Debating Mormonism

A few weeks ago I judged several rounds of a debating tournament held at the local high school. Teams from all over the state participated. Imagine walking by a high school cafeteria and seeing a couple of hundred students dressed in suits and skirts, chattering like all kids do but also pouring over notes and outlines for the upcoming matches. It was an impressive sight.

Debating Policy

An interesting feature of debate events is that teams argue opposite sides of the assigned policy question or proposal in different rounds. A speaker might, in one round, argue that juveniles who commit serious felonies should be tried and sentenced as adults; then, in the next session, argue persuasively that it is better for society if such minors are tried in juvenile courts that employ somewhat different procedures and that have as their primary goal rehabilitation rather than punishment. Sometimes participants don’t know which side they are going to argue until a coin is flipped just before the beginning of the session.

This scenario — that the same person can willingly and convincingly argue both sides of a serious question — bothers some people. There is a famous story about the Greek philosopher Carneades (a skeptic from Plato’s Academy) who came to Rome as an Athenian ambassador. One day he delivered convincing arguments to a listening crowd supporting the Roman idea of justice. Then, the next day, he gave sound refutations of all the arguments he delivered the previous day. Scandalized, the Romans quickly sent Carneades back to Athens.

Debating Mormonism

So is there a role for this sort of free-wheeling debate in Mormonism? I certainly don’t think Sunday School class is the right place for this sort of thing — people come to church to be instructed and uplifted, not to have their religious beliefs cross-examined, even as part of a “both sides of the question” exercise. On occasion I see a teacher propose a faulty view or belief and then challenge class members to correct or refute that view. I don’t like that approach either.

On the other hand, class discussion needs to be more than just going through a script that elicits standard answers to standard questions. Meaningful class discussion has to be some sort of discussion, which means an exchange of various views and observations and which sometimes leads to an exchange of opposing views and observations. When I teach, I generally try to steer discussion toward applications of scriptural precepts or examples, with some discussion directed to clarifying difficult or troubling passages. I think most would agree that blogs and other forums are better suited for serious debates about LDS scripture, doctrine, and history.

But there is at least one good argument to be made for having the occasional clear disagreement in classes or meetings: to disabuse members of the Church of the notion that there is a clearcut answer to every question about Mormon doctrine. LDS curriculum manuals sometimes give this impression — you won’t find many open questions or open issues suggested for class discussion. The alphabetical entry format of the classic text Mormon Doctrine also gives the impression that all you need is a good index to get not an answer but the answer to a doctrinal question. In the 19th century, LDS General Authorities would publicly disagree about doctrine and politics; in the 21st century, they don’t disagree about anything. Again, this can give the impression that there is nothing for Mormons to disagree about. Some members take this idea and run with it, concluding that anyone who disagrees with their own view or beliefs is either innocently wrong or else influenced by evil forces.

So how do we teach and practice the concept that there are many issues in LDS doctrine and history that reasonable persons, members of the Church in good standing, can disagree about?

36 comments for “Debating Mormonism

  1. April 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I think the key is not to frame them as disagreements or debates — by their nature, both disagreements and debates force people to stand on one side of the line or the other where only one side can win, where your goal is to get people to recognize that neither side may be wholly right and that both sides have merit.

    In a church classroom or other formal setting, the teacher or leader is all important, both for setting the tone and for moderating the discussion. He needs to have a clear and gospel-centered goal (i.e., not just to have people fight about, say, immigration, but to have both sides better understand the concerns of the other side and have compassion for the Church and people caught in the middle). I think if a leader sets up the issue from the very beginning as one about which there can be fair disagreement, mentioning that “some may feel that X Doctrine supports this conclusion, while others, just as faithful, point out that Y Doctrine also has a role,” most class members will hesitate to take an all-or-nothing stand, even if they personally feel that Y Doctrine is irrelevant.

