Episode 27

What is LDS Doctrine? - Michael Goodman

Download Transcript

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to read the LDS Church’s “Race and the Priesthood” essay, it would be worthwhile to do so. Not only does it articulate the church’s current position regarding race relations but also disavows past explanations given for the former priesthood ban.

Most are pleased at this clarification because it is a good step toward clearing up incorrect teachings that have been perpetuated in the past. The essay emphasizes that all saving ordinances are available to all worthy individuals regardless of ethnic or racial distinctions.

Because this essay may require a paradigm shift, it has naturally led to confusion for many. Some are asking: “If ideas that were once taught as doctrine are now disavowed, how can we trust that other doctrines now being taught won’t also change later?

Dr. Michael Goodman has studied the nature of doctrine in his capacities as co-chair of the committee that wrote The Eternal Family Teacher Manual, one of four cornerstone courses of the Church’s Institute program, and as a professor of religion at BYU.

Often the terms doctrine, policy, and practice are bantered synonymously. Dr. Goodman has found that helping students determine what the term “doctrine” actually means aids them in grappling with conflicting religious and secular ideologies.

Three criteria are currently being taught by church leaders to help identify true doctrine. They include its unchanging nature, salvific necessity, and prevalence in the teachings of the current First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

These guidelines, combined with our own intellectual efforts and personal revelation, may help us more easily determine what may change and what was never meant to change.

Join us for a timely discussion on the nature of doctrine on this episode of LDS Perspectives Podcast.

The LDS Perspectives Podcast

Episode 27: What is Doctrine? with Michael Goodman


Laura Hales:                I’m Laura Hales, and I’m here today with Mike Goodman, a professor at BYU, and we are going to talk about what is doctrine? Now Mike, what makes you qualified to address this issue, or do you feel qualified?

Mike Goodman:          No, I don’t, but I’ll do it anyway. How’s that for fear and trembling. I’m a professor of religion at BYU. I’ve been here for about 15 years. I was in the church educational system as an instructor for about 11 years before that. That doth not make me an expert on doctrine. We leave that to the Brethren and having said that, I have a task to teach my students the nature of doctrine. Based on the words of living prophets, we get fairly adept in doing that.

Laura Hales:                Mike what’s your background education?

Mike Goodman:          I’m a mutt. I have multiple degrees, all different. I’ve got an associate’s degree in business, a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a master’s degree in IT, and a PhD in marriage and family.

Laura Hales:                That kind of segues right into why I approached you to talk about—doctrine—because you are modest in your introduction. You also have many other accomplishments. You have coedited the book By Divine Design: Best Practices for Family Success and Happiness, and also you were the co-chair of the writing committee for the eternal family course. It’s been unrolled already, hasn’t it?

Mike Goodman:          It is. There are four cornerstone courses at BYU, and I was a co-chair of the writing committee that created the eternal family course, which is now a requirement for all students that go to BYU.

Laura Hales:                That’s great. There’s 28 lessons. Are they all on the Proclamation on the Family or do they go on different topics that are addressed in the Proclamation?

Mike Goodman:          They’re based by way of the timing on the Proclamation, so each paragraph in each doctrine of the Proclamation includes the doctrines taught in the course, but we also at times … we’ll expand on those things. For instance, two thirds of our student body are not married. The proclamation doesn’t talk about dating and courtship. We kind of think we have to help our students to work through that, so there are aspects that aren’t as heavily in the Proclamation that we still teach.

Laura Hales:                The Proclamation is rather short.

Mike Goodman:          Yes.

Laura Hales:                Like 600 words about, approximately?

Mike Goodman:          Yes.

Laura Hales:                You’re getting 28 one-hour classes out of that?

Mike Goodman:          That’s right.

Laura Hales:                When you’re including information in these lessons, was it difficult for you to determine what was doctrine and what was folklore? Having to do with the Proclamation because sometimes I listen to people talk about the Proclamation, and I say to myself, “I don’t remember reading that in there.”

Mike Goodman:          Right.

Laura Hales:                I think you’re riffing on the Proclamation rather than reading the Proclamation.

Mike Goodman:          Absolutely, the Proclamation forms the foundation. Having said that, the doctrines that are taught, or what is taught, whether it’s practices or doctrines, are going to flow from the teachings of living prophets. Most of us who teach the class have PhDs in marriage and family, so we know the social sciences, and we include those things to some extent, but the class is based on doctrine and principles, which basically means those things, which the current prophets, seers, and revelators are teaching.

