CES on The Passion

March 21, 2004 | 32 comments
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I received an email from my CES coordinator today. Attached to the email was a letter from the CES Administrators’ Council about The Passion. It reads:

We have received questions about Mel Gibson?s new movie, ?The Passion of the Christ.? The Church has not made an official statement regarding the movie. We have been given the pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God. We should encourage the youth to follow the standards explained in the pamphlet, including those regarding movies. Also, it would not be profitable to spend class time discussing the pros and cons of attending it. If students seem confused and want further guidance, please encourage them to talk with their parents and priesthood leaders. CES personnel, however, should refrain from taking a particular stance on specific movies when the Church has made no official statement.

The Church is in a tough position on issues like this, and asking CES personnel to refrain from taking a position seems entirely appropriate to me. On the other hand, avoiding classroom discussion? Admittedly, a discussion has the potential to get ugly, but I wonder about the long-term effects of our persistent failure to engage our youth. In working with the youth over the past several years, it has become clear to me that most of their leaders and teachers are very concerned about conveying information and much less concerned about developing skills for dealing with life’s inevitable ambiguities. We need those skills most “when the Church has made no official statement,” and cutting off this avenue of instruction seems like a missed opportunity.

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32 Responses to CES on The Passion

  1. Logan on March 21, 2004 at 10:56 pm

    Gordon, as a CES Institute instructor, I agree with you. In light of all the recent talk about the propriety of disagreeing with Church leaders and policy, I hate to come right out and, you know, disagree.

    I imagine that this particular movie has just caused such a stir that the Church wants to be extra careful not to be seen as taking sides. They don’t want a kid coming home for dinner saying “my seminary teacher said” something that is contrary to her parents’ thinking. As you mentioned, that seems quite appropriate. But in the spirit of being safe, they may have gone too far.

  2. Matt Evans on March 21, 2004 at 11:27 pm

    Great post, Gordon. I think you’re exactly right about the importance of teaching students (of all ages) how to deal with ambiguities.

    Two weeks ago I conducted Priesthood opening exercises. When I called each organization for announcements, the Ward Mission Leader said that while he hadn’t seen The Passion, and couldn’t encourage people to see it, the attention the movie had focused on Christianity gave us a good opportunity to share our testimonies.

    While he was sitting down, someone asked if the movie was rated R, and several people spoke up that it was.

    Once he sat down, I said that my wife and I usually don’t see rated R movies, but that we saw The Passion and had really liked it. I said that for those who refuse to see any rated R movie simply for their being rated R, then they shouldn’t see this one, but for those who don’t view the rating as being dispositive, they should see it. This is one of those times where you can follow the letter of the law, or you can follow the spirit of the law, but you can’t follow both.

    Unfortunately, opening exercises isn’t a good forum to discuss the substance of that last sentence, but hopefully some of the brethren discussed it with their wives and families. Approaches to dealing with these kinds of issues, as you pointed out, is something we all need to learn.

  3. Julie in Austin on March 22, 2004 at 1:09 am

    This might be tangential, but one thing that has always concerned me is the way in which CES (seminary or institute) people develop an inordinate amount of informal authority in the eyes of those they teach. I don’t think anyone is deliberately nefarious here, I just think the reality is that college students hang around the Institute all week, chatting with CES people, and see their bishop in a brief glimpse on Sunday. One good thing about this statement is that it has yanked authority to vote on the Passion away from CES and handed it back to parents and p’hood leaders.

  4. Logan on March 22, 2004 at 8:59 am

    Julie, you’re definitely right about the influence that CES instructors seem to have. But I wonder why a statement that only went so far as to instruct CES teachers not to take a position (instead of one instructing them not to discuss it at all) wouldn’t have kept them from allowing parents and other leaders from exercising their authority. Maybe there is a good reason. I just don’t understand it.

  5. Thom on March 22, 2004 at 10:41 am

    My early-morning seminary students broached this topic with me in class a few days before I received the CES guidance in an email. I was absolutely stunned by the kids’ take on it. I had been thinking that at some point I would probably go see the film, even though it was rated R. To my thinking, it appears to be an educationaly useful dipiction of historically and culterally significant events, at least on a par with Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, both of which I saw for such reasons.

