So what is LDS doctrine anyway?
Kristine wrote here about when a policy is not a policy. She was talking about sterilization. I didn’t realize this was a policy either until at least five years after leaving the LDS faith myself.
So why have a handbook for bishops that is not available for each member to peruse? Why is this information not public, at least for the members themselves? It allows for each individual bishop (and member) to interpret the guidelines how they see fit. But what does that mean in reality?
What happens if a couple decides to undergo such a procedure, and later a bishop cautions against it? Even to ask the couple to repent since it was a sin? Was it really a sin since they didn’t know?
How can any member separate what is the gospel, and what is fluff? And what if something that is gospel today becomes fluff tomorrow?
I know this is the $64,000 question.
I submit that LDS doctrine is not stable (unchangeable yesterday, today and forever). I know this may be controversial here. And with that said – it seems like there are some LDS policies, history and doctrine that even its own members don’t know about. I spent four years in early morning seminary and had no idea Joseph Smith had other wives.
You could say that the four works (as dpc does here) define the faith. But I think we can all agree that there is a lot of mormon “doctrine” that has no basis in the four works. And I’m not talking about drinking caffeinated drinks or playing with face cards. Or missionaries staying away from water.
I was taught that ALL native americans were descended from the original Nephites and Lamanites. This position has changed. So there are two ways someone can reconcile that. Either my original LDS teachers and seminary teachers were wrong, and the manual they taught from was wrong, or continuous revelation simply redefined what was meant.
That’s the point of continuous revelation, right?
And because the LDS faith has a cornerstone in members’ interpreting and teaching the doctrine from their own perspective – this could be common. What other mainstream religion actually excommunicates its members (regularily) for preaching false doctrine (polygamy, adam-ondi-ammon)? Or that women should be able to bless their own children (Sonja Johnson)?
But what if a person had individual revelation that was different from the leadership?
So one person could consider themselves to be mormon (or LDS) and have a completely different perspective on what that means from someone else.
And it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that different geographical regions have different flavors of the LDS faith. Particularly on some of these grey issues (from polygamy to drinking sodas with caffeine).
Mormon Doctrine (Bruce R McConkie) doesn’t really count, I don’t think that’s looked to as definitive anymore. (I could be wrong about this).
Ditto with the words of the prophets, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc. Some of what they said is seen as gospel. Other parts were just those people speaking as men (think the United Order).
So in the end, the faithful LDS have to trust their leaders. They have to have faith that their leaders will not lead them astray. Each member is encouraged to pray for their own personal revelation, which should match what their leaders say. If you still don’t feel comfortable, the advice is to pray some more.
All I’m suggesting with this post is that it’s an enormous task to define LDS doctrine within this structure. I think it puts the members in a unique (and at times difficult) position. The burden of proof rests on the members to come into line with the leadership, not the leadership to explain itself (all the questions have already been answered). It’s not a democratic system – members really can’t give feedback or protest other than by leaving. There are few grass roots change organizations within the LDS faith – and for the most part they are seen as a threat (think the September Six).
As LDS Inc. moves into the 21st century (becoming a global religion), it will have to figure out a way to navigate these waters. To accept feedback and change – but still maintain its core beliefs. It will have to clearly define its core beliefs – while explaining how the LDS faith is different from other Christian faiths.
I personally think the best way to do this is an upfront church wide conversation. There will have to be a way to distance itself from past doctrines (think what the Roman Catholic church did with everything from the crusades to slavery). Yet it does make the task for current members and for those researching political candidates very difficult.