Why shouldn’t those who publicly teach that one must be politically pro-life in order to be a good Mormon be excommunicated for teaching false doctrine?

17 Replies to “Abhortion”

  1. For most issues, doctrinal or social, there is a “default” view which, although not official, is the accepted view to have. I have often wondered how certain views become the default. The default view is always okay to teach while teaching against the default is often viewed as either controversial or heretical. Consider, for example, Bruce R. McConkie’s speech entitled The Seven Deadly Heresies. He couldn’t have gotten away with making the same speech but reversing all the positions, even though he spoke to a bunch of unsettled issues for which believing members can faithfully take either side. I lament the fact that we give special status to “default” positions, but I have gotten used to it.

  2. What’s so funny about McConkie’s 7 heresies speech is that he quite literally couldn’t have gotten away with at least one portion of it 100 years earlier — the part about God not progressing in knowledge (and claiming it was a salvation threatening heresy to believe He was). Brother Brigham would have publicly smacked down such heresy as he did when O Pratt taught it.

  3. Jacob J,

    I disagree. He could have gotten away with reversing all of those positions and if he had done it consistently, say in Mormon Doctrine, that is what a bunch of people would think is right and true today.

  4. Upon further reflection, I should probably back upmy previous comment with some rationale. The appeal of much of what McConkie wrote and said isn’t in its correctness (or lack thereof) but in its certainty. He strode into areas that were open to speculation and interpretation and firmly asserted his opinions as truth. This can be very appealing. Many Mormons love the idea that they have the answers to all the questions, and by providing very specific and very certain answers in areas that were otherwise gray McConkie gained himself a following. I think that on many subjects he could have held any number of opinions and they would have been taken as truth because of the certainty with which he spoke and the position which he held.

  5. McConkie could possibly have supported a couple of the seven positions he opposed, but he certainly could not have reversed his position on all of them, let alone claimed that it was a heresy to deny any.

    McConkie’s Seven Deadly Heresies:

    1. The belief that God is progressing in knowledge
    2. The belief that Adam is descended from primates
    3. The belief that temple marriage assures exaltation
    4. The belief that interkingdom progression is possible
    5. The belief that there is a second chance to gain salvation
    6. The belief that Adam is our father and our God
    7. The belief that only the perfect can be saved

    Maintaining both (3) and (7) is a contradiction. Brigham Young taught (1) and (6), but (6) has been a no go since 1854. No one could have gotten away with teaching (2), (3), (6), or (7). Perhaps (1). (4) and (5) certainly – especially since the opposite belief has little or no support in the canon.

  6. The abortion issue is an interesting question of agency. It is VERY clear what the church’s position abortion among it’s members is, and it is also quite clear what they would prefer the world to do. However making it a political issue is very different, We believe that people are free to act as they deem appropriate (or perhaps innappropriate), “agents unto themselves” and whatnot, therefore it seems contradictory for us to attempt to require a political standpoint on the issue. There is a behavioral standpoint–that faithful members of the church do not receive or support abortion except in extreme cases–which does not cause us to deny others the choice have an abortion. For example, we don’t smoke or have extra-marital sex, but we don’t tell members to lobby for laws outlawing such things (although there are certainly those among us who would like to pass such laws).

    So I didn’t answer your question yet….

    We don’t excommunicate them because in general it is a minor heresy, much more a matter of misunderstanding then willful doctrinal disobedience.

  7. About McConkie,

    #5 has a good point, Elder McConkie took the opportunity to be definite in many places where there is a lot of gray area, unfortunately, (IMO) he was wrong a lot. His tone of authority has carried him through the years, and he is still a good source on many doctrinal issues, just nowhere near a be-all end-all. One thing I comfort myself about Elder McConkie with was that he got the essentials right. His final testimony was real and powerful, and indicative of his (occasionally overexcited/overzealous) devotion.

  8. “it is a minor heresy”

    Trevor, I suspect you’re right here. Let me be clear that I am not advocating that any be ex’d. This is more of an intellectual exercise to understand precisely why some issues are considered less important than others. While I agree that in many cases it is a matter of ignorance, sometimes this ignorance extends pretty high up. For others who have been repeatedly corrected, they show no signs of repentance and often become more strident and blatant in their sins.

  9. by providing very specific and very certain answers in areas that were otherwise gray McConkie gained himself a following.

    I tend to agree; but also agree with Mark that he probably could not have taken the opposite position on all 7. arj, did you really mean “all”? Not that I want to discuss the specifics of the “heresies”, but I’m interested to know your thoughts on how powerful this notion of “having all the answers” (and perhaps McConkie’s position of “authority” both in the hierarchy and intellectually by “having all the answers”) relates to the elimination of other viable ideological positions for members.

  10. We do not ex people for teaching false doctrine. We would have to ex most high council members who give talks. Heck, we would have to ex just about anyone who teaches in the church. For the most part you have to actively fight against the brethren to be kicked out. Gay marriage may be a different case since we have a more political position.