    Then the leader really has to hold a tight rein, letting people speak freely, but stepping in to restate arguments that have been phrased badly, or pulling back the floor from anyone who wants to monopolize the discussion, or helping a faltering side find the words to express what they need to say, either by asking leading questions or summarizing what he senses they need him to say. He needs to be able to sum up at the end — fairly — the contributions of both sides, and repeat what he said at the beginning about there being legitimate and righteous principles supporting both sides.

    All that requires the class leader to have done his homework, to clearly see both sides of the argument, and to have a strong enough sense of fairness and a sturdy enough personality to keep the discussion from becoming hurtful. I think it can be done, but only by such a leader, and never by a teacher who mistakes fireworks for real gospel learning.

  2. April 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I think it is an open question whether people should be taught that “disagreement” is an inherent good within the religious community. I don’t think that point has been made persuasively within Mormonism. Rather the virtue often praised is that of unity: “If ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). In addition, disagreement, or in the Mormon parlance, “contention” is seen to be “of the devil.” Structurally, the goal of meetings and lessons are to have the Spirit to be present, which tends not to be associated with disagreement or contention. Therefore, I think there is an inherent systemic bias against exchange of opposing views within the devotional setting. In some cases, it may be viewed as indicative of ignorance of lack of unity or lack of the spirit. In as much as we are a community of people who must serve together in various capacities, prevailing in any given point is often not seen as worth the price paid in loss of human relations in a community where people do not always choose the people who they work with in callings or who they end up serving. I just don’t see a large incentive structure to “disabuse members of the Church of the notion that there is a clearcut answer to every question about Mormon doctrine” given those realities. My own personal experience as an instructor is that many Latter-day Saints do not like thinking that there are opposing principles or even tensions within Mormonism. I often hear comments that everything is consistent and harmonious. The entire project of the LDS Edition of the Scriptures in 1979 and 1981 was to demonstrate that the scriptures all speak with one voice and that all doctrines fit together in harmonious unity.

    It is my observation that the Latter-day Saints who want to stress that there are various perspectives in Mormonism tend to be the ones who feel their personal perspective is a minority position, or that it is ignored, and they want to make the diversity argument in order to legitimize their particular perspective. I sympathize with that perspective, but I want to point out that it is an indirect approach, not a direct approach. Thus, rather than spend one’s time and energy trying to make the general point that various Latter-day Saints can disagree in good faith about doctrine, in hopes that it will somehow translate into understanding of their specific perspective, why not simply take the more specific approach and simply provide the perspective on the issues that one feels strongly about?

    If one is interested in going that route, I think the best thing to do is simply speak out as participant in meetings and lessons. Rather than remain silent, or think that in the long run making your certain comment isn’t really that important, simply make your voice and perspective known. In other words, experiment with this different approach. In other words, you don’t have to point out that there are various different perspectives, or make the abstract general argument, you merely hold yourself out as an object lesson or example of someone with a different perspective on these specific issues.

    If after several months of more actively participating and vocally contributing with your perspective in local meetings, go back and look at the results or merits of that approach. Then one can make the decision as to whether it was valuable to take such an approach in the first place. Certainly, we will make mistakes, we will recognize that we could have phrased something differently. However, I think there is value in learning those lessons, learning through trial and error, of how to articulate our perspective and make our contributions. You may find out that you were not alone and that many others also felt as you did on a given subject. You may find out that maybe you commented for the wrong reasons and that you offended some people, but I think learning how to contribute our perspective to the given subject matter is also a valuable learning process, and it can’t be learned when one chooses to remain silent. It takes time, and in my experience, we learn from making those mistakes, but I do feel that when done sincerely and in good faith, even when we aren’t winsome and stumble along, and even when we make mistakes, we can still be edified and rejoice together.

  3. April 21, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Dave, thanks for the post, it reminds me a bit of the “inoculation” theory and the debate revolving around it.

    Aquinas, Thus, rather than spend one’s time and energy trying to make the general point that various Latter-day Saints can disagree in good faith about doctrine, in hopes that it will somehow translate into understanding of their specific perspective, why not simply take the more specific approach and simply provide the perspective on the issues that one feels strongly about?

