Biting One’s Tongue at Church

I often find myself on the horns of a dilemma at Church: do I open my mouth and say something, or do I keep my big yap shut? If I err, I probably err in favor of silence. I very rarely say anything at Church.

Sometimes I feel guilty about this. I was so impressed by Lowell Bennion’s story about sitting in an abysmal EQ lesson about home teaching. So he raised his hand and innocently asked one question: “Why do we find it so hard to do our home teaching?” And the floodgates opened, and the lesson went from brutally bad to totally engaging. From time to time I’ve pulled my own “Bennion,” and have to admit a certain sense of satisfaction when it works out well. But it’s not always an easy thing to pull off.

That said, I worry about a whole host of things when I contemplate offering a comment at Church. Am I coopting the authority of the teacher? Is this something I can explain in a sound bite, or would giving proper context eat into the lesson? Am I going to come off like a smarty-pants know-it-all if I insist on spilling everything I know on a subject?

I’ll try to give you my thought process over four possible comment opportunities in Church today:

1. GD was probably the same as almost every other GD in the whole Church. We started with a picture of an arch, and talk of the BoM as the keystone. Very soon, however, the class comments turned to how the BoM is without error (based on the most correct book quote and the language differential in the AoF). Three comments in a row were turning this into a mini-theme of the lesson.

I was loathe to let that stand. Too many Saints casually accept scriptural inerrancy, without realizing the possible fall they’re setting themselves up for later. This is a serious matter, so even though I didn’t want to I was starting to think about saying something. But how could I say it without making those who had already commented feel like idiots?

As I was poindering this, the guy sitting in front of me said that “most correct” does not mean perfect, and how you don’t want to be like the people who lose their faith because a word gets changed in a new edition. I thought he made the point adequately and in a way that didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, so I was satisfied. Decision: keep my mouth shut. Principle: if I wait long enough, often someone else will make the point so I don’t have to.

2. In EQ, which was kind of a continuation of GD, the teacher asked about how the BoM was translated, and an elder explained that it was done with a sheet between Joseph and the scribe with Joseph using the urim and thummim. Hmmm, I thought. Do I try to explain the stone in the hat methodology? No. Decision: keep my mouth shut. Principle: it was an offhand comment that wasn’t an integral part of the lesson. I would be happy to explain the stone in the hat if I were the teacher, but to explain it adequately requires laying a foundation of folk magic context, and that has to be done from the teacher position; I don’t think it can be done effectively from the position of a student making a comment. This is more than can be accomplished in a quick sound bite.

3. Also in EQ, an elder said that he had been reading church history and was impressed that there were others at the time of JS who were seeking a restoration, and how this set the stage for the early missionary success of the Church. Now, as it so happens, I probably know more about Alexander Campbell than 99.9% of the membership of the Church, because I spoke at the first FAIR conference on that subject. (If anyone is interested in reading that speech, it may be found here.) Decision: keep my mouth shut. Principle: I feel no need to try to make sure people know how much I know about a subject. And I don’t know that I could effectively summarize a 30-page article in a soundbite anyway.

4. Also in EQ. The teacher was talking about how Joseph didn’t just get the plates immediately, but had to be prepared. Someone said that four years elapsed from the vision of Moroni to getting the plates, and the teacher said he even got married during the interval. My mind is racing with the folk magical symbolism of the autumnal equinox, and how Emma was a substitute for Alvin, and on and on. Decision: make a comment. But I didn’t say anything about the folk magic background to the story. My comment was that it was interesting how in our culture four years is considered an educaitonal cycle (such as high school and college), and Joseph appeared to go through a similar educational cycle.

Then someone else said, “Yeah, and the president serves for four years, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily any smarter four years later.” After which we all had a good laugh.

That was about right for EQ, I thought.

Do you too struggle with deciding whether and when to open your mouth at Church? How do you negotiate the different possibilities?


  1. Though I was particularly chatty in Gospel Doctrine myself today, I too struggle with this, especially when I’m already pigeonholed as the ward liberal.

    I was pleasantly surprised when our Gospel Doctrine teacher brought up the topic of the word change in the Introduction to the BoM himself so I didn’t have to do it. He then masterfully tied that into the 9th Article of Faith, and I told him as much after the lesson.

    In priesthood, I had every opportunity to take the lesson where I wanted it to go. I’m the HPGL and I taught today. It was brilliant!

  2. Marjorie Conder says:

    This is a huge issue for many of us. Last week in GD I was asked to comment on something right out of the blue, by another class member. I said it would take too long to set the stage and besides I was making a New Year’s resolution to keep my mouth shut as much as possible.

    What I do do and have done for years is always make sure I am carrying my “metaphorical social-scientist-participant-observer hat” with me at all times. When things just become too much of a quagmire for anyone to dig out of, I just plunk this imaginary hat on my head, sit back and say, “My, aren’t the natives interesting.” I leaned over to my husband today in SS and offered to share my hat with him. I know this sounds snarky, but it keeps me sane and pleasant and besides no one except my husband (and now all of you–and none of you are in my ward know about it too.) Do keep it a secret, but also feel free to get yourself a “hat”. Actually, they are on sale–free–today only!

  3. My work schedule is so challenging that I’m not in church that often. Since I’m rarely there, I do like to contribute to dialogue, even if sometimes my comments sound odd.

  4. And this is why Kevin is infinitely less annoying than me at Church.

    I think it depends a lot on the commenters history in the ward. We have talked before about street cred, and I think you sell yourself short, Kev. Either that our your ward demographics are dramatically different than mine.

    Chad Too, I think if people are confident that you are one of their people, there is a tremendous amount of leeway. Especially now, with criticisms of the Church being played out on a more visible stage.

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    I run into these sorts of situations a lot, though perhaps a bit less than I imagine I’m going to. It’s tricky to come up with hard-and-fast rules, or even rules of thumb, as to when it is and isn’t appropriate to comment. There are so many variables to consider. It sounds like you handled it all rather well, Kevin.

    I agree with Stapley with respect to “streed cred.” One’s prior repuation in the ward largely determines what you can and cannot get away with. Or what you can and cannot say without causing undue controversy or offense.

    I actually find it harder to be the teacher, than the student, at times when something is said that is screaming for correction, or contextualization, or what-not. Of course, if I had an encyclopedic knowledge like Kevin, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way. But since I’m the Sunday School President, I feel like if I say too much when I’m teaching (or even if I chime in as a mere student in the class), there’s a risk that my comment will be taken as more authoritative than I necessarily want it to be. Of course, there are times when this comes in handy, but not always.

    Aaron B

  6. Anyone ever read Levi Peterson’s “Benediction”? That was my first thought when I started reading the post.

  7. You know, the only time I even remember the arch thing is when I read it in the Bloggernacle. I guess our ward has moved on.

    I counted 111 adults in gospel doctrine today. It’s a fairly restless bunch. If you only prepare the stuff in the lesson, you get killed by the high priests, and the sisters are no pushovers.

    And there were 40 elders in EQ today — that excludes those in YM and Primary. That’s where I tend to speak more. I spent 3+ years as an instructor and I’m seen as a voice of reason, if a bit unorthodox in my teaching and questioning. I like taking the prophet of the year and posing hypothetical, devil’s advocate questions. “Who cares if they don’t think we’re Christian?” “What’s the big deal about a trinitarian God?” “So what if JS was wrong about this or that?”

  8. I often feel that I talk too much at church, and I have mentioned to other people that I feel that way. They often assure me that I don’t talk too much and that they appreciate my participation. (Especially in Relief Society, there are long periods of silence after the teacher asks a question. It is almost as if people fear making comments in class.) However, I don’t know if they really mean it or if they are just saying it. I try to take them at face value.

    My main concern has to do with differences in learning styles. Most church classes are taught in a lecture format with time for limited questions or comments. I learn best in more of a seminar or Socratic style, and sometimes I have to curb my tendency to cross-examine the teacher or other class members. I don’t do it to be intimidating or argumentative, but it is how I think. It’s a fine line, and I’m grateful that I’ve found the Bloggernacle so that I can engage questions in that manner without disturbing my fellow churchgoers.

  9. Jonathan’s statement in #4 cannot be overstated.

    And while I too practice considerable discretion, both as a teacher and class member, I have so often been made mindful of how much good the arguably controversial comments can do that I am less reticent all the time. We err in the extreme to protect the ignorant and unquestioning, sacrificing the questioning. And what I wouldn’t do to have Kevin unleashed in my ward for at least a year!

