Guest post by David Clark
Some variation of the idea that Mormons have little or no official doctrine is believed with near 100% unanimity by the bloggernacle. However, I must confess I have never actually seen any justification for this idea. I have seen many people express it, and I have seen many differing opinions on doctrine offered in the bloggernacle, but I have never seen any justification for this idea.
I’d like to point out, if it isn’t obvious already, just because one loudly and continuously expresses an idea, doesn’t mean that it’s rooted in the truth. It is also the case that just because there are many differing opinions on what consitutes doctrine, it does not mean that there is no official doctrine.
Related to this, just because few people believe or practice a doctrine does not make it unofficial. As an example of this, most Catholics probably use artificial contraception, even though it most definitely is official doctrine of the Catholic Church that artiticial contraception should not be used (no, the comdom comments made by the pope and taken out of context by the media do not change this). More closer to home, as far as I know masturbation is still doctrinally considered a sin in Mormon circles, but one would be hard pressed to find a sin more widely and frequently comitted. But, this does not change the Mormon view on masturbation (again, bloggernacclers, this isn’t the place to wax eloquent about your own masturbation views and experiences, it doesn’t change what the view is, assuming it exists).
So now, dear lazyweb, I ask for statements, policies, or any other type of official communication which establishes this idea. I would ask that the following be considered before offering up a statement as support for this idea.
- Statements that say that members can have a wide variety of opinions on matters, and won’t be disciplined, is not good support for this idea. This could also support the contention that although the LDS church has many official doctrines, it’s pretty lenient and merciful towards those who disagree. Thus Jeffrey R. Holland’s campsite talk is probably not the best support for the idea that the church holds little or no official doctrine.
- Statements that are taken out of context are not good support for this idea. Joseph Smith’s oft quoted, “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” was likely given in the context of civil governance, as Joseph Smith was most likely talking to a member of the Illinois legislature at the time. I hedged a lot in the previous statement because the earliest source for this quote appears to be John Taylor, and it was communicated many years after the fact (1851 to be precise). Thus it’s not a good statement talking about lack of doctrine.
- Newer statements should be preferred to older ones
- Statements made by persons higher up in the church hierarchy should be preferred to statements made by those lower in the hierarchy
- Statements published in official and/or correlated sources should be preferred to those which are not
- Published statements should be preferred to hearsay and rumor. For example, it’s often said that David O. McKay had grave misgivings about both the content and existence of Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine. But, as far as I can tell, David O. McKay never came out and said anything of the kind in a public setting.
- Disagreement does not mean lack of official doctrine. Brigham Young and Orson Pratt disagreeing about the nature of intelligences doesn’t really say much about official doctrine. It might say something about that particular doctrine (even then, one could make a case that it may not even affect that, but I’m not interested in making that case), but it doesn’t say anything about doctrine in general