Approaching Mormon Doctrine: A Press Release

May 7, 2007
By

(From my buddy KC)

For me, this is an historical press release. There is so much in here — I could write a book. We should all print this out, and keep it with our scriptures, and quote from it regularly in church.

To editorialize for a minute, this makes me very, very happy.  I witty commenter mentioned to me, “By the definition of “doctrine” in the press release, this press release does not qualify as doctrine.”  Well, though that might be technically true, it’s doctrine to me.  :)

I look forward to the discussion.

SALT LAKE CITY 4 May 2007 Much misunderstanding about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolves around its doctrine. The news media is increasingly asking what distinguishes the Church from other faiths, and reporters like to contrast one set of beliefs with another.

The Church welcomes inquisitiveness, but the challenge of understanding Mormon doctrine is not merely a matter of accessing the abundant information available. Rather, it is a matter of how this information is approached and examined.

The doctrinal tenets of any religion are best understood within a broad context (see here and here), and thoughtful analysis is required to understand them. News reporters pressed by daily deadlines often find that problematic. Therefore, as the Church continues to grow throughout the world and receive increasing media attention, a few simple principles that facilitate a better understanding may be helpful:

* Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
* Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.

Based on the scriptures, Joseph Smith declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

* Because different times present different challenges, modern-day prophets receive revelation relevant to the circumstances of their day. This follows the biblical pattern (Amos 3:7), in which God communicated messages and warnings to His people through prophets in order to secure their well-being. In our day, President Gordon B. Hinckley has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the family in our increasingly fractional society. In addition, the Church does not preclude future additions or changes to its teachings or practices. This living, dynamic aspect of the Church provides flexibility in meeting those challenges. According to the Articles of Faith, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
* Latter-day Saints place heavy emphasis on the application of their faith in daily life. For example, the active participation of Latter-day Saints in their community and worldwide humanitarian programs reflects concern for other people. As Jesus Christ declared, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
* Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.
* Those writing or commenting on Latter-day Saint doctrine also need to understand that certain words in the Mormon vocabulary have slightly different meanings and connotations than those same words have in other religions. For example, Latter-day Saints generally view being born again as a process of conversion, whereas many other Christian denominations often view it as a conversion that happens in one defining moment. Sometimes what some may consider an argument or dispute over doctrine is really a misunderstanding of simple differences in terminology.

Journalists, academics and laymen alike are encouraged to pursue their inquiries into the Church by recognizing the broad and complex context within which its doctrines have been declared, in a spirit of reason and good will.

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63 Responses to Approaching Mormon Doctrine: A Press Release

  1. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 9:03 am

    I don’t see anything new here, though there is one great thing about it: we can cite it and point to as an authoritative statement when people want to make a random JD quote into Mormon doctrine. Sure, it’s not a “doctrinal” definition of doctrine, but it is relatively authoritative.

  2. Richard O
    May 7, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Am I really reading this correctly? Does this mean we can all stop calling everything in the Conference Ensign ‘scripture?’

    This does seem like a pretty important statement, and not just for the media.

  3. Me
    May 7, 2007 at 10:03 am

    This might actually come as a surprise to many faithful LDS who think everything ever said by every General Authority is an absolute truth. That might be a little exaggerative, but many have ideas that approach this view.

    As one who believes and has faith in the calling of modern-day prophets, I am glad to see this distinction for their sakes as well as for the understanding of members. As John has stated many times here, I feel that many of the problems (so perceived) people will encounter when delving into Church history and doctrine are abrogated or mollified by a comparative (not positive or absolutist) understanding, and an active, vibrant faith can be maintained and even grow with such an understanding.

  4. May 7, 2007 at 10:18 am

    “I will take a Venti Vanilla Latte with non-fat milk for me, and a Triple Espresso for my Home Teacher. We plan to stay up late tonight playing Poker with the High Priests Group.”

    more seriously, Congratulations John. I think people like you are directly responsible for this press release. As I told you already, you have done more for dialog and progress in the Church than any Apostle has done since 1978. Good Work.

  5. May 7, 2007 at 10:28 am

    This is how I felt about the press release, without the snarkiness:

    “I noticed today something that is quite possibly the most significant reversal in the history of the LDS church. In my opinion, this position, as it is presented on LDS.org is bigger than the reversal of the race ban, it is bigger than the Manifesto regarding polygamy, it is bigger than the 1978 change that allowed women to pray in Sacrament Meeting.”

  6. May 7, 2007 at 11:03 am

    One of the ironies of this is that while the Word of Wisdom is considered scripture (sustained and everything) the later interpretations could, in light of this statement, be discounted.

    Kava party, my house! Bring the Polygamy Porter and iced tea!

  7. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Mayan,
    This isn’t as radical as you’re making it out to be. This is what I have been taught my whole life. It’s significant that it’s so clearly stated in a relatively authoritative context, but it’s not a radical change in Church teaching.

  8. Mayan Elephant
    May 7, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Excellent point Tom.

    Though, seeing it from an official source, albeit not scriptural or publicly unanimous from all 15 apostles, is encouraging and worth celebration, no?

  9. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 11:32 am

    I think it’s great. I don’t know if I would say “encouraging” because I wouldn’t characterize the current state of affairs within the Church at all discouraging. But it’s cool.

  10. May 7, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I appreciate Tom & Mayan Elephant’s point of views. I think they are both potentially right. This is a press release that was issued in response to a point in time public relations emergency. The dialogue has yet to begin. It may be that there will be substantial change as M.E. suggests; however, my money is on Tom’s point of view: that this is just a press release – a policy on doctrine with a Humpty Dumpty meaning that depends on who is reading it.

