User:Seanmcox/Suspect Doctrine List
Brigham Young once expressed that one of the greatest challenges facing the church was to root out the incorrect traditions which are brought into the church by the new members. At his time, as in our day the church's vitality came through new members and in our ancestry, all of us come from a foundation of new members. Consequently we are all affected by this problem.
I've noted a few common beliefs which I suspect to be false. These range from relatively innocuous to dangerous, and I've been beginning to think, as the list has grown, that I would do well to record the list and my thoughts, so far as I can remember them.
This is not a comprehensive false doctrine list. There are infinitely many false doctrines. rather, this is a list of doctrines that I have particularly noted as being suspect, widespread, and relatively unchecked.
Right Hand Rule
There is an unwritten rule among some members that the sacrament is to be taken with the right hand, and never the left. This is the first suspect, pointed out to me by my mother long ago. I did a lot of research and I found no mention in scripture neither of the hand to be used when taking the sacrament nor the hand incidentally used in taking the sacrament.
Searching outside the scriptures, I could only find one resource on the issue, that being an answer on the subject written by Elder Nelson for the Ensign, wherein he gave it as his own preference to use his right hand in taking the sacrament as being an action of some symbolic import in his view. He gives some allegorical foundation for his perspective and after much ado ends without really having answered the question. I'm not sure there was anything better that could have been done in his position.
My mother-in-law also recalled having heard somebody mention taking the sacrament with their right hand in a movie she saw in the Joseph Smith Memorial building. I cannot cite it however, and it didn't sound authoritative or even prescriptive.
Strictly speaking, the ordinance of the sacrament is well defined in its essentials, and it is nowhere given that using the right hand is a part of the ordinance. It is, however, an ordinance, and ordinances have more to them than essentials. Reverence dictates what reverence dictates, and it appears that some have found that adding the formalism of using the right hand enhances the experience for them. I personally do not understand it, but others can do as they like. However, inasmuch as the practice has, in some circles, become a doctrine, dictated and enforced, I do chafe at the prescription.
If the point of the action is to enhance the personal experience of the individual, by means of the mysterious symbolism which the individual perceives in the act, I find it to be a minor abuse to start prescribing the act on others who view things differently. A Bishop, I consider, has authority to make the request, and so does a parent, but make no pretense that the request is due to their being any general and long-standing revealed necessity to take the sacrament with the right hand. There simply is none. Either take the credit for the revelation or demand yourself, or don't make it, for I have seen that it becomes a burden to some and it has a real potential to distract from the real meaning of the sacrament rather than enhance it.
Regarding sources for the doctrine I consider two. The first is an undeniable prejudice that has existed, and to some extent still does, against left-handed people. My psychology teacher, for one, was an example of this. She was left-handed, but wrote with her right because she had been forced to do so throughout her young life. There are many such examples, and the suspect doctrine is at least that old. Superstition and the desire for regularity have oft created prejudice. the other source I consider is man's innate drive to find meaning and patterns, and our need to pattern our thinking. If our thinking was unpatterned we would go quite mad, I expect, but since it is so, things will often have significance to us personally that are by all general accounts, insignificant. However, we sometimes impose such views on others, unaware of the variety of perspective.
To some extent I also think this has effected the doctrine of "exalted language" in prayers whereby we insist on speaking a kind of muddled archaic-ish English when praying. However, as I understand the speaking of refined language as a very generally beneficial thing, I do not list it here. Suffice it to say there is no revealed requirement of that nature, but it's not a bad idea.
Folded Arms and Bowed Heads
I was very surprised one day to see a question once on the origin of the practice of folding arms and bowing heads during prayer among the LDS. I had always thought this was practiced by other churches as well for private prayer. However, a little research quickly showed that I was wrong in this supposition and a little more research failed to turn up a scriptural source for the practice. Unsatisfied, I kept looking and finally found a plausible suggestion for the schism; Primary.
