Sometimes it can be quite interesting and even perplexing watching the church as it does (and does not change) over time. When I was much younger, I assumed that all the doctrines were solidly nailed down, or maybe even screwed down, to the floor and all that was left was just adjusting a few policy and organizational detailed “accessories” around the room.
But as I have grown older (my kids would say “much older”), I have seen many changes occur and I can’t even come up with a definition of doctrine that seems to tidy up everything.
I have noticed some tendencies that the church leadership has such as a strong desire to not be seen as bending to public pressure. Lately as I study the church over time I do see one trait is that their Modus Operandi – or “MO” – is often to not clearly call out a change, but to change a direction/teaching/policy/doctrine and just generally ignore the way it used to be.
I recall earlier in my lifetime hearing near fire and brimstone preaching even in General Conference about such things as birth control being contrary to the will of God and women working outside the home will cause a quick disintegration of families. In just a few decades later, all of the wives of my recent bishops have worked outside the home and the same can be said for most of the other member’s of the bishopric. It didn’t seem to be because they were in poverty. One member of a bishopric was a stay at home dad and his wife worked a successful corporate job. I had a friend that is a currently serving bishop tell his daughter just after she was engaged, “we need to get you into get you setup with some good birth control”.
None of these changes were ever “superseded” in a way that your average member could see that a big change had taken place. Nothing like, “Oh in 1982 they seemed to change direction on this issue.” I would guess that all of my kids (all adults) probably don’t even know that the church used to be adamantly against birth control. What I see is more of a pattern of starting to talk about something in a different way and never mention what the old direction/teaching/policy/doctrine was. This of course sometimes had to be done slowly over time, as in generations even.
Now of course items that don’t really have “baggage” are just announced and the church moves on as expected. I didn’t sense anybody felt the church had been in the wrong for decades when they change in missionary age. That is not the type of change I am focusing on.
I think this MO was actually effective for most of the church’s existence. Take women giving blessings. I have been reading a few historical books around the early church and even a few decades into the Utah period. I am just amazed at how women were blessing all over the place. It wasn’t just limited to situations like when a woman was in labor and might not want a few men standing around. It was more that women would plan on having “blessing get togethers”. If they visited a friend they would lay their hands on (sometimes even with oil from what I gather) and give a blessing before they parted. If someone in the past few years read all the current church publications, they would probably never hear about this. It was just never talked about as everyone new that only worthy Melchizedek priesthood holder can do that! A bit like the “Memory Hole” in George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
I don’t find that this MO is publicly disclosed. But you can see traces in the talk by Elder Boyd K. Packer in 1981 titled, “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect”. In this he gives instructions to not repeat in any way things that are in print that are negative toward the church. Just because someone else has stated it does not mean you repeat or reference it. He states, “Don’t perpetuate the unworthy, the unsavory, or the sensational. Some things that are in print go out of print, and the old statement ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ might apply.” It seems he is giving a fairly strong hint of “ignore it and it (might) eventually go away”. In this address he all but admits there are historical issues that can “hurt” people’s faith in the church.
There were a few times where this MO didn’t work. For example the teaching of Brigham Young about Adam-God. Several offshoot religious groups kept this floating around and eventually this forced Elder Bruce R. McConkie to talk about it and he labeled it a “heresy”. Even President Kimball stated, “We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.”
And of course there are two big issues that the church wishes would go away down the memory hole: Polygamy and the Priesthood and Temple ban on Blacks.
But then the Internet happened.
Suddenly you didn’t have to go visit Lighthouse Ministries in Salt Lake to get books and learn about the items that church leaders wish would stay swept under the rug of time. This made the MO of “just stop talking about it” MUCH less effective.
In fact to me it feels that most of the Gospel Topics Essays are ceding ground that the church had already lost – issues that anybody could find with a simple Google search (and often clear proof that it wasn’t just “anti-Mormon lies”). The essays are an attempt to shine the best possible light on the topics as a defensive move, not simply an altruistic move toward historical openness.
But going back to one of the two “big” items that the church is still wrestling with – race in the church. I had already started this blog post when I started reading a book just released by Dr. Joanna Brooks called, “Mormonism and White Supremacy.”
