Five Pillars


Many years ago (I don’t have a really clear idea of exactly how many), I was sitting in sacrament meeting when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the missionaries. They had been talking to a Muslim man in the gym, and were way out of their depth, so they asked if I would come and talk to him with them. I said sure, and slipped out of the chapel towards the gymnasium.

He was a pleasant fellow, very sharp, very knowledgeable about mainstream Christianity. I quickly realized he was some sort of an anti-Christian apologist. As we talked, none of his talking points were working on me, because more often than not I was able to agree with him. He knew not a thing about Mormonism, and didn’t appreciate the substantial differences between our theology and what he was arguing against.

He pretty quickly gave up trying to get me to stop being a Christian, and pretty soon the dialogue turned into just a pleasant conversation where we were asking each other questions about our respective faiths. The young elders looked on in wonder at this.

Eventually, it was time for priests’ quorum meeting. (I was Young Men’s President at the time, and in that role I taught the priests’ class.) So I was about to excuse myself, when I had a sudden inspiration. I asked this brother if he would be willing to teach a class of young men about Islam. He beamed and enthusiastically agreed. I asked if he would be willing to introduce the five pillars of Islam to them, and he concurred.

So I brought him to the classroom, introduced him to the boys, and turned over the class to him. And he gave a fantastic, off the cuff lesson, introducing the boys to Islam in general and the five pillars in particular. I think the boys were perhaps a bit disoriented at first, wondering who this guy was and what was going on, but eventually they decided it was pretty cool to learn about Islam from a flesh and blood practicing Muslim right there at Church.

I have to admit, I thought it was pretty cool, too.


  1. Tim Jones says:

    Sounds like an awesome experience, and what a great way to introduce young men and soon-to-be missionaries to a major world religion. Did you get any backlash from ward members?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    No, no backlash whatsoever. (I admit that at the time I wondered whether some parents or the bishop might not see this opportunity the way I did, but I received nary a complaint.)

  3. Stargazer says:

    You mentioned that the elders “looked on in wonder.” Why were they surprised? Any idea? Had they never had an interesting discussion about different perspectives on beliefs? My oldest two kids have had these conversations both with teachers and peers in school, and my 4th grade daughter (totally outgoing) as well. It is possible to just appreciate the differences (often in nuance; there is often quite a bit of similarity when you start looking) between beliefs without the goal of conversion…

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Stargazer, my impression was that they had struggled so much in trying to talk to him on their own that they were surprised at how easily we were able to talk to each other. Of course, I wasn’t trying to convert him or anything like that, so it stands to reason that my conversation with him was easier and more natural.

  5. What an amazing experience to give those kids. How I wish I could go back and have people teach me things from their own experience and beliefs in this way. I think it would have enhanced my own faith experience and would have made me a far less nervous 25 year old when I did finally move out of Utah. Great post and idea.

  6. While it might be appropriate in a multifaith fireside of sorts, when I send my kids to church I’d like to trust they’re being taught the lesson suggested by authority.

    It’s already a tremendous trust to hope that the kids are being taught the gospel and not a twisted and confused version by their teacher. We shouldn’t have to wonder about guest teachers. Take the Elizabeth Smart scenario. Here’s a man you don’t know from off the street. You can only hope he isn’t concealing his intentions from you while casing the class for an opportunity. Certainly, that’s unlikely and we shouldn’t assume everyone’s a child abuser (a few people in your ward or stake likely are anyway). But equally, I think we should be very circumspect about who we open our kids to.

    Look, I’m assuming the kids weren’t scarred or anything, but it’s not appropriate to bring in an outside, unknown teacher and portray it in an exemplary way like this. I’m assuming you had the Bishops approval?

    Let’s not give people the idea that we should be going rogue with the trust placed in our hands as teachers and leaders.

    If there’s something that non member can teach, better to invite him back in a different setting than a young men’s Sunday meeting – even if in this case it’s a “success” by exposing the youth to different views, it’s not wise when the many variations across thousands of wards could be considered.

    Interesting concept, the five pillars though.

  7. What a great thing, Kevin. I wish I had had that kind of thing in church at that age.

  8. Give me a heads up if Bernard Lewis ever stops on in for a quick synopsis of “What Went Wrong?”.

  9. I had a similar discussion on my mission with a Muslim who tried to convert us away from Christianity. He showed us a religious debate between a Born again Christian and a Mulim preacher. We told him we didn’t agree with the Christian either and our message was different. He found it hard to believe that we did not agree with other Christians.

    Same area tracted out a Catholic youth leader who liked our message so much he invited us to the Catholic Youth group that evening and we taught them a first discussion. No converts, gave out some Book of Mormons but all of those Catholic Youth groups went away with a clearer knowledge of what we believed. It was an amazing experience.