  10. We should be careful, though, that we’re not unintentionally ripping down the credibility of the (presumably called and sustained) instructor. Not every instructor in the Church is as gifted. Sometimes callings are given to help people grow. Sometimes discrete (and frustrated) silence is appropriate less we ruin the poor teacher’s credibility.

  11. Like mentionned earlier, sometimes I fear making comments. Or if I do say something, I then beat my head for having said it, especially if it didn’t come out as well as I would have liked.

    A few years ago, I was in a RS in a new ward. I spoke up when a sister started saying that “single people are selfish” (she was referring to extra time/money that she perceived singles had and how it is used)- Oh you bet I raised my hand and commented. My voice got teary and I said lots of singles do service that wouldn’t need to be done if others did their jobs (at the time I was thinking more of helping in community service areas).

    If I could go back and restate, I’d still speak up but would do so in a calmer way. I do wish I’d had a better understanding of that lady’s history and what led her to say it.

    If something is “wrong doctrine”, I do think someone- whoever that someone is, the leader, another class member, etc- should clarify and kindly correct and teach, so others don’t go on thinking something is true when it isn’t.

  12. Aaron Brown says:

    By the way, I taught GD today. I asked everyone what it meant to say that the BoM was the “keystone” of our religion. I told the class that I wasn’t going to draw the stupid arch from the manual on the chalkboard. Then someone started explaining the keystone and the arch, so I drew it anway. I’m a loser.

    Aaron B

  13. My ideas and beliefs are so out of line with mainstream Mormon thought that I wonder sometimes why I bother going. Even when I’m trying to think positive and look for the good in a lesson, I find myself so out of synch with the people around me that nothing I could say would be anything other than disruptive and unpleasant.

    So if I go, I usually don’t say anything. And most of the time, I just don’t go.

  14. my ward poses a difficult situation, as among the stalwart class members is a huge range in education and ‘gospel sophistication.’ I’m teaching GD right now and have to be very careful to try to meet the needs of members on both ends of this spectrum. I’m not sure if i hit the right note today since I got two strong responses from among the ‘less sophisticated’- one who said we were ‘scaring her’ and sounding ‘like the world’ and one who felt the need to say that people who didn’t believe in the book of mormon shouldn’t be teaching about it (which seemed like a veiled reference to me) and that she has never doubted it a day in her life since she met the missionaries. I do also get good feedback from the more thoughtful members of the class so I’m trying to stick with my approach, but I have to admit I’m almost waiting for the SS pres to approach me about it.

  15. That is awesome Molly, and I think we should amend the BCC header to: “BCC: Kevin Unleashed.”

  16. (Gosh, I wish y’all had an edit button.) I neglected to mention what wonderful food for thought this post was. Thanks, Kevin.

  17. Kevin, I like your taxonomy; mine tends to be a lot less organized: I mostly don’t comment, because when I finally figure out how to say it in a nice way, the lesson’s moved way on.

    Which is why I love teaching Primary. We mentioned the keystone, and a 9-year-old boy drew it for us, and then made it collapse in an explosion when the keystone was removed. All after he’d drawn his monkey commando who was watching us, getting ready to invade, of course. Because how often do you get monkey commandos in adult Sunday School?

  18. Latter-day Guy says:

    I find it difficult to speak up for many of the same reasons (not, of course, that my expertise is anything like Kevin’s).

    During a Dec 30th less on Revelation, I did make a comment to try to prevent the lesson from devolving into (thank you Ronan) Armageddon porn. It worked fairly well, but was definitely an exception for me.

  19. Alot of time I would like to comment simply to move the discussion in a more interesting and lively direction. I get tired of the same lesson again and again and would like some new insights, although I often don’t know how to inject those into the discussion.

  20. Alas! I am still in a singles’ ward. I have to add in another level of review for whether or not my comment might get made based on the future mating opportunities in the room.

    But in seriousness, I always find it so hard to bring up many of the corrections because there are so many youngsters, and I mean that mostly by way of maturity. I remember pointing out that Christ wasn’t actually dead for three days, but rather something under forty hours, and just getting abused by people for my liberal slantings. Honest truth. I couldn’t believe they refused to just stop and think logically through the timetable. Think what might have happened if I pointed out today that there was a stone and a hat involved?

  21. ack! Last sentence: “Think what might have happened if I pointed out today that there was a stone and a hat involved as well as or in lieu of a breastplate and clear stones?

  22. I struggled with this since after teaching GD for four years, the new teacher looked at me for help every time something came up: “I don’t know, let’s ask Anita!” It was pretty embarrassing for me–I also found myself wanting to correct her frequently. Finally as an escape I got my SS pres husband to call me to teach the 14 year olds. That’s been nice and humbling.

  23. Do you too struggle with deciding whether and when to open your mouth at Church?

    Every single Sunday. And, they just made me a 12-year-old teacher- I may reallly, really have to bite my cheek to keep to the strict primary manual.

  24. This is a very timely topic for me although I’m currently in primary so it’s not usually an issue for my class of six year olds.

    Historically, I used to be occasionally annoyed with the classroom comments of folks like Sam B and Aaron B but now I’m finding myself increasingly in the reverse position. It’s made me think about when to open my mouth and how I might be perceived and how I might formerly have perceived myself.

    For those of us for whom things are complex, nuanced and full of not-so-orderly facts, I think what we should try to avoid is the “aha” urge. When someone is speaking in class or otherwise and it seems to us that he/she is in bubble land, I think we should resist the urge to go bursting bubbles or pushing them towards (what to us are) obvious conclusions for an “aha” moment. To the extent it’s really possible to divide the Mormon congregation up this neatly, if I were writing to the other audience I’d advise them to give me a little slack also and not cringe every time I say something not in harmony with their version.

    And if you’re someone who thinks that the BOM just a good parable that seems to me all the more reason not to bother correcting perceived factual inaccuracies. Whatever the inaccuracies are they’re probably just an extension of the general story.

  25. I find that often when I would attend SS I would just be too bored to pay attention. And usually when I did it was when one particular teacher had taken enough time to prepare and had interesting contributions.

    Too often though I feel safer in EQ because I am speaking to people who are in the same spiritual vicinity and are having similar issues. Of course having taught EQ for a number of years I know how often some quorums will let a teacher just hang a question out there. So I like to be the old reliable reliever who comes in to get the process going a bit.

    Of course if the teacher is just going to pass along the manual and have us take a line as it were my interest level wains.

  26. #6 Neal Chandler, the last editor of Dialogue (Levi is the current editor) wrote Benediction, a must-read for anyone in need of a great laugh.

  27. As much as everyone here might laugh when I say this, I also struggle with the urge to comment too much in church. (I know; I make up for it here.) I think the reason I struggle in church is two-fold:

    1) There really is an incredibly wide range of understanding and maturity in any adult class at church. It is so hard to say something that everyone will understand and no one will misunderstand – and I don’t want to cause serious misunderstanding and/or offense. While that is true to a degree here, there is a self-selection process that tends to weed out most of those who can’t handle dissenting opinions. Therefore, it’s much harder to surprise someone here with something they have never considered previously and risk hurting their testimony.

    2) Given my current calling and education, I am seen as one of the “experts” in our ward (and now even more so in the tiny branch we attend). Therefore, when someone asks a question that results in silence, the teacher tends to ask me – which makes me hesitant to comment at other times. That’s because Kevin and many of you aren’t in my ward or branch, but it still makes me hesitate.

    I also use the “importantly incorrect and/or dangerous” doctrine rule. If I think a comment fits that classification, I will comment every time – as gently as I can, but directly – and usually waiting to see if anyone else jumps in to comment first.

    Finally, the truly ironic thing about my situation is that my callings give me an aura of “conservatism” or “authority” – even though many of my views would be challenged by some as “liberal” if it weren’t for my callings. I think that is sad, but I understand why it is so.

  28. J. Stapley,

    Well, I am new in this ward (though an old-timer in this stake) so perhaps as I get more acclimated my tongue will loosen. I’m not afraid to speak up per se, but as I rapidly age I’m sensing more and more that discretion really is the better part of valor.

  29. It is true Hugh Nibley usually sat in the back of class at church and almost never made comments, unless he was directly asked?

