At our Relief Society dinner last week, the ladies discussed the Bishop’s challenge for every ward member to read the Book of Mormon straight through by the end of the year. One sister complained that she had almost finished reading it through and wanted to finish the New Testament instead of starting over on the Book of Mormon right now. I suggested she consider that she had read ahead, and move on. But no, every member of the ward has to read the whole book starting this month.
I don’t know why our bishop chose this goal. The Book of Mormon is the Gospel Doctrine study course for next year, so jamming a complete reading in right now seems unnecessary. But Mormon bishops love giving arbitrary challenges. In the ‘70s they frequently asked ward members to live off their food storage for a week and then report their testimonies of following church counsel in sacrament meeting talks.
Not that I have anything against reading the Book of Mormon. I’ve read it multiple times over the years, although I never received the witness promised in Moroni 10:4. Once I quit focusing on the plot and characters, which never seemed very real to me, and focused on spiritual truths, I enjoyed the book more. I have to admit that most of the spiritual insights I like in the Book of Mormon are also found in the Bible. But some basic Christian teachings are most beautifully expressed in the Book of Mormon such as King Benjamin’s instructions about caring for the poor:
for are we not all beggars? . . . And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God. . . . (Mos. 4:16-22)
What I object to about the challenges given in Mormon wards to read the Book of Mormon in a small window of time is that the proposal seldom addresses the book’s content. Instead, blessings are promised to those who sacrifice their time to accomplish the goal—and loss of blessings is hinted at for those who fail.
Testimonies born by those who comply are never about understandings gained. Instead, they focus on minor miracles that occurred because of their obedience: “My parents were baptized;” “I got a job;” “I’m not pregnant,” “My husband cancelled his subscription to Playboy;” “I found those missing car keys.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I think the value of a book is the wisdom learned from the content. I think it is possible to gain insights from the Book of Mormon that can help a person improve their lives, but this book is not a quick, easy read. It requires the serious attention which a year-long Sunday School course of study facilitates. Challenges for an entire ward to race through the book within a few weeks reduces scripture reading to rubbing a talisman—“Obey your leaders, speed-read through the book, and your luck will change.”
That’s why two ward members will not rise to this year’s challenge. Sure hope the wind doesn’t take the roof off our chapel this winter. George and I might be blamed.