Updating the RS/PH Manual Mid-Year?

Last night I noticed a change on lds.org. I’m not sure when it happened, but a new page has been added called “Common Questions for Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 2012.” (Notice the site dates the GAS manual itself as 2010, so this is evidently quite new.) Only one link appears in the list, pointing to chapter 6, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains.” The new info has its own page, but also appears in the sidebar of the lesson itself under a section called “Applying the Lesson to Our Time”:

Applying the Lesson to Our Time

You may find that parts of this lesson help members answer questions about prophets. The material below could be a starting point for members to form their own answers to such questions. However, discussing these questions should not replace the main focus of the lesson.

How does the prophet lead the Church?

God has revealed many things over the ages through prophets. Prophets testify of Jesus Christ, teach His gospel, and make known God’s will. While the prophet of God receives revelation and inspiration to guide the Church as a whole, revelation flows at every level, including to the leaders of congregations and to individual families and members. In fact, individual members are expected to seek that kind of divine guidance to help them in their own lives. Members are also expected to prayerfully seek their own conviction of the principles their leaders teach them.

How can you form your own answers to this and other gospel questions?

Study by Topic: Prophets
You may find additional resources to form your own answers in the scriptures, the Church magazines, and online from the LDS Newsroom.

This additional info highlights the importance of personal revelation by which members can “seek their own conviction of the principles their leaders teach them,” a point which isn’t clearly articulated in the manual itself but which might have received more attention.

This new “Common Questions” (or “Applying”) section appears in only four other chapters, none of which are listed on the new “Common Questions” page. These include: Do members of the Church believe they can become gods?, Why can only Church members enter temples?What is the Book of Mormon?, and How could I respond to someone who feels that missionaries are intrusive?

A few observations. First, as the 2012 date suggests, it seems this is a new feature. Also, three of the four examples incorrectly state that these lessons will “help members answer questions about the welfare program of the Church.”* This seems like an editorial oversight. I’m not sure what sort of reach this new material will have, given that it appears unannounced and seems somewhat scatter-shot in implementation.

Second, the focus seems to be on helping members develop answers to outsider questions. The questions themselves are very basic, more likely to be asked by non-Mormons (one question, “Do Mormons believe they become gods?” has actually been removed from chapter 7, “The Immortality of the Soul,” since last night, again suggesting this is a new thing [It reappeared later on 4/24/2012]). Perhaps this is an attempt to create cross-over between the lesson manual and the Mormon.org where members answer basic questions about the Church, although the answers must be approved by an unspecified group before appearing on the site. This reminded me of Elder Ballard’s Oct. 2007 conference address, “Faith, Family, Facts, and Fruits,” which encourages members to prepare basic answers to similar questions. The new section also refers members to other manuals, magazines, and significantly, to the LDS Newsroom, an outlet which is geared more to outsiders than insiders.

Third, this is the first time I’ve noticed an update of sorts being added to a church lesson manual mid-year. From what I understand, new lesson material is currently being developed which takes advantage of the flexibility made possible by online publishing, at least for the Young Women. Are there other examples or rumors of this?

*The “welfare” mistake seems to have been corrected, 4/30/2012.

Comments

  1. Good catch!

  2. Thanks, Manuel. I wonder if they’ll add to that “Common Questions” page.

  3. Do you think this has something to do with emergent concern over the content, or increased scrutiny due to Romney/Mormon moment, or is this just a natural progression towards more dynamic digital media over printed-and-done dead tree media?

  4. I really couldn’t guess, really. I have no idea what sparked this addition. It could be a combination of any of those things. I tend to see it as some kind of cross-over between whoever is putting together the curriculum and the public affairs folks.

  5. What was the removed content on “Do Mormons believe they become gods?”

  6. NewlyHousewife says:

    #5, I want to know too.

  7. I really hope the answer to “Do Mormons believe they become gods?” is a simple “Yes, they do.” (one can always dream…yet this is actually the true answer)

  8. The answer basically said Mormons believe they can become joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

  9. hawkgrrrl says:

    This is fascinating. I taught a lesson a few years ago in which I made this exact point (that members should prayerfully request their own confirmation when given counsel they aren’t sure about by leaders). A visitor in the class whose husband (a seventy) is rumored to be on the correlation committee steadfastly disagreed and said “When the brethren speak, the thinking is done” and other similar “follow the prophet” drum-beating. Our SP’s wife agreed with me. I even had a BRM quote backing me up, but she considered it all heretical. I have to wonder if there is some sort of changing of the guard taking place in the correlation committee to eradicate that thinking since it makes us look like members of a cult.

