Two Cheers for the Manuals!

March 16, 2006 | 98 comments
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I have a confession. I am an Elders’ Quorum instructor and I like the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals. Really. From time to time, I hear people pine about the glory days when we had the old manuals with clearly designed lesson plans. All I can say is good riddance! Don’t get me wrong. There are things about the new manuals that I dislike. I wish we had a bit more historical information. I wish that the manuals would at least mention that Brigham Young was, you know, a polygamist. On the other hand, I really like teaching from the manuals. The reason is freedom.

Under the old system, I felt like I was put in a strait jacket by the manual. Now all that I am given is a set of texts that I am encouraged to discuss in light of appropriate scriptures (which I get to choose). It makes it much easier to set up discussions. Generally speaking, I try to set up my lesson around a set of apparent contradictions. I find passages in the text that seem inconsistent, or I find scriptures that seem inconsistent with passages in the manual. Then I ask the class how they would reconcile the contradictions. What we usually get are lively discussions about the meaning and relationship of various gospel concepts.

If I was to suggest changes to the manuals it would be that they become more like themselves. We are still too attached to the model of John A. Widtsoe’s Discourses of Brigham Young, which cut up Brigham’s sermons to arrange them topically. Widtsoe was a rationalist who wanted to make Brigham into a clearly organized writer and thinker, which he clearly was not. The result is that in the Discourse of Brigham Young we get a distorted view of Brigham’s voice and not simply because the bits about Adam-God and avenging the blood of the martyred saints are left out. The manuals follow Widtsoe’s example, and the result is that we have too much of the faceless editing committee and not enough of the prophets within their pages. Yet it seems to me that the move from the old manuals to the new was in large part a move to down-play the voice of the faceless editing committee, which used to give you detailed instructions on how to teach your class, and place the words of the prophets in the foreground. It would be nice if we kept going in that direction, and got more complete sermons. Give us our prophets strait in all of their organizational and rhetorical messiness.

98 Responses to Two Cheers for the Manuals!

  1. cantinflas on March 16, 2006 at 1:15 am

    I, too am an EQ instructor, Nate, and I like the manuals for much the same reason. I like the freedom, and that I don’t feel like if only half the text is used, only half the lesson was covered.

    My wife, OTOH, says that the RS teachers all seem to think that they need to read every word in the manual, and if they don’t complete they’ve failed. I think the opposite is true; if they read the entire lesson, they haven’t put any thought into it.

  2. Kimball Hunt on March 16, 2006 at 1:56 am

    Your testimony–that is, the fact of it, in light of your mother’s apostacy, as I read about in your profile, fascinates me.

    Regarding Brigham, it’s interesting to me he’s not “the prophet Brigham” and that his purely theological contributions ended up not holding much sway with his brethren (although institutionally or “managerially” he’s without equal).

    But then (See first line to this post . . . ), I actually believe he’s probably criminal, in that, as you know, within the prophet Brigham’s capacity as divinely appointed sovereign (George W. Bush -like head of state?), he was no stranger to using–freedom fighting slash covert terror. (Don’t wan’o get into a “cartoon dipiction of Muhammed as a terrorist” type imbroglio here.)

    But the interesting thing is, I could say such things as this all day long and my church membership would remain eternally secure. Although Brigham philosophically must be viewed by the devout as inspired, still in some ways he’s “just a manager.” We get warm fuzzies from the view of Brigham’s looking down at the valley below and uttering “This is the right place” (our voices hushing as we sing the last verse of that hymn composed by his secretary, “Come, come ye Saints”) admire his determination and pluck, as we respect his force and his most-times efficiency. Still there’s comparatively little hagiography, very little cult of (his) personality.

  3. Dave on March 16, 2006 at 2:47 am

    Nate, nice of you to step up to the plate for the new manuals. It would be nice if they would present talks or discourses as chapters, allowing us to get an unedited chunk of Woodruff’s (or any other speaker’s) thinking rather than bits and pieces with no discernible context. But I do agree they are better than the prior sequence of manuals that preceded this series. The quality of the instructor probably makes the biggest difference.

  4. Tatiana on March 16, 2006 at 3:24 am

    I love the Teachings of the Presidents manuals, too. I like to just read them straight through, like novels. I get a real feeling that I know who these men were as people by reading their teachings in that form. I don’t know if this is true for the general membership of the church, but for me, several key teachings of Brigham Young are why I’m Mormon. His emphasis on education, his friendliness with science, and his statement that everything true is a part of our religion, form one of those teachings. Another is the fact that he clearly saw, even at that early date, that women were suited to do work as doctors, lawyers, accountants, mathematicians, etc. and he insisted that they get a chance to be educated, and a chance to do such work. Without Brigham, would women have had the vote in Utah from the beginning? Because of that, and because Mormon sisters were prominent suffragists, he may even have been the prophet responsible for bringing into the world (of men) that idea which God revealed to him, that women are the moral and intellectual equals of men. (I’m not a historian of these things. That’s just the impression I gef from what I’ve read. Someone who knows more please correct me.) In any event, it was a question under hot debate in Russian intellectual cicles in the latter part of the 19th c., while Brigham considered it settled long before that. (It’s obvious to me from reading the gospel that Christ recognized and treated women as the moral and intellectual equals of men, yet he didn’t explicitly call for society to change in order to reflect that equality.)

    So I have to say that I’m firmly in the hagiography camp when it comes to Brother Brigham. =)

    Another favorite is Joseph F. Smith. He was such a pure and gentle soul. I love how tenderly he loved children, and how very loving he was in every way. His spirit just shimmers off the pages of his teachings manual. I fell in love with him from reading it.

    The others haven’t yet inspired in me the same sort of hero-worship as those two, however, I agree wholeheartedly with your view, Nate, that the manuals are great, and could be even greater if they let the prophets’ voices come through clearer and with less editing.

  5. CS Eric on March 16, 2006 at 8:40 am

    Nate,

    That is exactly what I do. There are tons of apparent contradictions within the lessons themselves, and it is easy to find scriptures that seem to say something different than what the prophet is saying in the manual. I have to admit though, that I have seen some of the brethren in my quorum who look awfully uncomfortable. I also make it a point to say that anti’s have access to the same materials we do, and they are going to ask the same questions. Their children may also ask about apparent contradictions. If we have already considered these things in our own minds and have reconciled them, then I think our testimony has a bit more depth to it. I got a very interesting discussion when I asked the brethren what they told their daughters when they asked why their brothers got the priesthood and they didn’t.

    The one thing I really, really miss though is the appendix they used to have explaining how to do the ordinances. When my brother-in-law dedicated his father’s grave last spring, he was in near panic because the instructions/guidance was very difficult to find.

  6. John Mansfield on March 16, 2006 at 8:54 am

    Since Brother Oman is revisiting an earlier post, I’ll repeat an earlier comment.

    “If it is full talks you want, then give the Ensign its due. The ‘Gospel Classics’ series there has appeared most months for a couple of years, I think. Talks have been by James Talmage, Orson Whitney, Spencer Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, Howard Hunter, Joseph F. Smith, Matthew Cowley, and Ezra Taft Benson.”

    In the year since I wrote that, the series has continued on with talks from Marion Romney, Bruce McConkie, Howard Hunter, Ezra Taft Benson, and Joseph Fielding Smith. It has also appears in the New Era where talks by David O. McKay, Howard Hunter, Spencer Kimball, Mark Petersen, Heber J. Grant, Ezra Taft Benson, Sterling W. Sill, and Richard L. Evans have been printed since 2003.

  7. Nehringk on March 16, 2006 at 9:29 am

    I have found in my wanderings as a member of the high council in our stake that as a squinty-eyed rule of thumb, the new manual format has been a good thing for many EQ instructors and a not-so-good thing for HPG instructors. The former seem to take the view that Nate espouses and do a credible job, while the latter tend to read directly from the manual, ask an innocuous question every once in a while, and act as though they have experienced a blessed relief from suffering when it is time (or, more often, past time) to give a one- or two-sentence testimony and sit down. Howver, I will say that in the HPGs, the new manual format has had the beneficial effect of reducing the time spent discussing the latest insights from Rush Limbaugh. In that respect, it has been quite an improvement.

  8. WillF on March 16, 2006 at 9:41 am

    Justin B. has been doing some useful context work for the Wolford Woodruff manual: http://mormonwasp.blogspot.com/

    (and I promise this week I will prepare early enough to use it!)

  9. WillF on March 16, 2006 at 9:42 am

    #8: You think that someone named Will would get the first vowel in Wilford’s name right.

  10. Randy B. on March 16, 2006 at 9:45 am

    As an instructor in our HPG, I can assure you that there are no discussion of Rush in my class, at least if I can help it. In fact, I think we have an exceptionally good HGP that is very interested in digging into the lessons.

    Like Nate, I too have come to like the lesson manuals. And I think the WW manual this year is even better than the DOM manual last year.

    I think Nate’s criticism about including more of the context for the individual sermons is dead on. However, with Justin pulling all of these materials together, that is now readily available. Reading the full context of these speaches has provided a gold mine of material and ideas.

    Teaching from these manuals, with the added benefit of the full source, has really been a lot of fun.

  11. JrL on March 16, 2006 at 10:09 am

    To CS Eric re “The one thing I really, really miss though is the appendix they used to have explaining how to do the ordinances. When my brother-in-law dedicated his father’s grave last spring, he was in near panic because the instructions/guidance was very difficult to find.”

    He’s missing a small (and free) book that every family should have: “Family Guidebook.” Available in pdf:

    http://www.lds.org/gospellibrary/materials/family/FamilyGuidebook31180.pdf

  12. Brad Kramer on March 16, 2006 at 11:05 am

    I have a good friend who has been working on the committee compiling the manual(s) for Joseph Smith. He has had some experience with this topic — he has a close personal and professional relationship with Andrew Ehat and has written several academic articles on topics related to Joseph’s life and teachings. On the one hand, he has spoken about how amazing it has been to have access to the kinds of things he has during the past few years. On the other hand, he bemoans the fact that much of what he has learned and has found so incredibly interesting has been systematically kept out. The bottom line is, when the manuals come out, we’re not going to get much, if anything, new from our founding prophet. I’ve also spoken to more than one of the people involved with the JS papers project down at BYU. So far, more than 20 volumes have been compiled, but only one has been approved by the reading committee in downtown SLC.