Laura Hales:                When you’re determining doctrine, first you have to decide, what is the difference between doctrine and other terms that we sometimes conflate like theology, principles, practice and policy. Could you walk us through the differences in those terms?

Mike Goodman:          That’s a very important question, Laura. It’s an issue that I think when not understood leads to great confusion and at times really does damage to an individual as well as the church. Theology is simply the study of doctrine, principles, and practices. It’s often used in a scholarly setting to form the secular study of religion. We don’t necessarily do theology per say in the religion department at BYU. We’re more focused on doctrine and practices, though we also deal with history and other issues. If I were to define doctrine, I would put doctrine and principles together because that’s what the prophets have done. They usually refer to doctrine and principles as eternal, essential truths necessary for our salvation, and that they come from God. As opposed to practices or policies, which are often simply the very best attempts that church leadership has to put in practice the doctrines and principles that have been given.

Laura Hales:                When you’re determining doctrine, a lot of times people will say, “Well this is a certain doctrine because it was spoken over the pulpit at church.” What would you say? Would that qualify as doctrine if one of the Brethren gave a talk say on marriage and divorce, and he said you should do A, B, and C. Is that now the doctrine of the church?

Mike Goodman:          No, and the Brethren are very strongly emphasizing that. Just because someone calls an issue a doctrine, doesn’t make it a doctrine. The First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve rarely speak as technocrats. They’re not trying to explicitly define words, and so sometimes they’ll be talking about a practice such as Family Home Evening. Family Home Evening is based on the doctrine of the family, but Family Home Evening in and of itself isn’t a doctrine, it’s not eternal, it hasn’t always been there. The fact that someone might say Family Home Evening is a doctrine, doesn’t turn Family Home Evening into a doctrine. It’s simply a loose way of saying it’s important, and it’s based on a doctrine. I often teach my students not to get hung up on specific definitions of words in that way. To actually try to figure out what is the definition of doctrine rather than being caught on the word “doctrine” itself.

Laura Hales:                You mentioned they’re not very specific in the words they choose. Can you give us some examples?

Mike Goodman:          Sure. For example, if you read much about the Fall of Adam, you’ll see that prophets often interchange the word sin and transgression. Where you and I know, and they know that there’s a technical difference between those two words, and yet when they’re speaking about the Fall itself, they often use the words interchangeably. If you took when they said sin, for instance, Joseph Smith said Adam and Eve did not sin when they partook of the fruit.[1] Well, he knew they didn’t sin anyway. What they did was transgress. He used the word sin, but again he wasn’t trying to speak as a technocrat. He was speaking about the general issue. The Brethren do the same exact thing when it comes to adultery and fornication. They often do the same thing when it comes to immortality and eternity, kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven. You’ll see many instances where the Brethren simply use a word. It fits the basic issue, but they’re not necessarily trying to definitively define that word.

Laura Hales:                How can we determine what is doctrine then if it’s not necessarily what is given in a particular conference talk?

Mike Goodman:          That’s an excellent question and so important. First things first, I think it’s crucial that we understand that none of us have the right to declare doctrine. That’s just not a religion professor or anyone else’s task that hasn’t been called to it. We believe that the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve define what doctrine is in the church. There are multiple sources which give possible ways of doing that. I myself have found three criteria that the Brethren speak on again and again that I have found to be most helpful as I teach my students.

Laura Hales:                And what are those?

Mike Goodman:          First off, from Joseph Smith forward, prophets have emphasized that true doctrine is eternal[2]—that it doesn’t change. Joseph Smith has taught it, Boyd K. Packer, James E. Foust, David A. Bednar, President Uchtdorf. Just countless of the Brethren have said that true doctrine doesn’t change. Principles are eternal; they come from God. One criteria that I use with my students is to help them to look at an issue and ask themselves, is this an issue where we understand that that will not be a permanent situation? For example, the sacrament. The sacrament we know is absolutely crucial for us at this point in our life. Having said that, the sacrament has not always existed. The sacrament is a practice based on the doctrine of the atonement. That would mean that that wouldn’t qualify as an eternal verity, an eternal truth.

Laura Hales:                The way that the sacrament has been administered has varied through time.