The following quote jumped out at me:
Like most difficult subjects in Mormon history and practice, the anti-Black priesthood and temple ban has been managed carefully in LDS institutional settings with a combination of avoidance, denial, selective truth telling, determined silence, and opportunistic redirection. Most white Mormons have believed and hoped that by looking forward and doing better, the ban and its legacy would take care of themselves. We told ourselves that new, more cosmopolitan (albeit white) Church leaders would endorse tolerance, love, and compassion; newly sensitized Church media would begin to feature images of Mormonism’s growing diversity; and old doctrinal folklore would fade out with the passing generations. The past did not have to be reckoned with, undone, or confronted. It could simply be outlived if we turned our faces toward Zion.
Brooks, Joanna. Mormonism and White Supremacy (p. 12). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
The statement of “avoidance, denial, selective truth telling, determined silence, and opportunistic redirection” sure sounded like it lines up with my assumption of the MO of the church on issues it wants to leave behind.
I can see one reason for this MO. That is that church leadership does not want to say in any way that previous church leaders were wrong. It is easy to see how doing so might lessen some members view of the prophet and top leaders. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone thinking, “If the prophet was so wrong on the priesthood and temple ban for black members, could they be just as wrong on the current LGBTQ+ issues?” They make it nebulous and don’t point a finger directly. Note that even in the Adam-God topic that the leaders were very careful not to say anything like, “Brigham Young got this one wrong.” 
Does it appear to you that the church has an oft-used MO of “just stop talking about it”?
If so, do you think it generally was working and did the Internet markedly decrease the effective this of this technique?
Can you think of other items where the church leadership as a whole stopped talking about certain topics?
 The Race and the Priesthood Gospel Topic essay does seem to go as far as to say that Brigham Young was influenced on the topic of race by the society he was in – and some do take that as “Brigham Young made a mistake”.
I am a convert, and I have never lived in or near the center place, so I cannot speak for church leaders. However, it seems to me that their approach of redirecting (assuming, arguendo, that this is their approach) seems a very charitable way to proceed. Redirecting can be honest without being opportunistic. If I were in a leadership position, I think I would rather teach and invite as best as I knew, without trying to teach (or judge) about what others knew, should have known, or erred in teaching. Maybe church leaders are honest and honorable, and maybe their nonjudgmental approach is charitable and Christlike? Maybe?
If you are anywhere near as old as I am, it matters that The Miracle Of Forgiveness and Mormon Doctrine are both out of print. Although I am not a decision maker I believe it is intentional in both cases, not just a matter of sales.
Another topic: Food storage. That was such a big thing in the 1970s. If you didn’t have a quarter ton of wheat stashed in your basement, you weren’t a good Mormon. That seems a little bonkers now. That morphed into 48-hour kits and general preparedness, but it’s a fairly low priority now.
The truth is the approach of just not talking about a disfavored doctrine or practice — just letting it slowly go away — has worked fairly well in the past. One problem was that old-timers in LDS education and in local leadership positions sometimes took decades to notice that the senior leaders weren’t talking about something anymore, so you might end up in a class or a ward or a stake that seemed to be in a time warp, 20 or 30 years behind the times. And then there’s the Internet. So yes, there ought to be a way to quietly address positive changes in direction without somehow discrediting the whole idea that LDS leaders are inspired. No one seems shaken by the idea that LDS leaders are human and are capable of making mistakes. Most people can handle the idea that some policies and practices become outdated and obsolete.
Happy Hubby, Not sure what you mean by this: “Note that even in the Adam-God topic that the leaders were very careful not to say anything like, ‘Brigham Young got this one wrong.’” Is it only that they don’t name names? It has seemed to me that as to some things like the Adam-God theory, it is hardly necessary to name it a Brigham Young’s theory.
“We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the Scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.” President Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Own Liahona,” Ensign (November 1976), 77
I do think that generally they aim for imperceptibly gradual change that doesn’t give the impression of past wrongness… But there are some dramatic exceptions! I don’t think I will forget when Nelson said Satan celebrated that past prophets used the nickname ‘Mormon.’ it was a much stronger statement than “mistakes have been made” and I would definitely think that degree of condemnation applies much better to racism, sexism, and homophobia, which actually kill people, rather than to being congenial about a nickname in a way that helps communication with nonmembers.
