So, rising from rancor of doctrinal dispute into a singular set of beliefs which could later become “orthodox” and all else be branded “heterodox” or, with time, “heretical” was essential just as Constantine knew it would be. Without there being a singular set of beliefs the faith which would eventually sweep the European Continent and beyond could not have brought any unity at all. So it was a good thing, right?
That is the argument for. It is quite compelling, actually. I do not underestimate its strength. However, it simply does not persuade me. Admittedly the violence was foolish and wrong. But the violent sects were never Christ’s anyway. They never got what He was teaching. Let them run their violent course and, in time, they will never attract a large audience anyway.
Additionally, the definition of “orthodoxy” was not based upon truth or revelation, it was based only upon what was practical. Constantine never concerned himself with the truth. The legacy of that error lives on. The descendants of that original council in Nicea all condemn us as “Non-Christian” because we reject their creeds, beginning with the Nicean Creed, which defined God.
Inside the Restoration there was an order which allowed tolerance (as Joseph originally envisioned it) of divergent views of doctrine. A consensus wasn’t necessary. Only knowing that we were united as a people was necessary. How we viewed different subjects or doctrines was to be left to each individual. The way such people became “one” is something I’ve already explained in this post.
We’ve had healthy and meaningful doctrinal disagreements inside the Church without any ill effects. President Brigham Young believed that God knew everything, was not progressing in knowledge, and that if he were progressing in knowledge it would make God’s plans vulnerable to overthrow by something which He did not understand. Elder Orson Pratt thought God was progressing in every respect, including gaining knowledge. He thought the principle of “eternal progression” was the greatest joy and happiness and God enjoys the benefits of that great joy. For him it was a principle of joy. These two never agreed.
Widstoe was in disagreement with Joseph Fielding Smith. Publication of Man, His Origin and Destiny was nearly a seditious act by Joseph Fielding Smith and incurred the rancor of President McKay. President McKay shut the thing down at that point and wouldn’t let either one publish further by adopting a rule that no-one who is a General Authority is permitted to publish without permission of the First Presidency.
We survived. We tolerated. There wasn’t a group of violent Widstoeites attacking the Smithites to overtake the Pioneer Ward building. We were civil. I do not think it did anything more than raise the blood pressure of the High Priests’ Groups. Something I believe preferable to the somnambulism of that assortment we see today. Doctrinal differences sort themselves out by persuasion, pure knowledge and love. Eventually, when the problem or confusion becomes acute and we need an answer, then we can all unite and go to the Lord in prayer, seeking mercy from Him for the dispute we cannot ourselves solve. Then, through revelation, we can come to a consensus as we hear from Him. We don’t use that model very often.
Right now the Correlation Department is actively polling to give updated information to the Brethren about what policies, programs and procedures are effective. I have a lengthy questionaire at my home to fill out right now. I don’t know if I’m going to do it. I’ve commented on that process and Elder Holland’s reference to it before. I think it is more dangerous to use the polling and focus group approach to manage the diversity of opinions than it is to tolerate them.
What loss is it to us if the church simply refuses to take a position on the Gay Rights Ordinance; while some Saints believe it to be appropriate and others believe it to be the sinful prelude to Sodom and judgments of God. These opinions can be discussed, debated and people can make up their own minds. Joseph’s position of tolerance worked, when we tried it. When we had keen and publicly expressed disagreements on doctrine between the First Presidency and members of the Twelve it did not harm us at all. It made us more interesting.
Now that we have chosen to establish “orthodoxy” we are risking the freedom to be individually accountable for our beliefs before God. We have also lost doctrinal adventurism. This is because of our critics.
You see one of the harms of tolerating divergent opinions about doctrine is the clamor of the critics. They take a quote here and juxtapose it with another quote there, and say that Mormonism is a bundle of confusion. We targeted that in the Correlation process and have attempted to entirely stamp out the divergent or disagreeing doctrinal statements or positions. We want “oneness” in a different way than Paul suggested it in the post I referenced above. In doing so, we have conceded the point to our critics, and now make unity of doctrine a greater virtue than freedom to progress and develop our own understanding by degrees.
Sometimes what you understand at one point is not what you understand at another. Hugh Nibley, for example, said nothing he wrote ten years earlier would be binding upon him because he continued to discover and learn. We would be benefited from a similar approach all the way from the top to the bottom. New converts will, by degrees, leave their earlier faith traditions behind them. Or they won’t. Instead they will bring with them an understanding from those traditions which have a resonance with the Book of Mormon or something in the Doctrine and Covenants which had escaped all our notice before. And we will all be “added upon” by tolerating their view, even embracing their view. Freedom always pays dividends which control cannot.
Well, I’m not trying to solve the issue. I’m only trying to raise the issue. It is important.