Overcoming Correlation or Mormon Studies and Pastoral Care

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My introduction to Mormon Studies came in graduate school. I am quite embarrassed to say that before this time I had not seriously read Mormon Studies and my impressions of Dialogue and Sunstone were, if anything, somewhat negative (How can any publication the Tanner’s cite be of any value?).

 

My academic advisor granted me a lot of flexibility in designing my graduate course of study and while my primary focus was political and theological ethics, I had many opportunities to explore Mormon-specific issues and subjects as part of my overall studies. Questions of Mormon history, the Book of Mormon, past Church policies and practices, and Mormon doctrine had been with me for a while and I was grateful for the opportunity to study these issues in an academic environment surrounded by great faculty but also by incredible LDS peers (Carl Cranney, Jason Combs, Cameron LaDuke, Deidre Green, and Devan Hite).

My first “real” paper on Mormon Studies was an exploration of the priesthood restrictions that existed prior to 1978. This was an issue that had long bothered me on a personal level and I had, at some point on my mission, come to the conclusion that Brigham Young must have simply been wrong to implement this practice as it was never a doctrine approved by the bodies of the Church nor canonized. Reading Lester Bush and Armand Mauss provided me with context and solid information on both the emergence of, and motivations for this practice. I was stunned by how much I did not know about such an issue of such importance to Latter-day Saints.

My paper was decent grad school work but nothing more. It synthesized disparate sources well but did not provide any particularly new insights or observations. Regardless, the process of writing was spiritually healthy for me as I was able to put to rest a lingering question.

As was often the case, ward members would ask about the subject of my studies and writing. In particular, there was an incredible sister in the ward originally from the Caribbean. When I told her I was looking into the historical and doctrinal issues surrounding priesthood restrictions she confessed to me that this was something that had bothered her for a long time and that she could not reconcile this practice with the great love and spirit that initially brought her into the Church. She asked to read my paper. Similarly, there was a couple in the ward whom I had known at BYU who also struggled with this issue and, upon discovering I was writing on the subject, asked to read my paper as well.

After reading my paper both the couple and the sister expressed similar sentiments of relief. Why? Because, just as I had while writing the paper, they discovered important information and context that allowed them to disavow a past practice of the Church without the need to dismiss Brigham Young and the leaders who sustained and continued the priesthood ban. With newly found historical and theological perspectives they were better able to understand important theological and historical context which allowed them to confidently draw their own conclusions and fold those conclusions into their personal truth narratives relative to the LDS Church.

Both during and after grad school I have continued to research and write on topics that I find interesting and topics which I have struggled with as Latter-day Saint trying to find a place within the modern LDS Church. Topics have ranged from ex-Mormon narratives (work that has been surpassed by Rosemary Avance) to the New Mormon History. My most important work, at least in personal terms, has dealt with the intersection of traditional Mormon faith and changing understandings of LDS history, doctrine, dogma, and practice. Quite unexpectedly, it has also been the work that has garnered the most attention from 3rd parties who stumble across my blog or perhaps have read my comments throughout the Bloggernacle.

Over the past several years I have received a dozen, perhaps more, emails from Latter-day Saints who have come across my writing and reach out with questions, comments, and their own personal stories. I want to underscore an important point. There is nothing terribly compelling or interesting about my writing. Rather, those who read my work and feel compelled to contact me are, I believe, responding to the content. Content, which, by their own accounts, they have not encountered previously but which speaks to them in very meaningful and personal ways. While I never expected this type of response to my work, I am humbled by it and grateful for it. Additionally, as my friends from long ago see my blog posts on Facebook some have reached out with similar reactions.

Based on this experience I am led to draw two very important conclusions. The first is that correlation has watered down religious and spiritual education in the Church to a point of absolute absurdity. Last year I was asked to teach the High Priests Group and was assigned something form the Gospel Principles manual. My wife, a Buddhist, saw the course material and said to me in all seriousness and sincerity: “Oh, I didn’t realize you were teaching a kids class this Sunday.” I replied that I was, in fact, teaching a group of seasoned men. She could not believe that the course material she saw was intended for adults but I assured her that I, as the teacher, had leeway to mold the lesson into something these men (hopefully) would find spiritually appealing and uplifting. As I’ve thought about this experience I have become convinced that the correlation of teaching materials throughout the Church has become so simplistic and full of repetitive triteness that some within the Church are spiritually neglected as they sit through Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society lessons each Sunday. Some may argue that it is the essential basics of the Gospel that matter and as such, these basics are all that should be taught on Sundays. I am not unsympathetic to this view. As one who has worked for, and continues to work with, global companies and organizations where systematic, consistent, and reliable process is a key factor to long-term success I understand the need for consistency and process. However, what correlation seems to have not fully understood is that global organizations are forming consistency amongst homogeneous adults with similar education and backgrounds. In the Church, Sunday School manuals are written for a heterogeneous set of Church members of different ages, backgrounds, and levels of Church activity and involvement. I submit that it is fundamentally impossible to write the same course material for Latter-day Saints everywhere around the globe. Well, it is impossible to do it as long as you think lesson plans for a 10 year old are inappropriate and ineffective for a class of men over 60. Worst of all, correlated lesson plans are not teaching our young people to think critically about their faith. As these young men and women come of age and seek independence they will be undoubtedly disillusioned to discover that the “Sunday School answers” are not always the best answers, regardless of what the Ensign has to say on the issue.

Second, correlation has created a shortage of intellectual stimuli for active, believing, and committed Latter-day Saints. The intellect is an important part of spirituality because it allows individuals to piece together information in meaningful ways; ways that allow for the persistence of faith in the face of doubts, conviction when presented with difficult choices. It has been my experience that Latter-day Saints are hungry for intellectual stimulation relative to their Mormon spirituality. It could be argued, of course, that such Saints need to take their own initiative and seek out this stimulation on their own. Such a position is as short-sided as it is counterproductive. There is a lot of information on Mormonism available on the internet. Much of it poorly researched, biased, and sans historical/theological context. On the other hand, much information found online about Mormonism is very good. BYU Studies and Dialogue come to mind as well as the plethora of Mormon-related blogs and podacsts. It is my position that Latter-day Saints struggling with questions are better off reading Mauss, Bushman, and Shipps, as opposed to Benson, the Tanners, and even IRR.  If the Church doesn’t push members towards quality sources, Google will assuredly send them to questionable and overtly hostile ones.

Works in Mormon Studies allow Latter-day Saints to pursue information they find personally interesting. For Mormons who struggle with their faith, Mormon Studies provides information in a generally non-threatening (although not always an unbiased) format. Mormon Studies also provides a framework for thinking about difficult Mormon issues and requires a holistic analysis that considers history, sociology and many other disciplines in analyses that warrant such considerations.

Given that some Latter-day Saints 1) desire additional intellectual stimulation relative to their faith and/or 2) struggle with difficult questions of Mormon history, doctrine, or practice, I propose that Mormon Studies can be an effective tool for those who provide pastoral care within the LDS Church. I am not suggesting that Mormon Studies scholars have a duty to assume pastoral care responsibilities. However, students of Mormon Studies can be invaluable resources to local priesthood leaders seeking to help ward members study important questions. On more than one occasion my local leaders have asked me to suggest scholarly works that they could provide to congregants.

Mormon Studies is an important tool in pastoral care for several reasons. First, it is generally non-threatening. Mormon Studies is not done by professional anti-Mormons or even vocal ex-Mormons. It is done by careful and meticulous scholars. So, while we should always be skeptical of any piece of scholarship, we can feel confident in the academic integrity of the scholars producing work related to Mormonism. Of course scholars make mistakes. That is why their work is first peer reviewed before publication and then continues to be reviewed in light of other scholarship thereafter. Second, Mormon Studies has addressed most, if not all, difficult Mormon doctrinal, historical, and social problems. You will be hard pressed to find a subject that has not been addressed in some form. As such, those who provide pastoral care (Bishops, home teachers, visiting teachers, etc…) can generally always find reliable information. Third, Mormon Studies can be faith affirming to the Latter-day Saint. Learning about how our flawed leaders were able to accomplish great things while trying to “build the Kingdom” is inspiring. “If Joseph Smith, with all of his deep moral flaws, could be so accomplished, then so can I.” Mormon Studies does much to deflate the hero worship often inappropriately heaped upon Church leaders of the past.