    My class was interested in my take on why so many Christian groups seemed to be acting like viewing this film represented the supernal religious experience of their lives. I attempeted some sort of lame answer, but before I could offer up my opinion as to why I would probably see it without trying to take a stand on whether they should or not, ALL the members of my class indicated agreement that they didn’t want to see the Lord in a gruesome, R-rated spectacle. The money quote from a 16 year old sister:

    “I don’t need to see Jesus violently suffer on- screen to know and appreciate his sacrifice for me.”

    I was startled and humbled by the simple and sincere expression of faith that my students shared with me. I am grateful we had the discussion in class.

  6. Renee on March 22, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    Thom, unfortunately, that 16 year old’s attitude is one that puts those who *have* seen the movie in a bad light.

    I saw it. I know several people, mostly non-LDS who have as well and not one of them is someone who *needed* to see it to appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus. I read a post on an LDS blog last week from someone who didn’t see the movie and denounced it with similar sentiment along the lines of “If this movie strengthened their faith, how strong could it have been to begin with?” That is exactly the smug holier-than-thou kind of attitude that prevents us from open dialog with our Christian brothers and sisters. It’s right up there with telling a Catholic, “I don’t need to look at a crucifix to remember that Christ suffered.” It seeks to divide and put down. It does not acknowlege that we all are reached in different ways and have different perceptions of what symbols represent.

    No one is forcing anyone else to see this movie. However, no one needs to put it down just to defend their decision not to go. It was done as a labor of love by a believer for believers. If someone’s faith is strengthened by it, that should be applauded. People’s testimonies have been touched by far less. Just listen on Fast Sunday. Faith is strenghtened by many things. None of which mean the faith was absent before.

    We do not know the hearts of others. It is folly to intone that anyone else *needs* this but we’re better than that.

  7. Clark Goble on March 22, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    I’m not sure I agree with Renee that this is always a smug holier than thou attitude. I can see people for whom it wouldn’t make a big difference. Of course I’m simultaneously loath to put too much stock in what any 16 year old says. I remember how tremendously naive I was at that point. I clearly (like most teenagers) thought I knew far more than I actually did.

    But at the same time where I think the film is most powerful is for those of us who’ve read the scriptures dozens, if not hundreds of times. I think it shocks us out of taking the story for granted. It brings it back to a kind of reality that we loose as we repeat the story over and over again. If anything it makes us more like we were younger when the story had perhaps a more immediate impact.

    Sometimes memories and repetitions become such that they lose the reality they describe. It’s true of anything. Just that snap of “hey, this was real and it was bad” can be very, very valuable. But I tend to believe that the film is primarily for those kinds of people. People without a strong sense of Jesus’ mission just won’t be affected in the same way by the film.

  8. Thom on March 22, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    Renee

    Forgive me if I conveyed the sense that my class members were being smug. Looking back over my post, I can see how the flavor of the experience talking with my class could be misinterpreted.
    In fact, I think they were just abit unclear as to why other sorts of Christians seemed to be having such a life changing experience in a movie theater.

    Whatever anyone feels we should discount because of what a 16 year old girl does and does not know, as their seminary teacher, I was heartened and touched by sincere testimony from young kids. They seemed to be saying to me that the work that their parents, ward members, and maybe even I had been doing to teach them the gospel and help them recognize the spirit made had been useful.

    They didn’t feel the need to be knocked over the head with the graphic portrayal of Christ’s suffering, because they had already gained a testimony of it over countless weeks of family home evening lessons, sacrament meeting talks, sunday school lessons, personal scripture study, service to others, and maybe even early morning seminary. To me they were expressing gratitude for the gift of testimony that comes from getting up very early every morning for four years, rather thatn mere paying eight bucks for a couple hours of time in a theater.

    I’m just trying to say that despite the CES recommendation, I felt like having the conversation in class was worthwhile. I was impressed with the faith and faithfulness of some in the rising generation.

  9. Clark Goble on March 22, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    Thom, I didn’t mean my comments in quite the dismissive sense it may have come across in. Merely that what affects teenagers is different than adults. For instance I suspect the typical teenager sees more violent films than adults and thus may be a tad “jaded” to appreciate the film.

  10. Matt Evans on March 22, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    Hi Thom,

    I agree that it isn’t necessary to see The Passion to appreciate Christ’s sacrifice.

