A Rebuttal to “Modernized” Church Doctrine – Debunking False Teachings from BYU, Instagram, and More

4 examples of “modernized” Church doctrine and 4 ways we can prepare against it

A phenomenon has been brewing under the surface for years. This phenomenon has worked its way into the Church ”—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God.” (Helaman 3:33) It may have always been there, but, with the help of the internet, it has spread rapidly, emerged into mainstream Church-member culture, and, finally, become exposed. 

I speak of a practice of choosing to disbelieve certain parts of Church doctrine, then preaching the adapted beliefs as true. I call it “modernized” Church doctrine. We should be unsurprised by such teachings; we know that many will teach philosophies of men, mingled with scripture. We must identify these traps and seek the truth.

I wish to identify then discuss some examples of prominent claims that, from my perspective, are commonly believed (and even promoted) by Church members yet are partially or wholly false.

I bring these up not to criticize but to sound an alarm. I am uninterested in calling out names; instead, I wish to identify and analyze the ideologies with the goal of teaching how we may all do the same when we encounter these and similar “modernized” Church doctrines and how to inoculate ourselves against falling for these traps.

“Modernized” doctrine examples

Let us first list a few examples of this “modernized” doctrine; later, we will measure them up against doctrine and discuss where they go wrong.

“Modernized” doctrine #1

From an Instagrammer:

“You can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and still struggle with aspects of the Church. I do. I have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but I struggle with gender inequality, the treatment of LGBTQ people, polygamy, and withholding truth about history in the Church, to name a few.”

To this point, this is all totally okay. You can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and struggle with aspects of the Church. But here is where it gets questionable:

“You can still be active and not accept every aspect of the Church.”

“Modernized” doctrine #2

I’ve had multiple friends and acquaintances claim vocally and online that they’ve decided to disbelieve “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Here are a few examples of the reasoning:

a) “The Family Proclamation is not canon.”

b) “I think the Church will soon allow gay marriage in temples.”

c) “The Church has renounced old doctrine before, and they’re going to do it with the Family Proclamation.”

“Modernized” doctrine #3

Off- and online, I have witnessed and had this conversation many times: “So how can I reconcile my concerns and doubts about the Church with my faith in the Gospel?” This is a really great question. The world offers many answers, some good, some decent, and some bad.

One popular answer (discovered on social media by an influencer in the Church):

“Only you can decide which things are real, foundational doctrine.”

“Modernized” doctrine #4

This phenomenon of modernizing Church doctrine is not only happening in pockets among members in person and online. It’s spreading from one of the main epicenters of Church life: BYU campus. I stumbled across the new Instagram account @keeping_faith_at_byu, which collects and presents dozens of stories from BYU students who have had encounters with professors and other school authorities promoting ideas that oppose the doctrine of Christ’s Church.

Here are just two stories from Keeping Faith:

a) “I sat in on a sociology of gender class where the professor deconstructed the family proclamation and talked about essentially how uninformed or incorrect it was, and how scientific knowledge has progressed since it was written and now the information is outdated.” -Anonymous BYU Psychology student

b) “I was taught in class that agency is a construct that doesn’t exist, and thus we as human beings are fundamentally determined beings, and thus are incapable of choosing right from wrong and thus cannot be held accountable for our sins.” -Anonymous BYU student

Debunking these beliefs by applying Christ’s doctrine

Now, you may have read these examples and felt comfortable with them. You may be feeling defensive when I say: These modernized Church doctrines are simply the philosophies of men mingled with scripture, leading us down a sneaky but rapid path to apostasy.

Whether or not you agree with my claim, please allow me offer you a case for why each of the four quotations (or set of quotations) are false and present dangerous beliefs to the Church and its members who desire to follow Christ.

Breakdown #1

To recap:

“You can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and still struggle with aspects of the Church. I do. I have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but I struggle with gender inequality, the treatment of LGBTQ people, polygamy, and withholding truth about history in the Church, to name a few.”

Again, this is not a problem. It’s actually really brave to admit which doctrinal points you may be struggling with. Talking about it can help you begin to tackle those issues.

“You can still be active and not accept every aspect of the Church.”

Problem.