    As a pro-choice guy, I am not offended by those that teach that I am wrong. I know that they are wrong. I also know that the church is okay (though uncomfortable)with my political position.

  11. What I’m going to do with this is the next time I’m in Sunday School (I’ve started back just this year, one time so far 🙂 and we get on this subject is ask this question:

    “So, should those who are pro-choice be excommunicated from the church? Where is that written? What does the prophet say on being pro-choice? Are you saying that those who are pro-choice should be excommunicated? When did God tell you that?”

    I figure there’ll be a lot of other talking in between questions.

    Which is why they don’t like to see my face in Sunday School. I think Sunday School should be open and liberal and you know, sort of a big brawl. Then Sacrament and Relief Society and Priesthood can be civil.

    We should have one meeting where we can discuss issues like human beings not clones of the most righteous.

  12. SamllAxe,

    I think that I perhaps stated things better in my #5 than my #4: I think that on many subjects he could have held any number of opinions…

    Meaning that perhaps opposite is a strong term, but I do think that he could have had a different opinion on many subjects and that because of the way he stated things and his position that position would have gained a following.

    Let’s look at the heresies (please forgive the threadjack):

    1. The belief that God is progressing in knowledge

    This seems to be aimed at Eugene England’s teaching of this idea. Perhaps McConkie took this position because it was anti-intellectual. In any case the idea that God has perfect and complete knowledge in all things needed to save us but is progressing in knowledge in other spheres is very Mormon and compatible with the general idea of eternal progression. I personally hold this view so perhaps I’m biased, but McConkie could have gone there safely.

    2. The belief that Adam is descended from primates

    This is an extension of the pre-Adamite debate that his father-in-law had with B H Roberts. McConkie could have easily followed in the footsteps of the First Presidency’s decision in that matter: shut up about it. I think that in this case and others he was simply following his father-in-law, but he could have said that we don’t know the exact mechanism of physical creation and that we shouldn’t waste time casting stones over different concepts of it. Certainly many LDS don’t care much about the issue, and outright belief in evolution isn’t uncommon in the Church. President Hinckley’s remarks on the issue have always been very moderate. Perhaps a moderate answer won’t have worked for McConkie though…

    3. The belief that temple marriage assures exaltation

    Ok, you’ve got me here. But you could go a little further and make claims about the second annointing…

    4. The belief that interkingdom progression is possible

    Again following his father-in-law here. This would probably be hard to have another position on without getting into really speculative areas such as multiple mortal probations.

    5. The belief that there is a second chance to gain salvation

    This could have been moderated. I have no idea what constitutes a chance. I’ve seen good people sincerely pray about the Book of Mormon and get no answer and thus not join the Church. Was that their chance? While I don’t doubt the importance of ordinances, given that we’re doing the temple work for everyone, I think that we’ll be judged on our lives and who we’ve become. If you’ve become what you need to then I think that accepting the ordinances will be obvious and natural at some point. So yes, I think this area could have been addressed differently by McConkie.

    6. The belief that Adam is our father and our God

    Another toughie. Brigham Young seems to have been trying to resolve the ontological divide and this is where he ended up. I think it creates more of a mess than it tries to resolve, but I haven’t spent much time on it. The real problem I see with McConkie and others on this issue is the denial that it was ever taught. Why can’t we say that somebody speculated and was wrong? Oh wait…

    7. The belief that only the perfect can be saved

    This one is pretty weak as nobody is perfect so what does that mean? However, are you saved if you aren’t perfect? I think that one could reasonably argue that salvation and perfection are accomplished together.

    So yes, I think he could have reasonably taken different positions on many of the things he talked about and that those who love certainty on speculative matters would have eaten it up.

  13. Chris H (#11),

    It is my understanding that we do ex people who continue teaching false doctrine after they’ve been asked to stop. I am not aware of anyone being asked to stop teaching that one must hold a pro-life political stance to be a member in good standing. It would entertain me if that happened.

  14. arJ,

    I would summarize your argument as claiming that McConkie was the cause of several of those positions he took becoming the church “default.” To some extent, that is certainly true. Debating the specifics of each of the heresies is fun, but in an effort to stay on track with TT’s question, I will just say that most people do not have the opportunity to set the default position of the church on an issue, so they are stuck on many issues either teaching the party line or dealing with some level of controversy.

  15. What’s fun about this thread is the McConkie focus. “Politically pro-life.” Is it just me, or is this a really loaded term? As soon as the word “political” is brought up in connection with the church we find ourselves on really shaky ground.

    My thought is this: Haven’t those who have taught that it is required to be politically pro-life already been ex’d? Aren’t they the ones who protest at church pageants and things? You know the ones, they try to argue with church members because the church teaches that abortion is permissible under certain circumstances (see, for example, Elder Nelson’s talk on this subject http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=c79b8949f2f6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1 ), and to them you must be absolutely 100% pro-life, no exceptions, period.

    I like the ideas presented. I know absolutely nothing about excommunication; I have never held a position in which I have had to deal with it to any degree, so I guess I’m just saying I don’t know.

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