What is Essential and What is Optional?

In a ward council meeting a few years ago, someone mentioned that Brother So-and-So was struggling with doubts about the Book of Mormon. “Tell him to stop worrying about that,” the bishop said, “and think about what the Church does for him in his life.”

This bishop (whom I dearly love) was a sort of down-to-earth, commonsensical fellow, and I thought this was wise advice, although– or maybe because– the instruction was ambiguous. It might have meant something like “If Brother So-and-So reflects on the blessings that the Church brings to his life, he will come to realize that this is a divine work, and thus that the Book of Mormon is true.” Or the bishop’s instruction might have meant something like “If the Church is helping him live a good life and get closer to God, it doesn’t ultimately matter whether the Book of Mormon is true or not.” (I doubt that the bishop had ever considered or even heard of the idea of the Book of Mormon as non-historical scripture.) The beautiful thing about the bishop’s advice was that different members with different understandings of the Book of Mormon could accept the wisdom of appreciating the blessings the Gospel brings and not getting hung up on doubts.

But what if someone had reported that Sister Such-and-Such was struggling with doubts about the Resurrection. Would it be sound advice to say, “Tell her to stop worrying about that and think about the blessings the Church brings to her life”? I’m not so sure. If appreciating blessings is supposed to be a way of eventually bringing someone around to understanding the truth of the Gospel and hence of the Resurrection, then okay, . . . maybe. But if the suggestion is that as long as the Church helps one have a better life it doesn’t matter whether the Resurrection is true, then I can’t go along.

It’s true that plenty of Christians– or people who self-identify as Christians– have basically taken that position, in more or less sophisticated forms. I’ve known some of them. A Protestant minister and theologian, for example, with whom I talked once for several hours: we were seated next to each other at a dinner with excruciatingly slow service.  He was sure that the resurrection did not happen in any literal sense– even sent me the text of his most recent Easter sermon in which he had said as much– but he still was the pastor of a Christian congregation and a former professor at one of the nation’s leading divinity schools.  My own contrary view is that, as Paul said, if the resurrection is a fiction, then we are “of all men most miserable.” I think the Resurrection is bedrock. If you don’t believe in that, or if you believe in it only as a metaphor for regenerate life or something of that sort, then . . . Well, I will leave you in peace, but I think you are not really a Christian. (Although of course I’m still happy to welcome you to church meetings if for some reason you’re inclined to come.)

Which points to a question that Christians have been earnestly debating recently, and over the last couple of centuries– this is basically what the fundamentalist-modernist controversy was about– and really from the beginning: which doctrines or teachings are essential to Christianity, and which are more contingent and thus not mandatory (even though they may be true)? To illustrate: some scholars think that the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke– the wise men, the shepherds– are not historically true. For myself, I think that at least Luke’s narrative is historical, and I also want to think it is true: I would be sad if the manger and the angels and shepherds were somehow shown to be fictions. But I agree that nothing truly essential would be lost. The authors of Mark and John didn’t see any need to present these stories. On the other hand, if it were somehow proven that the Resurrection was a fictional invention, I would no longer see the point of maintaining a commitment to Christianity. Maybe I would try to affiliate with Judaism or something of that sort.

The fundamentalism-modernism controversies show, I think, that these questions are fraught with risks. The modernists thought that if the faith were defined as rigidly as the fundamentalists insisted on, Christianity would become simply unbelievable to educated and thoughtful people. The fundamentalists (who were not all a bunch of know-nothing yokels, by the way: on the contrary) believed that the modernists were basically giving away the store. If Christianity retained as little of its traditional content as the modernists were willing to affirm, what would be the point of being a Christian? Subsequent developments– the cultural ghettoization of fundamentalism, the decline of mainstream liberal Protestantism– suggests that both sides may have been right.

These days, it seems, Mormons (short for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are asking similar questions. Which among the received teachings are essential, and which are optional? Is it enough to believe that God worked through Joseph Smith to bring about a church or movement through which He worked, and works, to bless the lives of those who embrace it? Or is it necessary to affirm the more concrete and specific claims– about the Book of Mormon as a historical record, Adam-ondi-Ahman and the Garden of Eden as specific places (located in Missouri), and so forth? Will insisting on these claims simply make the Church and its message unbelievable to intelligent and informed people? Or, conversely, will relinquishing these claims deprive the Church of its reason for existence? Is it necessary to believe that this is “the only true Church,” or is it enough to believe that God is working in the Church, guiding it, using it to help people live lives more in accord with the Gospel?