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    J., it’s true that I have tons of street cred, and I could get away with saying just about anything I wanted to. The question is whether I should or not. I am loathe to step on the teacher’s toes or to shock the unprepared.

    I also have a personal policy of not answering catechism questions, which are the vast majority of questions that teachers ask in church classrooms. They are “questions” in form only; in reality, the teacher is looking for a very particular answer to move his lesson forward along a predetermined line. I think my animus against such questions was born in seminary, when our teacher would ask a question, someone would give what I thought was a very thoughtful reply, but if it wasn’t exactly what the manual said it was “wrong.” That drove me bananas.

    I also have to admit that often these issues don’t really arise for me, because I always take a book or journal to read, and if I get engrossed in something I don’t really pay attention to the classroom discussion unless it takes an interesting turn.

  31. Thanks Molly. I didn’t know that. I just remember reading the story in Bright Angels and Familiars.

  32. That was supposed to be “Is it” not “It is”

  33. The best gospel discussions I have at church are with myself.

    If I hear something that I disagree with, or offends me, or I could add to, I usually try and think it out in my mind first before I say anything, if I say anything at all. I couldn’t care less if the teacher fails to mention Joseph may have buried his face in a hat vs, using a Urim and Thummin. Either way, we have the Book of Mormon, which is the important thing, in my estimation. The other is nice to know and talk about, but really, to me, not essential. When all have a strong testimony about the gospel, we can discuss this in Gospel Doctrine, along with all the other “esoterica”. Some will disagree with me. Fine.

    Years ago (more than I care to admit) I was called to be the teacher’s quorum advisor. I looked thru the manual and saw that I could surely improve upon the lessons, make them more relevant and interesting to 14 and 15 year old boys. After struggling for six months, I finally gave in and followed the lesson as outlined. Wonder of wonders, the classes improved, the attitude improved, and the Spirit came more often to bear witness.

    I guess what I’m trying to say that for some the manuals and lessons may not be deep or complete enough. But, for a worldwide church at different levels of knowledge and faith, they are probably just about right. If you have a need to discuss further, do as I do: Read the bloggernacle on occasion. Sometimes the subjects are a little weird and a little out there, but it will make you think. Sometimes some who post are full of themselves. And that’s ok, too. We all have to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. Just don’t forget the basics and you’ll be ok.

    By the way, that teachers quorum and Varsity Scout team are all married with kids now. I run onto some of them now and then. When the heck did that happen?

  34. We have a very enthusiastic GD class, and hands go up right and left with all the eagerness of the NYSE floor. Usually when there’s something I don’t partially or wholly agree with, I go the route of hoping someone else speaks up; otherwise I won’t be the spoiler. They get so into the direction they’re taking, it comes down to Spock’s credo: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Like Jon, I get my jollies in HPG where there’s enough disparity to slug it out with glee.

  35. Just read “Benediction” for the first time–fun read. If you want to read it go to page 152 of:

  36. Kevin, I loved this glimpse inside your head (and your ward). Thanks for taking us there. Do it again sometime.

  37. “since I’m the Sunday School President, I feel like if I say too much when I’m teaching (or even if I chime in as a mere student in the class), there’s a risk that my comment will be taken as more authoritative than I necessarily want it to be”

    That’s the first time I’ve ever heard such rumblings about a SS President. Seriously, nobody thinks you have specially authoritative answers.

  38. Why is there a disconnect, in the original post, between Bennion’s question and Kevin’s contemplated comments? Bennion seemed concerned with application and Kevin seemed more interested in factual accuracy.

    Why is almost everyone talking about questions that teachers pose and that students are supposed to answer? Do students rarely ask questions in your classes? What would happen if the teachers facilitated discussion and the students asked each other questions? Would we be less nervous about opening our mouths if the question was coming from a fellow student rather than from the teacher?

  39. In my own mind, I break this down into two situations: if the statement I feel impressed to correct or add to is by the teacher or another class member.

    If it is the teacher, I am very loathe to say anything, for fear of destroying the teacher’s authority in front of the rest of the class. I generally will only contribute if I think that my comment is complementary to what the teacher has said or if I believe that what the teacher is saying is harmful apostasy and must be stopped (does not happen often and I try to be humble enough to realize that if the apostasy is bad enough, someone else probably noticed).

    If the originator of the comment or question is another class member, the relevant inquiry changes completely. My only concern is to avoid contention. Today in SS, a man asked a rhetorical question (which he was then kind enough to answer himself): “Can a person be saved in the celestial kingdom without accepting the BoM?” He then responded with a resounding “Absolutely not!” I disagree deeply with his opinion, at least for the reason that the BoM is a means to an end and is not itself an eternal principle (though it is a symbol of eternal principles of revelation and scripture). But since it was apparent that both of us felt strongly about our opinions, I was reluctant to start a fracas in the middle of class. He was not confused or in doubt, and looking for an answer or clarification; he merely wanted to state his opinion emphatically.

    I still wonder if I should have said something, merely because the comment leads to a lot of self-congratulatory back-patting which I find distasteful.

  40. I make it a point to make no more than 3 comments in SS and RS combined. I never know what craziness is going to pop up later in the discussion that I must use my super-human powers to correct, so I try to hold out for the important (to me) stuff. Sometimes that means I make no comments whatsoever, but that’s fine. A little sleepy, but fine.

    My favorite calling in my life was as a teacher in a singles ward. Our Bishop decided that there were many people who were unwilling to attend Gospel Essentials yet too spiritually young to handle Gospel Doctrine. He created a class called “Gospel Questions.” It had the most delightful format! I would prepare a lesson from a chapter of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. But as everyone understood that this was a class for questions, we would get about two sentences into the lesson before someone would ask one and off we’d go! Nothing was off-limits except confession of sins. I co-taught and if one of us didn’t have an answer or if we disagreed as to what the correct answer was, we would research and come back the following week with the results. It didn’t take too long until the Gospel Doctrine teacher (who was a bit of a dull stick) was respectfully requesting that we stop “stealing” her class members. Man, that was fun!

  41. There are two challenges at church and I am adopting the attitude that Hugh Nibley and Kevin Barney apparently think wise–talk softly and don’t carry a big stick.

    The two challenges:

    1. Don’t ruffle the sanitized version of church history, and,

    2. Don’t talk about sanctification being a possibility except for the prophets (dead and alive).

    The great thing about the church, besides being true, is that the greatest blessings are made available via the spirit and no one but the recipient needs be aware.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    Jami, I love your Gospel Questions class! It sounds like you had an inspired bishop.

  43. krystalkler says:

    The depth of church doctrine and history is such, that most LDS do not read, ponder and study beyond the shallow surface of year-after-year manuals. Many teachers -though long time members of the church- do not cultivate their talent as they are advised to do. But GD and other classes are enriched by calling the Spirit to teach, testify and edify those of us who participate.
    Yeah, I read the posted comments and agree with most of you. But, one has to do the right thing for the right reasons in order to be justifed.
    Being right; having a deeper knowledge, being more informed and even having more talent than the teachers or leaders does not do any good if we do not edify and inspire our own lives and the lives of others to follow and live the doctrine. That has been the key for me to decide whether I open my mouth or keep it shut. If I feel prompted by the spirit, and I feel that someone will be touched by my humble and sincerely shared contribution; I speak.
    If a ‘know-more-that-thou’ or an ‘I-know-this-and-you-don’t’ position is governing me at a point. I keep it shut. EVEN if I’m right. Nobody will benefit by a ‘contribution’ -no matter how accurate- triggered by pride or selfrighteousness.
    The fact that ‘only-meat’ will make me feel I’m being fed, does not mean that a class with a milk-based diet is not nurturing somebody else. To think otherwise for me is presumptuous and arrogant. Would be a sign of false religious zeal on my part. (And there’s planty of that already)

  44. Huh, I had this conversation with a friend tonight over dinner and we both decided that we were often in the to scared to comment because we don’t want to step on someone’s toes/ruffle any feathers/get reputations for being more heretical than we are already perceived to be. So we keep our mouths shut. But there is this one guy in my ward who just doesn’t care about any of that, and I have to say he’s my favorite person in GD. Without him, Sunday School would often be full of thoughtless platitudes, and just having one person who is willing to speak up can save a class from being mind-numbingly boring. So while I’m not the person who speaks up, and I’m really not sure if I’m happy about that or disappointed in myself (some combination of both, I guess), I’m always really glad when somebody steps up to the plate.