Mike Goodman:          Changed, that’s right. That brings up another important point and that is that even something as essential as the sacrament actually has practices associated with it. For instance, now we associate it with white shirts and ties. That is a very western and modern concept. I was a mission president in Thailand, and white shirts and ties weren’t always at that time used. We currently have 12–18-year-old young men administering it. Those who have studied the history of it realize that that wasn’t the way it was in the beginning.[3] Even important issues have aspects to them that are going to change. Again, I would come back to the concept that if something is to be considered a doctrine, that thing, according to the words of the prophets, has to be eternal in meaning, unchanging. If it was true in the days of Adam, it’s true in the days of Joseph Smith, it’s true in our days. Anything that doesn’t fit that wouldn’t be what the Brethren have generally called a doctrine or a principle.

Laura Hales:                What is another criteria that you have come up with that you share with your students?

Mike Goodman:          In the last several years in general conference, Elder Anderson and President Uchtdorf and others have made the comment that true doctrine is taught by the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve.[4] It doesn’t mean that they have to come out with that “Thus Sayeth the Lord,” 15-person document, but it’s taught regularly and it’s taught by each one of them by them as a group. One of the things I teach my students is the unanimity of the Brethren is one of the ways that the Lord has put in place in our day to safeguard us from idiosyncrasies of anyone. Even a prophet, seer, and revelator as Elder Oaks and others of the Brethren have said, just because one person makes a statement and that person happens to be an apostle, doesn’t make that statement into a doctrine. It may be as Elder Anderson said a couple years ago in conference just their well-thought out opinion. True doctrine will be taught by the united voice of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. I think that’s a tremendous safeguard to help us not be pulled off into territory that basically doesn’t fit the doctrine of the church.

Laura Hales:                Now as we are using that criteria, the reverse is not true. Just because they’re united in teaching something doesn’t mean—

Mike Goodman:          Does not make it a doctrine. Absolutely.

Laura Hales:                It’s a doctrine, and I think people get confused because for over a hundred years, someone with African blood in him would not be allowed to get the priesthood.

Mike Goodman:          By the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve. Exactly.

Laura Hales:                Exactly. Except for the beginning where Orson Pratt was not united but—

Mike Goodman:          Right.

Laura Hales:                The church was a little bit different then, it was like a little family. They’d have squabbles.

Mike Goodman:          Yes. That’s a very important point. The fact that the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve say it doesn’t necessitate that thing is a doctrine. They speak on practices, policies, politics at times, and so the reality is you can’t reverse that. It’s a very important point. A third criteria if I can push that forward?

Laura Hales:                Great.

Mike Goodman:          If that doctrine is generally going to be salvific, meaning it’s going to have to do with our salvation.[5] If it has to do with how we’re administering something in the here and the now, that’s generally not going to be doctrine, even if it is given by revelation. Saying that it’s not a doctrine doesn’t mean it didn’t come from God. It simply means it isn’t an eternal truth being taught by the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve. The concept of being salvific I think also helps us understand that the doctrines of the church are few, and it helps us to stay focused on that which is most essential, most important.

Now these three criteria, the eternal nature of doctrine, being taught by the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve, and being salvific, are one set of criteria. I’m not in any way trying to say that’s the only way you can define doctrine, but what I found with my own students is taking these three criteria— which by the way, I didn’t make up; these are all simply from the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve themselves—has helped my students to learn how to more safely navigate in a modern society in which they’re confronted with so many things that they don’t know exactly how to evaluate them.

Laura Hales:                Well, those are great criteria. The doctrines we have are pretty basic. Most of them have to do with ordinances and our concept of the Godhead. Where can we find our doctrine? If I want to say … I want a list of my doctrines that I need to know, where are those?

Mike Goodman:          There’s actually a basic doctoral principle list on LDS.org.[6] I don’t have the exact address with me right here, but they list nine doctrines, and I don’t believe in any way that this is meant to say that there’s only nine doctrines, but let me read it to you. For example, they say that Godhead is a doctrine, the plan of salvation, the atonement of Jesus Christ, dispensations, apostasy and restoration, prophets and revelation, priesthood and priesthood keys, ordinances and covenants, marriage and family, and commandments are the nine specific doctrines that they list as basic doctrines of the church. Now again, I don’t want to in any way claim that that means there could be no others, but those are nine that are listed on LDS.org.

Laura Hales:                That sounds like a manageable list.

