A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Family Reunion

So, for those of you who’ve been holding your breath…

I talked (a little) about BCC at the Sunstone symposium yesterday, in an exceedingly weird session titled “Internet Mormons vs. Chapel Mormons.” It was mostly (I think) meant to explore Dr. Shades’s contention that the Church is in imminent danger of schism because people are being exposed to uncomfortable facts about Mormon history and doctrine on the Internet, and are thus forced to discard simplistic “Chapel Mormon” beliefs about the infallibility of prophets, the relentless glory of church history, etc. So Dr. Shades laid out his theory in extreme and argumentative terms, was rebutted in similarly extreme and argumentative (though much more cogent) fashion by Michael Ash (of FAIR), and then it was my turn.

I had mistakenly believed that the session was to be more of a discussion, and less a serial presentation of short papers, so I didn’t have a prepared statement, and included lots of ums and uhs in my rambling 5 minute remarks. I was a little flummoxed by the tone of the discussion preceeding me, and ended up in the strange (for me) role of Molly Mormon peacemaker, trying to lighten the mood in the room. In short, I think I seemed dumb, but really nice :)

I changed my mind about a couple of things over the course of the discussion. I still think that the Internet will not (at least not very soon) have a big impact on how the average Mormon in the pews (acknowledging, of course, that no such person exists!) perceives the workings of the institution. However, I do think it makes it somewhat more likely that people will encounter unpleasant facts about church history, difficult doctrinal issues, etc. in an unfriendly context–it’s hard to get a sense of just what people’s agenda is on the net. (Dr. Shades, for instance, seems somewhat less antagonistic to believers on his site than he appeared to be in person.) I think the Church needs to respond to this somehow, either by officially discouraging people from learning more about Mormonism online, or by creating more opportunities for people to grapple with the difficulties of Church history, doctrine, etc. in a friendly and believing context. (Obviously, I favor the second solution, and look forward to the Sunstone-enriched Sunday School manuals(:)) Correlation has had the (I think) unintended effect of pitching our Sunday School and Relief Society lessons to the lowest common denominator, and making it impossible to confront difficulties of any kind during the three-hour Sunday meetings.

The second thing will seem to contradict my hope that we could tolerate more controversy in Sunday School (it’s always good to contradict oneself immediately!). While I usually think of myself as someone who enjoys a bit of contention, I was really uncomfortable with the level of animosity in the exchange between Dr. Shades and Michael Ash–it may have been just the nature of the forum, or the particular personalities of those two, but I’m less likely than I was before to think that it’s a good idea for Mormon apologists to go toe-to-toe with antis. I’m not sure that many readers will follow the intricacies of their arguments, and the vitriol really does seem antithetical to the spirit of the gospel. (I think I might feel differently about academic exchanges in refereed journals, but at the level of “so-called intellectuals” with no degrees in ancient languages or philosophy of religion, it was just plain ugly.)

The best part of the day was meeting D. Fletcher and John Hatch. D. was much as I’d imagined him; John was not at all the small, wiry rock-climbing type I had pictured! Since I’ve already confessed to betraying my commitment to resisting gender-essentialist stereotypes, I’ll also say that (as stereotypical females are supposed to) I *really* liked having embodied conversations with them, instead of just seeing cold words on the screen.

Comments

  1. “(The lesson was on effective ways of teaching your children…not the most applicable topic in a singles ward…)”

    I’m not sure I’d agree with that. I’d say that most of my opinions on how I’ll teach my children arose from when I was single. And a goodly number of those from discussions in church. That’s not to criticize how you focused the lesson. I’ve done the same thing with the same lesson topic. Merely that I think we err if we assume that lessons on child rearing are inapplicable in a singles ward. (Speaking as one who spent a much longer time in singles wards than most)

  2. “Almost everything prophets say ends up repeating.”

    Actually Clark, that’s not true. This is exactly my point about the manuals and what we talk about in Church. You *believe* what the prophets say are very similar and are repeated by subsequent prophets because that’s the image we’ve been presented with.

    The reality is, the words of Joseph Smith are radically different from the words of David O. McKay. Sure, all prophets bear testimony of Jesus and the atonement, but even how that’s been done has changed a great deal over the years. The evolution of doctrine over the years is truly incredible, and worth examining, I believe.

    For example, we Latter-day Saints pride ourselves on knowing that Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, is really Jesus. The truth of course is, no Church leader taught that until the late 19th century. Joseph Smith never once said Jesus and Jehovah are the same person. Quite the contrary, in fact. Brigham Young appears to have believed that Elohim was God the grandfather, Jehovah was God the father, and Jesus was God the Son. We owe George Q. Cannon and Franklin Richards to our belief in Jesus/Jehovah. Aren’t these differences worth examining in class? Couldn’t appreciating the differences between Church leaders help us remain more open-minded to different doctrinal possibilities?

