teach that this means each exalted couple creates their own planet(s) independent of our heavenly parents. Maybe it’s helpful to think of this less as bringing into question whether people can become gods and more about questioning what they will be doing and with whom.

  57. Sharee Hughes says:

    Good point, Christopher, but I think that the thrones, kingdoms, etc. mentioned in verse 19 could refer to universes we would create ourselves. Not necessarily so, of course, but it’s a maybe, at least.

  58. #58 – Sure, it “could” refer to that, but it “could” refer to other arrangements, as well. Frankly, I prefer the “council of the gods” view, but that’s my own folk belief, when it comes down to it.

    Again, I believe in exaltation whole-heartedly – but I just don’t see the interpretive details the same way some other members do. I’m fine with that, since I’m not hung up on the interpretive details.

  59. Alex Beam says:

    J, I am sorry to bother you. You have posted previously that you have an electronic copy of Orson Hyde’s 3/15/46 revelation concerning J.J. Strang. (I think …) Could you share that with me? Thanks if you can help, Alex Beam

  60. K Christensen says:

    About your first example, what about this from Pres. Joseph F. Smith in 1914:
    “Now, little boys and girls, when you are confronted by infidels in the world who know nothing of how Christ was begotten, you can say he was born just as the infidel was begotten and born, so was Christ begotten by his Father, who is also our Father-the Father of our spirits-and he was born of his mother Mary.

    “The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death; but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. Therefore Jesus, as he declared, received the power of life from his Father and was never subject unto death but had life in himself as his father had life in himself. Because of this power he overcame death and the grave and became master of the resurrection and the means of salvation to us all.

    “Shall we as Latter-day Saints deny the truth and then claim that God made man in his likeness in the beginning? Shall we come under the impression that God possesses the power of creation, and yet did not literally create? He is not without his companion any more than I am without my companion, the mother of my children.

    “These are truths and I wish they could be instilled into the hearts of these little children so that they will not be tossed about by every wind of doctrine and be confused by the teachers of atheism. Now, by and by you will be able to understand this far better than you can today. Some of us grandparents find it difficult to conceive the truth we want to think of something marvelous. We want to try to make it appear that God does not do things in the right way, or that he has another way of doing things than what we know, we must come down to the simple fact that God Almighty was the Father of His Son Jesus Christ. Mary, the virgin girl, who had never known mortal man, was his mother. God by her begot His son Jesus Christ, and He was born into the world with power and intelligence like that of His Father.

    “…Now, my little friends, I will repeat again in words as simple as I can, and you talk to your parents about it, that God, the Eternal Father is literally the father of Jesus Christ.

    Mary was married to Joseph for time. No man could take her for eternity because she belonged to the Father of her divine Son. In the revelation that has come thru Joseph Smith, we learn that it is the eternal purpose of God that man and woman should be joined together by the power of God here on earth for time and eternity.” (Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 4)

  61. J. Stapley says:

    Alex, it has been a while so I can’t remember if I had a manuscript version, but here is the version published in the Millennial Star.

    K. Christensen, I don’t know what you are trying to say. This was taught in the past, it is no longer taught and in fact the church has made statements against it. I’m not sure how this changes that.

  62. K Christensen says:

    Can you refer me to the statements against it?

  63. No. 61 proves a point — for every folk belief, someone can quote someone else. And it proves another point — there are always some who sincerely hold the folk belief as essential Mormon doctrine which should be upheld by all others who call themselves Latter-day Saints.

  64. J. Stapley says:

    ji, this is part of why I think the term doctrine is analytically problematic.

    K, FAIR has pulled together a bunch of comments on their wiki, here.

  65. “for every folk belief, someone can quote someone else.” Or as one of my BYU profs used to say about history, doctrine, and statements, “you can have it all or you can have it consistent, but you can’t have both.”

  66. “No man could take her for eternity because she belonged to the Father of her divine Son.” Wow, that actually made me shudder.

  67. Alex Beam says:

    Thank you very much.

