In Mormonism the word Doctrine is important, even crucial. It is so important that members are counseled when teaching to stick to the Doctrine. We reinforce this with scriptures like D&C 88:77
“teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom”
And entire lessons structured and centered around “Teaching the Doctrine”
Doctrinal boundaries are so important that one can be excommunicated for teaching contrary to the Doctrine. The handbook clearly states
When a Disciplinary Council is Mandatory:
Apostasy As used here, apostasy refers to members who:
Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
The assumption is made that members know what the doctrine is and that is is easy to understand as the Church instructs its members
Teaching the doctrine clearly and powerfully helps build faith in Jesus Christ and bring about true conversion.
Yet while the Church expects its members to “teach the Doctrine clearly”, to stick to the Doctrine, and that even a child can be taught to understand the doctrine; the Church itself has offered multiple definitions of Doctrine. Here are a few
LDS.ORG gives one definition of Doctrine as
Doctrine is the word of God as found in the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets and apostles.
Elder Bednar states that True Doctrine is
A gospel doctrine is a truth—a truth of salvation revealed by a loving Heavenly Father. Gospel doctrines are eternal, do not change, and pertain to the eternal progression and exaltation of Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters. Doctrines such as the nature of the Godhead, the plan of happiness, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ are foundational, fundamental, and comprehensive. The core doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are relatively few in number.
As I travel around the Church, I find the word “doctrine” is not very well understood. Sometimes we think doctrine refers to weird, abstract, mysterious subjects in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I refer to doctrine, I am not talking about how many light-years it is to Kolob and who lives there. Rather, doctrine refers to the eternal, unchanging, and simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are several key words in that definition: eternal, unchanging, simple, and truth. Doctrines are never altered. They never vary. They will always be the same. You can always count on them.
Procedures, programs, the administrative policies, even some patterns of organization are subject to change. We are quite free, indeed, quite obliged to alter them from time to time. But the principles, the doctrines, never change.
Most often in the Church it refers to the teachings or doctrine of Jesus Christ, understood in a rather specific sense.
Several Leaders have stated that True Doctrine must mesh with the standard works. For instance Harold B Lee Stated
If any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.
Joseph Fielding Smith stated it is impossible for Church leaders to teach False Doctrine when he stated
I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.
At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.
There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.
The Mormon Newsroom offers an entire page on “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” yet never offers a definition. The page by its title almost acknowledges it is a moving target in terms of you and I grasping what it is and isn’t
Yet understanding what is and isn’t Doctrine is portrayed as so easy to know that
We can teach even a child to understand the doctrine of Jesus Christ. It is therefore possible, with God’s help, to teach the saving doctrine simply.
One of the Facets of Doctrine is that it has to be a consistent and uniform standard that God holds his children to. For example LDS.ORG says
The Father’s doctrine consists of eternal truths that, when consistently applied, lead to exaltation.
Another Facet in differentiating between Doctrine and policies is that Doctrine does not change and the Holy Ghost can bear witness to the eternal nature of Doctrine. LDS.ORG says as much.
the Holy Ghost bears witness of the truthfulness of the doctrine and inspires people to live it. Doctrine does not change—rather, it changes us, and it changes those we teach.
The closest place I could find a line in the sand saying these are the things that are Doctrine was this page on LDS.ORG
While we can name the basic Doctrines of the Gospel, True Doctrine is not easily defined, and even leaders have in our history misunderstood and misapplied doctrine in our past but we can say this much
- True Doctrine doesn’t change. It is Eternal and set.
- True Doctrine is salvific or pertains to salvation
- True Doctrine is consistent, applies and is accessible to all of God’s Children, and is taught by the Lord’s Church regularly and consistently
Recently on the podcast LDS Perspectives Podcast, Laura Hales has an excellent interview with Michael Goodman. This interview seems to revolve around helping Latter-day Saints wrap their heads around “what is Doctrine”. I should say up until this interview I found the word Doctrine as shown here to be a complicated word and that it has seemed in the past that to define Doctrine was like nailing jello to a wall and that every definition had severe flaws in my personal opinion. This interview for the First time seems to set out a working definition that goes along with my 3 points above.
Michael Goodman makes several points in the podcast
1.) True Doctrine is eternal. He goes on to explain that any temporary point of the gospel no matter how important is not Doctrine. For example the Sacrament is not an eternal item, and hence while crucial to our Church it is only a principle that supports the Doctrine of Atonement. By this standard the Word of Wisdom, Birth Control, past views on Race that have been disavowed can all be written off as not “True Doctrine”. By this standard one can see how Brigham Young declaring that someday those of color would hold the Priesthood in and of itself speaks to the non-eternal nature of such a policy and hence removes it from the Doctrinal list.