  45. Do you too struggle with deciding whether and when to open your mouth at Church?

    A few years ago I told myself to shut up in GD, but then my friends got mad and would poke me and beg me to say something whenever class got deathly boring. Now I just begin every comment with ‘I swear, this is my last comment.’

  46. I dunno if this link is kosher, but I always fear becoming this guy in church.

  47. Aaron Brown says:

    Steve (#37),

    One of my Gospel Doctrine teachers regularly makes reference to my SSP calling after my comments in GD class, praising my answer, and insinuating that of-course-it’s-a-good-comment-since-it-came-from-the-SSP. The statement is probably a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it has made me more sensitive to how I might be perceived.

    The fact is that it’s my job to police, to some extent, what my teachers are teaching. (Whether I really do this, or do this well, is another question I suppose). Many folks know this. I thus feel like there’s more at stake in what I say than there would be if I were, say, some calling-less whipper-snapper, making bitchy comebacks in class.

    Aaron B

  48. Randall: This is my first ever posting.

    BCC: Welcome Randall, we’re glad you joined us.

    Randall: I’m the SS president of my ward. Day-to-day that means that I’m the substitute teacher. I find that I take far more latitude in my lessons and comments when I’m teaching or attending adult classes, rather than adolescent classes. I feel more responsibility for not blighting nubile testimonies by skeptical or nuanced comments.

    I’m already identified as the marginal Mormon and uncloseted liberal in my ward, but I think most people have come to appreciate my comments, if nothing more than because they stir the pot. Each time I speak up, I fear that things will swing out of control. But the usual response is either a moment of silence and then “anyone else” or lively discussion.

    When I have twisted manual offerings into lessons on separation of church and state, depression, hypocrisy, etc., I’m always surprised by the number of ward members who approach me afterward to thank me for a stimulating discussion.

  49. Welcome Randall, we’re glad you joined us!

  50. Half the time when I complete a comment on this or some other blog, as the mouse is poised over the “Add my comment” button, I instead delete the text from the comment box and move on to some other website. And if the semi-anonymity of the blog causes me to delete half of my comments, you can imagine how much self-censorship I engage in at church.

    If one is in a leadership position, he has to consider two additional concerns before joining in:
    (1) will some of the people here think that my opinion is authoritative, even if I don’t have any more clue about what I’m talking about than anybody else? or (2) will some of the people here wonder, how on earth did such an idiot get called as the ____________ ?

  51. I occasionally bust out some variation on a pot stirring comment when I get bored. Unfortunately, I get bored pretty easily.

    (Maybe that’s why I teach the 11 year old boys now… they get bored pretty easily too…)

  52. I wonder each and every week whether I should say what I think or just shut up. I almost always keep my thoughts to myself. When I do speak up, I generally regret it, because I am never sure how my comments are construed and I don’t want to be seen as a guy who makes trouble just because he can. Although my activity is regular, my belief is tenuous. Consequently, my comments tend to be a mix of sincere questioning and cynicism. I certainly do not want to cause trouble but I crave interesting lessons and find that the right comment can salvage an otherwise dreary day.
    Although I typically hold my tongue, I am utterly grateful to those who don’t. For example, today’s Priesthood lesson included a discussion about putting things off, like going to the temple. The teacher suggested that slothfulness could explain failure to attend regularly. Several comments were made in agreement. I figured that there was more to it than laziness but wasn’t going to — you know — rock the boat. Then an Elder who seems to delight in or have no option but to call it as he sees it, said that we do what we want to do and we don’t do what we don’t want to do. If we really wanted to attend the temple we would. Our failure to attend means that deep down we don’t want to. The comment was so honest and troubling and thought provoking that my decision to sit through an otherwise mundane day at church paid off.

  53. Kevin, as an EQ instructor, I would like to, first, thank you for not being in my ward, and second, add that if you were in my ward, nothing would be quite so unbearable as teaching a lesson in which you sat quietly without speaking. I would much rather know what you were thinking than have to imagine it.

    Whem I am not teaching (which is far too seldom), I try to follow the admonition of Proverbs 17:28:

    Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

    But in your case, I fear that if you keep too quiet, the teacher and class will just assume that you are following a different admonition:

    Matt 7:6: Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

  54. My wife is our Sunday School teacher and she gave an excellent lesson in which no mention was made whatsoever of the “arch” in the lesson manual, and it’s not because she doesn’t believe that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It’s just that she prepares excellent lessons that encompass the gist of what the manual wants the teacher to present but in her own creative, skilled, and informed way.

    In this case, we spent the entire lesson on the Title Page of the Book of Mormon coupled with close study of Russell Nelson’s 1993 Ensign article “A Treasured Testament”, which she passed out to everyone as the study text for the day’s lesson introducing the Book of Mormon. Not only does that article describe the all-important issue in Mormon history of Joseph translating, according to David Whitmer’s account, with the use of a seer stone in a hat, but more importantly the article discusses why we should treasure the Book of Mormon during a dispensation of restoration. The article mentions key aspects of doctrines restored or clarified through the Book of Mormon, highlighting especially the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the principle of free agency.

    The class really enjoyed the lesson as demonstrated by how eagerly everyone participated, raising their hands with numerous insights into what the Book of Mormon meant for their spiritual lives.

    Also, focusing on the Title Page had the tendency to prevent people from making over-enthusiastic claims about the perfection of the Book of Mormon based on what could be termed a misinterpretation of its designation as “the most correct book”, as has been noted above. This is because the last line of the second paragraph reads as follows:

    And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.

    Emphasizing this led to interesting and uplifting results as people affirmed this by noting places where Moroni says he wishes he could speak with his audience because of his weakness in writing and other such occurences. One person did pipe up with the “most correct book” comment but discussing it in the context of this statement from the Title Page kept it in proper perspective and people expressed their gratitude that the Book of Mormon contains “things of God” that stand apart from whether Mormon as the compiler got dates and numbers right in his summary and editing.

    This stuff can be done while following the framework of the manual, as has been requested of teachers, by teachers who prayerfully consider the needs of the class in preparing their lessons.

    I hope you will always participate in your classes, Kevin. I believe you probably do have more knowledge about historical or exegetical items than others in your classes based on your educational interests but hopefully you would take the view to consecrating that knowledge for the benefit of the class, and I am sure you do so when you feel that it is appropriate and does not create a tangent from the spiritual purpose of a given lesson.

  55. Fwiw, just as an observation, one of the men in my ward from whom I would love to learn (and have the rest of the members learn) rarely (if ever) says anything unless asked directly by the teacher. He has incredible insights that, I believe, would be a wonderful blessing to the members.

    I think there is a fine line between contributing too much and not contributing enough – as Kevin appears to hint in this post. The “follow the Spirit” rule seems like a good guide – and that is why I have never said anything to the brother I mentioned above. I have no clue whatsoever what the Spirit is telling him.

  56. I think it’s a reasonable responsibility to ask seekers to avoid overtly cynical questions or comments. But even with those comments excluded, there’s still a vast body of useful contributions to discussion that are more familiar to a certain type of seeker than “platitudes.”

    I think the other trick here is that when you’re engaging a community this way, it’s vital that people have the correct perception that you care about them.

    A thought experiment: imagine a close friend whom you care about a great deal and who is uninterested in and somewhat troubled by modern secular critiques of religion. What types of comments would you make to her/him about Mormonism/The Gospel? How much different from the familiar would you push her/him? Would you ask her/his permission first? Or would you wait for her/him to ask for information?

    Would or should this affect what types of comments you would make in church? The community which has assembled in these classes is anticipating something like the respect given intimate friends.

    And Ray has a good point. For those of us who like to talk to excess, it’s good to listen sometimes, if only to spiritual promptings.

  57. I used to hesitate to speak in class, and I usually regretted it. Eventually I decided it was better to say what I had to say, and once people got to know me they took whatever I had to say for whatever it was worth.

    So a few years ago I moved into a new ward. The first Sunday I was there, in EQ, someone made a comment I couldn’t let go by (something along the line of we need to kill Saddam Hussein). I couldn’t sit still leaving a comment like that go unchecked, so I said straightforwardly that I found the comment offensive and contrary to the teachings of Christ.

    Nobody said anything, and the class went on. Afterward, the teacher told me he was glad I said what I said, because he figured somebody had to. Maybe there’s some advantage to dealing with strangers.

