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New Harmony: Is it bedrock truth or a regional standard?

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Morning session of the 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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Several years ago, I asked an LDS seminary teacher what he found to be the most difficult thing to teach.

He thought a moment. Then he said:

“Teaching students how to separate bedrock gospel principles from LDS cultural biases.”

At the time, I thought he was talking about the folk dances of Norway or some such thing.

Now I know differently.

Just as people who are colorblind can’t distinguish between red and blue, sometimes in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can't see a distinction between doctrinal absolutes and regional standards.

For instance, many people in the LDS Church worry about shoes.

We discuss where a sandal ends and a real shoe begins the way Plato argued his Theory of Forms.

I suppose in the name of appropriateness such questions must be addressed — though it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that in some parts of the globe, children go to sacrament meeting in bare feet while in other congregations women wear Prada.

The problem with “local cultural standards” is they can quickly lead to little Books of Leviticus, where every hair cries out to be split.

And it doesn’t just happen with our behavior. Sometimes we get attached to beliefs that are more flexible than we realize.

When I was a boy, I remember hearing the story of seagulls and crickets over and over. I thought the miracle was right up there with the parting of the Red Sea.

I thought that miracle was central to our faith, right at the core, like the Passover. I was wrong.

Now, I don't hear a lot about crickets.

The new pioneer story is the heroic rescue at Martin’s Cove.

I’m just guessing here, but I suspect that’s because the Good Samaritan aspect of that rescue is inspirational in every country and every generation. The cricket story, on the other hand, is harder to apply to our daily lives.

That’s just me talking, however.

Not long ago, I heard a Brigham Young University professor say that he felt members of the church would be surprised at how few “bedrock, unchangeable absolutes” there really are in the church. A great many teachings, he said, are adjustable. And those teachings change to help the church mold itself to new eras and new groups.

Many Mormons, I suspect, feel a bit shaken when something they’ve held as irrefutable is suddenly adjusted by the powers that be.

Personally, however, I never do.

I actually like it when things I once thought were carved in stone turn out to be more malleable than I thought.

Such moments don’t rattle me; they wake me up and help me to learn.

And in learning, I become more understanding and accepting.

When what I hold as unchangeable is changed, it changes me — usually in a positive way.

My old seminary pal helped to see that.

I should call him and let him know.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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