Thursday, February 21, 2008

Incorporating Doctrinal Change into the Church--A Poll

Thoughts for discussion: Do you think the Church has a responsibility to explain to the members when a doctrinal change is made? Would it cause more or less confusion? Would it make the Church look bad if they admit that a doctrinal policy held in the past is no longer followed? Which option above would you be most likely to respond to as a member?


Zillah said...

I select several of the above:
1. General Conference
2. Letters to all stakes and wards.
3. Press conference, if necessary.
4. If it is a change in doctrine rather than a change in policy or approach (change in doctrine of the family as fundamental to salvation vs. change in approach to number of children/ideas of sexuality), then a doctrinal proclamation is appropriate and, I believe, necessary.

Anonymous said...

Anything but the “trickle down” method. People just assume that nothing has changed and then get upset when they finally find out.

And before the announcement of the change, we need to be reminded that:

1. The church learns and grows “line upon line.” Not all truth is given at once, so sometimes men fill in the rest.
2. We should seek a personal spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the words of the prophets.
3. The leaders of the church are not infallible.
4. There is a difference between a teaching (or a practice) and an “eternal fact”.
5. Having continued revelation in changing times means that what we know as “doctrines” will change over time for our protection and benefit.


Geoff J said...

Seems to me that we would need to separate doctrine and policy in this poll. The approaches would be different for the two. Policies can be changed pretty easily I think... Just do it; in the handbook at least and perhaps elsewhere as well. Doctrines are a different matter. The first thing that would need to be established is whether something ever was an actual doctrine to begin with or not. I assume the answer usually would be "not".

Janell said...

In my opinion we need no more explanation regarding doctrinal changes than was provided by Moses to the Israelites. Policy changes, however, ought to be accompanied by some reasoning.

Anonymous said...

Just because there is a change, doesn't mean the previous way was wrong.
Times change. We have a prophet. Is it really odd to think that maybe the Lord would command us to obey different commandments in our time, than in other times?
His purpose is eternal, but how he gets us to build his kingdom on earth may differ based on circumstances.
Today's gospel emphasizes the importance of family. Everything is family. God didn't used to preach family quite so strongly. Perhaps it is the unique circumstances of the current times in which we live that we need the doctrine of eternal families emphasized in order for the Lord to build his kingdom on earth.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, forgot to sign above anon.

PeriginatioAnimae said...

I agree with.. the above. When it's a fundamental doctrinal change, the first presidency will let us know. If it's a simple policy, or procedural change, that's the letters we hear in church

Last Lemming said...

Doctrines should be changed by revelation and discussed in general conference. Policies (which I interpret to mean rules governing church administration) should be changed in the handbook and by circular bulletins. I answered the poll with policy changes in mind.

I assume the question is an outgrowth of your "number of children" issue. I don't know that it falls into either the doctrine or policy category. The fundamental doctrine has not changed--the Church still encourages large families for the same reasons it always has. No rule governing church administration has changed either--using birth control was never cause for disciplinary action.

What has changed is a standard of personal behavior, and I don't think there is a single answer to how it should be disseminated. The standard is intended to strike a balance between two competing goals: producing more children and facilitating parents in raising the children they already have. I can imagine that there is disagreement among the brethren over how this balance should be struck. Certain apostles might be willing to quietly change the handbook, but be unwilling to agree to a public discussion of the matter for fear of exacerbating the decline in birthrates. Hence, an insistence that all changes in standards be discussed in General Conference might simply result in fewer (needed) changes being made because it would be more difficult for the brethren to reach a consensus.

Rich said...

using birth control was never cause for disciplinary action

I'm baffled by this comment; is your intention to minimize the impact this "doctrine" actually had on members of the church (as has already been pointed out)? That such ideas/policies/doctrines only truly matter if your membership hangs in the balance? Good grief.

We now KNOW that planet earth cannot continue to support the unchecked growth of large families. If this is still church "doctrine", it is wrong, and needs to change as the earth's population (and diminishing resources) change. The inability to change, or to accept change, is a HUGE problem for me. Change is inevitable.

Once upon a time you could talk authoritatively about a universal flood, or a 6000 year old earth, or a special creation for man, and get away with it. No longer; not without ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary, and suspending reason.

Truth is truth, regardless of the source. And when "revelation" is shown to be opinion or speculation or founded in ignorance or tradition or superstition or whatever, you better call a spade a spade or credibility goes out the window, thoughtful members become disillusioned and disappear, and the whole foundation starts to deteriorate.

Anonymous said...

Why are we assuming the doctrine was a mistake? Maybe for those people at that time with the level of knowledge that they had and their ability to comprehend, the doctrine was right (for them).

