What aspects of LDS Church teachings/doctrine do you still believe in, vs. not?

John Dehlin Blog, Q&A, Writings

I do, of course, have my own perspectives on various church doctrines/teachings.  I will list a few here.

God.   I still consider myself to be a believer in “the divine” or “God” — although I prefer to retain a great deal of humility when attempting to assign a specific form, beliefs, or behavior to God.  I believe that all of us are only guessing when we speak about the divine.  While I often question or even doubt the existence of God, it does appear to me as though our creation has some sort of driving force or power, and I cannot deny that (at times) I have felt influence and support in my life which appeared to be outside my own power/ability.  Consequently, I retain some hope that there is divine purpose and influence in our existence (and I call this God).  I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong about all this, that there could be no “God,” and that this life could be the only life we get.  Consequently, I remain determined to make the most of my life on earth — whether or not there is an afterlife.

Christ.  I believe very strongly in Christ’s central teachings, which for me center around charity, compassion, faith, service, love, humility, kindness, repentance, honesty, responsibility, etc. (e.g. the golden rule).  As Moroni 7:46-47 reads:

46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

I certainly often fall short in this regard, but I continue to try.  For me, Christ’s admonition to “leave the 99 and seek after the 1” has informed virtually all of my work with Mormon Stories.

Regarding the historical Jesus, I tend to believe that a person named Jesus Christ did exist during the Biblical time period, and that he was likely killed for his teachings — and so in that sense, I am happy to believe that Christ “died for me/us.”  Regarding other beliefs about Christ (e.g. a literal resurrection, a literal atonement), these beliefs would be matters of hope/faith for me — not certainty.

The LDS Restoration.  To the extent that God exists and has influence in this world (see “God” above), I am happy to support the notion that God has, at times, inspired the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in various ways.  That said, I am not a strong believer in the idea of a “one true church,” nor that all other non-LDS churches are in some way inferior/illegitimate (in their authority, or otherwise).  I believe that any church (or secular organization for that matter) is only “true” to the extent that it acts justly, and helps its members become more loving/humble/kind.  While I believe that Thomas S. Monson has the ecclesiastical authority to lead the LDS church, I do not believe that any LDS prophet necessarily has privileged access to the divine.  Instead, I believe that if God exists, she/he would speak to anyone willing to listen.  So….can Thomas S. Monson receive inspiration from God?  Possibly. But does God speak to Thomas S. Monson in some way that he/she cannot speak to others?  I don’t believe so.

Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon has deeply inspired me in my lifetime, especially during my adolescent and early adult years.  I do believe that it contains many uplifting and inspiring truths.  However, my studies of the Book of Mormon (specifically around DNA and anachronistic concerns) have led me to conclude that the book is most likely a work of 19th century fiction — and not a translation of an ancient record.   Please know that I do not revel in or celebrate this conclusion — it is simply what I have determined based on the preponderance of available evidence, and many hours of deep and honest study (and prayer).  If anyone has any information that can correct me in this regard, I am certainly open to changing my mind.  Finally, I openly reject the racist narrative in the Book of Mormon which claims that God cursed Native Americans with dark skin due to their wickedness.

Book of Abraham.  Based on the expert opinions of several Egyptologists, I do not see any evidence that the Book of Abraham is a translation of the papyrus that Joseph Smith purchased while he was in Kirtland.  This fact is very troubling to me, since Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Abraham was a direct translation from the papyrus.  For me, this fact significantly erodes Joseph Smith’s credibility as a translator.  The Kinderhook plates, along with my concerns about the Book of Mormon, only bolster these concerns.

Word of Wisdom.  I still observe the Word of Wisdom, not as a matter of obedience per se, but as a personal health decision (and as a cultural habit/identity).  I also have respect for people who have differing opinions regarding their own health and lifestyle. I do not believe that a person’s worth and value should be judged based on their consumption of tea, coffee, tobacco, beer, wine, marijuana, etc.  Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence that current LDS practices relating to matters of health are not as clear-cut as I once believed.

