Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Underground “Doctrines”

Underground “Doctrines”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 16, 2011

I am one of a quarter-gazillion (well, a round dozen, anyway) Gospel Doctrine teachers in my ward, teaching every other Sunday. While I sometimes try to supplement the lessons in terms of historical and cultural setting, or literary structure of the scripture, I usually stick very close to the manual in terms of lesson purpose and material covered. I don’t introduce speculative doctrine, or encourage my personal interpretation of scripture, or replace “boring” manual material with my own “more exciting” topics and theories.

Ward members are free to choose any teacher they want to listen to. Those who choose to attend my class regularly range from their 20s through their 90s, couples and singles, perhaps a few more women than men. We have great discussions. I sometimes have to steer discussions back toward the point, but only when some class member wants to dwell on a minor illustration instead of moving on with the major idea.

You could videotape any class session and show it to anybody, and I wouldn’t be ashamed. I’m orthodox, they’re orthodox, and if sometimes I’m a little clumsy, more often than not there’s at least one moment when a familiar idea suddenly snaps into greater clarity and meaningfulness for us all.

Then the bell rings, and we move together down the hall toward Relief Society and Priesthood meetings.

And that’s when it happens.

Someone who has just been participating in the most orthodox manner imaginable will take me by the elbow, lean in close so that only I can hear, and say, “I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, but you know …”

Following the lesson on miracles, it was a man who said “I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, but you know that it was Jesus’s own wedding when he changed the water to wine, don’t you?”

When Mary and Martha and Lazarus guest-starred in the lesson a few weeks ago, it was a man who said, “I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, but you know that Jesus was married to Mary and Martha, don’t you?”

After the resurrection lesson, it was a woman who said, “I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, but you know that Jesus came to Mary Magdalene first because she was his wife, don’t you?”

It isn’t always something about (one of) Jesus’s supposed marriage(s), but it’s always something. “I know we’re not supposed to talk about this but …”

After the first hallway whisper, where I replied by mumbling something incoherent, I’ve just replied, firmly, “Thank you for not derailing the class by repeating that non-doctrinal nonsense.” (All these people still come to class – curiously, my branding of their confidences as nonsense hasn’t driven them away.)

You probably already know that all of these specific “you know … don’t you?” whispers was actually suggested by early Church leaders – Orson Hyde, one of the Pratt brothers – over the pulpit or in writing, with the ideas repeated and repeated and repeated by later speakers so that what was nothing more than speculation took on the weight of doctrine. For the most part, those introducing these novel ideas did not claim to have received them through revelation. Rather, they were attempting to reason logically from what we do know from revelation  (that marriage in the new and everlasting covenant, say, is essential to exaltation) to derive new truth or fill in the historical gaps (that Jesus, who certainly would be exalted, must therefore have been married).

We’ve seen this tendency throughout our history:

Pre-1978, black men could not hold the priesthood, not for anything they had done in mortality but simply by virtue of being born black. Therefore, the reasoning went, it must have been due to something they did before being born, and therefore [insert any number of false “doctrines” about pre-mortality here].

God created this earth for man, in its celestialized form this earth will be the inheritance of the righteous, therefore, man has no business seeking to leave this earth, and therefore man will never walk on the moon.

Baptism is associated with the forgiveness of one’s sins, therefore, the woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus’s feet and wiped them with her hair, of whom Jesus said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven,” must have been baptized by John the Baptist.

And on and on. I’m sure that if we could step back and see our own individual beliefs clearly, every one of us believes something that is not doctrinal, but which seems to be a logical extension of something that is doctrinal.

I don’t recall ever having been told in so many words that “we’re not supposed to talk about” these speculations from the past, but we all recognize that these ideas are no longer taught in General Conference, in lesson materials issued by the Church, or through any other sort of official channel by men whose callings it is to keep the doctrine pure. For me, that’s sufficient evidence that these ideas are not doctrinal, but are speculative at best, and perniciously false at worst. I don’t believe them, and I don’t teach them, and I don’t discuss them except, as in this case, as a reflection of our cultural past, clearly labeled as something that is no longer taught and should no longer be believed.

Yet these ideas persist, not as quaint and curious artifacts of the past – none of them have been whispered to me in the hallway with any sense of conspiratorial absurdity, as when we all pretend to believe in Santa when small children are about – but as doctrinal fact, something that we know but aren’t supposed to discuss. They are offered to me in the hallway with a sense either that “we’re both in on the secret of this doctrine that we both believe but cannot discuss,” or else that “I know this secret thing, and I want to be sure that you know it, too.”

Why the heck do we do that? Why do we perpetuate these wild speculations from the past, when we know, or ought to know, that they aren’t true?

I’m not so much interested in compiling a list of these underground “doctrines,” but I’m very interested in hearing why you think they persist, why people insist on perpetuating them, and, more than anything, your suggestions for stamping them out, or at least firmly branding them as dead historical artifacts.



  1. Laziness. I think that a lot? of members have others do the thinking for them and just accept it without thinking about the implications or whether or not something is true.

    Comment by Cameron — August 16, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  2. “Why the heck do we do that?”

    We’re human and want to understand everything – and want to be part of the “in group” that understands more than others. It’s not a good trait, but it’s a natural human trait.

    Also, fwiw, because some of these things really do make sense. There’s a huge difference, imo, between the idea that Jesus was married (with which I have no problem as a logical conclusion – especially since I think all of the theological reasons others site for him not being married are hogwash) and the speculation that came to justify the Priesthood ban. I think there’s an important difference between trying to understand the “what” (Jesus’ possible marriage) and the “why” (the Priesthood ban).

    It’s the “we’re not supposed to talk about it” that kills me – since I believe there is almost nothing (only a very few exceptions from the temple – far less than most members think, even with regard to the temple) about which we truly aren’t supposed to talk.

    Comment by Ray — August 16, 2011 @ 7:36 am

  3. As far as stamping them out, I think all we can do is address them as we encounter them – and encourage much more open discussion of everything. The only way to expose things that are underground is to bring them to light – to remove them from under the ground.

    This is a two-edged sword, since I don’t want the totally free-wheeling days prior to modern correlation when anything and everything could derail a lesson that often ended up being as much an argument as a true discussion – but we have to talk about things in order to address them. How do we find the proper balance? I don’t know, really, except to reiterate that we have to address them openly and directly – and perhaps that includes a statemnet that there aren’t any “underground doctrines”, just “underground speculations”.

    Comment by Ray — August 16, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  4. That may be part of it, Cameron. People go out of their way to pass this stuff along, but I don’t suppose many have made any effort to trace down where those stories come from and whether or not there is any basis for them other than Brother So-and-So used to talk about it in seminary.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 7:48 am

  5. “In” group must certainly be a part of it, Ray, thanks — I suppose it’s human nature to want to know secrets and be able to tell them.

    I should make a finer distinction of one point than I did in the original post. It may well be that some of the speculations are true. However, absent revelation, we don’t know, and have no business teaching and spreading them as if we did know.

    Claiming that Jesus married during mortality is certainly one of those things that we do not know because it hasn’t been revealed. It may make all the sense in the world to some people, and it may be true, but we don’t know, and we have no more business teaching it than teaching some of the not-valiant-in-heaven racialist stuff.

    A quick hallway “We don’t know that!” wouldn’t likely be persuasive. I’m glad people don’t usually bring this stuff up in class, but if they did, there would be more chance to make the point. Not that it would persuade people who want to believe otherwise! But perhaps I could watch for opportunities to teach about the difference between revelation and speculation, perhaps using some of these hallway examples for classroom discussion.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 7:55 am

  6. I think another part of it is that we represent ourselves (both internally and to the world) as a Church founded on newly-revealed, exciting theology. And from our founding in 1830 through the early 20th century, we did indeed have an outpouring of revelation: new theology, new doctrine, new interpretations of Biblical tradition. The amount of “new revelation” declined with the death of Joseph Smith and continued to do so until slowing to a trickle by the mid-20th century.

    More orthodox members than myself say, “But Bro. Jones, our leaders get just as much revelation now as they did in Joseph’s day, it’s just geared to our times!” I don’t doubt that, but you have to admit that it was probably a lot more exciting for early Saints who awaited Joseph’s latest revelations, teachings, and new Scriptures than for us to guess how many variations of the same Conference talk we get to hear.

    The point I’m making is that I think the whispered “underground doctrines” are somewhat a collective grasping towards the 19th century Church’s excitement, uniqueness, and sense of rebelliousness towards mainstream Christianity. Nobody’s stopping you in the hall to say, “You know that President Monson teaches us to serve the poor and do our home teaching, right?”

    Comment by Bro. Jones — August 16, 2011 @ 8:03 am

  7. Ah, the excitement of something new! (Or something remembered that someone may fear is being forgotten, in the case of the specific examples whispered by my class members.) I have no doubt those were exciting times.

    There’s at least one huge difference between hearing new ideas from the lips of Joseph Smith, and repeating these old speculations, though: Presumably what Joseph Smith taught was true (if sometimes imperfectly understood, and modified as he gained greater understanding) and the result of genuine revelation, and that’s not the case with these speculations. People are recreating the outward form — the novelty factor — without the authority and witness to back it up.

    But while I think it’s wrong and perhaps sometimes even dangerous to do this, I think you may be right, Bro. Jones, that that’s at least part of the impulse behind it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 8:21 am

  8. The point I’m making is that I think the whispered “underground doctrines” are somewhat a collective grasping towards the 19th century Church’s excitement, uniqueness, and sense of rebelliousness towards mainstream Christianity.

    That makes a lot of sense to me.

    Comment by Anna — August 16, 2011 @ 8:21 am

  9. I don’t see how this will stop. Speculation is natural especially given the ‘gaps’ in the canon.

    The scriptures are silent on whether Jesus was married but they are not silent on the doctrine of marriage as essential to exaltation. So not a huge leap there to the issue of whether Jesus is NOW a resurrected exalted married man. The rest of the historical stuff makes for interesting (but pure) speculation.

    The scriptures are silent on the status of the races in pre-mortality but they do make it clear that some individual spirits were noble and great and it is obvious that most of us were not as valiant or great as Jehovah. Again, the justification for the restriction was pure speculation although it misused some known truths about premortal faithfulness.

    Hence the need to stick within the realm of the known. This will forever be something that we need to remind people of. Stay on the path of safety even in the hallway!

    Comment by M J — August 16, 2011 @ 8:23 am

  10. “….no longer taught in General Conference, in lesson materials issued by the Church, or through any other sort of official channel by men whose callings it is to keep the doctrine pure. For me, that’s sufficient evidence that these ideas are not doctrinal”

    Whoa! You just did the same thing they did, but flipped the narrative around in the other direction. You took a piece of information and extrapolated on it and claimed it as evidence that it’s (not) doctrinal.

    If you want to know if something is true, study it out in your mind for several days (sometimes months or years depending on the piece of knowledge and whether it’s pertinent to you specifically) and wrestle a bit under the guidance of the spirit and pray about it. You’ll receive an answer. I can’t say how or when, but it’s my experience you’ll get one.

    The only time I’ve not received a clear answer one way or another is when it was about an issue that the Lord just wanted me to use my own agency on.

    I’ve received a very clear, real revelation that I’ll never deny and it would definitely be in the “not doctrinal because we don’t teach it (anymore?) in Conference/Manuals”.

    But it was something I’ve pondered about a lot (no, not polygamy or blacks/priesthood) over the years and increasingly seen more pieces of evidence both for and against. It wasn’t pertinent to my salvation, but in a sense, knowing the truth one way or another would give me greater understanding in the Lord’s work and our role in it and thus increase my faith.