    Nor is it necessary to read the Gospel According to Saint John, or read the Book of Mormon, or read the Doctrine & Covenants, or read Jesus the Christ, or watch The Lamb of God, or partake of the sacrament, to appreciate Christ’s sacrifice.

    However, even though none of these things are *necessary*, it is erroneous to dismiss another spiritual resource that conveys the message of the atonement.

    Your student reiterated the canard “A Bible, A Bible, we have got a bible and we need no more bible!” You’re right to recognize this as a witness to the power of what she already has received (a la the bible), but she arrived at the mistaken conclusion that she therefore needs no more. No matter how spiritually mature your student is, the depth of her appreciation for Christ’s atonement could be greater.

    If you thought it was important to understand the reality of the sacrifice at Normandy or Auschwitz, how much more important the sacrifice at Calvary?

    The reason I encourage everyone to see The Passion of the Christ is because it will swell most people’s appreciation for the _reality_ of Christ’s sacrifice.

  11. Kaimi on March 22, 2004 at 6:32 pm

    Matt,

    And yet, at some point, the idea of “a Bible, we have a Bible, we need no more Bible” is correct.

    After all, we would all probably have a deeper understanding of the atonement if we:

    1. Used comprehensive Bible dictionaries;
    2. Read the apocrypha;
    3. Took a tour of Jerusalem;
    4. Memorized the Gospels;
    5. etc.

    In fact, it would probably deepen our understanding of the reality of his sacrifice if we all had a chance to be whipped and beaten to a pulp.

    There really is no point at which you can stop saying that “if you do X, you will have a better understanding of the atonement.” Why not use the understanding that we have — the one the prophets have given us?

  12. Renee on March 22, 2004 at 10:09 pm

    Kaimi, I see what you are saying but I don’t see the correlation with The Passion. Seeing a movie at the local multi-plex is a bit easier than taking a trip to Jerusalem.

    While I think our focus should always go back to the basics (the scriptures), I cannot rule other opportunities to better understand and connect with the gospel. I believe when I begin to rule out other things (which testify of Christ), I risk emulating those who deny our church because they have “enough”. I believe I have “enough” with the scriptures but I love enhancing what I already have a solid foundation in.

    Thom, I doubt that 16 year old meant any harm and I’m glad there was a discussion about it at all. Teading her statement brought to mind a thoughtless thing I said to a classmate in 9th grade. She was Catholic and I’d just been through 2 years of midweek classes and confirmation where we learned why Martin Luther left that church. I said something like, “You don’t even pray to God, you just pray to saints.” She, of course, took offense. In retrospect, I regret my big mouth which revealed my ignorance. I learned in later years that my statement, while partially true, was not a fully accurate representation of what Catholics believed regarding prayer and it diminished something that is important to them.

    I’ve tried (albeit unsuccessfully at times) in recent years to be more empathetic to the different ways in which people’s hearts are touced and their faith strengthened. If they are earnestly seeking the Lord, that’s enough to earn my respect. Hopefully, I earn theirs as well.

  13. Jim F. on March 23, 2004 at 12:25 am

    I’m very much in agreement with Julie on this one. Whether they intend it or not (and I’m sure that most do not), CES teachers have a lot of informal authority with their students. It might follow only that they should not make a recommendation, but they could hold a discussion.

    Would I trust most of the seminary teachers my kids had to have been able to have such a discussion without either losing control of the class or making a recommendation in spite of him or herself? I don’t trust myself to do that. I’m positive I wouldn’t trust most CES instructors.

    Allowing for this particular discussion would have been a disaster in many classes. As a parent, I much preferred that the seminary instructors allow me to have those discussions with my children. This is especially true since, for me, a good CES teachers was one whose views roughly coincided with the views I taught my children. I assume that the parents of the rest of the children felt the same, though I doubt that we were all teaching the same things on these kinds of issues.

  14. Thom on March 23, 2004 at 9:07 am

    I guess I was mostly impressed that the 16 and 17 year olds in my class were had decided for themselves that they would not violate the counsel of a living prophet by seeing an R rated movie, even if it might give them a better appreciation of the atonement. You all may judge that they were throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but while I was personally trying to rationalize seeing it, they had decided for themselves to be faithful to counsel. I think they will be blessed for their faithfulness, and I as their teacher took a lesson from it.

