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Do Policy Changes Negate Standing Doctrine?

Policy change, with a capital “C.” How does it affect previously revealed doctrine?

"Listening to and hearkening to living prophets will have profound, even life-changing effects in our lives." -Dean M. Davies

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

It’s an exhilarating time to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! The Church is growing like never before, and there are so many exciting changes happening. However, it can also be an incredibly confusing time. When policies change, does that mean the doctrine changes too? What does the word doctrine mean, anyway?

Understanding what doctrine is can help us navigate the implications of policy change. Many members of the Church commonly understand doctrine to be truths that are eternal and unchanging. However, this is not always the case. In the article “Doctrine: Models to Evaluate Types and Sources of Latter-day Saint Teachings,” Anthony Sweat, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat outline four types of doctrine:

  1. Core doctrine includes principles that are essential for salvation (e.g., faith, repentance, baptism).
  2. Supportive doctrine elaborates or expands on core doctrine but may not be essential for salvation (e.g., proxy baptisms for the dead).
  3. Policy doctrine refers to “authoritative, binding teachings of the Church”; this type of doctrine guides the application of core and supportive doctrines (e.g., performing and recording proxy baptisms in the temple, the Word of Wisdom).
  4. Esoteric doctrine, sometimes referred to as deep doctrine, may not have been revealed yet, may be known by prophets only, or may have previously been taught in the Church but is not essential for salvation and is not currently taught (e.g., the location of Kolob, how proxy baptisms are received).

As Sweat and his associates point out, some doctrine is subject to change—especially policy doctrine. To be clear, not all Church policies are considered policy doctrine. However, we quite often hear about policy changes and handbook updates, and these changes can be difficult to understand. One example is the recent policy reversal that allows children of same-sex couples to be blessed and later baptized as members of the Church. Simultaneously, the Church proclaimed that same-gender marriage will no longer be considered apostasy. Does this change in policy doctrine mean a change in core or supportive doctrine (e.g., the doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman)? No, it does not. President Dallin H. Oaks has emphasized that same-sex marriage is still considered “a serious transgression.” Though policy changes can be trying for some and downright confusing for others, the changes are a testament to the fact that God gives us a prophet to help us navigate the world in which we live today.

I found guidance about how to accept and implement policy changes when I read “Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice,” by Bishop Dean M. Davies. He says, “As with the early Saints, so it is with us today: the Lord has revealed and continues to reveal to the President of the Church the patterns by which the kingdom of God is to be directed in our day. And, at a personal level, he provides guidance as to how each of us should direct our lives, such that our conduct may likewise be acceptable to the Lord.”

Policy changes reflect God’s love for us and his direction for us through revelation. He will continue to improve his Church and, in doing so, improve the lives of his children.

Read “Doctrine: Models to Evaluate Types and Sources of Latter-day Saint Teachings,” by Anthony Sweat, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, for more insights about the different types of doctrine. Read “Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice,” by Bishop Dean M. Davies, to learn more about how listening to the prophet can affect our lives.

Source: Religious Studies Center, ChurchofJesusChrist.org

—Samantha Worrall, Mormon Insights

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Find more insights

Read “First Presidency Shares Messages from General Conference Leadership Session to learn more about the recent policy changes that pertain to people in same-sex marriages and their children.

To find out how God continues to speak to us today, read President Henry B. Eyring’s conference talk “Continuing Revelation.”

For insights about official doctrine in the Church, check out “What Is ‘Official’ LDS Doctrine?,” a research article written by Michael R. Ash.

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