Scholars and students of Mormon Studies, if so inclined, should seek out opportunities to provide pastoral care through their work, even if indirectly.

Comments

Overcoming Correlation or Mormon Studies and Pastoral Care — 38 Comments

  1. Pingback: Mormon Studies and Pastoral Care

  2. Chris — thanks for your short and sweet reply! :)

    Walker – her words did sting! My initial reaction was to defend and try and explain *why* lessons had to be this way. The problem was nothing came out. Current lesson plan content is absurdly inappropriate for adult members.

  3. What’s also bad is that the type of Church education we receive often produces “scriptorians” rather than scholars or, at the very least, an informed membership grounded in reality. Endless cross-referencing combined with a brief exposure to the Journal of Discourses produces all sorts of bizarre gospel theories that the “spiritually enlightened” have supposedly uncovered. Often, these theories have no connection to the theological, cultural, or historical context of the references cited.

  4. Walker — such a great point about “scriptorians.” We prepare members to proof-text very well but we do nothing to help them think about what it means when those proofs are seriously challenged.

    I’m actually working on a post where this tendency bled into real scholarship in a few of the early 1990′s essays on Heavenly Mother.

  5. When “Sunday School Answers” are defined as “reading the scriptures, praying daily, serving my family and others, and attending the temple and my Sunday meetings” (as the Ensign article you cite does), then I have no major problem. These are behavioral. One should do these things. What becomes problematic is the dismissal of “profound questions that would require contemplation and big, new, insightful answers.” Focus on “the basics” often translates into not really caring about learning or growing in one’s understanding, but being comfortable with what you already know and confirming your current position. There is nothing remotely basic about faith, repentance, covenants, or the Atonement. There are immature and mature versions of these principles. There are ways we teach them to Primary children and ways we teach them to adults. The problem is that we often do not grow out of the Primary phase.

  6. Seth and Walker, you guys rock.

    Nowadays I cringe whenever I hear the word scriptorian. Not a term I ever want applied to me again. We need greater engagement with the texts of the scriptures themselves instead of the all too common approach where a a verse or two is shared, then a GA quote from the manual, then a mention of the Bible Dictionary, sprinkled with the same stock questions. Sunday School is torture for me here. I really don’t like the topical lessons, I would rather focus the lessons on one or two chapters and let the questions and insights flow from there.

  7. Our current childish church manuals were not always the rule. My mother-in-law married at a young age and never attended college. But she was curious and lucky enough to attend Relief Society at a time that its curriculum included cultural enlightenment as part of routine study. As part of their study, she read Shakespeare and other great classics of literature that broadened her perspectives and made her a better mother. This used to be the standard fare for Relief Society.

    David O McKay insisted that the arcane Sunday School manual written by Hugh Nibley be included as part of Church curriculum despite objections from other General Authorities. When some complained that it was too difficult, he simply replied “Let them reach for it.” It was distributed essentially just as Nibley wrote it.

    President McKay personally commissioned a church manual from OC Tanner—a liberal Mormon. Brother Tanner told McKay that he was very concerned that what he wrote would be rejected by Reading Committee (the precursor of church correlation). President McKay replied, “Then we will change the Reading Committee.” And he did. Thus was born Tanner’s “Christ’s Ideals for Living” as a Church manual. The last I heard, it was still in print.

    We are reaping what we have sowed. If you want a childish theology, print childish manuals.

  8. Barker, James L. The Divine Church. Salt Lake City: Council of the Twelve Apostles, 1951. 256 and 200 and 303 pages in three volumes. This is the study manual for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums, 1952, 1953, 1954.

    Barker was pretty good. Nothing had been done like it in the Church before

    Roberts, Brigham H. The Seventy’s Course in Theology. Was’t too bad.

    Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation. Compiled by Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954. 3 volumes.

    This was pretty good also, though not a lesson manual.

