Here is a common problem faced by faithful Mormons:
A few years ago, Sam and I attended an endowment session at the Salt Lake Temple. As we approached the gate, a man stood on the public sidewalk a few feet away, holding a sign that read:
Joseph Smith had 27 wives!
A couple crossed the street on their way to the temple, saw the sign, and the man yelled, “That is a lie!”
I responded, “Yea. It’s probably more like 34.”
Both men looked at me in startled silence.
When discussing troubling policies or doctrines, lay church apologists fall into a typical trap. Someone makes an inflammatory comment about the church and the defender loudly denies it. Even if it’s true.
And then we really look dumb.
Faithful Mormon rameumptom has identified a bit of the problem:
That is the awesome thing about Mormonism: continuing revelation and change. But it requires us to first understand what our real doctrines now are, and to recognize what beliefs are not core doctrine.
Eric Johnson told a funny story about asking Deseret Book employees about all of the disclaimers on books by former prophets and General Authorities to warn people that the contents are not the official position of the CoJCoL-dS. In a nutshell, the only items that are official doctrine are this year’s lesson manuals, this year’s conference issues of the Ensign, and the lds.org website.
Any faithful Mormons reading this will immediately protest: the scriptures! The things written in the scriptures are official doctrines! To that I say, “Well, sort of.” NoCoolNameTom has analyzed the batch of scriptures that the CoJCoL-dS manuals have de-emphasized this year. Plus, if you’re following Alex’s scripture study series (or doing scripture study of your own) you’re perhaps aware of the problems of trying to figure out the precise doctrine based on the scriptures:
Here is what we can learn about the nature of God from the first few verses of this chapter:
- God himself will redeem his people–meaning that God is Jesus (verse 1)
- Because he will have a body, he will be called the Son of God (verse 2)
- Because he was conceived by the power of God, he will be called the Father (verse 3)
- He is both the Father and the Son (verse 3)
- The Father and the Son are one God (verse 4)
This is idiotic. Can Abinadi, a prophet of the Lord, be any more vague? I’m still not sure if he’s talking about two separate beings that are part of the same godhead or if he’s talking about one being that has two separate roles. This is scripture? This is the word of the Lord?
I find it very difficult to believe that an infinitely intelligent god would be unable to find a better way to communicate the details of his identity to his people. Because this description is useless.
So, basically, if you have a doctrinal question that is not covered clearly in the scriptures or the official website and falls outside the short list of correlated topics covered in this year’s manuals, you are SOL.
Some will undoubtedly argue that that’s a good thing because — since there’s no official position on most points of doctrine — Mormons can use their own personal revelation to believe whatever they think is right. That’s kind of how it works: if you can answer the temple recommend questions affirmatively, then you’re considered a faithful member of the CoJCoL-dS. And they’re sufficiently vague that you can believe whatever you want on most of the controversial, doctrinal issues — as long as you keep your mouth shut about it and you never imply that your belief is an “official” belief of the church. That even applies to typical beliefs that are shared by most faithful Mormons. If someone asks you what Mormons believe on subject X (whatever it may be), the correct answer is always “Go look it up on lds.org.”
IMHO, it’s not a problem not to have an official position on a range of topics. The problem is that the CoJCoL-dS implies that there exist “official” positions on these topics — you’re just not necessarily allowed to know what they are. This allows the CoJCoL-dS do give entirely different answers through different semi-official channels (private discussions with G.A.s, talks by lesser G.A.s, announcements by the newsroom, articles in church-owned publications, etc.). And it also prevents faithful members from discussing controversial topics in any open, church-approved context.
A big example is Heavenly Mother. A lot of Mormon women would like to connect with this divine role model, and have some answers about women and the priesthood. Good luck with that! Because teaching (i.e. openly discussing) your speculation (i.e. anything at all about doctrine/theology outside the “correlated” topics) can get you excommunicated for apostasy.
Meet Denver Snuffer, who is currently getting excommunicated from the CoJCoL-dS for preaching heretical doctrines. (For example, I imagine LDS Inc. doesn’t like this post very much.) And in a related discussion on the utility of excommunication, the jello-like slipperiness of “official doctrine” again surfaces in the comments as being a central part of the problem:
The thing is, if we’re going to start disciplining folks for incorrect doctrine, we better figure out what our doctrine is in the first place. And it’s a slippery slope, because we’ve got a lot of culture mixed in– if I count the messed up pet-issue conflations of culture and politics I hear presented from the pulpit or the classroom every Sunday, we’re going to need to discipline a large part of of the body of the church. I think this guy is nutballs, but we live in a big giant glass house with no shortage of mixed nuts.
(Also note, Daymon Smith claimed that the only reason he hasn’t been “courted by these courts of Love” for his heretical book is because he doesn’t have as much of a following as Denver Snuffer. So, please, go over there and give his book the shocked and horrified-style attention it deserves, and, um… somebody go call his Stake President or something. )
Now let’s see some of the other topics discussed this past week!
Apologetics! Runtu told a tale of a “bullseye”! And FAIR rebranded itself, with some fun commentary from Mithryn.
Also, do you ever hear people justify the historic practice of polygamy by saying it was to help all the widows who had no source of economic support…? And others who have responded by wondering why women couldn’t have a support system that didn’t require them to put out for it? Like maybe a Scholarship for Single Mormon Mothers!! Or, hell, maybe even allow moms with young children have good jobs.
Mormonism and Mental Health! The Fledgling explained the connection. At least callings make you feel important and worthwhile, right?
Personal Stories!! J. Seth is reaching out to gay people in Russia, and has even been interviewed on Gay.ru. Scarlet A told a facinating story about what it’s like to be the daughter of the least-favorite wife of an important (polygamist) Mormon leader. And Lindsay found some good advice for her situation in an Ensign article — incidentally it was the same article that was the only Ensign article ever to win a Brodie Award.
Modesty! Expert (Textperts) say that the CoJCoL-dS is doing it wrong, and the Pope also has not-Mormony ideas about modesty.
Trolls! Does your blog or Facebook feed have an infestation, like the Overeducated Housewife’s or Regina’s? If so, maybe write ‘em a poem or at least avoid pandering to them.
Humor!! Christian cartoons and rock! Even climate change can be funny!
Also, did you know that Palmyra, NY is on the New York Freethought Trail? Spoiler alert: It’s not for Joseph Smith’s vision….
So, it looks writing SiOB in the morning really is the right solution! It’s fun, and now I’m done and have the rest of the day to finish my around-the-house stuff. Now to make the kids some lunch. Happy reading!!