  10. Oh what I wouldn’t give to have that happen in my class! I would have shown her the George Albert Smith himself refuted the “prophet speaks, thinking has been done” nonsense.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/23/teaching-lesson-6-sustaining-those-whom-the-lord-sustains-p-2/

  11. “When the brethren speak, the thinking is done”
    And this is why some consider us a cult. Because the… well…. cultish stuff some hold on to. If this is the thinking among the seventies, we have serious problems (but I already suspected that).

    “Joint heirs with Jesus Christ,” ah, so this is how we avoid others knowing we believe we can become gods…. terms with hidden meaning.

    So, if I was the person asking the question, and I am given this answer, I am going to say “you didn’t answer my question, because being joint heirs with Jesus Christ can mean many things.” My question was “Do you believe you can become a god?” “Does being a joint heir with Christ mean you become a God like Him and Heavenly Father?.” To which the honest answer should be, YES. That is the reason why it is so important for us Mormons to keep the commandments and be worthy to receive all the Temple ordinances, specifically a Temple marriage.

    I find puzzling that we cannot say with simple and clear words what we believe. What do we fear?

  12. Manuel, I don’t really see a problem with using the Bible as a touchstone for a belief which otherwise seems strange to other Christians particularly. What interests me is that the response is geared largely to a Christian audience, relying on the Bible for a little cachet, which probably won’t resonate in the same way with, say, someone in Japan.

  13. Well, I do have a problem because that particular answer becomes fuzzy.

    I was raised a Catholic. When I was a Catholic I believed I could become a joint heir with Jesus Christ (I did not need to become a Mormon for that). In my mind though, being a joint heir with Christ was very different than what I was actively taught when I became a Mormon and what is written in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    The specific question is not looking for an answer that is recognized and already assimilated by nearly every single Christian religion in the world. The specific question is inquiring into specific Mormon teachings regarding the potential of mankind, and we are avoiding the actual answer. I cannot possibly think this passes as being honest to the person asking the question.

  14. I would agree with the answer if this was not a specifically central doctrine to Mormonism. But since the belief that we can become like Heavenly Father is so central to Mormonism I cannot possibly accept such a vague answer. In fact, everything we do is for that very purpose.

    This is why we believe Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and the Priesthood and temple ordinances were “restored,” so that we can have the necessary grace, knowledge and authority to perform the necessary steps to obtain this specific type of salvation. This is why Mormonism matters in the world. This is the core and substance of Mormonism. It is very sad we are ashamed of it for whatever reason.

  15. “Heavenly Father’s plan for His children is one of eternal progression. That means…we can be on a continual path to complete perfection. … [God's] desire is for us to become like Him.”

    All of that comes straight from the answer posted with the lesson, and I feel is a pretty clear “yes” to the question. Still, it maybe would be even clearer if the answer began with that very word–yes.

  16. I’m not sure the point of quoting the joint heirs verse is to simply say “we believe just like you,” but that it is a way to say “we can draw on a source that you assent to as authoritative to help describe what it is we believe about becoming gods.” When it comes to all of the specifics, I’m happy that the Church has flexibility there, since I’m not locked on to any particular model of what it means to become a god. We’re still negotiating these truths, imo.

  17. Emilee, excellent point.

    “Eternal life is to us the sum of pre-existence, present existence, and the continuation of life in immortality, holding out to us the power of endless progression and increase. With that feeling and that assurance, we believe that “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.” [See Lorenzo Snow, “The Grand Destiny of Man,” Deseret Evening News, July 20, 1901, 22.] Being created in the image of God, we believe that it is not improper, that it is not unrighteous, for us to hope that we may be permitted to partake of the attributes of deity and, if we are faithful, to become like unto God; for as we receive of and obey the natural laws of our Father that govern this life, we become more like Him; and as we take advantage of the opportunities placed within our reach, we prepare to receive greater opportunities in this life and in the life that is to come. …”

    This is in the lesson itself. It seems the add-on to the sidebar (which is now missing) was intended to tie this to a biblical verse, again, to add a bit of biblical cachet.

