By Aaron Shafovaloff
Shadowy Religions Want Protection from the Light
On a personal level, I get the impression that committed Mormons oftentimes want at some level for their religion to be misunderstood, for it to remain esoteric and elusive. It is as though direct light on the shadowy religion would kill the precious shadow itself, hence it must be protected from the light of illumination. There is power seen in ambiguity, strength in ambivalence, solidarity in equivocation, encouragement in non-officiality. The lifelong task of engaging Mormonism is tremendously frustrating. Over time, the metaphor of nailing green Jello to the wall starts to make increasing sense.
Christians who attempt to engage in meaningful dialog with their Mormon friends are often frustrated by the way teachings and beliefs can be obfuscated and downplayed. When a question is posed by a Christian they are many times told that a particular teaching “is not official.” Behind this are the assumptions that Mormonism is immune to any fatal criticism if it involves anything outside the scope of officiality, and that evangelical engagement should be limited to that which is binding upon Mormon members.
Teetering Between Expansion and Reduction
One problem with this is that the Mormon Church has no binding and official position on what constitutes a binding and official position. Mormon leaders and thinkers have proposed a variety of approaches to defining what constitutes official doctrine, not one being settled upon. Multiple things must be taken into account. First, and most important, Mormons have been taught that they enjoy a continual stream of prophetic counsel and revelation, and that their leaders will never lead them astray. They have also been taught that “the living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” 1980). A sense has been fostered that the living leadership is for members a more direct line to God than ancient scripture. But Mormonism also attempts to esteem its scriptures and ensure some stability. When leaders have gone especially awry, subsequent generations of leaders have downplayed prior teachings by appealing to the boundaries of scriptures (that the previous leaders failed to stay within). In short, Mormonism teeters between maximalism and minimalism, expansion and reduction.
Oscillation Between Three Basic Standards of Officiality
In my study I have so far identified three general Mormon approaches to the standard of officiality:
sola scriptura – The Standard Works are the final and alone binding source of authority. If it is not in scripture, or if it is not inferred by scripture, it is not doctrinal and it is not binding.
prima scriptura – Scripture is the highest, most final binding source of authority, but it is not the only source of that which is binding and doctrinal. Other sources, such as current church leadership (considered lesser because they are compared with scripture and discarded if in contradiction with scripture) are also binding.
prima ecclesia – Modern church leadership is the highest, most final binding source of authority and doctrine, and may override other sources of authority and doctrine, like scripture, if there is contradiction. This is rarely done by direct repudiation and instead is done by re-interpreting, making obsolete, or questioning the preservation of a particular text. When addressing the question of whether living leaders trump scripture, or vice versa, BYU professor Robert Millet admits with refreshing honesty:
“I think most Latter-day Saints would be prone to answer this by pointing out the value and significance of living oracles, or continuing revelation, or ongoing divine direction through modern apostles and prophets, and thus to conclude that living prophets take precedence over canonized scripture” (Claiming Christ, p.31).
(Note: Rather than endorsing this mainstream approach, Millet goes on in the book to promote an approach much like prima scriptura.)
There are nuances and ambiguities to the above three models, but you get the basic idea. My contention is that Mormonism oscillates between varying models to keep alive the theme of the “continuing revelation” as well as enforce some regulatory sanity.
No Sufficient Condition for Official Mormon Doctrine?
There seem to be no sufficient condition for “official” Mormon doctrine that Mormon minimalists can agree on.
- “Official” proclamations aren’t necessarily “official.”
- Statements signed by First Presidency aren’t necessarily “official.”
- Statements signed by First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve aren’t necessarily “official.”
- “Thus saith the lord” statements of the prophet aren’t necessarily “official.”
- Temple dedicatory prayers aren’t necessarily “official.”
- Widely believed teachings of the leadership aren’t necessarily “official.”
- What the Church explicitly calls “doctrine” or “revelation” isn’t necessarily “official.”
- What the Church says is the official standard of “official” isn’t necessarily “official.”
- Church manuals aren’t necessarily “official.”
- Hymns in the church hymnal aren’t necessarily “official.”
- The original meaning of the canon isn’t necessarily “official.”