The question of what is essential matters greatly, I think, both for internal and external purposes– for addressing the doubts and questions and self-understandings of our members (including ourselves), and for presenting ourselves and our message to the world. We face the same potential risks that the fundamentalists and modernists did, I think. By binding ourselves to historical claims that seem increasingly untenable, we might render our message flatly unbelievable to educated people, and we might thus incur a kind of cultural ghettoization. Which would be tragic, in my view, among other reasons because I think the Church has so much to offer a world that so desperately needs it. Conversely, if we were to abandon too much, we might sacrifice our reason for being.

In the end, I’m thankful that I don’t have the responsibility to answer these questions for anyone except myself. I trust that over time God will guide the Church according to His designs (as I believe God presides over history generally). Exactly what those designs are (beyond the ultimate purpose of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man), . . . who knows? Not me, for sure.

25 comments for “What is Essential and What is Optional?

  1. January 29, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    I don’t know if I like the pendulum of essential vs. optional. It kind of implies that believing in optional things is a way to get extra credit and thereby get higher rewards with God. I think what you’re getting at is “What things need to be believed with a single point of view, and what things might be believed with different points of view?” After all, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. For example I think that everyone needs to believe that Joseph Smith didn’t just make up the Book of Mormon, but that God was guiding him in its creation. Other details after that, might be understood from different points of view.
    In your anecdote I can see where the Bishop was coming from. He may have seen is many times where people had doubts, but after a few months of ignoring the doubts and putting their shoulder to the wheel, the doubts just dissolved away (either they received answers to their questions, or the spirit confirmed the truth to them enough that they’re okay continuing on with unanswered questions). But it runs the risk of informing the person that something that they are taking very seriously, shouldn’t be taken seriously; and people don’t like being part of organizations that chastise them in such a way.
    Something that I picked up from Givens’ “Wrestling the Angel” was how much Joseph Smith avoided creeds. He pretty much never spelled out what was essential for belief the church. We got the Articles of Faith, not because Joseph was creating a creed for the church, but because he was writing a letter to a newspaper. Given the lack of creeds in the church, we ended up using the letter as one. It’s seems rather intentional that Joseph Smith didn’t want to answer this question for everyone, but wanted everyone to wrestle with it themselves, and even evolve their understanding of it over time.

  2. January 29, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    Steve, that’s a great question. Along similar lines, recently I’ve been wondering to what extent these “fundamental,” non-negotiable doctrines are necessary to sustain a healthy community. It seems to me that without at least some fundamental teachings and truth claims, we’d be left with a very thin narrative that would be scarcely capable of supporting a cohesive community.

    These thoughts are of course inspired by your book, which is still very much on my mind.

  3. MoPo
    January 30, 2020 at 12:10 am

    There’s plenty of value in Christianity, even if one abandons ahistorical and irrational components of the tradition. Same for Mormonism. If a literal resurrection or gold plates (or whatever else) are so central to your religious life that you can’t conceive of any point in it without them, fine. For many of us, it’s enough to take these stories and symbols as aids in orienting us towards a better life, here and now (and, we may hope, after we die).

  4. January 30, 2020 at 1:04 am

    Granted I’m probably a modernist on your fundamentalist-modernist scale, I think there’s a false dichotomy between a confident literal belief in the resurrection, and “blessings the Church brings.” It seems to me there are several more likely responses to someone struggling with doubts about the resurrection, including “can she find value in a metaphorical understanding of the resurrection?” Whether you view that response in a full modernist sense of ultimate meaning, or in a faith development sense of making progress or moving in a useful direction (I’ve seen both argued), there’s an important message that the resurrection or the idea of the resurrection is important.

    Similarly with the Book of Mormon, the response I would make to doubts about the Book of Mormon is to look for any of several paths to valuing the book and treating it as scripture, including even the most (heretical?) ‘inspired fiction’ path. What you’re doing is reinforcing the Book of Mormon itself as important and as scripture.

    In other words, I would judge what is essential more on a scale of importance than a scale of literalness. The idea of the resurrection is important. The Book of Mormon as scripture is important. Exactly how you voice these things or explain them is a matter for fascinating but endless discussion, but not, I would suggest, essential.

  5. Chad Nielsen
    January 30, 2020 at 1:27 am

    I’m reminded of thoughts picked up from both Armand Mauss and B. H. Roberts.

    The former has talked a bit about the idea of an optimum tension with the surrounding society. If you give up too much and become too similar, the organization begins to melt away because it’s not different enough to hold onto people. If it’s in a state of too much tension (like we were in 19th century America while practicing polygamy, theocracy, and communitarian projects), then there gets to be too much pressure from society for it to survive in large numbers as an organization. It’s something that we need to navigate as a religion–what are the core things that we can hold onto, even when they go against general society, and what things are non-essential to hold onto. It’s hard to find alignment on what is or is not essential, though. I know that when we gave up plural marriage that many saints had felt that the principle was an absolute essential part of our religion and struggled with the change. My great-grandfather, even though he remained a nominal member of the Church, was known to express the idea that when the Church made a lot of changes around the turn of the 20th century to assimilate into American society that we gave up the essential nature of the Church. Some would agree with him on that, while others feel that we held onto the most important parts, which is part of where we get our own fundamentalist-mainstream Mormonism controversies and splinter groups.

    As for the latter, B. H. Roberts gave an interesting talk on this very question at the October 1912 general conference, with the quote “In essentials let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity” as the basis of what he had to say. To him, the essentials were to “know the things that concern the salvation of men”, specifically the nature of God and the Godhead; Jesus Christ as the revelation of God and the Son of God; that humankind are “redeemed from the consequences of Adam’s transgression through the atonement of the Christ, without condition” and “redeemed from the consequences of our individual sins and transgressions also by acceptance of the atonement of the Christ: and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” and to be “united … in relation to the moral law of the gospel, the ethics of the Church of Christ and of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    Moving on the non-essentials, Elder Roberts listed things like: “tolerance in our social relations and activities, in our commercial affairs, and in industrial pursuits; in the sphere of civil government.”

    That unessentials list, to me, is a reflection of the period of time that Roberts lived through in the Church (when it was much more involved in the politics, social lives, and commerce of Church members than it generally is today), but I would tend to agree on the basics of what he listed as the essentials that we should strive for unity on–belief in the Godhead, salvation through the Atonement of Christ, and strive to keep the commandments.

  6. JR
    January 30, 2020 at 9:07 am

    I am reminded of a years-old discussion with my wife. I took the position that there is no evidence that the man Job ever existed; that at least the structure of the Book of Job and some of the content of its framing story suggest that he’s a literary fiction (that it was clearly not a historical report of speeches actually given as written in lengthy poetry), and that, as for learning from the Book of Job or James 5:11 or D&C 121:10, it makes no difference whether Job actually existed. She was then adamant that it makes a huge difference because if he didn’t exist it takes all the force out of D&C 121:10. To that I could only say no, to me it doesn’t reduce the impact of D&C 121:10 in any way — not to me.

    I don’t believe it is possible to achieve “unity in essentials” without agreement on what “essentials” are. Neither can I agree with B.H. Roberts that it is essential to “know … the nature of God” if by “nature of God” one means more than “God is love” or if by “know” one means something more like a cognitive description than personal acquaintance/experience of God and a resulting apprehension of God’s character. I cannot see knowing the nature of the Godhead as essential (to our Church community or to salvation) in view of historically varied Mormon understandings, D&C 46:13, 14 (indicating it is not essential), and reported human experience of the divine. I think that John 17:3 tying “life eternal” to knowing God and Christ did not have anything much to do with knowing the truth of propositions about the nature of God or the Godhead.

    I worry that some versions of such essentialism function more to limit and exclude than to love or promote recognition of God in our lives, that they are based in part on the insistence that what is conceptually important to one, e.g. the literal, historical existence of a man Job who experienced all of what is reported in the Book of Job, must be equally important to another. I used to worry whether I had a correct understanding of the nature of God and my relationship to God and the universe. Now I worry more about whether I am sometimes more moved (whether to emotion or to action) by the troubles of clearly fictional characters than by real people around me.

