Since the beginning of the church, policies have been the primary source of apostasy and contention within the church. But those same policies have also in many cases protected the church and its members from unsuspecting problems. The leaders of the church, to the best of their ability, implement policies as a shield or a protection on one occasion… and as a method of moving the work forward on another occasion.
The age change of missionaries, temple recommend questions, whether or not a CES director or bishop can be divorced, prop 8, the inability for children of homosexual parents to be baptized, using the name “Mormon” to describe the church, wearing jeans or shorts to BYU, blacks and the priesthood, the scouting program, high priest groups, 3 hour blocks, facial hair, wearing white shirts and ties, opening a bar in the basement of the hotel Utah, “home-teaching” or “ministering,” and as of late… bishops interviews with the youth. Over the years, the list could go on and on and on. Constant change and adaptation to new and rescinded church policies is the norm and I don’t ever see that changing. Literally, almost anything you can think of as it pertains to church government could be up for consideration depending upon the times we live in and the necessity for change.
But many of these policies are often mistaken for doctrine. For instance, most people believe that polygamy is a celestial law and a core part of the doctrine of eternal families. I dare say that even polygamy was a policy, a temporary exception to the celestial law of monogamy. The only acceptable scriptural reason for polygamy was to raise up seed, otherwise, it was an abomination. The scriptures are full of temporary exceptions to the eternal law and doctrine behind it.
Even the word of wisdom as we know today is a policy. Think of it. We’re not able to enter the temple for having a cup of iced tea, but the Wasatch front is pounding energy drinks, opioids, and cheeseburgers like there was no tomorrow. Honestly, how many temple goers “eat meat sparingly, only in times of winter or in times of famine?” How many are addicted to substances that never found their way into the current handbooks of the church? Nowhere do you see Section 89 stating that failure to live the Word of Wisdom will keep you out of the temple. It was Joseph F. Smith who brought an addiction to alcohol and tobacco back with him from his mission who subsequently and wisely decided that he needed to take the Word of Wisdom to another level. Then Heber J. Grant himself felt that a complete prohibition of certain addictive substances would become a temple recommend question. And again… these things could change. Policies are always subject to change.
The church, the “old ship zion” is more like a giant Freightliner, not a nimble speedboat. That’s the nature of an organization of its size. It takes time for change to occur in the church and none of us truly know the reason for the timeframe it takes for that change to occur.
What’s interesting to me is that very few people ever leave the church, have trouble with the church, or create a rebellion against the church for doctrinal reasons. That tells me that the doctrine is solid and sweet, and if we just held true to the reasons for which we came into the church, then there’d be far less contention and heartache for those that find themselves at odds with this or that policy.
We’ve got to give the leaders of the church the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know any of the top level leaders of the church on a personal level so there is truly no way that I can speak to what is in their heart. But viewing their lifelong track record of discipleship, I can make a high percentage bet that they are good men and women who are truly trying to do the right thing. I don’t perceive any agenda other than to do the will of the Lord.
They are trying to navigate this Freightliner through the winds and waves of the times we live in. The turbulence of the world requires deep and ponderous thought by those that lead the church. Those deep and ponderous thoughts may result in inspiration or revelation. That inspiration often causes change within the church. That change, though not always labeled as such, usually manifests itself as a policy. And change often causes people to lose their mind.
You don’t ever see the core doctrines being changed or called into question. No one, it seems, ever argues about the things that truly matter, namely, that Christ came to earth, descended below all things, atoned for our sins, was lifted up upon the cross, and then was resurrected so that each of us could live beyond the grave. You don’t see many dissenting votes at conference over the Articles of Faith, how the sacrament is administered, or how to baptize someone.
Can policies be inspired? Of course they can, and many are. Could a prophet implement a policy that was uninspired? I think we’ve seen it happen many times in the scriptures. Jonah made a policy to withhold the gospel from the entire city of Ninevah. The Lord eventually corrected it. Peter ignored the Gentiles. The Lord eventually corrected it. If David O. McKay didn’t feel inspired to do what was done in 1978 with Spencer W. Kimball, then as we saw, the Lord eventually corrected it.
The point is that you can agree or disagree with a policy and still stick around, exercise faith, and love the doctrine. You know the doctrine is good. Not very many people would ever deny that, even from outside of the church. The plan of salvation, eternal families, the atonement. You don’t see these things changing. And yet too many of us are so focused on this or that program or policy that we spend our spiritual energy surrounded by controversy, contention, and confusion.
If something isn’t right, the Lord will eventually correct it. And sometimes what we think isn’t right, is actually right for the time that we live in.
Sometimes members get on a kick about a particular policy that they don’t like. Then they automatically assume that the leaders of the church are up to no good or ignorant, and if those policies are not changed within what the individual considers an acceptable timeframe, they believe it’s up to them to turn the ship themselves.
They go and assume the worst, demand instant change, and do so without knowing all of the facts. It’s as if they’re riding on the ship, looking out their windows and seeing some debris that the ship is going to run into. They scream and holler for the captain to turn 45 degrees right. Then they assume that the captain is asleep at the helm when he doesn’t respond. But what they might not know is that the captain has spotted an iceberg at 45 degrees and if the ship is turned at that moment, it could be disastrous.
It’s alright to make your voice be heard. In fact, in many cases, it’s helpful. But creating contention upon assumption is not the way to go.
Change should never take place on a whim and I’m glad we don’t have leaders who act impulsively or make rash decisions. But rest assured, if something isn’t right, the Lord will fix it. Not man. Not any man.