The more I learn about it, the more I see how deliberately past generations built structural racism so that it would self-perpetuate (e.g. segregation, policing, prison system, redlining, voting inequality all fully in effect today, including in areas that consider ourselves to be liberal). And following from that, the more convinced I am that it has to be very deliberately un-built. I’m not sure ignoring it would ever lead to the end of racism, but if it eventually faded, it would be far too slow and hurt far too many more people in the meantime.
In the sexology circles that I follow, the big example of this (and, I would add, it doesn’t really seem to have worked very well) is Pres. Kimball’s so-called oral sex letter of ’82. In short, Pres. Kimball sends a letter to local leaders about temple recommend interviews which included the opinion that oral sex in marriage was improper even for married couples. Some local leaders begin to deny/revoke temple recommends on that basis alone. Word trickles back up to SLC, and another “don’t ask don’t tell” letter is issued, and then official silence on the topic from there (other than assertions that the Church stays out of the bedroom and sexual activities in marriage should be consensual and that, if a couple is uncomfortable enough to ask the question, then maybe they should stay clear of that activity). I don’t know exactly when, but, as I understand it (a lay member who does not have access to first presidency letter archives), this letter is officially unavailable in any form. Even so, “rumor” keeps this alive so that, even today — nearly 40 years after the letter — I still hear of bishops, stake presidents, and parents who are privately telling couples that oral sex is a sin in marriage. One by one, those who perpetuate the idea get corrected but, because there isn’t an explicit statement to refute Pres. Kimball’s opinion, it keeps coming up.
You are absolutely correct that the Internet has exposed the Church’s MO for what it is. And here’s why this is such a problem: many of us believe in the principle of transparency. We believe that good organizations should have nothing to hide. And if that’s true in the context of corporations and government, it should be even more true for the Church.
Remember the age-old lesson of Watergate: the cover-up is worse than the crime? The Internet has shown us that the Church has been involved in both crimes (injury) and cover-ups (insult). For people paying attention it’s a house of cards.
Remember, transparency is muy importante.
@Christiankimball – The case of “Mormon Doctrine” is a good example. From what I understand, when Elder Bruce R. McConkie released this book, the top church leaders did not want it released. They even did a “check” on it and found lots of issues. But did the top leaders ever make a public comment to say, “that book has some things we don’t teach/believe.” But that MO of silence allowed a generation to see that as nearly scripture. And now many apologists will say “that wasn’t DOCTRINE!” The dang title of the book was Mormon DOCTRINE from an apostle. But I will give Elder McConkie a nod in the statements he made after the 1978 change allowing black members to hold the priesthood and participate in the temple. He said “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” I don’t think you can call that an apology, but it was a case where the MO was not followed.
JR – As far as not mentioning Brigham Young’s name when disparaging the topic of Adam-God, my experience growing up nowhere near Utah, I had no idea exactly what Adam-God was talking about until I was 50 years old. It may have be different for someone growing up in Utah or another heavily Mormon area, but looking back I don’t even know how I could have found this information out, short of ordering the 26 volume set of the journal of discourses. For me it seems like they didn’t even want to draw attention that this theory/doctrine originated from one of the prophets. I can see where others may have had a different experience.
Marrissa – I agree. I am painfully “enjoying” reading Dr. Joanna Brooks new book. I think you would like it also.
MrShorty – I had a stake president in a special meeting of all adult males make the statement about 20 years ago of, “you all know that the first presidency has said that oral sex is improper.” And this wasn’t some country hick, he was a very successful attorney in a large metropolitan area. I agree this is a good example of the MO and a problem that can occur.
Josh H – I couldn’t agree more that the lack of transparency is a huge issue – at least it is for me. At first when I was in a faith crisis, I turned to be upset about many things. As I moved into what I consider my faith transition I “mellowed out” on most issues, but as I tried to pull the thread on the issues – the core issue I have is that the top leaders of the church have not lived up to the way I was raised as a Mormon. There are SO many cases where the cover up is worse than the “crime” (especially if the cover up is discovered).
If we acknowledge that our leaders are human and doing the best that they can, but that the direction the church goes can shift and change in policy what we consider doctrine, when does it become time to move to a democratic style of governance?
