Sunday School is the program most often suggested for dropping if the three-hour block is ever shortened to two. But for a long time, Gospel Doctrine was my favorite church class. In the ‘70s the church inaugurated a six-year in-depth study course for the scriptures. We spent two years studying the Old Testament, two years studying the New, and a year each on the D&C and Book of Mormon. The OT came alive to me for the first time as we delved into the history of the ancient Hebrews.
I was fortunate enough to be called as Gospel Doctrine teacher when instructors were allowed to use resources besides the manual and the Ensign. I purchased the Institute manuals, Josephus, and a history and geography of the Holy Land. The LDS edition of the Bible had been published that year and the maps, topical guide and Bible Dictionary unlocked the door to the candy shop. Knowing that few members did outside reading, I gave class time for members to read pertinent passages silently before each discussion. After the first class, everybody brought scriptures. I read footnotes and commentary from the LDS edition, and after Christmas most of the members sported the new scriptures.
Sometimes my enthusiasm for scripture study overcame good judgment. I don’t pay much attention to words with modern connotations differing from those of King James’ time such as “ass” for donkey, so I hadn’t flagged 1 Sam:25:22 and I called on Sister Proper to read a passage that included the phrase “any that pisseth against the wall” to describe all males. Sister Proper hesitated at the Anglo word, took a deep breath, and bravely read the verse as written. What could I say? Ignoring the shock and awe of the righteous and the controlled snorts from the rest, I continued the lesson.
A New Testament lesson also caught me by surprise. While teaching Acts, I was inspired with a great analogy to illuminate the conflict between apostles who required new converts to observe circumcision and Paul who believed Jewish laws were irrelevant to gentile converts. “Just suppose we’d heard a message from the First Presidency today saying the Word of Wisdom has been rescinded.” I looked at the SS President, a safe bet, and asked, “Don, would you stop at a 7-11 for a pack of Pall Malls on the way home?” Don’s face reddened as if I’d just told him his fly was unzipped, and he said, “Yes.” Apparently my inspiration hadn’t come from the Holy Ghost. The following day Don’s wife told me he’d quit smoking to marry her, and his brand of choice had been Pall Mall. “How did Sister Johnson know?” he asked.
Teaching Gospel Doctrine was more fun than eating a whole sheet of warm chocolate chip cookies. For a few years after being released from this calling, I studied each lesson and sat on the front row in Sunday School, ready to share my astute insights. Then the doctrine of “milk before meat” compressed the study of the Bible into two years instead of four, and historical context for scriptures was considered irrelevant. Now my vote is for eliminating the SS portion of the block.