More on Meetings!

Shortly after our last discussion of meetings, there was a new development that has sparked discussion throughout the Bloggernacle: The new manual for Priesthood and Relief Society (adult classes) is a book which, until now, “largely has been used as a primer for new converts.”

Even though (I assume) LDS Sunday School is still separate from PH/RS, I suspect that this news is what set off BCC’s three part series on what’s wrong with Sunday School (which, in turn, sparked teaching trainwrecks and good thoughts on teaching Sunday School). Here’s what seems to be the key point:

In your schooling, if you had a class for which you could show up without doing the homework and for which you felt you already knew all the appropriate answers, was that a good class? Sure, you may have gotten an A, but do you really retain much from that course?

I’d even say it leads to a philosophical (or semantic) question: What does it mean to call it a “lesson,” “class,” or Sunday “School” if there’s no expectation of the students learning anything they didn’t already know? It’s like a school out of the Twilight Zone: everyone gets an A, but no one is allowed to pass and move on to the next class — they have to eternally repeat the class they’ve just taken.

As important as the basics may be, I think that avoidance of advanced topics in officially-sanctioned classes creates a situation where a lot of members don’t even know “what Mormons believe” on various questions of theology and doctrine. This confusion can be a problem, as discussed in my review of Latayne Scott’s book (especially in the comments).

Now, I expect that I’ll get flack for posting something wholly negative about classes that I don’t attend (especially since I just got done talking about keeping things civil), but I hope this post falls within the bounds of constructive criticism…


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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23 Responses

  1. Holly says:

    Id even say it leads to a philosophical (or semantic) question: What does it mean to call it a lesson, class, or Sunday School if theres no expectation of the students learning anything they didnt already know? Its like a school out of the Twilight Zone: everyone gets an A, but no one is allowed to pass and move on to the next class they have to eternally repeat the class theyve just taken.

    Now there’s an apt and horrifying description…. it reminds me of why I once nominated you for the position of president of the Mormon Alumni Association. Here’s to graduating and moving on!

  2. Urban Koda says:

    First, can I second that nomination? I like the sound of Mormon Alumni Association… Kind of like a club for those who’ve been through the system, learned all there is to know, and have now embarked out into the real world to seek further light and knowledge.

    My take on this topic though…

    Lessons have to be kept basic and monotonous, because it’s safe. Speaking from personal experience, spending all you spare time reading up on the history of the Church, words of prophets past and present and searching and pondering can often lead to questions the leaders of the Church don’t want being asked.

  3. Goldarn says:

    I’ve attended a LOT of LDS teacher training meetings, ’cause I was a teacher for years and years. It was emphasized that the #1 job of any class was to increase people’s testimonies. Over and over they told us this.

    That’s why the topics aren’t important. What’s important is to feel “spiritual” in the class when the topics are discussed. The church isn’t failing because they don’t have advanced classes; the church is failing because the lessons are boring, and people don’t feel good afterwards.

  4. Measure says:

    This was my main complaint back when I was a mormon. By the time I was 14 I had figured out the lessons never really change. Hated Sunday school for the entirety of my adult life and most of my teen years.

    The problem is that in-depth study of gospel topics turns out being anti-testimony.

  5. Carson N says:

    This idea of the Spirit being the sole entity responsible for edification contributes to the inanity. Says one commenter:

    If someone is teaching with the Spirit, the teacher could share her grocery list and it would be riveting. Its not the material.

    Church classes are an interesting phenomenon. Not only is learning tangential to the goal, but in many cases it is detrimental. A lesson must make people more devoted to the church without actually teaching anything substantial. Politicians, professional preachers, political pundits, and Elder Holland are all very good at this, but most wards do not have that kind of talent.

    Therefore, people must be convinced that the boring lesson is actually exciting. How can this be? Because there is an invisible ghost that is channeling edification waves through the air. At the very least, you must be convinced that if you think the lessons are boring, it is your own fault, because you are not “in tune”. This strategy seems to be working very well.

  6. It was just this realisation that probably marked the beginning of the end for me. I realised that the material we studied in church was utterly vacuous.

    In my youth, I’d hoped we’d move on to something more ‘advanced’ — I don’t know, moving mountains? — and then as I got older, I thought maybe the repetition was instructive, as a kind of Zen thing.