    Anyway, it’s a few years later and now I’m teaching Gospel Doctrine. I try to encourage people to express their thoughts, and usually they do. (I also try not to make the class a discussion of controversial issues, but rather a sharing of how the scriptures can be applied to people’s lives. But controversies do happen, and as long as we stick to the scriptural text in front of us, people seem to handle disagreements just fine.)

    And, BTW, I didn’t even mention the arch and keystone (partly because we had an abbreviated lesson for various reasons). And I was the one who brought up the stone in the hat. That’s the way it happened, isn’t it?

  58. Incidentally, as for the stone in the hat, it’s not entirely certain that he _always_ used the seerstones in the traditional way. I think it would be fair to say that the plates were generally covered and Smith often used seerstones in an enclosure that excluded all outside light (the hat), but we don’t know how he always translated. Incidentally, no one has given careful attention to the possibility that “stuck the stones in a hat” was shorthand for “used seerstones” rather than an exclusive physical distinction.

    Finally, I have argued elsewhere that there is a strong parallelism in the quest to recover the voices of the dead (the Book of Mormon and its early descriptions are saturated with this imagery–see Isaiah 29:4 at a minimum) by translating or “see(r)”ing the ancient scripture, and the “burial” of the stones in the base of the dark hat.

    Incidentally, this is a distinction between types of comments. One comment is “I know a fact you don’t and want to unsettle you” which would be “actually Joseph Smith put stones in the bottom of his hat and didn’t look at the plates”. Another comment is “Some missing information provides new spiritual insights about our faith” This might be “What do you think it meant for God to associate sacred stones with sacred scripture? What did early Latter-day Saints think of Joseph being a seer? How did physical relics play into or affect his seerhood?”

  59. Finally, I left off the fact that early LDS would have perceived (and did perceive) the use of seerstones in a traditional mode as an attack on learned divinity and the translations of the professors. Smith deliberately assumed the role not of learned translator, but of supernatural translator. What better way to make his point emphatic than to adopt the approach of a folk seer? Now, being someone who prefers the learned to the supernatural for his scholarship, this insight is not particularly affirming for me, but it remains true and warrants discussion nevertheless. Perhaps the story of the stones in the hat actually comes full cycle to affirm a more spiritual and less scholarly approach to ancient sacred history.

  60. I have to open my mouth at church. I have no choice. I’m the most well versed member of my branch and am needed for many doctrinal things. I taught Young Men’s yesterday because our YM president/teacher wasn’t there.

  61. StillConfused says:

    I am quiet as a church mouse at church. other than the good news minute in Relief Society.

  62. I’ve been waiting for someone else to say it (where’s gst when you need him), but I guess I’ll have to: get over yourselves, already!

    (This is how I behave in class.)

  63. I spent a summer in the same Ward as Hugh Nibley, and it is true he never spoke unless directly asked a question. It was several weeks before I even knew he was in the class.
    As the SSP and adult GD teacher I am always stuck between wanting discussion in class and also wanting to get out the material. Basically I want to avoid the lecture scenario on my part, and the wandering stream on my classes’. I also know my class pretty well and that means I avoid certain topics to help this, like saying anything about Ezra Taft Benson for example. If I do that we will be in for a 5 minute discourse from the old retired farmer about the evils of communism and how ETB saved America.

  64. I also teach GD, and mostly prefer that people speak up. Nothing makes me sadder than when someone comes up afterward and makes a great point that I wish the rest of the class could have heard.

    I didn’t use the arch. I started out by telling the class that the last 10+ minutes would be for them to share their thoughts on the Book of Mormon. I gave them some questions to answer as possible prompts, like “What did they learn about Jesus Christ from the BoM that they didn’t get anyplace else?”

    We started with a story from Elder Scott about his experiences working on an oystering boat as a teenager, how he would read the Book of Mormon during the lulls, and how it strengthened him. We also spent much time on the title page. We listened to three minutes from Elder Oak’s 2006 talk “All Men Everywhere” (I often bring in my ipod, because hearing it in their own voices is so meaningful).

    The comments from class members were incredibly helpful and many uplifting. Most of them came from converts, and reminded us of the wonder of finding this gem of a book.

    I’m a bit concerned that this is the third time teaching out of this same manual. I know I’ll want to at least update the general authority references.

  65. Nick Literski says:

    For the last several years of my LDS membership, I concentrated on keeping my mouth shut. Sure, I could have spoken up in a “keystone of our religion” class, and mentioned how Joseph was using distinctly masonic language that had nothing at all to do with the traditional explanation of his comment (and that the masonic implications are far more interesting), but doing so would create three reactions: (1) people who thought I was being a know-it-all, and resented me for it, (2) people who thought I was an apostate for offering a non-traditional view, or (3) a very small group of friends, who would think I was brilliant for five seconds. Of course, I spent most of my adult life teaching GD and/or EQ, so the “keep my mouth shut” plan wasn’t always an option.

    The sad thing is that learning to keep one’s mouth shut can be a short step away from learning to spend time in the hallway. My last ward’s GD class drove me nuts with goofy ideas and political statements. Rather than sit on my hands for an hour each week, I hung out elsewhere.

  66. Thank you Susan, I was hoping someone would say it. Sadly your comment was received as well as so many in GD class: everyone is so interested what they have to say that they can’t even hear the comments of others.


    The truth is that I would hate to be in a class with most of you. All of your superior understanding of the Gospel and Church history is just too much for the average LDS citizen. Those poor, poor ignorami.

  67. Before the flames start rising here, I want to first address Kevin’s question of when to open your mouth at Church. As a Branch President, I generally wish people would speak more because it leads to a better understanding of the topic and prevents the class from getting boring. There’s a fine line between commenting on everything to the point of being obnoxious and actively participating. If everyone that wants to participate is being called on, then someone shouldn’t worry about talking too much. But if there are hands raised in response to a question and you just start talking you should put a sock in it.

    When there is false doctrine, whether it comes from the teacher or a class member, I *always* want someone to correct it. It shouldn’t be allowed to continue or you’re perpetuating the false teaching. That doesn’t mean to stand up and yell “you’re wrong!” The most effective rebuttals I’ve heard start with one of these:
    * “I’ve heard that too but President/Elder so-and-so clarified the teaching when he said this..”
    * “It’s easy to see why some people believe that but …”
    * “I believe the best way to answer that is what President/Elder so-and-so said…”
    * “The book such-and-such has a great explanation for that. It says…”

    If you have other ways to correct something without being confrontational, belittling, or smug, please share them with us.

  68. Well, I can comfortably say I am not anywhere near the smartest in my GD class, or in the quorum. However, I try to ask the kind of questions that smoke out the smart ones– not the know-it-alls, but the ones who offer thoughtful, anomalous perspective to the group. They’re my Sunday morning heroes.

  69. You’re killing me! I’m one of the poor ignorami and I definitely keep my mouth shut. I used to open it when I was a lot younger and thought I knew something. But now I know nothing and I don’t relish sharing my ignorance with the masses.

    Oh, except last year when I was teaching gospel essentials and one of the sweet young missionaries from Utah piped up to explain to the investigators that the wine in Jesus’ time was really just grape juice. And I kinda went, “uhhh. noooo, not really…”

  70. Steve Evans says:

    Rusty, are you trying to get me to break my resolution by being deliberately jerky?

  71. If you feel you’re more knowledgeable or well versed than the rest of your ward, you should use your talents in building up the understanding and testimonies of others instead of smugly tuning out to congratulate yourself on how superior you are. God gave you those talents – how are you going to use them?

    I’m not giving you license to spout all the time, just help others learn and grow.

  72. The whole perceived authority issue is real, so I find that as the former bishop of our ward, I more often than not choose not to speak up, opting instead to offer to read scriptural passages for the GD teachers.

    I do have a tendency to like to throw out the oddball or left field comment from time to time, such as a few weeks ago when the problem of evil and bad things happening to good people came up. As people were struggling with the question “Why”, I chimed in with, “Well, that’s because God really isn’t all-powerful”. I then tried to explain the concepts of agency and eternal laws, but one of the follow up comments from a single sister in our ward obliquely accused me of heresy, or something similar.