Abiding – Are you talking about doing things by common consent – where you could actually oppose something that is proposed?
Happy Hubby, Yes. I think my experience growing up was different. It was not in Utah, but I was reading Shakespeare (poorly) and reading around in the Journal of Discourses (confusedly) by the time I was 12. I think I’ve been slower than many to learn what “normal” American teenagers think about! Indeed, it seemed to me that no one would likely know what the Adam-God theory was without knowing that it was BY’s and that SWK’s principle was more important than the example.
I think you have the usual MO pegged correctly. BRM’s comment after 1978 was an outlier. But SWK’s was categorical as to “General Authorities of past generations” even though he didn’t pin a name to the particular false doctrine he mentioned in 1976. After all, we “sustain” all of the Q15 as “prophets,” not only the president of the Church. But BRM was not an apostle when “Mormon Doctrine” was published in 1958; he was also not an apostle when the second edition was published in 1966. He was an apostle when the third edition was published in 1978 after the 1978 change to the priesthood/temple ban. So those of us who bought into “Mormon Doctrine” in the 60s didn’t have the “apostle” excuse for doing so. I think it was only later that t become public knowledge that President McKay explained the 1958 lack of a public repudiation of “Mormon Doctrine” as “ we do not want to give him a public rebuke that would be embarrassing to him and lessen his influence with the members of the Church.” It has seemed to me in retrospect that lessening BRM’s influence with the members of the Church was exactly what needed to have been done. It was the failure to publicly repudiate the book that functioned as an apparent endorsement.
Agree with Josh H.
I think this may have worked in the past and I think that’s how many institutions / families / individuals dealt with unpleasant things. (Redirect and move on.). So the church wasn’t doing anything particularly notable. But I think more recently there’s a great push towards transparency, openly acknowledging problems so we can heal and move on, etc., so the church’s MO has become outdated compared to the way we expect people to operate now and I don’t think younger people will be super forgiving.
I see the current so-called move to transparency as just another ruse. Transparency is easy. It means you simply shut up and get out of the way.
We’ve heard it twice in recent general conferences, once from Elder Anderson and then he was quoted by President Oaks — it isn’t our “doctrine” unless all the members of the First Presidency and Twelve endorse it unanimously. There is power in those statements, and a lot of room for individual contemplations on many matters.
Then the best thing for the leaders speaking in an official capacity to do is to not teach anything that has not been endorsed unanimously, otherwise, I should be left to assume they are preaching the teachings of men, mingled with scripture.
But they wont do this because it is easier to manipulate people by always keeping your message confused, uncertain, and indistinct.
One effect of this “modus operandi” is to allow a growing range of diversity in the actual beliefs of Church members. We have a strong ethic of obedience to leaders, but as time passes and the accretion of old teachings builds up, there are more and more possible ways to obey what leaders have taught. Anything that has not been pointedly repudiated by the current leadership is, at least in principle, legitimate material for believers to embrace.
Here’s a historical hypothesis: The phenomenon of expansion in the range of acceptable belief is a natural development as a group gets bigger and culturally more diverse. The earlier Christian church addressed this phenomenon by adopting creeds, positive statements of core belief. This is a more efficient way to establish essential beliefs than officially repudiating every past statement that has become outmoded. (Although, as the history of Christianity also shows, it does not necessarily prevent schism.) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still a very young church, less than 200 years old. The Nicene Creed was created about 300 years after the life of Jesus. We’re still coping with the earliest struggles of accommodating growth and diversity within our movement. Maybe, eventually, we’ll decide it’s necessary to create some kind of creed or catechism to define the core of Latter-day Saint belief.
Even if a church decides to define its core beliefs with a creed-like statement, it remains necessary to explicitly repudiate doctrines when old teachings hinder the best path of development for the church going forward. Mormon racism is a good example of that. The case of Mormon racism also shows us that repudiating an old teaching, especially one that is entrenched at the center of a belief system, takes more than just an occasional comment from the leadership. If you want to stomp out these teachings, you have to stomp very hard over a long period of time. The early Christian word for these things was “heresy.” It is one of a leader’s tasks to distinguish between the things that must be actively repudiated and the things that can be allowed to fade away.