Mike Goodman:          Well, and I think it would keep us much more safe, much more less likely to jump off of theoretical bridges so to speak if we were able to focus on that which was salvific. Now think about the three criteria we spoke about earlier. Each one of these has an important part to play with those nine. The eternal nature of it, the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve continuing to teach it. The fact that it’s salvific. If we can point to something, this might be helpful for people also. There are some doctrinal aspects of those very doctrines. For example, the Godhead is a doctrine. How God became God is not a doctrine. The plan of salvation is a doctrine. How God did the creation or even the atonement is not a doctrine. So the fact that the plan of salvation is a doctrine, which includes the creation, the Fall, and the atonement, doesn’t mean that everything that’s said about those issues qualifies as a doctrine.

Laura Hales:                Do you think that the King Follett discourse is doctrine? Because you just told me how God became God is not doctrine as man once was.

Mike Goodman:          Right.

Laura Hales:                Or no, what is the couplet? As God is—

Mike Goodman:          As God is now, man once was.

Laura Hales:                There you go.

Mike Goodman:          As man is now … or we just reversed it. As man is now, God once was. As God is now, man may become. It’s an excellent question. It’s actually one that we use in our classes. The King Follett discourse speaks towards the plan of salvation in very broad strokes and to be very honest in some ways that isn’t currently being explored. So would I say everything in the King Follett discourse is doctrine? Not necessarily. Would I say that everything in the King Follett discourse is not truth or revelation? No, I wouldn’t say that either.

The definition, though, of is it eternal, is it being taught by the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve and is it salvific? If I use those three criteria, I can go through the King Follett discourse, and I’m going to be able to say you know what, I can have great confidence in this because it’s being taught and has been taught for the last 160–170 years, and it does have to do with my salvation. This part maybe it doesn’t have as much to do with salvation, and you know what I don’t think I’ve heard that in conference in the last 30 years.

Laura Hales:                Well, I think the couplet fails, what do you think?

Mike Goodman:          It’s an excellent question. The church just put out an essay on becoming like God. They are beginning to speak on that concept more than they used to. If God used to be as we are, and we have the ability to become as God is, I would say that’s highly salvific, highly important. Having said that, I think we’d have to look to the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve. What are they currently teaching about that issue? That will help us to have a greater or lesser degree of confidence in whether we would call that Thus Sayeth the Lord doctrine. Again, I want to emphasize this, whether something is a doctrine or not, does not indicate A it is true or not, there are things that are not doctrine that are true. B, did it come from the Lord?

The Lord is able to give policies, practices, and things that aren’t doctrines just as much as he’s able to give doctrine. So if we said this is not doctrine, for instance the sacrament I’m saying is a practice based on a doctrine, and yet we know that Christ instituted the sacrament, so God can institute that which isn’t doctrinal. Three, to say that something that isn’t doctrinal is not important would be a gross error because often those things may be salvific. They may be things, which the Lord requires us to do. Laura, you brought up earlier the fact that the united voice of the First Presidency said it doesn’t make it a doctrine. I’d say the same thing when it comes to salvific issues. Currently if we would be saved, we have to keep our covenants, which means we have to continually partake of the covenants that we made with the Lord, including the sacrament. Yet I just got done saying I don’t think the sacrament is a doctrine simply because it didn’t always exist and it is a practice that as you pointed out, has changed in how its been done over the years. So I think it’s crucial that we understand the importance of determining if something doctrinal or not isn’t in saying that thing is true or that they came from God or that thing is important. It’s the importance of saying that thing can’t change or that thing won’t change. Many members of the church are trying to figure out what can I have faith in? What can I believe in? What can I hold onto? They can hold on to doctrines, which is why I think the Brethren speak of that so regularly. Doctrine and principles don’t change. You can hold onto those.

Laura Hales:                Recently I read a list of where you can find doctrines, and it includes the four standard works, official declarations, and proclamations, and the articles of faith.

Mike Goodman:          Yes.

Laura Hales:                I found that list more inclusive than I had anticipated. I usually have a true confession moment.

Mike Goodman:          Sure.

Laura Hales:                So when I’ve read the Family a Proclamation to the World, I tend to look at it as, “That’s really great advice.” That’s clarification of what the Brethren have been telling us for years, but it’s not quite doctrine because it’s not been canonized. This list is telling me—

Mike Goodman:          It’s more broad.

Laura Hales:                It’s just the same. How do you feel about that?