  68. J. Stapley says:

    I will say, after looking up that reference, I’m fascinated that Clark included what appears to be a stake conference address as published in the Box Elder News in his Messages of the First Presidency. Unfortunately, the Utah Digital Newspapers project is missing that issue.

  69. This morning, I got a phone call from one of our older relatives asking me about our younger ones enduring Hurricane Sandy in NYC. During the phone call I learned that one of the sources of concern was that their bishop had once referred to the “prophecy” that New York would “fall into the sea.” I thought of this thread (and the one at Keepa) and quelled my own tendency toward drama as I bit my tongue.

    Thanks again, BCC!

  70. “prophecy” that New York would “fall into the sea.”

    The city, the whole State, or just the evil Democrat part? ;)

  71. it's a series of tubes says:

    During the phone call I learned that one of the sources of concern was that their bishop had once referred to the “prophecy” that New York would “fall into the sea.”

    New York gets the earthquake, Boston the ocean, Albany the fire :)

    See commentary on D&C 84, verse 114 for the Woodruff statement that gave rise to this.

  72. D&C 84:14 is a serious citation, vague but sobering and worthy of pondering. Apostle Woodruff’s remarks are less concerning than a mention in the D&C, and make me want to do some research and digging. “Institute-student-manual” inspires even more reduced confidence. Regardless of the veracity of such prophecy, there’s only one thing I can say with assurance: yesterday wasn’t the day it came to pass. For which I am grateful.

  73. From the post…”forget the word “doctrine.” It’s usage within Mormonism renders it pretty much useless for any meaningful analysis”

    I say hear! hear!

    Of my many wishes regarding my largely sheep-like (as in: uncritical thinking, ill-informed, largely ignorant, highly susceptible to whatever folk doctrine is current) brothers and sisters in the Church, this one is very high on my list: Quit reacting as if everything said by our “leaders,” especially so with regard to General Authorities, is truth, or Doctrine. And, by extension, anyone that questions or criticizes it (me) is a heretic or apostate. Most of my (beloved, really) fellows readily accept that BY was a racist only because of the times he lived in, but can’t see any bias or personal opinion in the “inspired” comments of current prophets and apostles.

  74. J. Stapley says:

    fbisti, no offense, but your comment makes you sound like a self-righteous jerk.

  75. J. #75. Good to know. Seriously. What I am is a formerly innocent and naive TBM that has a chip on his shoulder as a result of repeated shocks I have experienced as to what I have been taught and what turns out to be true. And, regarding both how narrow-minded my local fellow members are, and regarding how the Church (manuals, magazines, conference addresses) continue to be, almost completely, supportive of a simplistic, highly ….

    Well, no point in belaboring it. What I object to is encapsulated by this return (starting, most notably, with the highly redacted “Teachings of Brigham Young” manual and continuing on with the child-like level of the “Gospel Principles” manual we were expected to, and most did, give mutual approbation). And, at the same time they (the General Authorities) have increased their teaching (lauding, really) of the continual inspiration* they operate from. To me, this simplification (and the inherent redundancy for anyone in the Church longer than 3-4 years) is not so very different from chanting mantras, genuflecting, and spinning prayer wheels–all of some value, but not as an aid to learning and growing in knowledge.

    So, I would have to admit, this makes me “self-righteous.” With regard to gaining and having more understanding (without regard to gaining more “testimony”–since that is largely emotional) of what is true and what is propaganda and manipulation–think of “faithful history” or Plato’s Allegory of the Cave–(neither of which are all bad since God clearly seems not to oppose them) I feel superior. That is certainly ONE of my weaknesses.

    But, I don’t give up and simply shut up or walk away because I value the “baby” that is still in the bathwater.

    *I would enjoy a post from some/one of you that can articulate the issues and the evidence well regarding the insistence that the Church (esp. the prophet) is led (continually) by God, and the contrasting evidence that He seems to change his mind a lot (evolution, birth control, blacks, women…) in a mere 180 years. As I once said several years ago, “I have a testimony that this is truly the Church of God and I have a testimony that the Church is not true–given a definition of “all the truth and nothing but the truth.”