    I reckon there will be at least one talk in the next General Conference that will address the ‘unwritten order of things’ in addition a host of talks that will address the urgent need to follow the prophet.

  11. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I will say, though, that I think I can see where your enthusiasm is coming from as a person who does find in the Church a lot to be discouraged about.

  12. Wes
    May 7, 2007 at 11:38 am

    John,

    They are running scared. They know the floodgates are open and there is no stopping it. It is a matter of damage control now.

  13. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Wes,
    I guess that’s one way to interpret a press release stating a long-taught and prevalent approach to weighting statements by Church leaders.

  14. May 7, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Tom,

    Long-taught? I hope you do not mind elaborating on that.

    I concede that it was discussed by members, in silent or in closed circles, but I am unaware where this was actually taught. Do you mind filling us in on that?

    Tom, it is not that i am disagreeing with you, only, I would love to have the sources.

    Know also that I mostly agree with Wes. I still want your response, but I thought I would camp myself on the periphery with Wes nonetheless. Perhaps it wasnt a running scared moment, but I do think that Oaks’ comment in the PBS documentary was a disaster. A complete and total disaster. He truly boxed them in with his comments, and the press release may be a survival tactic. I will applaud it nonetheless, though, I dont think we would have seen such a release were it not for Oaks’ smug and shmirkish comment.

  15. Equality
    May 7, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Tom,

    Have you read Ezra Taft Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet?

    Or Boyd Packer’s Unwritten Order of Things? Or the Mantle is Far Far Greater than the Intellect?

    Because they really bear little resembalnce to what is in this press release. But, I guess according to the press release those apostolic talks are no more doctrinal than, say, a press release. If there is a conflict between a non-doctrinal press release declaring doctrinal talks apostles non-doctrinal, what takes precedence–the non-doctrinal talk by the apostle or the non-doctrinal press release by anonymous church employee?

    Perhaps at the next conference, we will be asked to sustain the Brethren as “pundits, pontificators, and opinionators” rather than “prophets, seers, and revelators.”

  16. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Mayan,
    I just about wrote a comment backing of a tiny bit on my assertion that this approach has been taught for a long time, not because I don’t think it has, but because I’m not sure I could find sources to point anybody to (not that I’ve tried). So consider that assertion abandoned for now as I can’t provide evidence beyond my own impression. I will say this: the approach presented in the press release is not different from the understanding of the proper way of weighting teachings of church leaders that I have acquired in my time in the Church, complete with the full correlation and CES curriculum. I just wasn’t surprised by its contents and didn’t recognize it as a shift.

    As for yours and Wes’ theory about what this press release means, I’ve observed that those who look at the Church through cynical lenses come to cynical conclusions and those who look at the Church through believing lenses come to more charitable conclusions.

  17. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Equality,
    Are those the only things that have ever been said about how to regard and weight the words of Church leaders? And are they really incompatible with the notion that not everything spoken by every Church leader is official doctrine, binding on the Church?

  18. May 7, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Tom,

    Trust me, please. I do not intend to be combative.

    You asked whether it is ‘binding on the Church.’ I would counter that in this case that is a secondary issue at best. I look at this from a NOM, John Dehlin, feminist, homosexual or heretic point of view. Meaning, I could care less how things are binding for the church. I see value in this for the individual. From the perspective of diverse individuals, this is amazing progress, regardless of the unqualified source.

    This press release provides a reference and qualification for positions held by the majority of members. And more, it provides relief to many members that may otherwise feel pressure to apologize for or incorporate every damn thing said by every damn apostle in any damn circumstance from 1820 to the present.

    It is not perfect, but, until I see a reference I will consider it progress and an advancement for members and a contradiction to previous counsel.

  19. Equality
    May 7, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Tom,

    Come on, man. You are setting up a straw man. There is some room between what the press release says and “the notion that not everything spoken by every church leader is official doctrine, binding on the church.” If that’s all you are saying has been lon-taught, I would agree with you. Of course, the devil is in the details.

    The ideas in the press release may match what you will find in an article by Michael Ash at FAIR but they are far from what your typical Chapel Mormon believes. Case in point: Hinckley’s infamous earring injunction. Are you saying most active Mormons don’t consider that doctrinal? Or that individuals can freely (i.e., without social consequence) ignore it as non-doctrinal? Bednar and Ballard give talks explicitly condemning someone for not quickly being obedient to that teaching, the point being that strict obedience to everything the Prophet says is of utmost importance–to the point where Bednar approves of a young man deciding not to marry a woman who would wear more than one earring in each ear.

    Of course, I guess you could say Bednar and Ballard are speaking non-doctrinally when they hammer home the importance of following the equally non-doctrinal remarks of Gordon Hinckley. But the fact is that the culture of the church is steeped in the idea that we should follow the prophet no matter what; that he will never lead us astray. And that the FP and Q12 are prophets, seers, and revelators whose words at GC are like unto scripture (I have often heard it said that we should carry the Conference edition of the Ensign along with our scriptures, as it is scripture to us for the next six months).

    As a practical matter, the truth of what I am arguing is manifest if you consider some of the hypotheticals that Mayan Elephant mentions. Imagine hosting an Elders’ Quorum Poker Party–do you think someone would object, pointing to President Hinckley’s talk on the matter? Do you think saying, “well, that talk is non-doctrinal and therefore not binding” would get you very far in today’s church? How about having your wife and daughters wear jeans and flip-flops to church next week? Or have your son try to pass the sacrament wearing a purple shirt and no tie–after all, there is nothing in the scriptures or in any official proclamation against it.

    I suppose we could construct some fantasy church in our minds where members really are free to make up their own minds about a lot of these things, and where they would only be censured by the community (either socially or through official disciplinary actions) for violating scriptural and official proclamation mandates, but the real church with real Latter-day Saints doesn’t operate that way. Just ask the woman whose boyfriend dumped her over a pair of earrings.