Mike Goodman:          I think it’s a perfect example of where looking at those three criteria help you to be able to gain some confidence in it. So for instance, looking at the Proclamation on the Family, clearly the current First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve are actively teaching it, so you’d say, “Okay that fits.” Salvific, we believe that the eternal family is salvific. How a mother and father do their specific duties would be a practice, but the concept of eternal family and the nature of eternal family being a man and a woman sealed for eternity doesn’t change and hasn’t changed since the days of Adam. Their list included canonized but also un-canonized sources, but each one of them are official documents from the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve.

I think that gives you a little bit more confidence to look at that and say, “Hmmm, maybe there’s something more to this than I was thinking before.” I don’t think you’re alone. I think many people have looked at the Proclamation and wondered what is this statement? I would encourage everyone to take a look at that document using the criteria that the Brethren have given, not that Mike Goodman has given. Look at the Proclamation and see what you think, and I think people might find themselves surprised at what they find.

Laura Hales:                We talked about policies and practices, how though they may not be doctrine. They may still have the united voice of the Brethren behind them. I’m going to read you a rather long quote—

Mike Goodman:          Please.

Laura Hales:                Then comment on it.

Mike Goodman:          Okay.

Laura Hales:                This is a quote from Dallin H. Oaks from the April 2014 conference. “Just because something is a policy or practice, does not mean that it is does not come from God or that the prophets are free to change it. It simply means that it can or may change without bringing into questions prophetic reliability. Ultimately, all keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord Jesus Christ whose priesthood it is. He is the one who determines what keys are delegated to mortals and how those keys will be used. The First Presidency and the council of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve who preside over the church are empowered to make many decisions affecting church policies and procedures. Matters such as the location of church buildings and the ages for missionary service, but even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.”

Mike Goodman:          Yes.

Laura Hales:                Okay, I’m a little confused by that statement. Is male priesthood ordination a doctrine, a policy, or a practice?

Mike Goodman:          Practice. Excellent question. If we used our three criteria, and again I want to keep focusing on the fact that these aren’t my criteria. These are simply what the Brethren are currently teaching on the nature of doctrine. Take a look at priesthood. Priesthood was one of the nine specific issues that were called basic doctrines of the church. Having said that, who holds the priesthood has changed numerous times throughout the history of the world from patriarchal priesthood in the days of Adam up through Moses. Through seventies and others that Moses called to assist him through Christ and apostles and seventies later on. Who holds priesthood has changed many times. Well, that instantly tells you that that’s not an eternal issue. God has been free to change who holds the priesthood before, and he’s of course perfectly free to do so now.

Having said that, I think Elder Oak’s point is just because it can change, doesn’t mean the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve are at liberty to do so if that guidance is given by revelation. If the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve believe that that issue is a revelatory issue, they’re not free to make any changes they want, even though it can change. So women in the priesthood, is it possible? Well certainly, that’s up to Heavenly Father. That’s up to his First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve. We don’t have the right or the ability to determine when and if or even whether it should occur, but who holds a priesthood has changed numerous times. Therefore, who holds it isn’t a doctrine. It’s a practice, or you might say a policy in the church.

Laura Hales:                I’m going to go back to the Gospel Topics Essay as you mentioned— Becoming like God.

Mike Goodman:          Yes.

Laura Hales:                Which I love that Gospel Topics Essay. I think it’s one that is overlooked because it doesn’t really cover a controversial issue among church members.

Mike Goodman:          Right.

Laura Hales:                But I wish people after listening to those podcasts would go to LDS.org. I’ll put a link in the show note and read it because I found it comforting. As a woman there are some things about eternity that we’re more concerned about than men. I’ll just say it.

Mike Goodman:          Yes.

Laura Hales:                I found that that essay very tactfully and skillfully addressed those issues and also gave us hope for those friends of other faiths who may look at us and say that’s really kind of strange—

Mike Goodman:          I agree.

Laura Hales:                That you believe that.

Mike Goodman:          I agree. Add to that the Gospel Topics Essay on Heavenly Mother, which is just a beautiful statement of a truth that Joseph taught, that we have heard taught throughout the history of the church and yet not emphasized necessarily. I’m thrilled that that essay is there, and it helps my students dramatically, especially our female students here who want to understand a little bit about their own nature in ways that maybe they haven’t been studying in Sunday School or seminary, and so they are tremendous resources. I’m with you. I would encourage everyone to look at each of the Gospel Topics Essays. See what the Brethren are allowing and putting forth.

