The Problems with Progressives in the Church

This is a guest post by Hanna Seariac, who recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in Classical Studies. She is a MA student at BYU in Comparative Studies and seeks to become a religious author and an apologist for the Church. 

Ex-Mormons often get much wrong about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but something they get right is that the progressive movement in the Church does not reflect the teachings and doctrines of the Church. Progressive Mormonism, not to be confused with members of the Church who happen to identify as liberal or progressive politically, represents a small section of the Church who often do not uphold the doctrinal sexual ethics that exist.

These Progressive Mormons often attack and denounce The Family: A Proclamation to the World, but ignore that it qualifies as doctrine. Proclamations exist to reaffirm doctrine and act as documents to regulate the Church. Not upholding these documents is in direct conflict with the temple recommend interview questions, which ask us if we sustain the leaders of the Church as well as the doctrine that the Church teaches.

Clearly, a document signed by the free will and choice of every member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency (including Elder Holland and Elder Uchtdorf) represents doctrine not just because the Church simply states that it does on their website, but it is the unanimous voice of the Lord’s Church.

While the Church can potentially err on policy, asserting that the Church errs on doctrine (i.e. eternal truths) is antithetical to its nature and structure.

A divine patriarchy exists as inherent to the nature and structure of the Church as outlined in the calling of prophets as men, the duty of holding the priesthood as delegated to men, and the responsibility men have to preside. Historically, this has been used in conjunction with the scriptural and doctrinal definition of marriage to discriminate against certain individuals, which is wrong. By seeing the patriarchy as a delegation of responsibility based on eternal principles of gender as opposed to an unequal power system, we uphold doctrine.

It is antithetical to the gospel of Christ to characterize the identify of a person negatively, but it is also antithetical to the gospel of Christ to demand that the doctrine, the eternal truths of the gospel of Christ, change.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints needs to dismantle negative perceptions of certain people based on gender, sexual orientation, and race, but we still need to push back against a movement that seeks to pervert the doctrine of Christ as clearly outlined in The Family: A Proclamation to the World as well as what has been said over the pulpit at General Conference numerous times.

Particularly as this movement has gained traction from the protests at Brigham Young University regarding the Honor Code Office, we have seen an increasing divide between those who see negative aspects in the culture of the Church and those who seek to dismantle the doctrine of Christ. At this critical time, it must be said that Progressive Mormonism does not conform to the Church of Jesus Christ.

It may be unpopular in this day and age or even difficult to believe that God would ordain men to the priesthood and not women and also, define marriage as between men and women eternally, but it remains true that these teachings are integral and definitional to the Church.

In the same way that Deseret Nationalism (commonly known as DezNat) propagates blood atonement, which is currently not taught widely in the Church, and targets individuals in a way that is antithetical to the Church, Progressive Mormonism also fails to see what is doctrine and what is convenient.

If the doctrine not simply the policies of the Church of Jesus Christ change, then the prophets are not called of God because God does not change. Again this does not mean that the culture and members of the Church do not have a long way to go in learning to lead more Christ-like lives, but it does mean that the rise of Progressive Mormonism directly contrasts with the structure of the Church.

The Church’s doctrine is not a buffet where you pick and choose what is convenient to you or fulfills your pre-existing biases about society and culture; the law changes you, you don’t change the law.

28 thoughts on “The Problems with Progressives in the Church

  1. I really appreciate the way you wrote this. Is clear to me, but not much for others. It’s sad to see how peaceful tend to have a more light way to see things.

  2. Hanna, there is a place in the Church for apologists, but I would recommend that you be careful not to jam your poles too far into the ground. I, also, was sure when I left college that everything about the Church was crystal-clear and all I needed to do was study, ponder and pray and everything would all fall into place like a beautiful mosaic. After all, it feels so good to proclaim that, in relationship to His Church, “God does not change”, to proudly declare what is “antithetical to the gospel”, and seeing yourself as the “we” who “uphold doctrine”.

    I would just say that in your zeal to become a “defender of the faith”, you might consider being very cautious and humble in your approach, thereby developing sweet, Christ-like attributes along your path.

  3. I’m not going to argue that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is not to be treated as Church doctrine or that those who reject it are out of line with Church leadership, but there are a couple specifics in this post that I want to point out as not being entirely accurate.