    The problem is that it is forbidden to go much in depth. The Adam-God doctrine and other temple doctrines were ver boten. The later Nauvoo doctrines of Joseph Smith was continued by Brigham Young. But, this was too revolutionary for the Church. Now, BY is gone and only fragments of that theology remain. Basically, the faithful are afraid to touch it and the non member scholars do not understand it. It exists now only in derision. Still, Smith’s is the best treatment, but only touching it tangentially.

    Blake Ostler is pretty good.

    OK, I admit it. The good manual has yet to be written.

  9. I for got to add Andrus (forgive my lack of citation, my wife wants me to go to bed), he published 3 vols but was forbidden to publish the fourth. What is the LDS student to do?

  10. “Our current childish church manuals were not always the rule. My mother-in-law married at a young age and never attended college. But she was curious and lucky enough to attend Relief Society at a time that its curriculum included cultural enlightenment as part of routine study. As part of their study, she read Shakespeare and other great classics of literature that broadened her perspectives and made her a better mother. This used to be the standard fare for Relief Society.”

    That sounds very much like my grandmother’s experience. She was also a convert to boot. However, my grandmother on the distaff side was very outspoken about the dumbing down of literature through things like the “Best Books” series. On the one hand, I agree with her, on the other hand, not everyone would forego lunches for a month to buy the collected works of Shakespeare, like her father did in his youth. Intellectual and cultural achievements were an important, vital part of an LDS upbringing back in the day, even (or is it especially) in such remote places as Arizona, and it is a shame to see it dissipated somewhat.

  11. “What Allen said.”

    I forgot to say that I am not at all opposed to GA quotes, I think they can be of immense value, but the way we use them in Sunday School leaves much to be desired.

  12. Pingback: The Problem With Correlation | Times & Seasons

  13. An article by Prof Peterson in FROB is quite explicit about the dangers of exposing members to “meat”. http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=19&num=1&id=631

    “The church, Kimball reflected, tends to teach level A history. The trouble with this is that, like someone who has been kept in a germ-free environment and is then exposed to an infectious disease, a person on level A who is exposed to any of the issues that are the fodder for level B will have little resistance and will be likely to fall.”

    The article goes on to talk about “… ‘level C’, which is a version of church history that remains affirmative but which also takes into account any and all legitimate points stressed by level B.”, but notes that “… moving people from level A to level C entails at least some exposure to some of the elements of level B, and that such exposure will unavoidably lead some to lose their testimonies.”

    I suspect that most members have no idea that levels B and C exist, never mind what information they may contain.

  14. Cites for Andrus:

    Andrus, Hyrum L. Doctrines of the Kingdom. Volume III of Foundations of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973. 576 pages. There were supposed to be four volumes published in this series, but he was beginning to smell like a fundamentalist to the Church leadership. So they moved him out of his teaching position and stopped his publications. (But, they were wrong. Andrus was always a TBM.) He did convert many to fundamentalism, though.
    _______________. God, Man, and the Universe. Volume I of Foundations of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968. 507 pages.
    _______________. Principles of Perfection. Volume II of Foundations of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970. 529 pages.

  15. Hey Malkie,

    Thanks for commenting! I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that Sunday School classes should become academic lectures. That is not their purpose. However, as Mike Quinn once observed (and I’m paraphrasing), a diet that consists only of milk will eventually kill any child.

    Others here have mentioned great books that used to be SS manuals. I think “Jesus the Christ” is another great example of a book that mixes good solid scholarly information (it is a bit outdated now) while also building strong faith. How can you have a testimony of Christ without really studying his life and understanding the culture he ministered to.

    The only reason to be scared about someone reading Church history is that they will discover the mythos created by the Church is not accurate. As I mentioned in my post, if the Church doesn’t send members to quality sources, Google will send them to hostile sources.

    Seth

  16. This was a great article. Very well done, Seth.

    And this topic is one that I’ve wrestled over for a long time. I’ve been pretty open with people who ask at church that I view correlation as a “necessary evil.” Some might consider that strong language, but I think the essence of correlation is laudable – focusing more on solid “doctrinal” things rather than speculations and theories that can gain steam as “official,” especially in highly concentrated Mormon areas. It also allows, as you discussed, for broad international access to everyone – the same information you might hear in my church in Detroit would be the same in Salt Lake City, and the same in Seoul, Korea.

