Even the most devout Mormons complain about the dullness of the Sunday lessons. The official response is, “Milk before meat.” Unfortunately, no meat seems to be on the horizon, even for Saints who have attended the three-hour block faithfully for three decades or more.
Those of us who remember the beauty of David O. McKay’s sermons where he quoted passages from Shakespeare and other great authors mourn the sterile stuff we have been served for at least a generation. Church lessons are now pretty much restricted to stories and quotations from past and present prophets, supplemented with supporting scriptures. Even General Conference addresses have become rehashes of statements from past general authorities.
Mormon scriptures and the Bible are only four books among a plethora of wisdom that has been recorded and handed down throughout written history. Mormon prophets and apostles represent only a handful of many thousands of brilliant, spiritual men and women who have, no doubt, been enlightened by the same loving Creator.
Why must Church lessons be restricted to such limited sources of light and knowledge? Granted, some favorite topics such as priesthood, missionary work, temple work, and the restoration don’t lend themselves to outside sources. Still, topics like love, family, faith, self-improvement (becoming perfect), charity, service, and following Jesus are all topics where many non-Mormons have wisdom from which we could profit.
Mother Teresa’s record of her struggle to feel loved and approved by God could surely benefit Mormons as well as Catholics. Trappist monk, Thomas Merton’s description of the spiritual oil in our lamps that will keep burning after the body dies is a beautifully, comforting analogy. In his 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman, the African-American pastor and university dean, teaches a truth which pertain to ethically-challenged Americans today. He writes, “If a man continues to call a good thing bad, he will eventually lose his sense of moral distinctions.”
Not only Christians have been inspired to speak beautiful truths. In his book, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has a wonderful treatise on faith and works. He writes, “A concern with one’s own salvation and righteousness that outweighs the regard for the welfare of one other human being cannot be qualified as a good intention.”
I gained a deeper understanding of the teachings of Jesus from reading Deepak Chopra’s The Third Jesus. Wouldn’t a Gospel Doctrine class discussion on sin and redemption be deepened by the questions Chopra raises:
Is sin the same as a crime, mental illness, defective ego development, Karma, nature, or poor genetic programming? Is redemption a subjective state that makes you feel better, free of neurosis, and capable of fulfilling your potential?
Mormons often excuse repetitious lessons by saying, “We need to hear it until we learn it.” While oft-repeated statements (whether true or not—think advertising jingles) can burn into the memory, real learning requires thoughtful engagement. Not much thoughtful engagement takes place when bored members access the Internet or text friends during Church lessons and talks they’ve heard scores of times.
The Doctrine & Covenants tell us to teach diligently. It does not say we must restrict our teaching and learning to Mormon scriptures. Enlarging the Mormon curriculum to include uplifting statements from those outside our fold would not only make lessons more interesting—stimulating thoughts and discussions might create the kind of thinking which increases spirituality and improves behavior.