    I share Nate’s enthusiasm for the new manuals (as compared with the old), and sincerely hope that we, as a Church, will continue in the direction of granting our members unfettered access to the teachings of all the prophets. I also think that correlation has had many positive effects on church organization, especially in terms of institutional effeciency, etc. But I have real qualms about the notion of correlating Joseph Smith. Does anybody *not* share that concern?

  13. Mike Parker on March 16, 2006 at 11:28 am

    I teach Gospel Doctrine, and I wish I could say the same thing about the Sunday School manuals.

    For example, I’m preparing for lesson 11 — Dinah dishonored by the Shechemites (Gen. 34), Joseph sold into Egypt (Gen. 37 & 39), Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38). Per the manual, the theme of the lesson is “living the Lord’s standard of sexual morality.” To support this, Gen. 34 and 38 are offered as examples of how “the sin of immorality has negative consequences on Jacob’s family.” The manual warns, “Do not discuss at length the sins of these men,” which I suppose is necessary, because Gen. 38 doesn’t have anything to do with sexual immorality.

    The point of Gen. 38 is that Judah failed to be obedient to the commandment of levirate marriage by withholding his son, Shelah, from Tamar. Tamar takes matters into her own hands and tricks Judah into getting her pregnant so that the commandment might be fulfilled. Judah acknowledges, “She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son” (38:26). Tamar has twin boys, and one of them becomes the ancestor of Jesus and therefore his link to the tribe of Judah (Luke 3:33; Rev. 5:5). No condemnation is made of Tamar for her actions. No “negative consequences” are mentioned.

    Do the people who write the curriculum really believe the point of Gen. 38 is “the sin of immorality has negative consequences on Jacob’s family”? Or do they know that it’s really about obedience to levirate marriage but they expect teachers to force a square peg in a round hole?

    For reasons such as this, I typically don’t even read the manual when I prepare lessons.

  14. Jim F. on March 16, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Brad Kramer: is your friend working on a Priesthood/Relief Society manual on Joseph Smith? If so, then you’ve just made public something that is one of SLC’s most highly-guarded secrets. To prevent the onslaught of dozens of “supplemental” materials by well-meaning members, the prophet to be dealt with in each year’s manual is kept secret until the last moment.

    A note about the Joseph Smith papers: the papers are not at BYU; they’ve been moved to Salt Lake. As I understand it, there have been a number of problems getting the volumes compiled and published, but I’m skeptical that 20 volumes are ready and just waiting for correlation.

  15. a random John on March 16, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    I’ll follow John Mansfield’s example and simply repost what I said before:

    I, for one, would be more inclined to read from the Teachings of the Prophets manual if each lesson was based on a single sermon rather than a mish-mash I think others would as well, but maybe not. In any case, this would probably do some serious damage to my hobby of finding apparent contradictions in the lessons since a single talk is probably less likely to have a contradiction than what we have now. The newer books have had fewer contradictions though. More agressive editing perhaps?

  16. Brad Kramer on March 16, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    Jim,

    I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I was some kind of “insider” with secret information. I certainly wouldn’t want to anger anyone downtown. I honestly have no idea when the JS manuals will be ready or what years they will be issued (I’m actually not certain that my friend even knows the years). My friend has been involved with the project for years. I don’t believe that I have divulged any secret information — unless anyone in the church was somehow questioning whether or not there would actually eventually be manuals on JS. If so, then I guess the cat’s out of the bag, and that’s my mistake.

  17. Clark on March 16, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    I agree Nate that it would be fantastic to have full sermons more akin to how every month we get one or two recent conference talks to discuss.

    I also heartily agree that the current manuals are vastly superior to anything I found in manuals I’ve looked through in the 70’s or 80’s.

    On the other hand I was recently released from being a teacher and now am in nursery. So it doesn’t really matter to me. My lesson I have to teach this week is on fish.

  18. Jed on March 16, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    “Do the people who write the curriculum really believe the point of Gen. 38 is “the sin of immorality has negative consequences on Jacob’s familyâ€?? Or do they know that it’s really about obedience to levirate marriage but they expect teachers to force a square peg in a round hole?”

    Everyone commenting on this thread seems to believe that reading the sermons of the prophets “in context” is a good thing, and that the manuals would do well to have more uncensored material. We seem to be preaching to the choir.

    For sake of discussion, I want to take the side of correlation. What are their concerns? Why do they edit down manuals? We can only speculate, but I can imagine one of the concerns being that historical details that are too specific to the times, that are not easily generalized to the present day, a detail like allowing the words “The United Order of Enoch” to stand in a BY sermon about consecration, requires specialized knowledge that many– if not most–Saints do not have access to. How many church libaries in North America have a copy of Arrington, Fox, and May, Building the City of God? We can imagine Saints all over the world having no idea what to do with such details, lacking access to the information that would help them ferret out answers.

    Second, again in defense of correlation, are we really wresting the words of the prophets if we do not understand the words in context? Lots of people seem to get something out of their Book of Mormon study with little or no knowledge of ancient American history. If we are to believe Mike Parker, Gen. 38 is “really� about levirate marriage, and other ways of understanding the story are impositions, modern importations from the outside. But isn’t there a sense in all attempts to understand the past are importations from the outside? We impose contemporary values onto past events all the time. When we tell a story about the past, we pick and choose details that are meaningful to us in the present, shaping the story around contemporary needs and concerns. Much about the past gets left behind. To say a text must “really� be about one thing or another, may actually reduce our range for story telling, constrict our creativity and imagination, and destroy alternative meanings that might be made in the moment.

    Widtsoe’s rational framework may be his way of finding meaning in history. It doesn’t resonate with us today, but judging from book sales it made sense to those of living under the specter of irrationality brought on by WWI.

  19. Julie M. Smith on March 16, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    Jed,

    Thanks for making some interesting points. However, I don’t think the fact that most people doesn’t know what UOeE means is justification for not presenting full sermons. All it would take is ten words in brackets explaining the concept, or a footnote, or a glossary. I stand with those who think that full texts would be better than sound bites. I’m afraid that, in addition to everything that has been mentioned, the manuals encourage us to take the same approach to scriptures as the Church takes to its manuals: find little bits we like and already understand and regard their context as irrelevant. I think your point about the Book of Mormon is not relevant: the immediate context isn’t ancient American history; the immediate context is the rest of the chapter that the verse in question comes from.

  20. Kevin Barney on March 16, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Nate, I agree with you that the new manuals are vastly superior to the old series. But I still prefer the uncorrelated variety from the 1950s and 60s.

  21. Costanza on March 16, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    I think that the effectiveness of the teachings of the prophets manuals depends in large measure on how willing the teachers are to put forth some effort. Nate obviously uses the material in the lesson manuals as spring-boards for discussions that draw on a wider variety of materials (scriptures, etc) and this is a key to making these manuals work. Unfortunately too many instructors fail in this regard and the lessons consist simply of everyone taking turns reading the texts aloud and then making general comments about what they might mean. With due preparation these lessons are stellar, but without it they can be mind-numbing.

  22. Costanza on March 16, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    On the matter of the Smith manual–In fact Joseph Smith’s manual was slated to be used last year but certain members of the BYU faculty and the LDS historical department (my info comes from one of the leading archivists in L. Tom Perry Special Collections on the writing committee) argued that much of the material lacked clear provenance because it was drawn from the History of the Church–which I’m sure most of you know includes first person-statements by Joseph Smith which were actually written by other people.

  23. Kevin Barney on March 16, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Costanza, you are quite right. It is a serious mistake to follow the manual slavishly. I’ve been in lessons where they sit in a semicircle and everyone just takes turns reading a paragraph. Ugh. For this material to be enlightening, it has to be used as a springboard to discussion.

  24. Jed on March 16, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    “I don’t think the fact that most people doesn’t know what UOeE means is justification for not presenting full sermons. All it would take is ten words in brackets explaining the concept, or a footnote, or a glossary.”

    Interesting idea. Do you think the foonotes could be done so easily? Since the meaning of concepts like the UOofE are often debated among historians, I wonder how foonotes could account for that complexity without oversimplyfing.

  25. Julie M. Smith on March 16, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Jed–

    If we avoided mentioning anything that was debated among historians, we’d never write another sentence.

  26. ed on March 16, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    This interesting post by Rebecca at FMH excerpted a letter from the Curriculum Department explaining how the WW manual was put together. Quote:

    First they were given a charge as a committee by a General Authority to do the following: 1) Prepare the book so it can be used primarily as a personal study guide. 2) Prepare the book so it can also be used for class discussion, but include more in each chapter than can be covered in a class period. 3) Prepare the book so it will deepen our understanding of the doctrines of the restored gospel through the teachings of President Wilford Woodruff.

  27. Robert C. on March 16, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    Clark (#13), I think Brother Seuss has a good text on the numerology and aesthetics of fish, can’t quite seem to remember the name of the book….

  28. Robert C. on March 16, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    Mike Parker (#13), I don’t think the manual’s as far off as you suggest. Sure, one of the points of the chapter seems to be about Tamar’s assertive actions in light of Judah’s disregard for levirate marriage. But I think sexual immorality is an important theme of the chapter:

    First, Onan’s sin seems to be disrespecting the commandment to procreate, esp. in context of Abraham’s promise of posterity, which I think is very relevant to sexual morality.

    Second, I think the wording in verse 2 is significant in portraying Judah as lustful (see the WBD comments I posted here).

    Third, I think the penalty that Judah declares for Tamar’s discovered adultery is significant. On the surface, Judah is adamantly opposed to adultery. The irony is that the rationale/law that he uses to condemn Tamar (v. 24) seems equally (if not moreso) to himself.