    Why not? I’d say for the simple fact that the very idea of diversity sometimes needs to be introduced before a particular example is advanced. In an attempt to introduce an alternate view the impression might erroneously be given that one expects everyone else to accept said alternate view, which can be perceived as threatening or contentious in and of itself. You mentioned above the emphasis on unity and the desire to avoid contention; perhaps introducing the idea of diversity of view on any particular point could be advanced not only for its own sake but as lubricant against the potential friction of disagreement.

    “It’s ok to have a different perspective on the age of the earth. So did Talmage and Joseph Fielding Smith.”

    In a Church where hierarchical teachings are often invoked as conversation stoppers as opposed to starters, this can easily slip into what Kevin Barney calls “GA Poker,” seeing what hand trumps what hand. But it can also simply demonstrate the fact that two faithful people can disagree, and for some Mormons that might just be enough.

    In other words, I sort of see you making a principled general opposition to the idea whereas I am in favor of allowing for specific circumstances to teach a principle of the gospel which I believe, which is, that we need not all agree on doctrinal trivia or what have you in order to be “one,” although it may be one element of unity.

    You suggest just being an example of a contrary opinion, and sometimes I think that is enough, I think that is a great suggestion, but not for all instances. I think there can be, spiritually driven, discussion of the general principle which is that differing views can, have, and do exist in the church.

  4. Ben S
    April 21, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    “that the same person can willingly and convincingly argue both sides of a serious question”- Rabbis are supposed to demonstrate this ability. Says Shai Cherry in Torah Through Time, “The Talmud… promotes dialectical argumentation as a sort of Rabbinic etude, an exercise to sharpen rhetorical skills. Every rabbi, according to the Talmud, should be able to argue that a bacon cheeseburger should be kosher.” (Cites Sanhedron 17a, which says “Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: None is to be given a seat on the Sanhedrin unless he is able to prove the cleanness of a reptile from Biblical texts.” It’s interesting that we don’t cultivate this sort of thought exercise in LDS leadership, given that Joseph Smith talked about (paraphrase) establishing truth by proving contraries.

    “how do we teach…that there are many issues in LDS doctrine and history that reasonable persons, members of the Church in good standing, can disagree about?”

    Among other things, I use the publicized policy instructions to BYU Religion teachers (emphasis mine).

    “Teaching in Religious Education is to be substantive and inspirational. Students should become familiar with the text studied in each course taken and learn the implications of the text for daily living. They should feel free to raise honest questions, with confidence that they will be treated with respect and dignity and that their questions will be discussed intelligently in the context of faith. Where answers have not been clearly revealed, forthright acknowledgment of that fact should attend, and teachers should not present their own interpretations of such matters as the positions of the Church. Students should see exemplified in their instructors an open, appropriately tentative, tolerant approach to “gray” areas of the gospel. At the same time they should see in their instructors certitude and unwavering commitment to those things that have been clearly revealed and do represent the position of the Church. Teachers should be models of the fact that one can be well trained in a discipline, intellectually vigorous, honest, critical, and articulate, and at the same time be knowledgeable and fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, His Church and Kingdom, and His appointed servants.”

  5. jsg
    April 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    The formality or rigidity of church discourse seems to decrease with each hour of the three-hour block, culminating in (for me) elders quorum. That third hour is often my favorite, because participants are much more likely to speak their opinionated minds. You sense a spirit of really opening up and sharing concerns or challenges, with the expectation that another member of the group will have some useful insight to share. As the president of our quorum, I encourage instructors to plan lessons with this objective in mind–provide the foundational question, and let the quorum members discover their answers together. I would guess that Relief Society meetings have a similar vibe.

    But even in the more open “third-hour” format, the emphasis is usually focused on living the commandments rather than contemplating the doctrines. I realize that those two pursuits are not exclusive of one another, but there is a big difference between an elders quorum instructor beginning the lesson with “Exactly WHAT IS the Holy Ghost?” versus opening with “Exactly HOW DO we get the Holy Ghost?” Maybe second hour is where we emphasize the former question, and third hour is where we emphasize the latter. I guess I’m a third-hour guy because I’m more experimentalist than theoretician.