    No sooner had I begun to pray after much studying did a very tremendous feeling come upon my whole being, before even asking the question I desired to ask I already knew the answer anyway, but I proceeded to ask just to follow through with the question and as I did so the feeling came upon me again. At times, I’ve received glimmers of that confirmation.

    Interestingly enough, the testimony I received, also brought with it the knowledge that it wasn’t “just” for me, but it was something that should only be revealed from God to man individually, and I had no authority to do anything with it but receive spiritual edification. I felt that perhaps at some future date if my immediate family were wrestling with the same issue I could point them in the direction I went to receive the same revelation on their own. Some things (mysteries) God reserves the right to reveal directly to his children. I suppose at some point he could change that and authorize his prophets to teach it to the world.

    But the point is, I’m not sure if you could call what I received “doctrine” in the sense of it being taught in the manuals, but it’s definitely true. So if someone ever comes up and asks me about it, I certainly wouldn’t say it’s nonsense, because I would run the risk of denying what is true.

    You might as well tell Joseph Smith his vision was nonsense — as was done because it didn’t fit into their perceived notions of “doctrine”.

    Ultimately, I’ve determined the best course of action is to say, “Whatever may or may not be true on this matter the God has not found it necessity to reveal and teach it publicly to this generation. So we ought to follow in his example. If you think we should teach or discuss these things you’re not only going against the example of all the modern authorities who we have covenanted to receive and follow but going against the example of God.”

    Now, I suppose that may be more long winded than calling something nonsense and being done with it. But after my very real experience with a very important truth I think we need a better way of approaching the situation than to say it’s nonsense.

    After this experience with a real truth that’s not being taught overtly even though there are evidences of it (perhaps because there’s so much truth we already have that we can’t live up to anyway) I’ve become more careful to complete disown whatever theory is out there. I think I’ve gained a greater appreciation of Joseph in the process as well.

    Comment by chris — August 16, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  11. Ardis-
    We’re not supposed to talk about this but you do know that the best way to assert yourself as someone who is “righteous” “ultra-orthodox” and “in-the-know” is to assert yourself in this hallway manner.

    Comment by Grant — August 16, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  12. #7: Absolutely, I wasn’t disputing the truth of Joseph’s revelations. Even in his day, the Lord had to direct some members to ease up on the prophesying because everyone was so caught up in the excitement.

    On a side note (and I hope this doesn’t make a derail), I think this is one reason a lot of members have seized upon the Proclamation on the Family. It’s not especially revolutionary from an internal standpoint, and not everyone embraces its politics, but at least it’s something that looks kind of like the revelations of old.

    Comment by Bro. Jones — August 16, 2011 @ 9:00 am

  13. Thank you, Ardis. I might re-word “Why the heck do we do that?” as “Why the heck do some among us do that?”, but I very much appreciate your point. When we go to Ghana or Russia, we teach the sweet and simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ — I wish such was good enough for the multi-generational members in the center place. I agree wholeheartedly that “these ideas are not doctrinal, but are speculative at best, and perniciously false at worst. I don’t believe them, and I don’t teach them, and I don’t discuss them except, as in this case, as a reflection of our cultural past, clearly labeled as something that is no longer taught and should no longer be believed.” Amen.

    2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (KJV) There are itching ears among us.

    Comment by ji — August 16, 2011 @ 9:09 am

  14. I certainly agree with the assessments that the motivation has to do with knowing and being able to tell secrets and trying to seek novelty, but would add the idea that people confuse the notion of “deep” or “profound” doctrine with “obscure”.

    On my mission, I made it a rule to try to quash as much of this speculation as possible, and there was a LOT of it. One companion would pore over a document purportedly written by a renegade Catholic monk, who said that the Vatican knew the LDS Church was true but was covering it up; others said that Ellen White (of the 7th Day Adventists) had been Joseph Smith’s secretary or that Charles Russell (of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) had been a disgruntled former Saint. One missionary was obsessed with the Second Comforter, Adam and Eve not having blood in the Garden, there not being rain before the Deluge, and how the president of the Church had the keys of the resurrection (some stemming from the Bible Dictionary). This same missionary had a whole packet of papers with such “deep doctrine,” including the White Horse Prophecy and some supposed vision where Joseph Smith said that humans in Adam’s time were ten feet tall. My mission president seemed to try to make this a feature of every zone conference, teaching once that the Earth was actually physically close to Kolob before the Fall (I sat back and invisibly winced). I just heard from an fellow former missionary that the missionaries visited him the other day and said that Joseph could see Book of Mormon prophets in the First Vision.

    If you really want to collect them all, it’d be a lifetime work! Haha.

    Comment by Michael H. — August 16, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  15. Not only do the ideas suggested by readers make sense, Anna, but a lot of the speculations do, too — that’s what makes them believable, I suppose, in the absence of better defined knowledge.

    Grant, I’m struggling with my role. I try not to teach false doctrine in class and haven’t hesitated to (gently) point out odd ideas presented as revelation in past classes, but do I have a responsibility in general outside of class? I don’t know.

    Amen, M J. These ideas take hold in part, I suppose, because they *do* fit neatly in the gaps. When the gaps are closed by true authority received through proper channels — as several of the specific canards about pre-mortality have been — we should let them go, shouldn’t we? Not wanting to let go of the harmless ones is, I suppose, harmless — I’m just puzzled by people’s insistence on propagating them.

    Whoa yourself, chris. There’s an enormous difference between studying something out in your own mind and receiving personal revelation, and then teaching/spreading/whispering about it in the halls as if it were incumbent on anyone else to accept it (something you kind of agree with in the midst of your looooooong comment). You can believe God wants you to wear green socks every day the rest of your life — or that Jesus was a polygamist, or that Adam and Eve had spirit fluid in their pre-mortal veins, or that man won’t walk on the moon, or that black men won’t receive the priesthood until Abel’s children have received exaltation, or anything else — but believing it, even to the extent of believing you have received confirmatory revelation, is not doctrine. Doctrine is truth shared, not individual beliefs. And nonsense is nonsense, however long-winded a way you find to say it.

    Bro. Jones, I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise — I was taking your thoughts and applying them to the people who have whispered these things to me, trying to see if your ideas fit their situation. This past Sunday the teacher (not me) asked for examples of revelation and scripture that had been added to the canon in the past 50 years. Lots of people called out “Proclamation!” — even though it isn’t canonical — and not a single soul brought up Section 138 (Vision of the Redemption of the Dead) which, while received as a revelation in 1918, was added to the Doctrine and Covenants in my lifetime. People puzzle me.

    Itching ears! ji, that’s the phrase that was itching at my brain that I couldn’t come up with while I was writing this. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 9:32 am

  16. Nah, I don’t want to collect them, Michael — your catalog is more than enough, and I suspect may be a wee bit exaggerated even in this context.

    But I do agree with your assessment that the obscurity of some of the speculations probably does add to the misunderstanding that they are “deep.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  17. Ardis, I would frame your question a little differently. Rather than ask why we perpetuate this type of speculation, I would ask why the Brethren do not pro-actively define the whys and wherefores of our doctrine more clearly without ambiguity and “plausible denial” clauses? As MJ states in comment #9, there are many gaps in our canon that are not being filled out. Faithful members want to use both faith AND reason in learning the doctrines of the Kingdom and in seeking further light and knowledge. Since we are precluded in our Church from having anyone other than the 15 highest men define doctrine and receive revelation for the entire Church, it is incumbent upon them to define the theology and, as much as possible, offer clear answers and explanations.

    There are a myriad of irreconcilable items such as whether the Saviour was married (the LDS newsroom has officially stated that the Church does not believe that Jesus was married) or from where arose the newly announced doctrine that gender is eternal (given that is has no scriptural or revelatory foundation).

    Try as they might, the people at Church correlation will never satisfy the spiritual appetites of its members by feeding them only stale bread and tepid water. True disciples wish to drink deeply and often at the Well of Living Waters. Just like the Chinese who are now clamoring for democracy as capitalism opens new horizons for them, Latter-day Saints are clamoring for our own Politburo (correlation) to allow for a fullness of the Gospel to flow forth in our meetings.

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 9:38 am

  18. I have taught a lot of GD and lot of PH lessons over the years. I have gotten this response from time to time as well. Most of these types of speculations come for the what I would call the “speculative period” in the church….. 1850-1900 or so and involve the Pratts, BY or a Hyde. These guys were prone to public speculation.

    There is something in the human phsyche that sometimes we want to know more or be smarter then those around us. That we have access to some type of deeper knowledge that the not so smart folks around us just don’t get. There is a lot of this type of thinking in the Naccle as well for what its worth. I think that is what drives these types of comments.

    Your fan…. Bbell

    Comment by bbell — August 16, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  19. Anyone who has worked in a large corporation knows that building hedges around the law isn’t confined to hallways of LDS meetinghouses. Organizational embroidery is a way of showing your commitment, a way of showing your dedication to the cause, a way of proclaiming your group identification, whether to the gospel or to selling laundry soap.

    And to your list of historical tendencies I would add some current tendencies such as insisting that white shirts be a priesthood uniform since we wear white when we baptize or when in the temple, or that adult temple garments define a standard of modesty for all humans and not just for the endowed.

    Comment by KLC — August 16, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  20. As a side note, and I do think it is a bit of spin, the LDS Church spokesman has stated:

    The belief that Christ was married has never been official Church doctrine. It is neither sanctioned nor taught by the Church. While it is true that a few Church leaders in the mid-1800s expressed their opinions on the matter, it was not then, and is not now, Church doctrine.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 16, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  21. Michael, I framed my question the way I did because I can do something, in some degree, about what members do and say — I can certainly manage what *I* say, I can respond appropriately as a teacher in class, I can offer posts like this one that have a possibility of influencing others. But I can’t manage what Church leaders do or how or if they address this question. I also take exception to other parts of your comment, such as the claim that the Church feeds its members “stale bread and tepid water.” You have access to the scriptures, and history, and modern methods of teaching; you no doubt have occasion to teach and speak and otherwise take part. What you make of all that is up to you, not to Church leaders. As a teacher, I make connections and learn background and get insights in preparation for my lessons that are truly exciting, to me at least — you can do the same. To quote Alabama church member John the Baptist Gayler, “The gospel is like a feast,” he said. “It is laid out on the table for you. All you gotta do is he’p yourself.”

    Yeah, bbell, I think you summarize well the ideas that are probably behind why people continue to spread these underground ideas.

    KLC, I’ll have to think about your comment. In the few corporations I’ve worked for, it’s people at the top trying to manufacture loyalty or build a brand who create and pass the skewed ideas. The only ones I’ve heard spread at the grass roots (like these hallway whispers) are complaints about management, nothing to embroider an image or identify more closely with the company. But I’ve never worked for a company I cared to identify with the way I do with the Church.

    Thanks, J., for tracking that down. As spin, it’s wise, I think, given its audience. If it were addressed to members, I’d hope for a little exploration of how “a few Church leaders” arrived at “their opinions,” and how modern Church members can understand and accept that something taught in the past is no longer considered doctrinal. But that kind of expansion wouldn’t be very useful to a journalist who is checking on the accuracy of what some political candidate says Mormons believe.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  22. I agree with most of the above conclusions with laziness being the highest factor. But I would like to add that I know for a fact that my father taught me many things that are not taught in church and therefor are true, and as he would not lie to me, they therefore, must be true…not! Traditions of the family, or really trusted friend, comes to my mind when you asked the original question as to why these myths persist.

    Also, if one isn’t lazy and just accepts what is told by someone, where or to whom does one go when these kinds of questions arise, other than our Father in Heaven? Most of us don’t have access to all the church historical data to even begin to see if those questions have or have not been answered, hence, speculation persists.

