Orthodox Judaism, here we come

Robert Kirby, everyone’s favorite Jack-Mormon, just posted about a new policy of the LDS religion. Apparently the leadership of the religion are now disallowing object lessons in sacrament meetings. While Kirby humorously mocks this move, I have to ask two questions:

1) Is this true? No more object lessons?

2) WTF? I mean, seriously? Just how regulated is Mormonism going to become? It really is moving increasingly in the direction of a corporation (e.g., no more staples on the right side of papers, only on the left; 2 inches margins on all memos, etc.). So much for charisma…

I can see the new tagline for the LDS religion, “Mormonism: Religion writ Corporatism. It’s not exciting, and that’s the point!”


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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25 Responses

  1. I’ve been hearing them ask people to avoid object lessons in sacrament meeting for years, but yeah, they read the letter to the ward a couple of weeks ago. We’ll see how long it takes for everyone forgets this letter exists. 🙂

  2. By “the ward” (as if there were only one) I meant the one that I attend too often for my taste.

  3. Seth R. says:

    There were two things discouraged:

    1. Use of big charts, or finger puppets, or a flanel board with cutouts, or a pitcher of water with food coloring – that kind of stuff

    You can still use an object lesson, just not with elaborate props. The idea being that fumbling around with a bunch of stuff up there really isn’t appropriate for the sacred character of the chapel of a Mormon meeting house.

    2. The standard practice where the person at the mic says “I’d like you all to turn to Ether, chapter…” and then everyone has to pull out their scriptures and fumble through them to find what he’s talking about while he waits up there for everyone to get on the same page.

    In both cases, it’s simply a matter of preserving the reverence of what is supposed to be a sacred space – the chapel. Both practices detracted from that reverence and have been discouraged.

    As far as the turning to scriptures thing goes, I say – it’s about time. I always thought that was a dumb traditional pattern of talk-giving. It looked suspiciously like the person was just trying to stall for time because they hadn’t bothered to come up with enough speaking material. Do that with 5 different scripture passages, and you’ve accounted for half of your allotted 15 minutes. Clever, no?

    On the “object lesson” thing, I could take it or leave it. Very rarely did I ever witness a creative object lesson that I felt particularly illuminated anything useful in Sacrament Meeting. No big loss there.

    Either way, I think it’s an entirely appropriate move on the Church’s part. A big part of a Mormon’s life of worship is the creation of “sacred space.” A secularist might attempt the same thing by doing yoga or meditating in a peaceful setting. We do it by maintaining an atmosphere of reverence in our places of worship. No running in the halls. Cut down on the pre-Sacrament Meeting chatter. Limit the amount of non-religious music used in Sunday Services. All of this helps, and I approve of it.

    If you want to criticize nit-pickyness in Church, there are better places to do it than a routine attempt from the Church to make sure it’s worship services are as conducive to an air of sacredness as possible. Try Pres. Hinckley’s edict on multiple piercings. That’s much more fertile ground since it seeks to regulate an individuals behavior, rather than the venue for regular group meetings. We expect the Church to regulate the latter, the former, we wish they would leave a matter of personal conscience.

  4. Seth R. says:

    Incidentally, some Evangelical fundie anti-Mormons (who are in no way affiliated with this site or the viewpoints expressed here) are already pointing out this letter as a “prohibition on members using their scriptures during Sacrament Meeting.” Of course, the letter said absolutely nothing about audience members using their scriptures and focused only on the speaker.

    But I guess anything is an opportunity when you’re a jackass with an agenda.

    Props to profxm for at least having a better argument than that. Maybe atheists really are smarter… 😉

  5. profxm says:

    Seth… Your arguments make sense, but… (how many times have I started a comment with that phrase?)

    There is a bigger issue here. Your right that G. Hinckley’s comment on piercings is a better example, but the way I was viewing this latest edict was as another “restriction” on top of the previous ones. So, to me, it’s piling new restrictions on top of old ones. What’s with trying to limit people’s ability to think for themselves? I’m a quasi-Libertarian, but very much a Libertarian when I hear about stuff like this. Make suggestions, but don’t limit my freedoms.