    At the same time, while correlating and distilling have those positive qualities, there are a great many negatives that can come along with it, and I find your wife’s comment to be poignant (and a bit embarrassing on the part of church members). My personal experience has shown that while a great many people find the types of discussions and topics that are commonly discussed in Mormon Studies circles to be fascinating, there is always an acquiescence to the most theologically conservative viewpoint in the room, especially in an LDS church setting. Comments like “Is that in the manual,” “I don’t think that is pertinent to our salvation,” or other similar comments seem to quell the discussion as the rest of the class goes back to their smartphones, sleeping, or the crutch of “Sunday School” answers.

    Hopefully, Mormon Studies will continue to gain the respect not only in the academic community (which, the trend seems strongly upward), but in our LDS communities as well to hopefully bridge that intellectual and philosophical gap in our discussions.

  17. @seth #18
    I particularly liked your point that “… correlation has created a shortage of intellectual stimuli for active, believing, and committed Latter-day Saints.”.
    My reply (#16) was intended simply to note that there is a real (and probably justified) fear in the church of trying to go beyond the constant diet of milk. I’ve often heard that the rationale for the repetition of the simple material is that we are not obedient to the commandments we already have, and so can’t handle anything more.
    To use a bad “math class” analogy, the combination of these ideas is like saying: “Some people in this class are struggling with fractions, and will get lost if we teach algebra. To avoid this possibility, no-one will progress to calculus – you all have to stick with basic arithmetic.”

  18. I believe these are all valid critiques of the consequences of Correlation. At the same time, I think it is helpful to consider what was happening with Church instruction before Correlation–a lurching forward in one direction and then another, largely based on the influence of key personalities in the Quorum of the Twelve. Whatever the problems of committees might be, they have limited the overpowering effect of one person. Jan Shipps spoke here in Claremont last night, and she mentioned that the recent generation of Mormon Studies scholars have quickly reproduced themselves to the point that Church leaders could no longer constrain unflattering literature about the Church’s history and doctrine. The previous two communities of intellectuals (the Godbeites and Progressive era church leaders like B. H. Roberts) flamed out, and so did not have a lasting effect on church discourse. I asked why they died out, so to speak, and Shipps said she didn’t know. But Patrick Mason offered the hypothesis that it was because the Dialogue and Sunstone generation “organized” their efforts, whereas previous era intellectuals were sole authors. Joseph Fielding Smith and J. Reuben Clark effectively set the course for CES, and Roberts’s thought and approach was dropped from Church curriculum. This is when Mason made the point to me that whatever the problems of Correlation, it has changed the Church’s development from being largely personality-driven to having to take a more “middle-of-the-river” course. Personally, I’m not the greatest fan of most of the lesson manuals, and it would be nice to see a greater return to the scriptures themselves, along with greater awareness of the hermeneutical possibilities. I also believe this is a complex problem to tackle with 14 million church members scattered all over the globe.

  19. elizajm (#21), I wanted to make a quick comment on your last 2 sentences in regards to Correlation:

    “Personally, I’m not the greatest fan of most of the lesson manuals, and it would be nice to see a greater return to the scriptures themselves, along with greater awareness of the hermeneutical possibilities. I also believe this is a complex problem to tackle with 14 million church members scattered all over the globe.”

    I think one of the problems, especially with a 14 million member church in a cultural structure like ours is that people come to church for different reasons, especially with regards to their expectation from their Sunday service, just as there are those who approach their religion/spirituality for different reasons (and I would submit, the fact that we have a membership of 14 million means that there are a multitude of diverse reasons as compared to a smaller organization). Some come to commune with the divine, some come to be “better people,” some come for community, some come for spiritual experience (“I feelgood when I’m here”), some come for the intellectual aspect, and on and on and on.

