Often Progressive Mormons are accused of being a cafeteria Mormon. But once you realize just how much Mormonism contradicts Mormonism you realize that not only is every member a cafeteria Mormon, but Mormonism itself is a cafeteria Mormon. Once one sees this, one may realize that there is much more room and space for oneself to be fluid in how they reconcile Mormonism. In other words, for the doubter who feels he must either swallow the irreconcilable or dismiss Mormonism in full, such an understanding may give him the freedom to stay, holding onto that which has value and setting aside that which offends or contradicts.
Below I will show that in the case of Scripture, Canon, Doctrine, Revelation, and Teachings of the Prophets that the Church itself has chosen to dismiss and ignore examples within each category. It should be stated that I am not making the argument that we should return to any of these beliefs and teachings that I use as examples, as they are as offensive to me as anyone. Rather I am simply showing that the institution itself does not feel bound to full acceptance of what it as an entity puts across regardless of the category it falls into and hence neither should we feel bound.
Brigham Young once taught that the Saints will need to distinguish between “The Word Of God” and “The Words Of God” when he said
I have heard some make the broad assertion that every word within the lids of the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them, “You have never read the Bible, have you?” “O, yes, and I believe every word in it is the word of God.” Well, I believe that the Bible contains the word of God, and the words of good men and the words of bad men; the words of good angels and the words of bad angels and words of the devil; and also the words uttered by the ass when he rebuked the prophet in his madness. I believe the words of the Bible are just what they are; but aside from that I believe the doctrines concerning salvation contained in that book are true, and that their observance will elevate any people, nation or family that dwells on the face of the earth. The doctrines contained in the Bible will lift to a superior condition all who observe them; they will impart to them knowledge, wisdom, charity, fill them with compassion and cause them to feel after the wants of those who are in distress, or in painful or degraded circumstances. Journal of Discourses 13:175 (May 29, 1870)
So while the bible is an assisting tool to help us interact with the divine, Brigham seems to be suggesting that some discernment is needed in interpreting various stories and teachings and that we should recognize that some of what is contained therein is the words of men and of the devil. Brigham also insinuates that he does not believe every word of the bible.
The Church in the here and now also has a official statement on scriptural interpretation when it says
There is a broad range of approaches within the vast mosaic of biblical interpretation. For example, biblical inerrancy maintains that the Bible is without error and contradiction; biblical infallibility holds that the Bible is free from errors regarding faith and practice but not necessarily science or history; biblical literalism requires a literal interpretation of events and teachings in the Bible and generally discounts allegory and metaphor; and the “Bible as literature” educational approach extols the literary qualities of the Bible but disregards its miraculous elements. The Church does not strictly subscribe to any of these interpretive approaches.
This seems to be an acknowledgment that while not strictly subscribing to any one particular method, it does subscribe or gives room to its members to subscribe and utilize each of them. They seem to be saying they and hence the membership should stay away from extremes and broad brush interpretations.
Many members may be unaware that two pieces of Canon have been removed and dismissed by the Church as no longer canon.
Doctrine & Covenants section 101 known as the “Article of Marriage” and which was later renumbered as section 109 was removed from the 1876 edition of the D&C. Mainly due to its praising of monogamy at a time when the Church saw plural marriage as the greater law.
Also the “Lectures on Faith” were at one time canonized but were removed in the 1921 edition.
At least two solid examples can be shared here. The Adam/God Doctrine and the Past Doctrinal teachings behind why certain races could not hold priesthood and Doctrinal teachings about Inter-racial Marriage. It should be noted that after any doctrine in the Church has been disavowed it usually takes on the name of theory. While some dismiss these theories as having never been doctrines, it seems to still validate my argument if it can be shown that our leaders and the Church generally taught such things to be doctrine in their day. While it may be a disavowed theory at some later point, if it can be shown to be a believed as a Doctrine by the prophet or the Church generally in some previous time then such context is goo enough for the following points I make.
When it comes to the Adam/God Doctrine that Brigham and his predecessors believed and taught, when one studies out the breadth of the quotes from Young and others it becomes clear that President Young and other leaders taught an uncomfortable belief that Adam was actually the father of Jesus Christ and implied that Adam was indeed Heavenly Father. Speaking of this teaching Brigham stated
“How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me”
In other words Brigham was saying that no matter how hard it was for the saints to accept it, he knew it was from God and hence there was little room to walk back from it. He also stated.
“Some have grumbled because I believe our God to be so near to us as Father Adam. There are many who know that doctrine to be true.”
Other Saints had received confirming spiritual answers that his imparted knowledge from God was true as well. What does this say about the beliefs of members of the Church at any point in time who “know” that any given teaching is true? This Adam/God teaching went so far as to be implemented into the discourse that was to be yused at the veil of the temple where the saints were to be instructed that,
“Father Adam’s oldest son (Jesus the Savior) who is the heir of the family is Father Adams first begotten in the spirit World. who according to the flesh is the only begotten as it is written.”