    First, “The Living Christ” is the document that bears the signatures of members of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, not “The Family: a Proclamation to the World.” Also, Elder Uchtdorf was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 2004, post-dating the presentation of either document (which were released in 1995 and 2000, respectively), so technically, his signature wouldn’t be on either document, even if “The Family: a Proclamation to the World” had signatures on it. That’s not to say, of course, that Elder Uchtdorf rejects either document as current statements of Church doctrine, just that his signature isn’t on either document.

    I will note, however, that it’s interesting that there were no efforts to add either document to the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price when they worked on a new edition of the scriptures that was released in 2013 (despite all the efforts of President Boyd K. Packer and President Dallin H. Oaks to have members treat the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” as canonical). I have always wondered why that was–whether they just felt it would be too divisive or if there is some disagreement among Church leaders these days about the documents as they stand.

    The other point in the post that I might contend with here is that decisions of doctrine are made by the united voice of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency, which represent the united voice of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency, not the united voice of the Church. The document Hanna linked for the statement that they are “the united voice of the Church” is only making the point that the decisions made by the united voice of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency are considered binding as official Church doctrine or policy. The 15 men that sit in the top leadership positions are not the Church, they only offer inspired leadership for the Church, which is made up of millions of people around the globe. I think the fact that this post exists and targets “progressives in the Church” is an indication that the voice of the Church is not united on this subject, even if its leadership does seem united on the subject.

  4. Doctrines have changed even surrounding sexual roles and rules. Polygamy is the most prominent example. Teaching about homosexuality have changed over time as well. The church used to teach doctrines about race and the priesthood that also changed. I guess my point there is just to condemn some members of the church and allege that they should not get temple recommends because they disagree with some parts of the proclamation on the family is too far. It is a big church and there is room in it for people that have different opinions.

  5. “Doctrines can change, correct?”

    Depends on how you define doctrine. People have conflated doctrine, policy, custom, “the unwritten order of things,” and culture since the beginning.

    Depends on how you define change. As the world around us changes, how we apply doctrine in our daily walk changes, more so in the detail level, less so, if at all, in the meta level.

    We also believe continuing revelation, thereby receiving further light and knowledge, an expansion of things, and new things under which our current doctrine is a mere sub-set.

    “The Lord decrees, and the Lord revokes.” Those are changes people sometimes have problems with:

    “We’re going to the Promised Land!” The Lord revoked that due to rebellion, then the Israelites rebelled against the revocation, attempting to go in anyway.

    The Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday. Does that count as a change in doctrine?

    “We’re all going to Kirtland.” “We’re all going to Jackson County, MO.” “We’re all going to Nauvoo.” “We’re all going out West.” “Ok, now stop coming out West and stay where you are.” Does that count as change in doctrine?

    No polygamy. Then polygamy. Then no more polygamy. Doctrinal change?

    The missionary lessons changed many times. Does that count?

    References to McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” were removed from official manuals. Does that count?

    Hopefully, we can accept: new/higher doctrine, expanded/deeper/broader/impoved understanding of existing doctrine, expanded/improved application of doctrine.

    Change is inherent in the unfolding and building of the Kingdom, as well as personal progress.

    Like Pres Nelson said, hold onto your seats and take your vitamins.

  6. Our (meaning the Church’s) doctrines around the following (just a very small subset of examples) all seemed to have changed considerably overtime.
    The old Testament period Church:
    Animal sacrifice
    Very strict dietary code
    Remarriage obligations towards in-laws
    Divorce law
    Treatment of those violating marriage covenants (or having sex before marriage)
    Treatment of, and obligations towards, those not of the faith (although this one changed considerably, and multiple times, during the old Testament period).
    New Testament (post resurrection) period Church:
    Property/wealth given to Church/property in common (Peter acting for God causes a couple to die because they withheld some money from the Church – Acts 5)
    Latter-day period Church
    Polygamy required for exaltation
    Polygamy just allowed
    Polygamy not allowed
    Proclamation – marriage is between one man and one women
    Blacks ordained to the Priesthood by Joseph Smith, called on missions, and one (Elijah Abel) appointed as a traveling elder able to organize local units and ordain presiding officers. (Note Elijah continued to serve as a missionary under Brigham Young’s leadership of the Church for decades and died while serving one of many missions.
    Blacks refused the priesthood and temple ordinances (Brigham Period to 1978, in spite of Brigham’s recognition and use of Elder Abel).
    Blacks allowed temple blessings and ordinances
    Word of Wisdom optional (even for general authorities of the Church)
    Word of Wisdom required for general authorities
    Word of Wisdom required for temple admittance for everyone

