Thursday, December 29, 2011

Traditions ≠ Doctrine

I wish I'd known about this woman before she died. She sounds like the kind of person who could make being Mormon tolerable.
Ask yourself some questions about traditions. Are there some traditions in your Relief Society or Elder’s Quorum that perhaps were very functional a few years ago but just aren’t meeting people’s needs now? Are there some things we need to do in our wards because that’s the way we’ve always done them? Do we have stereotypes and attitudes about things that are left over from other days? Could the work move forward more effectively if we rethought some of those traditions?

 Are there traditions of the fathers--and of the mothers--that represented goodness in times past but that may no longer be appropriate? Yes, there certainly are.

 Are there some traditions that are still good ones and to which we should cling even more tightly? Absolutely! 

How then, do we tell them apart? Or will the prophet and our priesthood leaders tell us? I think it is inherent in the wonderful law of agency that God doesn’t do our work for us and he doesn’t expect us to do each other’s work. The prophet’s job is to receive revelation for the Church, not for the individuals. Our job is to receive revelation for ourselves, not for the church. We have a responsibility to take our questions to God and struggle with those questions in the process of receiving revelation. Will my personal direction from God be the same as yours? I don’t think so. We’re individuals. God deals with us as individuals. This is the same God who made not just apples but pears and apricots and persimmons and grapes. He likes diversity. He invented it.

Chieko N. Okazaki, Disciples
I was reading this post from Wheat & Tares earlier today, and it made me think of this quote, which I saved in a draft several weeks ago. I'm coming to the conclusion that most of the Mormon "rules" are tradition, not doctrine. I'm also coming to the conclusion that I don't care if something is doctrine--if it doesn't feel right to me, then I'm not going to do it. I place my own personal relationship with God above that of my relationship with the church.

This comment from that post does an excellent job of summing up the problem we have with knowing what is official doctrine and what is opinion, tradition, or advice:
Entertaining for a moment however that a Prophet can speak both the infallable words of God AND the fallable words of dated grandfatherly opinion, how do we tell the difference? That really is the key, particularly given that when Church leaders speak, they make no effort to distinguish the quality of their commandments, but rather seem to usually speak in straightforward command language. Mormons “should do this”, or “should not do that”.

Robert Millet poses this question in a talk titled “What is our Doctrine”

He talks about a conversation he had with a baptist minister who was politely trying to explain the challenge in understaning what Mormons believe. In the minsters words, according to Millet:

“Bob, many of my fellow Christians have noted how hard it is to figure out what Mormons believe. They say it’s like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall!”

I have noticed, as per Deseret New’s faith section, as well as in other sphere’s of Mormon apologetics, this tendency to insist that when people bring up topics such as Blood Atonement, or racism, etc, that the standard response is something along the lines of: “well, that is taken out context” or “not everything spoken in the past is relevant as doctrine today” or “Define us by who we are and by our central beliefs rather than who we are not or by obscure or irrelevant beliefs.”

So, we have all these messages criticizing people for all of the wrong way’s for interpreting Mormon doctrine, belief, commandments etc. Still, we have very little useful information regarding how to “correctly” interpret it. Then, what we do get is very subjective even still. Millett for example answers the question thus:

“3. In determining whether something is a part of the doctrine of the Church, we might ask, Is it found within the four standard works? Within official declarations or proclamations? Is it discussed in general conference or other official gatherings by general Church leaders today? Is it found in the general handbooks or approved curriculum of the Church today? If it meets at least one of these criteria, we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it.”

So if it was found in the Standard Works, ie, the selectively assembled literature of “yesterday”, then thumbs up. If it is being talked about in General Conference, or in Church manuals “today” then thumbs up. However, if it is in Church Manuals from yesterday, or from any assortement of Prophetic statements of a former generation, then thumbs down. If it is in the manuals and conferences, quotations, etc, “today”, then…thumbs up today, and thumbs down tomorrow????

So what are the commandments, and what use is it to speak of commandments, performance, worthiness, etc, if we can’t even define these things in clear terms?
I disagree with the conclusion Millet comes to, that "if it meets at least one of these criteria we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it." I think a lot of the criteria he mentioned are sketchy, like things that are discussed in General Conference and in approved curriculum. There's a lot of stuff in those sources that I absolutely would not accept as doctrine. I keep using this example because it's the only one I can immediately think of, but they've been talking about avoiding sleepovers in GC lately and have now even included it in For the Strength of Youth. I do not believe that this is intended as church doctrine, and if it were, I would ignore it in favor of my husband's and my judgment.

Basically, the moral of the story is that I think 1) the church has an opinion on a lot of things it doesn't need to have an opinion on, and 2) Mormons do a terrible job of differentiating between moral requirements and traditions that are not essential to salvation.

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