Laura Hales:                All of the Gospel Topics Essays I don’t find to be particularly about issues that disturb me, but apparently they had enough traction and conversation that the Brethren thought that they needed to write official essays addressing the issues. One of those is “Race and the Priesthood,” and that one seems to bother a lot of people. That is actually one of my favorite essays as well because I love the new doctrine put forth in there. We don’t have to have color-changing people in the Book of Mormon now, which is just great and makes it more believable, I think. I found peace reading that; some people don’t.

Mike Goodman:          Right.

Laura Hales:                It was kind of like I’m left with an unsatisfied feeling. They told me a certain thing in the 70’s when the ban was on, and now they’re telling me something different. How are we to deal with that? How are we to change our paradigm? Because even as missionaries who went out in the 70’s and the 80’s, when they would be asked about the priesthood ban, they would give certain answers that now in the essay they said those answers were incorrect.

Mike Goodman:          That’s an excellent question. Excellent question. A real quick note just that might help those that are listening. The Gospel Topics Essays weren’t written by the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve, but as they’ve placed on the website at this point, they’ve reviewed them. They were written by folks like me, basically academics and historians. Then they were reviewed by the entire First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve, so I wouldn’t in any way say those Gospel Topics Essays are doctrines. They’re based on scholarship as well as doctrine, and so you’ve got a mix in there. Having said that, that’s one of the, I think, most powerful essays to explain this very topic that we’re talking about today—the nature of doctrine.

For example, when Brigham Young instituted to the best of our understanding the what I will call a practice of race in priesthood, he explicitly stated at the very time that the day would come that this would change. Now if a prophet makes that statement as they begin, and if our understanding is that doctrine is that which is eternal, which doesn’t change, that instantly took race in the priesthood out of the realm of Thus Sayeth the Lord eternal doctrine to something that was a practice. Now that practice may or may not have been inspired. I’ll leave that to Heavenly Father to give and guide. Having said that, throughout history, many of the Brethren attempted to rationalize and justify the policy. In doing so, they brought up issues, which we now understand are often blatantly not only false but hurtful.

It reminds me of Elder Oak’s statement, if I could be so bold as to read that. He said this, “If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, why did the Lord command this or why did the Lord command that, you’ll find in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we’re on our own.” Then he said this regarding the race and the priesthood issue: “Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here, and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.” I think that’s one of the greatest gifts of that essay, is to point out that the reasoning that was given for the revelation was just men giving their very best opinion, which often ended up being horrifically wrong.

Then he said this; “There’s a lesson in that. The lesson I draw from that is that I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command, and I had no faith in the reason that had been suggested for it.” And he finally said, “Let’s don’t make the mistake that has been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelations. The reasons turned out to be manmade to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord, and that’s where safety lies.” So I would simply say the “Race in the Priesthood” essay is a fantastic way to take a look at an issue, an important issue.

An issue that whether doctrine or not had tremendous impact on millions of people and look at it in a way that allows us to evaluate what is doctrine and what is not. Priesthood authority and the need for ordinances is a doctrine. Who holds the priesthood at any given time is not a doctrine because it changes and has changed and very well may change in the future. Understanding that, we don’t have to think, “Oh my goodness, God made a mistake or prophets made a mistake, and therefore we have to fix mistakes.” We could look at it and say, “Well, you know what, we weren’t there. We don’t have the data. We know the beliefs, the practices of the day, but one way or the other we know that was never meant to stay an eternal practice or policy.” Hence you can look at it and say the priesthood is doctrinal. Who holds it never was.

Laura Hales:                I just illustrated to you how some people conflate terminology when I was talking about there’s new doctrine in that essay.

Mike Goodman:          Yeah.

Laura Hales:                What it really was is new analysis of scripture, which is not salvific, is not a united teaching of the Brethren, is not found in any of those locations that we mentioned and is definitely not eternal.

Mike Goodman:          I was thinking the exact same thing as you said it. Thank you.

Laura Hales:                I’m glad I was able to act as a foil for you. In conclusion, in five sentences or less, could you just sum up what you would like to tell listeners about doctrine to help them in this age where they’re trying to navigate between the pulls they get from secular society? What they’re coping with, when they’re looking at issues themselves. Is there some advice that you could give them from your study of what is doctrine and what is not?