  76. it's a series of tubes says:

    With regard to gaining and having more understanding I feel superior.


  77. J. Stapley says:

    fbisti, I once wrote a thing up on the “14 Fundamentals” after they were quoted in conference (Part 1 and Part 2).

    Look, I am no friend of fundamentalism in any of its incarnations. And I think we (all of us, me included) need to do a lot better in a lot of ways. But I think that the mature position is to try the best we can to understand why things are the way they are and then hopefully engage in great measures of charity as we deal with each other. I think that as you learn more, that charity comes more freely. Also, I think that using terms like TBM and apostate are ways for people to feel superior to other people. I realize that many people experience a shock of sorts as they begin to approach their faith and the history of the church with information and perspectives outside of the church curriculum committee. As I said, we need to do better, and I believe that there are many in the institutional church who believe that as well. As I heard Elder Jensen say not to long before he was released as Church Historian (and I paraphrase): The problem isn’t studying church history. The problem is studying church history too little. I’d be happy to recommend several authors that you might like if you are interested in a real and rigorous approach to history or faith (or both).

  78. J. Stapley: To quote the character played by Meg Ryan in “Joe Versus the Volcano” to the character played by Tom Hanks, “I have no response to that.” Or, more accurately, I have too many responses and this isn’t the appropriate venue.

    But, then, my immature, debate-hungered mind kicked in, fueled by the sentiment captured in the famous line from “Network” — “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

    While I appreciate your well-meaning intent, I find that I am long past the point of simply accepting what the Church (and I capitalize that word to emphasize “institutional Church”) leadership continues to do more of–propaganda, manipulation, and “lying for the Lord.” I don’t agree that the supposed benefits of that approach justify the means. This course has done great damage (though I cannot be sure that actual truth and openness would have been better, for the majority of the church which are uncurious, non-critical thinkers). I trust that they (leaders) do this with the best intent and mostly with sincerity but it is THEY whom need to do better in the truth and honesty departments (“information and perspectives outside of the church curriculum committee”)–not “we” as you put it.

    Two of my adult, RM, children finally gave up in disgust at all the (in a word) baloney and threw the baby out with the dirty bathwater. Two of my contemporaries (highly respected for their “spirituality”) who had relied almost solely on obedience, faith, hope, and charity (and were both in stake presidencies at the time) were so shocked–with regard to church history–by the discrepancies they discovered (through their children) between the “faithful” versions and the more “objective” versions of our history, that they too “left” the church. In all four instances, my opinion is that they were immature in that they had so little experience (regarding the church) of critical thinking (as contrasted with ubiquitous unquestioning acceptance) that they had built their testimonies on the sand of Prophets, the mystical glory of the Restoration, Priestood, traditional folk doctrine, etc. and not the firmer foundation of the kind, loving, and generous people around them along with the system of programs and organizations that is the primary strength and value of the church.

    Lastly, while (in an academic sense) I have not made a “rigorous” study of church history (Quinn, Bushman, Bennion, and Van Wagoner being my primary sources), I think I have made a “real” study of it. All that bothers me less than what I have been personally exposed to: the unceasing drumbeat from Church leaders during my adult life (the past, say, 50 years) regarding obedience (necessary to receive “blessings”), the continual inspiration from God, the near infallibility of the (not to be questioned) current prophet (pedestal-ization), etc. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” And, note that in the time he wrote that, “protest” meant affirmation.