President Kimball announced this past Doctrine as false in the October 1976 when he said,
“Another matter. We hope that you who teach in the various organizations, whether on the campuses or in our chapels, will always teach the orthodox truth. We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine. “
Elder Bruce R. McConkie went a step further in a private letter to Eugene England where he made several points stating,
“I am a great admirer of Brigham Young and a great believer in his doctrinal presentations. He was called of God. He was guided by the Holy Spirit in his teachings in general. He was a mighty prophet.…. Nonetheless, as Joseph Smith so pointedly taught, a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. …. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord. Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the cultists ascribe to him. This, however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel. … I think you can give me credit for having a knowledge of the quotations from Brigham Young relative to Adam, and of knowing what he taught under the subject that has become known as the Adam God Theory. President Joseph Fielding Smith said that Brigham Young will have to make his own explanations on the points there involved…. As for me and my house, we will have the good sense to choose between the divergent teachings of the same man and come up with those that accord with what God has set forth in his eternal plan of salvation…. I do not know all of the Providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality…. I repeat: Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation…. What he did is not a pattern for any of us. If we choose to believe and teach the false portions of his “doctrines”, we are making an election that will damn us”
Notice Bruce labels Brigham’s teachings as false Doctrine, that False Doctrine is permitted by God, according to Elder MCconkie, to be taught in and out of the Church, and that one who follows the false doctrine of a prophet does so at the risk of his own exaltation. This last part rings very differently than follow the prophet even if he is wrong and you will be blessed for it. Elder McConkie seems to be saying that if we follow a prophet’s teachings that are wrong rather than be blessed we may instead risk our salvation.
The second is the Doctrinal teachings surrounding why those of African descent could not go to the temple or hold priesthood. These included being less valiant in the pre-earth life and why inter-racial marriage was sin.
While likely deeply held beliefs from the 1850’s to the 1960’s it can be documented to have be the commonly held belief of the Church and its leaders in the 1940’s.
President George Albert Smith and his first presidency corresponded with a lay member in 1947 named Lowry Nelson. In this correspondence they stated,
“Your position seems to lose sight of the revelations of the Lord touching the preexistence of our spirits, the rebellion in heaven, and the doctrines that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we my be born, have a relationship in the life heretofore. From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel. Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God’s rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous. We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this area, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.”
The First Presidency also sent out a official letter on August 17, 1949 in which they stated
“The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”
President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”
The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.
The First Presidency”
As can be seen, President Smith and the leaders of his day believed whole heartedly that inter-racial marriage as sin was indeed doctrine and that those of color being less valiant in the pre-earth life was also doctrine. And yet today the Church disavows these beliefs as false, racist, and again…. just theories.
When God speaks to his prophet we assume all that is left is to follow and to obey. Yet we even have instances in our Church where God spoke to his prophet and spoke to the Church and yet said revelation has been largely ignored and dismissed.
September 27, 1886 President John Taylor received a revelation and wrote down what appears to be the first person voice of Jesus Christ, with the Savior starting the revelation with the words “Thus Sayeth the Lord”.
The Church never canonized the revelation and to this day they have preferred to write it off as not legit as the direction it imposes seems to be at odds with the 1890 manifesto and with the current Church today. The Church in its only official response to the revelation has stated,
“It is alleged that on September 26-27, 1886, President John Taylor received a revelation from the Lord, the purported text is given in publications circulated apparently by or at the instance of this organization (Fundamentalists). As to this pretended revelation it should be said that the archives of the Church contain no such a revelation; the archives contain no record of any such a revelation, nor any evidence justifying a belief that any such a revelation was ever given. From the personal knowledge of some of us, from the uniform and common recollection of the presiding quorums of the Church, from the absence in the Church archives of any evidence whatsoever justifying any belief that such a revelation was given, we are justified in affirming that no such a revelation exists.”
But we know today that this revelation is in the handwriting of President Taylor and is almost assuredly is legit and authentic. Even FairMormon an Apologetic organization that defends the Church acknowledges,
“A document that is apparently in John Taylor’s handwriting was found among his papers after his death. It appears to be in his handwriting, and it is probably genuine”
So the Lord apparently spoke and says “thus sayeth the Lord”, which seems to be the last publicly known time he has done so and we have largely dismissed and ignored and excused the revelation away.
When we ask what are the most binding authoritative sources in our faith we would likely name Canonical Scripture, Revelation from the Lord to his Prophet, and Doctrinal Pronouncements. And yet, we have examples of the Church discarding each at times in their history. So in the end recognizing that Mormonism is itself a cafeteria Mormon, we should each feel more empowered to dismiss and ignore the irreconcilable and simply cling to the parts of the gospel that are healthy, uplifting, and draw us closer to Christ and the positive fruits of his gospel. Doing such should have been what was expected all along.