    Getting to your point, I view the people in my own personal ward, and while I would love to have a hermeneutical study of the scriptures, get a bit more in depth, on perhaps a more academic and intellectual level, there are those around who don’t want that stretching aspect. And I don’t think we should force them to, either. To be quite honest, I can see in my minds eye people in my own ward who are happy coming and reciting the “Sunday School Answers,” going over the same basic principles and whatnot because they are comfortable with that.

    I was worried for a while that the aging generations of Dialogue and Sunstone, those who had a vestige of what it was like pre-Correlation, would be the end of free thought. And then the bloggernacle came around, which started interest in the discussions, and now Mormon Studies seems to be really taking off, and the fact that the internet (while some view it as a battleground) is now being understood as not a breeding ground for anti-Mormon material (as it used to be for some in the church, and still is, to a certain extent, though not as “scary”), but more an avenue to information.

    My question is going to be what happens as the influx of Mormon Studies scholars increases – are we going to see residual effects in the curriculum and materials of the church? To me, that is the big question.

  20. Nice work, Seth. Let me respond to a couple things, both from what you wrote, as well as others’ comments.

    This issue has been a major challenge for church leaders over decades. As a largely U.S. organization for its first century, most members had a decent degree of education and could thus, read, even study the great works of Widtsoe, Roberts, O.C. Tanner, Talmadge, and Nibley, in preparation for Sunday courses. (Yes, they would actually study ahead of the Sabbath!) As we moved further into Europe, then Latin America, and on to Asia and Africa, some leaders pushed for a more simple set of doctrines. Many call that the era of the “dumbing down of the Saints.” The pat answers in today’s Primary and Sunday School are certainly easier for officials to produce and translate. With low literacy rates of members in some countries, and the heightened education in the U.S. of many members, the result has been a bifurcated Church, in terms of scholarship, wealth, and other dimensions.

    As greater public education expands throughout the world, it opens the minds of increasing numbers of Mormons around the globe, and things can change. The day may come when we again have deeper and more meaningful books for study in different countries, a recognition that Latter-day Saints are not a single collection of brains and spiritual depth. Can one teach both the milk and the meat of the gospel in a single class? Clearly, this is becoming an important question in many groups of auxiliary leaders. The class members who demand pat answers and strict adherence to the manual are gradually being muted by the bright and increasing numbers of saints who seek to grow, learn, and be challenged.

    Sometimes, the instructor has to push and prod. I saw this first hand when a young Sunday School instructor in the South I know would carry up to 15 books to his Gospel Doctrine class. While a few complained to the ward leaders initially, other members began to expand their knowledge, to consider things never discussed before. As time went on, they demanded more real learning, and the bishop was pleased to see their growth, instead of releasing the teacher.

    As readers may be aware, the Church recently overthrew its correlated teaching of classes to our youth, but it was a slap in the face to those wanting simple, correlated conformist approach. Why did this change occur? Because we have been losing massive numbers of LDS teenagers for over a decade. They are more hip, intellectually curious, and want to develop critical thinking skills, not Gerber baby food when in church. So the new experiment will center on a more unstructured approach, lots of questions, freedom to explore ideas, and create a more engaged classroom where there is openness and involvement. Who knows, perhaps this will someday spill over into adult Relief Society, priesthood and Sunday School.

    A couple final points….
    I don’t think there was a “lurching” of the Church one way or another. Rather, there were personality differences among the Brethren, and in some ways, this gave members several options, differing degrees of freedom. They could side with McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, and E. T. Benson on the side of the “True Believers” or “Iron Rodders,” those who seemed to have all the answers. Or they could take a more open, progressive stance, and explore Gospel teachings and philosophy as did Pres. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, Duff Hanks, Lowell Bennion, and other more open-minded leaders, the so-called “Liahonas.”