  6. April 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I’ve always thought that on any issue that isn’t carved in stone, is between the individual and the Lord. We can’t judge another’s motives nor should we try. The bishop of course can carve some things in stone, I think. Parents? Other leaders probably can. We’re all different. For instance:
    I probably never would have been allowed more than one wife. I’m glad I live now.

  7. Julie M. Smith
    April 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I try to do this every time I teach. I try to frame it as “we all know X, but there isn’t clarity on Y in this passage, and [channeling Stewart Smalley here] that’s OK.”

    P.S.–I coach a team of junior high debaters this year, including my own kid, and we had fun with the juvenile justice topic.

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    April 21, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Being able to put forward the best argument for any side of a controversy is a basic part of law school education. That expectation is not just a matter of rhetorical skill, it is substantive, as well, because it teaches the law student to recognize that everything we think of as a simple black-letter “rule” is actually premised on a raft of assumptions about the context of events that generated the question answered by the rule, and expectations about the effect that will result from applying the rule. Part of the job of an attorney is to ferret out what are the often hidden assumptions we carry with us into legal disputes, make them explicit, and ask the judge and jury to examine whether those hidden assumptions about the predicate and the consequence of the rule are all true or not. It is through such analysis that rules get refined over time, with exceptions and preconditions added, or sometimes even are rejected as no longer accomplishing their intended purpose.

    This principle, of the unspoken assumptions, also applies to many of the rules or statements of basic truth we embrace in a religious context, whatever our faith. Much of the hilarity enjoyed by non-Mormons when discussing Mormon beliefs is due to the failure of the critical audience to understand how much their response is conditioned by a raft of unspoken assumptions that in many cases, especially among those most vociferous in denigrating Mormonism, have never been examined with understanding.

    The virtue of having investigators read the Book of Mormon is not obvious if we are thinking about the hurdle it presents to our controlling enough of their time to set out the basic tenets of the Restoration. It could be seen as a distraction from emphasizing a small group of simple lessons, repetitively, so that they are learned.

    But one of the crucial things the Book of Mormon can do, if an investigator will let it, is help him to see a worldview with different fundamental assumptions than his own, and the implications of that different understanding. It is easy in one sentence to ridicule the notion of “Jesus coming to America”, but reading the details of Christ’s interaction with ancient Americans of twenty centuries past explains why it makes sense for the Jesus who is also the Son of God to visit and teach another branch of dispersed Israel.

    In my own decade plus of teaching Gospel Doctrine and Melchizedek Priesthood classes, I have not sought to engender debate, but rather have tried to point out the assumptions we make in connection with various articulations of LDS beliefs, and that some of those assumptions may not be as certain as we assume, and others are just plain “false traditions of our fathers”. My theme in doing this has not been to question the authority of the Church leadership or the scriptures, but rather to strip away false assumptions that have grown on the surface of the Gospel, like barnacles, and need to be excised so that the true, fundamental principles can shine through more brightly.

    In my own lifetime, the shift of the Church away from predigested lessons and toward greater attention to the scriptures themselves, and the words of the prophets themselves, has given us an incentive to rely more on simple authoritative sources rather than on traditions that became popular in some past decade, perhaps even borrowed from generic Protestant teachings that were prevalent in the discourse of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Once we have clearly defined the core of our beliefs, we can discuss the possible implications, even as we recognize that draw such implications out through our own reason, and they are not binding or authoritative.

  9. Bob
    April 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    The ‘Rules’ of debate ending as outlined in the OP and comments are fine as long as you limit only the debates of those who are in general agreement, and only disagree on marginal points.
    Good luck with your ‘rules’ with those outside the group. Good luck with your college child who never signed up to be a believing Mormon. Good luck with anyone out the Church.

