An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Bloggernacle’

Oh Say What Is True

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.

Elder Holland’s Conference Address

Sunday afternoon we made it through Elder Holland’s address before the grandkids staged an insurrection. I can’t say I was sorry to be distracted. Years ago I enjoyed General Conference and I still tend to agree with most of the messages. I especially liked Bishop Burton’s address on virtues. It’s just that hearing the same messages in the same words from the same people (mostly) year in and year out fails to inspire me at this point.

I was pleased to see Elder Holland announced as the first speaker Sunday afternoon. His literary and historical allusions and his spirituality have always appealed to me. Obviously, I was disappointed to see the thoughtful, reasoning apostle transform into a televangelist— badmouthing critics of the historicity of the BoM. Elder Holland is an educated man—his Ph.D. from Harvard is in American Studies. He must be aware that similarities between the BoM and Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews  are far  too extensive to be dismissed as “pathetic” attempts by enemies seeking to discredit the BoM. 

I was initially surprised at the nearly overwhelming approval of Elder’s Holland’s remarks I’ve found on the Bloggernacle.,      In retrospect, I understand. General Conference is for faithful LDS. Non-LDS and skeptics do not spend a weekend listening to exhortations from Church leaders. Faithful members tune in to have their faith reaffirmed—and apparently the louder the better. Elder Holland’s purpose was neither to convert nonmembers nor to aid doubting members. He was rallying the troops in much the way Glenn Beck and other right-wing political hacks fire up the Republican base.

 I hope Elder Holland’s example will not be followed by other General Authorities. Shrill, anti-intellectual rhetoric is divisive. It’s a hallmark of some Christian denominations. Let us hope it does not become a trademark of Latter-day Saints. Legitimate questions about the historicity of the BoM exist and thinking members need thoughtful, rational answers to their questions.

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