And do we have it "right" today? Or is it just "right" for us. Which of our pet "true" beliefs we cherish today will be declared a mistake in the future.

As to how to handle a change in doctrine as opposed to policy. Do it like Pres. Kimball and Co. did it with the revelation on priesthood.


Last Lemming said...

My intent with respect to the "disciplinary action" comment was to illustrate why the birth control teachings fall under a "standards" banner (which guides the behavior of individuals) rather than a "policy" banner (which guides the behavior of the institution). Worded more broadly, there was never a mandate for the church as an institution to treat people practicing birth control differently from those not practicing birth control. Of course representatives of the institution occasionally did so anyway, but that has been addressed by two distinct changes: a change in standards regarding the use of birth control, and change in policy along the lines of training leaders not to freelance in general.

As for the earth supporting the unchecked growth of large families, of course the earth cannot support it. But unchecked growth is not the doctrine. Families are (also according to doctrine) expected to provide for themselves, which acts as a natural check on their growth. Then tension at the margin comes from deciding whether "providing" for them means keeping them from starving, supplying each child with a car on his or her 16th birthday, or something in between.

Furthermore, most projections of the world's population now have it leveling off at less than 10 billion. This is a manageable level. The question is who are those 10 billion people going to be? Will they be Mormons intent on establishing Zion? Not if Mormons stop having kids.

Bored in Vernal said...

Thank you for your comments. The wording of the poll question was quite difficult to frame. The difference between doctrine/policy/ideas is a bit slippery in the Church. I'm quite willing to put the church's position on birth control into the "policy" category, and perhaps even call it a doctrine, simply because it was denounced in such strong language in official venues. For example, Joseph Fielding Smith in the RS Magazine: "Those who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world in obedience to this great command, are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they," and Harold B. Lee in Conference saying, "We declare it is a grievous sin before God to adopt restrictive measures in disobedience to God's divine command..."

When you have one prophet telling you that if you use birth control you have no hope of eternal salvation, and another prophet saying that it is a grievous sin, it serves to make a strong statement.

The definition of doctrine is as follows: "a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government," or alternately, "a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject."

I feel comfortable placing the Church's teachings on birth control into this rubric.

I see that some are bothered by the use of the word "mistake" in my question. JKS says, "Just because there is a change, doesn't mean the previous way was wrong. Times change. We have a prophet. Is it really odd to think that maybe the Lord would command us to obey different commandments in our time, than in other times?" Actually, in my mind it is odd. I am in the unique position of having been a young wife at the time that birth control was mandated, and am still a potential mother today. Within my years of fertility the position of the Church has changed. So I do wonder why it was so important 20 years ago not to use birth control at the risk of my eternal salvation while it is perfectly acceptable now. It bothers me that the policy has changed seemingly as a result of many members ignoring counsel until it was no longer emphasized. I think I would have been able to accept it better if there was a mention in Conference or in a circular, or an announcement of a revelation--some type of explanation that the Lord is no longer requiring this sacrifice of his people. See kwk's comment (the 2nd one on this post). I would prefer to see things handled this way. Leaders would not have to necessarily go so far as to receive a revelation--though that wouldn't hurt--but I'd like to be informed officially, such as in Conference, that there has been a change and how change works in the Church.

Again, see my post of Feb 17th and the commenters who were not even aware that birth control was once considered a sin in the Church. I'm one who believes that a more open approach would be welcome.

Seth R. said...

A news conference would be completely inappropriate. It would say two things:

1. You care more about reporters than your own people

2. Doctrine has more to do with PR than it does with God.

Rich said...

I'm going to stick my neck out (even further than I already have) and call this spade a spade. The Policy/Doctrine/Standards -- whatever you choose to call it, however you want to dissect and mince the words -- was a MISTAKE. It was WRONG.

First of all, it's a contradiction:
1. Birth control is a sin
2. Birth control (by abstinence) isn't a sin.

If that's not enough of a mass of confusion, abstinence itself can also be a sin, when a wife (or husband) is denied the perfectly natural, normal, important bonding the physical expression of love and intimacy provides in a marriage, and the marriage relationship consequently suffers as a result (not to mention creating added pressure to find release / fulfillment in inappropriate ways, etc.).

Is the practice of self-control important? Sure, and we get plenty of it, from the onset of puberty until we get married. And again at various times when our spouse isn't up for intimacy -- this must be mutually agreeable of course, and I'm sure it's essentially behind the intention of what the brethren making these declarations were undoubtedly getting at.