    Fourth, I think this chapter sets up an important contrast between Judah and what we’ll see of Joseph later (esp. Potiphar’s wife), a tension that reaches its climax in the Gen 44 encounter. I think an important part of that contrast is the disregard that Judah has in choosing a wife among the Canaanites (something Abraham was loathe to do), and the immorality and wickedness that surrounds Judah in chapter 38. Also, I think it’s important that Judah thought Tamar was a harlot and was eager to arrange their illicit meeting—at least Tamar seemed to be seeking a higher purpose (but that’s a whole other topic)….

    So I think there’s plenty of evidence that sexual immorality is an important topic in this chapter. My sense is that the GD manual, in contrast to the priesthood/RS manual, is making a concerted effort to make teaching what is a rather daunting book to most members (the OT) a less frightful task. I think they’ve tried to stick to simple topics with simple lessons to help struggling teachers, and part of that strategy seems to be keeping the lessons pretty short and focused on 2-3 main topics, an approach that I think makes sense. The manual seems less concerned with helping more advanced OT readers, and I think getting into the other, more complicated (and less applicable) themes of Gen 38 is justifiably omitted in the manual. I have my own complaints about the manual, but I’ve been rather impressed with it on the whole….

  29. The Wiz on March 16, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    “One fish, two fish, red fish blue fish….”

  30. WillF on March 16, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    As an Elder’s quorum instructor this discussion has given me some great ideas, but, I have to ask, Are we all giving in to temptation?

  31. Clark on March 16, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    The problem is that Dr. Seuss just doesn’t delve into the theology and philosophy of fish in such a way that I can reach these kids. His is purely an empirical analysis of fish. “one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” Nothing looking at fishness nor its relationship with God. What is the essence of fishiness?

  32. Costanza on March 16, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    Will, you don’t know it, but I’m in your class. Don’t worry, you do a great job.

  33. Tatiana on March 16, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    Maybe you should look to Gollum for that one:

    Alive without breath, as cold as death
    Drowns on dry land, thinks an island
    Is a mountain, thinks a fountain
    Is a puff of air. So sweet, so fair!
    What a joy to eat!
    We only wishhh to catch a fishhh so juicy sweet.

    Lots of theological food for thought there.

  34. Jed on March 16, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Julie: “If we avoided mentioning anything that was debated among historians, we’d never write another sentence.”

    Indeed. [one-word sentences allowed?]

    You do realize, don’t you, that I would love to see whole sermons in the manuals at some point. I am not arguing against that. I am arguing against the position that an uncorrelated manual is a good that need not be debated.

    As for history in the footnotes, I think the church became wary of professional history towards the end of the Arrington regime, for a number of reasons, and the current manuals are a way for the church to steer clear of being the arbiter on all manner of historical debate and controversy, which was exactly the position church leaders found so unconfortable during the Arrington years. Notice that the bare-bones chronologies make a stab at empirical history, and the least controversial “facts” are usually chosen. The CES manual Church History in the Fulness of Times, which was likewise written in the post-Arrington paradigm, took great pains to avoid citing any of the New Mormon History, even while it pillaged the NMH insights right and left.

    We may see the return of the interpretive stuff in good time. The church appears to be coming back around, with the recognition, as noted in the History of the Church comment above, that interpretive stands have to be made. The current historical publication projects (e.g. JS Papers, GQCannon diaries) may provide the paradigm for the future: whole documents, with footnotes written by trusted scholars.

  35. Kimball Hunt on March 16, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    The Book of Mormon’s always consistently about “do good ‘n’ prosper, sin ‘n’ don’t prosper” but Mike references Genesis 38.

    Wherein Judah’s line’s prospers through Judah’s being tricked being tricked into producing his own heir with-and-through Tamar, Tamar’s trickery justified due to Judah’s “unrighteousness”? (with, oddly, this a shining example of righteousness being effected from bottom- (heir’s widow Tamar, daughter-in-law) -to-top (reigning tribal lord Judah, effectively heir of Jacob/Israel)–so it was that Tamar overcame Judah’s “unrighteous” dawdling (i.e., Judah’s procrastinating with regard to assigning another son to wed Tamar and produce his heir through her) through Tamar’s trickery–involving Tamar’s taking advantage of the fact that apparently Judah took his “kingly priveledges” in wifery (being intimate–that is, under the same roof as a woman in the knowledge and presence of the people) and then also “quicky divorce”? (Judah’s immediately leaving the veiled-faced Tamar, whom it’s said he mistook for a fertility priestess? with Judah’s even leaving with Tamar his cloak, staff, and ring as the negotiated “troth” for his future payment of “one unit of currency”–one kid from his flocks–for services rendered? What!)

    But instead of its being said there’s any ultimately negative consequences to Judah’s uh use of such executive priviledges, instead it’s basically accrued to all righteousness (with this being even the Messianic lineage, after all). Which sets up this:

    So then will some gospel doctrine class manual during the Millennium-near-at-hand reference Brigham’s war crimes as “sinfulness resulting in negative consequences for Saints of the Last Dispensation”? Or will the Scriptural record say such frontier exigency worked “for the Lord and his righteousness”?

  36. Robert C. on March 16, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    Clark, sorry, I thought you meant fish in the broader literary, religious, and cultural sense. If you do decide to go the symbolism route, here’s an analysis of the fish as Christ-figure in Cat in the Hat (yes, it’s parody, I really wasn’t sure at first!). Also, many people have written about the communist-American symbolism by the red and blue fish, which I think likely was intentional. He did a lot of political cartoons in his former life, so he had to be quite attuned to those issues, esp. as evidenced by the classic Yooks and the Zooks, which has obvious references to nuclear prolferation….

  37. MDS on March 16, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    Nate,

    I love your idea of teaching the lesson as an attempt to resolve apparent contradictions in the quotes. Frankly, I think that would make for some interesting blogging. I find that the Sundays on which I go home most satisfied are those on which I have been given the opportunity to think about the gospel, and not just to feel good about it.

  38. Robert C. on March 16, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    Kimball, the end result of the Nephites (destroyed) and Lamanites (punished, but survived and will eventually e favored) seems to have more parallels than contrasts to Judah’s posterity, at least on my reading. (Thanks though, for helping me start a 3rd thread-jack….)

  39. Mike Parker on March 16, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Robert C. #28: The manual sets up an overly-simplistic contrast between Joseph (chaste) and Judah (unchaste). But Judah’s un-chastity, as wrong as it was, isn’t the point of Gen. 38.

    The point is that Judah and Onan were not obedient to commandment of levirite marriage because of their selfishness — Onan was selfish because he didn’t want to father children who would not legally be considered his while still enjoying the benefits of marriage (he was married to Tamar and therefore not unchaste); Judah was selfish because he didn’t give Tamar to his third son, Shelah, to wife. Tamar is presented as the hero of the story who is unjustly treated and then goes to extreme lengths to fulfill the commandment. And, in the end, everything works out as God intended it, despite the personal failings of Judah.

    The problem, of course, is that doesn’t have an easy application to modern-day LDS audiences. And so, in a correlated world where every scripture studied in class has to have a modern application, it just doesn’t work neatly. So the two “inside the box” options are (1) force the passage to fit a certain application, even though it really doesn’t work, and (2) skip the passage entirely.

    The third, “outside the box” alternative that I prefer is that we actually teach the scriptures so that Latter-day Saints begin to understand them beyond a superficial level. Yes, that’s hard. No, not every lesson is going to help us be better fathers, better home teachers, etc. But it would take us beyond an understanding that could just as easily be communicated by putting Animated Stories from the Book of Mormon in the VCR.

  40. Anon on March 16, 2006 at 8:13 pm

    Just one comment — wouldn’t it be just as easy to include a picture of the prophet’s wife on the cover with the prophet, and include inside some of her teachings too? The teachings included are honeyed one-liners (-paragraphers) that can be attributable to most prophets anyway. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to include some of the wives’ generic counsel and thereby teach the concept that the women in each prophet’s life had some merit as well?

  41. Kimball Hunt on March 16, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    Mike and Robert: Good, good. Just love it. Really.

    OK let’s see, Tamar was called in for state-and-ecclesiastical hearing on charges of adultery for which, if deemed guilty, Judah has said she must be stoned lest a bastard be heir to Israel). she’s to be must be stoned. And so Tamar gets out Judah’s cloak, staff and ring and shows them to the grass roots of the community– And this is the part Genesis leaves out?– who hold a candlelight vigil, chanting refrains about Judah’s being caught with an aliance according to standard kingly privilege with his now threatening the girl’s stoning!

    To which, and minus Clintonesque mea culpa’s regarding such rightful kingly privileges, Judah rules in mirror-image to that other head of church and state, King Henry the 8th, and spares Tama (no doubt happy to see his offspring in her swelling belly)

  42. Susan on March 16, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    A couple of comments:

    –Joseph F. Smith as a gentle soul. Joseph F. Smith is a fascinating character. But if he is ONLY a gentle soul in the church manual, you are definitely not getting the whole story. (Not that there’s not a gentle soul in there and a good man.) He was a very complex person and on many levels a very tortured soul. A real challenge as a teenager (sent to the Hawaiin islands as a missionary on his own to get him away from some of the really interesting things that had been happening in Salt Lake City). Very complex relationships with his Smith apostate relatives. A marriage and divorce with his first cousin (so volatile Brigham himself served as mediator). Complex relationships to post-manifesto polygamy. A rich story. Someone whose story really does deserve a full telling.

    –Holding back Joseph’s book because things weren’t “written” by him. Not much of anything was “written” by Joseph. Before 1835 he “dictated” a great deal and somebody else “wrote.” After that you pretty much are in the territory of content summarized, mediated, written about what Joseph was saying. Pretty much all of the late, radical, fascinating theology is available only in the journals of people who were in the audience when Joseph spoke. That’s part of what is so interesting about Joseph’s legacy–so mediated, so public. The truly private man–evidence of him–there are only scraps.