- The content of the temple ceremony isn’t necessarily official.
- Recent institutional emphasis isn’t necessarily “official.”
Someone once joked at Sunstone, “Official doctrine is anything Larry King could get Gordon B. Hinkley to admit to on television.” But not even that is necessarily official.
Mormon minimalists disagree over whether “official” doctrine is even necessarily true.
Depending on what Mormon minimalist you talk to, one could in principle have a teaching that is:
- Held in unanimity by the First Presidency and the Twelve.
- Taught by all correlated manuals.
- Taught in all General Conference talks.
- Believed by every single LDS member.
- Taught in the LDS temple ceremony.
… and it still wouldn’t necessarily be “official.” The only thing that is definitely “official” about Mormonism is the lack of a clear, consistently applied standard of what constitutes officiality.
Selective Application of Maximalism and Minimalism
BYU professors who promote the need for modern prophets to understand ancient prophets often violate their own stated principles in their interpretation of the watershed passage 2 Nephi 25:23 (“…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”). They obstinately reject the usage and interpretation from General Conference and modern church publications, preferring instead their own personal interpretations. Minimalists like Millet say that we need modern leaders to understand ancient scripture, but seem to only selectively apply the principle.
The Church Will Never Officially Lead Us Astray?
Mormons are taught that the prophet will never lead them astray, yet Mormon professors and apologists have essentially decided, “The prophet may lead us astray, but never officially astray.” Jesus taught that we can recognize false prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:16), but Mormon professors and apologists have re-imagined their Jesus as teaching, “You will recognize them by their fruits, but only when the fruits are officially canonized into the Standard Works and are unanimously voted upon as binding doctrine upon all.” For defenders of Mormonism, the Church and abstract notions of officiality have become more important than Jesus and the truth.
God and People Matter More than Elusive, Abstract Notions of Officiality
Here are some issues Christians need to take into consideration:
1. We care about what the Mormon mainstream people and individual persons actually believe. When they believe something the institution doesn’t strictly, officially bless (according to some particular model of doctrine and authority), it still matters with regard to the spiritual condition of their individual heart.
2. The institution, regardless of the lack of formal approval, still ought to bear responsibility for acquiescing to unrepudiated longstanding beliefs that were initiated or at least fostered by Mormon leadership or by the implications of the traditional Mormon worldview.
3. Regardless of whether a particular Mormon individual agrees or doesn’t agree with important teachings that have been recently been promoted from institutional Mormon channels of influence, that Mormon’s spiritual heart condition is also related to his or her willingness to be a part of such an institution that tolerates and/or teaches such things.
4. Regardless of how old a particular Mormon teaching is, it can still have bearing on whether a person today should choose to become or remain Mormon. There are plenty of old teachings that have been abandoned by Mormonism that still call into question the reliability and integrity of the historic succession of alleged prophets and apostles. Remember, it only takes one false prophecy or one public heresy about the nature of God—especially one not repented over—to make a prophet false.
A Mormon once asked, “If there is no official position in the LDS faith [on a given matter], why do you care if LDS members believe one way or another?”
The answer is that God and individual people matter more than the LDS Church. Organizations and religions only matter because of how they relate to and impact people. And people matter because God matters.
Dismissing Real Problems is Absurd and Cruel
Think about it:
Do you really think Paul wouldn’t have written Galatians if the Official Church of the Judaizers didn’t have an official position on whether Christians are required to get circumcised and live up to the demands of the Law? Do you really think Jesus wouldn’t have rebuked the Pharisees if the Official Pharisee Association didn’t have an official position on whether it was proper to heal on the Sabbath? Do you really think Jesus wouldn’t have wept over Jerusalem if the Official Jerusalem City Council didn’t have a formalized official position on whether its citizens should reject Jesus as the messiah?
To obscure real problems within any religion by appealing to abstract notions of what is and what is not “official” would be cruel, because it would overlook individuals affected—individuals that Jesus loves.
Mormonism as a spiral galaxy and “official Mormon doctrine” as its uninhabited black hole
“Official” Mormon doctrine is like a black hole that you can’t see, that some people doubt is there, and that seems to be pulling and stretching everything around it. It’s not clear what laws apply in the center. No light can escape. Different explanatory theories abound. And then there’s the event horizon to worry about if you peer too closely.