    Needless to say, I shut up, and then talked to her separately after the class, and apologized if she was offended. New Year’s resolution, keep my mouth shut when the urge to make flippant comments hit, and save them for my wife when I get home. BTW, only the hardest core right wing conservatives in my ward really believe I’m a heretic, and that’s only because I’m a registered Democrat.

  73. When I was called as EQP I assigned myself to be the teacher (I’m an arrogant git who likes the sound of his own voice, so there, Brother Rusty. At least I’m honest).

    Much to my surprise I have found that my intention to blow minds often gets shunted in favour of simple gospel teaching. For example, we had three investigators in class yesterday and I felt the need to explain things in quite basic terms rather than embark on the quite sophisticated lesson I had planned.

    Which is all to say that the golden rule ought not necessarily be to radically expand knowledge, but to ensure that correct principles are taught. I’m happy to draw keystones until the cows come home; but when the lads talk folkloric rubbish, I try hard to gently make corrections.

    Minds should be blown on occasion, however: one lesson in four I try to go nuclear.

  74. Steve,
    If over 50 comments of self-congratulatory smugness gets a pass and one comment of jerkiness doesn’t, then yes.

    Matt #71,
    Exactly what I was trying to say, just with 98% less jerkiness.

  75. a random John says:


    I was once physically attacked while teaching a lesson when I asserted more or less what you do in #39. Not on my mission. This was in a SLC ward. The other elders held the guy back after he lunged at me.

  76. Steve Evans says:

    Right on to Matt in #71.

  77. Mark Brown says:

    Rusty, I love you man, but I can’t bite my tongue any longer. Wherever two or three dumb people are gathered, they are not ignorami. They are ignoramuses. Thus sayeth the American Heritage dictionary:

    ig·no·ra·mus ?g’n?-r?’m?s) Pronunciation Key
    n. pl. ig·no·ra·mus·es
    An ignorant person.

    I also agree with Matt’s # 71, but that is also how I read Kevin’s post. How can I best contribute to the discussion at hand?

  78. Mark Brown says:

    Rusty, I love you man, but I can’t bite my tongue any longer. Wherever two or three dumb people are gathered, they are not ignorami. They are ignoramuses. Thus sayeth the American Heritage dictionary:

    ig·no·ra·mus ?g’n?-r?’m?s) Pronunciation Key
    n. pl. ig·no·ra·mus·es
    An ignorant person.

    I also agree with Matt’s # 71, but that is also how I read Kevin’s post. How can I best contribute to the discussion at hand?

  79. Lulubelle says:

    I struggle with this one Every Single Sunday. Yesterday in RS, there were several comments about the saints being persecuted more than any of the other “new religions” of the day because it was The Truth and Satan specifically targeted it. I wanted to say “well, but also there were a few more dynamics at play there, like the fact that the Saints were abolitionists and the Missourians weren’t” and “they were also very cliqueish and didn’t buy from anyone other than a fellow Saint unless they had no choice” and “they had this way of often telling others that they were God’s chosen people and would soon own all their land” that brought a bit of the persecution on themselves.

    But I didn’t. I know my thoughts are a bit on the provocative side and I’ve found that many members or more comfy with those platitudes that I find utterly boring but I am tired of always rocking the boat so I try not to do it too much in church.

  80. Mark Brown says:

    However, it only takes one ignoramus to post the same comment twice.

  81. Marjorie Conder says:

    Dispite my snarky “methaphorical hat” comments in #2 I really do agree with #71 and 76 (and a bunch of the rest of you. I’m just trying to keep my comments to a minimum, not refuse to speak if I have something really helpful to say. I also seriously do not want to be like a certain couple in our ward (he is our resisdent PhD and most people are afraid of him)He and his wife drop bombs (just because they can) almost every week. For example one of them said, right out of the blue this last year in class that mastrabation is THE cause of homosexuality and that mothers are responsible to stop it. I know of several persons including mothers in our ward who are dealing with this in very personal ways so these kind of things cannot go unanswered. (Yesterday, they dropped a bomb about feminists, which while dead wrong I did not respond to because neither their comment nor my response would have move the lesson in any productive way.)I frequently do respond to them however because I sense that something needs to be said and I sense that many folk are waiting for me to do it. I have often been thanked by teachers and others for pulling things back. But I also think it is a good thing for me to generally try to keep my mouth shut, because just in the natural order of things I will say plenty. (I let most comments just go.)

  82. Mark, you bastard, now you’re just creating contention. Keep quiet.

  83. Mark Brown says:


  84. Kevin Barney says:

    Wow, Marjorie, I’m stunned that a guy with a PhD in anything would say that masturbation is the cause of homosexuality, and I’m further stunned that there would even be a context in which he would feel comfortable dropping such an ill-considered bomb at church. Simply incredible.

  85. Marjorie Conder says:

    Wow, sorry for all the typos in #81. I’ll try and be more careful

  86. For example one of them said, right out of the blue this last year in class that mastrabation is THE cause of homosexuality and that mothers are responsible to stop it.

    Blimey. Thank every god from Marduk to Mithras that my mother and I never had that conversation…

  87. I bit my tongue twice this week:
    once because neither Alma the Younger nor Paul had an instantaneous conversion (a pet peeve of mine; didn’t speak because, although my view is more accurate, the common view isn’t inherently harmful and I don’t trust myself to speak out of a desire for truth when my pet peeves are involved)

    next during the “most correct” statements, because I have heard other gospel teachee types note that the D&C and the PGP came after the Book of Mormon and they may have, theoretically, surpassed it in perfectness (which is to say nothing of Moby Dick, the most correct book ever).

  88. Well, if The BoM is the most correct, the D&C and PGP are correcter, then Moby Dick must be the correctest. Thanks, John, I’ll bring that up in the next class.

  89. Matt W.'s wife says:

    I come from a long line of domineering commentors in my family. (Sorry dad if you’re reading this). I actually fear that LDS Comment Tourettes may have been so genetically or memetically programmed into me that I cannot avoid it. I do strive to use caution (as does one of my parents, the one who might read this), and I have offended the other by commenting that they commented too much. (Can you see the evidence of my feared dilemma?) I use the guideline “stay close to the trunk of the tree.” And then I enjoy the other not said comments in my head or in the Peanut Gallery (those sitting near me who would appreciate it).

    Just for fun…Matt W’s mission president told him that the most useless calling in the church was Stake SS president. I wonder how that trickles down to the wards?

    By the way, this is my first comment on the bloggernacle. I might save my condition for Real-time church settings only. We’ll see. But I sure have enjoyed reading you all.

  90. mondo cool says:

    I’m hurt – terribly hurt.

  91. Matt W.,

    I’m going to have to trump your mission president: The most useless calling in the church is stake SS 2nd counselor– and I’ve earned the right to say it.

  92. I think if you have any doubts about your comment in SS or the third hour you should indeed bite your tongue. Often though we realze we should have refrained after we make the weird comment or smug comment.

    I did sense some smug self congrats above in some of the comments.

    My own view on lessons in church is that they should gear towards helping the class members live the gospel better. No matter how sophisticated the class members are we all need to focus on the gospel basics and leave class encouraged to better live our covenants in the upcoming week.

    In other words day to day gospel living. Forgiveness, keeping covenants, following Jesus etc.

  93. Lulubelle says:

    Bbell: I somewhat agree– that is critically important to talk about in church. But… why is it wrong to have serious meaty discussions about important topics that leave us better able to understand our religion? Usually, this cannot be seperated from the society of the day, politics, and other historical figures. I think shying away from these is a big mistake and, I find, leaves many of our meetings bland and wanting for so much more.

  94. I stopped going to Sunday School for that reason (my big mouth). But I still get in trouble. Just last week, the Stake Presidency was teaching the combined lesson (fifth Sunday) on successful parenting. “How do you tell a successful parent?”

    Finally I said “you can’t tell a successful parent by how their kids turn out.” I wasn’t defending myself, I was defending the other poor saps sitting there feeling like crap.

    I watched Robert Millett’s talk on Time Out for Women and he laughingly told of a lesson he took exception to where the teacher said we should be comparing ourselves to Jesus. He said, “well, I gave up right then and there.” He said something like “what a stupid thing to tell people” and said we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to anybody.

    I’ve started bringing up the Savior every chance I get and I’m pretty sure they think I’m converting to Pentacostal. I just keep reminding them that even if they have all their food storage, etc….I just realized I’m quoting my own post on another blog.

    Sorry LOL.