    Couldn’t knowing that both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught very different things about the Word of Wisdom than Heber J. Grant help us appreciate why President Grant re-emphasized and refocused the Word of Wisdom?

  3. “Better manuals.” It’s not like a better, more interesting manual couldn’t be written, it’s just that the teaching philosophy has changed. Correlation as a curriculum chokepoint and the resulting dumbing-down of the curriculum is the visible effect. One can speculate on the change in outlook or perspective in senior leadership that has led to these changes.

    The whole manual issue was made evident to me several years ago when blowing the dust off of Nibley’s “An Approach to the Book of Mormon” and discovering (in the small print at the beginning of the book) that its two halves (Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites) were Melchizedek Priesthood manuals in like the 1950s. Wow, once upon a time lessons had content as opposed to rehash.

    Somehow consistency, correlation, and the quest for peasant-like gospel simplicity has displaced other values which once directed the selection of curriculum materials.

  4. “But I confess I don’t understand why you see that as a negative.”

    I guess I see it as a negative because it means we’re learning the same things over and over again. Church feels like repeating the third grade 50 times.

    I suppose my point with the priesthood manual is why bother separating it into the teachings of the prophets? Why study the teachings of Harold B. Lee if his teachings are exactly the same as Heber J. Grant? I suppose it’s just a matter of shattered expectations. The teachings of the prophets could have been really great, but now it’s no different than any other manual we’ve had.

    Oh, and FWIW, President Benson’s pride talk was ghost written. He didn’t write it and remember, he didn’t read it either – he was too sick. But that’s another topic.

  5. john fowles says:

    Correlation has had the (I think) unintended effect of pitching our Sunday School and Relief Society lessons to the lowest common denominator, and making it impossible to confront difficulties of any kind during the three-hour Sunday meetings. I agree with this and just today in Sunday School was thinking how this could possibly be avoided.

    I think the Church has taken the most pragmatic course of action in trying to maintain cohesion in such a centralized Church. If the Church had a more evangelical structure to it, such correlation would presumably be unnecessary since local leaderships could set the agendas and the direction of their local congregations, and the congregations themselves could steer doctrine in the direction that they saw fit. The problem is, such a structure does not “fit” with the idea of a Church directed by living prophets; or at least, it is incongruent in this dispensation of living prophets. But this also happens to be the dispensation in which we enjoy the promise that we will not fall into apostacy again (at least in macro). So maybe correlation is actually playing a role in that particular bigger picture, even if the result is the intellectually unstimulating Sunday School lessons (when teaching from e.g. FARMS publications would be so much more interesting, in my opinion).

  6. john fowles says:

    It may be that Correlation will have to either loosen its grip or broaden its accounting of “acceptable” lesson materials in order to deal with this explosion of available information.

    I agree that Correlation might have to modify its approach in a pragmatic way as the Church progresses. I don’t think that it currently is quite as watered down as you hinted with that Brigham Young example!

    But you are right, in some wards turning over GD to a lecture by the teacher could be disastrous. The problem is that for those who have studied the scriptures, outside material, perhaps served a mission, it seems natural that that type of lecture could take place, and yet many a GD teacher hasn’t even read the BoM all the way through. I am certainly shocked by some of the comments that come up in my GD class. They range from incredible inaccuracy about the simplest BoM stories that even my 3 year old daughter could recite relatively accurately to huge misconceptions about the world around us. For example, yesterday in GD a well-intentioned commentor decided to get political and said that the Iraq war was wrong because we have to think about the feelings of all the saints in the stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan! I guess my point is that being uninformed extends a lot further than some of these people’s gospel knowledge.

  7. Actually I’m not in nursery anymore. I’m supposed to be the weblos assistant. Which sucks since I’ve never been in the American scouting program and the leader is sort of “absent” and all the past leaders have abandoned their callings. So I’m trying to do things without any manuals and no clue what I’m doing while a bunch of angry parents complain about the system. Our ward is, in many respects, kind of dysfunctional.

    Regarding your ward, I’m willing to guess I’d agree there is a problem. I’d just bet that the problem is with the teachers and not with the manuals. That’s basically my point. Heavens in our ward we’ve had teachers that were positively painful and made me want to skip Sunday School. But considering a few months earlier I was teaching from the same manual with no problems, I’m loath to blame the manuals.

  8. Actually there already is an extended entry on it in my blog. The topic starts with the notion of agency and moves on from there ending with a discussion of Heidegger (down towards the bottom of the page)

    http://www.libertypages.com/clark/Intros/agencyshape.html

    Admittedly the Heidegger example is more extreme, but I’m fairly confident that most people would be bored reading the typical Nibley book. Further Nibley tends to introduce a lot of flawed thinking in his books. That’s fine for a scholar, but I get nervous about it when it is injected into church.

    (And for the record manuals that I am critical of, such as the D&C Institute manual I’m critical for the same reason – its comments on relativity and other science which it gets horribly wrong)

    I just think that the topics people here now appear to be requesting for Sunday School or Priesthood are inappropriate there. I just don’t see how they relate to the *content* of the gospel.