Mormonism is like a spiral galaxy with one such black hole in the center, but all of its interesting stars and planets (where people actually live) are located in the galactic disk. No one actually lives in the black hole, but if you ask a galactic spokesman where the galaxy is located, he will give you the coordinates of its center without any map of the galaxy’s outer regions. A good tour guide (usually unauthorized), however, will give you the coordinates of a set of inhabited planets that you can actually visit.
Mormonism as a chess game
The queen—continuing revelation—sometimes gets herself into trouble, and is sometimes sacrificed to protect the king—the legitimacy of the priesthood authority.
The pawns are the members, who take the queen much more seriously than the king does. They are used however needed to protect the queen and the king.
The rooks are BYU professors, and the knights are LDS apologists. They do whatever it takes to protect the king, but they’re willing to sacrifice their own queen sometimes.
Open Letter to Mormons Who Want Interfaith Dialog Restricted to the Standard Works
I applaud your commitment to the Standard Works, but I think it would be counter-productive to circumvent all other discussion related to teachings outside the canon. I don’t think it would be very loving of me to reduce the religion of my Mormon neighbors to their canon and official proclamations. If someone asks me, for example, “What do the Mormons believe about drinking beer?”, it would be misleading of me to appeal to D&C 89:17, saying that they encourage the drinking of barley beer. Likewise, if someone asked you, “What do conservative southern baptists believe about drinking beer?”, it would be misleading of you to reduce your answer to a mere, “Well, the Bible permits the moderate drinking of beer.” Both answers can be legitimate, but only when supplemented by further description of how the culture and tradition operates.
I think our discussion will be fruitful if we engage *both* the original intent of our respective canons *and* the mainstream, institutional, and influential teachings in our respective religions. Our exploration, curiosity, and friendly debate should be holistic, not straight-jacketed. I like it that you take your canon seriously, but I feel like the conversation would be stilted if we limited it to the canon. In addition to the canon, it would be constructive to also address differing streams of thought within our respective religions, historical developments of those various positions, and how various significant people in each religion have attempted to connect/integrate/systemize those teachings.
[To neo-orthodox Mormons who realize the staggering disparity between their canon and their modern institution’s teachings and modern culture’s traditional beliefs, opening those floodgates can be terrifying.]
Can Thomas Monson say Jesus sinned and still be a true prophet?
In “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb 1982, 38–40, Gerald N. Lund, “Teacher Support Consultant for the Church Education System”, explains why members should take the Lorenzo Snow couplet as “accepted as official doctrine by the Church”:
“To my knowledge there has been no ‘official’ pronouncement by the First Presidency declaring that President Snow’s couplet is to be accepted as doctrine. But that is not a valid criteria for determining whether or not it is doctrine. Generally, the First Presidency issues official doctrinal declarations when there is a general misunderstanding of the doctrine on the part of many people. Therefore, the Church teaches many principles which are accepted as doctrines but which the First Presidency has seen no need to declare in an official pronouncement. This particular doctrine has been taught not only by Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church, but also by others of the Brethren before and since that time.”
But in the preface to the article, the whole thing is given plausible deniability with the following:
“Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.”
Five Questions to Ask When You Hear, “That’s Not Official Doctrine”
- Is this a belief among Mormons that was taught, perpetuated, or acquiesced to by Mormon apostles or prophets?
- Is this belief a natural and logical extension of other things Mormon prophets and apostles have taught?
- Has this teaching been acknowledged as having been taught and repudiated as a false teaching?
- Is the teaching neither confirmed nor denied as being true? Is it being protected as plausibly deniable?
- Would Mormons teach this to their children? Let leaders teach this to their children?
Mormonism, a Religion of Sola Scriptura?
BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson, in his book, Are Mormons Christians?, contends that scripture alone is the binding authoritative source for what constitutes the doctrine of the Church, and that official doctrine is not necessarily reflected in the statements of past leaders. To argue for this, he appeals to two quotes of past leaders. George Q. Cannon taught in the October 1880 General Conference,
“I hold in my hand the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and also the book, The Pearl of Great Price, which books contain revelations of God. In Kirtland, the Doctrine and Covenants in its original form, as first printed, was submitted to the officers of the Church and the members of the Church to vote upon. As there have been additions made to it by the publishing of revelations which were not contained in the original edition, it has been deemed wise to submit these books with their contents to the conference, to see whether the conference will vote to accept the books and their contents as from God, and binding upon us as a people and as a Church.”
Robinson in his book later quotes B.H. Roberts from a 1921 sermon,
“The Church has confined the sources of doctrine by which it is willing to be bound before the world to the things that God has revealed, and which the Church has officially accepted, and those alone. These would include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price; these have been repeatedly accepted and endorsed by the Church in general conference assembled, and are the only sources of absolute appeal for our doctrine.”
Mormons who promote the sola scriptura approach often quote Harold B. Lee, who said:
“The only person authorized to bring forth new revelation is the prophet. If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion.”
- “And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)
- “Church publications (the Ensign, the New Era, the Friend, and the International Magazines) are referred to as the voices of the Church and the official line of communication from the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve to the members of the Church. Each month a First Presidency message appears in the Ensign. Home teachers are expected to discuss this article with all assigned families. Quite obviously, the curriculum would become stagnant and lose its relevance if we failed to hear the voices of living prophets. One of the most significant of all Church publications is the conference edition of the Ensign magazine. This important issue carries the current written messages of the Brethren conveying the mind and will of the Lord.” (Carlos Asay, “ ‘For the Perfecting of the Saints’: A Look at Church Curriculum,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, p.17).
- “With due respect to Bruce McConkie, I propose that we now have no Mormon ‘doctrine’ whatsoever. There are a few very basic assertions that are not really theological in nature that define what is essential — and these questions are those of the temple recommend interview. What is essential is orthopraxis or what we do and are rather than the content of our beliefs. What that means is that it is pretty difficult to be right or wrong about LDS ‘doctrine’. I don’t know anyone who has been excommunicated for having wrong ideas — I know some who have been because what they taught essentially undermined and usurped priesthood hierarchical authority.” (Blake Ostler, Is There Any Mormon “Doctrine”?, TimesAndSeasons.org)
- “In determining whether something is a part of the doctrine of the Church, we might ask: Is it found within our four standard works? Within official declarations or proclamations? Is it taught or discussed in general conference or other official gatherings by general Church leaders today? Is it found in the general handbooks or approved curriculum of the Church today? If it meets at least one of these criteria, we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it. We might also add that included within the category of ‘all that God does reveal’ would be certain matters that fall under the injunction to maintain ‘sacred silence.’ For example, the content of the temple endowment today would certainly be considered a part of the doctrine of the Church.” (Robert Millet’s book, What Happened to the Cross?, 56)
- “If the general authorities do not teach something today, it is not part of our doctrine today. That does not, however, mean that a particular teaching is untrue. A teaching may be true and yet not a part of what is taught and emphasized by the Church today. In fact, if the Brethren do not teach it today, if it is not taught directly in the standard works, or if it is not found in our correlated curriculum, whether it is true or not may actually be irrelevant.” – Robert Millet, Getting at the Truth, p. 66
- “Evangelicals are more likely to encounter a Mormon than Mormon Doctrine™.” – Tim McMahan
- “Though the prophet may step out of his official role in dealing with the daily affairs of life, he can never divest himself of the spirit and influence which belong to the sacred office which the Lord has placed on him…he lives under inspired guidance, which makes him great among men, and therefore, his unofficial expressions carry greater weight than the opinions of other men of equal or greater gifts and experience without the power of the prophetic office. It would be wisdom on all occasions and with respect to all subjects in any field of human activity, to hearken to the prophet’s voice” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p.237. Ellipses mine. See also Teachings of the Living Prophets, 1982, p.22).
- “Every member of the Church, and all men for that matter, would do well to give heed, and indeed should do so, to any public utterance or to the unofficial counsel of the man who has been called to the office of prophet. One cannot limit him by saying that on some subjects pertaining to human welfare he may not speak. The spiritual and the temporal have ever been blended in the Church of Christ. Obedience to the counsels of the prophet brings individual and collective power and joy. Of all men, the prophet of the Lord should, at all times, have most influence with the Latter-day Saints. No other cause can be greater than that of the Church of Christ” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p.238).