    Clearly, I have taken advantage of this venue (or at least the subject of this post and thread) to vent my frustrations and exercise my Don Quixote-ish need to bloviate. We should simply agree to disagree about the way to approach such issues in the Church. If I had folks like you in my HP group I would still attend the HP class. I have stayed away from the Gospel Doctrine class for over 30 years–much too full of “weak consciences” that might be offended. (1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

  79. You may be forgetting about the Juvenile Instructor and the Improvement Era. I think using the term “folk lore” for those teachings/doctrines above is disingenuous. Folklore is:

    1: traditional customs, tales, sayings, dances, or art forms preserved among a people
    2 : a branch of knowledge that deals with folklore
    3 : an often unsupported notion, story, or saying that is widely circulated

    ( Wiki, puts it this way: Folklore (or lore) consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales, stories, tall tales, and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group.

    Polygamy could be said to be a tradition of cultural Mormonism, [or “folklore”] but you will never see this advocated by the church. Mormon prophets never claimed to be just telling stories (in relation to doctrine or “the things of God”) in any of their Conference Addresses, Church publications, or other speeches. For example, John Taylor said,

    “Well, who were the ancient Apostles? They were men chosen and selected by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Who were these Prophets? Men who were in possession of the spirit of prophecy; and you show me a man who is called and inspired of God to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I will show you a Prophet, for we are told that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy;” and if a man has not the spirit of prophecy and revelation he is not the man to teach the things of God, for that is the principle by which all God’s chosen and authorized ministers in every age have been inspired, and by which they have taught the things of eternal life to the children of men.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16, page 372)

    Where does folklore fit into this scenario? The only time that folklore comes into the equation, is when the church is embarrassed over past teachings that are contradictory, racist, or untenable by modern society. Mormon prophets and apostles are continually called the “Oracles of God.” Apostle Alonzo A. Hinckley (uncle of Gordon B. Hinckley) would speak of the ‘oracles of God’ in a 1935 General Conference Address. He states that “my brethren live in the love and favor of God and that they carry their responsibilities with fidelity.” He recognized the “unswerving integrity under every condition of life,” of President Heber J. Grant, and that his counselor J. Reuben Clark, was “a born straight thinker, a righteous defender of the truth, is a man of undeviating and unfaltering devotion to the Church” and that David O. McKay with his “manly physique, a perfect physical specimen,” was “presided over by a trained and a keen mind,” and that “he enjoys a spirituality that has made him, not of his own volition but by common consent, the idol of youth.” He then concludes that,

    “These men constitute the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the oracles of God chosen to receive the mind and the will and the word of the Lord and to impart it unto the people. I bear testimony that the avenues of revelation are open. The brethren are worthy. Jesus is at the helm. This is his work and he leads his servants.”

    “God bless the leaders of Zion and bring into our hearts a renewed felling of reverence, that henceforth their voices, as they speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost, shall be unto us as the voice of God.” (Alonzo A. Hinckley, Conference Report, October 1935, p. 24.)

    Again, where does folklore fit into this scenario? Some Mormons will argue that because critics judge the prophetic claims of Mormon prophets, that critics also “think that a real prophet would never buy a defective product, and would always be able pick the box of cereal with the “instant winner” prize.” ( They cite these instances along with the cereal box analogy: “Brigham Young quotes about Adam and God [that Adam actually was God the Father of Spirits] to views of modern leaders on a host of topics [like] the Lamanites [that they are the Native Americans of North and South America], former limitations on the Priesthood, [the Priesthood Banned to men with black skin], forged documents from Mark Hoffmann” among others. (

    Perhaps then, the question should be ‘When should a prophet be acting like a prophet?’ Mormon apologists would have us believe that their “prophets” have little control over their prophetic gift, that they make many mistakes [while being a “prophet” but not acting like one] and that they even teach false doctrine [renamed “folklore”]. But on their official website the church passes off stories like this one to prove that their “prophets” are foolproof:

    “On one occasion the Prophet Joseph Smith was invited to preach the gospel to a group of Native Americans. They could not understand English, and he could not speak their language, so he paid a special government agent to interpret his words. The Prophet spoke for a few minutes, and the agent then interpreted the Prophet’s message. When the people showed resentment and anger at the Prophet’s message, the Spirit revealed to him that the agent was telling lies in order to turn them against him. Joseph pushed the interpreter aside and then preached a sermon to them. They understood every word.”