    I would have no problems with a lesson like that for my kids at church. i love them learning about other religions.

  10. Learning about religion and God from people who understand their religion is exactly what I want for my children at church. Thank you.

  11. Brother Sky says:

    A great story and model for how to have a useful and respectful discussion with someone of a different faith. I’ve often thought that it would be helpful if we at church read the holy books of other religions. I’d love to have classes on the Qur’an and some of the Puranas. And whatever one’s opinion of Islam, at least the Qur’an gives a detailed, specific description of Paradise. I’ve always found it strange that Mormons are supposed to be so intensely committed to achieving the celestial kingdom when they have absolutely no idea what it’s like.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Needless to say, Gman, I disagree. I had been conversing with this man for over an hour, and I was perfectly comfortable that he was not the kind of threat you imagine. I suggested the five pillars because I thought that would be both a good introduction and something geared to their almost complete lack of knowledge about Islam. I was right there in the room the whole time monitoring the lesson. The lesson did in fact turn out great, and had a far greater impact coming from a practicing Muslim than it would have coming from me.

    If we’re scared of our 16, 17 and 18-year old teens experiencing a lesson like this, then we have no business whatsoever sending them halfway around the world on missions just a year or two later.

  13. I get why something like this would make the likes of Gman uncomfortable, but I think it’s great. I subscribe to the religious studies dictum “Know one, know none,” meaning that exposing those young men to Islam gave them an opportunity to understand their own Mormonism better. And besides, a little religious literacy in a country where people keep killing Sikhs because they think they’re Muslim (among the many other atrocities that a bit of religious education could prevent) is pretty much an unalloyed good.

  14. Muzzy Brief says:

    Was anything missing from the classroom after the Muslim left?

  15. it's a series of tubes says:

    Unfortunately, the attitude shown in Gman’s post is all too often the reason, as they say on the internet, “why we can’t have nice things”.

  16. N. W. Clerk says:

    Maybe the next guest instructor could be a representative of the FLDS.

  17. Was anything missing from the classroom after he left? Yeah. Ignorance.

  18. N. W. Clerk says:

    Handbook 1 says that the bishop must ensure that all presentations by guest instructors are in harmony with Church doctrine.

  19. What would Jesus do, N.W.?

    Follow a guideline that few members of the Church could be expected to know, or show a bit of kindness to a visitor to the church?

  20. Kevin – I’m glad you have George Bush “See into his soul” qualities after an hour. Pedophiles never conceal their behavior do they? It’s entirely likely this man could have become a problem, returning frequently seeing an easy opportunity for whatever reason – Mormon bashing, harassment, etc.

    Amy, I don’t know the guideline in the handbook, but it’s obvious if I was inviting a guest teacher, who I don’t really know, and is a non-member, that I should ask the Bishop his thoughts first.

    “Can’t have nice things?” Have your nice things in the responsibility of your own children. It’s not your right to use my children to acquire your “nice things” — so nice you probably never actually went and did this. So really you’re just griping that someone raised a legitimate safety concern.

  21. “Of course I wasn’t trying to convert him or anything like that, so it stands to reason that my conversation with him was easier and more natural.”

    Brother Barney, I think this is key to what can be done about our moribund missionary department. Perhaps if the focus of our missionaries was education and service rather than conversion numbers, the general population would be more open to speaking to them.

    This interests me because our grandson currently serves in a California mission. The most often used phrase in his weekly emails? “…..but nobody would talk to us.” Last week his entire district went on a 3 hour “blitz.” But nobody would talk to them! The Holy Ghost can’t testify of truths that are never spoken.

  22. To further comment Kevin re: your slight of “being scared”…

    There is a time and place. Sunday school lesson is not the time and place. I specifically referenced other meeting possibilities and you fall back on being “scared”. So scared I suggested and alternate meeting/venue.

    There is a difference between fear and prudence. There are a lot of unhinged people out there, and just turning over a class period to an unknown person found by the missionaries is not something that should be done. There is also a big difference between a 16 year old and a 19 year old. And that 19 year old has had at least some training. So again, that’s a red herring to try to fall back on.

    The fact is, your idea however charitable it may seem, is not something to model across the church. I’m glad nothing bad happened. But presuming because you’re in the class you can prevent that is shortsighted. You don’t really know his intentions in the class, and especially not out of it and afterwards.

    But aside from all these issues, that’s just not how sunday school classes should work. Ironically, cavalier teacher-knows-best attitudes are why the handbook rules are made in the first place. The church could do without such local variations.

    If this sounds like I’m freaking out, I’m not. I’m just pushing back (“duty to disagree” anyone?) against what is an unsound idea to be held up for future consideration as exemplary Sunday school teaching.