  20. Tytus
    May 7, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    From the CES manual “Teachings of Living Prophets” comes both some uncomfortable and some reassuring insights:

    What the First Presidency Says Is Scripture

    Latter-day Saints Should Gain an Unshakable Testimony That Prophets Are Inspired

    Can One Have a Different Point of View and Still Sustain the Brethren?

    Thoughts?

  21. May 7, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Tom,

    I wonder how you approach doctrine? My wife likes it when I dig up a Bruce R. McConkie or Joseph Fielding Smith talk because they are so brash, brazen, offensive, and however you want to describe it. My wife is entirely devoted to the church and shares none of my borderland mentality. She has no problem calling a talk incorrect, or even the doctrine of plurality of wives as being wrong.

    But I have never been able to understand if (or how) she could do this and still buy into the policy on doctrine as she does. It is puzzling to me because the doctrine doesn’t ever cover the extensive ground which is demanded in practice today: everything from the definition of tithing in 1971 to the criteria for admission to the temple.

    So . . .

    How can one discern when the leaders are speaking as prophets or not? I have never been able to accurately feel my way through with the spirit. The only way seems to be ex post facto, which isn’t a help for me at all. If the prophet is not speaking scripture and is just a well informed opinion, what sets him apart from other good people?

    These questions are asked in good faith.

  22. Tom
    May 7, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Mayan,
    Don’t worry, you’re not sounding combative to me.

    You asked whether it is ‘binding on the Church.’

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. I think you might’ve read something too fast or something because I didn’t ask if anything is binding on the Church.

    My downplaying of this is not based on it not being binding on the Church, it’s based on my belief that this isn’t a dramatic shift in Church teaching on how to regard and weight the teachings of Church leaders. If I get around to it, I’ll look for some hard evidence to back this up. Don’t hold your breath, though. I’m not too invested in this.

    And more, it provides relief to many members that may otherwise feel pressure to apologize for or incorporate every damn thing said by every damn apostle in any damn circumstance from 1820 to the present.

    Sure, if people are feeling this pressure, this would come as a relief to them. I don’t feel that pressure because I’ve been taking this approach for a long time.

    I have had annoying conversations trying to get critics to understand that not everything in the Journal of Discourses “matters” and I’ve been annoyed with journalists who, albeit understandably, don’t get that they can’t pick and choose historical teachings and broadly characterize the Church based on those quotes in isolation. The press release may make life a little less annoying and for that I’m grateful.

  23. Wes
    May 7, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Tom,

    I can find you at least a half-dozen quotes by apostles and prophets saying that when the GAs speak (the 12 and 1st Prez.), it is as good as scripture. I am sure you are probably familiar with the statements so I will let you look them up. The point is, the days of old when the mormon church could hide information are over. The internet has put the final nail in the coffin on mormon church censorship. People are no longer going to remain silent in the face of lies and deception.

  24. Tytus
    May 7, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    For reference, here are links to the talks Equality mentioned.

    The Mantle is Far Far Greater than the Intellect (PDF)

    Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet

    The Unwritten Order of Things

    And just for fun, here’s a transcript of the BKP talk that got attention on the PBS documentary:

    Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council

  25. May 7, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Tytus,

    Why is it that I picture you laughing as you post each of those links? I have this insane image of you giggling out loud as you google and post.

    Tom,

    If we were anywhere else, I suspect I would be more direct. I am trying my best to be respectful of John and others that participate here. Regarding combativeness with the church, i simply ask: how does the recent press release compare to other counsel? Equality points out a few specific examples. Can we, as an example, examine how the referenced presentations would be received today, after the announcement by the Otterson at lds.org.

    Honestly Tom, I have been on here for a long time an I have never been so challenged in expressing myself. mmmmmmmm. grrrrrrrr, for the frustration. I just do not get how you see this as a traditional point of view, rather than a shift in traditional and acceptable points of view. My suspicion is that it does not contradict with YOUR longstanding position and that you have no references or information that your point of view was or is consistent with all of the apostles or official doctrine.

    ah damnit. I give up. I am not making my point. I just want to say that I applaud the press release and see it as a contradiction to anything I have previously READ.

    Tom, dont bother responding. I am unsatisfied with my comments here. In lieu of responding, spend the afternoon getting a new tattoo and playing poker.

  26. Equality
    May 7, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    I am going to disagree with my pachydermian friend here. I do not think the press release is monumental or a sea-change at all. I think it is par for the course. The church is desperately trying to paddle its way upstream against the wake of negative publicity, namely the PBS doc.

    The statement represents an attempt by the church to downplay the racist statement by John Taylor and, perhaps, the totalitarian sentiments expressed by Elder Oaks on the program. That’s all. It won’t have any effect on the general membership at all. It’s simply designed as a weapon for apologists to add to their arsenal in their battle against those who, you know, actually take seriously the things that the so-called prophets, seers, and revelators have said over the years.

    Well, let me correct that–the apologists have been using the “he was speaking only as a man and not as a prophet” line for years, so this press release doesn’t really do anything for them. It’s merely a way for the church to furnish the run-of-the-mill church member with the same armor apologists have been using all along.

    So, from that standpoint, maybe it is new. And to go along with it, I propose a new church slogan:
    “Every Member an Apologist.”

  27. Tytus
    May 7, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Mayan Elephant-


    Tee hee hee!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Well if I may add my 2 cents, I think you both have legit arguments. I too was told from a very young age that church leaders have their opinions and some are more valid than others. At the same time, I encountered many quotations (like the firs t one from the CES manual I posted above) that suggest that GA voice = God’s voice.