- “Besides this we have our living prophet, for whom I am grateful, and I hope to follow after him all the days of my life. I know that when I don’t follow him I am wrong, and I know that when I do I am right, even if I don’t agree with him. To those who only follow him when they do agree with him he is not a prophet unto them” (Richard L. Evans, Conference Reports, October 1940, p.61).
- “They should never criticize priesthood leaders or say unkind things about them. Criticizing our leaders endangers our own salvation.” – “The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B” (LDS Manual)
- “Jacques Derrida is revered by those at the foggiest fringes of postmodern thought and reviled by almost everyone else who is familiar with his work. Derrida made a career out of accusing all who critiqued his work of misunderstanding him, while refusing to clarify his position. The whole point of the exercise seemed to be avoidance of understanding… The smell around Daniel Peterson and his ilk at FARMS are symptoms of an ideological system in distress as much as the smell of decaying flesh is of a dead body. They are Derridian postmodern fog machines whose purpose is to make the terrain around the borders of Mormonism so hard to find and to appear so baffling and unattractive that the faithful who wander in that direction will turn back in dismay.” (Bob McCue)
- “But are these types of statements official Church doctrine, required for all believing Latter-day Saints to accept? No—they were never submitted to the Church for ratification or canonization.” (FAIR)
- “I don’t try to split hairs and say that really wasn’t ever ‘official doctrine’, because to me doctrine is just basically the general beliefs… what is generally taught… The Church really doesn’t have an official theology.” – BYU associate professor Charles R. Harrell, speaking at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City ~37m00s
- Satire from RFM: “Governor Boggs’ Extermination Order was not doctrine. The state of Missouri is often asked about the Extermination Order issued by governor Boggs against the Mormons. It has come to our understanding that church leaders still talk about this from the pulpit and teach it in their lesson manuals. The Extermination Order was a sad and tragic incident in Missouri history, carried out by a few rogue Missourians, but it is important to remember that the Extermination Order was not doctrinal. A Governor is only a Governor when speaking as such. It is clear that the extermination order was only the opinion of Governor Boggs, and was never official doctrine. We know this because the state of Missouri revoked the order in 1976. If it was official doctrine, it never would have been revoked. It saddens me that mormons continue to bring up this old tired argument in an attempt to discredit Governor Boggs. It is obvious to those of us who have actually studied the issue that the Extermination Order was not taken seriously by the vast majority of Missourians. Only a few rogue men who misunderstood the order took it upon themselves to commit crimes against the mormon people. We don’t know why Governor Boggs said what he did. Many people have tried to offer an explanation with limited light and knowledge, but the truth is we just don’t know. The important thing to remember is the order was revoked over 35 years ago. We welcome Mormons into our great state with open arms. We have moved on, and we wish that the church would finally put this behind them. Sadly, it seems the old saying is true – you can leave Missouri, but you can’t leave Missouri alone.”
- “My problem was not having an official word of the church to go on. I was left floundering as to what was really doctrine and what wasn’t. What the church really teaches as true and what I had wrong. Which parts of Mormon history was true and which parts critics were making up. There was so much contradiction and having a clear OFFICIAL version of every topic would have been incredibly helpful. When I started researching I was disgusted at how everything I studied had a disclaimer stating that it didn’t necessarily represent the church and may not be official. It’s the church that makes this an issue. I makes them look as if they have something to hide. If you really do have the truth, stand up loud and proud, don’t leave members floundering. If you really have a prophet who speaks for God, tell him to speak loudly, state what is true and doctrine. The fact is, we can’t trust anything they say. If members are left to decipher when prophets are speaking as men and when they are speaking as a prophet, what is real doctrine and what isn’t, I say they could do just as well on their own. The LDS church has to make that disclaimer on most things because if they truly came out with what they believe, half of what past prophets taught would be tossed out the window and those prophets would have to be declared false or fallen prophets. This is the heart of it. They are backed into a corner and it’s better to let members run willy nilly through it all, picking and choosing which parts to believe, which is why no 2 members think the same on certain things and have off the wall beliefs about any given topic…
“Why would I trust a church who is silent and leaves me to defend the faith, then turns around and says nothing I say counts. It isn’t official. They don’t back up any of their members or their apologists, yet they demand loyalty and trust from members and apologists.” (Kate)
- Viewpoint on Mormonism Series on Mormonism and Plausible Deniability: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
- Should one limit consideration of “Mormonism” to what minimalists deem “official” and “binding”?, by Aaron Shafovaloff
- Changes to Gospel Principles
- Mormon Belief: The Doctrine of the LDS Church, by Robert Bowman Jr.