First, let’s define our terms here:

  1. By “aspect of the Church,” I will proceed as if the author means to say “every doctrine, statement, command, or action officially from or by the Restored Church of Jesus Christ.” If the author only means to say “everything any Church member or leader has said or done individually,” there is no problem. From what I understand about this individual, however, they likely also mean to take issue with key doctrinal points and official Church procedures. Either way, the ambiguity of the statement easily reads to include my interpretation of this language.
  2. “Not accepting,” at least as far as it seems to me, is different than struggling to accept. It sounds as if the writer has decided to stop seeking answers beyond what they already believe. There may be discussion about their intent, but I will continue with this point under the assumption that my interpretation of the intent is true. Regardless, if that’s how I read it, surely others will read it the same way as well, either consciously or subconsciously, and I fear that that may damage their faith.

Proceeding with these terms, the Instagrammer is sort of right; you can be an active Church member and not accept every aspect of the Church. You can be an active Church member and do a lot of things: steal, watch pornography, believe racist and hateful things about others.

But there is something to keep in mind: cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is when you hold two conflicting beliefs or ideas at the same time. If I believe watching pornography is wrong, but I still keep doing it, I will experience cognitive dissonance. It is not comfortable. It can go on for a long time, but eventually, one side will win out. I will either allow my belief that watching porn is bad to drive me to quit, or I will keep going and renounce (or at least ignore) any claims that it is wrong. Eventually, I may even come to decide that watching porn is morally good.

Whenever you intentionally choose to believe or do something contrary to God’s will, and especially if you are a member of His Church and have full access to the Spirit, you will experience cognitive dissonance.

In this case, if you believe the Church is true, but you do not accept every aspect of the Church, you will experience cognitive dissonance. That dissonance may last for weeks or years, but, eventually, one side will win over the other. (Now, if you do not believe the Church is true, that is something you will need to discover on your own through study and prayer.)

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

If you believe in the Church, but struggle with an aspect of the Church, listen to the Spirit; allow Him to teach you. First, ensure your testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ is rock solid. Take President Nelson’s challenge to find out how you #HearHim. Then, ask Him your questions. Seek out answers as guided by the Spirit. I testify that the Holy Ghost will help you accept every aspect of the Church, in time and with effort.

Whether you are asking whether the Church is true or for understanding about an uncomfortable aspect of the Church, all members of the Church have the gift of having the Spirit with them, who “shall teach you all things.” (John 14:26) As much as you allow Him, He will be there to teach you truth.

When we have questions, we don’t just accept our doubts. We struggle in the Spirit! We solve our problems! As Elder Uchtdorf has taught, we must “doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith.” (Elder Uchtdorf, October 2013) This attitude of having faith in doubts will inevitably lead to having doubts about faith. It removes our arm of trust in the Lord and allows ourselves to become our own gods.

Breakdown #2

a) “The Family Proclamation is not canon.”

The only canonized scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the standard works: the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine & Covenants. By this logic, you would also disbelieve anything any prophet, apostle, or local Church leader has done since the Doctrine & Covenants was published (or at least since Official Declaration 2).

This aside, Church canon supports the principles found in the Family Proclamation. Using the Bible alone as guidance, most traditional Christians believe basically the same tenets of family structure and values.

b) “I think the Church will soon allow gay marriage in temples.”

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

This displays a misunderstanding of the Plan of Salvation. We have divine nature as children of God. As His children, our purpose is to become like God. Becoming like God includes finding an eternal spouse of the opposite gender and, together, having children (even if these things don’t happen until the next life). God intentionally created man and woman to need each other to reproduce, qualify for exaltation, and reign together in the worlds to come.

When approaching it through a scriptural lens, the idea of “gay marriage” is an oxymoron. The Lord commands us to seek out marriage, or the holy union of man and woman; on the other hand, He commands us to abstain from gay sexual relations, which were never intended to equate to marriage.

Our current prophet proclaims:

[I] declare, as an Apostle of the Lord, that marriage between a man and a woman is sacred—it is ordained of God. I also assert the virtue of a temple marriage.

President Nelson, October 2008

Temples exist not to appease our earthly desires but to provide the saving ordinances that are required to enter the Kingdom of God. Even if the world’s standards of marriage change, the Lord’s will not. The definition of marriage is not just a policy of the Church that is subject to change with times; it is at the root of our divine family history and God-given purpose of life.

c) “The Church has renounced old doctrine before, and they’re going to do it with the Family Proclamation.”