As children we are taught to fold our arms and bow our heads in primary. This is not because there is any mandate from heaven for us to do so, but because it help to keep rowdy young children under control during prayer. It strongly facilitates order among children almost universally. It's not too bad for adults either and it helps for us to set such an example for children that will facilitate their orderliness and thoughtfulness during prayer.
It is, however, not a mandate.
The Mormon Pope
There is an idea circulating that when the prophet acts in the office of his calling, he is infallible. There are several influences that promote this doctrine. The main reason the doctrine exists is as a correction to the false notion that a prophet is absolutely infallible and always walks around repeating articulate communications from the spirit, and that perfectly. This false notion is something of a straw man set up by our enemies to "prove" by their prejudice, that prophets are dangerous and thus should not exist, or to prove that our prophets are not real prophets, or to prove some other such nonsense which this ridiculous swindle might appear to prove.
The reality is that a prophet is human just like anyone else, and is therefore prone to err just like anyone else, except that he does have a well above average understanding of the gospel and a close connection with the spirit. In addition he has keys and authority to act administratively in the church as well as special blessings to aid him in his teaching and other responsibilities. These things make a prophet very reliable, but not at all infallible. In reality, we as members of the church are not bound to believe anything the prophet says, although we are bound to conform to administrative policy. Rather when the prophet speaks, we hear and we rely on the spirit to help us discern the truth. We generally trust the prophets words more readily and do well in so doing, but even the prophet is not free from the scriptural promise that "by the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every thing be established". We all have the right to a personal witness. So, if the prophet asks me to kill a modern Laban and it doesn't make sense to me, I can ask, and I have the right to independent confirmation of something that seems so bizarre. (Since he's a prophet, I would do well to ask rather than just assume he's wrong.)
Rather than respond with this correction, I have generally heard members respond with a description of a Mormon Pope.
"According to the teaching of the First Vatican Council and Catholic tradition, the conditions required for ex cathedra teaching are as follows:
- 1. "the Roman Pontiff"
- 2. "speaks ex cathedra" ("that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority….")
- 3. "he defines"
- 4. "that a doctrine concerning faith or morals"
- 5. "must be held by the whole Church" (Pastor Aeternus, chap. 4) 
In particular, people speak of phrases such as "thus saith the Lord" and obtuse conditions such as "acting in his office" and other such things, all of which is complete nonsense. A prophet does not have to say "thus saith the Lord" and if you're waiting for it, you're going to miss a lot. In addition, there's no way to determine if a prophet is "acting in his office", so it become a rather useless criterion. I have particularly heard many discussions regarding how to tell if a prophet is "acting in his office"... all nonsense. A prophet is always a prophet. He never really gets to put his office down.
I wonder somewhat if perhaps this explanation comes from Catholic converts or simply individuals who have been exposed to this papal infallibility idea. It is probably a mixture of the two.
Another point that often confuses people here is Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants, wherein Wilford Woodruff states:
"The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty."
This sounds a lot like he's saying prophets can't be wrong in certain circumstances. However, if you consider The Standard of Truth it is not hard to see that Wilford Woodruff's statement is really nothing new. The Standard of Truth states:
"The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; . . . the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."
Has Wilford Woodruff said much more than this? No. Rather he has stated more particularly that the Standard of Truth applies even to prophets. Even the hallowed hand cannot stop the work, though, it may make mistakes.
Never Question Your Leaders
This one is related to the Mormon Pope doctrine. If we consider our leaders to be infallible, then it might make sense to believe that we should never question our leaders. Quite to the contrary. Brigham Young once stated:
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.
Brother Joseph W. Young remarked this morning that he wished the people to receive the word of the Lord through his servants, be dictated by them, and have no will of their own. I would express it in this wise: God has placed within us a will, and we should be satisfied to have it controlled by the will of the Almighty. Let the human will be indomitable for right....
Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life; then will envy, the child of ignorance, vanish, and there will be no disposition in any man to place himself above another; for such a feeling meets no countenance in the order of heaven. Jesus Christ never wanted to be different from his father: they were and are one. If a people are led by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and they are cognizant of the fact through their faithfulness, there is no fear but they will be one in Christ Jesus, and see eye to eye.