  23. it's a series of tubes says:

    Gman, thank you for your further posts reinforcing my point.

    Also, a little googling of the “this is why we can’t have nice things” meme might go a long way.

  24. I think the “inspiration” mention in the OP is important. He wouldn’t have had access to Handbook 1, and went as the Spirit directed. This isn’t a directive that we should just grab someone off the street and have them teach a lesson, but a lesson in following the spirit no matter what unexpected direction it takes.

    I’m sure if the guest instructor had started going off on some direction that was very “anti-“, the instructor would have directed him back on course or thanked him for his time and dismissed him, then further instructed his charges.

  25. Helping someone understand another religion is completely in line with church doctrine. The idea was not to convert kids to Islam but to promote understanding.

    Having been released as Bishop after 5 and half years two months ago, I would have had no problem thinking that this is an awesome idea provided that the teacher was there monitoring the class. It was an opportunity that rose up and I would have trusted my Young Men’s president to make the call.

  26. Muzzy Brief says:

    So let me see if I follow this: a bunch on missionaries were having a discussion with a Muslim wherein a degree of difficulty arose that required a Young Men’s President to intervene. This resulted in an impromptu classroom detailing the five pillars of Islam to the bewilderment of a group called the “young elders”. What was the difficulty the missionaries were having? What were the substantial differences between theologies? How did the debate just a pleasant conversation? Did a communique occur that required no language? Evidently, the seeking is the goal and the search is the answer.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Gman, I confess, it never entered my mind that this person might be a pedophile.

    This was not a Sunday School class, but a priesthood class. As I recall, I was doing a whole series of lessons with them that I called Missionary Boot Camp. We had a lot of young men going out on missions, and I had the impression that they really weren’t as prepared as they needed to be. So we were dealing with practical things (laundry, simple meals, cleaning your apartment). We were also dealing with teaching them more about the scriptures than they had gotten in seminary and Sunday School. And we had been learning some of the basics of other faiths. I thought this lesson fit right into that wheelwell.

  28. Brother Sky says:

    The (over)reactions above to what I would view as a kind and enlightened invitation to someone of another faith is incredibly disheartening. If our religion teaches us to fear other faiths, it’s not one based on truth and love.

  29. This is awesome. I applaud the effort described here to expose our youth to important things. And in an environment founded in testimony. Just terrific.

  30. Gman,
    This is what I understand from your comments. A man that they missionaries find, who is not a member of the church, is more likely to be a pedophile than a member of the church. Also, if instead of having him teach a priesthood class at church, he instead teaches a fireside later that evening with the bishop’s permission, he is suddenly less likely to be a pedophile. I think you are confusing your let’s be scared of pedophiles argument with your, things need to be done in the proper channels argument.

  31. Sorry for all the typos, I hit submit before I read over what I had written.

  32. The priests and laurels in our stake have a missionary prep class on Fast Sunday afternoons. I was delighted when one month they went down the street to an open house at the local mosque. Can anyone else relate successful experiences introducing groups of teens to other faiths in an organized way? We’ve discussed this in our YW presidency but haven’t come up with a great plan to date.

  33. Our local high school curriculum includes a “world religions” class during which everyone is required to visit another religions’ services. We regularly have a group of high school visitors show up in Sacrament (we are close to the school) and we have done more formal exchanges with our youth and an Episcopalian congregation, including panel discussions at both venues. Our former Stake President organized tours at a neighboring mosque immediately following stake conference. I think this is a fruitful line for education, especially for those planning to serve missions!

    My kids and I visit other services a few times a year, and my kids always have lots of questions, including “Why do they have that giant T up front?” referring to the cross. He was 5, but this is important stuff.

  34. I just have to ask, is it the fact that this man was a Muslin that causes the concern? Would it have been less problematic if Kevin happened to invite a Catholic seminarian or Jewish Rabbi into classroom?

    We once attempted a similar engagement with the head Priest of a local Catholic Seminary when I was serving in France. Our real goal was to encourage him to let us share a “Who are the Mormons” lesson with his Seminarians so that they would be less prejudiced against us as they moved into future responsibilities in their respective parishes but he didn’t bite. I think because he knew what our true goal was, if we’re being honest, was to see if any of his enthusiastic, religiously minded, young men would find the story of God speaking to Joseph Smith appealing.

    I think the more we can expose our youth to other faiths the greater the outcome in developing healthy relationships with God and an appreciation for how He works in many ways with His children. I see too much bigotry among our members and too much close mindedness when it comes to understanding how and why others believe. All too often we are far too insular as Latter-Day Saints in our local congregations.

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    is it the fact that this man was a Muslin that causes the concern?

    Yes, fabric men are even worse than straw men.

  36. FWIW I’ve run into a few Muslim anti-Christians before; the cars in the parking lot of my ward up NorCal were once festooned with “WHO WAS THE REAL JESUS?” pamphlets during our Sacrament Meeting, which I considered extraordinarily tacky. Almost their entire schtick is based on the “Gospel of Barnabas,” which is a forgery from the 6th or 7th century.

  37. wreddyornot says:

    Kudos Kevin.

    As a grumpy old HP I’ve often suggested to instructors, group leaders, and commenters that instead of others (e.g., instructors, class members and visitors who really don’t know) [mis]representing and disparaging other religions’ beliefs, etc. in their instructing and commenting, as so often occurs within LDS SS and priesthood classes I’ve attended, that they should invite expert guests who know and belong to come and represent themselves and their beliefs.

  38. I took an LDS Institute class once called “Comparative World Religions”. The teacher did the absolute correct thing in inviting representatives from various churches around town to come teach the class for the day that their religion was covered. When a minister of another faith wasn’t available, he’d bring in a good representative from that faith instead. Comparative Christian Religions worked the same way. I got a lot out of those classes, and felt much better equipped as a missionary later on.

    And for the idea that the presentation wouldn’t have been sanctioned by the Bishop – if the class was presented with “Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan” and not “You should become a Muslim and fast during the month of Ramadan”, then there’s no issue. Presentation of facts, not persuasion.

  39. EBK – absolutely a man you know nothing about is more likely to have some disturbing agenda you no nothing about compared to a man you do know.

    Next up, apparently the Brethren already anticipated this (perhaps through experiencing such “innovations” in the past) and have a rule in place for it in the Handbook.

    What this tells me is that my caution with regard to this issue is more closely aligned with theirs, than those who ridicule. I suppose you’ve never been a part of a ward where an outsider came and and took a child away. I have.

  40. A Happy Hubby says:

    I am terribly confused. You had a great lesson, but I can’t seem to find that lesson # in the correlated Aaronic priesthood manuals. /sarcasm

  41. “I suppose you’ve never been a part of a ward where an outsider came and and took a child away. I have.”

    Kevin is a pretty big dude and priest in Illinois are less puny than priests in most states.

    Of course, I bet the guy was with ISIS.

    BCC threads are so much fun!

  42. hinduFriend says:

    This is just gross. Sit down with the Khmer Rouge–it’s all cool, dudes!

  43. A Happy Hubby says:

    hinduFriend – would you rather in stead the Bundy clan come and teach your priests. Every religion has it’s nuts (LDS included) and we don’t want as a religion to be judged by the extremists. I don’t want the FLDS church to reflect on the LDS church (even though it does to a bit in an average American mind).

    But I will say that the non-radical Muslims need to wrestle the religion back from the extremists.

  44. “But I will say that the non-radical Muslims need to wrestle the religion back from the extremists.”


  45. Who will wrestle Mormonism back from the extremists?

  46. Kevin–I think the lesson sounds wonderful. I applaud you and other teachers who have intelligence and spiritual sensitivity enough to see profound learning opportunities when they present themselves. We are far too concerned about being approved and correlated, which often comes at the expense of learning in the way I believe God intends it. I’m sure this is a lesson those young men will never forget. How many lessons can you say you recall from being in YM/YW now that you’re an adult?

  47. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think Gman is onto to something here. I propose we start requiring the missionaries to do a background check on all “Investigators” before allowing them to attend Church. All in favor, please manifest by the usual sign…

  48. The OP was good. The discussion has gotten a little silly.

    In his post, Kevin states he met with an investigator for an hour and got to know him prior to the class. Then Kevin had a sudden inspiration (which he is entitled to given that he was the YM leader) to invite the investigator to speak to his class (for which he had stewardship). In accord with the inspiration, the lesson was successful. Great! What a good example of following inspiration.

    To Gman’s point, it seems to me reasonable to assert that, as a matter of general practice, we should not invite people off the street to teach youth. I can understand that being a legitimate concern of parents. This position does not necessarily indicate that Gman believes everyone to be pedophiles or that Gman is obsessed with correlated manuals.

    Both positions seem to be fair and not necessarily in complete opposition to each other.

    But, to the extent that everyone is just having fun arguing, I apologize for throwing a wet blanket on the discussion.

  49. David Day says:

    At the risk of further drifting away from the very nice story Kevin tells, I’ll just say that the more I read the handbook the more I become convinced that that the most important part of the handbook is the part in the introduction that says seek revelation: Church leaders seek personal revelation to help them learn and fulfill the duties of their callings.

    I’m also astounded by the number of members who will tell you (generally after a lesson Abraham or Laban) that they wouldn’t even hesitate to kill someone if the Spirit prompted them to do so but will then simultaneously insist that no member should ever deviate from the handbook.