    Doctrines are eternal truth, we (including our leaders) don’t understand all eternal truth. Eternal truth is more complicated than our limited understanding can comprehend. Because (apparently) all of the above examples (and many many more) are consistent with some aspects or requirements of eternal truth as God’s representatives here on Earth commanded/directed them all. Or they are simply artifacts of God working through imperfect humans who get things wrong while they are trying to implement what they see as God’s will. (Or some partial combination of both – and other – answers.)

    The critical thing is that God has declared (and will confirm to the seekers of truth) that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is what it claims to be – the authorized organization on the Earth at this time which has the operational priesthood keys. That is the “core doctrine” that explains why the Church (and its leaders) is (are) here and what its (their) role is (are). (The core doctrines of the Gospel relating to God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the Gospel are much more rich and critical for our exaltation, but also much more complex and rigorous in terms of what they require of us).

    The Church and Doctrines generally don’t need in-your-face type “defenders” – just believers and doers of the Gospel.

  7. Being a Latter-day Saint means following what the prophet today says, not rejecting today’s prophet because you think some future prophet may make changes that you think are necessary. If you don’t follow today’s prophet, you are not keeping your covenants. This was discussed very well in this post, which I recommend people here read carefully:

    https://www.sixteensmallstones.org/rejecting-the-living-prophets-by-following-future-prophets/

    “It works like this: They believe that the living prophets are wrong regarding some policy or doctrine, such as same-sex marriage or women holding priesthood. They are convinced that these teachings are not of God but merely expressions of false cultural traditions. They look at past changes that the church has made, like discontinuing the policy of withholding priesthood from black members, and they extrapolate that the future prophets and apostles will change these other positions as well. Convinced that their words and actions are in harmony with what the future prophets will undoubtedly teach, they proceed to act right now as if the future prophets have already made the change that they anticipate. As a result, at an emotional level they feel like they are following the prophet and that those who disagree with them are rejecting the prophet.

    But just like fundamentalists who reject the living prophets by following dead prophets, progressives reject the living prophets by following anticipated future prophets.

    In reality the future prophet that they are following is just a projection of their own views in the present. In other words they are setting themselves up as an alternative authority to the current prophet by attributing their contrary positions to a future prophet who does not yet exist. Whether by reason or supposed personal revelation, they are claiming to know which direction the church should take better than the current prophets do.”

    Note to progressive Church members: you are not the prophet. Don’t pretend you are. Get back in line with what the prophets are teaching today. Your salvation depends on it.

  8. “Polygamy is the most prominent example. Teaching about homosexuality have changed over time as well. ”

    The _doctrine_ concerning polygamy has not changed — merely the policy and practice.

    The _doctrine_ concerning homosexual relations has not changed. The policies/practices (which are mainly in the vocabulary used) of ministering to those with same-sex attraction have changed, or rather been clarified. In the past “a homosexual” was one who engaged in homosexual acts. “Homosexuality”, in common parlance, was the actions, not the orientation/attraction. When society as a whole bought into the “orientation=identity” thing, it took the church a while (perhaps too long) to respond with clarification that SSA was not the sin, but the actions were. You can ask older people… the church was always OK with people who had SSA but never acted on it. The confrontation or adversarial stances came as a result of the “orientation=identity” crowd who redefined terms, and the “it’s not a sin” crowd.

    “The church used to teach doctrines about race and the priesthood that also changed.”

    Dealt with at length a zillion times already. Please do your homework.

  9. In support of Hanna and her goal…

    Defending the faith by defending apologetics: Austin Farrer.

    https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1068487

    “It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true, but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

    https://www.azquotes.com/author/46405-Austin_Farrer

  10. Thank you Hanna for your post and thoughts about current examples of Church members trying to “steady the ark”.

    Thanks Bookslinger for addressing the premise proposed by others that doctrine changes, and that the dictionary definition of the word “doctrine” has a full range of meanings.

    My contention is that doctrine does not change, nor do principles. Applications and practices of them do change, however, and really should and must change.

    In the context where doctrine means something like “a permanent, eternal truth”. I have always found this definition and explanation very useful:
    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

    Cheers.