    That they can be interesting to some and worthy of study I’ll agree. That they are appropriate to put in a manual – especially a manual for some teacher ill equipped to deal with it – also seems clear.

    Let’s be honest. Take your typical Sunday School teacher. Do you *really* think they ought to be let loose with one of Nibley’s books? I shudder to think about the misreadings and amount of false doctrine that would arise.

  9. Agreed. btw, when’s the big day? It’s pretty soon, isn’t it?

  10. Almost everything prophets say ends up repeating. If that’s your complaint it seems indemic to the church itself.

    Now if *lessons* are repetitive it is because of crappy teachers. Teachers are supposed to teach oriented towards the needs of the students.

    To me it seems like you are establishing my point: the problem is poor teachers.

  11. As a GD teacher I have been struggling with some of the issues raised here and recently commented on them some over at T&S:
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/001165.html
    (still don’t know how to insert a link).

    On the SS manual (which I look at but rarely use): As long as you’re going to have a one-size-fits-all universal manual, it is almost of necessity going to have to accommodate the “lowest common denominator.” The best we could hope for is better supplemental material at the end of the lesson, where they now do have “additional teaching ideas” which are usually more interesting than the main lesson.

    Even then I doubt they would ever want to address Dr. Shades type issues. As broad as we bloggers might believe the reach of the Internet to be, I strongly suspect that the reach of the SS manual is much broader and that exposing those issues in the SS manual would only spread those obnoxious points even more broadly. As much as I support addressing those issues on blogs and at symposiums, I don’t think that it is the Church’s job to do that in its own publications.

    That said, it would be nice to see more carefully and neutrally presented FARMS-type material added as supplements to the lessons. For example, our appreciation of Alma 36 can be greatly heightened by understanding its chiastic structure which I don’t think is really that hard to explain.

    On the nature of GD class in general, I think that it is hard to generalize. The nature of GD teachers and classes varies so broadly. Which is worse — a “free floating ethical discussion and the group therapy” which at least engages some class members or a windbag GD teacher who talks the whole time without engaging any substantive class discussion? (My fear is that I tend to the latter.)

    The best idea I can come up with which may have general application is the power of the class member question. As long as the question is based in the assigned text for that Sunday, my experience is that a pointed class member question can often constructively direct the discussion if the teacher is being amateurish (which we almost all are in the Church after all).

  12. Basically a month. The official day is September 27. Nicole is definitely hoping for sometime before that.

    BTW – I’ll second Dave’s comments. I’d love some people to post some “travelogues” about some of the presentations.

  13. But the real question, Kris — did you bear testimony of the one true and living blog? I mean, all this dabbling with strange doctrine at BCC is all well and good, but don’t forget that it is upon the rock of T & S that you must build, to resist those shafts in the whirlwind, etc.

    :)

  14. Clark, come visit me in my ward and I believe you’ll be convinced that there *is* a problem–I’m not making it up!

    And, by the way, how does the nursery manual stack up? Age-appropriate? Doctrinally correct? Plenty of room for creativity?

  15. Clark, don’t you think there’s some room between the watered-down gruel we’ve got now and Heidegger?

    But, hey, Dasein and section 93 could be interesting–an entry on your blog sometime?

  16. Clark, I don’t think the problem is repetition — that’s commonplace in the Church. Rather, I think the problem is a perceived failure to capitalize on unique perspectives and historical points of interest. Why label our manuals by referring to specific, different prophets every year, if we fail to really appreciate the differences amongst them?

  17. Clark, of course good teachers can teach from any old crappy manual and still do fine; I think the question is whether and how much it’s possible to help mediocre teachers with a good manual.

    And condolences on the scouting calling!

  18. Dave, I’m not sure, exactly, but I think the audience was a little bored with Dr. Shades’s show. I was. “Gunfight” is probably a little too dramatic. Dr. Shades and Michael were quite civil, it was just that they were clearly carrying on a debate they’d started elsewhere, and the audience was sort of irrelevant.

    Which made me even more sad that I didn’t have a brilliant 10-minute talk to give them; it would have been welcomed.

    I didn’t get to go to many other sessions, because of family obligations, but I did hear Kathleen Flake and Michael Quinn “debate.” They were great; Quinn was more genial than I’ve seen him, and Flake was brilliant at presenting her work as an amplification of Quinn’s work, rather than a contradiction. Her book is great, but she is even better in person–wicked smart, slyly funny, and utterly charming. She teaches Gospel Doctrine in my brother’s ward. Makes me almost want to move to Nashville (not in August, though!).

  19. For those who went, how were some of the other sessions? There were several philosophically oriented ones I was curious about.