  15. Matt Evans on March 23, 2004 at 10:45 am

    Jim,

    I don’t have any more confidence in CES than you appear to, but I don’t see why the Rules vs Standards issue is so important that it’s better for CES to not to teach it at all rather than potentially teach it poorly. Compared to all of the other falsehoods I learned from the mouths of paid seminary teachers at my Salt Lake City schools, the Rules vs Standards issue seems of minor consequence.

    Thom,

    It sounds like you were called to repentance for thinking some movies were worth seeing despite their R-rating; particularly for seeing Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.

    I don’t think people who refuse to see R-rated movies are being faithful to the counsel of the living prophet. Indeed, the living prophet actually removed the reference to R-rated movies from the “For the Strength of Youth.” Your students, rather than following the counsel of the living prophet, are subscribing to cultural rules the living prophet has abandoned.

    If the counsel of the prophet were that we should never see rated-R movies, the CES statement Gordon cited above would have read, “Given the counsel of the living prophet that members never see movies that are Rated-R, CES instructors should tell their students not to see The Passion.”

  16. Thom on March 23, 2004 at 11:30 am

    Wow, Matt. That came off as pretty hostile. I want to apologize if my statements regarding the possibility of teenagers being blessed for voluntarily choosing not to see an R-rated movie offended you. Please forgive me.

    I freely admit that I have not read the most recent “For the Strength of the Youth” pamphlet, and if the Church has officially softened its stance against R-rated movies, then it would indicate to me that the leadership of the Church is putting alot of faith in the ability of youth to decide what is good for them to see, and what is not. I have always felt that the whole R-rated issue, like all counsel, was pretty much left to the realm of personal discretion anyway.

    In any event, I am well pleased with my class’ decision not to see the movie because of their reasons for the choice. Whether or not members have been commanded, counseled, or unofficially cautioned from seeing R-rated movies, I think my class members will in fact be blessed for choosing to follow what they believe the Lord would have them to do. Maybe they are misguided, but I don’t think they are.

    I did not intend to cast any aspersions on members of the Church that make a different choice to see the movie. Again, please forgive me if I hurt your feelings.

  17. Renee on March 23, 2004 at 11:54 am

    I don’t know that the church “putting a lot of faith in the ability of the youth to decide what is good for them to see” for the R rating means “under 17 not admitted w/o a parent”. I imagine the church expects that faith is put in the parents to guide the children under 17 appropriately.

    I think it’s fine that someone would decide not to see this movie based on a prophet’s counsel. I don’t think it’s fine if, instead of saying that’s the reason, they diminish the value it holds for others.

  18. cooper on March 23, 2004 at 11:58 am

    Well, my husband is a member of our Bishopric. He got the early morning seminary assignment to cover for all the teachers while they had a staff meeting two weeks ago. Of course prior to the “letter”. Possibly he stirred the pot a bit. He was given the assignment two days before the mass class.

    After seeing the posts and threads at T&S regarding The Passion, and after reviewing Jim F.’s blind obedience STQ, I suggested my husband take a look at them and see if he could come up with a lesson. So he did and came up with a lesson about blind obedience vs agency and of course threw in the R rating of The Passion. It went very well and the high schoolers that were awake engaged in a lively discussion.

    The Sunday after the class all the Bishop had to say was “I’ve got some articles for you on R rated movies.” Needless to say the adults didn’t find the discussion worthy. (I told him he’d lucked out and wouldn’t have to do the seminary thing again probably.)

    The problem is though that people need to understand that a good discussion is far better than to leave it off the table. Anytime I hear (or read) a discussion on topics that can affect our lives I am made better by it. Even if I disagree. To just lock it up and pretend it dfoesn’t exist doesn’t help anyone. Especially for the teenage mind. They will discuss it without you if you are not willing to put it on the table. However, if you do put it up for discussion you have input and can guide a thought process. I am sure you will all agree.

  19. Thom on March 23, 2004 at 11:59 am

    Matt Evans,

    One thing that might cast aspersions though. . .

    Your name at the bottom of your post links to this:

    [editor: link removed]

    What’s with that?