2.) True Doctrine will be Salvific in nature. In other words Gravity for instance is an eternal truth but has zilch to do with Salvation therefore it is not doctrine. To be a Doctrine an eternal truth must also be salvific in nature.
3.) True Doctrines will be taught repeatedly and consistently by the leadership of the Church. People in the past including myself have taken Elder Christofferson’s and Elder Anderson’s quotes above to impose that when all 15 men unitedly teach something that the Church is stating that such is “true Doctrine”. But that is not how Michael Goodman frames it. Instead he is saying that All “True Doctrines” will be taught repeatedly and consistently by church leadership not that all things taught by Church leadership are “true Doctrine”. Another way to explain this principle would be to refer again to the list of Basic Doctrines shared above. Each of these has been taught repeatedly and at least relatively consistently, (For those who hold the position there has been no variation on these Doctrines, see Charlie Harrell’s book “This is My Doctrine”. A read of this book will leave no reader to continue holding such a view.) So we can see that generally these “True Doctrines” are found consistently in the teachings of Church leaders. That said this is not meant to intend that all teachings taught by the Church leadership generally and consistently are “true Doctrine”. There are many instances in our Church where all 15 leaders held a view and perpetuated it through their teaching and even labeled at times by them as “Doctrine” only to have later leaders disavow such teachings as “incorrect Doctrine”, “False Doctrine”, “not Doctrine”, “Disavowed Theories”, and “Mistakes”. One such example is the Adam God “Doctrine” by Brigham Young. Elder Bruce R McConkie was very direct about this when he stated
I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality…. I repeat: Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation
Now to the crux of my discussion. Homosexuality and its relationship to three Doctrines. My point here is not to say we are wrong or that something needs to change but rather to raise the question of asking for clarification as to how our framing of Homosexuality and true Doctrine can be reconciled in terms of the observation being made here of the appearance to some that such is inconsistent and not uniform in its application to all God’s Children.
Doctrine #1 – Marriage
The Church defines marriage in the handbook in a certain way so as to distance God sanctioned marriage from both Homosexual marriages as well as Polygamist Fundamentalist marriages. Handbook 2 clearly states
As a doctrinal principle, based on the scriptures, the Church affirms that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. Sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, are sinful and undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly affirms defining marriage as the legal and lawful union between a man and a woman.
First it initiates the paragraph with the wording of “Doctrinal Principle” and follows up with the idea God only sees as proper those relationships that are “legal” & “lawful” and between a “man” and a “woman”. The trouble is that in the 1800’s It was the Church’s view that God saw as proper marriages some that were not “legal” and “lawful”. And the Church today has never stated that such marriages are perceived today by it as an “disavowed theory” that unlawful and illegal marriages were sanctioned by God. By the working definition laid out above it seems the qualifier of legal and lawful is not “True Doctrine” but rather a current policy framed around a true doctrine. This handbook paragraph would need to be parsed out and we would need to dissect what is “doctrinal” and what is “policy” but if compelled to accept the paragraph in its entirety “True Doctrine”, it seems such would not be consistent with how Doctrine is defined by the Church.
Doctrine #2 – The Law Of Chastity
The Church defines the Law Chastity in various ways. For instance the Gospel Principles manual defines it this way
We are to have sexual relations only with our spouse to whom we are legally married. No one, male or female, is to have sexual relations before marriage. After marriage, sexual relations are permitted only with our spouse.
Again the legally married doesn’t seem to fit the context of how we define “true Doctrine” as shown above.
The Church also uses the following definitions
Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.
“sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
“We are to have sexual relations only with our spouse to whom we are legally married. No one, male or female, is to have sexual relations before marriage. After marriage, sexual relations are permitted only with our spouse.”
“Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.”
The Temple also describes the Law of Chasity in terms that explicitly speak to Sexual relations being kept between a man and woman who are legally and lawfully wed.
In terms of homosexuality the law is applied differently to Homosexuals then Heterosexuals. For instance romantic hugging, kissing, and holding hands between Heterosexuals is seen as not breaking the law of Chastity. It is within the bounds. Yet if a Homosexual couple were to do such things it would be seen as sinful. If “True Doctrine” is to apply uniformly to all of God’s Children and to be defined consistently then this raises a need for additional context and clarification as the current understanding raises questions of inconsistency and variation in application.
the Law of chastity would seem by the criteria in the first half of this post to be an eternal Doctrine and yet the way we have framed in the last 100 years it is defined in terms that are contrary to the imposed definition of “true Doctrine”. It has changed, it is not consistent, and by the changes shown it has not be eternal in its definition, nor uniformly applied.