    Finally, a problem with some Mormon studies in the 1950s-60s was that certain manual writers were also BYU religion instructors who were caught up in the right-wing shift that a few Brethren advocated. A cynic could say they were teaching “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture,” to reference an old source. People like Bankhead, Skousen, and the like were manipulating Book of Mormon scriptures to appear as the essence of the Republican Party, condemning U.S. political leaders, unions, welfare, and social security as Satanic secret combinations fostered by Democrats. Many LDS members were angered by such accusations and became inactive (and this was back when Utah generally voted Democratic). Some of those scholarly individuals were let go from their church manual-writing assignments and/or BYU teaching. Others were at least muted by officials in the hierarchy. One referenced above, Hyrum Andrus, authored among many volumes, his book, “Liberalism, Conservatism and Mormonism.” He was ultimately disfellowshipped twice, and spent his last years before being pushed into early retirement in the BYU library basement, not the classroom. This matter was public knowledge at the time, and became the real reason his fourth book was never published.

  21. I remember when I was teaching EQ, the bishop made a comment to me in the hall one day about “sticking to the basics.” He was trying to be subtle, but he was basically telling me to lay off the intellectual bookwork. I just said “ok” and continued doing what I was doing. I later found out that he had actually talked to the EQ president about my teaching style because he apparently had a complaint or two. The EQ president (my bro-in-law) defended me, saying that I was reliable, the lessons were well-researched and developed, and that he noticed a positive impact on the class. I was grateful to hear that. He basically told the bishop to let him worry about EQ since he was the president.

    For the record, I liked the bishop. He had been my seminary teacher at one time. I had a very memorable spiritual experience because of him while he was bishop. Nonetheless, I found myself going against the grain in that ward with a number of individuals.

  22. You make a good point, brandt (#22). I am not saying that Sunday School lessons need to be tailored only for church members interested in Mormon Studies. In my opinion, that would be just as problematic as only teaching to church members who are comfortable with the “Sunday School answers.” I don’t think this is an either-or situation, or that a teacher can only reach one group. As Neal A. Maxwell said, the Gospel is “inexhaustible.” I have had experiences in lessons where the Gospel has seemed simple in its purity and profound at the same time. When I used the phrase, “hermeneutical possibilities,” I was referring to interpretive possibilities, or the idea that the Mormon theological tradition historically has allowed space for a relatively wide range of views. What Correlation did was helpful in that Church leaders began to find a middle position between views like Joseph Fielding Smith’s and B. H. Roberts’s, and with a unified message the Church made smoother transitions throughout the twentieth century. Perhaps an example from my missionary experience will illustrate what I mean about the lessons: I still had to memorize the discussions when I was a missionary in Chicago, and I was *terrified* to say anything to investigators that wasn’t written in those little booklets. And yeah, missionaries can get carried away, and teach really bizarre things, and this is what, I suspect, church leaders were trying to guard against in creating the discussions in the first place. But the church transitioned to Preach My Gospel and having the missionaries develop their own lessons based on important principles and the scriptures. I see no reason why teachers in the wards and branches shouldn’t be entrusted with this same kind of flexibility. That is all I was trying to say with “hermeneutical possibilities.”

  23. Warner, I agree with you, and you make my point for me when you describe that in the 1950s-60s, some BYU religion professors were writing manuals that advocated the “right-wing shift” of some general Church leaders. “Lurching” was Patrick Mason’s word, and Correlation effectively made it so that these kinds of political views couldn’t be printed in Gospel lesson manuals.

  24. Warner, I appreciate your perspective on organizational leadership and awareness of the questions raised by the Church’s international growth.

  25. ” But the church transitioned to Preach My Gospel and having the missionaries develop their own lessons based on important principles and the scriptures. I see no reason why teachers in the wards and branches shouldn’t be entrusted with this same kind of flexibility. That is all I was trying to say with “hermeneutical possibilities.” ”

    Our new elder’s quorum presidency met with all of us EQ teachers to discuss expectations. They emphasied a flexible approach like PMG’s to tailor the lessons to the quorum’s needs, as the point is to bring the elder’s closer together. They have the right idea.