  43. manaen on March 16, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    42 .
    “That’s part of what is so interesting about Joseph’s legacy–so mediated, so public. The truly private man–evidence of him–there are only scraps.” —- Including the BoM itself, with its completely-dictated manuscript !

    29 & 33.
    Why are you quoting secular sources about fish when the fulness is contained in LDS work: “I caught you a delicious bass.”

  44. RoAnn on March 16, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    I am all for the new manuals, despite some of the limitations mentioned in the previous comments. I remember attending a R.S. lesson the first year they were introduced, in a country where the Church was relatively new, and most of the class members (including the teacher) were recent converts. Most had only a high school education, and a few were almost illiterate. The teacher simply had the sisters take turns reading the paragraphs and commenting as they desired, until time ran out.

    At the end of the class I felt quite frustrated, because what I regarded as the most important point in the written lesson was never touched on, because it appeared near the end. I started thinking about how it would probably always be the same. We would plod through the first couple of pages, and never get to what the lesson authors might have wanted us to focus on, or at least mention.

    I was brought up short when a rather forceful prompting brought several questions to my mind: “Did most of the sisters feel the Spirit during the lesson?� “Did they learn something that was probably important for them to learn?� “Was their testimony of the Gospel and the Church likely to grow stronger because they attended the class?� The answer to all those questions was definitely, “Yes.� I finally realized that the pure words of the prophets in these lessons can provide this kind of learning opportunity to anyone who has the spiritual ears to hear. Even when poorly taught, because these lessons contain the words of latter-day prophets, I truly believe they can help us open our minds and hearts to spiritual truth, no matter what our level of intellect or knowledge of the Gospel.

    Maybe the time will come when complete sermons will be appropriate for Priesthood/Relief Society lessons; but right now, the excerpts approach seems to me to be both appropriate for, and sufficiently adaptable to the varying needs of a worldwide Church.

  45. Melinda on March 16, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    By pulling isolated paragraphs from several sermons and grouping them by topic, the editors make the manuals interchangeable. They could create the next prophet manual by changing the picture on the front cover and changing the biographical data. Every collection of prophetic sound-bites on tithing is going to sound like every other collection of prophetic sound-bites on tithing.

    I guess we need to cover the same 24 topics every year, so maybe it doesn’t matter that they’re repetitive. But can anyone tell the prophets apart based on those manuals?

  46. WillF on March 16, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    Constanza, thanks for the complement. If you are who I think you are, it means a lot coming from a great teacher. I enjoy your Gospel Doctrine lessons. ( I hope our team does ok in the high altitude)

  47. Julie M. Smith on March 16, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    Susan,

    I’ve only ever found bits and pieces of the JFS story–can you recommend some sources for more study?

    RoAnn,

    I’d find your statement more persuasive if we had some indication that the sisters you observed would in some way have been hurt by a lesson consisting of just one talk instead of snippets. I’m with Melinda–the lessons, in effect, run the prophets through a blender and we lose their distinctive voices.

  48. RoAnn on March 17, 2006 at 2:27 am

    Julie, I see your point. Certainly the “one talk” lessons chosen from General Conference addresses seem to have a good effect when they are taught. Perhaps I just wonder if it would be more difficult to find 24 complete sermons from past prophets which would lend themselves as well for lessons on a variety of subjects as the present format does. Maybe it would be easy, and maybe there wouldn’t be too many problems with references to things that would have to be explained at length for one reason or another. I am not that familiar with the writings of most of the past prophets, so I may be far off the mark in my assessment.

  49. Erica Merrell on March 17, 2006 at 3:15 am

    So what’s to stop a teacher from looking up the talks referenced in a lesson and using one of them as the basis for the lesson? You could hand out the talk the week before if you wanted the class to read it. I can’t imagine that wouldn’t be kosher as long as you stuck with the same topic.

  50. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 17, 2006 at 3:24 am

    I actually like the “snippets” approach. In the end, the purpose of these manuals is to teach us about principles, not necessarily to teach us about the prophets specifically. I also think they can whet the appetite for those who want to know more, encouraging personal study.

    Re: correlation defense: The way they work is by groups and by the Spirit. They come with their concerns about something they are working on, and then they seek to work together, in a “counciling with a counsel” kind of situation, and I know they get inspiration on what to do. Is it a flawless process? No. But I think it deserves a lot more credit than it often gets. I wouldn’t want their job for anything. It’s extremely difficult to have the weight of deciding what is appropriate and what is not — and what will work for a worldwide Church, and for the newest, freshest convert to the most seasoned member, and everyone in between (including bright intellectuals who want it all). :)

    One last point about the approach of the lessons (like the lesson mentioned above that the manual says is about sexual immorality). I was a Gospel Doctrine fairly recently, and it became very clear to me that the whole focus of these manuals is application, application, application. Find the principles that can be applied and use that as the focal point of the discussion. The history and story lines and other interesting stuff is deliberately secondary at best. Personally, I think this is great for many reasons. 1) It can help prevent a teacher giving a lecture on what he/she knows, because a focus on application lends itself to discussion more easily than a focus on almost anything else. 2) Each person can ponder the principles and their application if the teacher takes this desired approach. 3) The Spirit can really flow if the class is responsive and also seeks to engage in responsible ways. While I love learning history and other information, it is much more difficult to feel the Spirit if the details of the text are the focus, rather than the application of the principles. And I think to some degree it has to be adapted to the capacity of the weak. Not everyone has the ability or interest level to delve into the guts of OT culture and history to understand all the ins and outs of those ancient times. It is most generally useful to focus on what everyone can relate to. All this mulling makes me want to teach again, actually. [grin]

  51. RoAnn on March 17, 2006 at 6:54 am

    Mullingandmusing, Thank you for voicing so clearly exactly the way I feel correlation efforts, and about the approach of the lessons focusing on application, both for Priesthood/RS and Gospel Doctrine. I remember teaching OT four years ago, and absolutely loving the way, as you put it, “the Spirit can really flow” because the class was “responsive and [sought] to engage in responsible ways.” And like you, just thinking and remembering how fulfilling those classes were evokes a longing –but life moves on, and fortunately I have other opportunities to have similar experiences now.

  52. Costanza on March 17, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    “Not much of anything was “writtenâ€? by Joseph. Before 1835 he “dictatedâ€? a great deal and somebody else “wrote.â€? After that you pretty much are in the territory of content summarized, mediated, written about what Joseph was saying.”–That is true, but you are dealing with a separate issue than the one I raised. Even if Joseph’s thought were taken down by scribes, he may still appropriately be called the auother of that material. There is however, a world of difference between something that comes from Joseph’s mouth but is written down by a scribe: e.g., “Today I went to meet with Brother Woodruff,” and something that comes from another person’s writings but is changed to appear as if Joseph said it: “Today Joseph Smith taught us xyz,” changed to “Today I (Joseph Smith) taught the people xyz.” The latter is what happened with the History of the Church. According to my sources, before the church will publish the J.S. manual, they need to sort out that out.

  53. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 17, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    I just realized I got my homonyms mixed up! YIKES. It was late last nite…I meant “counseling with a council”. Sorry ’bout that.

  54. Mike Parker on March 17, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    mullingandmusing #50: While application is certainly important, I’m frustrated and dismayed that’s all we ever get in any setting in the Church, from general conference all the way down to the elders quorum. I would never want to do away with application, but I would like to see some balance.

    Case in point: The OT Sunday School manual completely skips Leviticus. Yes, there are a lot of esoteric things in Leviticus, but understanding the rites of the tabernacle and the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Law brings so much more meaning and depth to understanding the Atonement of Christ. Yes, people can (and should) study those things on their own, but often they don’t because they’re not interested, don’t know they’re there, or think they’re too complicated.

    I think as a Church we’re missing out on a great opportunity to get beyond the surface reading of the scriptures.

    “And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30–31a.)

  55. Mike Parker on March 17, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    (Test post.)

  56. jimbob on March 17, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Clark (17): I’m pretty sure that the fine people over at Pepperidge Farm have made sure that just about every nursery lesson eventually turns into an object lesson about fish. Little goldfish, to be specific.

  57. Steve L on March 17, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    I joined the discussion late, but as a youngster who has only ever known the Teachings of the Prophets series in priesthood, I would like to second Nate’s sentiment on the “committee’s” watering down of prophetic teaching. I might go a bit further than Nate, though, because I think the folks in charge of writing our curricula (judging by their work) are soul-less and uninformed, having the sole agenda of making the gospel as bland, stupid and uninspired as they are. There. I said it. I said it.

  58. Julie M. Smith on March 17, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Steve L,

    That was unnecessary. I’m not the biggest fan of the manuals, as my comments above reveal, but there’s no reason to attack the people who write them. I imagine that they work under all sorts of constraints that we aren’t aware of; I imagine that they are doing the best they can; I imagine they’d be hurt if they came upon your comment.

  59. Susan on March 17, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    Julie, I don’t know of any really good or complete secondary sources on Joseph F. Smith. Scott Kinney has done the most extensive research on Joseph F. Smith and one can only hope that some day he will finish his biography. At one point I did quite a bit of research on Joseph F. Smith. I used the collection of Scott Kinney’s notes, copies, and redactions of original sources which are housed at the University of Utah. A huge collection on Joseph F. there. Fascinating stuff. I would actually love to go back to working on Joseph F. Smith. There is so much of interest there. In general I find the transition from 19th to 20th century fascinating. His life spans such an amazing period. As a young man he seems to have been an intense wild thing. There are so many things going on in the Smith family–with some of the family in and some out of the church. But intense relationships continuing across this gap.

  60. Costanza on March 17, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    Scott Kenny actually published just a taste of what might be waiting if he finishes the full bio in “Before the Beard: Trials of the Young Joseph F. Smith” in SUNSTONE 120 (April 2001). It is a very interesting article and touches on a couple of the issues that Susan mentions. I bet Kenny’s materials at the U of U are fantastic!