  10. Jax
    April 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Raymond Takashi Swenson,

    “In my own lifetime, the shift of the Church away from predigested lessons and toward greater attention to the scriptures themselves…” I more often here the argument that correlation has given us more ‘predigested’ lessons instead of less of them. What is your lifetime, and what indications do you have of this trend?

  11. psychochemiker
    April 22, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Ben S:

    Students should see exemplified in their instructors an open, appropriately tentative, tolerant approach to “gray” areas of the gospel.

    I think the sticking point begins when the teacher’s and the students’ beliefs of “gray” areas begins. Some people assume one area is black and white, and others insist on shades of gray. And this problem exists on both sides of the orthodox/liberal divide. Both claim absolute black and white divides (“gender equality”, “right to choice”, “tolerance of alternate lifestyles”, “evolution is my God” on the liberal side) (and “church led by continuous revelation”, “life is sacred”, “living the law of chastity”, and “man was created in the image of God” on the other). Until both sides recognize, that they are assuming a black and white viewpoint… and insisting others accept their assumptions, they will never convince anyone.

  12. April 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I think you’re right, psychochemiker, about the brawl (whether verbal or only in people’s protesting minds) that breaks out — unless there is a teacher/moderator who’s able to rise above that. Even if the teacher personally believes that X is obviously true, if he can admit that Y-supporters have logical and faithful reasons, and that the church has not definitively declared X or Y, he has a chance of conducting a beneficial discussion. But I don’t think there are too many teachers who can really walk that line well, because not only do they have to see both sides clearly, they also have to have the people skills to negotiate between the two sides, while also somehow maintaining the presence of the spirit if or when class members take offense.

    Which is why I don’t think we see these kinds of helpful discussions very often, and don’t think it’s a good idea for most people under most circumstances to attempt them in church settings.

  13. SouthernMan
    April 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Even in the heavens differences of opinion exist and are allowed. For example, we are taught we had the freedom to debate between the Father’s plan and alternative ones; and the freedom to choose, even to choose “wrong”. As we know, one third of the hosts of heaven rebelled and were cast out. I’m not sure I am ready to consider that the hereafter is anything but a place of permeating love, peace and harmony, which appeals to me, but I also hope there continues to be differences, learning and growth from hearing others, and the privilege of changing one’s mind. One of the most liberating realizations of my younger life was realizing that, given the exact same known facts, individuals can have varying beliefs and opinions on almost any matter.

  14. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    April 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Jax: I am 61. I refer to the change to emphasizing the scriptures as the primary text for Sunday School, and the teachings of modern prophets as the text for Relief Society/Melchizedek Priesthood. A similar reorientation of Seminary curriculum took place as well. Along with the integrated footnoting and research resources in the scriptures, members of the Church have been enabled and encouraged to read the scriptures more faithfully and look to them as their primary source of gospel education.

    Back in 1982, when I was stationed with the Air Force in Japan, our Servicemen’s district, which included Air Force, Army and Navy congregations around Tokyo, and a civilian branch (mostly of former missionaries to Japan who had returned there to work) instituted a project of having everyone read the Book of Mormon through during the year. This was before there was the general encouragement of the entire Church to do the same thing by President Benson.

    The increasing emphasis on the Book of Mormon has increased the use of that book as a source of teachings about Christ, the Atonement, and opening the meaning of the Bible.

    Let me offer an example: When I was on my mission in Japan (1969-1971), Bruce McConkie, then one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, was assigned to oversee the missions in Japan. He would come through for a visit to each mission about every six months, and in conjunction with holding district conferences, he would spend the Saturday before in intensive instruction sessions with the missionaries, and then hold a personal interview with each one of us. During one of those missionary training sessions, a missionary asked Elder McConkie, “Why does the Book of Mormon say it contains the fulness of the Gospel, when it does not mention temple ordinances and eternal marriage and baptism for the dead?” Elder McConkie thought for a moment, and said he was not sure how to answer that question.

    Now that we have indexing systems that let us find most of the mentions of the word “gospel” in the Book of Mormon, it is simple to locate the Savior’s explanation in 3 Nephi 27:

    13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

    14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

    15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works. . . .