    “What spiritual gifts did the Prophet Joseph Smith use during this incident? Discernment, revelation, gift of tongues, and teaching.” [..] Official LDS Doctrine Manual “Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood,” Part B, Gospel Principles and Doctrines, 34: Spiritual Gifts, 281. Link:

    Joseph Smith said that “A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such”, but he also said, “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught” (HOTC, 6:366) Marion G. Romney stated:

    “What we get out of general conference is a build-up of our spirits as we listen to those particular principles and practices of the gospel which the Lord inspires the present leadership of the Church to bring to our attention at the time. He knows why he inspired Brother Joseph F. Merrill to give the talk he just gave. He knows why he inspired the other brethren who have talked in this conference to say what they have said. It is our high privilege to hear, through these men, what the Lord would say if he were here. If we do not agree with what they say, it is because we are out of harmony with the Spirit of the Lord.” (Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1950, p.126)

    The historical evidence does not bear out the use of the term folklore for past Mormon teachings and doctrines that have now fallen out of favor with more recent authorities for any number of reasons.

  80. J. Stapley says:

    grindael, I think if you reread the post and the comments you won’t find any references to “folk lore” or “folklore” (except in comment #17 where I mean precisely that). Moreover, I fail to see how anything in your lengthy comment controverts anything in my original post.

  81. Thanks for posting my rather lengthy reply Mr. Stapley. You are simply calling folk lore, folk “beliefs”. “Lore” is defined as “traditional knowledge or belief”, so folk belief is really folk lore. You may be calling those teachings folk beliefs, but many in the church are calling them folk lore. Jeffrey R. Holland calls those teachings folklore:

  82. Let me make my point with the Priesthood Ban. You said,

    “When Brigham Young introduced the temple and priesthood ban, he outlined a very particular reason that was rooted in cosmological language that fell into disuse by the end of the 19th century. Even though his narrative remained the formal teaching of the church for several decades into the 20th century, it was widely incomprehensible. Consequently, other reasons arose among church members—folk beliefs—to account for the priesthood and temple exclusion. These reasons were poo pooed by church leaders, but they became so powerful that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve adopted them in their formal teachings by the mid-part of the century.”

    Brigham Young stated his reason for the priesthood ban in an 1852 address to the Utah Legislature, which was recorded by Wilford Woodruff:

    Adam had two sons Kane & Abel. Cain was more given to evil than Abel. Adam was called to offer sacrifice also his sons. The sacrifice of Abel was more acceptable than Canes & Cane took it into his heart to put Abel out of the way so he killed Abel.

    The Lord said I will not kill Cane But I will put a mark upon him and it is seen in the [face?] of every Negro on the Earth And it is the decree of God that that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cane & the Curse untill all the seed of Abel should be re[deem?]ed and Cane will not receive the priesthood untill or salvation untill all the seed of Abel are Redeemed. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it. The Negro cannot hold one particle of Government But the day will Come when all the seed of Cane will be Redeemed & have all the Blessings we have now & a great deal more. But the seed of Abel will be ahead of the seed of Cane to all Eternity.

    Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane. It would Bring the same curse upon me And it would upon any man. And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children.

    It is said if a man kills another that he takes that that He cannot give. If a mans head is cut off [p.98] his life is not destroyed or his spirit that lives. His tabernacle is destroyed But I can make as good tabernacles as I can destroy. If you do not believe it look at my Children. Much blood was shed in ancient days both of man & Beast. The firstlings & best of the flock was sacrafized on the Altar & in some instances many men & almost whole Nations were sacraficed or put to death because of their sins & wickedness. This was the ownly way they could be saved at all. If Jesus Christ had not had his Blood shed the Blood that He received from his Mother Mary the world would not have been saved.

    Their is not one of the seed of old Cane that is permitted to rule & reign over the seed of Abel And you nor I cannot Help it.

