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.

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21 Responses

  1. Phouchg says:

    LDS doctrine is what each member of the church says it is. There are 11 million LDS churches out there. Each member is a “cafeteria mormon”, picking and choosing things such as birth control, gambling, level of observance of the WoW, amount of tithing etc.

  2. Wayne says:

    The core beliefs, as I understood them, all have to do with being Christ like. In all the seminary classes, Sunday School etc. It was simply that.

    It is much simpler to talk about Christs teachings from the Sermon on the Mount than it is to discuss Josephs Smiths philandering.

    Your average member would rather be concerned about whether they acted Christlike than if they should go shopping on Sunday.

    The problem the church has is that it tries to give people answers to questions that the members should have the freedom to figure out themselves.

  3. dpc says:

    “It’s not a democratic system – members really can’t give feedback or protest other than by leaving.”

    I would disagree. You can protest by not paying tithing, not attending church, refusing assignments, etc.

    As far as Mormon doctrine is concerned, I would say that it is more accurate to say that the Mormon church has a zeitgeist rather than an official doctrine.

  4. dpc,

    I love it! I’ll have to remember that: a zeitgeist, not an official doctrine. It’s funny because it’s true. 😀

  5. Hellmut says:

    I wish that was true, Wayne, but actions speak louder than words. In every Mormon congregation that I ever attended, you can go for weeks and months without any mention of Christ beyond the ritualist invocations during prayers and blessings.

    In fact, you might have learned more about positive thinking and self-esteem or whatever psycho babble is en vogue right now than about the Sermon of the Mount.

  6. dpc says:


    I think it depends on where you live. Some places I have lived in love the psychobabble, while other places do talk quite a bit about Jesus Christ. I don’t think that every talk needs to be Christ-centric all the time, but balance is always nice.

  7. Phouchg says:

    “I don’t think that every talk needs to be Christ-centric all the time”

    Isn’t that why a person goes to a CHRISTian church?

  8. dpc says:


    Variety is the spice of life. My aunt and uncle are Baptist and I’ve been to their meetings a few times and there have been sermons about topics other than Christ.

  9. Wayne says:


    It has been almost twenty years since I went to Church in order to take in the teachings.

    What I gleaned from those Sunday school classes etc. was probably what I could understand and what I found meaningful. Which was your pretty basic, Be kind to your neighbor, give to the poor etc. Teachings.
    Of course those teachings are not uniquely L.D.S.

    Even though the Church might appear to have one size fits all teachings; things are different ward to ward.

  10. Hellmut says:

    Of course, my experience might not be representative but I would find it odd if the Sermon of the Mount emphasis had actually escaped me. I am reading the Sermon of the Mount every week. If it were the most important matter in Mormon society, I think I might have noticed it.

    I have actually have lost track of how many wards and branches I belonged to, more than a dozen, to be sure. Jesus was never a prominent topic. He was more important in the German units than in the USA, and more important in Maryland than in Utah or Nevada.

    But even my Maryland bishops will volunteer that we can go for weeks without hearing about Jesus.

    By the way, I did not have a single zone conference that cited the Sermon of the Mount.

    Some Mormons might aspire to a gospel according to the Sermon of the Mount. Those aspirations just do not reflect social and cultural practices in organized Mormonism.

  11. Wayne says:


    I did not mean the Sermon on the mount as something that was taught specifically, but more that there seemed to be more emphasis on aspiring to be Christ like.

    Now, my experience was in a working class ward on the south western side of the Salt Lake Valley.

    I don’t doubt, that my Uncle who lived in an upper class area of Salt Lake where people have more money and education, may have had a different with the teaching as well as a different emphasis. ( I actually think he had a GA and possibly God in his ward)
    Regardless, I am inclined to take you on your word concerning what is taught and what isn’t.

    Are you in the military?

  12. Hellmut says:

    Thanks for asking, Wayne. I was a soldier and I am an army brad. By the way, I attended a ward in West Valley for a couple of summers. They had a great Sunday school teacher there who invested incredible effort into preparing his lesson.

  13. Wandering Mo says:

    It may seem a bit unbalanced for a religion that believes in thousands of pages of core scripture to spend every week discussing only 10 pages.

    However, Pres. Kimball did recommend that every member of the church read the Sermon on the Mount once a year. Sounds fairly Christ centered.

    Teachings of Christ should probably be considered Christ centered (i.e. 10 Commandments, fasting, prayer, tithing, service, etc.)