    20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

    21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;

    22 Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

    I contrast to when I was serving my mission 40 years ago, the Latter-day Saints read the scriptures more, and understand them better, and that better understanding is transmitted into our formal curricula and into the teachings given at all levels of the Church.

  15. April 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    @Raymond Takashi Swenson
    I agree with your assessment being almost as aged myself. I also appreciate your emphasis on basic principles. I honestly believe they take a lifetime to master (at least for me) and everything else necessary, Temple, etc. will come as a matter of course if we are concentrating on those things.

    I have a natural disinclination to debate and argue (which is odd as I’m trained in it as a lawyer). I’m new to the Bloggernacle and still a little ambivalent because that sort of seems like the point here. But picking up on Ardis’s suggestion of a teacher to moderate, I think the teacher is important, or should accept and prepare for the important role, of being one “authorized” to teach through proper authority all the way back up to be the Lord’s representative in that room (unless, maybe you have some officiating priesthood present). So they should be able to mediate and manage the class to convey or facilitate the message through the Spirit. When I teach, I try to take on that role. When I have had ecclesiastical callings, I tried to emphaisize that principle when I called or assigned teachers. When I sit in a class, I try to remember to respect the teacher’s role as one authorized by proper authority.

  16. J
    April 23, 2011 at 12:26 am

    “Public debate—the means of resolving differences in a democratic government—is not appropriate in our Church government. We are all subject to the authority of the called and sustained servants of the Lord. They and we are all governed by the direction of the Spirit of the Lord, and that Spirit only functions in an atmosphere of unity. That is why personal differences about Church doctrine or procedure need to be worked out privately.”

    – Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign, Feb. 1987, page 68

  17. Bob
    April 23, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Elder Oaks is correct about there is no place for real debate within the Church.
    Debates will be done outside the Church by blogs, books, magzines, Histoian groups, Mormons who have left the Church, and Anti Mormons.

  18. April 23, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Fine discussion. I think the comments are better than the post.

    J, that is an interesting quote from Elder Oaks. It is 24 years old and seems like an early version of what became Elder Oaks’ 1989 Conference talk warning against alternative voices. I’m not sure how that counsel applies in 2011, with Mormon Studies programs at universities proliferating and a with a variety of conferences, some hosted at BYU and some sponsored by the LDS Church, offering public discussion, even public debate, about LDS doctrine, history, and policy. It really is a different world in 2011. Alternative voices are everywhere. Many think our best response is to make sure mainstream LDS voices are part of the conversation (e.g., Elder Ballard encouraging Mormons to start a blog).

    Furthermore, if alternative voices are everywhere, members will hear those voices whether they want to or not. Discussing some of the issues typically addressed by alternative voices in a friendly LDS environment looks like a better idea in 2011 than it did in 1987 (this is the inoculation debate). And that discussion will have to be an open discussion with different viewpoints exchanged.

    Public criticism. Public debate. Public discussion. Nuance matters in distinguishing these activities.

  19. Jax
    April 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm


    While alternative voice are everywhere, and it is important that we respond by making sure mainstream LDS voices are part of the conversation, I think the point of Elder Oaks talk is that those LDS voices should be saying roughly the same thing. How does it look if we have LDS voices arguing abortion is okay right alongside the LDS voices saying that it isn’t? Or LDS voices saying the command to multiply and replenish is still in force as well as LDS voices saying we the ‘population bomb’ is going to kill us if we don’t limit families?

    The LDS voice will have no effect for positive change if it is fractured. We would cancel each other out and be just other voices making noise.

    In areas where there is no official church position, feel free to brainstorm, theorize, or debate. But when official policy comes down the pike, it is part of our covenant to stop the debate and get on board. The LDS people complaining about the Utah immigration legislation need to stop just as much as the LDS supports of Prop 8. Just as it is acceptable to debate where the next temples should be built, once the announcements have been made, debate is ended; it should be likewise ended when the Church speaks about doctrine or policy.