    Most of my life has been consumed with just trying to live the four basic principles of the gospel as taught in the fourth article of faith. The rest, while it may be interesting and may or may not increase my faith, is not going to get me eternal life any faster than the basic principles. Plus, isn’t there a line upon line, precept upon precept, doctrine somewhere that we believe in for those who have to know more? I can live with that if I need to know the rest.

    Comment by Cliff — August 16, 2011 @ 10:32 am

  23. Great topic. I’m late to the discussion, but here’s my two cents:
    1) As a people we believe in “hidden treasures of knowledge” and that the most precious knowledge is hidden from the world (think temple). So to me it’s not strange that someone would pour over the Journal of Discourses seeking insights, and then claim to have found a hidden treasure of knowledge thats extra valuable because its hidden.

    2) In today’s post-corrolation era, we’re taught that statements from apostles and prophets are doctrinal. But apostles in the 19th Century were not held to this standard, and frequently gave opinions and speculated freely. Problems begin to arise when members apply Benson’s “14 points of being a prophet” to statements by Brigham Young or even Joseph Fielding Smith.

    I think it’s important to note that every one of the views Ardis labels false doctrines has been taught by multiple apostles at one time or another.

    3) The quorum of the 12 seems so unified today, it’s sometimes hard to understand the widely divergent opinions Mormon authorities have had. Whether it’s Orson Pratt v. Brigham Young, B.H. Roberts v. J.F. Smith, Hugh Nibley v. Ernest Wilkinson, or even Harry Reid v. Mitt Romney, our Church accepts a wide number of viewpoints.

    I, for one, am glad for teachers who base their lessons around the rock of doctrine and don’t stray onto speculative sand.

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 16, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  24. Brigham Young owned a horse named Trigger.

    Comment by middle-aged Mormon Man — August 16, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  25. I recently read that Brigham Young once owned a horse he named Trigger. (See how easy that is?)

    Comment by middle-aged Mormon Man — August 16, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  26. Try as they might, the people at Church correlation will never satisfy the spiritual appetites of its members by feeding them only stale bread and tepid water.

    I’ve heard this kind of reasoning as the “milk before meat” argument, being that if you give a child only milk, it will get malnourished and die. Some think that the conference talks are always about the same things, that we’ve not had new doctrine in over 100 years, and that every “revelation” in the last 150 years has been due to political pressures.

    To me, this is like someone demanding to know how to travel to the moon while in practice they occasionally (or often) add 3 and 3 and get 5. If someone tries to correct us, we only complain that we’re hearing the same we’ve heard before.

    If we, as a people, did better at the things we are being taught in our meetings and conferences, there would be floods of new things revealed, much of which would likely challenge things we have reasoned out on our own.

    That is the reason that personal revelation is so important, as well as why we are counselled to keep revelations, dreams, angelic ministrations, very personal or only shared with a few close friends or family; we are each taught by the Spirit at the level we can handle. You can’t conclude that if you haven’t been taught what you believe others have been given means that you are not worthy or what others have learned are not true. Intelligence is not building a tower, it is building a mountain. If we get a teaspoon or a truck full of knowledge, it may not be the same part given to someone else.

    The best discussions about doctrines, including underground/alternative docrines are those that open you up to think more about what you believe, and ultimately open you up to be taught by the Spirit, who is the best teacher of all.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — August 16, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  27. Interesting post but it seemly like you assume that there is an agree upon understanding of where doctrine ends and speculation begins. It seems absurd to tell someone else with some sort of doctrinal authority that something is not doctrinal as if there is some canonical standard of doctrine. Was it doctrinal authority or speculation that defines doctrine as something that is currently taught in General Conference or in the manuals. It seems like we have the tenancy to call old inconvenient doctrines speculations even though they were not taught as speculation. It makes me wonder what “Doctrines” of today will be whispered in the Church hallways in 100 years only to be condemned as speculation.

    Comment by JohnE — August 16, 2011 @ 11:07 am

  28. This calls to mind particularly a couple of talks by Ezra Taft Benson which appeared in the Ensign a few months before he became President of the Church. One was on President Kimball’s vision of missionary work, and the other was on what to teach our children about the temple. I can imagine contents from both of them being batted away today as nondoctrinal. Believing in heavenly things beyond “be nice to eveyone and families are important” seems to be the mark today of an antiquated nutjob who shouldn’t speak about whatever he may have heard in the tabernacle or read in the Ensign thirty years ago. When do patriarchal blessings and temple iniatory ordinances take their place in the dust bin of things we aren’t supposed to talk about? Many would say, “Not soon enough.”

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 16, 2011 @ 11:11 am

  29. Thanks, Cliff. You make an important addition by noting that often these ideas come to us from very trusted sources, which would make it even more difficult to throw them off — who wants to find fault with Dad or with the saintly Sunday School teacher who is so fondly remembered from our youth?

    And Clark, yours is also an important addition: Applying the same criteria to the words of long-ago apostles (who felt free to speculate) as we do to current apostles (who, being aware of the long lasting problems that can come from misspeaking, and who are therefore far more careful about what they say) can really mix things up.

    Thanks, MMM. Little tweaks can provide a lot of cover!

    John, you aren’t being fair to me or to this post. I don’t discount everything beyond your parody of present trends in gospel teaching, nor consider class members who whisper to me in the hallways to be “antiquated nutjobs.” Nor are *any* of the examples I use anything that has appeared in the Ensign or been spoken in the Tabernacle in the past 30 years — far from it. Your entire comment is a strawman.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 11:29 am

  30. Your comment 26, John, brings to mind the same barnyard epithet that I was going to suggest to Ardis as an appropriate response to the whispered-in-the-hallway confidential doctrines.

    Micah had it right:

    He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

    Once I’ve begun to make some progress on those things I might have some time and energy to waste on speculations. But I might decide that such speculation is just a waste of time.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 16, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  31. Once I was taught certain practicess (women not praying in sacrament meetings, and a few others) by a member of the stake presidency. I responded that those practices were not included in the manual and therefore didn’t need to be done. He responded that for political and publicity reasons there are good reasons not to put certain things in the manuals. He then produced Elder Packer’s “Unwritten Order of Things” talk, recommended I read it and comply with the instructions I was given. I think the existence of this talk is one of the factors that fosters the idea that there are lots of important things not in the lesson manuals. Maybe not discussing temple ordinances but also constantly emphasizing how important they are also fosters the idea of secret knowledge for some people.

    Comment by Paul 2 — August 16, 2011 @ 11:35 am

  32. Comments are coming in out of order — sorry.

    Frank, thanks — one of your best comments ever, I think.

    JohnE, do you somehow read into anything I’ve said that I am asserting some special authority to declare what is doctrine and what is not? If so, you are mistaken — I am exercising only the faculties that any church member has, including paying attention to conference speakers and drawing on current manuals for lessons taught, and who can distinguish between ideas that haven’t been formally taught in a hundred years and those that are repeatedly stressed by living prophets. None of the examples I’ve given come anywhere close to a line of ambiguity — unless you had a seminary or Sunday School teacher who couldn’t resist teaching novelties that didn’t appear in formal lesson materials, then *you* haven’t heard them taught, either.

    No, they weren’t taught as speculation. That doesn’t prevent us from recognizing them as such today.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 11:39 am

  33. “Believing in heavenly things beyond “be nice to eveyone and families are important” seems to be the mark today of an antiquated nutjob who shouldn’t speak about whatever he may have heard in the tabernacle or read in the Ensign thirty years ago. When do patriarchal blessings and temple initiatory ordinances take their place in the dust bin of things we aren’t supposed to talk about? Many would say, “Not soon enough.”

    Amen, John, Amen. I could not agree more. I believe this is one of the major reasons why we are losing so many formerly active and strong members. We have watered down our teachings so much that there is little left to nourish us during our communal gatherings.

    Note that I said communal gatherings because, as Ardis points out, we are blessed with the Gift of the Holy Ghost which allows for personal revelation and further light and knowledge on an individual level but we are commanded by the Brethren to never share such insights or blessings in the communal meetings. I long for a more Christ-centered worship service in our chapels that provides deep spiritual nourishment. I long for a well-defined, reasoned, faithful theological foundation from the Brethren that allows for all members to drink as little or as much as they desire of the gospel. Why is it possible for so many other Christian religions to postulate a foundational theology that incorporates prophetic revelation, scriptural teachings, Christian traditions, and the accumulated wisdom from the centuries but we seem to have to keep ours to the watered-down formula basis to not overwhelm our membership? Catholics have just as varied a membership yet they allow for the most basic testimony as well as the deeper studious witness. So do the Jews.

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 11:39 am

  34. There is a major difference between speculation and deeper study of historical, doctrinal, and revelatory items. Critical analysis is what leads to further knowledge and understanding. When coupled with the proper use of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, such study leads to discovery of amazing and eternal truths. Why are we commanded not to use reason and study within our communal gatherings? Why do we classify such study as speculation?

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  35. Thanks, Mark B.; I can read between the lines!

    Paul2, I hadn’t thought of that — thanks for a new angle on this, the belief or assertion that there are “secrets” that can’t be published for reasons of expediency or political correctness. What a dangerous extension to make of Pres. Packer’s talk! An unscrupulous, or merely ignorant, man could use that for promulgating any and all manner of abominations. I can only hope that people are living close enough to the spirit not to be misled far or for long in matters that really do matter.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  36. Other Michael (Comment 33):

    Like it or not, our leaders aren’t trained theologians, and we don’t have a paid ministry to produce such experts.

    Comment by Michael H. — August 16, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  37. Ardis-
    I think you should take these hallway comments as a compliment from those who come to your class and know you know more than you let on even if they fail to grasp the distinction between knowing a lot about things that aren’t sound doctrine and knowing sound doctrines well. They are trying to make some kind of intellectual-spiritual-personal connection with someone they respect. The fact that they keep coming back even when you thank them for not derailing with “non-doctrinal nonsense” shows that.

    And they may deeply believe or “hope” in some of these unsound “doctrines.” If Jesus was married, that would maybe help validate their marriages (helps get throught the difficult times – for some it’s 90% +). If He was a polygamist, that validates some of our ancestors. If the Prophet has secret keys to the resurrection, that may give a sense of security from the fears of death. Yet circling back, these fears and anxieties can be best addressed through the true and sound doctrines of faith and hope in Christ, repentance, charity, etc.

    When I get that kind of crazy talk, either when teaching or in the hallway, I try to steer it back towards some sound, basic principle. And I have to keep working that in my own head as well.

    Comment by Grant — August 16, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  38. Friends, and visitors or commenters who don’t take part frequently: Keepa is not a platform for anything and everything anyone wants to say. Keepa is a place where believing and mainstream members of the LDS church can discuss topics without the whining and complaints and naysaying and worse that appears on a lot of other Mormon-themed blogs.

    Please, if you can’t help finding fault with the Church as a whole, at least be specific, and offer sources, and make a legitimate case — unsupported blanket assertions of crappy Sacrament Meetings or lousy manuals or other general bitching will be moderated from this point on.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  39. what a fascinating discussion!

    I had the same thought as Grant–sharing underground documents with Ardis may just be their way of saying “I know just as much about the Church as you do.”

    I appreciate the verse in Micah, too.

    As for JohnE

    It makes me wonder what “Doctrines” of today will be whispered in the Church hallways in 100 years only to be condemned as speculation.

    we’ve already got quite a list:
    *white shirts and the priesthood
    *women speaking last (at all?) in sacrament meeting
    *relationship between women’s careers and motherhood
    *men’s facial hair, leadership positions, and temples

    ..oh yeah, Ardis didn’t want lists. too late!

