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Decoupling the Status Quo from Eternal Doctrine

September 16, 2014

Over at Wheat & Tares, Hawkgrrrl has a great post following up on an earlier one she wrote about the strange bedfellows of the LDS Church. The basic idea is this: as the church has entered into several political initiatives, it has become allies with organizations that it should seem to be enemies of. For example, most notably, Mormons worked with evangelicals and Catholics against gay marriage during Prop 8, even though there’s lots of stuff running through Mormon history suggesting that the Catholic Church is the “great and abominable church,” the church of the devil, the whore of babylon or something like that, and evangelicals are probably better known to Mormons as the people who have explicitly targeted the LDS church in their countercult efforts.

However, in the post Hawkgrrrl also describes LDS cultural or political efforts to support causes she believes are inessential or incompatible with Mormonism. As she wrote of the pitfalls of these alliances:

  • Introduction of False Doctrine.    What’s worse than others misunderstanding us?  Our own people conflating our doctrines with those of our political allies.  For example, do some members begin to think that we have a different or stronger stance on issues because our associates do?  Do they think we are young earth creationists, that we scoff at science, that we are biblical literalists, that we believe women should be subjects to their husbands?  Or perhaps more insidiously, do we just downplay our unique doctrines to fit in?  Do we pretend there is no Heavenly Mother or that we don’t believe we are God’s literal offspring with divine potential?

However, my issue was that I was a bit incredulous at Hawkgrrrl’s questions. Hawkgrrrl asks: “Do [some members] think [Mormons]…scoff at science?”

…well…don’t Mormons scoff at science?

I gave a small round of applause to Nate, who mentioned this in the following comment:

These associations are embarrassing for liberal Mormons, but for conservative Mormons by and large, these are natural fits with our beliefs. The problem, if there is one, is not associations, but rather our own extremist views as a church. The “pray the gay away” sentiment seems alive even in the quorum of the 12, though a more moderate coalition seems to have managed to take over the latest correlated offerings on homosexuality.

Elder Nelson, a doctor no-less, openly mocks evolution in conference. We should open up our own creationist museum in SLC since it reflects the beliefs of most of our members.

I for one am content to define myself as a “liberal Mormon” whenever I introduce my beliefs, so people know that I differ from the majority of Mormons in their conservative approach. I think liberal Mormons should seek to distinguish themselves as a peculiar minority within the church, rather than trying to get the majority to adopt their beliefs. We must be OK with Elder Nelson mocking evolution. He is an apostle after all. We respect his opinion and belief and the authority he has to preach it.

However, Hawkgrrrl had a great response for this:

I think this is a chicken and egg question, though. Growing up, the church was absolutely not this extremist. It has become so more and more since the 1980s. I can’t say what Utah was like, not having set foot there until the 80s, but elsewhere, the church was not so political. Society in general was not.

This comment (along with a later comment Hawkgrrrl wrote critiquing the idea of defending traditional marriage by pointing out that the very concept of traditional marriage is not all that traditional) got me thinking:

See, I’m a young person. For me, Christianity in general and Mormonism in specific has always been primarily socially conservative (and non-conservative, mainline denominations register as slightly less legitimate.) So, at the outset, I am at a loss to respond to someone like Nate, because from my experience, it seems right: Mormonism simply is conservative.

I am therefore grateful to folks like Hawkgrrrl who point out that the status quo hasn’t always been the same, and so this status quo cannot equate to eternal doctrine. Intellectually, I understand this (and have written about this before — it’s why cultural Mormonism doesn’t exist as a function of correlation), but it’s great to be reminded of examples of this.

As an aside, a while ago, I read a blog post at the Slacktivist walking through this sort of process with the evangelical position on abortion.

Of course, the next question becomes…just because the status quo has been decoupled from doctrine…what would make the status quo change?


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