    Regarding manuals, I think one need not be *that* creative to stick to the manual and yet teach the topics in new and interesting ways. Seriously, it isn’t that hard. I taught a lesson in priesthood yesterday from the HJG manual on priesthood. It got into a very useful and practical discussion of how to know what to say in a blessing. We talked about people who felt inspired to heal someone only to have the person die. We talked about people who felt pretty amazing revelation in knowing what the illness was they were healing and the confirmation to it.

    So all the griping about manuals in my opinion arises from those with little creativity for teaching. (IMO) If you need a manual to lay out in detail what you have to teach my opinion is that your lessons will be poor no matter what.

  20. Further to John H’s post which popped on while I was writing mine so I didn’t see it:

    In Utah, how do you think people would react to a lesson firmly rooted in the assigned text for the week, but which draws on verses and points not covered in the manual’s treatment of the week’s text (which does strongly tend to the the same-old readings of the texts)? At least in teaching the BoM, I am finding plenty of interesting material for 40 minutes simply from a close reading of the entire assigned text and have not had to draw on external sources nearly as often as I thought I would. For example, for Alma 53-63, I am thinking of focusing on the Moroni-Pahoran correspondence in the later chapters rather than the good old seminary sons of Helaman story in the earlier chapters like the manual does. If I don’t mention that I lifted my approach from Nibley, but just focused on a close reading of the scriptural text, do you think the “manual is scripture” folks would still get bent out of shape?

  21. I agree completely with Jonathan here. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily provide an answer to the problems with the HJG manuals.

  22. I don’t *detest* the correlated manuals–I just wonder about their usefulness. Actually, lately I find myself wishing people would use them a little more, as I’m sick of the free-floating ethical discussions and the group therapy (loosely based on a single verse of scripture or a single quotation from a 5-page long lesson) that happen in RS and Sunday School. The focus of the Sunday School manual, for instance, on personal application is very nice, but we probably could use a slightly more didactic approach–a little more lecturing and a little less discussion. Of course, in my ward, which is probably much like yours, Randy (we’re at the outer fringe of the Cambridge stake and remarkably understaffed, undertalented, etc. compared to the Cambridge, Belmont, Arlington core), turning more time over to the GD teacher for lecturing would be pure disaster. Maybe we should just read the scriptures aloud together!

  23. I don’t deny there could be better manuals, or at least chapters. Perhaps I’m biased as I recall the manuals from the early 90’s which I actually did think were horrible. The current manuals are far more minimalistic. Further the questions you mention aren’t intended to be spoken to the class. They are guidelines to give direction to the teacher for some of the ways in which one can orient the lesson. I don’t have a Sunday School manual any more, but I think you err if you think using it entails slavish adherence by dictating its text.

    Regarding the priesthood manuals I honestly love them. The only downside I can see is that I’d like to see one or two weeks of more historical lessons telling a bit about the President in question.

    As for teachings, well most Prophets do say a lot of the same things. There are some unique matters and unique focuses. And those tend to be what differentiate them. However even Pres. Benson, who gave many notable talks, wasn’t that different in terms of the talks he gave. Even his famous Pride speach can be found among many other apostolic writings. They certainly have different focuses.

    But I confess I don’t understand why you see that as a negative.

  24. I have heard lots of gripes about the manuals and made more than my share of them myself. (My wife recently walked out of our GD class when the teacher claimed that the lesson manual was the inspired word of God.) I am curious, however, about the shape the folks’ dream manual would take. For the life of me, I don’t really know. I would much rather simply be given a scriptural text and told to come up with a lesson using whatever sources are available provided that I don’t teach false doctrine and keep the lesson focused on the text of the scriptures. Which is more or less what I have done when I was GD teacher. I have to confess, however, that I really have NO IDEA what a “good” Sunday school manual would look like.

  25. I not only agree with Jonathan, I want to move to his ward (maybe I’d actually *go* to Sunday School there!). :)

  26. I once tried introducing Nibley to a Priests Quorum when I was YMPres. It was generally a disaster, but one or two were surprised to know that there were any scholars that studied Church-related questions, so maybe ultimately it did some good.

    I do like to occasionally bring in a book as a suggestion for those who want to know more. I’ve brought in the Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, for example, not to read from but to let people know it exists. When I first did this, I had little reaction, but now whenever I bring something in, about a half-dozen class members write it down, ask me to spell the author, etc. It’s a nice way to accommodate those who want to know more without imposing on those who don’t.

    I’ve taught a couple of High Priest quorums from the Presidents manuals. One quorum eventually did read the manual ahead of time, and we had some great discussions. The other basically refused to, and the uninformed comments by class members forced me to spend class time having people read the material just so everyone knew what we were talking about, with the result that even I was bored!

    Generally, though, I think Church attendance is more for generating and sharing spritual feelings and insights rather than intellectual or factual “truths.” It’s for encouraging one another to repent and forgive, and that’s about it–which is more than enough when it is taken seriously.