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 16, 2011 @ 11:59 am

  40. “…do you somehow read into anything I’ve said that I am asserting some special authority to declare what is doctrine and what is not?”

    It’s hard not to when you say “‘Thank you for not derailing the class by repeating that non-doctrinal nonsense.’” It seems that your “special authority” to declare if something is doctrinal comes from “paying attention to conference speakers and drawing on current manuals for lessons taught”. Your standard of what qualifies as doctrine is mere speculation which is ironic because speculation is what you seem to be condemning.

    All I am trying to say is that Mormon doctrine is ambiguous and there is no official Mormon doctrine that states that after X number of years of not being talked about in the Ensign a doctrine can be considered to be speculation.

    Comment by JohnE — August 16, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  41. Ardis, I will abide by your blog comment policy more faithfully. I apologize.

    I have a sincere question for you – In the Church we have two types of Sunday school classes for adult members, namely, Gospel Principles and Gospel Doctrine. In most of the wards I have attended or where I have been a member there is very little difference between the teachings in either class. While they use different manuals, the general gist of the messages in both classes is very simple and does not deviate too much into deeper exploration of the subject matter.

    Why do you think we have both classes if there is no differentiation between the two?

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  42. JohnE,

    President Kimball preached very directly against hunting for sport and to satisfy blood lust. He also spoke most directly about the evils of unnecessary war. However, we allow for big game hunting (for a significant fee) on Church-owned ranches and land and we fully supported two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that cost billions and killed thousands all in pursuit of a small group of terrorists. Since President Kimball’s teachings were over 30 years ago and have not been re-affirmed since then (in contrast to President Benson’s 14 points), it most definitely can be said that 30 years is the cutting-off point. Actions (both individually and organizationally) ALWAYS speak louder than words.

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

  43. I can only answer for my own experience, Michael. Gospel Principles seems to be a primer, written and taught with the assumption that people have a very shallow understanding of basic gospel ideas, or, perhaps, need to know how LDS teaching on basic Christian topics may differ from or expand on what they bring with them as new or returning members. At least that’s how the manual reads, and how it has been taught in my ward’s Relief Society.

    Gospel Doctrine classes, on the other hand, assume that members already know the doctrine. There’s not a whole lot of new information to give — basic intellectual understanding of the principles is easy, and is assumed to have been acquired. Gospel Doctrine is a class for adults to testify, whether in formal testimony or simply in discussing questions, how those principles play out in the members’ lives, reinforcing the principles in their lives and strengthening their neighbors, the way all testimony is supposed to work. The tedious wording of the manual (“Ask class members how they can apply this principle in their lives”) perhaps obscures that testifying aspect, but it’s really an invitation for class members to share experiences that demonstrate the truth of the principle being taught.

    Gospel Principles is more for the head, just getting a basic understanding of the basic ideas. Gospel Doctrine is for the heart, where people who have been living the principles discussed can share their experiences.

    At least, that’s how I teach it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  44. As for stamping them out, the only way something can really be eradicated is through an official statement from the Church. Two successful examples of this are:
    1) Packer’s refutation of the “Generals in the War in Heaven” quote.
    2) The Priesthood ban (BRM’s “forget everything I ever said on this” is a wonderful example)

    The problem is that the Church is (understandably) hesitant to repudiate other apostles teachings in public. So instead they issue an updated statement, which then appears contradictory, and both versions float indefinitely. Examples of this include:
    1) Birth Control: Current handbook instructions are radically different from early and mid-20th century teachings, but lacking a formal clarification, the former teachings remain whispered underground doctrine.
    2) Views on homosexuality. (Compare Elder Oaks 1995 talk with the views of Elder Faust published the following month. Markedly different!)
    And don’t get me started on the problems that occur when the yChurch publicly renounces something, but privately practices it (post 1890 polygamy, for example) Then it becomes IMPOSSIBLE to stomp out, because a large portion of listeners will think whatever leaders say is just a smokescreen.

    What we need is an expiration date on talks. If it hasn’t been taught in General conference in the last 10 years, it doesn’t qualify as doctrine? Sounds good to me.

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 16, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  45. 40: JohnE, as I think I said in some comment or other, the examples I’ve given, the kinds of speculation I’m discussing, don’t even come close to the line of ambiguity.

    Ambiguity might cover matters of, say, family management in the realm of working mothers and the number and spacing of children, both of which seem to be in flux and have been the subject of passionate addresses in the fairly (but not immediately) recent past.

    But there is no ambiguity in matters that haven’t been taught in your lifetime or mine, and where we can trace their origins to blatant speculation (Orson Hyde admitted he was thinking out loud as he delivered some of his “Jesus was married” ideas; as those ideas were repeated, the speculative framing was omitted).

    And in the very particular case you cite — that of derailing (or not) a Sunday School class — I *do* in fact have special authority given to me when I was set apart, to teach only pure doctrine. I have the duty to squelch that kind of speculation *in my classroom* but don’t claim it as a duty or right *outside* of that setting. Outside of that setting, as when I write as a blogger, I’m only declaring my understanding, not claiming special authority. Your sense of irony is off kilter if you don’t recognize that distinction.

    In any case, you’ve had your say here. Please move along.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

  46. “The problem is that the Church is (understandably) hesitant to repudiate other apostles teachings in public.”

    Honestly, why is this? If the teaching is incorrect or not articulated clearly why allow for the “dual lingering” as you mention? Why have the unnecessary confusion? I have a hard time understanding this unless it is due to false pride or maintaining an image of infallibility. Especially if the apostle is dead. There is no chance of him having his feelings hurt or losing credibility in future talks if he has passed on. That would definitely be the case if the death already passed the 30 year mark established as the doctrinal life-cycle.

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

  47. Grant (way back in 37) — Thanks for that.

    TOClark, although I’d challenge your 10-year-expiration date {g}, I certainly agree with everything else you say, and especially appreciate your giving examples. I would also point to the example of Wilford Woodruff’s care in presenting the change of the earlier practice of having yourself sealed to an apostle instead of your blood parents, discussed in When One Prophet Supersedes an Earlier One. It *can* be done, and has been done, and possibly should be done more often (as in the case of pernicious ideas pretending to explain the priesthood restriction which linger on despite the removal of that restriction), but I understand why it’s such a sensitive matter.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  48. Ardis, you can delete my last two posts if you don’t feel they are appropriate questions. They were asked in all sincerity and are not meant to be sarcastic. I believe it is a real issue that creates challenges in the church membership and is leading to a number of defections. People don’t know how to reconcile the differences in teachings and they view it as waffling which undermines their testimony of modern prophets. We don’t quote Elder Mark E. Petersen too much anymore in some of his more blatant comments about the priesthood ban so I have always wondered what harm is there in repudiating such teachings from the past.

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  49. Before I move along, I would hate to leave this discussion on a sour note. While I’ve gotta disagree with you on this issue, as a long time lurker and first time commentor I’ve got to say I love the blog. Keep it up!

    Comment by JohnE — August 16, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  50. My experience with Kolob doctrines has been Spiritual confirmation that some of those things COULD be true, but with a strong Spiritual affirmation that the question isn’t relevant.

    I have gotten the distinct impression that the Lord doesn’t want us wasting our time too much on things that our spirits already know, but are only hidden behind the veil. Sure, there is fun and even some benefit in speculation, but we have to vigilantly guard against elitism and pride, and never forget that it is speculation and not doctrine. Once our sense of humility begins to dissipate, we open ourselves wide open for Satan’s influence.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 16, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

  51. Well, I’ll welcome you back as a commenter, JohnE, and hope it’s on a post that is a little less controversial! The response to this one took me by surprise, I have to admit.

    Nice reminder, SilverRain.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  52. My experience has been that much of the really crazy stuff I hear originates from a quasi-official source, like CES, BYU religion professors, temple sealers, or mission presidents, and that makes it really hard to contradict. I don’t know how to get rid of it, either. I think CES is already over-correlated. Maybe just better and more consistent training.

    Comment by Mark Brown — August 16, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  53. Ardis, I started my previous comment with consideration of why saints might latch unto old speculations, but ended up writing with a bit too much emotion and somewhat off-target. Trying again, hopefully better, there is no end to what some saint cares about that some other saint will label looking beyond the mark. Mark B.’s words directed my way above are one more reminder, as are countless blog comments wishing the church wouldn’t spend so much time on Joseph Smith/chastity/food storage, but just teach about Jesus intermixed with silence. That environment makes it harder to separate random old, half-remembered speculations from things that we don’t want to talk about.

    Here is something related that you’ve referred to before. It’s a letter to the editor thanking the Ensign for only having short articles now: “Thanks for Shorter Articles.”

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 16, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  54. 49: And maybe regular monitoring, too. That has apparently helped tone down some of the missionary-spread faith promotin’ rumors at historical sites, according to friends who have recently visited places where sticking to the script is, evidently, being more than encouraged. (It has toned down some of the wacky stuff I used to hear the tour guides say in the Church History Library, too.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  55. John, I was all set to kiss and make up … and then you pointed me toward that letter. Oh, it burns! it burns!

    And you’re right. It’s definitely related.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  56. Plus, John, you remind me that this past Sunday most of the Sacrament Meeting time was filled by our bishop giving an excellent, old-fashioned doctrinal exposition on the final judgment and the degrees of glory, and even the sons of perdition.

    And I’m cognizant of the fact that I just capitulated to many of the comments I’ve resisted above, by referring to that talk as “old-fashioned.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

  57. I’ve gotten to this late, but can think of many similar examples. I recall a couple of times in the first few years that I was attending the temple, where “helpful people” felt inclined to teach me something of a trivial nature that in their minds, had taken on much deeper significance. In retrospect, I decided that they really were trivial, and not important, or else there would have been some formal discussion or instruction about them.

    Others here have described well some of the reasons for this. My wife and I describe it as “aiming beyond the mark.” Perhaps a better way of describing it is that if you learn how to tie a tie so that you look presentable, then you are doing well. The “beyond the mark” part is when you begin to feel you will be perceived as a much better person if you can always tie your tie so that the short end is exactly three inches shorter than the long end. Not only do you obsessively tie your tie this way, but from time to time you choose to “share” this insight with others whom you perceive as potentially being able to understand the importance of adhering to the specific differences in the ends of your tie. Sometimes, not always, it comes across as condescending to the receiver of the shared knowledge. Sometimes, it is even intended that way. “If you really understood, you’d always tie your tie…”.

    We all do things to try and associate ourselves with the group that we want to be perceived as part of. Testimony meeting is a good example of this, and it is not always a bad thing (rarely, in fact). But for some, once they are part of the larger group, they seem to have a desire to carve out a more particular or exclusive niche.

    Overall, I think Mark B hit the right note with his quote from Micah. Speculation is fun, but I’ve got a lot more pressing basic needs to take care of first that keep me awake at night.

    Comment by kevinf — August 16, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

  58. The first rule of Speculative Doctrine Club is that you don’t talk about Speculative Doctrine Club. :)

    And for whatever reason, it seems like the topic I’ve heard the most is Second Annointing / Calling and Election Made Sure. Maybe because this isn’t just secret, snazzy information — it’s secret and snazzy information that guarantees your salvation.

    Did you hear, there was a mission president in Germany who received the Second Annointing? Yep, it was him and his wife, a few years ago. I heard it from someone who knows someone who was there.

    And here’s a copy that I happen to have of an old Bruce R. McConkie talk . . .