  18. Keep in mind, too, I don’t remember the whole answer, how it started, etc. I only recall that it ha reference to the joint heirs thing.

  19. Is it missing? I still see it when I look at the George Albert Smith manual, chapter 7. That’s where I pulled the quote from. Maybe try the good old refresh button?

  20. BHodges (16) I understand where you are coming from, however, I have to agree with Manuel that it is evasive, and seems like we are trying to hide something. These types of maneuvers are what have ex-mormons crying foul saying they were victims of bait and switch. When I was taking the discussions the Elders were open about this doctrine, and I was grateful for it. When did The Church get so wrapped up into cozying up to mainstream Christians anyway? Let them think whatever they think about us and then we can be on our merry way. I never saw the value in being misleading simply to get people who seriously hate us to hate us a little less. Who cares? Who the hell are they? And as a side note I am fed up with the concept of a “Mormon moment” for realllll.

  21. OK, I am just in really high alert of the “de-Mormonization” that occurs thanks to politics and political agendas. Suddenly we try to be Evangelicals when someone raises a clear defining aspect of Mormonism that sets us appart (and in turn can have an undesired effect in the political arena we try so hard to belong to); we try to mend it, paint it and mold it in a way that says “see, we are just about the same!” lol (no we are not)…. so tired of it.

  22. Manuel (22) “like” button.

  23. Re:21,

    Yeah, so I think it is a work in progress. They are still working on this side bar. I just read the answer. The word yes is of course not found in it, but the response is covered by bliblical references.

    So you think this doctrine is still being negotiated? I guess I really did not consider this possiblity with this particular doctrine, but you may be right.

  24. Chris Gordon says:

    Manuel et. al., I don’t think it’s wrong to tend towards humility a bit when you’re telling others that you believe that you can become a god someday. It would be nice, yes, to avoid appearing to dodge the issue or be roundabout in what is, in the end, a powerful doctrine. I can certainly give the benefit of the doubt to those who might simply be trying to avoid an arrogant position. When I answer this question, I try hard to be direct, but in print it’s hard to put the earnestness and the humility of tone that is probably most appropriate.

  25. Chris Gordon says:

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t think the doctrine is being negotiated, but I’m sure that the strategy is still being ironed out. Cynthia (3), I have no authority other than my own opinion, but church leaders have been steadily trying to give us more fodder to have better missionary moments over the past few years. I think they are still learning what we “need” in order to communicate the gospel effectively and sincerely. I don’t think that they care as much as we do about Romney/Mormon Moment type issues except to the degree that they fit into the overall desire to evolve in our missionary efforts. If the Mormon Moment stuff brings into relief a deficiency of resource, and if support can be provided through media, game on.

  26. Chris, I understand your point. But I am not completely buying the humility/arrogance excuse. I have seen the blatant dodging of questions where humility and arrogance have absolutely nothing to do with it, like when members get all worked out about someone saying we believe Jesus and Lucifer are spiritual siblings. To simply reduce this pattern of answering to “oh, we are just trying to be humble” is really not spot on in many MANY cases.

  27. Manuel, when you say “Well, I do have a problem because that particular answer becomes fuzzy.” in regards to the question of being a joint heir with Christ I think you need to consider the issue a little more carefully.
    Does God tell us everything?
    Nope.
    Do we have to learn grace for grace and receive revelation line upon line?
    Yep.
    So why should we expect that we can circumvent God and give knowledge and revelation personally given to us from God after we were sufficiently prepared for it to others?

    I’m not saying we have to hide what we believe, or that we shouldn’t ever flesh out the concept of being a joint heir with Christ. But the Lord does not give us all knowledge for very important reasons so I don’t see why we should bypass the Lord and reveal things to others in his behalf.

    I think the concept of joint-heir says it very well, and if a person sincerely desires to know more, they can find out more. But I know from very concrete experiences with personal revelation that there are things I should share and things I should keep to myself.

  28. Chris,

    Please do not equate a simple answer to one of our prinipal doctrines to “personal revelation,” this line of questioning does not require personal revelation. If the person inquiring desires to obtain a testimony of our teachings and find out for him/herself if they are true, then they would have to seek personal revelation, nevertheless, I believe we should respect whether the person wishes to do so or simply wants to learn about our beliefs in an objective and academic manner.

