Mining Doctrine – Advice to Critics and Mormons

To the Critic

One fallacy common to those studying Mormonism (including Mormons themselves) is that of quote mining; digging around through publications and writings of leaders and pulling out some obscure phrase and calling it “doctrine.” Members (and leaders) are free to speak and write and explore the limits of their faith and understanding. Often rhetorical devices and analogies can convey incorrect principles, especially when extracted from the context and intended audience. This can provide ample fodder from which to find whatever one wishes and then declare it as “what Mormons actually believe.”

Recently, Elder Niel L. Anderson stated:

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. Our doctrine is not difficult to find. The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” (Mormon 9:31) (…/2012/10/trial-of-your-faith…)

So, if you want to argue against Mormon doctrine or just contrast it to another faith tradition, it may be more productive and credible to do so on the basis of the Mormon canon and authoritative statements from the church.

And to Mormons

The corollary for LDS church members is similar.

If you wish to compare and contrast LDS doctrine to that of another church, avoid general statements and strawman arguments (setting up a shallow principle for the purpose of debunking it). Our beliefs are sacred and meaningful to us in our doctrinal constructs just as the beliefs and practices of other people are to them in their tradition. Ridiculing or condemning another religious belief system is not positive for anyone and it certainly doesn’t make you look good.

Religious principles typically cannot be understood in isolation, a deep background in religious, cultural, and historical context is also needed. This is why LDS perspectives of the Godhead are foreign to a trinitarian Christian when they extract it from the LDS context.

One measure of how well you understand the faith of another may be indicated by your ability to explain their principles in the language that they would use. If you cannot do so, then it may be best to avoid judgement and say nothing.

Doctrinal Weeds

Theological discussions can quickly get into the doctrinal weeds, filling our field of view with nuance.

When interacting with concepts and doctrine of other faith traditions or even within our own, I frequently reflect on a line from the movie “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991). In it Azeem (Morgan Freeman) states: “Allah loves wonderous variety.”

While variety may be frustrating when someone doesn’t believe “The Truth” that we hold, variety of faith traditions and belief may actually be the most effective way for God to reach the full range of human circumstances in order to teach the most critical life lessons: love and change (repentance).

So, once you have recognized a difference in doctrine between your faith and another, appreciate it for what it is rather than what it isn’t and recognize the value it holds to the adherents. (Holy envy.) Then it may be best to lift your head out of the weeds, refocus on the goal, and move your feet.



Now get off my lawn.

Related Material

I reserve the right to reuse this one in the future.

Balancing Religious Tensions – Mauro Properzi, LDS Perspectives Podcast, Episode 32

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