    Here’s another such suggestion from the Gospel principles manual:
    The inspired words of our living prophets are also accepted as scripture (Tee hee hee) ;)

    Of course, weasel words (like prefixing “inspired”) are included to allow for loopholes and ambiguities–a failsafe if you will. This tells me that not all words ever spoken by GA are scripture, but one would think that if a GA ever did have something inspired to say, THAT would be what would come out in General Conference, or in sermons that made their way into the JD, etc…

    In any case, this is an area where the church tries to play things real safe, because of the fact that dismissing past leaders’ words compromises the validity of their own.

    But all in all, I’m very pleased to see this press release; I didn’t find it all that new, but I do think that its prominent place on the official LDS website is very significant and signals some positive progressive steps.

  28. May 7, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    i hate metaphors, as equality knows.

    however, i am going to use one here.

    i do not, in any way, suggest that this press release is a monumental shift at the COB. what i do propose is that it gives unprecedented cover to some individuals. it is the best we have, to date.

    so, for my methaphor, it is similar to a military person entering the theater of war under the banner and flag of the united nations. will such a flag stop bullets? obviously not. but, it may discourage some bullet from being directed at them. I suggest the same is true for the last generation’s Jack Mormons and the current generation’s NOMs. This will not totally remove all the pressure, but, it will reduce the odds of confontation, just as the EU label reduces confrontations for the united nations.

  29. Clay
    May 7, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Regarding Tom’s argument that this is “a press release stating a long-taught and prevalent approach to weighting statements by Church leaders”:

    I will agree that I have heard this approach stated in church before. I know very well that its a common refrain amongst apologists. However, in the context of church I think its either stated or taken or both only on a superficial level. That is not the mindset that is practiced, and especially not what is expected from most priesthood leaders.

    The majority of the times I have heard this sentiment expressed from a faithful LDS, it is in direct response to being exposed to a statement that is indefensible. I did this myself as an apologist for years. There were three options.
    1. There is an answer determined which is either reasonably sound or else is reliant on faith but is solid from the faithful side.
    2. There is insufficient evidence to interpret a statement in the negative way and other known aspects of the person’s character warranted them getting the benefit of the doubt.
    3. The statement is clearly wrong, unless the context was that they were quoting someone else who was being used as an example of someone clearly wrong. In these cases it forces you to throw your hands up and say prophets are fallible human beings and do not always speak for God.

    The sentiment has never been taught widespread in a way to deepen and enrich the faith of the saints. On the contrary, the church has been trying to keep these scary statements out of the vision of the saints because they don’t want to have to make announcements like this PR. I believe the brethren’s goal is to minimize the casualties of rogue statements.

    My question is: similar to raising your children… can they ever become self-reliant if you never trust them with responsibility for themselves? Hopefully this is a step in that direction.

  30. Me
    May 7, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    I have found (anecdotally) that faithful LDS are as likely to reject past statements as they are to merely accept anything any GA has ever said. Well, actually, I think I have heard more rejection than acceptance. When I get into any real doctrinal or historical discussion I find that people take a modern, play-it-safe stance. So I have CES friends who basically reject anything that hasn’t been repeated in Conference several times in the (note this) 20th century and even some who conceptually dismiss (or do not focus on) anything said more than 10 years ago or who shy away from anything said by anyone who is dead: “Sorry, Elder Maxwell… since you died, I can’t give your words as much weight anymore”–how stupid is that?

    I know this may strike some as a little counter to the mood of my earlier post, but as I reflected on discussions I’ve had over the years the dominant themes seem to be more of ignorance or even rejection, and not total support or blind belief for the “gospel” as preached by any and every LDS leader. I think people (in any context) tend latch on to what they hear and never explore ideas deeply enough to come to the apparent contradictions or difficulties and they feel that exploring such ideas may well lead to trouble, spiritually speaking. I think either view–blind acceptance or ingnorant rejection–is unfortunate.

  31. May 7, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    I might also add that I doubt that too many rank and file members will ever read this statement due to the fact that most members never read press releases anyway.

    I could be completely wrong about that.

  32. Phil
    May 7, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    Growing up as a mormon, I was always taught that whatever GA’s said is considered scripture. End of story.

  33. May 7, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    My two favorite parts:

    This living, dynamic aspect of the Church provides flexibility in meeting those challenges. According to the Articles of Faith, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

    the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.

    I agree with Tom that this is not necessarily a radical change – although it may very well be to some people. One of the things I have loved about listening to John’s podcasts is the variety of experience within the Mormon church. You can grow up at a certain time in a certain ward where a certain person had a “signs of the times” kick, and that moment – while just a brief moment in the history of that ward – could have deep and lasting impressions on your life. In that sense, this may be a radical change for people who have not been exposed to the more broad (and dare I say “liberal”) applications of the gospel. Dynamic aspects of the church – rock on.

  34. Equality
    May 7, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Oh, please, Glenn. Do spare us the cliche liberal-Mormon trope that those who queston the latest en vogue apologetic line have somehow been willfully ignorant of what the church has “really been like all along.” It does get tiresome. It’s not a radical change for the “ignorant masses.” The church of the liberal apologists is largely a figment of their own imaginations. The real church is the one Phil describes, where the Prophet’s word is Gospel Truth with a capital GT, where people emptied their refrigerators of Demon Coca-Cola the night President Hinckley appeared on 60 Minutes because he nodded and said “that’s right” when Wallace listed caffeine as a substance proscribed by the Church. Doctrinal? Heck no, not according to the enlightened liberal elites, I am sure (who, I guess, write the church’s press releases now). But is the effect any different than if it had been in an “official proclamation?” Hardly.