  61. The Blue Goose on March 18, 2006 at 1:25 am

    How many times have you walked into EQ and heard the instructor say…”Brethren, please pay close attention as we are going to cover some deep doctrine and will be exploring Joseph’s King Follet Discourse in some detail and its accompanying ramifications?”

    If any revealed religion had a lot of VERY interesting doctrinal nuggets to discuss surely it is the LDS faith. Church history is packed with very unusual and rough edges that hardly fit neatly into the tightly woven doctrinal carpet that is presented in our uniformly correlated Church teaching manuals.

    Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others espoused some pretty radical doctrinal notions that never seem to get the proper discussion and debate. Correlation teaches to the lowest common denominator and to the “weakest of all Saints.” Clearly this makes the message more sanitized, presentable, digestable, etc, but it also over simplifies the richness and intellectual depth of the gospel.

    If those early seers of this dispensation had such radical interpretations and relelations of the esoteric realm, then maybe we shouldn’t be surpised in the next life if the complexities, realities, and mind-boggling dimensions of the next estate don’t fit neatly into three circles on a chalk board. The manuals and Church correlation serve a digestable purpose, but they also mask a rich complexity and doctrinal depth that often gets censored in the name of unity, consistency and digestable simplicity.

  62. Kimball Hunt on March 18, 2006 at 1:58 am

    “We need a rabbinical, a Midrashic Mormonism.”

    Ah, but the above was produced of a culture which required its faithful to study a classical language and texts and assigned a status to scholars thereof. So, for a possible approximation of this contemporarily, how about: book clubs?

    Speaking of Judaism, this tradition likewise has conflict between skeptical and observant factions. And, famously, the Enlightenment spawned Reform Judaism. An interesting phenomenon was the birth of the Conservative movement within Judaism in the United States and this was a branch of Reformed which adhered to a more conservative line in Jewish practice, of course.

    Therefore, I hereby call for a parallel phenomenon in Mormonism; I call for those in the Church who’ve gone the Sunstone/ Signature Books route and yet have either returned to the faith or else have never left it to sponsor their own, “Conservative” symposia.

  63. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 18, 2006 at 3:06 am

    Steve L.
    As someone who knows a correlation person personally, you know not of what or whom you speak. These people think and feel deeply, and, as Julie supposed, have a lot of restraints put on them. Please understand that they are also called and guided by inspiration. And I can guarantee you would not want to be in their position. It is very difficult indeed, especially when they know how despised they are by some. That is because they are misjudged and misunderstood.

    Blue Goose and others:
    Once again, remember there is a specific purpose in the lessons, and it is not to dig for deep doctrinal nuggets. This is extremely deliberate — not only in the spirit of “teaching to the capacity of the weak” but because the manuals are to help all of us be better people. What goes along with the mysteries of the three circles on a chalkboard just doesn’t have the same effect on our characters and that process of becoming that is essential to our salvation.

    We don’t really need lessons for deep doctrinal digs anyway….there are *plenty* of other arenas for exploring such things, for those who are interested in them (which, IMO, is a fairly small minority). I think most people are just fine with talking about the basic truths and principles of the gospel. I think that brings the Spirit, especially when there is a culture of sharing and openness and faith in the classroom, and the teacher allows that.

    My feeling is that wishing the manuals were something else is a bit akin to looking beyond the mark. Don’t get me wrong. I love digging, too. But I just don’t think Church is the place to do it. There’s plenty of digging that can be done even with the basic principles of the gospel.

    Will included a link to the introduction in the WW manual. There are important things to notice there.
    1. This manual series was established by The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In my mind, this should be reason enough to FIND and discover reasons to love these manuals. May be a leap of faith for some, but this isn’t something created by some mindless, soul-less group of people. (!!!)
    2. Their purpose is to help us draw closer to the Lord and understand the gospel more deeply. I think sometimes we think “deep” and think “esoteric” or at least “rarely talked about.” I think that’s largely misguided, and inappropriate, particularly with regard to Church meetings. There is a time and place to want to understand other “mysteries” as well, but church is not the place.
    3. We should seek the Spirit as we study, focusing on questions that can help us APPLY the teachings. Application, application, application. Application helps us to become, to do, to improve…which is the *heart* of the gospel. I think we should be grateful that this is the focus lest we get distracted by information that has no power to bring us closer to Christ. Christ lived the gospel in simple, pure ways, and that is what we are fundamentally supposed to be about, isn’t it?

    RE: the snippets approach and comments about blenderizing the prophets. The question to ask is are the manuals designed primarily to let us get to know the prophets (which they do a little through historical background stories, etc.), or to show that the gospel teachings of prophets have been the same since the Restoration (law of witnesses) and give us that ever-present benefit of repetition in our lives? (Think about how much repetition shows up — in the scriptures, in the ordinances, etc. Why is that? Isn’t there deliberate, divine purpose in such repetition?) If the purpose is the latter, which I think it is, then the snippets approach, blenderized or not, has a power in and of itself. It’s easy to have personal feelings and opinions about what we wish church classes could be like, but what we need to do is seek to understand what the *prophets* want them to be like and why. This isn’t just about catering to those who are “weak.” We ALL can benefit from them in significant ways. Armed with that understanding, I believe we could each get more out of these lessons.

    (Ah, methinks I was on a soapbox. I guess I’m stepping off now. G’nite. :) )

  64. Kimball Hunt on March 18, 2006 at 3:13 am

    Nate, as I ponder here some reapproachment to Mormonism, the dichotomy you’ve spoken of between what are essentially scriptorians like McConkie and– What? rationalists or pragmatists(?) like Brigham Young/ B.H. Roberts I find intriguing (See your post “From the Archive: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Elder McConkie” last year), especially since Brigham’s such a towering figure. I’m curious, What exactly is the essential approach to thought or practice of Brigham Young that especially appeals to you?

  65. Julie M. Smith on March 18, 2006 at 9:23 am

    M & M–

    I’m with you about deep doctrine. I think a desire for deep doctrine in Sunday meetings shows a gross insensitivity to the needs of new converts, the recently re-activated, and those who haven’t been blessed with opportunities for higher education.

    But I’m going to claim the ‘snippet’ and ‘blender’ comments that you mention (since I used those terms in previous comments). Let me give you a few reasons why I think full texts would be better. First, note, apparently these are not disallowed under the current structure. I’m too lazy to look it up, but awhile back, there was a lesson focused on the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints” that was either enitrely or virtually entirely from one talk. (It was edited, which I don’t have a problem with, but the quotes were all from the same source.) Second, it follows the pattern of the scriptures, where we have full stories in their entirety as opposed to a collection of verses about faith, followed by a collection of verses about fasting, etc. Third, it might allow you to learn *more* from the prophets words than you could otherwise. To use a scriptural analogy, I’m preparing a lesson on Ezekiel for an Institute class this week and I’ve been thinking about why the vision of the sticks follows hard on the heals of the vision of the dry bones (Ez. 37). I suspect the placement isn’t accidental, but there is something that we can learn from the juxtaposition of those stories. (I just don’t know what it is yet!) Similarly, I assume that when a prophet speaks, the ideas from three paragraphs ago have some relevance (moderating, amplifying, or contrasting, etc.) the words in the current paragraph. But we miss this with lessons made of disconnected quotes. Finally, this is not a desire for deep doctrine, just a desire for context. My experience in teaching in church settings is that surprisingly often an out-of-left-field question like what the dry bones has to do with the sticks will pull a ‘non-gospel-scholar’ out of the woodwork with a fabulous insight. This isn’t an elitist question; it’s a thinking-outside-the-box question, and you’d be surprised who will answer it and what they will say.

  66. The Blue Goose on March 18, 2006 at 9:31 am

    M&M (#61),

    I understand your perspective and in general I think you are right in many respects. In general I like the manuals as presented and they are a signficant improvement over prior editions. You conveniently play the classic trump card that they were sanctioned and established by the First Pres. and Quorum of the 12. This effectively mutes any further debate or constructive criticism, because if you take issue with the manual then who are you really taking issue with?

    I find your statement or reasonsing somewhat bizzare that Church isn’t the place or the forum to explore your faith. If any issue is somewhat controversial in the Church we treat it as radioactive and quarantine it down in some deep vault of Church history. The only way I reconcile this rationale is that some discussions will only impede the work from moving forward with respect to missionary work or other missions of the Church. And so we simply scratch the surface of issues and focus on application, application, application. And since few, if any, have mastered these application issues…I should be content.

    After reading RSR by Bushman, you feel a little like Neo in the Matrix after having swallowed the red pill and are now “unplugged” with a fuller awareness of the complexity of our faith. Yet my testimony of Joseph is more complete. He is certainly more human and more imperfect than previously envisioned, but he also more majestic, more prophetic, and more complete. Rather than incomprehensive conspiracy theories, Church history makes a lot more sense in understanding why people close to the Prophet wrestled with their faith. Some came and left the Church because they couldn’t handle the reality and implications of the doctrine. I’m just glad that I have a wider lense of the gospel and the Church history now. And if others are not interested in exploring the faith in its totality either because of apathy, or because they are satisfied with just applying these principles and keeping it simple, then so be it.

    Neo was given two pills to choice between as well in the Matrix, and as members we likewise our given that same choice.

  67. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 18, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    “I find your statement or reasoning somewhat bizzare that Church isn’t the place or the forum to explore your faith. If any issue is somewhat controversial in the Church we treat it as radioactive and quarantine it down in some deep vault of Church history.”

    I still stand by my comments. I don’t think that digging through controversial issues (deemed “exploring your faith”) is the purpose of our Church meetings. Exploring faith does not necessarily equate digging through controversy or history. That helps us understand our religion, but is not necessary to having faith in Jesus Christ. Such exploration is not necessary to coming to Christ. We come to Christ by learning about how to BE LIKE HIM. I’m sorry, but I see no connection to controversy and conversion. As I said, I’m one who loves to learn, and I love understanding more about our religion beyond the basics. But I firmly stand by the assertion that church meetings are not the place to do it. If it were, our leaders would change the focus of our curriculum, and I have a hard time imagining that they ever will. And I don’t think it’s just to protect the new converts and others more tender in the gospel. I think it’s to remind *all* of us where the rubber meets the road — and that’s in the basic, pure doctrines of the Church. I once heard it said we are to learn (and I would add live) the simple basic principles of the gospel in their purity. I think our church meetings are designed to help us do just that. We can live without the history and the controversial issues, as interesting as they may be, but we can’t live (or at least eternally live) without the other.