  95. One comment only in response to some comments here:

    There is a fine line between arrogance / smugness and simply answering the best one can based on one’s study, prayer and contemplation. It’s much harder to discern in print, since there is no vocal tone to weigh; it’s much easier to discern in person, especially for those who know the person making the statement. Arrogance is easy to assume when reading comments, even when there is no arrogance in the heart of the commenter. Many of the comments on this thread – those that appear to convey “smugness” – would not cause any ripples whatsoever if they were made in person to those who know the commenter.

    Back to the post:

    Here is a specific example of when I feel compelled to comment, based on what I feel at the moment:

    On Sunday, the teacher asked, “Is it possible to have the fullness of the Gospel without the Book of Mormon?” I saw some heads start to shake (“No, it’s not possible.”), and I felt like the answer that was coming was, “No.” So, I raised my hand and said, “Yes, it is possible to have the fullness of the Gospel without the Book of Mormon, since God easily can reveal it to a modern prophet without ancient scripture, but there are lots of other reasons why the Book of Mormon was absolutely necessary for our time.”

  96. Kevin — I have the same question, and I’ve not handled it as responsibly as you have, with what I have to offer a scant shadow of what you bring. Here’s my situation:

    In EQ, I’ve been the instructor twice, the last time ending toward the end of the second year of the BY manual (where I managed to not talk about Adam-God, and felt virtuous for my restraint). I tend to bring in matters of historical context that I find relevant, will sometimes point out doctrinal problems with comments that people have to say, and end up being roughly orthodox in my conclusions if not in my approach and reasoning. I think there is value in people’s assumptions being shaken up, and in showing them that even when the reasoning they’re using to buttress their testimonies is ridiculous nonsense, the Gospel is still true and that they are not wasting their time in being in class. My participation has shifted a bit in the last few years, and it’s a lot more rare that someone will reference things I’ve said during the lesson (many of the things I’ve got to say that are the most powerful and useful didn’t originate with me, and all Truth comes from God, so the important part is the Truth, not the conduit, so I prefer people talk about the Truth and what it means to them, rather than me). I don’t usually try to take the lesson from the teacher unless he really would rather it be taken from him, or unless he’s just doing so badly that it needs to happen. I remember landing rather harshly on a young clean-and-pretty instructor for saying that some people see divorce as an easy way out of marital difficulties because he just simply didn’t know what he was talking about. I tend to promote an emphasis on being honest in talking about real-life problems and that everybody in the class has them and that they require more response than mouthing platitudes and pretending that nothing is seriously wrong when it is. This has resulted in a class where people have spoken about serious life problems and been supported in them in a way that I’ve not seen in other EQ experiences in other times and places.

    I began attending GD again about six months ago at the strong direction of my bishop, with great trepidation and resistance on my part and a request that I be able to bail out if it didn’t work out. Prior to that, I’ve been attending Gospel Essentials for five years, with my GD visits not more frequent than semi-annually. This began when I got shouted down in GD for trying to point out that “see the face of God and live” can be understood to have to do with finding favor with God and living eternally. The teacher went on for the remainder of the class period without break on how that phrase was only to be understood literally, and how essential it was that we all seek to literally see the face of God (the latter portion of which I have no disagreement with). He apologized to me personally a week later, and in front of the class, while insisting that he was still right and still not offering me an opportunity to respond in the class.

    Since my return, I’ve found the class and teacher to be more open to my participation than several of the interim teachers and class memberships would have been. I was told by the bishop that I needed to be in the class, and that the class needed me, and I’ve tried to be responsible in how I choose to respond to things. With the NT, my classics background is still useful in creating context in some of the narrative portions. We had an interesting conversation on the role of Grace at the appropriate time in the epistles, and I was pleased to find support from my (Institute Director) bishop for the notion that the proper response to the question of salvation by Grace v works is that both are required, with Grace providing the power and works preparing us to receive that power.

    Several times I’ve responded to instructors maligning those of other faiths and their beliefs from ignorance. One GE instructor was making fun of Catholics for praying to saints, and I provided a little of how Catholics understand that, and he said “I thought we were here to talk about what we believe” and I said “Good idea,” and that was pretty much the end of that problem with him.

    I don’t believe that a class belongs to the teacher — I believe it belongs to God, and then to everybody else there. You have things of value to include in the conversation, and, if done with wisdom and order, it will not cause problems. I think as I move closer to the position you’ve been in, and you move closer to mine, balance will be struck, and all will be good.

  97. Kevin,

    As a gospel doctrine teacher, and as a sometimes-unwilling participant in a high priests’ group, I identified strongly with your dilemma. I resonated also to Blain’s remarks, and wanted to add my own.

    A few months back, an elderly brother from our ward was teaching in our high priests’ group and began to quote from Alvin R. Dyer and his commentary about blacks and the priesthood. I listened attentively for a while, and then realized that he was not going to refute the Dyer commentary (from 1961) and was somehow still teaching the doctrine of the priesthood being withheld from those of African descent. I looked around, first at a few of my fellow high priests, and then at the group leadership, and no one seemed disturbed but one other brother, our young, former bishop (with whom I am closely allied in sentiment). When I could clearly see that he was not going to use the quotes as a reference point, but was teaching them as doctrine, I raised my hand and said that the 1978 revelation on priesthood had superceded that doctrine and that we should not be using it in the way he was. I was somewhat abrupt, thinking back, and realize that I was probably out of place to comment when the leadership had not. But it occurred to me that I HAD to say something, lest I would be guilty by association.

    It caused a furor. The teacher, an elderly and oversensitive man, resigned from his teaching position, the group leadership took me to task with the bishop, and several of the brethren castigated me in the hall afterwards for having challenged someone who was of age and unable, really, to defend himself.

    The time, place, and manner were arguably wrong, but the doctrine was being challenged and for that, I do not apologize. But your point about doing it in a way that does not offend or hurt weighs heavily on me…I wish I’d taken that into account BEFORE I made the statement. But, we live and we learn. Thanks for a thoughtful piece.


  98. I’ve been waiting for someone else to say it (where’s gst when you need him), but I guess I’ll have to: get over yourselves, already!

    Lafayette, we are here! I say, Boors and Bores: Let your know-it-all lights shine forth!

  99. I have hardly made a comment in church since I started blogging. I always struggled to keep my mouth shut, but it turned out I just needed an outlet.

    It’s funny, I was coaxed into making a comment in EQ yesterday and after church I was thinking about this issue. I thought to myself, “Just imagine how it must be for someone like Kevin Barney who actually knows something.” Really.

  100. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark, I certainly would have said something, too, in the situation you describe. But it sure can be tough in the heat of the moment to try to figure out a gentle way to correct someone like that.

    But in that particular case, if you can’t manage to sugarcoat it I still think it’s more important to speak up.

  101. Mark, you said something Gordon B. Hinckley has recently said, so your content was impeccable. It is hard to figure out what to do with impaired individuals preaching hurtful doctrines. I personally prefer to approach such fragile people afterwards privately and then communicate my concerns to the bishop. If they’re not impaired, then I speak forthrightly.

  102. StillConfused says:

    I choose to attend gospel principles / essentials / whatever it is called because there is less of the smugness. That may be a better option than hanging out in the halls

  103. Kevin, I personally wish you and people like you would speak up more. I think for some EQ instructors I know, a little fear of being taken to the woodshed by Brother Barney would go a long way in helping said instructors actually prepare…and not just spew something they once heard a seminary teacher say in the 9th grade.

    Just my opinion though…..

  104. I teach GD in PA and yesterday a classmember reminded me, and the rest of the class, that we live in the Keystone state. I started laughing and moved on from the arches to the next part of the lesson: changes in the introduction to the BOM.

    Great topic. Kevin, I would always welcome your contributions. As a GD teacher, I usually welcome all comments, even the crazy ones, and am never afraid to respond to a comment or question with “Gee, I don’t know” or “I’ll have to look into that and get back with you” or, the best, “thanks for sharing that information, I had no idea.”

    Of course, as the GD teacher I get to select whose raised hand gets picked to opine or respond to a question or hypo. It’s taken several months, but I now know who will likely give me a crazy, non-sequitur answer, who will give a thoughtful answer, and who will give a canned Mormon answer to any question. I try to distribute the responses and treat everyone with kindness, even the colorful members with crazy ideas. Most of all,though, we have ward and stake leadership that is in the browbeating mold of church stewardship, so I try to make the class laugh at least once during the lesson and hopefully make them feel a little better about their attempts to live the gospel.