Law of Chastity.  I believe that sex is sacred.  I believe that sex is a wonderful thing to be shared between two loving, committed people.  I believe in fidelity to one’s spouse, and that spousal infidelity often leads to tremendous sadness and heartbreak.  I do not, however, believe that same-sex sexual relations are inherently evil (see below).  I also do not believe that masturbation is evil, nor that people who engage in pre-marital sex are engaging in a sin “next to murder.”  Instead, I believe that our shame-based messages around modesty and sexuality in the LDS church often wreak unintended damage in the lives of its members.

I also believe very strongly that grown men (e.g., bishops) should never ask teenage girls about their sexual history or behaviors when alone, behind a closed door.

Polygamy.  I reject Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, which states that polygamy is a commandment from God.  From everything that I have read about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy/polyandry, I believe that it was a practice that almost always led to disastrous consequences (including Joseph’s eventual assassination).

Scientific Issues. I believe that many LDS scriptural stories and claims (e.g., 6,000 year old earth, literal Adam/Eve, Noah’s flood, Tower of Babel, Native Americans as descendants of Semitic Hebrew-speaking people) have been soundly falsified by empirical evidence.  Instead, I have found the scientific method to be significantly more reliable for explaining our natural world than what can be found in LDS scripture, or in LDS prophetic utterances.  Historically, I believe that virtually every time LDS church scripture or leadership have clashed with science (e.g., age of the earth, dinosaurs, Lamanite DNA) — science eventually won out, and the LDS church retreated.

Same-Sex Marriage/LGBT Issues/Proclamation on the Family: I believe (based on considerable personal research) that the overwhelming majority of LGBT individuals do not choose their sexual orientation, and that overt attempts to change sexual orientation most often lead to poor (and sometimes disastrous) mental health outcomes.  Consequently, I believe that LGBT men and women should be able to marry whomever they feel the desire to marry, and that sexual relations within these marriages are as legitimate, essential, and sacred as sexual relations between heterosexual couples.  I believe that in general, LGBT individuals are happiest and healthiest when in loving, committed relationships — and whenever they are supported by their loved ones and communities.  I believe it to be a tragic reality that many LGBT Mormons do not feel as though there is a place for them in the current LDS church, and I believe that we are collectively responsible for the epidemic of suicides and depression that occur with LDS LGBT youth and adults.  I also believe that for most LGBT Mormons who attempt them, both celibacy and mixed-orientation marriages most often end in sadness.  For more information on these issues, see my research here, here, and here, and my TEDx talk here.

Female Priesthood Ordination.  I believe that the LDS Church and its members will be significantly better off when women are allowed to be ordained, and are granted more equality within the governance of the LDS church.  I hope that the church changes this policy at some point…the sooner the better.  My Ordain Women profile can be found here, and I encourage other Mormons to post a profile.  🙂

Mormon Ordinances Required for Salvation.  I love the idea of religious ordinances like baptism, confirmation, endowments, temple marriage, etc. — and deeply value my past participation in them (I actually still hold them as sacred).  But I am not convinced that these LDS ordinances are required for salvation in heaven.  I simply do not believe in the notion that LDS rituals are uniquely legitimate in God’s eyes, while Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jewish rituals are illegitimate or invalid in God’s eyes (which is what I’ve been taught as a Mormon).  And while I acknowledge the beauty and goodness that is experienced by LDS temple workers and participants, I grieve at what I perceive to be the significant expenditure of time, money, and resources involved in performing proxy ordinance work for dead people, while such considerable pain, suffering, disease, and illiteracy persists in the world today.  Consequently, I value LDS ordinances, but I do not view them in the same way that the LDS church teaches us to believe in them.

Only Mormon Families Get to Stay Together in Heaven.  I reject this damaging belief.  I believe that God would not keep families apart in heaven, regardless of peoples’ religious beliefs or past behavior.

Church Finances.  I believe very strongly that the LDS Church should be transparent with its finances, and that the Christ who overturned the money changers’ tables in the temple would likely not support the use of tithing funds to finance or secure commercial shopping malls and residential real estate, while allocating a relative small amount of money to supporting real humanitarian aid.