- Sola Scriptura Mormonism (MP3), by Bill McKeever
- Too many Mormons look back, by Sharon Lindbloom
- “Thus saith the Lord”, but what about the Adam God theory? (YouTube)
- Glomar response (Wikipedia)
- Weasel word (Wikipedia)
- Doublespeak (Wikipedia)
- The Mormon Version of Infallibility, by Holly Welker
- The Challenges of Defining Mormon Doctrine, by Loyd Ericson (cultural Mormon)
- Caffeine Withdrawal: A Case Scenario of Plausible Deniability, by Andrew S (liberal Mormon) – “Ambiguity is a characteristic strategy for change within the correlated church… Ambiguity creates cross-generational change… the church probably relies upon most people not catching the change… Neither [the old or the new] generation has reason to believe that anything has changed if there is not a public repudiation anywhere in the process.”
- The Challenges of Mormons Defining Mormon Doctrine for Mormons; or, Is It Mormon Doctrine that Mormon Doctrine Is True? A Rejoinder, by Loyd Ericson
- What is “Official” LDS Doctrine?, by Michael Ash (FAIR)
- Meaning, Source, and History of Doctrine, by M. Gerald Bradford and Larry E. Dahl
- What is Official Doctrine?, by Stephen E. Robinson and Joseph Fielding Smith
- Approaching Mormon Doctrine (LDS Newsroom)
- Mormon Doctrine: What’s Official, And What Isn’t?, by Donald L. Ashton (StayLDS.com – a we-don’t-believe-but-still-stay group)
- LDS Anthropologist Daymon Smith on Post-Manifesto Polygamy, Correlation, the Corporate LDS Church, and Mammon (Mormon Stories Podcast; associated with SayLDS.com)
- Official Doctrine in the Church (YouTube video), by Mike Batie
- Thinking Strategically about a Ban Disavowal, by Kevin Barney – “Historically the Church’s strategy for dealing with controversial issues like this has been to take the long view. The Church is steered like a huge ocean liner, and changes slowly, incrementally, not in sharp 90-degree turns, and in general that approach has served the Church well. But I think that as leaders now is a time when a more innovative approach to the problem is going to be necessary, because recent events have shown that strategy to be an utter failure. Here we sit 32 years after the 1978 revelation and we have one of BYU’s most popular religion professors indoctrinating thousands of our youth every year in the old explanations. This is a potential disaster for the organization. We thought the old stuff would die a quiet death, but it hasn’t. We now live in a different world, and since Al Gore invented the internet, our old strategy of waiting for time to heal the wound has been shown to be a failure. So now we’ve got to rethink things… Time will eventually help, but we don’t have that kind of time in my judgment.”
- The Perils of an Open Canon, by Benjamin E. Park – “Mormons have yet to formulate a way to understand their doctrinal canon that acknowledges the messiness of the past, provides comfort and stability for the present, and yet still leaves the door open for possibly future correctives. That is, of course, what the modern prophetic tradition promises.”
- “Listen to the general conference with an ear willing to hear the voice of God given through His latter-day prophets.” –Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, March 2012, p. 5
- “Nonetheless, as Joseph Smith so pointedly taught, a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. This is one of the reasons the Lord has given us the Standard Works. They become the standards and rules that govern where doctrine and philosophy are concerned. If this were not so, we would believe one thing when one man was president of the Church and another thing in the days of his successors. Truth is eternal and does not vary. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord…Wise people anchor their doctrine on the Standard Works.” – Bruce R. McConkie, in a 1981 letter to LDS theologian Eugene England