  68. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 18, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Julie,
    I completely understand the concept of wanting context, and that is legitimate. (And, BTW, I never tried to argue that such an approach is “disallowed.”) I just think the current approach accomplishes the goals and purposes of church more effectively, because the focus is on application. The snippets are meant to be a springboard for discussion, and I think the topical arrangment allows for good, focused discussion, and a reinforcing of those basic principles that we should never tire of hearing. I also think it would be mighty difficult to select which sermons to include. And some sermons would contain things that aren’t necessarily relevant for us today. I will say this again: I think our leaders are trying to show us that, although some things have changed, the basic principles are the same. Context matters, but I think it matters less than the principles we should be learning and applying in our lives.

    It is clear that no matter what approach is chosen, some benefits of the other options are lost. I also like context. But I think because the focus is on application and not contextual understanding per se, the snippets approach is appropriate. That said, it would be interesting to have a study group or some other forum to study and discuss whole sermons. I’m certainly not opposed to that idea. :)

  69. Robert C. on March 18, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    Blue Goose, I think I don’t follow your post. If we do the exploring of faith in Church meetings, aren’t we effectively forcing everyone to swallow the red pill instead of letting members choose for themselves when and if they want to do that kind of exploring?

    Julie and m&m, I think one point that I didn’t see raised is the possibility that the church wants to take a contrasting approach to Sunday school. That is, in SS we take a contextual approach whereas in priesthood and RS meetings, we take a topical approach. Generally I think this approach makes sense, though I agree there’s a significant cost of not being able to read the prophets’ statements in context.

  70. Julie M. Smith on March 18, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Robert C.,

    That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.

  71. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 18, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Robert C.
    Yup. We get a little bit of both. Thanks for bringing that up; it crossed my mind last nite.

  72. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 18, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    p.s. to the comment about Gospel Doctrine — We still get some of the “snippet” approach because we don’t read the entire text. There is still some selection and organization, except for maybe with BOM. My friend was appalled that we didn’t spend more time on Jacob’s ladder, and text about Joseph she said was not even in the reading. There just isn’t time to focus on all that is there!

  73. Mike Parker on March 18, 2006 at 8:21 pm

    I’m all for application. If we’re not better people because of attending sacrament meeting, Sunday school, the temple, then why bother?

    But … when all we get, all the time, is application, from general conference all the way down to elders quorum, then we’re missing out on a lot of material that can deepen our faith and widen our perspective.

    Case in point: This year’s Sunday school material completely skips Leviticus. Now, perhaps some people think that Leviticus is too esoteric, that its prescriptions and proscriptions and rites are of little or no value to the 21st-century Latter-day Saint. But understanding these things, IMO, is essential to understanding the atonement of Christ, its significance, its meaning, its symbolism.

    There are many Saints with a superficial understanding of the gospel who don’t realize they have a superficial understanding because they think that Sunday meetings are covering all the material, when, in reality, there is so much more. Yes, we all can and should study on our own, but introducing new vistas in a Sunday meeting can open the minds and understandings of many who would otherwise not even realize what else is out there.

    And as far as “forcing everyone to swallow the red pill,” I can testify based on experience that it’s much, much better to introduce difficult or controversial subjects in a setting where they can explained by someone who knows about them and has maintained his or her faith. The alternative is to turn the unsuspecting faithful over to the Internet or certain publishers who will not be so kind.

    “And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?” —Acts 8:30–31a.

  74. Darren on March 18, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    As the late comer to this discussion and having also the requirement to teach the GD lesson this Sunday, I found the discussion interesting. I am not planning on discussing the Judah-Tamar incident. I am more interested in the interaction of Joseph with his brothers and Joseph with Potiphers Wife. I am also disapointed that there is not more focus on the portion about Beth-El and Jacobs ladder. I plan on spending a bit of time there.

    I tend to use the online Ensign to see what sort statements the bretheren have given on the themes of the lesson. I pulled this statement from Elder Hales that I thought was very relevent for the discussion of the overall themes of the lesson.

    Here is the quote:

    Elder Robert D. Hales, “Dwelling in the world is part of our mortal test. The challenge is to live in the world yet not partake of the world’s temptations which will lead us away from our spiritual goals. When one of us gives up and succumbs to the wiles of the adversary, we may lose more than our own soul. Our surrender could cause the loss of souls who respect us in this generation. Our capitulation to temptation could affect children and families for generations to come.
    The Church is not built in one generation. The sound growth of the Church takes hold over three and four generations of faithful Saints. Passing the fortitude of faith to endure to the end from one generation to the next generation is a divine gift of unmeasured blessings to our progeny. Also, we cannot endure to the end alone. It is important that we help by lifting and strengthening one another.
    We are taught in the scriptures that there must be opposition in all things (see 2 Ne. 2:11). It is not a question of if we are ready for the tests; it is a matter of when. We must prepare to be ready for tests that will present themselves without warning.
    The basic requirements for enduring to the end include knowing who we are, children of God with a desire to return to His presence after mortality; understanding the purpose of life, to endure to the end and obtain eternal life; and living obediently with a desire and a determination to endure all things, having eternal vision. Eternal vision allows us to overcome opposition in our temporal state and, ultimately, achieve the promised rewards and blessings of eternal life.� “Behold, We Count Them Happy Which Endure,� Ensign, May 1998, 75

    Jacob and Joseph clearly had eternal vision, therefore they were strong in their trials and temptations. We should be striving to have the Spirit in our lives to have this sort of eternal vision.

    As for the priesthood/RS issue everyone is discussing. The whole benifit is dependent on us as the “reciever of the word”. The manuals are so rich in fruit and oppertunity for discussion that none should go away empty.

  75. Left Field on March 18, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    From the copyright page:

    “Your comments and suggestions about this book would be appreciated. Please submit them to Curriculum Planning, 50 East North Temple Street, Room 2420, Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3220 USA. E-mail: cur-development@ldschurch.org

    “Please list your name, address, ward, and stake. Be sure to give the title of the book. Then offer your comments and suggestions about the book’s strengths and areas of potential improvement”

    Sounds like an opportunity to tell ‘em what we think.

  76. The Blue Goose on March 18, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    Robert (#67),

    I’m not suggesting everyone should be forced to “swallow the red pill” ie everyone should be forced to discuss in more depth the areas of the gospel that often get no air time. Yes we need to be sentitive to those new converts, and others who aren’t ready “for the red pill” and instead are content with the milk of the gospel.

    Let’s offer a solution. Instead of one class for everyone, let’s have several different classes that teach at different levels of complexity. Years ago our ward had two gospel doctrine teachers. One who was a straight-laced orthodox teacher who was very predictable, the other was a former Jewish convert who brought fantastic mind enlarging perspective on relevant gospel topics. Guess which class was packed and which one had tumbleweeds blowing through it??

    Mike (post #71) hits the nail on the head with his comments. I’m glad there is a voice and group that support this notion and point of view. Yes we can’t be insensitive to the new convert, but we also can’t be insensitive to those who desire a wider discussion of issues in the relevant context.

    Application of the principle is key, but building a deeper gospel framework where you can understand the interplay of doctrine and issues in the full context of the times is critical in understanding the realities of the doctrine and why the doctrine is the way it is. For example, I don’t think you can fully appreciate the mode of instruction in the temple as well, if you ignore the historical context and times they were revealed in. How can you say you really understand the early seers of the Church if you ignore facts or experiences, because you only frame part of their lives? How can you say you understand Brigham Young if you don’t even acknowledge he was a polygamist (in the manual?) I don’t like the teaching of polygamy more than anyone else. In fact I cringe at the very thought of it. But doctrinally don’t I have to make room for the principle vis-a-vis section 132. The point is, these are conversations nobody wants to have, but if we are honest with our faith, there are issues in the right audience or in the right forum that deserve to have a discussion. Yes nobody should be forced to accept more than they are ready for, but let’s at least be honest regarding what we believe and more importantly why we believe it.

  77. Mike Parker on March 18, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    The Blue Goose is right about polygamy — we can either teach it ourselves, or we can leave it to our enemies to teach that Joseph Smith was a sex fiend and child molestor.

    Try this for kicks: Google “joseph smith polygamy” and tell me how many of the first 10 hits are explanations friendly to Church.

    This is a battle, and we are losing by default for not even showing up.

  78. Mike Parker on March 18, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    The Blue Goose is right — we can either teach polygamy ourselves, or we can leave it up to our enemies to tell the world that Joseph Smith was a sex fiend and child molestor.

    Try this for kick: Google “joseph smith polygamy” and tell me how many of the first 10 hits are sites friendly to Church.

    This is a battle, and we’re losing by default for not showing up.

  79. Mike Parker on March 18, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    The Blue Goose is right — we can either teach polygamy ourselves, or we can leave it up to our enemies to tell the world that Joseph Smith was a sex fiend and child molestor.

    Try this for kick: Google “joseph smith polygamy” and tell me how many of the first 10 hits are sites friendly to Church.

    This is a battle, and we’re losing by default for not showing up on the field.

  80. Mike Parker on March 18, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    The Blue Goose is right — we can either teach polygamy ourselves, or we can leave it up to our enemies to tell the world that Joseph Smith was a sεx fiend and child molestor.

    Try this for kick: Google “joseph smith polygamy” and tell me how many of the first 10 hits are sites friendly to Church.

    This is a battle, and we’re losing by default for not showing up on the field.

  81. Mike Parker on March 18, 2006 at 11:14 pm

    The Blue Goose is right — we can either teach polygamy ourselves, or we can leave it up to our enemies to tell the world that Joseph Smith was a sεx fiend and chιld molεstor.

