The Bloggernacle has been full of suggestions for teaching church classes as curriculum for 2010 unfolds. I have only one suggestion for teachers of gospel classes—don’t tell stories that aren’t true or use examples that defy logic—no matter how well they support your gospel point. For example, the story of the French Dauphin who was a young child when his parents were killed. The Revolutionaries supposedly wanted to keep the Dauphin from ever becoming king without killing him, so as a child, he was plied with every sensual indulgence, so he would grow up too debauched to take the throne. The Dauphin, knowing he was the son of a king, resisted all attempts to degrade him. The moral, of course, is that knowing we are children of the King gives us power to resist temptation.
I first heard this story related by Vaughan Featherstone in General Conference and swallowed it without thinking that being morally degenerate has never precluded a royal in France or any other country from assuming the throne. The story showed up in a Gospel Doctrine manual a few years later. My daughter, who has a minor in French, taught the Young Singles Gospel Doctrine class and told me the Dauphin story has no factual basis. From all historical accounts, the Dauphin was placed with people who were kind to him. The GD teacher in my ward used the story in class and I told her quietly afterward that the story was untrue. “I know,” she said. “Most of the stories we tell aren’t true.”
The gospel is too important to be taught with falsehoods. Certainly it isn’t bearing false witness to repeat a story we believe to be true even if it is not. But instructors should make an effort to check reliability or at least examine the logic of examples they use. Dave, a young friend, told me about a GD lesson he taught. The Stake President was present and Dave asked how much time he spent on this calling and how much he got paid. Then Dave questioned ward leaders about their time commitments to the church and their pay. He announced to the class, “The Church must be true. Why else would these people spend hours each week for no pay?” Now, Dave’s example works for people who have no friends outside the LDS community. But anyone acquainted with other churches knows the clergy doesn’t do everything. Non-LDS churches depend on unpaid volunteers to staff their programs. Good people also work without pay in non-religious service organizations. Unpaid labor is not a strong pillar for a Mormon testimony.
I hate embarrassing a teacher, but some errors are too egregious to ignore—like the Relief Society instructor who announced: “We get married for eternity. The World gets married planning to get a divorce if it doesn’t work out.” Mormons should be able to extol the benefits of eternal marriage without making untrue remarks about people of other faiths.
Of course, no instructor in a church class can be totally free of errors in teaching, no matter how carefully she follows the manual. Maybe the problem isn’t instructors as much as the image of the class as a set of empty vessels and the teacher as the font of wisdom. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to have teachers lead their classes in reading and honestly discussing the scriptures rather than lecturing, asking predictable questions, and waiting for recitation of “correct” answers? Maybe we’d even remember the lessons after class and apply the principles to our lives.