  14. aerin says:

    Wayne, my experience was very different. I remember Christ mentioned very rarely in my years growing up mormon and in seminary. From my understanding, this is changing. I remember much more focus on shopping/tv watching on Sunday rather than a closer relationship with christ – testimony of christ. It was always assumed that everyone already had that testimony and it didn’t need to be discussed.

    dpc – Yes, those are methods of protest. I wonder if there are people who haven’t paid tithing or accepted callings since Sonja Johnson was excommunicated for supporting the ERA (due to disagreement about women and the priesthood)? I think in most situations, the bishop would encourage the member to pay tithing regardless, I doubt their protest would make it to the stake president or higher.

    As far as the sermon on the mount, I rarely remember any lessons about this – other than the “right” structure of a prayer. Was the sermon the same time as the miracle of the loaves and fishes? I attended thousands of hours of meetings over the years. Honestly, from what I remember, the new testament was rarely discussed. Christ’s birth was discussed around Christmas, and the week before Easter events surronding his death were also discussed. I definitely remember the grapevine parable being told (plants in good soil) and the parable of women and the oil (being prepared).
    But, don’t really remember the Sermon on the Mount. If SWK mentioned that, it’s news to me – but quite possible.

    What I’m talking about are the “Proclamation on the Family”, talks I distinctly remember about whether or not youth should engage in “heavy petting” – discussions about whether or not people should become parents and women should stay home. I’m not sure if any of these things can find a root in Christ’s teachings.

  15. Hellmut says:

    That’s a good point, Wandering Mo. Your point would prove, however, that there is a lot more to Mormon doctrine than the Sermon of the Mount.

    Here is the rub with your argument. While Mormons do cite the scriptures frequently, we rarely discuss them thoroughly. Rather than exploring the scriptures, we merely invoke their authority.

    After all, Mormonism is not an evangelical but a charismatic faith. What matters in Mormonism is less the scriptures but the experience of the faith, i.e. the feelings with which we respond to the message.

    (The other element that matters is authority and the messages of authority figures, especially general authority officers).

    Here is a test that would convince me that I am wrong. What do we talk about in general conference? Excluding ritualist invocations such as the prayer formula, I bet that there is more talk about Joseph Smith and the first vision than about Jesus Christ and the atonement. I bet that the Joseph Smith Story, First Nephi, and Moroni 10 will be more often cited than the four gospels.

    Those are the kind of actions that reveal a person’s and an institution’s real priorities. The answers of some spin meister to an enquiry by FOX News are not all that revealing. Look at what we do, the games we play, and how resources and respect are distributed in Mormon life and you will discover what’s really on people’s mind.

  16. Wayne says:


    The emphasis on the “experience of faith” and that “lightness in the mind” you are supposed get when you hear a message, for example, the feeling The L.D.S. are supposed to get about Smith’s first vision, does not always work.

    The lack of that feeling is exactly what led me out of the Church.

    I wonder how many members don’t experience mental clarity, when reading the Book of Mormon, but just don’t respond by leaving the church.

    P.s. Hellmut, I guessed by how much you have moved around that you were in the military. My BIL is also in the Army. Are you currently in Europe?

  17. Wandering Mo says:

    I don’t think any of us has the time to do a detailed study of the topics of General Conference, but somebody else already did it–by scripture reference at least. Since 1942 (no analysis for pre 42 conferences), citations from General Conference talks by LDS Scripture is as follows:

    Old Testament 5,925
    New Testament 16,505
    Book of Mormon 9,602
    Doctrine and Covenants 11,174
    Pearl of Great Price 2,935

    New Testament is cited nearly twice as frequently as the Book of Mormon.

    This is interesting on a number of levels. Proportionately (based on page length), the Old Testament is the most underrepresented [48% of the volume and only 13% of the references] and the PoGP the most overrepresented [2% volume, 6% references](although largely because of Moses 1:39 which applies to 99% of all conference talks and has at least 276 references alone–“This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”)

    The New Testament is the most referenced, with 36% of the total references and the Book of Mormon is slightly underrepresented–22% of the volume but only 21% of the references.

    Sorry to bore you all with this, but I was slightly fascinated by it.

  18. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    while the example of sertilization was good, it is paralleled by (many) others; the closest may be birth control and organ transplantation, which are now bothwatered-down from where they started (Most Everything is)

  19. Hellmut says:

    Thanks for the stats, Wandering Mo.
    Wayne, I live in College Park, Maryland.

  20. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    re: CHI
    while they can say: “It would be too much $ to print more copies”, they could post it online.
    I don’t think the LDS church ever has or ever will deal with members on a 50/50 basis, this is one of Many examples.

    Merry Christmas, Everyone!

  21. aerin says:

    btw – doctrine is definitively defined here in a press release. approaching mormon doctrine.

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