"We must learn how to form judgments of out own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We can't depend on somebody else's light to tell us whether a certain idea is 'Church approved,' because new ideas don't always come with little tags saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. (Bruce C. Hafen, "Ambiguity in Law and Life," Clark Memorandum [Spring 2011], 18).This is very true. I think it can be extended a bit as well.
It is not just that ideas can come without tags saying that they are Church approved. Sometimes ideas that are not Church approved can come with tags saying that they are. Time, experience, grounding in the gospel, and listening to the Spirit can help detect some of these. Two examples come to mind:
- When the Church says that it has no official position on Book of Mormon geography, it means that. Individuals who say or imply that their geography is approved by the Church are out of line. They are often seeking the impression of Church imprimatur to lure the gullible into lining their wallets. This has nothing to do with whether or not their geography is correct. It may be perfectly correct in the smallest of details but since the Church has no official position on Book of Mormon geography to claim or imply otherwise is to put oneself in a dangerous position. (I note that individuals like John Sorenson and John Clark argue their geographies on the basis of their own scholarship. I have never heard them claim any other authority for their geographic arguments other than logic, reasoning, and a careful reading of the text.)
- Several years ago the ward I was living in had the policy that only hymns were allowed in Church meetings. No other music was permitted. I do not know the origin of the policy in that ward. It was claimed that the policy originated from Church headquarters even though no one could find anything in the handbooks that supported it. I was on the ward council when a letter came to the bishop from the First Presidency stating that that particular policy was explicitly not the policy of the Church and that there were beautiful and inspiring piece of music appropriate for Church meetings that were not hymns and that local leaders should use their own discernment on the issue. (Imagine that! Salt Lake trusted the local leaders enough to let them make their own decisions.)
I tend to be suspicious of those who claim that their ideas are "Church approved" when:
- they can point to no official written source for their claims,
- they are not in a position of authority with direct contact with Church headquarters, and
- they obtain direct benefit from their claims.
I tend not to be suspicious of my bishop because bishops get direct mail from Salt Lake almost every week about large and small matters. If I have a question about a policy, the bishop can probably show me the handbook or the letter justifying it. In the case of the music policy mentioned above, however, no one could produce a document from Salt Lake for the policy, which is fine if the policy is the bishop's policy and not claimed to be the Church's policy. I have no problem with the bishop having his own policy on matters that the Church has no position on, as when our bishop asked us all to read the Book of Mormon in a specific three month period last year. In my experience, bishops are usually good about identifying the source of various policies and usually do not directly benefit from their policies.
If the second counselor elder's quorum were to come to me and claim that he had oral instructions from Salt Lake that I was to give him a thousand dollars, however, I would probably hang on to my money.