  11. I intensely dislike descriptors such as “progressive” or “conservative.” In today’s world, they are meaningless. Or more accurately, they are so loaded with meaning, nuance and variation (depending on context) as to become meaningless and practically useless in daily discourse. How many of us have watched people argue a political issue and have it turn into a discussion of semantics?

    Another word that gets thrown around in LDS circles is “doctrine.” Unpacking the history of that word in the church would reveal a great deal. We have never really adequately defined what “doctrine” IS in this church. For example, take a look at the book of scripture still known as the “Doctrine and Covenants.” Where is the doctrine? The word “doctrine” in that case originally referred the “Lectures on Faith,” which are no longer considered doctrinal at all! In fact, If Noel Reynolds is correct, they were not even authored by Joseph Smith!

    I am not so sure we can construct an argument that “doctrines never change.” Unless we change the meaning for the word “doctrine” to mean “eternal law.” But is that what we really mean?

  12. If it wasn’t clear from my unique name, I wrote the blog post. Thanks for the comments so far! I want to clarify something that has come up a couple of times: the difference between doctrine and policy. There isn’t a doctrine of polygamy or a doctrine of priesthood to select groups of men; there is a doctrine of marriage and a doctrine of priesthood that is instituted in varying ways at varying times. For more authoritative information on this, I invite you to read: https://rsc.byu.edu/vol-17-no-3-2016/doctrine-models-evaluate-types-sources-latter-day-saint-teachings and review the differences between doctrine and policy that are seen in the handbook for seminary teachers. A lot of answers will be found there.

    In short, we have relatively few doctrines and many more principles and teachings about those doctrines. The doctrine of marriage is outlined clearly in the Family Proclamation and the Church website itself says that proclamations exist to reaffirm doctrine. We throw around the word doctrine a lot as another commentator pointed out, but we do hold to the belief that our relatively few doctrines are in fact eternal truths. This is how we fundamentally interpret the idea that God does not change. Eternal truth and God do not change in the sense that we have core doctrine that we understand in different ways over time.

    But marriage, marriage is between one man and woman, unless the policy of polygamy as outlined in Jacob and also practiced in the Hebrew Bible (Law of Sarah, etc.) is instituted by God. That’s doctrine.

  13. Hannah,
    I think I agreed with your last statement internally, but on reading it expressed that way, I’m not sure. Is there room for “unless” in doctrine? I think policy can have unless qualifiers in them.

    I think something like, marriage is for the eternal progression of souls to become like God (or Heavenly Parents) is a doctrinal-esque statement. You can’t fit an unless in there.

    Christ’s entire ministry was to set the path and example we can strive to follow, to endow us with the power to become better as we turn our hearts to him and our fellow man.

    I’m not sure you can fit an unless in that statement.

    Prophets are given to the world to point the way to Christ and speak what God would have the people know in every dispensation.

    Can you put an unless there?

    So marriage between man and woman is doctrine – because that is the pattern of Heavenly Parents. I’m really not sure “unless” is needed there’s.

    It seems to me there could be “policy” reasons why that could change.

    The doctrine points to an eternal truth that doesn’t change. Doesn’t change implies no unless, right?

  14. “Prophets are given to the world to point the way to Christ and speak what God would have the people know in every dispensation.

    Can you put an unless there?”

    Yup, two. Prophets are not always given to the world. There are times in between dispensations when there are no prophets.

    And, even during a dispensation, not everyone in the world is accesible to the prophet, and the prophet is not accessible to everyone.

    One notable example of logical exception-processing from the Old Testament are the blessings/cursings that Moses taught in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. A repeated phrase is “But if not, …”

    “Unless” and “except” are necessary logical constructs to human learning and progress. Until we arrive at the future point where all mysteries and all the eternal truths of heaven and the eternities are known, all current knowledge is riddled with “unless” and “except” regarding higher knowledge until the overall picture is unfolded to us.

    My favorite quotes on rules and exceptions:

    Elder Russell M. Nelson, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,
    CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 6, 2005. Brigham Young University.

    “Through the years you will note that apostles and prophets teach the rule. We don’t teach exceptions to the rule. Exceptions are left to individual agency and accountability. The Lord knows we live in an imperfect world. He knows it is ‘ripening in iniquity’ (D&C 18:6). His judgments will be fair, just, and merciful.”