  20. Matt Evans on March 23, 2004 at 12:08 pm

    Hi Thom,

    I’m sure it’s me who needs to apologize for offending you. I have a notorious ability to sound unnecessarily hostile in my emails and blog posts. For some reason, the ability to write with a civil tone while disagreeing is a talent that has escaped me. In the following paragraph I’m going to disagree with you again, but I’m going to be extra-cautious to avoid sounding hostile.

    Your statement about your students being blessed for what they “believe” the Lord would have them do, rather than for doing what the Lord would *actually* have them do, is fascinating. I think I fall on the other side of this, however. The D&C says there’s an irrevocable law written in heaven on which all blessings are predicated. That seems to suggest that we are blessed only when we follow true laws, not when we in good faith follow false laws. Now the irrevocable law could be the contingent “you are blessed when you do what you believe is right and you are punished when you do what you believe is wrong”, but that doesn’t make sense to me.

    If religion is a sham, then this ‘contingent law’ makes sense as a meta-example of the placebo effect (it’s our expectations that bless or punish us, not God’s intervention), but if we believe there are actually laws of happiness, then someone who treats their children well will be happier than someone who does not, even if neither person knows they’ve been commanded to love their children. Someone who thinks they’ve been commanded to harm their children (a la Laffertys) will not be happy, even if they think they’re doing God’s will, if they are not in fact doing God’s will.

    Oh, here’s an analogy that presents the issue from my side. Jesus was chastened for healing people on the Sabbath. He said it was good to heal on the Sabbath. Now, let’s imagine that the prior month, two priests from different towns disagreed over whether it was right or wrong to heal people on the Sabbath. So Priest A turned everyone away on the Sabbath, while Priest B welcomed eveyone needed healings on the Sabbath.

    As you’ve outlined it in your post, Priest A would have been blessed for refusing to heal on the Sabbath because he believed it was the right thing to do, even though he was mistaken.

    I hope I’ve conveyed my disagreement in an inoffensive manner. :^)

  21. Thom on March 23, 2004 at 12:38 pm

    Matt Evans,

    Thank you for your kinder, gentler response.

    While I agree that to truly be in conformity with Gods laws, we must obey His actual commandments, and not merely nice ideas of our own making. On the other hand, I also believe that the Lord knows the intent of our hearts and blesses us when we are truly trying to be faithful to what we believe He wants us to do, even if we are somewhat mistaken.

    I think your analogy would hold up better if there had ever been a an official pronouncement that the Lord considered viewing R-rated movies a good thing, akin to blessing others. I don’t think anyone in authority ever will do this. But hey, I could be wrong.

    On the other hand, to my memory there have been plenty of General Conference talks in the last several years that have explicity counseled against watching R-rated movies. If the Church leadership has softened its stance on this point, it has not done so explicitly enough that I am aware of it.

    In any event, I think the kids have good reason to believe that we have been counseled against watching R-rated movies. I think its overly legalistic and more than a bit disingenuous to liken following this counsel, in good faith, to trying to sacrifice one’s children like Abraham when goaded by an evil influence.

  22. Jim F. on March 23, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    Matt, I agree that the “rules and standards” lesson is an important one and that, in principle, “The Passion” is a good case study to use to discuss the question. But I am skeptical that, given the feelings surrounding this issue, the lesson can be taught effectively using such an at-hand example. My doubts are doubled or tripled by the fact that I don’t think most high school students are able to deal well with material that is, for them, emotionally charged.

    I should say, however, that I was suprised when my dean sent a copy of the memo around to his faculty. He didn’t say that we ought to follow the counsel of the letter, but it was difficult not to come to that conclusion. I don’t have any more confidence in university professors than I do in CES teachers, but I do think that the context (numerous points of view, for example) and the age of the students changes things. I haven’t talked about “The Passion” in my classes, except in passing, because it isn’t really relevant to their content and I have a hard enough time just fitting in the material for the course, much less additional material. But I think that a college classroom is a very good place to discuss rules and standards using “The Passion” as a test case. I would remain a little nervous about Institute discussions of it because there are fewer opportunities for most Institute students to see another semi-authoritative LDS view.