    Comment by Kaimi — August 16, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  59. kevinf,

    Isn’t it possible for people to love learning and knowledge just for its own sake. Why do we have to subscribe ulterior motives of pride or call it speculation or deride it as unnecessary to our eternal salvation? What is wrong with pursuing further light and knowledge for its own sake and for the joy of learning? And why do we hesitate to share those things in our communal gatherings?

    Comment by Michael — August 16, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

  60. (I just realized, my comment could be seen as relating to your Sunstone talk. That’s *not* my intent.

    I was just putting up more or less the *exact conversation* that I had with a ward member a few years ago. The alleged example of Calling and Election was a far-away mission president, I’m pretty sure in Germany — but of course, someone far far away and unverifiable, as these always are . . .)

    [That didn’t occur to me at all, Kaimi. I’ve heard very similar conversations about how patriarchs are giving blessings in this or that new place where the Church has just arrived, identifying people as members of all the Tribes of Israel, so, glory hallelujah, we finally know where the Lost Tribes are hiding. — AEP]

    Comment by Kaimi — August 16, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

  61. Thanks, kevinf, right on.

    Kaimi, they’re gonna kick me out of the club!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

  62. Speculation is more than fun. If our minds don’t dwell ocassionally on heavenly things we don’t understand—and we don’t understand any of them—then all we have left is uninspired, earthly minds.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 16, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  63. John, you don’t find any ground between rank, unsupported speculation and uninspired, earthly minds? Aren’t you skipping completely over the plain teachings of scripture and of the modern prophets?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  64. I was asking myself the same thing, Ardis. Many of the criticisms of unsupported speculation along the the lines that we need to focus our energy on repentance and serving others would apply just as well to spending minutes pondering what a Doctrine and Covenants section means. Martha was even able to criticize Mary’s choice to sit there listening to Jesus when there was work that needed doing.

    You’re right, though. There are unhealthy excesses that get lost away from scriptures and good sense.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 16, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  65. I’ll take a stab at these questions:

    “Isn’t it possible for people to love learning and knowledge just for its own sake. Why do we have to subscribe ulterior motives of pride or call it speculation or deride it as unnecessary to our eternal salvation? What is wrong with pursuing further light and knowledge for its own sake and for the joy of learning? And why do we hesitate to share those things in our communal gatherings?”

    Of course it is possible to love knowledge and learning. We subscribe ulterior motives NOT to the learning, but to the sense of superiority and secrecy that so often accompanies it. We don’t deride it as unnecessary to eternal salvation, we point out that it is unnecessary to accomplish our work in mortality. There is nothing wrong with pursuing further light and knowledge, but the problem is that there is no verification that it IS further light and knowledge. These things are essentially unprovable, so without authoritative backing, they are not doctrinal, only speculative.

    And we hesitate to share them in our communal gatherings for several reasons. First, they lend themselves quite easily to false doctrines and philosophies of man. Second, “possessing” the “knowledge” leads very easily to pride, which is a whisper flicker away from being knocked completely off the path of discipleship. Third, publicly and often speaking of such things attracts genuine crazies and makes some people a little off who wouldn’t otherwise fall into that trap. (Think of the Word of Wisdom adapted to the weakest. Some people are just not capable of separating speculation from doctrine, as is so very clear in this post.)

    Finally, with #3 in mind, those things which are true are sacred for a reason. We are to learn line upon line and precept upon precept. Language is faulty and weak for communicating things of the spirit. With that in mind, it is impossible to teach things that are sacred before a person is ready for it. It is much more likely to throw them completely off the base of truth as they try to understand something they don’t yet have the experience to grasp.

    I can elaborate further, but that should suffice for a “succinct” answer.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 16, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  66. What a conversation!

    I appreciated the notion that we sometimes “learn” these things from trusted sources and don’t think to question them.

    But Ardis, I’ve also applied something similar to your 30-year filter (and blogged about it). As for the list in #39 — I wouldn’t have imagined any of those were doctrines, but practices.

    John Mansfield, I agree that personal reflection is a part of gospel study. But we don’t need to share everything we learn that way. Indeed, some things we shouldn’t share because it is not ours to do so.

    Comment by Paul — August 16, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

  67. Thanks, SilverRain. Response to this post took me by surprise and has left me so exhausted that I’m not up to much more comment, but my tired brain thinks it very much agrees with you.

    I want to clarify that my reference to 30 years wasn’t intended as a filter to signal that something is or is not doctrinal. John Mansfield mentioned talks by Ezra Taft Benson given before his becoming president of the Church, which I rounded up to 30 years (it would be 26 or more, depending on how much before his becoming president was involved), and my reference was to that period. I don’t think it’s possible and wouldn’t try to suggest a fixed “filter” date. I mean only that when something hasn’t been taught recently, or often, or clashes with current counsel or doesn’t take into consideration developments since it was commonly taught (e.g., the 1978 priesthood revelation, or even something so much less formal like recent calls for civility in the immigration debate), there is good reason for taking a second look before promulgating it in class or in the hallway.

    Certainly that applies to anything people already acknowledge as being shaky when they preface their remarks with “We’re not supposed to talk about this, but …”

    I may have overlooked some comments when they were coming in so fast and appearing out of order (quite a few landed in the moderation queue and had to be freed as quickly as I noticed them). I apologize if I haven’t responded to some comment — I meant to, and no slight is intended toward anyone. I appreciate all the participation. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

  68. Michael, # 56, nothing is wrong with learning for learning’s sake, and personal speculation is not a problem either. What I was pointing out is an experience I’ve had on a few occasions, when someone takes a condescending attitude towards me to share something of their own private speculation, which may or may not be doctrinal. As one or two of them happened in the temple dressing room after a session, I do not choose to repeat them here.

    We are always encouraged to seek after knowledge. Any private speculations that I have that I discuss in public are labeled just that, speculative, and only in a discussion where that kind of dialogue is welcomed. I’m trying to be more open to what Terryl Givens has called “dialogic revelation”, which I believe is some of what you are referring to. But I recognize the limits of that, and don’t try to “enlighten” others with my “superior” knowledge.

    John M, your comments seem to reflect a right/wrong, all/none, black/white view of the gospel that doesn’t appear to reflect the wide variety of spiritual experiences, growth, and testimonies that I have observed. If I am mis-characterizing your thoughts, I’ll apologize up front. The only bipolar aspect of the gospel that I do agree with is the concept that you are either repenting or not repenting. We can be in various stages of learning about the gospel, of understanding the intricacies of the atonement, and of living the life of a disciple of Christ. Regardless of where I am in any of these other ventures, I still need to be repentant and trying to do better, or I’m in the wrong place.

    Sorry, Ardis, this has taken a different turn than I think you expected. However, the tone here, as always, is so much nicer than most of the other sandboxes in the bloggernacle, and I appreciate your efforts to keep it civil.

    Comment by kevinf — August 16, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

  69. Ardis,

    You are a better person than I am. I have been known to discuss speculations from time to time when I taught Gospel Doctrine. I sleep at night because whenever I have done that, I have first announced that it is speculation, and not official doctrine, so the class can ignore it if they choose. The clearest example was whether Jesus was married. I explained that the Church doesn’t teach it, it isn’t in any of the manuals or spelled out clearly in the scriptures, but it made sense to me.

    On the other hand, I had a mission companion who believed in the Hollow Earth theory. I would never bring that up in Gospel Doctrine unless I was going to mock it.

    Comment by CS Eric — August 16, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

  70. CS Eric #66. Were you in my mission? The hollow earth theory was demonstrated to me beyond doubt (well, by the presenter) because facsimile #2 clearly shows people inside the earth upside down! (sorry, Ardis).

    Comment by Grant — August 16, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  71. kevinf, I looked back at my comments above, and I’m not seeing the polarization you do. Where is the polarization in thinking that we can repent and wonder who is going to the less-than-highest degree of the celestial kingdom? Or in thinking that not every article in the Ensign needs to be written to serve the reduced capacity of an aged person worn out from multiple surgeries? Could you spell it out for me what you see in my words?

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 16, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

  72. 68: No, please, let’s not go there. I love to follow the exchange of ideas, and both Kevin and John have expressed their views well. One of the things that ruins internet discussion for me, though, is when one person challenges another not to an exchange of ideas, but to prove that he did or did not say something, which is followed by further dispute over words and expressions rather than ideas.

    Thanks for a great discussion so far, one that was completely unexpected to me. (I suppose I should stop saying that, but I’m still flabbergasted …)

    Grant, I understand there was a Sunstone presentation this year that concerned, in part, the hollow earth theory. Never know what’s going to crop up, do we?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  73. I guess I must have always been in the wrong gospel doctrine class. I don’t know anything about the hollow Earth theory. And I thought I had learned all the speculative stuff in seminary.

    But I know who is going to make lunch for the 10 tribes when they return.

    Comment by Carol — August 16, 2011 @ 8:13 pm

  74. Carol, we’re not supposed to talk about that …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  75. But if the Earth isn’t hollow, then where do the hobbits live?

    Comment by Kaimi — August 16, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  76. Where’s the Republican convention being held next year, Kaimi?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

  77. Not to derail, but the idea that “Middle Earth” means “the middle of the planet Earth” is itself a speculative doctrine that study of Tolkien would disperse 😉

    Comment by MH — August 16, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

  78. It seems to me that several of the examples of you have provided fall in the range of “speculative folk doctrine”. They are not confimed to be true, in the scriptures, or in the current tachings of the prophets. However, I would observe that just because something has not been confirmed as true does not necessarily mean it is false, or a mere historical curiosity.
    Between the unconfirmed truths and the unrefuted falsehoods, there’s a lot of room for “We just don’t know.”
    I might point out to such persons that that in many such cases, the reason we are “not supposed to talk about it” in this case, is not because it’s secret, but because it is speculative.
    There are enough well-confirmed truths in the scriptures that many of us don’t want to heed that, especially in classes, we don’t have the time to waste on things that might or might not be true.
    It might be profitable, in discussion of things that may or may not be true, to redirect the dicussion into things we DO know to be true, well confirmed, and important.

    Comment by Confutus — August 17, 2011 @ 12:52 am

  79. What if a prophet/apostle said something like that TODAY over the pulpit? We would probably just accept it. But if THEY were wrong back then and NOW we know, how do we know that the prophets of TODAY aren’t wrong?

    Comment by Jazz — August 17, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  80. I taught Gospel Doctrine for years and never heard too much of this…I wonder if it is more common among life-long members who already know the basics?

    Will definitely be listening now, though.

    Comment by Naismith — August 17, 2011 @ 7:59 am

  81. There are three reasons underground doctrines (or speculations) are still talked about that I can think of. The most important reason is that, as has been pointed out, someone in authority taught it. They might have taught it as speculation, but it was still taught. The way that can be taken care of is that a person of equal or higher authority than the speculator must say something about or against other teachings.

    Another reason is that Mormonism does not believe in (very many) creeds that must be believed in order to be a member. The whole idea of correlation of doctrine, and allowing for the teaching (or belief in) only the basics goes against the very nature of the religion as taught by Joseph Smith. Despite the occasional times he had to correct an extreme idea, Joseph Smith was himself a speculator and encouraged others in the same. He stated clearly that stamping out speculation by declaration and not persuasion was what other churches did and shut out opportunities for revelation.

    Finally, because some speculations might not be official, but they are still true within context. Some things like the “Hollow Earth” are clearly untrue and must be reasoned with the individual why it is not. If they come away more convinced than ever, that is their prerogative unless it interferes with the mission of the Church.