  27. Aaron Brown says:

    I really wish I had been there. I thought about going, but my schedule just didn’t permit it. Yes, it would be interesting to meet fellow Bloggernaclers in person, to see whether and how much you all conform to the mental images in my mind.

    By the way, I happen to be devastatingly handsome, so if that Aaron B in your mind’s eye doesn’t look totally HOT … please make the necessary adjustments immediately. :)
    (For proof, please click on my link at the top of the sidebar, and view my picture.)

    Aaron B

  28. I think I was trying to make the same point as Jonathan in my earlier reply to John H — the weekly assigned scriptural texts themselves supply plenty of substance as long as you and the class don’t feel bound to only follow the exact manual outline in reading them.

    As for RS/Prsthd, I haven’t taught from the HJG manual but back when I was teaching HPs with the BY, JFS, and JT manuals, I found that using a few quotes from the manual could readily serve as a springboard for discussion on the topic of the lesson. No one seemed to mind that we didn’t cover every single quote in the manual and there were always at least a few quotes in each lesson from which one could derive interesting discussion questions.

  29. I’ll confess Clark, I’m a little perplexed at your adamant defense of the manuals. I appreciate what you’re saying and your perspective – but it just seems like a defense of the Church when no defense is necessary.

    Could a really great, stupendous teacher work miracles with even the lousiest of manuals? You bet. Is that somehow supposed to mean we just accept the lousy manuals and pray with all our might for a great teacher? Is it really that outrageous for us to hope for something a little bit better?

    Forget the specifics of the manuals, like the beach ball-sized questions they have you lob out at the class (such brain teasers as “Is faith important” come to mind), lets look at the overall approach the manuals take. The teachings of the prophets series really had a remarkable opportunity to help us understand and appreciate each prophet’s presidency and what they tried to stress and what was important to them. It could have helped members appreciate the leader in their place and time and helped enrich our view of the challenges these men faced and how they rose to meet those challenges.

    Instead, we got manuals that hint that each prophet is just an automaton of the Lord. They teach exactly the same things, deal with exactly the same issues, and practically lived exactly the same lives. As it is, right now you could swap the covers of the manuals and I bet you wouldn’t tell the difference in the teachings.

    Can a great teacher still do the things I’ve suggested these manuals could do? Sure they could. But my Elders Quorum teacher isn’t all that great, and we just read from the manual, week in and week out. Can’t imagine why there’s only five or six people that show up.

    Is it really too much to hope for a comparitive religion manual, so we can study and appreciate other religions? What about a manual that studies the writings of Church leaders, what has influenced Church doctrine and where they disagree? I know, now I’m wandering into “dream on” territory.

  30. I’ve taught GD for several years in various wards, and I find I can usually cover the manual concepts in about 5 minutes. People are much more interested in discussing the profound doctrine contained in the scriptures than in rehashing the surface doctrines covered by the manuals. When we did the Alma 36-39 lesson, for example, we focused almost exclusively on how Alma experienced the atonement in his life (as part of our ongoing focus on joy as described in the BofM), and how to experience the atonement in our own lives. The 40 minutes was not nearly enough time for that, yet based on comments during class and afterward, the discussion deeply touched many people. IMO, the scriptures can stand on their own as lesson material. Occasionally, I’ll use manual materials if there’s a helpful idea, and I make sure to somehow cover the essence of the manual, but I don’t see the need for outside sources when the fundamental doctrines in the scriptures themselves are so little understood.

  31. John,

    Is that letter on-line somewhere? I’d be interested in reading it.

  32. John, I agree that Correlation has played a necessary role–there’s no way the Church could have achieved the growth that it has without the emphasis on simplification and streamlining provided by the Correlation movement. However, I think we may be reaching the end of Correlation’s usefulness, as we now have a very far-flung Church that is not deeply rooted in doctrinal understanding. I’m not sure how far “follow the prophet(s)” will carry us without more independent understanding of the scriptures, etc. The likelihood that people who’ve been taught from correlated manuals that “Brigham Young remarried” after the death of his first wife will discover that he “remarried” 37 times is increased by access to the Internet. It may be that Correlation will have to either loosen its grip or broaden its accounting of “acceptable” lesson materials in order to deal with this explosion of available information. That’s all I’m saying, and of course it’s raw speculation–I’m very glad that it’s not my job to figure out how this will all shake out!

    And John H. isn’t fat, he’s just much taller and broader than I’d imagined (or maybe I’m shorter than I usually think of myself as being :))

  33. John, your point is more a terminological one. Certainly there are those sorts of differences and subtle theological points. And, as you know based upon what discussions I tend to get into, I rather enjoy learning about those differences. However I don’t think those are the gospel nor do I think focusing in on that minutae appropriate for Priesthood or Sunday School.

    If that is your point – more or less that we ought to convert teaching the gospel into teaching history – then I agree. The lessons manuals are horrible. However I don’t think the manuals were ever intended to be history books.

