Posted by: Jay | May 18, 2007

What constitues Mormon doctrine?

This month the LDS Church released a statement about what constitutes Mormon doctrine. You can read it here in full. My favorite quote from this release is:

“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.”

I’ve visited many sites where people quote Brigham Young saying some outrageous thing and state that it is what Mormons believe (i.e. blood atonement, God had sex with Mary). These audacious statements that were “hidden” from them shock some members. The truth of the matter is that many of these things are unknown to Mormons simply because they are not doctrine and for that reason are not taught in LDS meetings. If they were doctrine members would be taught to accept and believe them. They would also be widely known among members. However, this is just simply not the case.

Frequently someone will ask, “If you believe Brigham Young (or any other LDS prophet) is a prophet of God, why don’t you believe everything he preached?” The simple answer is that no human on this earth is perfect. Everyone is subject to their own bias and reasoning. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Many times prophets and members apply their own earthly experiences to doctrinal concepts in an attempt to reason with themselves. A common example of this are the cornucopia of excuses for polygamy spread around the church like idol gossip.

I think it is significant that the LDS Church continues to say that not every statement of a Church leader is doctrine. This places the responsibility of a person’s salvation squarely on their shoulders. It is up to you to decide what is from God and what is not. There are LDS members and non-LDS Christians that are perfectly content to take every word from each interview Gordon B. Hinckley has done on prime time television as the word of God. This is a mistake. Doctrine of the LDS Church must be based on the canonized scriptures. If it is not, then it is just opinion and should be understood as such.

What do you think? Do we hold prophets (Bible or LDS) to an impossible standard?
Do you think members are bound by past statments made by Brigham Young and others?



  1. On one hand I agree that we non-LDS are unfair in what we try to hold modern Mormons to. Blood atonement is not the doctrine of the church, we shouldn’t insist that it is.

    On the other hand, even if what Brigham Young or Joseph Smith said was not doctrine but just opinion, I would be pretty upset that these men held those opinions if I were LDS. If my pastor were to say some of those types of things I would be angry, and he doesn’t even have the authority to establish new scripture. So I’d be cautious of what kinds of things are being presented as canon in light of the rest of what they say.

  2. It also has to be asked, why hasn’t the church publicly decried those past opinions and stood up against them. There is a lot of racism being spouted by Chruch leaders from just 50 years ago, and yet we hear nothing from today’s LDS church.

    When I was in college someone discovered some writings of our school’s founder in which he endorsed the “curse of Cain” argument. When this was discovered the school truly went out of its way to condemn those statements and to celebrate African heritage. It was almost ridiculous how overboard they went. If the LDS church is embarrassed by past opinions they should make that clear. The current posture leaves it open to assume tacit approval (which I don’t think is the case).

    As far as polygamy, it may not be practiced, but it STILL is the doctrine of the church. Until D&C 132 is decanonized or edited in someway and multiple sealings in the temple are no longer allowed, it is insincere to say that it’s not doctrinal. It meets almost every LDS test of doctrine.

  3. My two favorite parts:

    This living, dynamic aspect of the Church provides flexibility in meeting those challenges. According to the Articles of Faith, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

    the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.

    I think members bind themselves to whatever statements past prophets have made that best fit the way they want to view the world.

    There are some interesting posts along these lines at mormonstories dot org.

  4. Dando,
    I would also like to see the LDS Church officially condemn the racist remarks made by past leaders and the “curse of Cain” debate, which I was exposed to in the church a few times(though not within the past 10 years). These remarks offend me every time I hear them. However, Gordon B. Hinckley has denounced racism in General Conference and said that any members that hold such feelings should repent. I am grateful for this. I think the LDS Church has decided to deemphasize the racist comments of past leaders rather than come our with a blanket apology. In other words, they are simply dismissed and not taught.

    The whole polygamy thing doesn’t really bother me. There is ample evidence in the OT of PROPHETS that lived it. My problem is that I do not see any condemnation of these prophets (e.g. Abraham, Jacob) in the OT because of their polygamy. In fact, Jesus himself talks about them in complementary terms during his ministry. Do I want to live it? Definitely not, but I can’t condemn early members for doing so. I don’t think the LDS Church ever condemned polygamy either; they have just suspended its practice during mortality. So if you are a true believing Mormon you have to live with the idea that it could come back some day (I know it is still practiced in the afterlife, in that men whose wives die can marry again and be sealed to additional wives for eternity in the temple). Nonetheless, I am still struggling with the idea that Joseph Smith was married to married women who continued to live with their husbands.

  5. Glenn,
    Those were parts of the statement that stood out to me as well. Thanks for the post and the reference to Dehlin’s site. I think mormonstories is a great resource.

  6. Jay, the OT stories on polygamy express the heartache to the reader . . . loudly.

  7. Todd,
    What do you mean?

  8. There’s not a single story in the OT about polygamy that doesn’t express how bad it is for the family. Look at every instance and you will see heartache, division, jealousy, betrayal and distrust born out of it.

    When the Old Testament writers chose to tell us about polygamy, they also chose to tell us how bad it is for everyone involved.

  9. Dando,
    Thanks for the clearification Dando. I don’t doubt that is true, but why if it is so evil are prophets allowed to continue its practice. Doesn’t the law of Moses demand that adulters be stoned. Why are Abraham and Jacob not only allowed to live but also praised throughout scripture?