Mike Goodman:          Sure. I don’t know if I’ll do five sentences, but we’ll do what we can. I think it’s absolutely crucial that we learn to differentiate between that which is meant to never change and that which may change. Oft times, we look at something that has happened in the past in the church, which has changed in the present day, and we make a value judgment saying that means that they were wrong then, and they’re right now. But when you do that, you end up in a situation where there’s no way of knowing if what they’re saying now will change, which ultimately means you’re in a Catch-22 where you can’t move forward. You don’t know what to hold onto and as a result what I found with my students is if I can effectively help them understand how to evaluate whether something is meant to be doctrine, then they are able to go through their own revelation, and their own intellectual efforts, come to understand whether that thing can or may change in the future. So those three criteria I have found to be very helpful. One, is it eternal? Are the prophets claiming it’s eternal? Has it always been taught, and has it always been taught as essential? Two, are the current prophets, seers, and revelators teaching it? As you pointed out, Laura, the fact that they’re teaching it doesn’t necessarily indicate that that is doctrine, but if they’re not teaching it, that weakens the evidence for the concept that that may be a doctrine. Then three, is the issue salvific? How many days it took God to create the earth is not going to change your salvation. It’s a process or a pattern or a practice. Therefore, stop getting all wound up on those things, which have no basis in our salvation. And so, is it eternal? Is it being taught by the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve and is it salvific? More of my students are able to grab onto those three and use that as a means of judging, one means, not necessarily the only but one means of judging. What I found is most of the challenges that they face in evaluating tough issues as you pointed out. … Things that are like in the LDS.org essays. They find their confidence raises, their ability raises, and they find themselves able to grapple intellectually and spiritually in such a way that allows them to come to a conclusion of what is true, what is false, what is doctrine, what is not.

Laura Hales:                I think that’s an incredible tool that you have just given us. I appreciate you sharing that with us and visiting today Mike.

Mike Goodman:          Thank you, it’s been a pleasure Laura.

Laura Hales:                Bye.

Disclaimer:                  LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS church leaders, policies, or practices.

[1] For example, Joseph taught that “Adam did not commit sin in eating the fruits, for God had decreed that he should eat and fall.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, 63); Brigham Young stated, “Some may regret that our first parents sinned. This is nonsense. If we had been there, and they had not sinned, we should have sinned. I will not blame Adam or Eve.” (Journal of Discourses, 10:312).

[2] The following are a few statements which support this concept: “Every principle proceeding from God is eternal” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181). “Procedures, programs, the administrative policies, even some patterns of organization are subject to change. We are quite free, indeed, quite obliged to alter them from time to time. But the principles, the doctrines, never change.” (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, March, 1985, 6) “One cannot successfully attack true principles or doctrine, because they are eternal.” (James E. Faust, Ensign, November 2003, 21–22). “Doctrines are eternal and do not change; however, the Lord, through His prophet, may change practices and programs, according to the needs of the people.” (David A. Bednar, Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, 2010, 14). “Procedures, programs, policies, and patterns of organization are helpful for our spiritual progress here on earth, but let’s not forget that they are subject to change. In contrast, the core of the gospel—the doctrine and the principles—will never change.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, November 2005, 100).

[3] For a detailed study of this issues, see William Hartley, “From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices, 1829–1996,” Journal of Mormon History, 22, no. 1, 1996, 80–136.

[4] The following are a few statements, which support this concept: “Now, brethren, I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray” (Joseph Fielding Smith, General Conference, April 1972). “There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many.” (Neil L. Anderson, Ensign, November 2012,  41). “With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture … official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. (Approaching Mormon Doctrine – LDS.ORG – Newsroom – http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine.)

[5] The following is a statements which support this concept: “A gospel doctrine is a truth — a truth of salvation revealed by a loving Heavenly Father. Gospel doctrines are eternal, do not change, and pertain to the eternal progression and exaltation of Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters. Doctrines such as the nature of the Godhead, the plan of happiness, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ are foundational, fundamental, and comprehensive. The core doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are relatively few in number. (David A. Bednar, Increase in Learning, 151).

[6] These lists are not meant to be definitive listings of doctrine. They do make the point that the doctines of the church are relatively few. For two examples of this list go to https://www.lds.org/manual/basic-doctrines/basic-doctrines and https://www.lds.org/youth/learn/guidebook/doctrinal.

Never miss an episode!

Subscribe to the LDS Perspectives Podcast via email and get a message when each new episode is released.

One more step! Check your email and click the confirmation link we just sent you.