    So I guess we’re at a bit of an impass. If you think the lesson manuals ought to focus on differences of style and history, then you’ll always be unsatisfied. If you think the lesson manuals ought to be teaching the substance of the gospel, then I think the problem resolves itself.

    The mere fact that the Priesthood manuals are quotes from talks and writings of the GAs mean that there will be stylistic differences and slight differences of emphasis. But the focus is on the content and not the “form.”

  34. Jonathan: I think that you are right with regard to the GD classes. Back in the day when I taught GD, I found that if I sat down with a passage, outlined the content, and then came up with a list of questions about the text and the structure I had a lesson, no manual required.

    What does one do in Priesthood and RS, however? I actually think that the teachings of the presidents of the church are an improvement over the old manuals, but they can be difficult to teach from. I am not sure what would be better. The only concrete suggestion I can think of is for each chapter to be a single, complete sermon rather than snippets of several sermons cobbled together topically. If you have a larger cohesive text there is a lot more that you can do. Bite sized texts encourage bite sized comments, which make for dull and disjointed lessons. What is interesting to me is that the manuals seem to be moving in this direction.

    I am not sure what other concrete improvements I would like to see.

  35. Kristine must’ve plugged Bcc pretty well – it was listed in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune reporting on the session.

    I didn’t get to hear it (I was part of another panel that same hour) but will listen in on the tape. Bummer that Shades and Ash were so high strung – this could’ve been a great discussion.

    I really enjoyed meeting Kristine, and only wish I had more time to chat. Same definitely goes for D., who I only got to shake hands and say hi to very briefly.

    Oh, and Kristine’s mention that I’m not the small, wiry rock climbing type is her very kind way of saying I’m a fat guy. :)

  36. Kristine,

    I think you are right that the Church probably has to respond to the rise of the internet sites like those run by Dr. Shades, but I don’t see that the two alternatives you list are plausible. The first would only fan the flames (and is plain silly). The second seems like little more than wishful thinking. Let’s just face it, there is a zero percent chance that Adam-God theory, Zelph, the Danites, etc., etc., are going to be discussed anytime soon in Sunday School. Some wards could doubtless handle it (think Cambridge); others, like my current ward, could not. We’re still struggling with the basics.

    A (not-so) funny story: A couple of weeks ago, our ward mission leader was out on a split with the missionaries. The missionaries were teaching an investigator about the priesthood when our mission leader felt compelled to correct them. He explained that other churches did in fact have the priesthood, but only the Aaronic Priesthood. As proof, our ward mission leader pointed out that these other churches have the authority to baptize people but cannot give them the gift of the Holy Ghost. Those correlation materials you so detest–they are made for our ward. Personally, I don’t think those “lowest common denominator” manuals are going anywhere anytime soon.

    It strikes me that the answer to the internet has to come from the internet. The Church is doing this a bit with the “Mistakes in the News” on the Church’s website. Perhaps that portion of the site will continue to grow. Still, there is a limit to how far the Church can go in raising and responding to these issues. Perhaps, at the end of the day, the only real answer is to provide safe places for people to work through these issues–places like BCC.

  37. Kristine, yes it is a subtle theological point since *both* Jesus and the Father are Jehovah. The only place it is really relevant is in interpreting certain passages and even then fairly rarely in terms of content. I can see it being relevant in say Mosiah 15 or D&C 93. I’ve brought the issue up while teaching Mosiah 15. But I honestly don’t see how it is relevant content wise otherwise. Some might find it an interesting topic. But it is somewhat akin to those who drone on endlessly about etymology in Sunday School. It is interesting to only a very small group and it bores the rest to tears. I happen to be in that very small group, but I listen enough to recognize that I am a very small minority.

    Put an other way, I could drone on in my Priesthood class I teach about the relationship between the greek notion of polemos as it relates to Heidegger and the notion of Daesin and how that relates both to D&C 93 as well as the very play of “space” in the Book of Mormon. Yet I’m fairly confident that few would really understand what the heck I was talking about let alone care.

  38. Nate, I actually don’t have a real problem with the manuals. As I mentioned above, I think they’re pretty impressive for what they have to do. Again, what I object to are the statements that insist teachers not stray or use outside sources. I used outside sources in one lesson and got many compliments. But one woman approached me and told me to “stick to the manual, since that’s all the First Presidency has approved.” I’ve basically ignored her, but she wouldn’t have been able to say anything if the statements hadn’t been out there in the first place.

    I just don’t sense that there’s a ton of trust in teachers to do the right thing and uplift their classes. We’re told what we can use and we’re supposed to attend classes on how to teach. Just let us do our jobs and then deal with the problem teachers on an individual basis instead of trying to prevent problem teachers by insisting everyone use the same materials and teach the same thing.

  39. Nate, I don’t have the answer either, but a good start would be a compilation of more thoughtful (as opposed to rhetorical) questions, perhaps along the lines of Jim’s posts at T&S.