JR is correct that the first presidency should have said something about the book not being perfect doctrine. The fact that the book was titled “Mormon Doctrine” and *everything* the church put out was carefully correlated and run through committees to check for doctrinal errors caused members to assume that the First Presidency totally approved and that it was an authoritative source. The church could have just said that the book was not correlated for doctrine, and left it at that. But there was nothing even suggesting “this is one Mormon’s opinion.” So, of course it was taken for official doctrine. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I ever heard that it was something the First Presidency had not approved of at the time it was published. All of growing up and adulthood, I hated how it was quoted in Sunday School as the official word of the church and ended any discussion.
Another good example of the failure of “just quit talking about it and let it disappear” is blood atonement. Many of you will remember the media having a melt down in 2910 when a Utah prisoner asked for death by firing squad, which Utah had on its law book as an option for execution. Utah was the only state with this option. What the heck? But when you get into the history of Utah you will find that Utah gave the option of firing squad because of the official “doctrine” of the church that for murder, the killer’s own blood had to be spilt in order for the atonement to cover him. Thus, there needed to be a blood form of execution. Well, the church quit officially teaching that before I was born, and I had to do a debate in high school about the death penalty. So, in 1969 I go looking for why on earth Utah has the firing squad option, and it was because in the 1800s, the church believed in blood atonement, but somehow when they stopped teaching it, they forgot to tell the state lawmakers that they could drop the bloody and barbaric form of execution that they as a church had initially insisted on. So, the law was still on the books 100 years after the teaching ended, making Utah look …um…bloody and barbaric.
And just quietly changing things after a doctrine has made you feel like God loves you less for years is hurt added upon hurt. Just go over to the Exponent Blog and read page after page of women saying how they feel about the changes to the temple ceremony. No explanation, only a caution not to discuss it. I have years of pain feeling like God loves my husband but not me, and no explanation for years and years of struggling to understand the temple ceremony and finally rejecting the whole church because the temple is not from God. And they want me to pretend it all never happened. I don’t have enough swear words to express how that makes me feel.
Another example with how for years they told women to stay home with their children. Then they go and feature women with marvelous careers in the “I’m a Mormon” Campaign. The women who had sacrificed their own career because the church told them to felt like they had just been slapped in the face for their sacrifice. It was more than just insulting. It felt like a betrayal. Like being punished for being obedient. Doesn’t make a person want to be obedient in the future. So, if trusting the prophet to listen to God is what they are after, they are failing by betraying those of us who were obedient to the old law. I sure won’t tell my daughters or granddaughters to follow the prophet. I am telling them to run away for men who say “do as I say, not as I do.” And I sure never saw any general authority give up his career to stay home with the children. Nor did I see them giving birth to as many babies as they could, or even having babies as soon as they were married. One old study of when GAs got married and the birth of their first baby showed a Average five year gap. So, either there was a *lot* of infertility issues, or they practiced birth control back when it was forbidden to us peons. They didn’t follow the church’s advice to have children right away.
So, sometimes quietly changing things makes people doubt the “prophets“ even more. It sure did with me.
Ji – I have heard “It ain’t doctrine unless 1st pres and Q12 endorse it”. But that leaves SO much of what is said/taught in the “personal opinion”, such as 2015 policy change where only Pres. Nelson claimed it as revelation and people were excommunicated from that policy. And then we have I think it was just before the 1950’s for sure the 1st presidency claiming some fairly racists position as “doctrine”. Even after reading Charles Harrell’s book “This is my doctrine” it still feels to me that determining what is/isn’t doctrine is like nailing jello to a wall. If you can make it work – I am glad you can and more power to you.
Anna – I do think a statement like, “The church correlation committee did not review Mormon Doctrine” would have helped a bit (but I do think Elder McConkie and his father-in-law saw many things the same way).
And I do recall feeling a bit unsettled when I first went through the temple and heard who obeys who, but a bit ashamed it took me a few more decades to comprehend just how painful that could be if I wasn’t a male.
And on the “women should stay at home” changing. I recall a prominent LDS therapist recalling that she and several other sisters with successful professional careers were invited in during the “Mormon Moment” to be somewhat shown that Mormon women can be successful professionals. The therapist mentioned that she brought up to those in church HQ as to why this group was brought in, because when they were growing up they were told NOT to pursue careers, so why was the church putting a spotlight on those that disobeyed what they were taught. I don’t recall she shared what they responded with, but I would assume it was blank stares and on to the next topic.
Christian Kimball, Deseret Book still sells The Miracle of Forgiveness.
But, Anna, “Mormon Doctrine” was published by Bookcraft. Though Bookcraft seemed to have specialized in LDS related material, it was not a Church-owned or edited publisher at the time of issuance of any edition of “Mormon Doctrine.” Bookcraft was not acquired by the Church-owned Deseret Book until 1999.
Incidentally, BRM’s preface to the first edition concluded:
“For the work itself, I assume sole and full responsibility. Observant students, however, will note that the standard works of the Church are the chief sources of authority quoted and that literally tens of thousands of scriptural quotations and citations are woven into the text material. Where added explanations and interpretations were deemed essential, they have been taken from such recognized doctrinal authorities as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, and Joseph Fielding Smith.
Two persons have been particularly helpful in the actual preparation of the work: 1. Velma Harvey, my very able and competent secretary, who with unbounded devotion and insight has typed manuscripts, checked references, proofread, and worked out many technical details; and 2. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., my brother-in-law, who both set the type and made many valuable suggestions as to content and construction.
Abundant needed and important counsel has also come from Milton R. Hunter, my colleague on the First Council of the Seventy; Marvin Wallin, of Bookcraft; and Thomas S. Monson, of the Deseret News Press. ”
Despite the first sentence quoted above (and who actually reads a preface anyway?!) this seems clearly an attempt by BRM (and Bookcraft) to give the book more authority as to what was Mormon doctrine than was justified by either the author’s position, the publisher’s tenuous connection to the Church, or the non-existent review by any Church committee until after it was published and out.
This was likely not the first and certainly not the last time BRM arrogated to himself authority that was not his. I believe there are records of his being taken to task for it more than once. The one I remember was his being required to revise his “Seven Deadly Heresies” speech for publication. There frankly should have been more times, including one following the leak (presumably by his office since it could not have been from Gene England) of his abominable letter to England. I am no longer shy about noting these things in Church classes when BRM is quoted. But I have seen that citations to “Mormon Doctrine” are gradually being eliminated from current Church publications; perhaps eventually we’ll see the quotations eliminated as well as the citations. Who knows?
‘ it isn’t our “doctrine” unless all the members of the First Presidency and Twelve endorse it unanimously’ – Oaks.
The sad part of this statement is the omission of Christ in this process and the admission that LDS doctrine is born of a group of men. The Church of who…?
I don’t need the doctrine of men, I need the Gospel of Christ.
@mrshorty and @happyhubby – I’ve carefully linked to copies of the original letters and carefully analyzed their verbiage. In addition, I’ve shared an interesting story about a Stake Presidency teaching that oral sex was a sin (and reading the January 1982 letter) to members during an adult session of stake conference in 2016.
You’ll find it in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Yes, Mormon Doctrine and The Miracle of Forgiveness are both out of print and it appears print copies are available only in the used book markets today. But Deseret Book does list The Miracle of Forgiveness as an ebook. I guess ebooks last forever? Does anyone know whether there ever was a Mormon Doctrine ebook? I can find both as uploaded pdf files, but I don’t consider that the same thing.
I note that neither one is included in the approved missionary reading list.
There were a lot of copies sold. I’ve seen a 1.6 million estimate for The Miracle of Forgiveness (all languages combined) and “hundreds of thousands” for Mormon Doctrine. That’s a lot of paper waiting to disintegrate.
Personally I was happy to see the end of both books. But I think Mormon Doctrine the more controversial and disputed at high church levels. I’ve seen a few direct “no not that” about Mormon Doctrine. Not so much for The Miracle of Forgiveness even though it is deserved. Speaking to the OP.
(To be clear, not so much from church authorities. I have written some criticism. But I’m no Authority.)