  35. Sally
    May 7, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    This just leaves me more confused. I had always been taught that it is scripture if said in Gen Conference. The press release seems to say that a GA making a statement isnt doctrine. How do we decide if the statement is true or just an opinion? It says that we are to get our own confirmation, but if we have to do this everytime a GA speaks because we can’t be sure if it is true or not, there will undoubtedly be many people getting many different answers. It feels like the ship has lost its guidance system and everyone is on their own to figure out what is doctrine.

  36. Mayan Elephant
    May 7, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    There will still be those that think the conference talks and Larry King interviews should be etched onto gold plates and called scripture. I do not think those people will notice this press release. Also, I suspect many of them will use this to show a higher, more pious, outward life. “Well, it may not be in the Book of Mormon, but, if my Prophet said to not wear denim to Church, I will not do it and neither will my children.”

    For those people, this press release means nothing.

    I read my friend Equality’s comments. I appreciate his angle. Given his accuracy in most things, I suspect he is right on this one too.

    Though, I still insist that this press release will lighten the load for a few people and possibly many. Hell, it is effectively a free pass for John Dehlin, and that is a good thing.

    Any author or teacher or publisher can now explore every nuance of the church with the new standard being the scriptures and proclamations.

    Let me propose it like this:

    Would the Church prosecute Janice Allred as they did, with that press release having been made public?

    Would the Church prosecute Margaret Toscano as they did, with that press release having been made public?

    Would the Church prosecute Quinn as they did, with that press release having been made public?

    Would John Dehlin have needed to solicit letters from his audience recently, with that press release having been made public?

    My answers – Yes to all. Though, it would be tougher now. And by making it tougher, it may be less likely.

  37. May 7, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    I don’t disagree that some members of the church probably got rid of Coca-Cola like you said (I don’t know that for sure, but I’ll take your word for it). I do know that my Elders’ quorum poker group disbanded after President Hinckley decried even casual games a few years ago.

    But what I was trying to say was that each of us potentially have different ideas about the church because of the different pet-topics of different ward members who have influenced our understanding of the church. I know that it is common for people to say that the church is the same here as it is there, but I don’t think that means that the people are the same, or their experiences and understandings are the same, and I think that “the church” is really whatever is in the hearts and minds of the people who make it.

    That said, I think that “the real church” is whatever church you have experienced through the course of your life regardless of what others have experienced. My experience of “the real church” can be different from yours or Phil’s or Tom’s or Daron’s or Hiram’s (etc) experience of “the real church” and we can all be right even if you can line up more people on your side of the playground than I can.

    From this perspective, I can see how some might view this press release as a radical change and how some might not.

  38. austin
    May 8, 2007 at 12:03 am

    A very interesting read is J. Reuben Clark’s talk “When Are The Writings Or Sermons Of Church Leaders Entitled To The Claim Of Scripture” from a 1954 Church news. http://ldsbooknook.com/store/s_when_are_the_writings_or_sermons_of_church_leaders_entitled_to_the_claim_of_scripture.php

    In it Clark basically says that, ultimately, members have the real responsibility of deciding when what a General Authority speaks is scripture by whether or not they feel the influence of the Holy Ghost as they study the doctrine. Several instances of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young teaching similar concepts are also cited. While I don’t think this is a very widely publicized interpretation on scripture–certainly the easier, more conservative “strict obedience” aspect is more popular in the church today–it has been around since the beginning of the church.

    This press release isn’t a huge shift in attitude, it just reiterates what (I believe to be) a fair number of Mormons have always believed, and that not without teachings of living prophets and apostles to back them up–though to be fair, some (perhaps many? most?) church leaders through history have not been so open-minded. Will the press release change the average member’s view of General Conference talks? I doubt it, but it is good to have it come out to remind us that there is still room for difference of opinion in the church, even if only those who actually have the differences of opinion are aware that that’s OK :)

  39. Trevor
    May 8, 2007 at 7:18 am

    May I be so bold as to suggest that how members respond to the public speeches of GAs is indicative of their personalities, and should not be considered as definitive of LDSism as a whole? Sure, there are those people who take great comfort in parsing with great scrutiny every word of the Gang of Fifteen to find new commandments to keep (e.g. Hinckley and the soda pop), but there are also those who sit back and think about the context and blow off what Hinckley said on Larry King almost entirely.

    From my point of view, the problem with Mormonism has been a tendency to indulge zealots, which in the end can be tantamount to legitimizing them, but is not always precisely that. How I wish at times that Joseph Smith had not been so indulgent of Sidney Rigdon, a man who by all accounts was dealing from half a deck of cards. I am sure Sidney knew too much ever to be controlled completely, but his ‘extermination’ rhetoric practically invited Boggs’ almost predictable response.

    So it continues today. Apostles are a force to be reckoned with, and once they are installed, it is very difficult to get rid of them. So you have McConkie, who loved to pretend that he really knew what was what, with many ears eager to be told all about it. You have BKP and his pronouncements about the value of academic history and so forth. Wiser heads shake in response to such nonsense, but there are plenty of people out there who applaud these guys who “tell it like it is.” (As if anyone *really* knew.)

    A similar folk, albeit humbler in stature, stridently bark about their certainty concerning orthodoxy, the wicked state of the world, and many other largely pointless topics on the local level. So it seems there is a culture of indulging and perhaps de facto encouragement of these things.

    There are also many, maybe (dare I be so optimistic) even a silent majority, who do not buy into hyper-certainty and simply quietly move along performing service and loving their fellow members. Maybe all that needs to change is the almost limitless indulgence of the vocal cranks. Perhaps milder voices need to raise their volume just enough to voice a difference of opinion.