  40. One more GD teacher chiming in here. If I’m not mistaken, the Sunday School lesson manuals are not just for the adults, but for the teenages ages 14 and up. That has also added to the seriously dumbed down tone of the lessons. I’ve found the manual to be only marginally useful (interestingly, the Book of Mormon manual is worse than the OT and NT versions.) Usually I pull some questions from it, and try to focus on the topics that it brings up, but I almost always use supplemental material.

    Of course, I’m teaching to a group of mostly college educated (and many graduate educated) singles in the DC area, so I feel like I have to rise to the occasion for them.

    Yesterday, (the alma 36-39 lesson) I felt like the only think I could do was pretty much toss the manual and start from scratch. (The lesson was on effective ways of teaching your children…not the most applicable topic in a singles ward…) So we had a discussion of Chiasmus and other literary techniques that were effective in explaining doctrine and heightening spiritual awareness. I think it went pretty well–at least I hope it went well.

    The point is, if we really are magnifying our callings as teachers, shouldn’t we be using all of our talents and resources to build the kingdom? If there is a need for supplemental material, approach it prayerfully, but go for it.

  41. Several years ago we actually had a gospel doctrine teacher that did little more than ask people to take turns reading the scriptures, with a couple of “any comments on that” thrown in for good measure. It was absolutely awful.

    Our current gospel doctrine teacher is actually pretty good. She focuses almost exclusively on the manual. She is bright and always gets the doctrine right. She would be fine if she were to lecture more and engage in discussion less. But I don’t see how she could take on the issues raised by Dr. Shades in a productive way (either in a discussion or by lecturing) without doing more harm than good. Still, I am sure that there are people in our ward who are struggling with Dr. Shade’s issues. I’m just not sure how we go about helping them.

  42. So, Clark, Jonathan, what has changed since 1950 or 60-whatever, when the Church did think it was appropriate to use Nibley as a manual? Is it just the growth of the church?

    And, btw, I think you’re being a little more condescending than necessary–lots of people can manage Nibley just fine, esp. stuff like _An Approach…_ I started reading Nibley when I was about 12, and I don’t think I was *dangerous,* ferhevvinssake. And I’m no Nate Oman–have only garden-variety smarts.

  43. The main difference between now and then is that the Church emphasizes practical application much more than mere knowledge, at least as part of Church services. There is also much more material around for interested persons to read than there was back then. Perhaps most importantly, the Church thought the members needed Nibley’s background to better appreciate the BofM. Joseph Fielding Smith said the book should be studied by every member of the Church.

    Nibley’s book was an entirely new approach to the BofM, but his approach has been generally adopted now, and it is pretty well incorporated in the Ensign, lesson manuals, etc. At least in the sense of fitting the BofM into a real world context.

    It’s not that people couldn’t understand Nibley if they read it, but that most don’t bother. When I say Nibley, I mean any scholarly or analytical books about the BofM.

  44. Aaron Brown says:

    There is at least one sense in which admonitions to stick to the manual and to not incorporate outside material are futile. As long as one’s lessons are discussion-based rather than lecture- based, and as long as class members are free to ask whatever questions strike their fancy (they are), I as a teacher am likely to be confronted with questions where I can or must incorporate knowledge I have from outside the correlated materials to answer the questions adequately. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t maintain a Chinese Wall in my head between what I know from the manuals and what I know from other extraneous sources. The result is that my classes are likely to be a product of my knowledge from a variety of sources, and I think that’s going to be true for all teachers.

    This isn’t to deny that we can’t all be careful about how deeply or controversially we choose to approach certain material, and I recognize that a prohibition against the formal introduction of supplemental materials has its purposes.

    By the way, I have never taught Gospel Doctrine, but I have taught Gospel Essentials about 66% of the time for the last 3 years. I think the issues one confronts as a teacher are largely the same.

    Aaron B

  45. This is an interesting discussion about the use of correlation and manuals. In Utah, you either love the manuals and insist they are written by the finger of God himself, or you wish they’d disappear entirely.

    On the one hand, I can see the need. Manuals aren’t written for a fifth generation Gospel Doctrine teacher on the East bench of Salt Lake City where the ward is made up of doctors, lawyers, Ph.Ds, and so forth. They are written for the Peruvian convert who’s been called to teach after joining the Church six weeks ago. I think the manuals get a bad rap considering what they are trying to do.

    But I also sympathize with a fairly prominent historian here in Salt Lake who wrote a letter to correlation after resigning from teachings High Priests, telling them the manuals were so bad he just had no way to teach from them anymore. It was a kind, respectful, and thoughtful letter, and I hope they listened to at least some of his suggestions.