2b already addresses this quite a bit, but here’s more.

Even if the Church is going to change policy, or some doctrine has been misunderstood and mistaught, that does not excuse you from following it. As a member of His Church, you should follow Its teachings. If you are endowed, you have sworn to the Lord of the Universe to follow Him and give all you are to His Church.

This in mind, let’s roll with the idea that a certain change is really going to happen. In that case, there are two possibilities:

  1. If the prophet and the Twelve announce that a commandment must be “updated,” that does not mean it was not valid and in effect for you previously. Until such an announcement occurs, you are still under obligation to keep that commandment. (Alma 25:15-16)
  2. If the prophet and the Twelve announce a “correction” to a false teaching or commandment which you had accepted or to which you had been obedient, God will bless you for being obedient according to the light and knowledge you had received. He will not punish you for listening to His prophets—but you may be held accountable if you do not.

Breakdown #3

“Only you can decide which things are real, foundational doctrine.”

No.

Fact check: false.

You do not have any answers. You are not the source of light and truth. This is an example of self-love becoming self-worship and diminishes our dependency on our Heavenly Father. (See Christianity: The Real Self-Love Movement)

We can trust Him to teach us and guide us:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

PROVERBS 3:5-6

Our Father in Heaven will direct us, and He wants us to ask Him our questions: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5)

He will confirm truth to your soul and bring understanding to your mind. God has all the answers, and they are always right! Ask Him. Hear Him.

As the Lord will confirm to our hearts, He will also speak through His Church. We can trust that the Church will be clear about “real, foundational doctrine:”

“The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk.”

Elder Andersen, Trial of Your Faith, October 2012

Breakdown #4

Photo by Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

There is something particularly dangerous about the promotion of false doctrine at BYU specifically. We know the world teaches false doctrine, but members from all over the world come to BYU expecting something different. They expect to find a place where they can gain a high-quality education, maintain and add upon their religious values—and yes, look for a like-minded, worthy, and attractive eternal mate.

BYU does provide thousands of students each of these things, and I am grateful on behalf of so many of my family members and friends who have found refuge there.

However, an anti-Church, anti-family, and, therefore, anti-Christ force has crept in at BYU, and it is backed by many students and even faculty and other staff there. (Julie B. Beck, March 2011) At least at other schools, incoming students know what to expect; many well-intentioned students who arrive at BYU are likely unprepared to defend against surprise attacks to their faith by those they thought they could trust.

Keeping Faith at BYU is a new organization created with the intent to ask the University “whether or not they fulfill the mission statement, which is: ‘to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.’” On their Facebook and Instagram accounts, they post stories submitted by BYU students (excerpts above and below). You can read more about Keeping Faith at BYU and/or sign their petition here

As far as the doctrinal issues evident from the specific examples I pulled, the first reflects another underlying misunderstanding of the doctrine of the family, and the second is in direct conflict with the principle of agency. Here is just some quick reasoning:

a) Misunderstanding of the family

a) “I sat in on a sociology of gender class where the professor deconstructed the family proclamation and talked about essentially how uninformed or incorrect it was, and how scientific knowledge has progressed since it was written and now the information is outdated.”

As previously mentioned, the family is a core doctrine of the everlasting gospel and Church of Jesus Christ. It always has been. The Family Proclamation was declared by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve at the time, and is still upheld by our current prophet and apostles. It is also supported by Church canon.

Elder Oaks states:

“I testify that the proclamation on the family is a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for His children who seek eternal life. It has been the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future. Consider it as such, teach it, live by it, and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.”

Elder Oaks, October 2017

Many take issue with Elder Oaks, and/or this statement. If this is you, I highly recommend you take the issue to the Lord and, if needed, to a local Church leader. Keep in mind these two temple recommend questions:

“Do you sustain the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators?

“Do you support or promote any teachings, practices, or doctrine contrary to those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

Church Updates Temple Recommend Interview Questions, October 2019

b) Misunderstanding of agency

b) “I was taught in class that agency is a construct that doesn’t exist, and thus we as human beings are fundamentally determined beings, and thus are incapable of choosing right from wrong and thus cannot be held accountable for our sins.”