But the IMPLICATION remains: "Having sex without the goal of procreation equals SIN" is, well, RETARDED. Anyone past menopause having sex is therefore living in sin. Anyone unable (for whatever reason) to have children who is having sex is therefore living in sin, etc. It's stupid, it's wrong, it's a mistake, for any generation, worlds without end.

rockin' groovin' mama said...

I don't have a lot of evidence to support this, but ,anecdotally, it does seem to me that the way information about changes is given depends on who will be impacted the most. We have the two official declarations that relate directly to men. Yet changes regarding the use of birth control have only been implicity addressed.

I have also noticed a suggestion of eugenics in statements by JS and the various prophets on the previous post. (e.g. comments about propogating the race, racial suicide, etc.) Has anyone else noticed that? Or am I reading too much into it?

Mark IV said...


I might as well explain my vote.

I voted for changing the handbook, then letting the news filter out. The very best approach would be to also allow universal access to the handbook.

I don't think any of the other approaches you suggest make sufficient allowance for the difficult and tentative process of receiving revelation. Speaking only for myself, I would hate to have all my spiritual promptings and impressions published to the world. I'm thinking in particular of a time or two when I was certain I was right, then turned out to be, in Elder Oaks' words, "spectacularly wrong". Although some of us might like to think the process of revelation is different for general aauthorities, I just don't believe that is the case. They need the ability to take a few tentative steps in one direction or other and make corrections as necessary, and statements from the pulpit or new sections in the D&C don't allow for that. Knowledge from God usually comes to all of us a little at a time, "as the dew from heav'n distilling".

I don't want to minimize the issue of birth control; I realize this was a HUGE issue for many of us. But, we also should recognize that it wan't a big issue for many others of us. Mormons in Asia and parts of Europe have been have fewer children for generations, and they are just as Mormon as any of the rest of us. So I think it is safe to say that, while there was undoubtedly some cultural projection going on with some of our leaders, we hearers also were interpreting in terms of our surrounding culture.

For some perspective, consider that up until 1999, the church strongly discouraged cremation. Burial among kin was considered to be the ideal. This is what Joseph Smith said:

“The place where a man is buried is sacred to me. This subject is made mention of in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures. Even to the aborigines of this land, the burying places of their fathers are more sacred than anything else. …

“I believe those who have buried their friends here, their condition is enviable. Look at Jacob and Joseph in Egypt, how they required their friends to bury them in the tomb of their fathers. See the expense which attended the embalming and the going up of the great company to the burial.

“It has always been considered a great calamity not to obtain an honorable burial: and one of the greatest curses the ancient prophets could put on any man, was that he should go without a burial.

Those same Asian members who weren't troubled at all about having only one or two children got heartburn over the no cremation policy, but we North American hardly even noticed it. There are places in the world where there simply is no space in graveyards, or the water table is too high, or for other cultural reasons, that burial is simply not an option.

For these reasons, I think it is best to take a very low-key approach to changes in our doctrines and policies. If we had to put them in the D&C and announce them in conference, we would literally have 5- or 600 sections in the D&C now, and Thomas S. Monson would have to spend so much time on announcements in GC that we would never get to hear about his visits to Grandma in the rest home, and that would be a shame.

Again, I vote for the handbook, with the caveat that it should get broader circulation.

Doc said...

two declarations? Are you saying polygamy doesn't affect women? Or that the priesthood thing didn't affect entire families? I think we are better off if you don't try turning this into us vs them. Of course, the difficulty is by the very nature of hierarchy, any desire for change in the church is us the member vs. them, the hierarchy. That in itself can be treacherous for both parties.

Bored in Vernal said...

Rich, personally I think it was a mistake, too. But I am open to the possibility that it might be a prophetic change in direction due to continuing revelation in changing times. (maybe most of the premortal spirits have already come down? or maybe a slowdown is in order due to lack of resources on earth?)

I think lots of policies/doctrines have been mistakes. Adam/God was preached over the pulpit by a prophet, yet now our leaders tell us he was mistaken. Bruce R. was mistaken about blacks and the priesthood. Baptizing men for women and women for men in the early days of the Church--oops! I'll cut the leaders some slack for learning line upon line but I hope they will become more willing to be open when changes are made.

Mark IV, you make a good case. I can almost agree with you, as long as members have access to the Handbook. (Can't we just post it on

RGM, I think this was common rhetoric of the day. Phrases like "racial suicide" just meant we weren't doing our part to multiply and replenish the earth--I doubt it had much to do with eugenics.

Rich said...

In case anyone is still reading this...

I spoke with my dad about this last evening, and he told me that his Stake Pres. (in the late 1950's/early 1960's) in So. Calif. would deny a man a temple recommend if he had a vasectomy.