Who Is at the Helm of the Mormon Ship?

Things have getting strange with the Good Ship “Mormon.”  It’s difficult to tell who is steering the boat; who’s at the helm?  Two recent events come to mind:

  • In response to a recent NBC documentary, the LDS newsroom stated that caffeine (at least in cold drinks) is not a Word of Wisdom issue and
  • In response to BYU professor Randy Bott’s interview in the Washington Post, the LDS Church’s PR department disavowed Bott’s “curse-of-Cain” conjectures.

Reacting to the caffeine incident, one Mormon blogger asked the question:  “I’m not sure if this is a policy clarification, or a full-on revelation–the LDS newsroom seems to be in charge of church doctrine now.” 

Not to worry, apparently BYU staff continues to take a stab at defining various doctrine (although not always successfully as Bottgate illustrates).  According to the Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in the Ensign (Aug 2012):

LDS and evangelical academics and church figures have been drawn together since the late 1990s in what I think has become a provocative and constructive theological dialogue . . .

Realizing that the Latter-day Saints have quite a differenct heirarchal and organization structure than the vast evangelical world, no official representative of the Church has participated in these talks. . . .

So in discussions related to the similarities and differences in doctrine between Mormons and evangelicals, BYU religion professors are defining Mormonism, without any ecclesiastical oversight.  This becomes very discomforting when I hear statements like Mormons are second to no one when it comes to biblical literalness.

It would seem that the news media and detractors are controlling the Mormon message.  The Internet is starting to force decisions that should have been made years ago.  And even worse, decisions are being made in an incremental fashion. 

In 1978, black males were given the opportunity to obtain the priesthood.  But there was no explanation for why it was denied in the first place.  This omission gave rise to Bottgate.  In 2012, Mormons were told that caffeine is not a part of the Word of Wisdom.  But that just opened up a whole new set of questions.

Additionally, we have some Mormon scholars who want to make the LDS Church look more like an evangelical church.  But why? 

Reviewing the caffeine incident, the blogger quoted above wondered:

Can we agree that this is a dumb way for an omniscient being to communicate?  It’s ambiguous, imprecise, and incremental.  But consider:  While it seems very unlikely that a god would need to use this method of imparting his will, it is exactly the kind of system that humans would use.

While I don’t think God needed to intervene on the caffeine issue (trivial?), or even the black issue (there seems to be plenty of historical evidence that the exclusion was not doctrinal), I think our leaders need to look at making decisions that are more inclusive and less incremental.

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9 Responses to Who Is at the Helm of the Mormon Ship?

  1. Allen says:

    “Can we agree that this is a dumb way for an omniscient being to communicate? It’s ambiguous, imprecise, and incremental.”

    I expect that during the Millennium, when Christ is here on the earth day by day, we will have communication directly with him. In the meantime, God’s church is directed and governed by mortal men. God inspires his leaders with particular ideas, but he usually lets them come to him with their questions and decisions. So, the blogger you quoted is right. The communications we have in the church about eternal principles and church doctrine are exactly the kind of system that humans would use, because humans are governing the church. We don’t receive communications directly from God using his choice of words. It has always been this way. Biblical manuscripts are the wording of human scholars. The Book of Mormon is in the wording used by Joseph Smith. The revelations that stopped polygamy and said the Priesthood could be given to all worthy men are in the wording of the men who were leading the church at those times. This does not mean that the church is not governed by God. It merely means that God has placed his church in the hands of mortal men, and we receive guidance and direction from those men using the phraseology chosen by those men.

  2. Allen says:

    ‘Reacting to the caffeine incident, one Mormon blogger asked the question: “I’m not sure if this is a policy clarification, or a full-on revelation–the LDS newsroom seems to be in charge of church doctrine now.”’

    I started studying church doctrine when I first attended college 59 years ago. The General Authorities have been consistent during that time of stating that the Word of Wisdom consists of not using tobacco, alcohol, tea, or coffee. Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants does not say why we shouldn’t use those things. Church Presidents have not said why we shouldn’t use those things. It is true that some members, perhaps some General Authorities, have said we shouldn’t use coffee due to caffeine, but those persons are speaking for themselves not for the church. Only the church President can say why we shouldn’t use coffee, and as far as I know no church President has said that caffeine is the reason. The LDS Newsroom was merely saying that caffeine has never been part of the Word of Wisdom.

  3. Allen says:

    “So in discussions related to the similarities and differences in doctrine between Mormons and evangelicals, BYU religion professors are defining Mormonism, without any ecclesiastical oversight.”

    Only the church president can define Mormonism, and I think the BYU professors understand that. I think the professors understand that they aren’t officially representing the church. As Elder Holland said in the quote you gave, “no official representative of the Church has participated in these talks”. Because of this, I disagree with your statement that BYU professors are defining Mormonism. I expect that the evangelicals involved in the discussions may have thought the BYU professors were officially representing the church, but, if so, that is a misunderstanding on their part. It’s important that when church members speak publicly about the church, whether is you and me speaking in our blogs, or BYU professors speaking via BYUtv, we make it clear we do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      I have a very high level of distrust for the Religion Department at BYU. This started when I was an undergraduate there in the 1960s. Except for my instructor in world religions, all my instructors were crazy rightwing nuts. (And I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.) My BofM teacher compared the Gadianton robbers to the Social Security System. When I objected too strongly, I was thrown out of class. This was my last semester before I graduated and I had to have BofM before I could graduate. I had been drafted and wanted to graduate before entering the service. My advisor called up the religion teacher and worked out a compromise (one that didn’t involve me returning to class). I wrote a letter to the “Daily Universe” suggesting that they should rename the BofM class, “Political Interpretations of the BofM.”

      The books and Ensign articles that the BYU religion profs continue to write, do not do much to make me think that things have changed much. Certainly, the Bottgate affair reaffirms my suspicions. And the current reorganizing of FARMS makes me wonder.

      I think the LDS Church either officially or unofficially has been moving closer to evangelicalism. For me, this is very disturbing. I’m not sure why this is occurring; maybe it is our desire to look more “Christian.” But I don’t trust BYU profs talking and/or negotiating with evangelicals.

      • Allen says:

        Oh, you did have an unfortunate situation there. I think that religion classes should stick with the scriptures and not get into politics. I attended USU rather than BYU, so I’m not familiar with the environment there. I believe in evolution, and I think the flood-story is figurative and not literal. I also think government should get out of the marriage business and let social groups define marriage how ever they want. I don’t think my ideas would go over very well with CES.

    • A si es solo el profeta viviente tiene todas las llaves para representar oficialmente “LA IGLESIA DE JESUCRISTO DE LOS SANTOS DE LOS ÚLTIMOS DÍAS”.

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  5. rogerdhansen says:

    One blogger (Ben P on bycommonconsent.com) commenting on the recent “caffeine” pronouncement stated: “Another important lesson from this whole thing is the increasingly authoritative position the Newsroom has become as the arbiter of LDS doctrine and culture. We used to have revelations, then manifestos, then proclamations, and now we have Newsroom blogs.”

  6. Pingback: Scriptures: Doctrine and Covenants « Deconstructing Gospel Principles

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