    Certainly it makes sense to discourage people from giving bad talks. But, doesn’t that kind of go without saying? Based on your interpretation of the edict, this is about the equivalent of Congress saying to the major television stations, “Look, no more boring TV shows. This is the law. You break it and we’ll fine you.” The major television stations don’t need someone to regulate that for them – they use viewer feedback and ratings and kill the crappy shows.

    If crappy talks in church are really the concern, to me it would seem like a more appropriate approach would be to talk to the bishops who, when calling people to talk, could give them a short list of suggestions, such as: (1) Don’t have everyone look up scriptures. (2) Don’t use object lessons with items that are too small for the entire congregation to see. (3) Make sure any object lesson you present is in keeping with the sacred nature of sacrament. This way, they are recommendations, not edicts delineating sinful behavior from righteous behavior.

    Lastly, I can understand the notion of sacred. I was raised thinking that way; whenever we were at the church for activities (e.g., scouts, basketball, etc.), we were told not to enter the chapel as it was sacred. That’s a reasonable request and I can understand people wanting to have sacred space. Yet, at the same time, if this is really a sacred space, why are wailing infants allowed? Why are non-members allowed? And why are jokes allowed? Also, and this is really me just being annoying, but the way you are describing “sacred” seems awfully close to “boring” to me.

    (As a note, yoga and meditation aren’t what I think of as typical “secular” activities: they have roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. That doesn’t mean some people don’t do them, just that they aren’t really what I think of when I think “secular.”)

  6. Seth R. says:

    “I’m a quasi-Libertarian, but very much a Libertarian when I hear about stuff like this. Make suggestions, but don’t limit my freedoms.”

    That’s fine, until you are trying to create a community. Any community necessarily involves giving up some freedom of action in deference to the group. That’s the definition of community – a gathering of individuals who have agreed to abide by restrictions on action in favor of the group. So just calling this a “limitation” on your freedoms doesn’t answer. Yes, it’s a limitation. So what?

    Your next statement:

    “If crappy talks in church are really the concern, to me it would seem like a more appropriate approach would be to talk to the bishops who, when calling people to talk, could give them a short list of suggestions”

    Oh, I agree that this possibly wasn’t the most effective way of doing this. As Jonathan noted, how long until this letter too is forgotten by the membership? But that wasn’t the point of your post, and that wasn’t what I was addressing.


    “Yet, at the same time, if this is really a sacred space, why are wailing infants allowed? Why are non-members allowed? And why are jokes allowed?”

    That’s part of what makes the place sacred. Non-members are allowed because our faith is about reaching out to others. Jokes are allowed because humor is a gift from God, and a part of the practical pioneer culture we have inherited. Infants are allowed because “suffering the little children” is Christlike.

    “Also, and this is really me just being annoying, but the way you are describing “sacred” seems awfully close to “boring” to me.”

    To each his own.

    Finally, can we get a link to the actual letter? Robert Kirby isn’t exactly an authoritative source. I’ve read the letter somewhere on the naccle, but can’t remember the exact wording anymore. It would pay to actually read it carefully before making blanket statements on how “object lessons are forbidden” and such.

  7. profxm says:

    I can’t find a copy of the letter. Anyone have a copy or link?

  8. aerin says:

    I have a lot of suggestions for the LDS leadership on how they could help their meetings be more sacred. In the end, they are all just my opinion, and take straight from my experiences attending other religious services.

    Honestly, I think that some religious experience for everyone makes sense. Attending different religious services to see how different people worship.

    I don’t think this new policy will change anything. I remember many talks over the years with the water and vinegar repentance thing. I forgotten most of the other ones (except the ones where people mentioned their mom staying up all hours ironing shirts. Those I remember as well).

    If the LDS leadership were up on the latest educational theory, people actually learn better when multiple senses are engaged. For example, some people are visual learners, others are auditory. Still others do best with hands on experience.

