July 10, 2009


Regarding the massive changes in practice and doctrine (e.g., women performing priesthood ordinances, speaking in tongues, polygamy, racial status, etc.) in the LDS church over the years, many apologists argue that it is only necessary that any church should adapt to the modern cultural climate.

I agree to a point. That's why General Conference is televised and broadcast all over the world. That's why leaders have started shaving their faces, why missionaries are no longer required to have a part in their hair (I looked like a nerd my whole mission), why temples have elevators, why nursery leaders are no longer allowed to change diapers, etc.

But I see a huge difference between adaptation to the modern cultural climate and changing the most fundamental principles of doctrine in order to become more mainstream. I really have a hard time imagining a perfect, unchangeable god who lets cultural norms push around his infallible doctrine.

For example, in 1842, Joseph Smith announced that he had the endowment in its fullness. It originally lasted 6-9 hours (Buerger, 1994). These days it lasts less than 2 hours, because the Church has a hard enough time getting patrons to commit to that much every now and then. There's no way people would do 6-9 hours these days. Significant material has been cut out of the full endowment over the years. So if we can cut down the temple ceremony, why can't we sprinkle water on heads to baptize? I thought it was a sin to change around the original doctrine of God. Consider this quote from Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy:
The members of many churches in the world have been putting pressure on their leaders to change doctrine to fit the changing lifestyle of the members. Many have been successful, and more and more we see churches made up of the doctrines of men. There are absolute truths of eternity. They do not change as a society drifts from them. No popular vote can change an absolute, eternal truth. Legalizing an act does not make it moral. (source)
...And yet the LDS church has fallen prey to exactly the same thing - letting the progression of society dictate its doctrine! For instance, the U.S. government made races legally equal in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. Legally requiring nondiscrimination does not make it God's will either, but the Church sure followed suit when it ran into all sorts of PR problems in the following years! Are we seriously to believe that God trailed 14 years behind to make races equal in His eyes when He knew it all along? Shouldn't it have gone in the other order? Who's really in the driver's seat of the LDS church? Isn't it much more likely that at least in this case, God knew all races were equal, but the cultural norms of the day got in the way? Isn't that exactly an example of culture dictating doctrine?

I could give a dozen more examples. As one last huge example, several presidents and general authorities of the Church stated that polygamy would never be taken out of practice (source). Did these leaders all roll over in their graves when the Manifesto was read over the pulpit so that Utah could become a state? According to all of them, the FLDS church has it more right than the LDS church. What's a believer to do with such dissonance?

If the original LDS doctrine is the true, perfect doctrine, why not fight to keep it from changing? If the LDS church is so against homosexual marriage, why don't they spend just as much, if not more, time and resources on reinstating the eternal doctrine of plural wives (click here for "prophets" calling monogamy destructive)? If animal sacrifice is to be restored, why is the Church not doing anything to get rid of PETA?

And so who's really in charge of the doctrine of the LDS church? Is it God, or is it the culture of the day?


Buerger, D. J. (1994). The mysteries of godliness: A history of Mormon temple worship. San Fransisco: Smith Research Associates.


I. Puerility said...

Excellent thoughts here. I have written quite a bit on this as well. I think it is hypocritical and misleading to say that God never changes but then put a big, fat asterisk next to that when it is convenient.

I. Puerility said...


Your blog has inspired me to put some of the thoughts I have been collecting in a similar format as your own.

Thanks for taking the time to do this. I have collected a lot of insight and documents from your sources and posts.

Thanks again.


Eli said...

Response to I. Puerility: I just read a few of your posts and am excited to read more. I tried to comment there, but the link didn't work (if you want people to be able to comment, you'll probably have to change the commenting option to open in a new window - that's what I had to do on this blog). Thank you for sharing your insights with the world, and I wish you luck with it. I'll start following right away!

I. Puerility said...

I think that I fixed it. Let me know if it works.