  40. Equality
    May 8, 2007 at 8:36 am

    May I offer an apology to Glenn. In re-reading my comment, I realize it is oozing sarcasm and if John Dehlin were not so busy, he’d have probably edited it. I’m sorry for not maintaining the level of civil discourse that John strives to achieve on this blog.

  41. May 8, 2007 at 9:30 am

    I just have to echo what Sally said at quote #35, which I hadn’t the repose to state so clearly, she said:


    This begs the question: What is the church? What is the apostasy? What is the point if the church doesn’t provide concrete guidance as the modern Moses? I think John has been saying the answer for sometime with a clarity that is perhaps beginning to resonate. I will still hold some hope against my doubts.

  42. May 8, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Sorry for my pitiful misuse of XHTML, Sally had stated:

    This just leaves me more confused. I had always been taught that it is scripture if said in Gen Conference. The press release seems to say that a GA making a statement isnt doctrine. How do we decide if the statement is true or just an opinion? It says that we are to get our own confirmation, but if we have to do this everytime a GA speaks because we can’t be sure if it is true or not, there will undoubtedly be many people getting many different answers. It feels like the ship has lost its guidance system and everyone is on their own to figure out what is doctrine.

  43. May 8, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Equality — no worries. I am well-versed in sarcasm and frequently ooze more than my fair share of it.

    Sally — I have been thinking about the tail-end of your comment. My apologies in advance if I get a little preachy:

    It says that we are to get our own confirmation, but if we have to do this everytime a GA speaks because we can’t be sure if it is true or not, there will undoubtedly be many people getting many different answers. It feels like the ship has lost its guidance system and everyone is on their own to figure out what is doctrine.

    I think this is a very common concern — the underlying fear that “different answers” will lead to some kind of destructive confusion or chaos. I would even go so far as to suggest that this common concern may be at the root of LDS hegemony — the reason the members allow their leaders a certain degree of power over them. It is comforting to feel like someone is steering the ship — that Jesus is really directing the course of the Church daily, intimately, providing clear answers through worthy and infallible church leaders who provide clear direction and protection against the evils of the world.

    On the other hand, the idea that God may have thrown us into a mortal laboratory with little direction, little intervention, where responsibilities and decisions and choices are ultimately left up each individual – where there is such a propensity for suffering and abuse of every kind — that’s a pretty scary thought — scary enough, perhaps, to make 1/3 of the hosts of heaven (speaking purely mythologically, of course) to choose to vote for the anti-free-agency ticket and ultimately damn their own progression rather than face the uncertainties of a world without crystal clear direction and protection.

    I agree that there are risks when everyone is on their own to figure out what is good and true. But in my understanding of God’s plan, that is a risk that is necessary in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of women and men. That is one of the core beliefs – or at least my interpretation of our core beliefs – that keeps me interested in continuing with this church. And to me, this press release supports that core belief – that things are not so clear-cut – that we have a dynamic gospel that can grow and change and make mistakes and correct itself and keep encouraging its members to repent and forgive and live a charitable, Christ-like life. I like it.

  44. Clay
    May 8, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Glenn,
    “On the other hand, the idea that God may have thrown us into a mortal laboratory with little direction, little intervention, where responsibilities and decisions and choices are ultimately left up each individual – where there is such a propensity for suffering and abuse of every kind — that’s a pretty scary thought”

    That’s a wonderful and beautiful thought to me. That is MY gospel. The one that is home to me, burns in my bosom, and actually makes sense. OK, not the suffering and abuse part, but the freedom and opportunity to grow and learn part. The more time passes as a parent, the more I come to appreciate how hard it is to allow suffering and pain and that allowing it for the sake of strengthening and learning is an *act* of love, not a lack of love.

    I liked that post all around, Glenn.

  45. May 8, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    I agree that this press release demands some personal involvement / decision making. I think it is a good thing too.

    However, this invokes the protestant problem faced after Luther died: if everything is by personal faith and believers are not bound to the centre then everything fractures and people will go their own way. That would be fine if the church was a big tent; however, most of us are here because we feel the tent isn’t big enough.

    The church has good things to offer. What can we do to make Mormonism the moral centre it can be and yet still expand the tent. This is the dilemma the policy on doctrine creates.

    I am afraid the easy answer for the COB is to resort to the Bruce R. McConkie approach of absolute obedience to GA’s absolute knowledge and unanimity on belief.

  46. GDTeacher
    May 8, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Sally’s concern is very real to many members of the church. Although I understand Glenn’s explanation, I find it wanting in realism. In reality people will receive or perceive that they have received different answers about the correctness of any given statement of a GA. Since the church culture is non-confrontational, this will potentially lead to some interesting doctrinal stalemate discussions at church. In the end, the reality will play out in a manner that is similar to how many approach the Book of Mormon. If you prayed about it and didn’t get the “right” answer, pray about it again. Still not the right answer? Fast and pray. Still not the right answer? Repent, then fast and pray. If someone receives the “wrong” answer and is so bold as to admit it (similar to the emperor’s clothes), then they will be told that they need to go back again until they get the right answer.

    I think Glenn is right when he said that this uncertainty about receiviing the correct answer is, “…the reason the members allow their leaders a certain degree of power over them.” People do not want to be wrong. They don’t have the time or emotional, psychological and spiritual stength to invest in examining every (perceived) significant comment of GA’s. Many people just want to be told what to do, what to think, and what to believe. It helps their sense of need of certainty. Using Fowler’s stages as a baseline, this is the comfort zone of stage three people. The active adult population in the LDS church is largely made up of stage three folks (as is common in authoritarian religious denominations), with a few stage twos and a few blue-shirt-wearing or multiple-ear-piercing stage fours.

