Sic et Non
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No, no, no. That other church:
Still, there are parallels and analogies to be drawn. And possible lessons to be learned.
Brother Peterson, I am a former student. We had a one on one class together a few years ago. I limped through the Middle Eastern Studies/Arabic program and eventually graduated, thanks in part to that course. This topic, namely the need for firmness and steadiness on the part of the Church in the face of the challenges of a Fallen World, is one I have considered a great deal. One of the things I have been grateful to John Paul II and Benedict XVI for is their willingness to hold fast to moral positions deemed outdated and outmoded by much of the Modern West. While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has held firm to many of these same positions and principles, its articulation of the reasoning, the WHY, of these principles has not always been clear. The intellectual underpinnings, doctrinal implications, and practical implementation are often left unexplained. Most are justified to the body of the Church by an appeal to the authority of the Brethren. Such appeals have, unfortunately, been weakened by the “flexibility” that the Church has shown when it comes to pronouncements that have been made by leaders in the past. The fact that the Journal of Discourses is full of all sorts of doctrinal expositions and assertions, many of which are treated as having no bearing on present doctrinal formulations, shows to anyone who is looking, that the authority of many doctrinal assertions have implied, though indeterminate, expiration dates. If there is an expiration date on doctrines it means that they are not meant to apply over the long term and if they are not applicable over the long term then what rational is there for their application over the short term? A recent case in point would be the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Brother Randy Botts interview. Brother Botts, as a teacher at the Church’s flagship university, articulated previous doctrinal assertions that were made regarding the priesthood ban. He sought to explain the reasoning for this ban and repeated the same doctrinal assertions that were made by various Brethren during the period in which that ban was in force. That they may have been wrong is not the issue. The issue is that what was said on that subject was treated as doctrine during the time of the ban and then not definitively dealt with as a doctrinal matter when the ban was rescinded. Now there are those that seek to say that the teaching/practice was never doctrine only a practice which came into being over time. Unfortunately, that approach leads to difficulties because if it was not doctrine at the time that it was policy then the Church did a poor job of making that fact clear to the general membership. It also means the Church needs to develop a way for defining and recognizing why it was not doctrine and also for recognizing what is and is not doctrine going forward. Brother Bott was an unwitting victim of the Church’s practice of speaking of something as doctrine, conveniently deciding that it no longer is, and then not dealing with the corpus of teachings that justified it as such in the first place. That approach helps no one. It is one of the reasons that people who are not members of the Church either a) have erroneous ideas about what Latter-day Saints believe or b) do not believe that what we say is doctrine really is doctrine, and try to find the “real” or “secret” doctrine that Mormon’s “actually” believe. It is also a reason why so many weird folk beliefs persist among the membership of the Church. No member knows which teachings/practices will actually survive the next prophet. Hence, there is a tendency, not to take everything said in General Conference with a grain of salt, but rather to accept the whole mass of teachings wholesale to make sure that no teaching that may possibly survive to be doctrine is left behind. That also means that members are saddle with a mass of contradictions, folk beliefs, and some things that are just plain wrong. While I happen to believe orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy, there is still a vital element to being able to exercise faith by believing in something which is not seen but which is true.
Doctrines are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, as well as other scripture. Policy can be thought of as anything not found primarily in the Doctrine and Covenants. Proclamations and declarations and other actions taken with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as a unit may be thought of as doctrinal in nature. Everything else can be thought of as more or less inspired and useful for understanding the doctrine and policies of the church. Statements, sentiments, and warnings that are repeated should probably be taken note of. The Testimonies of the Apostles and Prophets are the most important things they give, as well as inspired messages to guide the church currently. It used to be much more common for members of the Twelve to speculate and build up theologies based on the doctrine, which seems to have worked out slightly more successfully then when members engage in the same practice, but only slightly. See The Doctrine of Christ, D. Todd Christofferson April 2012.
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