  23. Gee on March 23, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    I found this blog:
    [Mormon Church] LDS most likely to stay away from ‘Passion’

    http://www.religionnewsblog.com/6164-.html

  24. Logan on March 23, 2004 at 9:12 pm

    Matt, I’m always excited when I find myself in agreement with you, and here is one such case. I would just add my take on it like this:

    The full blessings of a law can only come to us if we fully obey it. I think that receiving blessings in accordance with our actions is an important part of our learning about being like God. Increasing our knowledge of which blessings come from which actions is a way in which we gain wisdom and spiritual maturity.

    Of course, I do think that there may actually be some sort of combination placebo effect and “being blessed for doing what you believe” law, but that the blessings are mostly just along the lines of a lack of cognitive dissonance for following your conscience. In other words, you can feel at peace because of your decision even if it isn’t what God *actually* wants you to do, but you probably won’t get the full blessings.

  25. Thom on March 24, 2004 at 1:05 pm

    Logan,

    As with Matt, I think your point would be more relevant to the case at hand if it could be demonstrated that the Lord wants us to watch R-rated movies. Otherwise you are implying that a person who avoids R-rated movies simply because they believe R-rated movies are not good for them not good for them, at least negligibly)somehow misses out on receiveing “the full blessings of the law”

  26. Thom on March 24, 2004 at 1:10 pm

    Oops, Sorry about the last post, I hit “post” when I meant to hit “preview.” I think the point is clear though. Worst case scenario — Someone misses out on whatever blessings are associated with watching a specific R-rated movie. I suppose I can live with that.

  27. Gordon Smith on March 24, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    Ok, I just caught up with this thread after a hectic day, yesterday. A few responses.

    Matt wrote, “I don’t think people who refuse to see R-rated movies are being faithful to the counsel of the living prophet. Indeed, the living prophet actually removed the reference to R-rated movies from the ‘For the Strength of Youth.’ Your students, rather than following the counsel of the living prophet, are subscribing to cultural rules the living prophet has abandoned.” Matt’s testimony about his experience seeing The Passion caused me to reconsider my decision not to see it. I was moved by the depth of his experience, which he has written about in several places here at T&S. Nevertheless, being the Anti-Nephi-Lehite that I am, I decided against it. Surely, Matt, the Prophet did not remove the reference to R-rated movies in Especially for Youth to encourage people to see them. Would you say the same thing about X-rated movies (or whatever they are called now)? The explanation that seems more plausible to me is this: by stating a rule of “no R-rated movies,” the pamphlet could have been seen as endorsing PG-13 movies, many of which have inappropriate content and would have been rated R in an earlier day. Thus one could read the current pamplet to mean “no R-rated movies or other movies that are out of harmony with the other standards stated herein.” In fact, that is how I choose to implement the teachings of the pamphlet. I should add, however, that I do not endorse this as the only reading of the pamphlet. I think that members of the Church can make honest and faithful decisions to see certain R-rated movies, but I think Matt went overboard by suggesting prophetical endorsement for that activity.

    With regard to Thom’s point about his students being blessed for good intentions (“I think my class members will in fact be blessed for choosing to follow what they believe the Lord would have them to do”), and Matt’s response (“we are blessed only when we follow true laws, not when we in good faith follow false laws”), I would come to some intermediate position. Matt must be right that we are exalted only when we embrace truth, not when we embrace false teachings sincerely, but I believe that Thom’s students will be blessed in the sense that God rewards those who seek to do his will. That is, to the extent that they continue striving to do His will, He will reveal it to them. Like Thom, I think their desires are praiseworthy.

    Finally, I share Jim’s skepticism about CES instuctors, but I am not so eager to fence off topics as off limits. CES administrators may imagine the classroom as a place where only the official doctrine is taught (“follow the manual, follow the manual”), but this is not realistic. By identifying certain topics as “off limits,” do we merely add to the mistaken sense of authority attributed to CES instructors? That is, do we imply that the things they are allowed to teach are approved? And true?

    While Julie and Jim are concerned about CES instructors being viewed as authorities on the Gospel, perhaps we should have a different view of “instruction.” Rather than seeing good teaching as “conveying the doctrines of the Church with precision,” we could think about good teaching as “equipping students to deal with ambiguity.” Or something like that. These ideas are inchoate and based largely on my experience as a law teacher. In my experience in the law school, teaching legal “doctrine” (i.e., rules) is largely unhelpful because the trick is in the application. Isn’t the same true for Church doctrine? If I am right about this, then the answers become much less important than the questions because the answers are not found in the classroom but rather “in the field.”