Agency is another key tenant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is something we fought for in the War in Heaven, which continues here today. It is no surprise that that same Enemy is up to his old tricks, trying to fool even God’s elect that agency is unnecessary or nonexistent.

Consider this paragraph from the Gospel Topics essay on agency:

“Agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves. Agency is essential in the plan of salvation. Without agency, we would not be able to learn or progress or follow the Savior. With it, we are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27).”

Gospel Topics, Agency and Accountability

Solutions

So how do we resolve these issues? I can’t just sit around all day and do extensive research and longform writing on every single modernized Church doctrine to determine its veracity. How can we prepare ourselves, our young, and our most spiritually vulnerable against falling for these theological traps?

I present four solutions of things we can do personally, as families, and in teaching situations:

1) Study the Plan of Salvation

Get back to the basics. But really get to know the basics!

A great many of these philosophies of men, mingled with scripture, stem from misunderstanding the Plan of Salvation. Consider what Elder Oaks has taught in the most recent general conference:

“Many of our members do not fully understand this plan of salvation, which answers most questions about the doctrine and inspired policies of the restored Church. We who know God’s plan and who have covenanted to participate have a clear responsibility to teach these truths and do all that we can to further them for others and in our own circumstances in mortality.”

Elder Oaks, April 2020

2) Study the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ

President Nelson has vehemently urged us to learn more about the Restoration of the Church and to strengthen our testimony in it. (President Nelson, October 2019) The Church has made it increasingly accessible with new resources like Saints and the Restoration Proclamation

I would like to echo my testimony that the Church really is the true and living church, that Christ stands at the head, and that I can trust official Church doctrine and commandments to lead me to righteousness and happiness.

3) Seek personal revelation

You have a direct line to heaven. Pray often.

President Nelson so often encourages us to develop our own ability to seek revelation. (President Nelson, April 2018) Take your big questions to the Lord more than to Google, YouTube, your teachers, your friends, even your family, or any other source.

4) Take advantage of opportunities to #HearHim

Listen to the prophets, ancient and modern.

The average US adult spends 12 hours and 9 minutes a day using media. You can probably afford to put a little more of that time toward the best sources.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Take every opportunity to hear God’s word: tune in to general conference live and recorded; read the standard works; follow the prophet and apostles on social media; read Church magazines; watch Face to Face and other special devotionals; read or listen to other Church literature; listen to the hymns; watch the Book of Mormon Videos and other Church-produced videos.

Church leaders are not oblivious to these modernized Church doctrines or any other threat to Church members. One evidence of this is the timely address Elder Cook gave at BYU, given just two weeks after the creation of the aforementioned accounts and petition by Keeping Faith at BYU; in his discourse, he urges educators to teach with “a laser-like focus on our responsibility to help build faith in Jesus Christ and in His restored Church.” (Elder Cook, August 2020)

I am confident our prophet and apostles are sharply aware of what we are saying, thinking, and experiencing, and God reveals to them how we should respond and move forward. May you and I both listen better when He speaks to us.

What do you think?

Have you seen or believed these or similar ideas? Do you agree that they are dangerous to Church members? Do you disagree? Why?

3 thoughts on “A Rebuttal to “Modernized” Church Doctrine – Debunking False Teachings from BYU, Instagram, and More

  1. A well-thought-out and balanced discussion. I would add that the student’s remark about agency, if I may hazard a guess, probably comes from a philosophy course. Philosophers have often grappled with the idea of agency, and many have come to the conclusion that it does not exist (there’s a really interesting episode of This American Life that explores one person’s experience with this idea; I’d be happy to find it for you if you’re interested). Personally, I can’t logically refute the idea, but I disbelieve it simply because believing in agency allows me to be more hopeful and motivated.
    ((Also, I’m going to cringe at myself and be that person… *tenet is a principle of belief; tenant is someone who pays rent to live somewhere))

    Like

    1. Hi David! I always appreciate your thoughtful feedback. I don’t know what course this student was in, but yes, I am aware of that philosophical belief! Yeah, I’d be interested in checking out that episode. Perhaps someday I’ll do some research into whether the idea of nonexistent agency truly stands philosophically, but religiously, and for the reasons you list, I have to disbelieve. (Also, I am cringing that I missed that one. I know better! Haha but if that’s the worst thing out of 3000+ words, I’ll take it! 😉 )

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: