I Think Doctrine Can Change. It Does All the Time.

It’s getting heated in the world of Mormonism as crazy ladies ask for Things That Many Think They Shouldn’t Ask For. And in the midst of all of this, I think I might have found a bit of comfort in the reality that doctrine today might not be doctrine tomorrow. It’s called Club Mormon, and, technically, it’s probably not supposed to be a place I’m trying to be.

(Update: I’ve been called out because I didn’t really understand the remark. This is what happens when you over-analyze something heard briefly on the phone. Club Mormon is really about going to church for social reasons, rather than spiritual. So I guess I don’t actually belong to Club Mormon, as it was intended. HOWEVER, there is backlash against people agitating for change in my little corner of the kingdom, and there have been intimations that Josh needs to get his wife under control (personal), and other comments (not personal) directed at various people who ask questions or who are different. And plenty of “you should leave then” remarks to go around. All of which, I think, contributed to my misunderstanding of this particular remark, and my taking it personally. But that doesn’t excuse the hurry to rant about the term before making sure I understood it. I should have delved deeper and clarified before using the Club Mormon term, and should have double-checked on the story of my great-grandpa because I got it wrong. Bad form, Miranda, bad form.)

What is All This Questioning? Club Mormon?

I first heard about Club Mormon from someone I know. We were having a conversation and she mentioned a talk she had heard in which the speaker referenced Club Mormon.

“Do you belong to Club Mormon? Or do you belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” my acquaintance said. “I really liked that line from the talk.”

According to the speaker, Club Mormon is a place where you question what’s going on, and agitate for change. A lot of people are asking questions about a lot of things right now. Much of the debate seems centered on women’s roles. On the other hand, there are a lot of people that think that no one should be asking questions. Doctrine is doctrine and is unchangeable in these minds. If you belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you change your peg-shape to conform to whatever hole the leaders tell you to fit into. The idea, from what I can gather (but I didn’t hear the talk, so I can’t really say), is that t Those who are “true” members and not just along for the social club, get in line, submitting to the doctrines and practices that are the current norm.

After a bit of reflection, I realize that I am firmly in what this speaker — and probably my acquaintance — would consider the Club Mormon campClub Mormon, Like me, many questioners feel as though they are LDS, and they (mostly) love the Church, and they (mostly) feel a part of the culture, but they also think that maybe things could be different. And, instead of keeping it to themselves, they say something. There are members out there that of Club Mormon believe that you can ask for change, rather than waiting for it to just sort of happen.

I think the Club Mormon remark was meant as chastisement, since members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are supposed to stay in line, and wait for the prophet to announce changes.

Even though many people think that doctrine is the same forever, that’s not how it works. From Emma Smith to Eliza R. Snow to the decades-long controversy (from before the David O. McKay presidency to the Spencer W. Kimball presidency) about blacks and the priesthood, questions have been posed about some of the practices in the church, and changes have followed.

So, in my mind, Club Mormon changes to doctrine aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and they’re something to be expected. Many of the questions asked are an indication that it is time for a change. Of course, your opinion isn’t going to change God’s mind.

However, the fact that many people say something (and I’ve had many people tell me that they think the things I do, even if they are too concerned about social repercussions to say them out loud) might be an indication that the church as a whole is poised for change. After all, 20 years ago people were excommunicated for putting forth some of the ideas that are commonly discussed today. Rhetoric is softening and leaders are starting to consider expanding female roles in the Church (although ordination is not part of that expansion at this point).

To tell the truth, I think that questioning Club Mormon, even though the speaker and my acquaintance probably don’t agree with me, is a good thing. I think it’s one way that many people are “taking it up with God.”

Changing Practices in the LDS Church

I think Club Mormon questions are so pervasive because they have to do with practices and doctrines in the church, which are changeable. A long time ago, when I attended Institute, an instructor offered a diagram that illustrated the layers involved in religious observance. I copied it onto a blank page at the front of my quad:

Club Mormon Practice

As you can see, in his opinion, the bedrock is Absolute Truth, or the Mind of God. However, layers get added on. The only thing that doesn’t change is Absolute Truth. Scripture — true Scripture — changes very little, although we can always receive more of it. Interpretation of scripture might change over time, as does Doctrine, which is what we teach. Finally, Practice, the things we do culturally as an expansion of Doctrine, can vary.

Mormons are comfortable, in a general way, with the idea that Doctrine and Practice can change. We have numerous instances of how Doctrine and Practice change over time. In the early years of the LDS Church, women gave blessings of healing to other women, and Eliza Snow encouraged women to go to their female leaders with their issues and confessions, rather than approach male leaders. And what about blacks and the priesthood? Joseph Smith ordained black men, Brigham Young forbade the practice, there was decades-long debate about it, and now black men are ordained.

It’s not just women and blacks. The Law of Moses is fulfilled in Christ, changing practice and doctrine. Remember when most of the officiating was done by the Levites? The gospel is preached to the Gentiles. The Word of Wisdom progresses from being more of a suggestion to being a requirement for entrance to the temple (even though he was a smoker, my great-grandfather still went to the temple). Polygamy, anyone?

Doctrine and Practice change over time. We see it all the time. My Institute teacher said that sometimes we confuse Practice with Doctrine, and confuse Doctrine with Absolute Truth, when they are not the same thing.

One of the tenets of Mormonism is that we make progress eternally. Yes, we need to progress and bring our lives in line with what Heavenly Father wants for us. However, the Church as a whole also progresses and changes. Sometimes I think that some of the questioning is less about rebellion and more about the overall progress and expansion of all of our roles.

4 Responses to I Think Doctrine Can Change. It Does All the Time.

  1. You have completely missed the mark of my comment. you make it sound like good Mormons don’t ever ask questions or think things could be different but blindly do what ever just because they are stupid lost sheep. Actually good Mormons are those who study the doctrine set forth by prophets of Jesus Christ who is the head of the church instead of spending a lot of time worrying about the importance of social acceptance like belonging to a club and what is politically correct for the day. Do you attend church because that is where your friends are and it is the socially acceptable thing to do or do you attend church to renew your covenants and worship God? Do you believe the Church to be social club run by men or do you believe it is directed by the Savior through his prophets on the earth? That is what I meant. Obviously much of our Latter Day revelation was brought about by asking questions. Joseph Smith did not receive most of his revelation until he had a question he took to God. That is not the issue here. The issue is do you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today entitled to continuing revelation?
    (P.S. your great-grandfather did not attend the temple when he was smoking. He had quit before going to the temple the first time. He went back to the habit a few years later. He did not go back to the temple until he had once again quit the habit this time for good.)

    • Thanks for your clarification. It really did feel like you were saying that asking questions and “taking a vote” were bad things, and that questioning the leaders was not acceptable. Although I don’t think that I was saying they are stupid lost sheep. Just saying that a lot of the time, the people asking questions get a lot of flack from those around them because they aren’t like everybody else.

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