  26. elizajm, your comments in #25 ring true with me, especially the bit about the missionary discussions, but I guess I don’t see the problem with correlation that others see. There has, in my view, always been room for teachers to take the lesson in the direction the class members need. I think of the time before correlation, all the way back to Adam if you want, and there wasn’t a correlation to blame for one’s lack of intellectual stimulation, nor do I think it the Church’s role to provide intellectual stimulation either. For that I confess I do favour the personal responsibility route, which I don’t think is as short-sided and counterproductive as Seth describes, though I agree randomly found information online is problematic, I would also include in that list some sources from Dialogue. So why do I favour this approach? Partly because these other sources are problematic. We might be better developing people who know how to access the gifts of the Spirit and the heavens more directly themselves. I enjoy intellectual stimulation as much as the next critical thinker, but I know the difference between a good debate, a new idea to mull over, and actual revelation/inspiration of the Spirit. I think of Alma 12:9 “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.” There is something to be persued here, but I don’t think it is being, nor do I think it can be found in academic dissection of contexts and history. Given the implications of this verse, we may wonder who we are sitting next to in Church, and what they know that we don’t. But the price has to be paid to gain it. I think this supersedes and overarches any issues with correlation which I regard to be irrelevant. Joseph Smith, Enoch, Enos, Moses, keep going…any of the spiritual giants, did not have a correlation to complain held them back, but nor did they have any “manuals” at all. So what was their secret? I think of President Kimball who never attended a boring sacrament meeting. What was his secret? I think of President Uchtdorf’s recent CES Broadcast “What is truth?” in which he is addressing these issues of unreliable online sources. Correlation is not preventing him. So, I guess, when all is said and done, I just don’t see correlation as the problem. The brethren have not missed a trick. The doctrine is not absurd. I think the problem lies within each individual, rather than the programme. The programme is what we make it. Yes we see changes, Preach My Gospel, the new Come Follow Me approach to teaching the youth. These are good developments. But they diverge from Seth’s position – they are not academic, they are better, they are spiritual. Isn’t that what Church is for? Why would we expect it to be different?

  27. What ever happened to parables? There’s something for everyone in them! I used to love the TV series Hill Street Blues because it was layered with multiple plot lines to hold many people’s interest. Of course writing new parables by church committee probably isn’t very successful they would probably have to hire some real talent for that.

    Yawn, well I guess it will be more dumbed down skim milk then because in the The Only True and Living Church for some reason Jesus seems to reveal that one size fits all global inhabitants. Don’t forget to cover your garmies even those of you living along the equator!

  28. “Yawn, well I guess it will be more dumbed down skim milk then because in the The Only True and Living Church for some reason Jesus seems to reveal that one size fits all global inhabitants. Don’t forget to cover your garmies even those of you living along the equator!”

    As someone from outside the USA, I find that remark insulting. Garments represent or commitment to the covenants we made with God. I kept mine covered even while working in a factory in southern Israel during the not inconsiderable heat of summer. Why are we somehow weaker in keeping our commitments, just because it gets miserably hot?

  29. Insulting? The point is keep your commitments WITHOUT being miserably bored or hot! Why can’t curriculum and garments be adapted to the culture and climate of the member? Joseph said “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” But somehow principles have become inflexible rules and governing ourselves has given way to the church doing it for us.

  30. While I truly believe there is too often an American-centric approach taken over the GA pulpit (e.g. R-rated movies), I also think there is a tendency for some members to embrace a relativistic form of multiculturalism when it comes to Church teachings and practice.

    I think Allen’s point is that he and other non-U.S. members are quite capable of handling their own commitments (and whatever changes may be necessary). He doesn’t need the paternalistic advocacy of the enlightened American members.

    And Allen, I’ve now worked two Texas summers managing on an outside freight dock. I know about being miserably hot in your garments. ;)

  31. Thanks for clearing that up WalkerW. As one of the enlightened American members I bear testimony that I know suffering is optional but you’re right it is wrong of me to call others to repentance who still find value in being miserable. Enjoy those hot days, both of you!

  32. It sounds to me like the problem is not the manual, but the High Priest’s Group leader. Why would HP be studying Gospel Principles, a manual prepared for new members?

    Last Sunday, our Sunday School class and High Priests Group instructors had not prepared lessons. This is why I read the New Testament with notes by a Mormon theologian (or at least someone with theology training, Jeff Anderson?) instead of attending class.

    Hey, church leaders! How about focusing on the quality of teaching?

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