Let me read the Church News summary of the recent and virtual Mission Leadership Seminar and I will get back to you…
Loursat’s “If you want to stomp out these teachings, you have to stomp very hard over a long period of time” devastates the target beautifully. I personally know several Church members who are still very strongly attracted to Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory, even after all these many years of explicit disavowal. How many Church members still are hostile to evolution? (Hint: Many, and they include RMN, who fortunately frames what he says as his personal opinion, and seems to realize that issuing any Church statements opposing evolution would not be good.) How many Ward members do each of us know who still believe in outmoded racial opinions, more than 40 years after SWK’s Revelation, and several years after the Church-approved essay that states the Priesthood Ban was based on prevalent racial theories common to the 1800s? We are finding the same lag on LGBT issues. While most people who contribute to W and T hope that the Church’s position will change, and I am among them, the Church has gone out its way for some time to exhort members to treat LGBT brothers and sisters with love, respect, and compassion. A point, I fear, that has been lost to two of my Ward members, who have, in church foyer settings among many people, made explicit their loathing of LGBT people. Both of whom, I might add, unfortunately served in prominent leadership callings. And both of whom shrugged in contemptuous indifference, when I bluntly told them that their opinions went against teachings of Church leaders.
Which just goes to show that it takes a lot more than an explicit statement from Church leaders to change attitudes. And this is not unique to our Church.
I personally dislike the “pretend past statements were never made; never acknowledge past errors” approach to Church teachings. I believe that explicit statements should acknowledge that Policy X, once regarded as doctrine, has been shown by more current knowledge that has been provided by the Holy Spirit, to be just plain wrong–such a way is more in keeping with Christ’s Way.
But looking at in a practical way, the best way to kill off a mistaken Church teaching or policy, is very possibly to just starve it of oxygen. How many Mormons under the age of 30, involved in the Church of not, can tell you anything about Mormon Doctrine or SWK’s Miracle of Forgiveness? That is a good thing.
After all, a Doctrine is Doctrine until the Church decides it is a policy whose shelf-life has expired. I’m not trying to be clever, here. This is an invaluable safety vale. That is why we do not have a formal creed.
The thing with the Adam-God doctrine is that it actually makes so much sense, and brings to Mormon theology a brilliant logic that it currently lacks, having rejected the doctrine. It also has the added perk of actually identifying the Heavenly Mother (if Adam is HF, Eve is HM) in such a way that she could possibly play a much more significant role in Mormon life, thus bringing Latter-day Saints into contact with the concept of the feminine divine. I am sure many many women would love this, and I believe many many men could learn something from it.
However…it is also rooted in the gross crime of polygamy, which is why prominent polygamist Mormon sects still teach it. It also happens to be a “country bumpkin” version of the teaching of the Adam-Kadmon that comes from Kabbalah, which is far more advanced and beautiful than Mormonism. And, last but not least, from my Trinitarian point-of-view, it is simply false.
I would have more respect for Post-Manifesto Mormonism if it would have remained “peculiar,” like a jellyfish, one of the most exquisite creatures on the planet. Instead, contemporary Mormonism looks more and more like a platypus. You can push peculiarity to a point where it breaks down into absurdity. One way of doing so is trying to offer a little bit of something to everyone. Mormonism needs to re-acquaint itself with its original incarnation in the esoteric teachings of its founders.
In finishing up Dr. Brook’s book, she quoted Armand Mauss from his book “Casting off the Curse of Cain” with something that is on-point for this topic:
Sociologist Armand Mauss writes about the Church’s limited progress on racial reconciliation since 1978. He characterizes institutional Mormonism’s postban approach to anti-Black racism as “an organizational posture of benign and selective forgetfulness,” so theorized by its adherents:
If the church progresses in a continuous, linear path by divine guidance, then contemporary realities and understandings replace those from the past, which will eventually be forgotten. Obsolete ideas and practices simply don’t count any more, even if they originated as divine revelations. Where discrepancies appear between the present and the past, there is no point in reminding ourselves about the past. Especially if an event in the past is embarrassing, then recalling it and dwelling on it, even if only to repudiate it, merely confuses the matter. Such negative thinking has no place in the Lord’s kingdom. If harm has resulted from earlier ways of thinking, then everyone involved should forgive everyone else and get on with constructing a better future. Apologies or ringing declarations of disavowal should not be necessary, since few peoples or individuals have histories free of offense against others, and thus few are in a position to demand apologies. With time, memories of these offenses will fade automatically, and we will all be better for it. Meanwhile, if we have not made the requisite changes, let’s not stir up useless and uncomfortable old memories. (pp. 163-164).