  28. Logan on March 24, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    Oh, the laughter.

    Thom, your point about specific R rated movies works for me. I laugh because after unexpectedly receiving a response to my last comment, I read upward and discovered that I had not previously read as much of the thread as I had thought. I’ll bet my comment seemed pretty inconsequential in advancing the discussion (it seems that way to me, at least), and I wasn’t trying to gang up on you or anything. I didn’t even realize that I was saying anything in disagreement with any specific points.

  29. Matt Evans on March 24, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Gordon,

    I interpret the removal of the R-rating reference from “For the Strength of Youth” to be an acknowledgement that relying on the MPAA ratings was a poor proxy for deterimining which movies are or are not spiritually harmful. The new standard places the burden on the individual to determine which movies are spiritually uplifting. The rating system can no longer do the sifting for us.

    And judging the movie on its merits, I appreciated seeing Christ’s life retold so believably. In some places I thought it was over-the-top, but nonetheless incredibly believable. It’s much more realistic than the Ten Commandments, for example. Just seeing the familiar story told completely in the ancient languages was invaluable.

    I can assure you that each of the last five movies you’ve seen in a theater were more spiritually harmful — devoid of God’s relevance and reality — than The Passion of the Christ. To me, a large part of the movie’s appeal was remembering how much this story means to so many — that there were people all over America and the world who watched the movie and believed it is not fable, but history. HISTORY! Feeling a part of that ecumenical, global Christian movement; remembering that Mormons are not alone in their belief that this was the apex of human existence (no matter that I often feel as if we’re the only ones), was invaluable in itself.

    Now that so many people have built the movie up, you’ll inevitably be let down if you see it. But my guess is that if you see it, you will be glad you did.

    I expect you’ll also be especially glad that you didn’t refuse this experience simply because the MPAA rightly recognized that it should only be seen by youth who are accompanied by their parents. The MPAA system is severely flawed — the R-rating should be generally understood to mean that *no one* should see the movie, regardless of age — but this time the MPAA got it right. In this case the R-rating means what it is supposed to mean: The Passion of the Christ should not be seen by children unless they have their parents with them.

  30. Jim F. on March 25, 2004 at 12:06 am

    Gordon, I agree that we ought to have a different view of instruction, namely as equipping students for ambiguity. And as a philosophy professor I certainly share your idea that the questions are more important than the answers. The problem is that we don’t have that view of instruction, especially not seminary instruction. Changing things means a massive change in LDS culture, but without that change, the kinds of discussions you envisage will NOT, in the hands of most (certainly not all) CES instructors, be the kinds of discussions that you envisage. Instead, they will be lessons in which the authority of the instructor overrides everything else, whether explicitly or implicitly, whether the instructor wants that to happen or not.

    As you can see, I’m skeptical about Church teaching in general. I hope to see things otherwise, and it seems to me that the Church is interested in making them otherwise, but we’ve got a ways to go.

  31. Gordon Smith on March 25, 2004 at 12:54 am

    Well, I am finding myself in agreement with both Matt and Jim. Matt, I had written something similar about the ratings system, but it didn’t sound right and I deleted it. I think you are probably right, and this is one of those inevitable (and not unhealthy) movements from a rule to a standard. If I were a betting man, however, I would lay money on the prediction that it will change back to a rule (probably some new version) sometime within my lifetime. It is just in the nature of things to have experimentation of this sort.

    Jim, I agree. I am very frustrated by the teaching that goes on in the Church. As you rightly observe, teaching styles are cultural, and changing them is a massive undertaking. I remember Dallin Oaks talking about the poor teaching in the Church, but I do not remember a very coherent vision of where we need to go. In any event, if my experience is generalizable, the lesson didn’t take.

  32. Jason on June 1, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    the question i think should be asked is this: what difference does it make in my eternal salvation? do I or do i not need to see the movie to make it? will it really help me to get there or will it really make a difference. These types of situations are wonderful because it is an opportunity fo each individual to find the answers that the lord gives to them individually. Only the lord truly knows the needs of each individual. He even knows better than we konw ourselves. The church has set some wonderful guidelines with which everyone can use as a basis for thier prayerful decisions. It seems to me an opportuinity for the youth and others to strengthen thier relationship with heavenly father.