    But if creating a sacred and reverent space is important, perhaps silence (I believe some Quaker services have these types of meetings) and meditation would work best.

    I can understand the need for organization. This seems (to me) more about making additional rules than really helping the membership focus on their reverence and spirituality. There are a lot of ideas, 2 hour meeting blocks, more freedom for parents with young children, less stringent attendance guidelines, more appreciation for spiritual writings and leaders other than mormons/LDS, etc.

  9. Can I use this post to tell a funny story?

    When I was in a university ward, a young (pre-mission) man was asked to speak. As part of his talk, he used an unfortunately raw egg as an object lesson. Can you see where this is going? He demonstrated how it’s very difficult to break the egg by squeezing it from one end to the other. Then… he demonstrated how easy it is to squash the egg when squeezing it across the middle. Result: a lot of raw egg on the bishop. Unforgettable, but I don’t think anyone remembers exactly what his talk was about.

  10. Seth R. says:

    I heard a story about a BYU singles ward where this really sweet young sister gave a talk on “waiting for marriage” (sex). To illustrate the idea, she read from Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” with the green eggs and ham representing sex. She replaced the words “eat them” with “do it” and each time a refusal to engage in premarital sex.

    The audience sat there desperately trying to keep straight faces, because the sister was obviously completely unaware of what she was saying.

    At the end, she inserted an improvised marriage ceremony, after which, the unnamed Seussical creature is oh so pleased to enjoy green eggs and ham, in all of the previously mentioned bizarre situations.

  11. Seth R. says:

    “Would you do it in a box?
    Would you do it with a fox?”

  12. Kullervo says:

    Other religions do just fine with their sacred space without having to issue edicts like this.

  13. profxm says:

    I would “do it” in a box! I would “do it” with a fox(-y lady)! I would “do it” in a house. I wouldn’t “do it” with a mouse. I would “do it” here or there. I would “do it” anywhere. I do like (metaphorical) “green eggs and ham.”


    Nice stories!

  14. Seth,

    You win. That’s a funnier story. Now I can never read Green Eggs and Hams to my girls again. 🙂

  15. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    Didn’t they have a (somewhat similar) letter a few years ago(about ’04?) saying that the GAs weren’t to be quoted? WTF?????

    Those guys amaze me.

  16. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    SethR (#10)It’s only ‘premarital’ sex…IF you’re planning on getting married.

  17. Seth R. says:

    That’s true.

  18. MoJo says:

    I personally was a little distraught by it, even though I do understand Seth’s point in theory.

    I was called as a Relief Society teacher after having been substituting for the two months preceding. AFTER I was called and taught my first lesson as a regular, I was given very strict instructions on how to teach and it DID NOT BY ANY MEANS include how I had been teaching.

    I shrugged it off and continued to teach the way I do, thinking it was a one-off. But I was instructed in an increasingly strident and restrictive manner following the next two lessons I gave. The straw was when the sister who “instructed” me called me the Sunday before my next lesson, told me the stake RS presidency would be there, and to mind my teaching Ps and Qs.

    I immediately called the RS President I refused to teach the way I’d been instructed, that I thought the instruction itself intrusive and insulting, and that it was not, in any way, in line with the concept of free agency. I even went so far as to call it “Luciferian,” which earned me a gasp. She was to find another teacher for the next Sunday because I quit.

    The irony was that people seem to like it when I teach; I had sisters who kept a schedule for when I taught.

    The letter that was read in SM reminded me of that. If the purpose is to have a more standardized service (you could read that as less boring, more sacred, whatever), hire a professional. When you run a church with lay clergy and amateur musicians and sometimes worse-than-amateur speakers and teachers, that’s the risk you run. Suck it up.

  19. profxm says:

    Mojo, well put. I couldn’t agree more.

  20. Elder Gandy says:

    I’m all for this. I feel so good when I do what the brethren say. So good inside. I’m always looking for new ways to obey the Lord.

    Also, this policy just makes sense.