Equality of Sins
In a Gospel Doctrine lesson once, the teacher (who was a new convert and was both known for teaching questionable doctrine and deserving of some goodly measure of understanding) set up some cards on her board with sins named on them. She then asked a member of the class to arrange them in order of seriousness. After all was said and done she revealed that the correct order was to put them all on the same level since they were all equally serious. This justly caused some disturbance, but much to my dismay, the debate was decidedly won by the equality of sins crowd which overcame the opposition with sheer insistence and some otherwise very respectable proponents.
Unfortunately while this perspective may be useful to induce a little false humility, it utterly fails to reflect reality, the damage we cause others, and the difficulty of the repentance process.
Is there a beam in my eye preventing me from removing the beam in yours, or does your eye only have a mote? (Matt 7:3-5)
Would you rather have a murderer, an adulterer, or a proud man staying at your home? How easy would it be for them to repent? How difficult would it be for them to join the church? If you had problems with these sins and could eliminate one of them with a wish, which one would be best to eliminate? (I'll give you a hint... it's not the one you're having the most trouble with, it's the one that would otherwise be almost impossible to repent of.) (See: Alma 39:3-7, Jacob 2:22-23)
A Home Teacher for Every Family, and Every Family Being Home Taught (Now!)
I certainly don't want to say that we shouldn't work to get a home teacher for every family. As far as I know, everyone should ideally have a home teacher. However, the ideal is not alway an immediately attainable reality.
I first began pushing this idea around while serving in an Elder's Quorum Presidency. Home teaching was going relatively well, but we were always struggling to get a home teacher for that one more family, and there were certainly families we hadn't been able to assign. The Elder's Quorum president and his first counselor had 6 or 7 families they visited. Certainly, I've heard of worse situations. When I was on my mission in Portugal I served in one area on the island of Madeira with over 500 members in the branch, and only about 20 showing up on Sunday. In a situation like that, you realize that it's just not possible to home teach everyone. You can assign a home teacher to all of them, but, let's face it, they won't get home taught; not really.
This was a time shortly after we had been taught in conference that it's not home teaching if the Elder's Quorum President goes to visit the families of slacking home teachers. (M. Russel Ballard, "O Be Wise", General Conference, October 2006, Sunday Morning Session) I'd also heard some noise about flyers being sent to hard or impossible to reach families, and I suggested that we might try something like that. I visited my parents shortly thereafter and put my father into a kind of state of disbelief and perhaps a mild shock when I told him I thought that there must exist extreme cases when it would be perfectly fine to just not assign home teachers. Logically, I said, it must be so. I mean, consider Madeira. Still, he thought that at least home teachers should be assigned.
So, I decided to do some research. I very much expected to find my father's view more officially reiterated. However, I did not. In fact, I found that specific numeric opinions as to what constituted "overburdening" had been given and were much more reasonable than my average Elder's Quorum Presidency had ever let on. (Almost certainly because they didn't know.)
Consider these statements:
"assigning unreasonable workloads of six, seven, eight or more families has proven not to be ... satisfactory"
"it is wrong to assign to a quorum or a group more than the leadership is capable of controlling"
(Elder L. Tom Perry, "Increasing Our Effectiveness in Home Teaching", Ensign, July 1981)
"Active home teachers should be assigned according to need, focusing first on new converts. Total coverage may not be achieved for some time."
(Elder Dale E. Miller, "The Effective Elders Quorum", Ensign, April 2005)
There are some locations in the Church where, for a time, home teaching to every home each month may not be possible because of insufficient numbers of active priesthood brethren and various other local challenges.
(First Presidency Letter: Watching Over and Strengthening Members, 10-Dec-2001)
Now, I'm not saying we all need to rush to drop a bunch of families from the program, but I think that in far too many cases, we are overburdening our home teachers and causing the overall program to suffer. I expect this principle (but perhaps not the specific numeric figures) applies to visiting teaching as well.
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