    I don’t see the press release as creating a major shift in the church, but probably like Myan Elephant, perceive that it will provide cover for some or perhaps mitigate some of the target practice that some overzealous leaders might otherwise attempt. I welcome the press release and will bring it up at church whenever I can. It will go in my scriptures and be used as a non-doctrinal canon.

  47. jesse farias
    May 8, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Interesting clarification . . . In light of this how does one explain why so much of Mormonism (the culture & people) has been influenced for so many years by that which is non-authoritative and scripturally binding?

  48. Mayan Elephant
    May 8, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    “In light of this how does one explain why so much of Mormonism (the culture & people) has been influenced for so many years by that which is non-authoritative and scripturally binding?”

    In my opinion, the explanation is that this lates standard (in the press release) has evolved and was not commonly acceptable until very recently. And where it was acceptable, it was used to explain away embarrassing quotes or comments. The press release opens up the public use of the same apologist excuse in response to current leaders in almost every conceivable venue.

    The tougher question is, how will the leaders continue to influence the culture if doctrine is reduced to the standard works and interpretations of those books? (that is a HUGE and improbable if, admittedly)

  49. notorwell
    May 9, 2007 at 4:48 am

    animal farm, anyone?

  50. EagleLover07
    May 9, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Oh…i’m sooo confused. i feel the same as Wes in #23 and Sally in #35.
    After having spent the last week extremely pissed off at Joseph Smith, i do agree with what he said regarding Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. He may have redeemed himself..just a tiny, tiny bit. i’m still upset with his antics concerning polygamy/polyandry..but anyways, i had a thought,which came about as a result of the info i have recently learned about JS-
    How do we know that the person claiming to receive said revelations is not just making it up to suit his own needs??
    In some aspects, i like this press release, in other ways, i see it as a CYA move.
    And are we REALLY free to use our intellects, to question, to learn? i think of the “September Six” here. its as if we can only go so far, and that pisses me off.
    That said, its time for a cup of coffee, and i think i’ll get a second piercing in my ears:)
    i’m so damn rebellious!! yeeee-hawwww!!!

  51. EagleLover07
    May 9, 2007 at 8:52 am

    And i most certainly am going to print a copy and have it ready to whip out…gonna highlight some important points that really jumped out at me!! i love it!!! think i’ll have it ready the next time my VT’s come over, IF i CHOOSE to allow them to do so…i still haven’t decided.

  52. Tony
    May 9, 2007 at 8:54 am

    Because I am currently a disaffected member of the church and hold little value as to the dictates that come from Church Headquarters, my response will be biased. When I read the press release, my first impression was “so what?” and to some degree I still think that. However, it is a step forward in making an official statement regarding the actual power of a church leader in minimizing that power to a certain degree.

    Impact: Minimal. I think this statement is helpful to those who are stuggling in the church and looking for a little justification in becoming a “buffet mormon,” as John has termed it. Yet, with the rank and file members, it will do little in changing their opinion of the current leadership or any other general leader who comes along in their lifetime. They will always consider what the prophet has to say as “gospel truth.” He is after all THE prophet and spokesman for Christ on the earth. And the other leadership ARE inspired and above criticism. Each generation’s prophet was, for the most part, above scrutiny according to the faithful. They regarded the most heinous statements as truth simply because it came from the Lord’s mouthpiece. I think that mentality will continue. The press release, however, does provide an escape clause for those heinous statements of the past; although, as it has already been stated, the apologists have been using this idea of the fallible human being for many years. Now it is just in print with presumable support from the First Presidency and GA’s.

  53. Tony
    May 9, 2007 at 9:09 am

    One final thought, this press release is full of loopholes for both members and leadership alike. Because one can pray to find out, one can receive the answer that best suits them. Example: I pondered and prayed about the second piercing and know that it will bring me closer to Christ simply because I am following the counsels of the prophet. Another will pray and recieve an answer that goes: second piercings are inconsequential and I have other more pressing issues to worry about.

    We will all interpret this release in whatever way our mindset allows us. So, I see nothing as really changing a whole lot. But then again, maybe I’m just being pessimistic.

  54. Clay
    May 9, 2007 at 9:33 am

    “Each generation’s prophet was, for the most part, above scrutiny according to the faithful. They regarded the most heinous statements as truth simply because it came from the Lord’s mouthpiece. I think that mentality will continue.”

    That’s probably true. Let’s hope that Thomas Monson lives long enough to succeed Pres. Hinckley and to be succeeded by Jeffrey Holland, or Henry Eyring.

  55. Mayan Elephant
    May 9, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Tony,

    I agree that the impact will be minimal in terms of the relative number of people that will read it and appreciate it and benefit from it. However, for those few people, the personal impact may be big and very meaningful.

    I also think there will be some impact on the leaders, especially the big 16. Having this out and public may force them to consider their comments just a bit more carefully (good thing) clarify whether something is to be considered doctrine and apply to the whole church (good thing) and show concrete violations of counsel that is in the scriptures or proclamations before dragging someone into a disciplinary action (great thing).

  56. May 10, 2007 at 7:09 am

    How do we know that the person claiming to receive said revelations is not just making it up to suit his own needs??

    We don’t. And the hardest part of that for me has been a slightly altered version of the same question:

    How do I know that I am not just making up my own personal revelation just to suit my own needs??

    Again, I don’t. This has been been more difficult for me and my testimony than any of the historical warts on the church. But — and please forgive the Sunday school answer here — I think it really is about faith and belief and desire. I have had to ask myself what I want out of life — what I want to believe — and based on that I make choices to believe certain things are good or to believe that certain things are not good according to the dictates of my own conscience (and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may).
    But in the end I recognize it is more about my own wishy-washy “what I want to believe, how I want to behave” conscience than any earth shaking (or even still-small) undeniable confirmation from on high.

