Recently, the seminary coordinator for our area shared with us teachers two experiences he had had. First: In a priest quorum, the boys were given the opportunity to ask this coordinator about anything. The conversation quickly migrated to abortion, interestingly enough. And it became very clear that about 9 out of the 10 boys in the room were pro abortion. Next, he told of a seminary class he had recently observed. The lesson was on marriage. The discussion devolved into an argument where the vast majority of the students sided with gay marriage. As these stories were shared, jaws in the room dropped. These were Latter-day Saint teens! Our coordinator asked us what had been missing from these students’ educations. I raised my hand and said one word:
There is a reason the church changed seminary and introduced Doctrinal Mastery into our curriculum this year. It’s time we learned the gospel in a different way. And I would argue, the RIGHT way.
I grew up in a very cultural church in a very heavily Mormon town. This did not serve everyone well. Teens like to know “WHY” there is a rule or a tradition. Culture doesn’t answer that question. But doctrine does.
Doctrine is truth. But not just any truth. Eternal Truth. Doctrine is things as the WERE, things as they ARE, and things as they really will BE. It doesn’t change. Some things are true on this earth, but they aren’t TRUTH.
Let me give you an example. Babies are stinky, they stay up late, they are expensive and they cry a lot. This is true. You can’t argue that it isn’t. But what is also true is that they are an heritage of the Lord. They will be the greatest joy in life and eternity. The first example is True. The latter is Truth. Babies are stinky and loud, but that is just the present. Their purpose in God’s plan is an eternal truth.
If we hold onto eternal truth, it is easier to see things as they really are, and not get distracted by the garbage around us. Satan intends to lie to us our entire sojourn on earth. He wants us to only see what it right in front of us, or how things seem to be. So, it’s best that we keep our vision clear.
As we talk about doctrines and principles, know that a doctrine doesn’t tell you what to do. It just IS. Doctrines are mostly found in the Plan of Salvation. Remember: Eternal Truth. God is our Father, Christ is our Savior. Basic stuff. It never changes.
A principle is the category that falls under doctrine. Many principles peel off of the same doctrine. There aren’t that many doctrines, actually. But there are more principles. Like, Keep the Sabbath Day Holy, Pray, Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity. Those tell us what to do, generally. Those can change. For instance, the Word of Wisdom looked very different for the children of Israel than it does for you and me. Even the Law of Chastity might look different, given the time. In the early days of the church, or back in ancient times, a man might have more than one wife. Nowadays, if that happened, he would be breaking the Law of Chastity.
After principles come applications. These are the specific ways you live the gospel and practice principles. You may wear a dress that covers your knee, whereas I might have a skirt that stops just above it. You may watch tv on Sunday night, but your best friend does not. Applications are very, very personal. It’s up to us to follow the Spirit and make our own choices. And we get in trouble in the church when we try to teach to applications instead of doctrines. That’s how the Pharisees and the Sadducees missed the fact that The Messiah was standing right in front of them. They were focused on the applications (and misapplications) of the Law of Moses, not the whole purpose of it: Jesus Christ.
Often, we roll our eyes at these ancient leaders for missing the whole point. Or we laugh at Israel wandering in the wilderness and counting their Sunday steps. But don’t we as Latter-Day Saints do much of that ourselves? We like to check boxes off a list. But that is just application. That isn’t doctrine.
This is an example of how doctrine, principles and applications might look if a crazy English major such as myself diagrammed it:
Principles are the WHAT
Applications are the HOW
When we understand doctrine, we judge less. I remember when I was about 13. I went to my Young Women’s President’s house. I adored her. I idolized her. She was single and had infinite time for us. When I walked through her gated and isolated yard, she was washing her car in a bikini top and cut-off shorts. I was scandalized. My world was rocked. I didn’t know how to process this. Because I didn’t understand doctrine. Her application of modesty included wearing less clothing in her very private yard. I was just immature in my understanding of the gospel.
Wouldn’t it be great if we taught and learned the gospel from this place of doctrine, rather than application? The Law of Chastity is often taught from a place of application, which leads to fear. This is destructive. Pres. Uctdorf, in our latest conference, warned us of the dangers of teaching from fear. If we teach from a place of application, we might share things like, ‘your job is to help boys get on missions’. Or: ‘if you have sex before marriage, you are like a wadded up piece of gum and no one will want you anymore.’ I even had Young Women’s leaders who would call sex ‘the nasty’. How ridiculous! Not only is that not true at all, but how does that help someone who breaks the law of chastity? Teaching it in this way completely bypasses the atonement of Jesus Christ! Also, what happens when you do get married and you’ve always been taught sex is bad? It messes with your psyche.
Instead, if we understand that sex is good; it is a central feature of the Plan of Salvation as it allows God to send His children to this earth and it strengthens marriage; then, we understand that our worth isn’t tied up in it. We understand the WHY of the rules. Our body and our spirit are our soul. Our body is a temple. And we don’t want to harm our spirit by harming our body. Our free-agency is wrapped up in the application. God doesn’t mess with our free-agency. So we shouldn’t try to scare people into doing what we want them to do, or judge when they choose a different application than we do.
So back to the examples at the beginning of this article. How might understanding doctrine change these teens’ world views?
- If we understand the Plan of Salvation and that God is sending children to this earth to be born and return to Him again, then we understand that we have no right to end His children’s lives. No matter what the media or the opinions of the day tell us.
- We have a Heavenly Father and Mother who created our spirits and a father and mother on earth who created our bodies, and we will live eternally as husbands and wives with our children. This helps us understand why God has said that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is eternal. Now, that doesn’t give us license to be unkind to those who disagree. That would contradict the doctrine of Christ. But your application of this may include celebrating your friends’ relationship, while someone else might refrain. That is a personal application and should not be judged.
I’ve gone too long. But I hope you have a better understanding now of the WHY. Doctrine should motivate our actions. And those actions are ours to own. Not ours to judge. As Elder Bednar is fond of telling us, we are free to act and not be acted upon. If someone’s application doesn’t jive with yours, don’t sweat it. You know the doctrine. Families are eternal. God is our father. Christ atoned for our sins. Stick to the basics and then the decisions you make will be based on doctrine, not anything else.
And that’s the Truth!