Gospel Doctrine on Sunday featured the parable of the ten virgins, accompanied by this picture:
Apparently it’s a well-known picture, but I’d never seen it before. The instructor read the picture’s accompanying interpretation. It’s too long for me to share in its fullness (which can be found here), but here are some of the bits that I found a little bit jarring in the context of a Sunday school lesson:
- “The third virgin represents the ordinances necessary on this earth to enter the kingdom… She is dressed in blue, trimmed with gold – blue and gold are the colors of the priesthood.”
- “The fifth virgin represents charity… There are few, perhaps one in ten, who will reach her level of charity and service.”
- “The seventh virgin represents the sins and pleasures of the world. This virgin is very appealing to people. She is fun-loving and fun to be around.”
- “The eighth virgin represents addiction and excess…such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sugar or excess eating, etc., …also addictions of the mind and soul, such as soap operas, unrestricted T.V., listening to the wrong kind of music, R-rated or filthy movies or books… She has a weak will…”
At first these sorts of sound bites just kind of bothered me. They seemed too much like judgmental personal opinion (except the one about the priesthood colors, which is just kind of odd — do we have a mascot too?) being presented as doctrine. But why should that bother me? I’m no fan of correlated Sunday school lessons. I want to see and hear more of the teachers’ personal views come through in their lessons. So why am I uncomfortable when it actually happens?
Here’s my theory. It comes back to…*bum bum bum*…correlation! One side effect of correlated Sunday school lessons is that it has created the expectation that materials used in a lesson are approved and doctrinally correct. When something is taught in Sunday school, we don’t expect the teacher to defend the principle’s doctrinal status, e.g. requiring the teacher to cite the scriptures or prophetic statements that support the teaching. We assume that the fact that it’s taught in Sunday school is defense enough. There’s a sort of doctrinal sheen, a correlational fairy dust, that falls on top of anything presented as part of the lesson in a Sunday school class.
When teaching aids (a picture and its interpretation, in this case) are presented in the course of the lesson, they automatically assume some of this doctrinal sheen. Unless the teacher makes a point of saying, “This isn’t really part of the lesson, but I like this picture and the ideas it represents,” the picture sort of falls into line with the long parade of correlation-approved images used in the course.
Take the condemnation of sugar given as part of the interpretation of the eighth virgin. If the teacher said, “I believe the principle of the Word of Wisdom means we should avoid sugar,” then I think that’s great. I disagree — I think sugar is wonderful — but the teacher presented it as her or his own opinion, and I can respect Sunday school as a place where many opinions can mingle together. But when the teacher just presents a picture and then reads an official sounding explanation without creating space for dialogue or disclaiming it as personal opinion, the whole exchange becomes part of the undifferentiated experience of a correlated Sunday school lesson.
If this weren’t Gospel Doctrine, the class for adults, but were instead Valiant 10, a children’s class, I wouldn’t expect the students to identify that this particular presentation and explanation of the picture is somehow qualitatively different (and thus more suspect) than any other part of the lesson. It would receive the doctrinal sheen. I would expect them to leave the lesson with the impression that good Latter-day Saints don’t eat sugar (or that it’s dangerous to be “fun-loving and fun to be around”…or that the colors of the priesthood are blue and gold — what?!)
(And what’s up with the eighth virgin being the only one who’s overweight? Apparently your bathroom scale can measure your righteousness as well as your weight — it’s obvious that if you’re heavy that it’s because of addiction! The other nine virgins are more or less little Barbie clones. Ugh.)