    Those that do bear rule should do it in righteousness. I am opposed to the present system of slavery. The Negro Should serve the seed of Abram but it should be done right. Dont abuse the Negro & treat him Cruel.

    It has been argued here that many of the Jews were Black. Whenever the seed of Judah mingled with the seed of Cane they lost their priesthood & all Blessings.

    As an Ensample let the Presidency, Twelve Seventies High Priest Bishops & all the Authorities say now we will all go & mingle with the seed of Cane and they may have all the privileges they want. We lift our hands to heaven in support of this. That moment we loose the priesthood & all Blessings & we would not be redeemed untill Cane was. I will never admit of it for a moment.

    Some may think I dont know as much as they do But I know that I know more than they do. The Lord will watch us all the time. The Devil would like to rule part of the time But I am determin He shall not rule at all and Negros shall not rule us. I will not admit of the Devil ruling at all. I will not Consent for the seed of Cane to vote for me or my Brethren. If you want to know why we did not speak of it in the Constitution it was because it was none of their Business. Any man is a Citizens Black white or red and if the Jews Come here with a part of the [p.99] Canaanite Blood in them they are Citizens & shall have their rights but not to rule for me or my Brother. Those persons from the Islands & foreign Countries know nothing about Governing the people. The Canaanite cannot have wisdom to do things as the white man has. We must guard against all Evil. I am not going to let this people damn themselves as long as I can help it.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 4, p.97-99, January 1, 1852)

    Brigham Young states that the seed of Cain was cursed because Cain sought to take Abel’s blessing and murdered him. In 1869 he was even more precise:

    “I attended the school of the prophets. Many Questions were asked. Presidet Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. Presidet Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 6, p.511, December 25, 1869)

    What is interesting about the second quote is where it took place. (The School of the Prophets). In 1833 Joseph Smith wrote a letter to W. W. Phelps in which he called the December 27-28 “revelation” the “Olive Leaf”, [D&C 88 which speaks of the School] and informed Phelps that “you will see that the Lord commanded us in Kirtland to build an house of God, & establish a school for the Prophets, this is the word of the Lord to us, & we must— yea the Lord helping us we will obey, as on conditions of our obedience, he has promised great things, yea a visit from the heavens to honor us with his own presence”

    Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that,

    “The object for which this school was organized is plainly stated in the revelation. None could join except he was clean from the blood of this generation. The only way he could be clean was to be obedient to the covenants of the Gospel and labor in behalf of his fellows for the salvation of their souls. Thus the preaching of the Gospel was a requirement made of those who desired to join this school. The School of the Prophets continued in Utah for several years under the administration of President Brigham Young, but after that time it was discontinued.” Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, Vol. 2, 1947: p. 135-136, notes 2 & 4.

    The revelation states that those in the school, “are called to do this by prayer and thanksgiving as the Spirit shall give utterance, in all your doings in the house of the Lord, in the school of the prophets, that it may become a sanctuary, a tabernacle, of the Holy Spirit to your edification.” [..] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, 1835, Section VI[I]:39-44.

    This teaching by Brigham Young was hardly folk lore, or a folk belief and is far from “incomprehensible”. Brigham Young never taught that the pre-existence had anything to do with the priesthood being denied to the Negroes as George Albert Smith stated in an official declaration in 1949:

    “The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality…” (First Presidency Statement August 17, 1949)

    Interesting that in this statement they call the priesthood ban doctrine, along with how conduct in the pre-existence plays some kind of role in determining the status of a person’s mortality. If you are speaking of this as what was “poo-pooed”, yes they were, by Brigham Young, but not the doctrine of a priesthood ban, or a curse on the Negroes which was put this way by Young:

    “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ.”

    This is hardly “folklore”, or a “folk belief”. Those in the Church Hierarchy knew this, and that is why they stated:

    “The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.” (August 17, 1947 First Presidency Statement) So the timeline would actually be: Once a direct commandment, now a folk belief.

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