    My biggest concern is why we have to be so secretive about it, or as expressed here “we know we are not supposed to talk about it, but . . . ” Ironically, not getting into a long discussion about the pros and cons, speculation versus doctrine, and so forth contributes to the spread. Where there is nowhere to discuss these things in a religion that was born from speculations (Joseph Smith pondered or “speculated” before he received doctrinal defining revelations), it will be in hushed tones among a small group without any challenge. The very quick “its hogwosh” answer actually contributes to the growth of the ideas because that is a dismissal and not a response. That is the very reason it is considered “secret” and yet doctrinal; because they are never explained why they aren’t.

    I believe speculation is the seed of revelation. At the same time, I believe that discussion is the seed of information. When both are suppressed then you end up with lots of folk doctrine that is interpreted by outsiders as secret teachings. An open canon cannot be closed without confusion.

    Comment by Jettboy — August 17, 2011 @ 8:34 am

  82. (being a bit flippant, sorry)

    I think speculation is the manure of revelation. A little can help faith grow, but a lot can smother.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — August 17, 2011 @ 8:44 am


    This is another reason that underground doctrines live on. The anti-Mormons and the curious read them and must “expose” the secret doctrines to the world.

    Comment by Carol — August 17, 2011 @ 8:48 am

  84. Jazz, you’re reading your own expectations into this discussion.

    The origins of the cited speculations are available in the Journal of Discourses, and it is clear to any rational reader that Orson Hyde, say, discussing the possible marriage(s) of Jesus, is applying his own reason to a topic not disclosed by revelation, attempting to extrapolate from his understanding of the gospel what may have occurred 1800 years earlier. I.e., he’s speculating, not announcing new revelation or new doctrine.

    Today’s prophets and apostles don’t speculate over the pulpit — they’ve gotten too savvy to the problems that arise from such speculation.

    So you’re trying to apply the consequences of something that happened in the past to present circumstances — when the circumstances are as different as they are today, there’s little reason to expect the consequences of the past to be applicable.

    Or, I could be more succinct, and more true to my Sunday Schoolmarmish ways, to point out that it’s your obligation to seek a witness of the spirit when you listen to prophets and apostles today. The Holy Ghost tends to be a far more reliable witness than anything any human could tell you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  85. MH, I bow to your superior familiarity with the mysterious world of Middle Earth!

    Confutus, that’s a good distillation of the best of this entire discussion, I think. (I especially want to reiterate that somewhere up there in the early comments, I clarified the OP to say that speculation doesn’t necessarily equal falsehood, but that speculation should not be taught as if it were known to be true.)

    Naismith, I suspect you’re right. Older members were more frequently exposed to these stories in their formative years, probably heard them discussed freely in seminary if not in general church meetings in more free-wheeling pre-correlation days, and may be more reluctant to let go of ideas they grew up with. Newer members may have heard of these ideas only in their own hallways whispers, or possibly discussed with a smile, if they’ve heard them at all.

    Jettboy, we don’t often agree on too much, but I do like your thoughts here. Thanks.

    Carol, I think you’re right. These stories make a fruitful field for anti-Mormon ridicule, and they never let go of something that can be spun for ridicule.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 9:14 am

  86. For me, one of the biggest cardinal sins in the Church, is when parents or others leave their 40+ year old church books to their children. When I die, I want my copy of Mormon Doctrine burned, not given to my kids to promote the beliefs of the church from an eon ago.

    Why members give so much consideration to the Journal of Discourses, or anything from a General Authority who has been dead more than 20 years, etc., is beyond me. Worth studying to understand the thinking of the day? Yes. But that isn’t how such are used. And so they end up misused and abused. We ignore modern prophets and apostles by focusing so much on dead ones.

    There are plenty of interesting things to include into the topics in the lesson (such as historical background) without having to add speculation as doctrine, even in whispers in the hall.

    The good news is that such is now whispered in the halls, rather than pronounced as pure doctrine in the class!

    Comment by Rameumptom — August 17, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  87. #76 & 81 — Ardis, I think you answered Jazz well regarding the speculative nature of the earlier teachings in question. But there’s another aspect to a possible response to Jazz’s comment. Not all change suggests the prior leaders were wrong. We tend to view things with binary 20:20 vision. In fact in Joseph’s day (and later) the church was changing regularly, particularly in its organization, but also in its teachings as new things were revealed.

    If we believe in continuous revelation (and I do, though I acknowledge that there are some who quibble about the quantity and quality of more recent revelation), then we should not be surprised that things change over time.

    It’s another reason, in my view, that remembering the most recent teachings has value.

    That said, I’m not sure I’m fully on board with Rameumpton’s view that we should toss out anything past its expiration date (since I don’t know what that date is). Instead we may be interested in the development of thought over time and still respect that the present teaching is the one we adhere to.

    Comment by Paul — August 17, 2011 @ 10:03 am

  88. A reader sent the following relevant quotations in private email, which I wanted to post here. I don’t yet know whether he wants to be named in this thread so I’m posting without his name, although he may claim these quotations any time he wishes. Thank you, sir.

    [Later: These were provided by Ben S.]

    [We should] be careful in speaking on those subjects which are not clearly pointed out in the word of God, which lead to speculation and strife.
    – Words of Joseph Smith, p.16

    Answer gospel questions from the scriptures. One of the anxieties I have about our people today arises out of an experience I have had with every company of missionaries. Before they leave for their missions I am assigned to go over to the temple, and in the upper room of the temple after they have gone through the first session for their endowments, they are permitted for an hour or so to ask questions about the temple ordinances and matters they might not have understood. For this period—a very soul-searching experience—we discuss very intimately, in a place where we can discuss without betraying the sacredness of what we have been taught in the temple that day. We always say to them repeatedly as we have finished, “I want you to notice that all the answers I have given have been given from out of the scriptures. I wouldn’t dare attempt to make an answer to your questions anywhere else but from the scriptures or from the statements of a President of the Church, which, to us as they give inspired utterances, are scripture.” I would wish that you folks who deal with these very deep, significant things have that in mind. Always there is a temptation to go beyond what the Lord has revealed and attempt to use imagination in some cases or to speculate as to these teachings. I wish you would remember that. Don’t dare to go beyond what the Lord has revealed. If you don’t know, say you don’t know; but don’t say you don’t know when you ought to know, because you ought to be students of the scriptures. Inquiries about the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ should be answered, whenever possible, from the scriptures.
    – Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 154

    Many individuals write or preach their views. Some, by study and obedience, may learn truths that go beyond the stated position of the Church, but this does not authorize them to speak officially for the Church or to present their views as binding on the Church. There are many subjects about which the scriptures are not clear and about which the Church has made no official pronouncements. In such matters, one can find differences of opinion among Church members and leaders. Until the truth of these matters is made known by revelation, there is room for different levels of understanding and interpretation of unsettled issues.
    – Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Doctrine”

    If the Lord Almighty should reveal to a High Priest, or to any other than the head, things that are true, or that have been and will be, and show to him the destiny of this people twenty-five years from now, or a new doctrine that will in five, ten, or twenty years hence become the doctrine of this Church and Kingdom, but which has not yet been revealed to this people, and reveal it to him by the same Spirit, the same messenger, the same voice, the same power that gave revelations to Joseph when he was living, it would be a blessing to that High Priest, or individual; but he must rarely divulge it to a second person on the face of the earth, until God reveals it through the proper source to become the property of the people at large. Therefore when you hear Elders say that God does not reveal through the President of the Church that which they know, and tell wonderful things, you may generally set it down as a God’s truth that the revelation they have had is from the Devil, and not from God. If they had received from the proper source, the same power that revealed to them would have shown them that they must keep the things revealed in their own bosoms, and they seldom would have a desire to disclose them to the second person.
    – JD 3:318. Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 338. Cf. Alma 12:9.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 10:27 am

  89. I just checked my blog stats. More people visited this post yesterday than have ever visited Keepa in any one day before — more than visited the marijuana post, or the “best beards” polling, the previous high points.

    I still don’t understand why, but I’m glad to have had the visitors. Maybe some newcomers will join the ranks of regular readers. We have fun here sometimes.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  90. Giving past revelations and speculations an expiration date is an interesting idea, but where does that leave the scriptures? There is plenty in all of the scriptures that have and continue to give birth to new and old speculations and understandings, from genetic engineering to the ranking of sins. Many churches have been founded on disagreements between what in the Bible is revelation and what speculation.

    The solution, no matter which items you cling to or throw away, is to have a solid base in what is true. Use the Articles of Faith as an absolute guide of what is true, and the rest is just extra. Use the two great Laws described by Jesus (Love God, love thy neighbor) as an absolute guide of what you should be doing, and the rest is just extra. Use the Spirit of God (Holy Ghost, Light of Christ, etc) as the arbiter of what will move you in the right direction, and the rest is just extra.

    I think the reason why there has been less and less speculation and revelation of new knowledge from the leaders of the Church is because we have been increasingly nit-picky and critical of what is being said, steering ourselves away from the strait and narrow path to chase after scurrying mice named “what did they really mean” and “that’s for other people”.

    Yes, learning is a very good thing, but don’t let it be a distraction to where you are going and what you need to be doing to get there.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — August 17, 2011 @ 10:39 am

  91. Hm. In general, perhaps, Frank, but I very much disagree with you on making the Articles of Faith serve as the “absolute guide” to anything. Those brief statements were written as a summary introduction to Mormonism for nonmembers, addressing the religious debates then most current among American Protestants. They were in no sense intended as a creed for believers — they were inadequate for that task in the 1840s, and are utterly inadequate for that task in 2011. Where do you find anything in the Articles of Faith that can even hint at the temple, for instance? Or the premortal existence, or the various postmortal kingdoms?

    But aside from that, yes, I certainly agree that having “a solid base in what is true,” what is known to be true through personal conviction, or at least through authoritative statement by accepted leaders in the absence of a personal witness, is the best guide.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  92. Ardis, very true, the AoF arent the best guide for an absolute, and as I was writing it and running through them in my head, I was reminded that each is only a starting point for what has been revealed, not the be-all end-all off belief. (e.g. #1 describes the Godhead, but does not mention Heavenly Mother, whose existance is doctrinal, #4 is only the first principles and ordinances, etc.) It almost fit the narrative, and helped the flow, so I left it in when I shouldn’t have.

    Course, as I re-read it, I also notice that I tend to write posts and replies like I’m speaking in conference. Probably from too much time listening to only conference during my commute. 😛

    Comment by Frank Pellett — August 17, 2011 @ 11:18 am

  93. From Gospel Doctrine one month ago:

    “We don’t talk much about this, but President [ ] of the [ ] temple explained to us the other night that after death women will be given the opportunity to chose to continue into the eternities with their sealed-earthly husband. Yes. Did you know that?

    [Giggles, tee hee’ing from class.]

    But here is the other side of the coin that we also don’t talk much about: that it will first be up to the husbad to come and ask.”

    [Hee hee’s, ooo’s and ahhh’s.]

    Comment by observer fka eric s — August 17, 2011 @ 11:42 am

  94. I think speculation that arises from studying scripture is different than quoting a dead General Authority as if his statement is scripture. Ardis, gave a short list of issues that GAs have stated in the past. Those became “doctrine” for a time in the Church, simply because no one else offered a different theory, or came out and clarified that it was all personal opinion. Pres JFSmith was very adamant about man not going to the moon. Even after we started going up into space, he stated we should not have do so, even if we can.

    True doctrine cannot be established, if the members flounder in speculation and put it on equal ground with actual doctrine. At least when there are disagreements with scripture, we are on equal ground on the references inside. The scriptures are used because they ARE accepted as the foundation. However, we are told we must accept the teachings of the living prophets over dead ones. There is a reason our current GAs do not speculate as they once did: they want us to learn doctrine. There’s plenty of speculation among the members already, without having them try and trump each other with their own personal dead prophet.

