Monday, May 7, 2007

A New Approach to Mormon Doctrine

The LDS newsroom has released an official press release that outlines an entirely new way to look at Mormon Doctrine. First, let me explain the traditional approach to Mormon Doctrine. Traditionally in the church, statements made by prophets from Joseph Smith, Brigham Young all the way to the current prophet Gordon B. Hinckley were viewed as doctrine.

In the Mormon Scripture Doctrine and Covenants 1:38 it states very clearly:

"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

Most members of the church have always interpreted this passage in a very literal sense that everything that is spoken by our prophets and apostles is directed from God. The statement made by the press release changes in a fundamental way both the way we view our own doctrine and the role of the first presidency.

Significance of the press release

The press release was intended to help the outside media to understand Mormon Doctrine. However, I also feel it is a back-door approach to enlighten the members on what the role is of our first presidency and how that differs from the traditional view.

When studying Mormonism, many outsiders look at our history and dig up 150 year old obscure discourses from some of the Early Prophets, including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor and others. Some statements that have been made by these early prophets are very problematic for the church. They include statements about how Polygamy is necessary for exaltation and if anyone denies polygamy they are dammed, how blacks are representatives for Satan on the earth, and my personal favorite about how there are 1,000 year old Quakers living on the Moon.

In an effort for the church to help the outside media understand the current position of the church, they have made a significant statement that fundamentally changes the way we as Mormons view doctrine.

This statement from the press release:
"Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church."

This statement says it all right there. To say that not everything that church leaders both past and present necessarily constitute doctrine changes fundamentally the way we view prophets. Now, they are no longer the spokesperson directly from God, but they are men doing their best to offer their best opinion on the subject. This opens the floodgates to open interpretation of the Book of Mormon, something that I think is a great thing. This new way of thinking will cause friction amongst members of the church. Brigham Young himself said the following regarding his own discourses: "I say now, when they are copied and approved by me they are as good Scripture as is couched in this Bible" (Journal of Discourses, Vol 13 p. 264)

The new way to approach doctrine

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith."

So now, official Mormon Doctrine is established strictly to the 4 standard works, official declarations, proclamations and the articles of faith. The role of the first presidency has shifted to a role that interprets the doctrine to the best of their understanding and personal opinions.

"Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines...The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center."

Some doctrines are more important than others. That is much different than the traditional "black and white" view that every aspect of the church Doctrine is important and critical to salvation. In fact, this statement changes the entire "Black and White" approach to church doctrine. Life isn't black and white. I think that perhaps the church is shifting away from a literal interpretation of the Book of Mormon.

Many of the stories in the Bible are made up. Just because a story is fictional doesn't mean it doesn't have good morals to live by. I believe that the Book of Mormon has helped a lot of people improve their lives even if it is invented by Joseph Smith.

I think the church is changing in a dramatic way that may have a place for heretics like me after all. This press release has sparked enough curiosity in me to stick around and see what will happen.

Skeptical Mormon


marinamo said...

I am glad you brought this article to my attention. I agree with you that it seems to be a pretty big shift for the church and I think that is a good thing. But I wonder if we read it that way because we want to...would a true believer see change in the article? After all, "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" IS in scripture (making it doctrine according to this press release) which basically allows those who wish to continue the traditional thinking that prophets are the spokesmen directly from God to do so.

Zelph said...


Yes, you are correct and that is the beauty of the way it is presented and distributed. In fact, it wasn't written for members, it was written for the outside media., The author is unclear, but I am 99.9% sure that all official press releases must be cleared through the first presidency and the Quorum of the 12.

I think that people can interpret that press release the way they want to, and that is the beauty of it. It does demonstrate to me that there are some smart people in Salt Lake.

I would be greatly disappointed if this press release was simply a temporary move to deflect criticism away from the recent comments in the PBS special. I think something like that would drive me away from the church completely. I would have to ask the question why the church can only speak intelligently to non-members, but treat its own members like little children.

Who knows, I am somewhat optimistic, or at least morbidly curious to see if the church does in fact make this radical change, which I can only see as a good thing. Only time will tell, I will have to wait and see.