    The concept of joint heirs with Jesus Christ does not say it very well. The following scripture does (100% public and available everywhere the internet is available):

    D&C 132:
    20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

    I happened to read this long before I was a member of the Church. And although I did not directly inquire, I also happened to know a good Mormon who simply shared with me the belief and hope Mormons share that their concept of salvation includes the potential for mankind to become a god literally like God the Father is. I do not believe either I or my Mormon friend (who has since passed away) “bypassed the Lord” nor did we have any intentions to do so. I find this imagery intentionally manipulative.

    Did I gain a testimony of the doctrine as I read it or as I heard it from my friend: no. I did not. It however, sparked enought curiosity in me, if you may, that I decided to learn more.

    To me, what you are saying is this, I cannot tell you clearly and directly certain answers, even when they are publicly available, you would have to do your own research, because I suspect your sincerity. Well, is asking members of the Church not legitimate research? Is learning from a Church manual not legitimate research?

    I find this puzzling: you state “If a person sincerely desires to know more…” You know what the problem with that is? You are implying we must invariably question a person’s sincerity and respond assuming the worst case scenario. And while I have dealt with many malicious people who are clearly seeking for shock value in our beliefs, I still believe declaring the simple, plain and honest truth is still the best and cleanest way to communicate.

    I understand preparing people to hear certain doctrines. I understand trying to build upon common ground to teach about our beliefe, and I definitely understand personal revelation should not be shared carelessly (and in some cases, it simply should not be shared at all). But I do not respect vagueness that can effectively keep people from the answer they are looking for.

    As I stated before, “being joing heirs with Jesus Christ” may effectively keep some people from the actual answer. It may have kept me, if you may, from the actual answer.

    When I read the answer in the sideline of the online manual, I can deduct the asnwer is yes, and I am glad to read it goes well beyond stating we can become joint heirs with Jesus Christ, but I still have to summarize at the end in my mind “so…. they do, they do believe mankind has the potential to become not only divine, but as diviine and as powerful as God Himself is.” Whereas effective communication would face the question directly and state the answer, then go on and explain why and expound on common background, etc or viceversa.

  29. Glad to see that Manual understands what it means to be a joint-heir with Christ, as further elaborated by D&C 132. I know a lot of Mormons who share that view.

    Despite Manual’s clarity of perception, however, I think Blair is entirely correct to observe that the meaning of the concept of “becoming like God” (aka being joint-heirs with Christ in Paul’s jargon) is still being “negotiated”, i.e. probed, studied, pondered, debated, contemplated and learned about, by many Mormons. What will that actually be like? I think it is fair to say that no one really knows. At least I hope we are humble enough as a people to admit that and not try to speculate about it in order to appear to “have all the answers”. We have seen where that kind of speculation has gotten us on other issues in the past.

    Anecdotally, when I was a missionary, I knew a lot of 19 year old missionaries who thought they knew exactly what it meant to say that we can “become like God”, but based on the caricatures of other people’s doctrines of the afterlife that they used as a foil in their attempts to describe what they considered to a definitive explanation of what this means for Mormons, I was not too sure, even as a 19 year old missionary, whether such totalizing and simplistic explanations were really accurate.

  30. Wow, I really outdid myself with the typos on my comments here… :-O

  31. Excellent follow-ups by Blair and John F about the details of “becoming like God” or “becoming a god” still being “negotiated” and anything but clear.

  32. I agree “the details” are being negotiated, in the sense that… well, we don’t have many actual “details.” But I do not believe the concept is being negotiated at all.

  33. I agree. We don’t know everything that God does, nor his full nature so of course details are still blurry or being negotiated, however, the concept of becoming like God certainly isn’t. If so, we need to find another 14 yr old boy to go pray in the woods in Palmyra. I’m only 4 hours away, but I am 31 and have the wrong plumbing.

  34. I am planning on discussing this in my lesson on Sunday. When going over it today, I noted they now have additions to 9 of the chapters. It seems that the manual is now a work in progress.

  35. Wow, they’ve added several more. But none to the “Questions” page, still just chapter 6 there.

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