    A former stake president and institute teacher I had used to joke about General Authority references. They would ask, “Has he been dead long enough?”

    Why can’t people quote living prophets instead, and use quotes from the dead ones to support the teachings of the living?

    Comment by Rameumptom — August 17, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  95. Why did JF Smith say man should not go into space?

    Comment by observer fka eric s — August 17, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  96. O fka e s: Joseph Fielding Smith believed that since God had created this earth for man, this is where we belonged. “It is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:290). There are also reports available in various places on the interne reporting similar statements made at a stake conference in Hawaii; I don’t much doubt that he did speak of this there, but how reliable the reports are I can’t say. FAIR also has a page addressing this issue with some good quotes from JFS and family members.

    Anti sites refer to it frequently and sometimes add some rather bizarre claims, like saying that the Apollo 11 astronauts visited JFS to give him a flag they had carried to the moon and back as a deliberate thumbing of their collective nose at his statements. Yeah, right.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

  97. Ardis,


    This is just my ‘speculation’ but I think that the reason for so many visits to your blog on this topic is because there is a deep hunger and thirst for a more foundational catechism amongst the Saints. With the greatest respect for the modern prophets and apostles, there remains much confusion on true LDS doctrine when contrasted with older opinionated teachings.

    Once an organization grows large enough or diverse enough (either geographically or ethnically) it is important to lay down the foundational beliefs and doctrines which will guide the members of that organization. We are well past that point in our Church.

    In our discussion of the difference between the Gospel Principles and Gospel Doctrine classes earlier in the comments (#43) you mentioned that you define the difference as Gospel Principles being an education and primer of basic principles for new or less knowledgeable members while Gospel Doctrine is for more knowledgeable Saints to share their application and experiences with those principles with others in the class. I did not comment on your response at that time but I don’t think I agree.

    Brother Daymon Smith speaks extensively about how correlation has been successful in re-defining the Church educational focus on generic Christian principles instead of historic scriptural context, theological consistency, and/or unique LDS teachings incorporated by the Prophet Joseph into the Restored Gospel. In focusing on principles to the exclusion of these other things, we have created a vacuum that is yearning to be filled. Just telling people to remain content with emphasis on the principles is not going to work (IMHO).

    For me, worship of the Saviour includes both Adoration and Emulation. As Latter-day Saints we are very focused on Emulation of his attributes. However, our services are short on Adoration of his Glory and Majesty. While I understand the reasoning behind a lay priesthood and involved membership, it does present significant drawbacks when it comes to providing consistent and deep spiritual nourishment on a communal basis. This is, perhaps, the reason we tend to focus so much on raising families and improving our characters instead of emphasizing a deeper theology of Christ (I am speaking on the local level here and not General Conference).

    So when members yearn for a deeper understanding of the Restored Gospel they turn to the past 180 years and study the words of the early Saints and Leaders. When they do this they do not necessarily do it to feel themselves better than other members, they do it to partake more deeply of the doctrines and theology.

    I joined the Church at age 19 and went on my mission to Italy at age 22. For those first years of my conversion I literally feasted and gorged myself on the deepness and sweetness of the doctrines of pre-mortal existence, new scripture, continuing revelation, Zion, the nature of God and His Son, the Temple and Redemption of the Dead. It was (and still is) the most glorious gift I have ever received – the further light and knowledge I craved as a young man. Matched with the Gift of the Holy Ghost, it has given me more joy and happiness than could ever be received from a spouse or children (is that sacrilege?).

    Comment by Michael — August 17, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  98. I went on my mission in February 1971 and went through one of those Q&A sessions with Harold B. Lee in the Solemn Assembly Room upstairs in the Salt Lake Temple. He gave us some great answers, some of which were knew to many of us (because were were unlearned kids), most from the scriptures, but also from a published book about the temples that included quotes from Discourses of Brigham Young.

    The Priesthood/Relief Society manuals with teachings from the prophets include lots of statements made over the pulpit by Young, Taylor and Woodruff, so it should not surprise us when somoeone reads the JD and takes some statement as authoritative, since they are mixed in with ones that ARE clearly regarded as authoritative. Hugh Nibley mined Brigham Young’s JD talks for statements he quotes on all sorts of things in his own books (especially Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints).

    So what we need is a better epistemology about how to screen what we read or hear from Church leaders (including Area Seventies, Stake Presidents, Bishops and Mission Presidents) for what is true doctrine binding on the Saints and what is interesting speculation that may or may not be consistent with authoritative doctrine.

    As I understand it, when Lorenzo Snow received the thought that he placed in his couplet about “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become”, it was not generally understood Church doctrine, and Snow kept it to himself until he spoke of it with Joseph Smith. Later, of course, he taught what he had received openly, the concept having been articulated definitively in the King Follett Discourse.

    We LDS have such a wealth of doctrinal and scriptural information that makes specific assertions about things that are official mysteries of traditional Christianity that we exult in that extra knowledge. Since each of us has to learn about these doctrines for the first time at some point in our lives, and we often learn them informally at first from another Saint, we are a bit more credulous about receiving other statements as doctrinal, since there are lots of things that are TRUE that each of us does not know about the doctrines of the Gospel. And we are lazy, and don’t want to go to the bother of confirming something from real sources before we pass it along in the church foyer or in nursery because it is fun to feel like we are “in the know” and some of those ideas let us play the game of making up even more fascinating speculations.

    I didn’t seem to see any reference in the comments to the fact that the notion of Christ being married was the entire theme of the recent bestselling book and movie, The DaVinci Code, which spawned some LDS books and CDs in response. Many Saints took Dan Brown’s story as confirmation of the early LDS speculations about Christ’s possible marriage at Cana. The fact is that, apart from LDS beliefs about the necessity of eternal marriage for exaltation, Jewish custom has apparently emphasized that a mature man should be married, especially if he is going to be a rabbi, so a 30 year old Jesus being unmarried during his ministry would seem to be a nomalous, though there is nothing in the scriptures to support his being married or to whom. The Catholic tendency to reject the notion of a sexual Jesus, as well as a sexual Mary his mother (with other children) is something we tend to react against, and argue that marriage is part of mortality that is righteous and therefore not forbidden to the Christ. Certainly, for people outside the LDS Church, the idea is similar to the belief, which we DO affirm, that God the Father is married, so why not the Son! The movie just made it impossible to avoid talking about the question. And then there have been LDS authors who have written books about it; I saw one a few years ago being sold in the BYU Bookstore. Bottom line: Reasonable speculation consistent with the Gospel but no authoritative and binding statement from scripture and official Church sources, and not something that should be taught in Church lest other people “take it as Gospel”.

    I personally think the wider and more frequently raised area of speculation that is thought to be doctrine concerns various views about the Creation, especially the peculiar speculations offered by Joseph Fielding Smith, which include (I think) the idea of the earth being assembled out near Kolob, and then be suddenly transported to its current orbit around Sol as a direct result of the Fall from the presence of God. The fact is that, in my experience, a large portion, if not the majority, of Church members believe in Quick Creation (either 7 24 hour days or 7 1,000 year “God’s Days”). They think that is what is being depicted in the temples. The incompatibility between the eternal and infinite and ongoing creation that God does in the Book of Moses and D&C 76, and the notion of the creation of the entire universe in one fell swoop of “Let there be light” is vast, but that does not seem to be considered when members talk about Creation in Gospel Doctrine classes. Most do not seem to even be willing to embrace the Catholic notion identifying the Big Bang as the playing out of Genesis 1:1-2.

    The First Presidency has made only very limited statements about Creation that emphasize the truth of the scriptures, but do not deal with the interpretive gloss that so many Saints seem to think is the true meaning of those scriptures. A little research can find statements from BY and other prophets and apostles that leave the story open for the modern scientific description of the universe and even the development of life, but few Saints are familiar with them, and those more official statements do not appear in lesson manuals or even Institute manuals. So the JFS/BRM strain of belief on the details of the Creation continues being handed on with nothing pointing out its lack of formal endorsement by the Church, and the reasons why it is not necessary to adopt it and be faithful Mormons.

    Because that speculation about Creation is what parents teach their children, and what teachers teach in Primary and classes for teens, we create an artificial crisis of faith for young people who associate unscientific and unscriptural speculation with the authoritative teachings of the Church. That set of speculations has a much more dire impact on the salvation of Church members than speculations about the marital status of Jesus. It is one thing for the Church to tolerate varieties of viewpoints on the issue, but another to allow people to think that it is authoritative and doctrinal rather than speculative.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — August 17, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

  99. WRT Joseph Fielding Smith and going to the Moon, we Saints would certainly be upset if anyone told us to not express our thoughts about some question like that, and we can’t expect General Authorities to completely censor themselves against their own natural human urge to speculate about things, to draw out implications and make deductions. We need to be sure we teach the saints that this is what Church leaders are doing at times, and not everything they say or write, even published in the pages of an official Church magazine, is “Gospel”. We should be willing to consider what they say as coming from people who have a good deal of their own accumulated wisdom, that is worth considering, even if it is not specifically revelatory. One of the “many things of our own free will” that we must do is think for ourselves, and remember that there are gradations of certitude, even in the things that we ourselves affirm. When the Prophet speaks, the thinking has only just begun, to paraphrase the opposite of one of those “faith-promoting rumors” that got published in an official Church ward teaching message back 60 or so years ago, and was denounced by the then Prophet himself.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — August 17, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  100. This is only the second time in Keepa’s more-than-three-years history that we have reached 100 comments. Unless somebody squeaks in while I’m writing this, I’ll take the opportunity to restate the point of the original post, in case it has been lost in a multifaceted conversation.

    Using our minds to understand, even to speculate in the sense of trying to understand the implications of a scripture, is very much a part of my belief system. I do it all the time in research when I try to imagine what was going on in the past so that I can guess where to look for the next step in a story. But I try not to let my suppositions take over to the point where I am convinced that *that* *is* what happened, regardless of the evidence, and when I do find myself needing to fill in a gap with an educated guess — aka speculation — for which I don’t have solid evidence, I mark that with the weasel words “perhaps” or “probably” or “possibly.”

    I think it’s fine, in the ordinary course of things, to do exactly the same thing with gospel questions. It might even be appropriate in some cases to discuss something speculative in class. But I can’t teach it as revealed truth if it isn’t, if it’s only human reasoning and not doctrine, to the best of my knowledge.

    My class members seem to have the same sense of appropriateness, in that they don’t raise these historical speculations during class. Hurray for that.

    But some do raise these matters in whispered hallway conversations. Even that would be okay, except that they don’t bring them up *as speculation* — they bring them up as known truth, accepted doctrine, underground knowledge, that we supposedly all really know is true but that for some unstated reason we aren’t supposed to talk about.

    That’s my objection, and the point I was seeking your input about (and oh, how you came through!): If we really do know something, then it should be as suitable to talk about in class as in the hallway. If we know that something is not suitable for bringing up as doctrine during class, then we should be just as careful not to discuss it privately *as if it were revealed doctrine.* There’s an indefensible double standard if we do.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

  101. I don’t see it as a double standard. I see it as a warped version of “sacred not secret.” The temple ceremony, for instance, is *revealed doctrine* but we don’t discuss THAT in GD class. Just because something isn’t suitable for GD doesn’t mean its not revealed doctrine.

    The other challenge is that the whole of the Gospel is impossible to prove rationally (angels, golden plates, degrees of glory, eternal sealings) These things can only be verified by Feelings. And when a member feels some speculation is true, to them it’s just as valid as any other (non-rational) part of the Gospel. So they share it with those others (such as the GD teacher) who they feel will appreciate the wisdom. They want to share, but not cast the pearls before the swine, in a sense.