  10. Great question. I don’t think the Mosaic law was at all perfect. I think it’s obvious that God thought the Mosaic law was perfect. It permitted polygamy, it also permitted slavery. In fact you will not find a specific prohibition of slavery anywhere in the Bible. It’s only with the general principles of the the Bible that we find it immoral.

    So, if Joseph Smith pointed out that Abraham practiced slavery and the Mosaic law even gave principles for how to practice it, would you think that a moral prophet could re-institute the practice? I wouldn’t. So I can see how righteous men living within the strict code of the Mosaic Law could get away with both polygamy and slavery. But we are under a new covenant now which is based on virtue ethics not legalism.

  11. I guess I just have trouble seeing how God would allow a prophet commit adultery but kill the children of Israel because they made an Idol. He would strike someone down on the spot for masturbating but bless Abraham and Jacob who were committing “adultery”. This is why it is so hard for me to condemn early leaders that practiced polygamy. Even though I thoroughly understand the opposition to it.

  12. I don’t know that any body is equating polygamy to adultery. I, at least think that they are different things. I do not believe that Abraham and Jacob were sinning to have multiple wives. But I do think it was less than God’s best and that there were terrible consequences for their decision.

  13. I guess it depends on your view of polygamy as a family system. I could be wrong, but it is my impression that a lot of people do equate it with adultery. Is that right, or is it just not considered the ideal situation?

  14. What is the point of having Prophets and Apostles if they are not sure what they are saying is correct .
    I could do there job quite easily then and probably better myself.

    The excuse that they have opinions comes after it is shown they spoke a load of rubbish and the church no longer wants to be associated with those teachings.

    if its not in the Standards Works its not Doctrine is the excuse .

    So why teach God was once a man ? thats not in the Standard works !

    Everything Brigham Young taught came out of the Scriptures in one way or another and why wasn’t he taken away for leading the church astray ??

  15. Elder Joseph, It’s good to finally see you here! I can accept that people have opinion. Sometimes the doctrine that non-LDS bring up are things that one person said (mostly Brigham Young). They simply don’t catch on because those that succeed them let the “doctrine” die out. The LDS church position is that they (opinions) were not doctrine. Therefore, there was no obligation or justification for their continuation.
    As a prophet there are pobably very few that would challenge your statements. It is not hard for me to believe that someone can get carried away without being brought back to reality.
    How can you know if a prophet is getting carried away? Well, does it have any scriptural basis? Has it been discussed and agreed upon among the twelve? Has it been accepted by the Church as a formal revelation? These are some of the tests. If it doesn’t pass these, then you can pray about it and know for yourself (assuming you believe you can). Barring that I guess you just have to go on your gut feeling and hope your right.

  16. This tells me that “Prophet” is merely a title and not a divine calling.

    It seems rediculous that I can only believe the things that the “Prophet” says when it passes correlation.

    Do we have a Prophet or not?

    This tells me we do not.

  17. I see… so only perfect people can be Prophets…

    That’s a bit difficult since the only perfect person was Christ. But he Himself called all the other imperfect men in the Old Testament Prophets and continued to call new ones… all imperfect… all fallible.

    You just don’t want to believe. And are not Mormon, but for some odd reason seem to want to continue to call yourself one. Very very odd…

    I’m curious as to what drives anti-Mormons in their own minds…

    Why not start your own blog and preach what you believe instead of spending your days tearing down other people’s religion?

  18. Jayleen,

    I am part of an ever growing subgroup within the LDS church that has serious doubts about the truthfulness of the LDS claims, but are active members non the less. I know this annoys you, but it is the truth.

    I think my question is a valid one. Why do we have a prophet if he is not allowed to speak for himself concerning the church as all other prophets of old did? No other prophets had to have statements cleared through correlation before they were considered valid.

    I am not tearing down other’s religion, I am questioning my own. The same religion I have (and continue to) donate countless hours of service to. The same religion that I have given enough in tithing and other donations to pay cash for a new house.

    I have and continue to pay my dues and I have the right to question things that don’t make sense to me. I’m sorry that you feel I don’t have this right, but you would be mistaken.

  19. Jayleen ,

    You are obviously happy in your belief knowing all the things we are discussing .

    I’m not here to tear down your belief . I’m here to ask you when you are prosletysing to prospective converts do you tell them about the many things of the church history , archeology , silly prophets ,which could later destroy their futures , their families ,their sanity when they find out .

    I am an Investigator and I put in a few hours in service and money ( not tithe though ) and I’ve seen first hand how people are being misled by missionaries who don’t know themselves what they are teaching is factually wrong alot of the time …….

    If we knew everything from the beginning we would never get a feeling called testimony . This is just a manipulation on people created by false attention and friendship from missionaries for only one reason , to get a baptism .

    If you sent the same missionaries with my Book of Zorzon ( another Testament of Jesus Christ ) and how he appeared to the Russians , his other sheep , with a similar tale , you’d get the same spread of converts feel the spirit and getting baptised .Its all based on a hoax .

    Then when they find out about The prophet Elder Joseph marrying young teens , they are conditioned to accept it having been in the church too long already . I will justify it citing Abraham etc . Its ridiculous …

    Its a trap for the vulnerable and does alot of damage . I’m glad to speak out for real truth concerning the LDS faith myself .

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