    Perhaps a healthy essentialism might be as minimal as “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I may not be doing too well at either.

  7. Anna
    January 30, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    I think of it this way, there is a lot that is official doctrine that we can’t really know. All the “facts” are stuff that may or may not be true. We can’t really know. Oh, sure, people can convince themselves of stuff, but that is different. I think of all my Mormon friends who “know” tRump is the best president ever and that he was called by God himself to lead the US at this time. And I am equally positive the opposite is true. So, whether Jesus was actually resurrected or not is something we can doubt, or something we can convince ourselves we know to be true.

    All this stuff that are really unknowable are optional. See, when we get to the next life, I trust there will be classes to teach us stuff. The one thing we are really here on earth for is to learn how to love. That is one thing that cannot be taught in a classroom. Sort of a laboratory experience where learning facts is unimportant. That is all classroom material that we can learn better after the veil is lifted. But learning to love, if we don’t learn by experience to love, the in the next life we are sort of up a creek with no paddle. That is what the earth experience is really about. Not learning facts about Jesus or Joseph Smith or some book. Classroom learning can all happen in the next life. The only thing that can’t happen as easy once we are out of the lab is the experience of love.

    So, everything is optional except love the lord your God and your neighbors as yourself.

  8. Dr Cocoa
    January 30, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    This well-known quote comes to mind:

    “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

    What JS meant exactly by an appendage isn’t made clear to me… it could mean an important but non-essential part (like a leg or arm) or it could be like a rider in government legislation, or somewhere in-between. But regardless, from this I take it that the only fundamental truth with no room for alternative explanations is that Jesus died and rose again.

    I’m of the attitude that nothing else that is taught in this church and by its leaders is essential for my salvation except to follow Christ, so I’m free to hold a different interpretation on any other topic.

  9. Brandon
    January 30, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    Very deep questions. And very well put. There are most certainly essentials, but what these are can be hard to nail down. It is only within the last year that I first heard of people who doubt the historicity of the Book of Mormon claiming to be believers in Mormonism. More and more this seems to be a growing phenomenon. On the bloggernacle there seems to be lots of commenters who note that they don’t believe in historicity without causing any stir or debate.

  10. John Mansfield
    January 30, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    Somehow “optional” tends to be implemented in pretty short order as “unnecessary and really ought to be phased out.” I am reminded of the teaching (D&C 27:2) that it doesn’t matter what we drink in remembrance of the Son’s shed blood, which has been implemented by the latter-day saints by universal use of water. Wine has physical qualities that make it symbolic of blood in ways that water is not, but such symbolism is not essential. It is optional, or it was optional, because it is not an option now. It happens in various ways, symbols being replaced by symbols of symbols, words replacing retired actions. Or in the cases being considered here, belief replaced with metaphor, metaphor with no essential meaning or purpose.

  11. p
    January 30, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    O please! During Homo sapiens sapiens’ roughly 300,000 years on this small blue planet, it has not just believed but actually invented all sorts crazy fantastic stuff. In fact, this proclivity for outlandish imagination is one the most charming and endearing traits of our species. May it continue!

  12. SDS
    January 30, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    This is a wrenching question for me because I think that the views expressed by Brandon and by p may both be right. Brandon is surely right, I think, as a descriptive and sociological matter. Hardly any ordinary members entertain the possibility of regarding the Book of Mormon as nonhistorical but nonetheless inspired and scriptural. This is just not an idea that is expressed in Sunday School or Sacrament Meeting, and if someone did say this openly a lot of members would be shocked (rightly or wrongly). I taught our priesthood lesson last Sunday (the brother who had been scheduled to teach it had to miss, so it fell to me), and people were making various comments about Nephi and Lehi that clearly assumed that these were actual historical figures. Maybe some people thought otherwise, but if so they kept their views to themselves. Of course, the fact that these more heterodox views aren’t publicly expressed makes it difficult to know how many members might hold them. But still . . .