    FWIW I think the 100+ comments has more to do with the general decline of other bloggernacle sites than a hungering for more speculative doctrine.

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 17, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

  102. Well, okay, but bringing up the temple is kind of like making the Hitler argument — it has a unique status that doesn’t really apply to lesser examples. Even if someone is truly, truly moved by the sacredness of his belief that Jesus was married to Mary and Martha (a level of devotion I find hard to believe is common, especially given the freedom with which we talk about atonement and resurrection and covenants and visions of God, which are arguably light years ahead in terms of sacredness), there isn’t the same prohibition on public discussion.

    I wish the bloggernacle were livelier, too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

  103. I think that JFS also wrote about space travel in his book “Man His Origin and Destiny” because my father had that book and used to preach this to his space travel enamored sons in the 1960s. I think it is a perfect example of what Ardis named underground doctrine. President Smith made what to him was a logical extrapolation from known doctrine into unknown speculation. Most of the underground doctrine I’ve heard does the same.

    Comment by KLC — August 17, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  104. The Other Clark, the bloggernacle usually goes through the summer doldrums this time of year.

    Comment by KLC — August 17, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

  105. One of the issues at play here is that over the last 50 years, the church became somewhat more media savvy, with an explosion over the last 10 years as the church learned to view the internet as a friend, not an enemy. The information revolution (even that phrase seems dated now) made correlation a necessity, I believe, and helped to restrain a lot of the rank speculation conducted by everyone from general authorities on down to the average member. Now it seems mostly to be done by the average member, which is perhaps why we see the furtive hallway meetings and comments that you describe. It’s as if the fact that we don’t hear church leadership participating in the kinds of things that Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, and others practiced, then it must be one of the “unwritten order of things.” The result is that the discussions either go underground, or blow out in the somewhat anonymous theater of the bloggernacle. The great thing is that ‘naccular speculations rarely go unchallenged, both by the learned and the unlearned. It makes for great drama some times.

    I also plan on getting a copyright on the word I just made up:

    “naccular: nakyuh-ler, adjective, of or relating to the bloggernacle”

    Comment by kevinf — August 17, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  106. a large portion, if not the majority, of Church members believe in Quick Creation (either 7 24 hour days or 7 1,000 year “God’s Days”). They think that is what is being depicted in the temples.

    A girl in Institute once told me, ” I didn’t understand we were Creationists until I went to the temple.” I didn’t have time to probe what exactly she meant by that, but presumably, she had decided we believe in a 7×24 creation period.

    Comment by Ben S — August 17, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

  107. Re comment #88

    I was in the temple with President Lee in 1972 as were other missionaries preparing to go out when we had our meeting. Our group of elders stayed up late thinking of difficult questions to ask the prophet. Every question asked was met by him opening to a scripture or two and reading and explaining the question and the answer. The spirit was overwhelming, the answers obvious (when aided by the spirit) and all done with the scriptures available to all. The most wonderful example of my lifetime about reading and comprehending the scriptures with the spirit.

    Comment by roberto — August 17, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

  108. As I’m experiencing the summer doldrums myself, I have to say that this was a fascinating post and a top-notch discussion, Ardis. Thank you. I think it would be an interesting cultural analysis to look at why we tend to look for such things, “beyond the mark” as it were, considering these things to be higher knowledge. Perhaps it stems from hierarchical ordinance structures, in which sacred things and hidden things are made known to us. Perhaps it’s just human desire and pride.

    I guess I don’t mean to demean revelations and the unveiling of God’s mind to us through the Restoration, but as I get older I have the sneaking suspicion that our desire for deep doctrine can cloud our ability to savor simple truths.

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 18, 2011 @ 12:07 am

  109. A matter that is clearly doctrinal to one person (see no. 92) might be speculative by another (me).

    Thanks, Steve (no. 108). And thanks again to you, Ardis.

    Comment by ji — August 18, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  110. Speculation, thy name is Bloggernacle.

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 18, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

  111. Sure, these things are not doctrine. But that doesn’t mean that they (some of them) aren’t truth. Reading D&C and various other writings of Joseph Smith, I see a hunger and a passion for truth that we, as a culture, sometimes fall short of. Hence, we have big long threads we discuss doctrine with nary a mention of what is truth, which is somewhat amiss, imho, given that, there is certainly a subset of those things that are doctrine that are not truth, given that there were doctrines of yore that are considered untruth today.

    Personally, I find the concept that just because it isn’t taught in General Conference, etc… today that it is no longer doctrine more than a little bit disingenuous. Sure, there are topics that were pure speculation at the time. But, there are also topics that are considered non-doctrinal today that were once taught and considered as pure doctrinal truth by previous prophets. There are also topics that were emphatically taught as plain and precious doctrinal truths by past prophets that are no longer mentioned today.

    Yes, there certainly is some human nonsense in that category (race is a good example). However, as much as we may wish it otherwise, some of what is considered speculation today was once taught as doctrine; saying that earlier comments on race were merely speculative understates the reality that they were taught a lot more forcefully than a mere offhand speculative aside.

    On a slightly different note, given that we base so much of our lives and doctrines around what some prophet said 6,000 years ago; I think we need to have a higher standard of discarding concepts testified again and again by a prophet 100 years ago just because it didn’t make the cut at recent general conferences. How many general conferences until a doctrine ages out into the category of historical speculation? If word of wisdom doesn’t make the cut at the upcoming conference, do I get a pass to go get drunk?

    Here’s a consideration–if history repeats itself, then it will be interesting to see what concepts in your mentioned gospel doctrine lesson may very well be whispered in the hallway in hushed tones after a future lesson 100 years ago when some of today’s doctrines become historical artifacts.

    Sure, when we’re teaching Sunday School or giving a talk, we should confine ourselves to topics that are considered good, clean, kosher doctrine. But, I very much reject the idea that we shouldn’t be open in our private discussions between church members. If nothing else, it helps us check ourselves and each other in our private understandings. Shared, open discussions of our beliefs and understandings drive us more towards doctrinal unity than eschewing such things in favor of only discussing “correlated” topics–anyone who takes the counsel of “search, ponder, and pray” will arrive at ideas, some of which are more true than others. Relegating them to some “personal truth” realm just means that half-truths will fester in their minds unchecked.

    Comment by maximus — August 19, 2011 @ 3:57 am

  112. they were taught a lot more forcefully than a mere offhand speculative aside

    Just because a thing is taught with force doesn’t mean it’s true. Force has little to do with truth. A thing does not become true or become more true by saying it loudly or by saying it repeatedly.

    Comment by Researcher — August 19, 2011 @ 6:35 am

  113. A thing does not become true or become more true by saying it loudly or by saying it repeatedly.


    “Dogmatic assertions do not take the place of revelation…

    Your brethren, (Signed) JOSEPH F. SMITH, ANTHON H. LUND, CHARLES W. PENROSE. First Presidency. ”
    -(James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75], 4:264-65.)

    Comment by Ben S — August 19, 2011 @ 11:00 am

  114. @112,113

    Except that sometimes what we are labeling as speculation was once taught _by Prophets as truth, as revelation. The “speculation” label is a nice story to sweep some of the eccentricities of early Mormon teaching under the rug, but it’s a little dishonest. If you can disregard a Prophet who is saying this is Truth, even revelation, as simply “speculating”, then the Prophets loses his authority in the church.

    Comment by maximus — August 19, 2011 @ 11:09 am

  115. maximus, one of the key points in the original post, as well as in many comments, is precisely that the cited examples were NOT originally presented as revelation, but quite frankly and openly as logical, rational, reasoning. Orson Pratt, for example, wrote:

    One thing is certain, that there were several holy women that greatly loved Jesus — such as Mary, and Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene; and Jesus greatly loved them, and associated with them much; and when He arose from the dead, instead of showing Himself to His chosen witnesses, the Apostles, He appeared first to these women, or at least to one of them — namely, Mary Magdalene. Now it would be natural for a husband in the resurrection to appear first to his own dear wives, and afterwards show himself to his other friends. If all the acts of Jesus were written, we no doubt should learn that these beloved women were His wives

    He lays out his thought process, he appeals to common sense with his “it would be natural,” he admits that he is filling in gaps in an incomplete record, he uses the subjunctive mode, and nowhere does he say that the Spirit testified to him, or that he received a revelation, or that he learned this idea from the president of the church, the only man authorized to announce new doctrine (although an apostle, he himself did not have that right). It’s speculation, and he is quite open about that.

    Other people repeated this idea, and they weren’t always careful to mention the aspect of human reason that was involved, and so other, lesser, sensation-hungry, lazy, mystery-seeking (or any other word suggested in the comments to explain why people do this) folks taught it — incorrectly, without justification — as doctrine. That doesn’t make it doctrine, as Researcher and Ben S so clearly said.

    The same could be said about any of the other speculations I used as examples. There is no justification for them — no authority in scripture, no claim of revelation — nothing more than human reasoning without sufficient data to consider the case proven. I call that speculation.

    Church leaders — even prophets — don’t “lose their authority in the church” even when or if they repeat obscure and incorrect/unsupported bits of lore they heard from the same sources we all heard them from. Nor do they “lose their authority” because you or I mistakenly believe that a speculation was presented as revelation. Nor do they “lose their authority in the church” when they themselves originate a new speculation. To the best of my knowledge, no prophet has ever taught any of my examples accompanied by a claim of revelation. Prophets are not infallible, especially when they’re exercising human reason rather than conveying divine revelation. They don’t lose their authority if they reason beyond the evidence, or even if they reason incorrectly.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 19, 2011 @ 11:45 am

  116. I come from a long line of membership in the church and have been fed doctrine at the knee of great scriptural giants. I also have searched the scriptures and looked for worthwhile things “out of the best books” for most of my 50+ years. I do not find the conference talks to be boring, tepid, or uninspiring. On some occasions I will be several weeks getting deeper understanding of doctrines taught.
    In one 2.5 years series of 7 talks in conference there was taught a more detailed, greater, and higher understanding of a single principle of learning by three separate apostles and a general Sunday school president. In the middle of this series, there was an article in the January Ensign which supported and repeated that same principle. Each conference/session another speaker added to what had been taught before, even as each speech stood alone. This was done thru stories, iterations, alliterations, inferences and references. My point is, if it seems that it is all as we have heard it before, and/or there is no new revelation, we might consider that the brethren, like the Savior, are teaching for all people wherever they be in knowledge and spirituality. There is always deeper meaning available to strengthen, support, and inspire our lives. These “speculative” doctrines are being used and repeated as a form of scripture study; their use may be and probably is a function of desiring recognition for innovative things. It behooves us to return to the scriptures and conference talks instead of spending our time seeking out obscure or even mysterious “prior” doctrines whether they be true or false. I guarantee we will achieve a much better understanding of the principle of revelation if we do.

    To Ardis E. Parshall—
    I applaud your understanding of your role as a gospel doctrine teacher. You understand that your responsibility is to “teach so no one can misunderstand” and that your role is not confined to the classroom. As a “storied” role model in your ward you must act at all times to teach and reinforce the plain and precious gospel truths even as you seek greater understanding in your personal and/or companion study. That is a message that we seek to define and impart in our Stake. As Elder Holland has said about teaching in the church, it does not take a gospel scholar but just someone intent on obtaining and teaching by the Spirit.

    Comment by ross noble — August 20, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

  117. Ross Noble, you’re living proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve had similar experiences to yours.

    Comment by Paul — August 21, 2011 @ 1:06 pm