From Happy Hubby’s latest comment:
“If the church progresses in a continuous, linear path by divine guidance, then contemporary realities and understandings replace those from the past, which will eventually be forgotten. Obsolete ideas and practices simply don’t count any more, even if they originated as divine revelations. Where discrepancies appear between the present and the past, THERE IS NO POINT IN REMINDING OURSELVES ABOUT THE PAST. Especially if an event in the past is embarrassing, then recalling it and dwelling on it, even if only to repudiate it, merely confuses the matter. Such negative thinking has no place in the Lord’s kingdom.”
I understand that Happy Hubby is gisting Armand Mauss’ explanation of the Church’s Modus Operandi, that he is providing the rationale for how the Church acts. While I understand the idea that just keeping quiet about an inconvenient past is perhaps a good strategy for ensuring the quiet death of bad ideas and practices, unless we attempt to come to terms with our past, we are acting dangerously, and we place ourselves in great risk. My answer is: NOT SO!
This is a personal issue for me. I was born in West Germany in 1952, seven years after WWII ended. I lived there until 1970. The ghosts of Nazi Germany hung heavy in the air over everything, even when people tried to avoid the subject. It was not until the mid-1960s, when I was in my teens, that the postwar German government started airing on German television footage on Nazi atrocities., and confronting the German public in a systematic way with what had been done, and making presentations on the Nazi era in schools. I was a 14 year-old boy when a German acquaintance of our family exploded onto page one of the international news, when the Dutch government sought his extradition for arranging the transportation of more than 50,000 Dutch Jews to the death camps. More specifically, the man was the father-in-law of of my father’s secretary; she and her husband (who was only five years old when his father did this awful thing) changed their last name, in an attempt to hide from the awfulness of it all. The secretary’s husband had had no idea that his father was a war criminal.
I believe that the Church receives divine guidance, and I love it dearly and am a believing member, but current practices are not always best practices. Remembering an embarrassing past does indeed have a place in the Lord’s Kingdom. Paul in the New Testament teaches us that if remembrance of past sin is handled properly, it leads us to a Godlier future.
There needs to be forgiveness for past wrongs, but we must also have remembrance. Otherwise, the human race forgets the awful thing s it has done, and just starts doing them all over again.
I really appreciate Happy Hubby’s post. And I will add Armand Mauss’ book to my list.
It is not a benign practice to simply hope old discredited ideas will go away when they have been upheld by church members as doctrine.
It can take enormous effort to uproot old ideas but is an effort worth engaging in.
One example is that of blood atonement. Picture a jury trial in a murder case where the defendant is at risk of execution.
A juror who believes in blood atonement might easily be more willing to convict even in the face of inadequate evidence if the juror believes the eternal salvation of the defendant to be at stake.
The book and movie “Just Mercy” make it clear that real lives are devastated when juries send innocent people to death row.
One might think that a belief in blood atonement has been long gone from church members, but this is not so.
I debated the death penalty with a family member who justified execution as a merciful thing to do as it was the only way for the person to be forgiven of their sin.
Ideas have consequences and it’s imperative that we examine the ideas that have hold within our communities.
These ideas are quietly passed down from generation to generation and won’t go away without being strongly denounced. As many times as it takes.
Matty, I’ve often wondered how those blood-atonement Mormons deal with Alma 24:10 and other verses indicating forgiveness of sins and murders without any of the repentant sinners having made a “blood atonement.”
“And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.” Was your family member able to make any kind of reconciliation of her blood-atonement belief and Alma?
I was taught about blood atonement back in the 80’s, and didn’t realise that it wasn’t still a thing for another 10-15 years. It just didn’t come up all that often.
It never occurred to me that it wasn’t common knowledge until last year. I was with a group of people who had all been active members for at least 30 years (all in their fifties or sixties), one of whom has taught seminary for almost a decade. The firing squad execution option in Utah came up, to much consternation over its existence. When I said it was because of the (former) doctrine of blood atonement, I was accused of lying about the church and making things up.