    Try this for kick: Google “joseph smith polygamy” and tell me how many of the first 10 hits are sites friendly to Church.

    This is a battle, and we’re losing by default for not showing up on the field.

  82. Darren on March 19, 2006 at 12:23 am

    One thing that could be suggested to Curriculum Planning is that a CD with the cited material could be available through distribution for those who wanted additional background material.

    One should not forget that the vast majority of those attending MP/RS and GD do not read the lesson material prior to attending the class. Those of us that do are a small minority. As an instructor this always makes the lesson discussion focus on a handful of students that came prepared to discuss the material.

    One of my greatest wishes is for the majority of saints to catch the vision that the scriptures and the statements of the prophets have for us. However the words of Isaiah are timely and true (see Isaiah 6:9-10

    9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
    10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

    Alas …..

  83. Adam Greenwood on March 19, 2006 at 10:37 am

    Some of the most spiritual Elders Quorum lessons I’ve had have consisted of nothing but reading the lesson straight through.

  84. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 19, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    I think Adam’s comment sums it up. The Spirit loves and testifies of the doctrine. I’m still not remotely convinced that it is “critical” to know “areas of the gospel that don’t get more air time.” (#74) I also don’t like it when the basic principles of the gospel are called the “milk.” There is plenty of meat in the basic principles!!

    J. Reuben Clark, Jr., quoting Matthew Cowley, “I am told that Brother Matt Cowley once voiced this idea: He said something of this sort, “You know, I am so busy trying to understand the first principles of the Gospel that I have no time for the mysteries.” (CR1960Apr:20)

    I still don’t see how studying about polygamy is going to help my faith. All I really need to know is that it happened as a commandment from God, and the prophets and saints were obedient. And now it ISN’T something we deal with, so I’m not sure we need to belabor it. Besides, with something like that, there’s really no way to truly understand it all because we weren’t there.

    Another challege with trying to branch out beyond the basics is that there are way too many opinions about what would be “important” or even “interesting.” It’s one thing to say we should understand the ancients roots of temple worship; that has been pointed out by our prophets (see, for example, Russell M. Nelson, “Prepare for Blessings of the Temple,â€? Ensign, Mar. 2002, 17). (As a side note, if we listen and read carefully the prophets’ words, I believe we are given keys to understanding things of great importance, perhaps beyond the “basics,” that cannot necessarily be talked about explicitly.) It’s another thing to assert that not knowing all about Brigham Young or Church history is somehow going to impact my eternal salvation. Is it interesting to know such things? Of course. Necessary? No. Our salvation is dependent on learning and living basic principles and becoming like Christ. Staying true and near those principles gives greater assurance that the Spirit will be in attendance in our meetings. This will be especially beneficial to those tender in the faith, but I believe that even those seasoned in the gospel can learn from the basics — beyond their “face value” — through the Spirit.

    “The good word of God with which we must nourish is the simple doctrine of the gospel. We need not fear either simplicity or repetition.”
    (Henry B. Eyring, “Feed My Lambs,� Ensign, Nov. 1997, 82)

    “Because we need the Holy Ghost, we must be cautious and careful not to go beyond teaching true doctrine. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. His confirmation is invited by our avoiding speculation or personal interpretation. That can be hard to do. You love the person you are trying to influence. He or she may have ignored the doctrine they have been taught. It is tempting to try something new or sensational. But we invite the Holy Ghost as our companion when we are careful to teach only true doctrine. One of the surest ways to avoid even getting near false doctrine is to choose to be simple in our teaching. Safety is gained by that simplicity, and little is lost.”
    (Henry B. Eyring, “The Power of Teaching Doctrine,� Ensign, May 1999, 73)

    “The Lord has a great many principles in store for us; and the greatest principles which he has for us are the most simple and plain. The first principles of the gospel which lead us unto eternal life are the simplest, and yet none are more glorious or important to us…. It is the plainest and the most simple things that edify us the most, if taught by the Spirit of God; and there is nothing more important or beneficial unto us.”— Wilford Woodruff, JD 5:50, March 22, 1857.

    “Speakers and teachers are obligated to confine their expressions to the doctrines that have been revealed in plainness. They are to “preach Jesus Christ and him crucified” (Teachings, p. 109), and to “declare the first principles, and let mysteries alone.” (Teachings, p. 292.) (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.284)

    Interesting food for thought. :)

  85. RoAnn on March 20, 2006 at 12:39 am

    Re #85: “I think Adam’s comment sums it up. The Spirit loves and testifies of the doctrine. I’m still not remotely convinced that it is ‘critical’ to know ‘areas of the gospel that don’t get more air time. (#74) I also don’t like it when the basic principles of the gospel are called the ‘milk.’ There is plenty of meat in the basic principles!!� and “Our salvation is dependent on learning and living basic principles and becoming like Christ. Staying true and near those principles gives greater assurance that the Spirit will be in attendance in our meetings. This will be especially beneficial to those tender in the faith, but I believe that even those seasoned in the gospel can learn from the basics — beyond their “face value� — through the Spirit. ‘

    “Amen� to your comment, Mullingandmusing!
    I have put off posting “Yes, yes, yes!” after nearly every one of your comments on this thread, so this “Amen!” of mine applies also to comments numbered 50, 63, 67, and 68. Thank you for so articulately expressing reasons why we might want to give even more than two cheers for the manuals, and for teachers who are happy to use them in ways that invite the Spirit into our Sunday meetings. “Food for thought,â€? indeed
    .

  86. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 20, 2006 at 1:52 am

    #73:I just went back and read your comments again. I had a few thoughts.
    First, A question: I would be interested to know why you think Leviticus would be “essential.”

    Thoughts:
    I disagree that all we get is application all the time. I firmly believe and have felt and experienced the invitation and guidance from the prophets to learn more than just through application. I think they give us teasers for things (and often references to learn and dig more) if we are willing to listen. (I read something yesterday (wish I could remember who said it) that Pres. Packer counseled mission presidents to be more silent and listen to the prophets and they would be able to learn much more. Perhaps that is something we could all put to the test. Instead of wanting to revamp the curriculum, which isn’t something we have power over anyway, why not focus on what we have and chew on it. I KNOW there is more than meets the eye. I think we miss sooo much of what they teach because we rush over their words or think “Oh, I’ve heard this before” or, worse, think about what we wish they would be saying. (I mentioned Elder Nelson’s article on the temple in the Mar. 2002 Ensign. If everyone were to really study that, they would have the keys to understanding a great deal about the temple — things that stayed hidden to me for over a decade. Makes me SURE I have missed so much and makes me more anxious to really listen and search and seek for what else they are giving us if we are willing to put forth the effort. Same principle goes for studying the scriptures. I will tell you I had a GD teacher who really approached the lessons intellectually (and I loved it, even though I didn’t necessarily agree with the style [grin]) — but I don’t remember the specifics of what I learned in class. Those came from my own personal study.)

    re: Polygamy (from other posts later on). So, if the Brethren aren’t talking about it, they must not think we should be about that particular battle. I don’t think we should try to take on something they are leaving alone. Must be because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. If we have a testimony of the basics, that just doesn’t matter — or it shouldn’t. We are all eventually backed against the wall of faith, as Pres. Benson said. No matter of talking about polygamy or any other anti-Mormon fodder is going to change that fact. We need to strengthen our testimonies of the basics. That will protect us from the dangers of the battle!

    (I guess no one wonders why I chose the screen name I did!) [grin]

  87. Robert C. on March 20, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Blue Goose and Mike Parker, I agree that it’s important to help members, esp. new ones, know at least where to find apologetic material regarding controversial topics. I’m really glad to see the rise of sites like FAIR that are addressing these issues better and better.

    Perhaps one reason the manuals don’t bring up more of this material is so that the individual teachers and wards can use their best discretion as to what is most appropriate for each class. I know that the new OT manual specifically says “Be judicious in your use of commentaries and other nonscriptural sources of information” and “Seek the Spirit’s guidance in deciding which question to ask.” On my reading, this gives a fair amount of leeway for the teacher to discern what level and what topics are most appropriate for the particular class. I had one bishop who regularly had 4 different Sunday school levels going on simultaneously to meet the diverse needs of what was a very diverse ward (see here for more details).

    On a different note, I think sometimes we use the word “meat” to mean something that is different than what the scriptures mean. For example, in Hebrews 5:12-14 (we’ve had some very interesting points made on this passage at the Feast wiki here, by Nathan Oman esp.), the ensuing discussion of meat seems centered on the eternal nature of Christ’s atonement, esp. how it’s similar to the high priest’s annual sacrifice in bringing redemption from sin but it’s eternal in nature and only needs to be performed once. Perhaps this was controversial topic in a manner like polygamy is today, but I think we can also read this as simply an exposition on the atonement, something not unlike what we see in today’s curriculum. Interestingly, the Hebrews discussion on the eternal nature of the atonement (Heb 7:1 – 10:18) is followed up by a focus on faith and obedience (Heb 10:19 -13:19).

  88. The Blue Goose on March 20, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    M&M,

    You seem very content with your approach to the gospel. You represent probably a vast majority of people who are content. Yes, you have extensive quotations, citations, and references that basically say – don’t question the difficult issues, ignore digging and searching where you don’t belong, and be content with what you have.

    Yes, this may suffice for many people, but don’t presume this is sufficient for everyone. Personally, I find this approach to what an ostrich does in a difficult situation – he buries his head in the sand to make the problems go away.

    At the end of the day, I respect your position…but let’s simply agree to disagree…

  89. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 21, 2006 at 2:02 am

    Blue Goose,
    I can agree to disagree, but I’m afraid you have misunderstood me (and maybe misrepresented me). Please remember that my comments have focused primarily on three hours (really, two hours) each week at church. I have never said we should only read the manuals and nothing else at home. If most people are comfortable with what happens at church, and those who want more have myriad resources available to them to appease that desire (which, BTW, I mentioned I like to do myself!), I don’t understand the insistence that the curriculum should be altered for the few. That’s where we agree to disagree. I’m sorry if my comments have frustrated you. But maybe I’m not a polar opposite on this issue. I am not advocating burying heads in the sand. I am just advocating strengthening roots of faith at church and leaving the branches to people’s discretionary time and interests and discernment.