    But I suspect that p may also be right in supposing that tying our message to historical claims that are increasingly embattled (and that is a fact, I think, whether or not you believe the claims are true) will create real difficulties for the Church going forward. Internally but especially externally. People who are already committed members may have the motivation to follow the counsel of Church leaders by bracketing questions or doubts that are troublesome. People who are not already committed have no similar motivation. My sense, admittedly based mostly on personal observation, is that the people who join the Church today tend not to be the kind of people who investigate and study a matter, acquainting themselves with different perspectives and reading up on the pros and cons, as many of us would do with other major decisions. In my almost forty years in the legal academy, I’ve only known one law professor who joined the Church, and he later left– because of doubts about Joseph Smith that came from reading history (or at least that’s what he indicated to me).

    Of course, law professors may be an especially hard-hearted and unregenerate bunch. Who would want a church full of law professors anyway? It’s just one class that I’m in a position to observe. And I don’t mean for a moment to deny that, let’s say, the “poor in spirit” are children of God and every bit as precious as those who are more educated or successful in worldly terms. The question is just whether tying our message to highly contested historical claims will constrain the Church in presenting that message to whole classes of people who are also children of God and who might contribute substantially to the strength of the kingdom.

    So, as I said, it seems to me a wrenching question.

  13. Sute
    January 30, 2020 at 10:39 pm

    “But what if someone had reported that Sister Such-and-Such was struggling with doubts about the Resurrection.”

    Really? The resurrection makes no sense on many levels. Are your bones going to be restored? How so from a box in the ground, eaten by fishes Lost at Sea or devoured by wolves?

    What will you do with a resurrected body? Eat and go to the bathroom? What good are legs that move a few feet per second when you have to be a part of a universe that’s infinitely larger than you be are. Wouldn’t bring resurrected into a cloud nebula of atomized particles be better?

    Any way these are just silly questions but if you want to engage with the resurrection, you call come up with more. And what’s the appropriate response? Trust God that he calls prophets who speak the truth, look at the good his Gospel brings into your life, don’t worry about that issues.

  14. Mark N.
    January 31, 2020 at 12:09 am

    Arguing that the BofM is a metaphor hands the win to the Broadway “The Book of Mormon” guys, and strikes me as someone doing the old Sunk Cost Fallacy thing.

  15. GEOFF -AUS
    January 31, 2020 at 3:40 am

    I believe the esential belief is that we love God, and we evidence that by how we love our fellows.
    As for the church being OK because it does good, that would want to be ballanced by the harm it does. It is difficult to outweigh, homophobia, and discrimination against women. It is also difficult to ballance the moral lack that would cause block voting for active imorality. Perhaps years of obedience training, and justifying leaders?

  16. ji
    January 31, 2020 at 7:16 am

    Geoff -Aus,

    Have the fires subsided in Australia?

  17. sute
    January 31, 2020 at 6:21 pm

    Geoff,
    Fortunately, from God’s perspective “the church” is not harming women or people that think they are “homosexual”. What’s harming them is pernicious, hegemonic cultural influences that causes them to call light for dark and dark for light. Further, when they go down that path of rejecting what God’s servants tell them is light, and embrace what is dark and what society says is “also” light, they invariably suffer the consequences that come with turning away from the commandments and those laws irrevocably decreed.

    Further, the immense confusion from swallowing the societal cultural norm red pill creates all kinds of mental issues, which further harms the issue.

    This is why we need to be of the world and not be partakers of those things the world is teaching that harms the body and spirit. And the fact is — most feminist ideologies harm the family by positing or even creating a war within the family where there is none — there are just many instances of mistaken fallen people. The solution to that is the gospel. Not embracing radical feminism. The same goes moreover for sexual confusion issues.

    I realize that neither you, nor the majority of the work folks accept this reality. But the facts are not with you. You can’t keep claiming people are leaving the church in droves, and yet we’re so hegemonic we’re causing gay or trans people to kill themselves. They might not like the fact that others disapprove of their lifestyle — but at the heart of it, their choices are ruining their lives for a variety of reasons.

    None of that says we shouldn’t be kind and understanding. But you can’t heap all of the social costs of not following God’s commandments on the church — indeed the moral and social privations experienced in this world are a direct result of NOT following God’s commandments. And they’ve taught that for many years.

  18. p
    January 31, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    I think that answers your question, ji!

  19. Bryan
    January 31, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    “These days, it seems, Mormons (short for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are asking similar questions. Which among the received teachings are essential, and which are optional?”

