Two recent and very interesting blog posts, one by James Faulconer, and the other by Alison Moore Smith, show a continuing and disturbing problem with Church members: they teach things that they believe, but are not doctrine (faith tenet) of the Church, as if those things were the truth. Alison notes an interesting story:
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
We have members that teach a young Earth, no evolution, Bible as perfect history, Joseph Smith as a perfect, infallible and all-knowing prophet, etc. Yet none of it is doctrine, real doctrine.
There are strengths to having a lay ministry. What better way to teach thousands of young men and women about Christ, faith, charity and service, than to send them off to another part of the world for a couple of years?
Yet, a lay ministry opens the door for a variety of belief systems within the LDS community, which are not tempered by historical, scientific, or modern prophetic evidence. You would think we would have learned our lessons with the priesthood ban/curse of Cain debacle, yet having even BYU religion professors continuing false traditions as late as 2012, does not help to quash false doctrines. The speculations of dead prophets and apostles are still found on members’ bookshelves. Sadly, those same members do not see the need to update their bookshelves with new LDS publications that may teach things based upon newer revelations and scientific and historical knowledge. What good does it do for the Church to change the headings in the scriptures to say that Jacob is “one” of the ancestors of Native Americans or that the priesthood ban was ended by revelation (but we cannot find a revelation that began it), if members are still reading their parents’ copy of Mormon Doctrine that is 40 years old?
One of the biggest problems I see, is that Mormons tend to view things in black and white. This was something endemic in our Church since the days of Joseph F Smith. But the scriptures teach us that God deals in shades of gray. There are 3 kingdoms of glory (probably with levels within those), not just one heaven. God sends out portions of his word to all nations, as they are ready to receive it (Alma 29:8), which includes the LDS Church – where we claim to believe in continuing revelation, but then become dogmatic on what we believe.
The reality is, there are very few core doctrines that will/can never change: God is our Father, Jesus is the Christ, Faith, Hope, Charity, etc. Most of the rest is fungible, as God can change things at any time. Caffeine is now okay for Mormons to drink – even those who spent decades condemning those who drank Coke. The curse of Cain/Canaan is totally false/wrong.
In the future, we could possibly see the end of the Word of Wisdom (or portions of it), Tithing (replaced by consecration), etc. Even baptism could be possibly replaced by some other ordinance, as it replaced Jewish ritual washings, sacrifices and circumcision.
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.
We do not have to have a perfect history. We do not have to fight against science. We do not have to believe that everything ever written by dead prophets is complete core doctrine. But it requires we open ourselves up to thinking for ourselves. We must actively seek truth, light and knowledge for ourselves. We must go to the prophets for guidance on the core principles and doctrines, but then we must venture into the grays and see what we may find – knowing that it is gray area, and not doctrine.
For me, I love studying history, science, philosophy and religion. But I understand that what I learn all falls into gray areas, as there is no perfection in any of these areas. It is okay for me if there are a variety of possibilities, and I may prefer one over another, as long as I understand none of it is written in stone.
Since I was not there when Joseph Smith was engaged in polygamy and polyandry, I cannot know for certain if he was commanded of God or was just testing out Biblical things. What I can know is that there are possibilities that will some day fully explain things to me, hopefully to my complete satisfaction. Until then, some things I set to the side, understanding they are deep in the gray area, while I seek spiritual guidance for myself in understanding what the possible answers and possibilities are regarding the gospel of Christ.