  105. Great Post – Sometimes I notice in GD and EQ that some days I seem to carry a big part of the discussion or other times iI’m quiet.

  106. 97 — I think I might have put it something like this: “Brother So-and-so, I appreciate the background you’re giving us into the reasons some folks did and do believe were behind the priesthood ban, but I’m confused as to why you’re giving us this much detail in the light of the revelation received by President Kimball makes it clear that there is no longer any reason to withhold the priesthood from any worthy male member of the Church. Brother Dyer’s ideas are interesting, but they support a policy that the Church no longer practices, and can be used as justification for people who believe themselves superior to others based on the color of their skin — something Pres. Hinckley spoke out against in no uncertain terms in the past few years. I assume that you will be getting to all of this shortly, with more and better details than I can come up with off the top of my head like this, but I wanted to bring those things up before we got too much further along for those who might have been feeling uncomfortable. I hope I didn’t steal too much of your thunder.”

    That’s about the kindest way I can figure to put it.

  107. I only make comments when I can see the teacher is desperate for someone, anyone to say something. Nothing worse for a teacher than trying to start a discussion and getting silence in return. Otherwise I figure they get enough of my opinion in my class. And I always volunteer to read the scriptures and quotes, anything to help their class go the way they intend.

  108. #107: Sympathy comments are always appreciated and usually detectable.

  109. LeIsle Jacobson says:

    I used to make a lot of comments in class, but age has hopefully given me a little bit more wisdom, and I don’t comment as much. This is not really out of a sense of fear, or worrying about what other people will think of me. I’ve simply come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter what people believe on most subjects, so there is no point in rocking the boat and risk dumping a poor swimmer overboard.

    I still respond to teacher’s questions of course, when I’ve got something relevant to say. But I tend to agree with the other comments that have been made about it being unnecessary to correct every bit of fuzzy thinking — if someone is preaching totally false doctrine, then sure, something needs to be said. And I do have my pet peeves. If the subjects come up, I’ll usually interject hopefully gentle reminders that scripture inerrancy is not a doctrine of the church, or that temple recommend interviews do not quiz members regarding their personal views as to the age of the earth, but for the most part, church lessons really shouldn’t get sidetracked away from the content outlined in the manuals.

    I can recommend a personal practice for the GD, EQ and RS lessons that are consistently boring or ill-prepared. Read the lesson in advance, come prepared with some good quotes from the Ensign and the scriptures, and interject those items into the lesson as appropriate. You can not be considered a heretic if you are quoting from church magazines. And even if you don’t end up quoting from the articles, you can quietly read them over again during particularly boring parts of the lesson.

    Contrary to what seems to be the perception of some of the more widely read members — very few of the interesting trivia items that we pick up in our reading are “hidden” from other members. A great deal of it is splashed right out in the pages of the Ensign and other church magazines with nary a worry about how it will affect the testimonies of the members.

    For example: If one really wanted to bring up the seer stone and the hat, there is a nice summary of the translation process in the September 1977 issue of the Ensigh. “By the Gift and Power of God”, By Richard Lloyd Anderson. Or look also for the article by Russel M. Nelson, July Ensign 1993, “A Treasured Testament”.

  110. Hello Kevin and all:

    I feel Kevin’s question deeply. I fight the same kind of problem and usually don’t say much. I suspect that the reasons are similar though I have never articulated them as clearly.

    Part of the problem is that much of the way the church wants the gospel taught in its classes focuses on the application of gospel principles and not very much on the actual understanding of the scriptural text. They really are two different approaches, and often things I might add simply don’t fit into the way the teacher is approaching the class.

    I suspect that this year will be particularly, let’s say, interesting as I attend GD class. I suspect I may be even quieter than usual this year.

  111. Kevin Barney says:

    In case anyone doesn’t quite pick up the nuance of Brant’s comment, his massive new commentary on the BoM, Second Witness, is rolling off from the presses from Kofford; see here.

  112. I’m moving into the 21st century with this. One of the general SS pres. is a friend (Dan Judd), and Brant’s comment was nearly a direct quote from him. There is always the question in my mind about what to contribute, so like many of you. I just shut up. But I think I’ve often overdone it. A brief, well considered comment is usually, but not always, safe and even helpful, maybe. I find it difficult to restrain myself when people start making comments about the infinite. I’ve also caused some dismay reading Egyptian from PGP. Also, you must be careful about what you take to class. I have a bunch of scans on my laptop of Joseph Smith stuff from HDC and BYU that I’m editing/using and I got caught reading mss by the teacher once. I think it hurt him a bit.

  113. I wish you people would speak up more often. As one of the ignorami (great coinage!), I would feel a lot less patronized if you guys were taking part honestly, rather than trying to decide what I could and could not handle this Sunday.

  114. All last year I did a lot of tongue-biting throughout most of GD class. This year I’m in Primary, and the very first day in opening exercises the teacher asks: what does “create” mean? A child responds: making something out of nothing. And the teacher agreed! Oh, how I wanted to correct that, but my wife gave me a look and I let it pass. We were new and maybe it was better not to make a scene.

    But I have to wonder what kind of false understanding this is going to perpetuate in these young minds.

  115. Charles, that is a good case of something that should be mentioned to the Bishop directly. It is false doctrine, pure and simple.

  116. Oh, I don’t know, Ray–although I think it’s admirable to want to get things just right, even and especially for kids, personally I don’t think I’d worry that overmuch, and I don’t think I’d beat a path to the bishop’s office over something like this (especially thinking of the poor tired bishop in Mark’s You Make the Call thread who gets regaled with stories of false doctrine in Primary).

    I guess it would depend on the ages of the kids, but especially for young children we paint in very broad strokes, and even more than with adults, teachers want to reward kids for giving answers that are at least somewhere in the ballpark. It seems to me the niceties of our rejection of ex nihilo can wait a few years.

  117. Eve, it’s not a matter of getting things “just right”; it’s a matter of allowing a doctrine to be taught to our children that is at the very heart of our difference with other religions. Ex nihilo isn’t a “little” doctrinal difference; it’s a major false doctrine. I don’t want my own children believing it – ever.

    I don’t want bishops inundated with trivial complaints. I can understand completely if someone doesn’t say anything, especially since it’s primary. On the other hand, as an educator in training and inclination, I also understand how hard it is to convince a whole group of children that what they were “taught” in Primary was wrong. In my own callings, this is one I would want to know; this is one I would want to address – lovingly, but directly. It simply has way too many doctrinal implications, imo.

  118. Ray, I suppose much depends on what one considers a core doctrine, and that, in turn, undoubtedly depends largely on the larger context one has in mind. Ex nihilo is certainly a distinguishing feature of our faith in a specifically Christian context (the context in which I suspect you have in mind here), but I would suspect–based simply on the amount of space devoted in our conference talks and manuals to various of our claims–that at the present time our rejection of ex nihilo is quite peripheral (compared, say, to the Atonement, the eternal significance of the family, temples, missionary work, and the cultivation of various Christian virtues). At a certain level of abstract systemization ex nihilo assumes more importance, but I have to wonder if such systemization, interesting as it may be, isn’t already a kind of alien imposition on the practice of religion.

    In short, it’s not the kind of thing I personally would run to the bishop about. I realize that everyone’s going to draw that line differently and that we’re all most likely to draw it on the near side of our own concerns. It’s certainly the kind of thing on which reasonable people are almost guaranteed to disagree.

    Personally, especially in Primary, I’m far more concerned about the way the teachers treat the children and act toward them. Impatience, unrealistic expectations, nagging, and militant harshness, in my view, have far more capacity to instill dangerous false doctrines in children’s minds, such as the idea that God wants them to be bored and miserable for three hours every Sunday and that Jesus is a tyrant in the sky just waiting to jerk them out into the hall for doing one wrong thing.

    Not that what we say is irrelevant by any means, but I’d propose that who we are is a far more powerful source of true and false doctrines than anything we say, perhaps especially for children.

  119. I agree with the last two paragraphs completely. That’s a good ending, I think, to the ex nihilo discussion. *smile*

  120. Ray, ah, it’s always nice when Bloggernacle discussions can have such pleasant conclusions. You have revealed your true colors as a fundamentally well-mannered and kind-hearted person. ;)

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