  20. J
    April 23, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    ?”…let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church.”

    – M. Russell Ballard, “Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” 1999

  21. J
    April 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I post those quotes to spark discussion, not because I agree (or disagree) with them, nor because I think they apply (or don’t apply) right now. I feel like they are relevant enough to affect the discussion, i.e., comments regarding debate should probably be made with these quotations in mind.

  22. J
    April 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    So if Elder Ballard invited members to start a blog, it doesn’t look like he meant it to be used as a forum for debate or to “challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church,” at least not against the backdrop of the quotation provided above.

  23. Sonny
    April 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Maybe I’m just suspicious, but I sense Chuck.

  24. J
    April 23, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Sonny, forgive me for jumping to conclusions, but if your comment was referring to me my name is Joel, and I don’t know who Chuck is.

    For the record, I’m not a fan of any of the quotations I linked. I enjoy debating Gospel principles. I’m not going to pretend like those quotations don’t exist, though.

  25. April 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Yup, Sonny. Chuck can’t help but betray himself in everything he writes. He doesn’t seem to understand how transparent he is.

  26. J
    April 23, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Wait, so am I still Chuck or no?

  27. April 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    J/Joel, I will give you the benefit of the doubt as to your identity, but comments are for discussing the posted topic, not discussing yourself or posting serial quotes. For those activities, personal blogs work very nicely.

  28. Jax
    April 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm


    To come to J/Joel/Chuck’s defense, he only posted two comments, one with an on topic quote from an apostle, and one with commentary on the post…the others were responding to people questioning his identity.

    Your point is valid to him, but I think he was within your stated guidelines.

  29. Jax
    April 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Sorry, make that two comments about the quote…not exactly “serial” quotes is it?

  30. J
    April 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    The one quote was about your post, and the second was in response to your comment re: Elder Ballard. I should have consolidated other responses. I apologize.

  31. Camrow
    April 25, 2011 at 7:21 am

    While ironically coming from the source of one mentioned index, “To Honest Truth Seekers” addresses some of the issues that have been brought up here. I agree that sometimes members of the Church establish a personal opinion on a doctrinal subject, find that other members share that opinion, and then assume that it is the official doctrine of the Church when it is not. There are some questions that there just is not any official revelation for yet, and speculation can be dangerous. Perhaps this was not the main point of the article, but I can see it as being an important reason for engaging in GD discussions that disabuse us of certain cultural (as opposed to doctrinal) assumptions of truth.

  32. Camrow
    April 25, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I’m sure the author has a copy of “To Honest Truth Seekers”, but if not, I will be happy to send a copy. Great post.

  33. April 25, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Camrow, apocryphal McConkie texts are always hard to come by — as opposed to approved McConkie texts (Conference talks and Ensign articles) which can be found at Sure you can send me a copy.

  34. DavidH
    April 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    On unimportant issues, as to which the Church has no official stand, but as to which there are a variety of opinions (e.g., what was the nature of intelligence(s) before spirit “birth” (whatever that means), after a couple of people expressed their views, I call for a vote, and advise the class that I will forward the results to the Brethren for when they decide to resolve the issue.

  35. April 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Ha! I’m filing that away in my bag of teacher’s tricks. Said in the right tone, it might cool hurt feelings and is just mildly shocking enough that it ought to make some class members realize that no matter how passionately we might hold personal views about undeclared doctrine, our speculative opinions don’t mean anything without the declaration of the one man who is authorized to define doctrine.

  36. Dave
    November 18, 2011 at 1:55 am

    The peramaters of the debate as you present them are too narrow and exclude any opinion that might challange the notion that a divine representative of God is infallable and therefore cannot be challenged. I understand how such a debate can disrupt the unity in a church. I also know that you teach that if ever a leaders should lead the flock astray that the sin be upon the head of those leaders and not upon you.
    I might like to debate the whole notion that Joseph Smith was of a divine apointment and that the prophets that folled after are unified in their teachings and divinely inspired.

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