    Elder Oaks explained the same principle in a talk given May 1, 2005, at a CES broadcast, and reprinted in the June 2006 Ensign.

    “The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I have said. As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.”

  15. Beyond memes, they haven’t propagated blood atonement. And I will say, I think DezNat has done some good with correction of doctrine, etc. and I’m not entirely against them. I do think people take the memes seriously sometimes and while you could argue that the person who perceives it should take it less seriously, I think it’s on both parties to be cognizant. As for my second statement about targeting individuals in a way that is antithetical to the Church, some not all who use #DezNat have used foul language, insults, and character attacks in a way that I do not think is Christ-like.

  16. Sorry Books that’s wrong.

    I didn’t say prophets are called in every dispensation. They definitely help every dispensation.

    You could argue that my statement is inaccurate and I’m fine with that. But the teachings of Moses helped his dispensation and many after, including when there were no prophets.

    Every dispensation has benefited from the testimony of prophets. It may very well be the case that every people have too, depending on how expansive your definitions of “pointing the way” is.

    The distinctions your quote seem like policy implications of doctrine.

    Mankind is made in the image of God with the potential to become like him. That’s an eternal doctrinal truth.

    Thou shalt not kill is policy, in part based on the truth. God has commanded to not kill and to kill. My current thinking here would transform most of not all commandnents info policy, with direct connection to doctrine. That doesn’t make them any less serious to break.

    I might be elevating “episitimic truth” in my admittedly undeveloped definition of doctrine. But I’m closer to what Christ teaches in doing so when he says, behold this is my doctrine, whosever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. No need for an unless there.

  17. As I understand it, as the church defines “dispensation”, such that… when there is not a living prophet on earth, then there is not a dispensation going on (extant, or in effect) at that point in time.

    As far as we know, between Moroni and Joseph Smith, there were no prophets, and there was no dispensation in effect.

    Though the Book of Mormon hints at other peoples and their records, of which nothing has been revealed, as of yet.

  18. dkjr: Yes, The 3 Nephi chapter 11 definition of “Doctrine”.

    Since Joseph Smith, other meanings of “doctrine” in common usage have crept in.

    While “_The /Doctrine/ of /Christ/_” as a specific noun (applied to 3 Nephi 11) hasn’t changed, other “applications” of the _lower-case word_ have been added, both by the title of “The Doctrine and Covenants”, and as referenced within several sections, which strongly both denote and imply things that go outside of what is strictly delimited in 3 Nephi 11.

    I conclude there are more doctrines than “_The /Doctrine/ of /Christ/_”.

    If the use of lower case “doctrine” for anything outside “_The /Doctrine/ of /Christ/_” is a mistake, then at least we’re in good company, since most of the modern prophets have used the word.

    There is also Joseph Fielding Smith’s “Doctrines of Salvation” as further evidence of how usage of the word drifted from the strict 3 Nephi 11 usage. While it and McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” have been “deprecated” (in the technical meaning of the word), it’s not like they were denounced as heresies by the First Presidency, or banned after the first printing.

    Like was further mentioned in Meg’s subsequent post and in someone’s comment on it, we see through a glass darkly.

    Yet, I think it a bit disingenuous to say the church has no “doctrine” (lower case) other than 3 Nephi 11.

    Joseph Smith “unfolded”, developed, expanded, revealed many things in his day, and subsequent prohets built on that and repeated the process. Technically, all that is “change.” And in my heart and mind, I can reconcile that kind of “change” to the principle that God and eternal truths don’t change. But in terms of the proportion of truth that is given us, and our understanding of it, those things do change as times go on.

  19. “While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”

    A question: Am I correct in interpreting that to mean someone in a same-sex marriage will not loose his/her membership in the Church, but, does it mean they will no longer be able to hold a temple recommend?

  20. Mooncake,

    I don’t think so — but I don’t speak for the Church. If such a person’s membership was restricted or even withdrawn, apostasy would not be the basis for the action; rather, immoral sexual conduct could be the basis.

  21. Hanna Seariac,

    I appreciate your voice and contribution. Please keep up your good work. It is desperately needed.

  22. Joseph Smith taught that spirits are as eternal as God (not the material that spirits are made of). Modern teaching says that spirits are created by heavenly parents. If both of these are true, wouldn’t that seem to indicate a change in doctrine?

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