    This one time this guy was speaking on the pulpit and he made hand puppets of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and he reenacted the first vision with the puppets.

    It was a really good puppet show, but in the end, it went 5 minutes over, so no dice.

    We really need a policy about back scratching during sacrament meetings. I hate it. When I was 13 my Mom would always always scratch my back during sacrament.

    I was like, “no, Mom, it’s not right.” But she didn’t listen. She scratched and scratched and scratched away.

    I felt like a cat toy. Used and ugly inside. It didn’t help that all the guys in my quorum laughed and laughed at me.

    So, yeah, we need to nip that one in the bud. What’s some other policies we could nail down?

    Pray for me,

    Elder Gandy

  21. Seth R. says:

    MoJo, I’d be interested in knowing exactly what teaching methods your RS president was objecting to.

  22. MoJo says:

    Seth, I was told specifically to pick a question from the back of the lesson, find the appropriate passage in the lesson that corresponded to that and, well, read it. I was also told that there was no need for me to find scriptures or other supporting references to the manual. Nothing extraneous to the manual.

    This happened last fall, so it was in Kimball’s book (yeah, don’t get me started on that, either). I had to teach the one on strengthening the family.

    I had a lesson all prepared in the manner they wanted it. I wasn’t comfortable with it, but I thought I was being paranoid. Something kept nagging at me all through Sacrament Meeting about it and I just couldn’t shake that it wasn’t right. So about ten minutes before the end of SM, I completely changed it.

    I drew a medieval castle on the blackboard in floorplan manner (to show how many wall-layers of protection there were) and in elevation manner (to show how many exterior levels of protection there were) and what the battlements were and what weapons they could use to fend off attackers.

    I likened every portion of the castle to ways we can protect and strengthen our families, both internally and externally. That was one of my more popular lessons. It was also the one that caused me the most flak.

    Yes, it was rather extemporaneous, but I quoted scripture. I quoted the book. IMO, there was nothing out of line with it except it didn’t involve the questions at the back of the lesson and I didn’t merely read the lesson.

    I should be fair and say this came down from the stake RS president, so the lady who was charged with giving me instruction was just doing what she was told to do.

    Interesting note: the stake RS president was my visiting teacher and I took it up directly with her. She said, in her opinion, it was important to be obedient and that this is what the Church Educational System wanted them to instruct their teachers to do. I pretty much don’t figure I need to be that strictly obedient to the CES. She told me that the prophet vets all the material and I told her I didn’t believe that. He has too many other things to do and perhaps…just perhaps…the CES was getting a little too big for its britches.

    Obviously, I don’t know where the instruction really came from, but the effect was the same.

  23. Seth R. says:

    I think your Stake RS president is full of it.

    I don’t even think her interpretation is required by the letter that was read in Sacrament Meeting. Sounds like lower level leadership taking instructions from the boss and then “helpfully” adding to them.

    Another thing nagging at the back of my head…

    You know that official LDS book for teachers “Teaching – No Greater Call”? I’m positive I read something in that book that directly contradicts what you were told by your leaders – the part about reading the suggested questions. Not sure where it was though.

    I’ve found it sometimes helps when disagreeing with local leadership if you can point to a “higher authority” that they feel bound to accept. An official statement in an official Church manual might do the trick.

  24. MoJo says:

    Seth, I do have that book. I wish I’d thought to look for a reference. I’ll find it. It’s too late now to do any good for me, but perhaps it’ll help someone else.

    Also to be fair, this has been a pattern in my stake and ward and the noose is tightening. Now that I think about it, I probably reacted more strongly to the letter than I would have had I been in my old ward, which encourages creativity and erudition because of what other such nonsense is going on.

    You know, it’s hard to know what’s going on at a local level that’s NOT going on elsewhere in order to form a basis of comparison, especially without the internet and comparing notes.

  25. Seth R. says:

    Well, the conventional wisdom is that most LDS wards undergo a complete transformation in local culture every seven years. It’s actually surprising how individualized various wards can be.

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