Doctrine #3 The Mortal Portion of The Plan of Salvation
I want to be careful here. Again the Plan of Salvation is defined differently by the Church in various venues. Some of those definitions allows for the variation of application I am about to speak to. One such on LDS.ORG is
Earth Life Is Part of God’s Plan Our life on earth has purpose. Coming to earth is part of God’s plan for us to gain a physical body and learn to choose between good and evil.
(The Plan of Salvation) provided us the opportunity to come here to gain a body, make choices, develop faith, and accept responsibility for our actions. This allows us to progress beyond what was possible in the spirit world when we lived with God.
Mortal Life: This earth life grants us physical bodies and experiences that enable us to learn and grow. Through myriad challenges, gifts and unique circumstances, we exercise our God-given right to make choices and live in ways that draw us closer to God, or away from God. Because we inherit bodies and environments that are subject to weakness, we all sin, or fall short of our divine potential. All human beings, however, have the resources that enable them to progress by following Jesus Christ, no matter their circumstances or limitations. In addition to Christ’s grace and access to God’s help, all are endowed with a conscience that helps them discern right from wrong. God has also provided teachings and guidance throughout the course of history, through prophets and apostles and their writings (scriptures). These prophets and apostles, such as Moses, Isaiah, Peter and Paul, impart doctrines that teach us how to follow God and live like Him. Additionally, God’s chosen servants are given authority to perform ordinances (sacred rites such as baptism), which often involve making promises or covenants with God. Latter-day Saints believe God called Joseph Smith in 1830 as a latter-day prophet to restore God’s ordinances and teachings. They believe in Christ’s promise that by following the Savior’s teachings, all can have a more joyful and abundant life and will be prepared to return to God’s presence.
These all leave adequate room for differing circumstances and experiences. But these must also be seen in the context of other descriptions such as this in the Missionary Discussions
The family is central to our Heavenly Father’s plan.
Maleness and femaleness, marriage, and the bearing and nurturing of children are all essential to the great plan of happiness.
We are taught that marriage is necessary for the accomplishment of God’s plan, to provide the approved setting for mortal birth, and to prepare family members for eternal life. “Marriage is ordained of God unto man,” the Lord said, “that the earth might answer the end of its creation; and that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made”
And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made.
According to custom, men are expected to take the initiative in seeking marriage. That is why President Joseph F. Smith directed his prophetic pressure at men. He said, “No man who is marriageable is fully living his religion who remains unmarried”
“Without proper and successful marriage, one will never be exalted”
The scriptures and modern prophets teach us that one of the fundamental purposes for the Creation of this earth was to foster marriage and family life. “Marriage is ordained of God,” the Lord explained, so “that the earth might answer the end of its creation”
there are hundreds and hundreds more of quotes like this that speak to the ideas that
- It is not good for man to be alone
- Families are central to the plan of salvation
- and that the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth is still in effect.
So while I grant that there are multiple ways to understand the plan of salvation in terms of what is the “small box” doxtrine and the “larger box” principles within it we should at least try to understand the criticism that some LGBT allies are making which is
For God’s straight children they are encouraged to fulfill the plan of Salvation by seeking marriage, seeking children, seeking perpetuating the family here in mortality to work towards exaltation. I would simply remind us not to focus on outward ability to do or not do these things but rather speak to motives and the person’s heart.
For God’s homosexual children they fulfill the plan of salvation by choosing intentionally to avoid marriage, avoid family, avoid children (we can debate whether adoption or other means constitutes multiplying and replenshing the earth but again our focus here is on motives) and essentially hope that God makes it all up in the life hereafter. Again with the focus on motives consider in your mind if a Heterosexual member avoided marriage, children, and family….. what would be the gospel teachings on such. Once we see the paradox we begin to see that questions have arisen over whether the plan of salvation pertaining to marriage, children, and families is consistent and uniform to all of God’s children? Is God making the plan of salvation uniform to his children?
I should say I believe it is fair for the Institutional Church to make the argument that God need not be consistent or uniform but would simply state that it has yet to make that argument and consistency and uniformness or equal access to the plan seem to permeate our theology.
“Adam was that men might be and men are that they might have joy”
If in the end the plan of salvation causes a specific section of God’s children to be depressed, to feel trauma, and to not feel access to or included generally in God’s plan, we should at least be open to a conversation around such.
The great plan of happiness to be an eternal and true Doctrine must have apply to, be fair and equal to, and ultimately have power to provide happiness and save all of God’s children.
Again True Doctrine as defined by the Church need be eternal. Need Not Change. And need be applicable to all of God’s Children in a way that is fair. And it need be taught consistently. I am not posing that it is not these things but rather raise questions and concerns about how all of this fits and looking for clarification.