    Don’t confuse bloggernacle malcontents with the general population of the church. Most members are not asking such questions, for better or worse.

    Answering the question requires first answering another – essential for what? Essential for salvation? Only God can judge. Essential for membership or temple entry? God has called and ordained men to make such decisions. Essential to feel unity with the broader membership? As an authoritarian church, widely held beliefs usually stem from authoritative sources: leadership, scripture, etc.

    “Will insisting on these claims simply make the Church and its message unbelievable to intelligent and informed people?”

    God has revealed himself to me. My knowledge of the restoration is pure. Anyone disputing His existence or the historicity of the Book of Mormon is, by definition, less informed and less intelligent than me on the issue. Yet for some reason you seem to believe that more intelligence and information will lead people away from revealed truth? If you’re correct, then their “intelligence” is pride and their “information” is false.

    “By binding ourselves to historical claims that seem increasingly untenable, we might render our message flatly unbelievable to educated people, and we might thus incur a kind of cultural ghettoization. Which would be tragic, in my view, among other reasons because I think the Church has so much to offer a world that so desperately needs it.”

    In other words, dilute the milk and allow the meat to spoil. Good plan.

  20. Taiwan Missionary
    January 31, 2020 at 11:40 pm

    What is essential and what is optional?

    I enjoyed the post—very well written— and most of the comments. I regularly follow Wheat and Tares, By Common Consent, Times and Seasons, and Millennial Star. I assess W&T as free-wheeling (lots of room for progressive Mormons, a fair amount of anger over Church-related issues, many contributors thinking outside the box, but having room for me as a Church member who is orthodox in behavior but not in personality.) I consider Times and Seasons as more orthodox, but having room for people to bring up Church-related issues and problems, in more positive ways. (By Common Consent is more scholarly, having a gamut of viewpoints, more focused on personal discipleship. Millennial Star the most orthodox.) My evaluations only; I am sure others might disagree.

    Joseph Smith’s comment about the fundamental principles of our religion, as quoted by Dr Cocoa, is the best single answer, I think. Also right up there is Christ’s injunction to love God and our fellow-man, that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Also, Faith, hope, charity.

    My two cents: My testimony of the Church rests on the First Vision, the BOM, and temple ordinances. I am not bothered by differing accounts of the FV or anachronisms in the BOM, or the evolving nature of temple ordinances. These three things are what is essential to me.

    Other people might have different ideas on what is essential. That is fine. But we need to be careful in judging negatively what others may or may not think to be essential. I believe in the WOW, and observe it, but Church leaders’ interpretations of it have changed over time, and will probably change more, in the future. I’m fine with that, and sustain them, but WOW is not essential to me.

    When I joined the Church in 1974, a Goldwater and Reagan conservative, I was smacked in the face pretty strongly by Church members who insisted that I had to accept their JBS ultra-conservative views, to be a good member. My first Bishop denounced reading of novels; I then learned that GBH had graduated from U of U with a degree in literature, and filed the Bishop’s statement away as a personal view. These are minor examples, but they make my point. I do not believe that I have to accept the Book of Job as literally historically true. I do not believe that the Church disapproves of evolution. My views cause some members heartburn.

    I would rather you not tell me what I have to believe as being essential; I will try to return the favor. I do not enjoy what I call “orthodoxy contests.” I enjoy discussing these issues, but J. Reuben Clark once commented that the Q12 could not agree on doctrine. Russell Ballard made a comment in a 2006 missionary conference that it was very hard to get the Q12 to agree on any important issue. If such disagreement is good enough for Presidents Clark and Ballard, it is good enough for me.

    In the meantime, I need to try to focus, however imperfectly, on following Christ.

  21. T. L. Peterson
    February 1, 2020 at 12:42 am

    Trying to identify essential doctrines is an interesting exercise, but it has pretty severe limits.

    It seems to me that what is essential is defined less by principles than by our practice and experience. That is to say, the essentials are whatever things happen to bind you to the community. Your essentials are certain to be different from my essentials in at least some ways, and probably in a great many ways.