    As a side note, part of the reason I think there is great wisdom in the course our leaders have taken is because I have seen too many people intellectualize themselves right out of the Church. They most certainly didn’t want to be “ostriches,” so they focused on things they couldn’t understand and/or relied more on their brains than on the Spirit. They didn’t have the faith sufficient to deal with controversy, because, at some point, you are backed into the wall of faith if you are going to dig into the controversy. There aren’t answers to everything. It’s great if you can keep your faith and study your brains out, too. But, for many people, the branches can easily overcome the roots. We can never really go wrong by focusing on the roots. But we can by focusing on the branches.

    Finally, IMO, the metaphor of the ostrich only creates an “I’m-‘better’-than-you” division between those who thrive on more study and those who have faith without having to “know” everything. (To me, this is akin to mislabeling following the prophets in faith as “blind” obedience.) Actively seeking more knowledge about infrequently-talked-about-stuff does not make one person better than another. We all approach learning and study differently. Your comment left me feeling that you really don’t respect an approach or position different from yours on this issue….

  90. queuno on March 21, 2006 at 2:57 am

    Serves me right for going on vacation and not keeping up with these threads.

    I’m an EQ instructor. I put a lot of time into each lesson (avg. 2 a month) — usually 10-15 hours of work into each (when I’m not working fulltime, helping my kids with soccer, or working on my dissertation). Some of my lessons are 60% just reading. Some of my lessons are 5% reading. Some focus on application of principles. Some focus on doctrine. Some incorporate AI and graph-theoretic principles. I’ve been known to bring in articles from espn.com and CIO Insight to prove a point. Sometimes I bring in Church historical sources.

    In short, I don’t have a style. I let the Spirit guide my preparation. I try to stay devoted to the content in the lesson, but I’m not above pulling in a few outside sources. I usually have twice as much material as I need, and I let the discussion guide the flow and ‘where do I go know’. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Interestingly enough, I get the most positive comments when I teach it ‘straight’ and avoid the snarkiness and cutesiness and interestingness. Part of the calling is to teach to the needs of the quorum, not to the needs of the instructor.

    The key here is — we all need to take some of these messages expressed in some of these posts to heart and become better teachers. You’re not going to change SLC, unless you get called to the correlation committee — and even then, it’s a COMMITTEE — or as a GA. There are undoubtably reasons for what they do. I may not like them, but honestly, I don’t really care. At this point in time, I’m an EQ instructor, and I’m happy, and I put an honest effort into it.

    There’s a kind of crude joke about mental stimulation and not knowing when to stop, and sometimes it applies to the ‘nacle.

  91. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 21, 2006 at 3:20 am

    One other thing that I think is critical to remember in all of this is that truly understanding the mysteries of the kingdom is not an intellectual endeavor. It’s a spiritual quest that comes only through diligent faith, repentance, obedience and seeking through prayer. (I’m reading on this subject tonite for my personal scripture study, and it’s pretty interesting to see the pattern.) The real learning “beyond the basics” is such a personal, spiritual experience, and really is not to be shared. Just more mulling….

  92. DavidH on March 21, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    One thing about the manuals that is useful is that the selection of the snippets also indicates which statements of prophets (some of which were made before they became president of the Church) are considered mainstream within the current understanding of Church leadership as a body.

    That is, there have, in the past, been individual leaders who have made statements on controversial topics, such as evolution, politics, race and lineage and the like which reflected their own views of doctine, but not the views of Church leadership as a body. Once a Church leader takes an “outlier” position, that puts the other Brethren in a very difficult position–how does one clarify that the leader was not authorized to pronounce, and was not pronouncing, official Church doctrine, without undermining that leader. Thus, there may remain on the books the controversial statements of doctine (e.g., that organic evolution is false or a diabolic theory), with no refutation. My understanding is that, behind the scenes, many of the Brethren have been upset when other outspoken Brethren have staked out publicly positions that were not official doctrine, and had not been cleared with the governing Quorums.

    I suspect that those controversial statements will not be part of the compilations, even if made by men who later became president of the Church. I will be surprised, for example, if statements condemning evolution or political liberals will be contained in the future manuals (just as the Brigham Young manual contains none of his statements relating to Adam-God).

    While the manuals are not canonical, in a sense, I suppose, by having passed through the correlation “refiner’s fire”, they might be viewed as almost quasi-canonical.

  93. Julie M. Smith on March 21, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    DavidH–

    That’s a good point. Not entirely without problems of its own in practice, but still a good point and a good outcome of the ‘snippets’ approach nonetheless.

  94. The Blue Goose on March 23, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    ” Your comment left me feeling that you really don’t respect an approach or position different from yours on this issue…. ”

    M&M,

    Honestly – I don’t subscribe to this point of view. My only critique of the manuals is that they sometimes appear overly correlated. If you were to read the “History of the Church: Fullness of times” and then read Bushman’s RSR, it quickly appears you get a more balanced history of the Church with RSR, and a history that makes more sense. Now we understand why certain pivotal characters went apostate that are glossed over in overly correlated manuals. In fact, we can even understand why they were pushed to contemplate such drastic acitons.

    I would rather have the complete context to an issue even if it’s uncomfortable (as long as it’s the truth). At the end of the day, I think we put too much makeup on Church history which tends to warp our sense and view of the early leaders of the Church. This does all of us a disservice. I’m simply a proponent for honest, full disclosure of facts and circumstances (for better or worse). Let’s be open and honest with what we believe. If you just rely on Church History for the Fullness of Times, I don’t believe we have the same balanced coverage that we get in a book such as RSR. I like to accept the “warts and all” approach to my faith. Give me the good and the ugly – so at least I know my faith is based on the facts and evidence as they exist.

    Maybe this is overly simplistic, but we are really in agreement on this issue, it’s just a question of how candid our manuals, teachers, and discussion should be on the tenants of our faith.

  95. El_godofredo on March 26, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    This is my first post on Times and Seasons, but I would like to add thoughts. I am my ward’s gospel doctrine teacher and I thoroughly enjoy my calling. I probably put in 10 hours a week, and I use many different sources for my study. However, I am very careful to include only correlated material in my class. I have literal rocket scientists, a number of physicians, and other PhD’s in my class. I try to become familiar with with other ancillary material so that if the question arises, I am prepared. I do try to get beyond what is normally stated in the classes, and portray historical figures as real people. For example, instead of taking the normal route with the Word of Wisdom, I took the “conspiring men” phrase and quoted Elder Ballard where he commented about organized crime and gangs and then linked that back to secret combinations.

    I would like to quote Dallin H. Oaks in the October 1999 conference. He said, “I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable. A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified. Gospel teachers should also be scrupulous to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects. The Lord’s revelations and the directions of His servants are clear on this point.”

    Elder Oaks states that the teacher is a “guest” and then went on to quote Spencer W. Kimball, “He has been given an authoritative position and a stamp of approval is placed upon him, and those whom he teaches are justified in assuming that, having been chosen and sustained in the proper order, he represents the Church and the things which he teaches are approved by the Church. No matter how brilliant he may be and how many new truths he may think he has found, he has no right to go beyond the program of the Church.â€?

    I believe that between the Ensign, the institute manuals, and the other church printed manuals there is plenty of correlated material to teach spiritual, instructive, and helpful lessons.

    I do cheat occasionally, I don’t know if the talks at speeches.byu.edu are correlated or not, but I have taken some quotes from apostles and members of the first presidency from this place.

    I do read other materials, but that is only for background information for me and to answer other “controversial” questions that the class might have. Actually, that rarely occurs.

  96. DavidH on March 26, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    El_godofredo,

    What do you think about asking noncorrelated questions in class?

  97. El_godofredo on March 26, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    It really depends. It depends on the person, if there are investigators in the class, how much time I have, just how far off is the question, how confident I am in the answer I give. That having been said, I usually end up with about an hour and a half worth of material that I try to adjust to the flow of the class. So the “good question, let’s talk about it after class because we’re short on time” doesn’t usually offend people because it is usually true and the class knows it. Sometimes I say, “This is my own opinion. . .” but I try to keep it as non-controversial as possible. I tend to be pretty conservative in my classes, and I will keep my “wacky” opinions to myself. For the most part, the rest of the class tends to follow.

    Now as for asking non-correlated questions, I usually figure that the poor guy/gal teaching has enough to worry about. I save that stuff for my wife or a particular good friend. The best man at my wedding works for the CES and he has access to some pretty good sources. Sometimes I’ll give him a call and we’ll speculate about stuff. We laugh about some things (like the word cherubim in Hebrew means cabbage, so the image of a cabbage and a flaming sword never ceases to get a chuckle out of me.) Plus I have Gospelink, read Nibley, go to Farms, fairlds and listen to those BYU professors talk about the scriptures on byutv.org. BYU studies and the speeches.byu.edu and now this place seems to give me plenty.

    Beyond that, I figure that it is more important to be a good husband and father than worry about the truly off-the-wall stuff. As for this place, this is my second post here and it is nice having a slashdot for Mormons.

  98. Mike on March 27, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Went camping with the Scouts last week. Heard this little ditty from the lips of a 12 year old:

    We thank thee oh God for the manuals,
    To blind us and lead us astray…

    (Too senile to remember the rest if it)

    Wouldn’t have been laughing so hard if it wasn’t true. This little problem with the manuals will take care of itself with the next generation. I have great faith in them.

    What bothers me, more than anything written above, is that over 70% of the active Elders in my ward walk out of sacrament meeting and don’t even bother to attend SS or EQ. If they aren’t even there, it don’t matter what I teach.

    We have more people showing up to play old men’s basketball on carpeted half courts than to EQ Priesthood meeting.

    Great manuals. Inspiring lessons. All is well in Zion.