Let me tell you a story: Doctrine, policy, and practice
So when I initially thought about this series of blog posts, I thought I was going to take a phenomenologist view and just recount the stories with minimal interpretive comment. Having thought about this some more, I’ve decided that a) I’m not sure it’s possible to tell stories that happened to you without introducing your interpretive framework and b) even if it is possible, it’s far less fun. Hence, the title of this post points toward the moral that I’d like you to draw from the story (which makes me no kind of phenomenologist, because phenomenologist don’t believe in stories having morals).
Once, when I was a zone leader (aside: I hate when stories start like this, because it sounds like braggadocio, but I promise it’s relevant here. Also, I know that it’s a mission story like a solid 78% of stories in Mormondom, but I promise it’s a good story), the assistants brought to zone leader council an idea for the restructuring of our multi-zone conferences. Previously we had had car inspections and training, a morning session of instruction, then lunch and an activity, then an afternoon session. The assistants proposed that we have no morning session, just the usual car training, followed by a brown-bag lunch and an extended afternoon session. The other zone leaders and I presented (I thought cogent) arguments against such a restructuring, but one of the assistants replied, “Well, will you pray about it? Because we have.”
The discussion ended then and there, because what do you say to that? What can you say? “Elder So-n-so, I refuse to believe that the Lord gave you revelation about when we should eat lunch at multi-zones”? I remember sitting back in my chair and seething because with these two sentences everyone’s concerns and counsel (and it’s not called zone leader council for nothing) were instantly quashed.
There are several morals I could draw from this story, but here’s the one I’m interested in right now. Sometimes we like to elevate practices to the status of doctrine (right, Professor Bott and/or Brigham Young?). This is on the whole a bad idea. When we start speaking of practices as doctrine, frank discussion of such practices becomes socially inhibited. This chilling effect produces a sort of feedback, further elevating the perceived status of the practice and further inhibiting discussion, and suddenly we’ve institutionalized a thing that has no sound backing in the actual doctrines of the church. And then we start playing the eisegesis game, and then we get in real trouble.
Now, it’s true that (most) (good) policies and practices in fact have a foundation in the doctrine. However, some of them don’t, and these should be allowed to be the subjects of open and honest discussion about their validity going forward.