    It’s a scary (and humbling) world living outside of absolute certainty, but I have already stepped out of it — I can’t turn around and go back. Of course, I could be wrong.

  57. Maturin
    May 12, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Sorry that I’m a bit late for the party…I’ve enjoyed reviewing everyone’s thoughts. Does anyone remember the GC talk given by Ronald E. Poehlman of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy in 1984 entitled, “The Gospel and the Church?” Reading through these posts I couldn’t help but reflect on many of the points that I remember hearing in that talk as a young bishop’s counselor. In it Poehlman proposed that there is a difference between the gospel of Christ and his church administered by imperfect men, albeit inspired and devout. He talked about how traditions, customs and practices in the church are sometimes erroneously regarded as eternal gospel principles.

    Warning: There is a suggestion that there is a difference between the talk Poehlman actually delivered and the talk printed in the Ensign. You can read the alleged versions side-by-side here http://www.lds-mormon.com/poelman.shtml. I haven’t been able to verify the accuracy of the different versions, and my intention here is NOT to start a debate about that. The talk I remember hearing, however, is much more like the “original.” But more to the point at hand, I find it fascinating that the alleged “original” version is quite consistent with the underlying messaage of the recent press release.

  58. John Dehlin
    May 12, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    I was at BYU when Poehlman gave that talk — and I can definitely confirm that they actually had him re-record his talk (via video) and remove the disapproved verbiage.

    This was back in the “September 6″ timeframe, as I recall.

  59. Paula
    May 12, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    The talk was given in 1984, according to the website that Maturin gave. (But you have to cut and paste that link in without the period at the end to get it to work.) Weren’t the September six in 1993ish? I think that the 1984 date is right because if I remember right, Lavinia Fielding Anderson was working at the Ensign then, as an editor, was fired over something to do with the talk– if I remember right she tipped off Sunstone, or the Trib about the changes that were made. I think that the two versions of the talk that are posted on the website were probably taken from the Sunstone article about it. I’m too lazy to look right now, but I think that most Sunstone issues are online, and the original article could be found there, probably early 1985 or so. Maybe a bit later. News traveled more slowly in those days.

  60. Tony
    May 14, 2007 at 8:44 am

    It is interesting to see the differences in the two talk. As I read the talks side by side, it obvious to me that one is an honest appeal from the heart and mind of Poelman, whereas the other is blantant church propaganda. So as a result of this new press release, will we see more talks like the first coming through General Conference, or will they remain safe and sterile talks?

    Off topic: Does anyone know whether Poelman did the actual changes himself or did the church do them and Poelman complied? Or some combination?

  61. Clay
    May 14, 2007 at 11:55 am

    After an experience this week in Sunday School, I see a loophole in release that I overlooked initially. I think it has already been identified that orhtodox LDS will still see obedience to leaders every word as required regardless of the announcement, but I see a way that mentality can even do battle against this press release. The text says “…doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.” Leaders who see fit to impose their own view of things upon others can easily work within these rules by way of their own interpretation of those sources. That interpretation will grow to be the one that is acceptable and if your interpretation doesn’t match, you must be lacking the Spirit.

    In Sunday School yesterday, the subject was the Pharisees and the question was asked “In what ways could we be guilty of being like the Pharisees?” Several forms of “not recognizing the spirit and authority of leaders” were offered. I suggested that perhaps the Pharisees were so caught up in the letter of the law that they used it as a crutch and did not allow the Spirit to lead them in dynamic ways (i.e. recognizing Christ in spite of his unorthodox ministry) and perhaps we are guilty of that, too. My comment was immediately followed by someone saying “but sometimes unquestioning obedience is exactly what the Lord is requiring of us and we can only gain the confirmation that it is right after we do it.” That was supported by additional comments along the lines of “we need to trust in the voice of the Lord even if we don’t understand it.”

    There is a force of orthodoxy that really is like the Mississippi river and active middle way types are futilly sticking their puny arms to try and change its course.

  62. gt
    May 15, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    I used to subscribe passionately to the notion of a strict line between “official doctrine” and everything else in the church. This was from the perspective of a wannabe apologist, for whom it is a convenient arrangement.

    But stepping back, imagine that the church was a person. And everything that person said could either be categorized as official or just … casual. And what used to be official can later be changed to no longer be so. Conversing with this person on the harder points of doctrine is impossible, because most anything controversial becomes unofficial, and what is left is totally benign. Since this person will only discuss what he himself has labeled “official” (in spite of a clear record of the rest), discussion is very difficult.

    The reality is that the church is a group of people who, collectively, maintain a myriad of beliefs and ideas which define “the church” as a whole. Most observers are more interested in what those people think and believe than what is narrowly (and pedantically) defined as “official” by old men in Salt Lake City. The disconnect by members who insist on pretending that “officiality” somehow defines reality — and all else is drivel — is a major problem for LDS thinking.

  63. Rob
    May 17, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    I’m a first timer here, but I think the press release provides a level playing field for the church.

    Regardless of what else can be said – The GAs and First Presidency are fallible individuals. They do make mistakes, they don’t have all the answers. They have opinions on matters that are sometimes refined with experience.

    But the Council of the 12, considered collectively and unanimously represents the authoritative and doctrinal body of the church.

    Should we listen when the Prophet speaks — absolutely. Should we follow his counsel from General Conference talks — definitely.

    I just get tired of people taking
    20 words out of a Mike Wallace interview ( that was stated briefly for the expected audience ) and to say that it definitevly contradicts all other statments — and hence Pres. Hinckley must be a false prophet is bunk.

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