    My beef isn’t that we have manuals, or even that the Brigham Young manual didn’t talk about his plural marriages. Sunday school isn’t necessarily the time or place for a history lesson on polygamy. My bigger concern is the oft-repeated directive that teachers strictly adhere to the manual, and that they don’t use any other materials besides the manual, the words of Church leaders, and the scriptures. This limits those Gospel Doctrine teachers who *are* teaching a roomful of fifth generation members who have “heard it all before.” My wife is not a Sunstoner, but she has a hard time with Church because she says it’s the same thing over and over again. Yes, it’s true, if you give the teachers more flexibility to use outside materials and occasionally stray from the manual a bit, there will always be a nutcase or two who starts preaching about the Koyle Dream mine or insists that Mother in Heaven’s name is Sophia. But I’m tired of a few people ruining it for the rest of us. I’m a Gospel Doctrine teacher who just really wants to uplift my class. I work for Sunstone, but I know people don’t come to Church for a Sunstone-type discussion. They come for spiritual nourishment to help guide and lift them up for the week. I want to be an instrument to help them do that, but the current manuals make it mighty, mighty difficult.

  46. Total sidebar, but the concept Kristine brought up in the last sentence of her post (about enjoyed embodied conversations with her blog friends) touches on the research I’ve been doing for my master’s thesis. I’m trying to identify if online relationships (in the non-prurient sense) change once the participants have a chance to meet each other in person, and if so, does understanding those changes help us to see how online communities differ from their geography-based counterparts.

    Which reminds me, I’ve got to really hunker down and get that finished. Immersion/crystallization, here I come!

  47. Um, Clark, not to be snotty, but I suspect that many of the opinions you currently hold about how you’ll teach your children will be seriously revised starting, oh, 18 months or so from now :) I know that virtually all of what I “knew” about teaching children when I was single has been at least modified as I’ve confronted my actual offspring, rather than the more or less endlessly malleable darlings I thought I’d be raising.

  48. Unless I’m mistaken, wasn’t the Nibley book only used for the 70’s Priesthood Lesson? I’d probably argue that it wasn’t a great manual then though. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not being a polyanna about all this. I think there have been plenty of horrible manuals. (i.e. most of the manuals of the 1970’s and 80’s)

    But I’ll stick to my guns on the point that I think half the Sunday School teacher’s I’ve encountered would do scary things with Nibley. I’m sure you were unique even when 12, since you were reading Nibley then. (I was as well, along with the Journal of Discourses) But I think those of us with Haglund blood running in our veins must just be unusual. (grin)

    I will say that High Priests quorums might be safer for such matters. Of course given the stereotype of the kind of stuff they talk about it couldn’t get worse. (big grin)

  49. We should all be saying thanks to Kristine for putting Bcc “on the map.” It’s no fun showing up at a gunfight and finding yourself assigned to stand in the middle. Somehow I think Sunstone has been trying to get away from that kind of an image for the conference, but there’s only so much that can be done.

    How did the audience respond to the rather adversarial tone of the exchanges?

  50. We’re getting to a gripe of mine about the Priesthood/RS manuals, which is that there isn’t enough of the respective prophets’ personalities injected into the works. Each of these guys really did exist outside of their soundbites, and each really had their own slant and vision of the Kingdom, so it would be nice to see a piece of that in the works.

    Plus maybe an ‘errata’ section where we could discuss the crazy things each one said and do some nice in-class apologetics.

  51. Well I expect that too Kristine. As the saying go, no battle plan surivives contact with the enemy. My point was less that than pointing out that thinking about these things before one has children is a good thing. That’s not to say that one ought to be inflexible in such matters. Merely that even how one reacts and rethinks can be aided by some preparation.

    i.e. I think it a valuable topic even in single wards if only to get people thinking about such matters. I think that sometimes singles worry more about how attractive or interesting potential mates are and less about how they view raising children and other such matters. If you consider such things prior to events, it may make for far less stress as well as perhaps occasionally wiser choices in who one dates.

  52. Whether Jesus is Jehovah or not is a “subtle theological point”?

    I think this goes back to Dr. Shades’ argument a little–when members are not taught that doctrines have changed and evolved, but are instead led to believe that the gospel we currently understand sprang fully formed from Joseph’s head, and has never changed, has always been perfect, et in saecula saeculorum, etc., then they have the kind of fragile testimonies that can be completely shattered by some of the trivial bits of information one encounters on anti-Mormon websites.

    QED.

  53. Whoops! I truly am not channeling Kristine here. That last post if from me, not her. (Sorry, Kristine!)

    –Randy

  54. With regard to the Priesthood / Relief Society manuals, I’ve never heard that one must read each quote and discuss them all any more than one must read every verse in Sunday School. Indeed the presuposition is that the class should have read these in advance. (Admittedly a typically invalid assumption – but still…)

    It seems to me that people are confusing bringing in items external to the manual with some slavish adherence to reading the manual. One can stick to the manual and still be very creative, deal with topics in a full and deep fashion, and yet not invoke controversial items external to the manual.

    I guess I really don’t see the problem. It seems to me people are trying to make one where there isn’t one.

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