    There may be a temptation to respond to this fact by trying to winnow out every essential thing that all of us do not share, in order to identify the truly universal essentials. This would be a mistake. If there is an overarching principle here, it is that the essential things are the things that strengthen our loving ties to each other and to God. Almost all of the things that bind us to each other are individual and unique, because they are based on our experiences of personal connection. Even the essentials that we might obviously share carry the inflections and differences of each person’s experiences. Therefore, each of us has a unique contribution to make to the community. These things cannot be reduced to a doctrinal formula or creed.

    I don’t deny the importance of talking about doctrines of our faith. Doctrine is, after all, one of the things we share, and it is one of the things that bind us together. But it is only a relatively small part of the whole, and an attempt to reduce it to an essence can quickly turn into a doctrinaire illusion.

  22. GEOFF -AUS
    February 1, 2020 at 2:47 am

    Ji,
    The fires have subsided somewhat. There are still fires threatening Canberra (the capital city) and the south coast of NSW. An area almost the area of Utah has burned so far with nearly 3000 homes burnt, 32 human lives lost and a billion animals killed, some close to extinction, and the usual fire season has just begun
    I live in Queensland the fires are less of a threat here now as we have had some rain, and further north they are having flooding where a few weeks ago there was drought.
    I have a daughter who is a volunteer fire fighter. She is being sent to where the fires are still dangerous this week. She is a remote area fire fighter (equivalent to california smoke jumper) where they drop a team of 5 into a remote area by helicopter where they fight the fire on foot.
    Sute
    I joined the church in 1958. Since then there have been many examples of the leaders of the church teaching their culture as if it were gospel, until a revelation in the case of racism, or in many cases they just stopped teaching it, with no explanation or apology, as for the example that birth control was of the devil, which my wife and I obeyed until we had to choose her life over obedience. We were also married 6 weeks after my mission even though I had no job and only high school education, because that was being taught in conference. These combined resulted in us living in poverty for 10 years.
    I no longer have the confidence you do that what our leaders teach has any relation to what God wants, particularly on matters of culture where conservative culture has more sway.
    I do not believe that gay marriage, or equality for women are the culture of the leaders rather than Gods will because of the the influence of the world, but because that is what I believe the scriptures teach. All are alike unto God, black and white, male and female, gay and straight. For a start.
    So I do not see these as essential to my belief in the Gospel. In fact the opposite, but I have had bishops who thought like you and refused me TR though overruled by SP, and even one who tried to excommunicate me, again overruled by SP.

  23. GEOFF -AUS
    February 1, 2020 at 3:50 am

    TLPeterson, Any relationship to Mark E Peterson? I would agree except because of conservative culture, which includes “obedience is the first law of heaven”, I have very little in common with the members of my ward, at least the ones who express their views. There may be others who do not believe the have to think like a republican to be a member. If there are others who understand like me, they are too frightened to speak up.
    As I said above I have had bishops try to stop me getting a TR , because I would not agree that “obedience is the first law of heaven” which was overruled by the SP, but I think I was effectively disfellowshipped, because I have not given a talk, or had a calling that does not have cleaning in the name, for more than 10 years. So very little fellowship. Just living the gospel as we understand it. We can do service.
    We often/usually come home from church saying, what are we doing associationg with these people.

  24. p
    February 1, 2020 at 11:05 am

    The reason the Brethren have $124,000,000,000 in the bank today is because the Founder (ironically) devised an institutional structure hewing closely to the most effective mode of evolutionary group formation, as exemplified above in the words of Sute and, particularly, Bryan:

    “God has called and ordained men to make such decisions. Essential to feel unity with the broader membership? As an authoritarian church, widely held beliefs usually stem from authoritative sources: leadership, scripture, etc.

    “Will insisting on these claims simply make the Church and its message unbelievable to intelligent and informed people?”

    “God has revealed himself to me. My knowledge of the restoration is pure. Anyone disputing His existence or the historicity of the Book of Mormon is, by definition, less informed and less intelligent than me on the issue.”

    Geoff-Aus exemplifies the inevitable institutional splintering that accelerates across the institutional spectrum as the Age of Information matures. I am tempted to assert that the Church now “adjusts or dies” but the original formative impulse is deep in the genome and not so easily dislodged.

  25. ji
    February 1, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Best wishes to your daughter, and safety I her job…

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