    But at that point I realised there was no ‘there’ there.

  7. chanson says:

    Thanks for the vote of confidence from the Mormon Alumni Association! 😀

    Regarding the idea that LDS classes aren’t intended to be instructional — it kid of leads back to my earlier philosophical/semantic question:

    Why even use the format of a class? If the point is to achieve some transcendental state (Zen or feeling the spirit), then why not just get together and perform purely symbolic rituals like many other religions do?

    I’ve thought of a possible solution:

    Perhaps it’s a holdover from Joseph Smith and other early leaders who were sincerely interested in having the congregation learn/explore/discuss theology and doctrine. Later leaders didn’t want to make a sudden change (by eliminating the “class” format), but as they became less interested in having the rank-and-file discuss doctrine, the classes slowly lost their content. (See also this interesting collection of quotes).

    Then — since the classes are so painfully boring — they act as kind of an “aversion therapy,” keeping members from wanting to study church history and doctrine.

    I don’t think it’s an intentional plan (or conspiracy) on the part of any of the leaders — it looks like it’s just the way things have played out.

  8. Hellmut says:

    I agree with you, Chanson. The problem is not that students are unprepared. The problem is that Mormons are not allowed to disagree with one another, their leaders, or their teachers.

    Once you relate the basics to life, the gospel becomes actually quite complex. Just look at the Talmudic tradition. Jews can discuss the ethics of the scriptures endlessly and often it’s fascinating.

  9. Hellmut says:

    Liberty is the salt of speech. Unfortunately, Mormon culture requires us to sacrifice our liberty on the altar of obedience to the idols also known as the general authorities.

    There are important exceptions, of course. We had a great youth group when I grew up. We send out four missionaries, which is spectacular for Germany.

    Of course, a mission is bound to crush the testimony of an independent minded and idealistic man and woman.

    The Mormon leadership will have to sacrifice its superhuman status to breath life back into the Church.

  10. chanson says:

    Hellmut — I agree that’s a key problem, or perhaps the key problem.

  11. Seth R. says:

    You missed another bloggernacle takedown of the Gospel Principles manual – Chapter 1:

    The manual has been a general topic of that blog, so you might find some other useful articles on the subject.

  12. chanson says:

    Seth — Thanks for the link, it’s quite an interesting and thoughtful critical analysis.

    The church’s article use proper sources also got some criticism from Hieing to Kolob, Beginnings New, and A Marvelous Work and a Blunder.

  13. The “use proper sources” article has inspired a raging debate on my Facebook page with 37 comments and counting (it’s here, but I think you have to be friends with me to see it).

    I’m always amused when my Facebook status updates inspire more debate and commentary than my blog posts.

  14. AxelDC says:

    Isn’t the LDS definition of damnation the inability to progress?

    If Mormons are expected to eternally repeat the same Sunday School lessons throughout adulthood until death, aren’t they damned by this definition in their intellectual progress/

  15. chanson says:

    AxelDC — I thought about that too. I recall “eternal progression” being a key doctrine, and learning that “whatever intelligence you gain in this life rises with you in the resurrection.”

    I suspect that that doctrine is still, ironically, in the dumbed-down manuals…

  16. prozim says:

    I’m an atheist who attends meetings with my family. I wondered if there is a site that anyone is aware of that takes a critical look at the content of the Gospel Principles book, chapter by chapter, in advance of the scheduled lesson. I’d like to be one of the only people who comes to class “prepared,” but prepared to raise some provocative points.

  17. Seth R. says:

    See the link I provided above.

    Also, try this one:

    If you’re looking for a website generally critical of Mormonism, I can’t help you. Those are both blogs run by believing LDS.

  18. Seth R. says:

    But keep in mind the primary purpose of church classes for a lot of people there:

    To feel fellowship with other believers. There’s a big social component here. Politeness would require being sensitive to that.

  19. Hellmut says:

    That is so important, Seth. The problem is that you cannot enjoy fellowship when you cannot be honest with each other.

  20. Seth R. says:

    I think honesty in relationships is a tad overrated in the current culture.

    “that dress looks great on you honey!”

  21. chanson says:

    prozim — If you’re looking for something akin to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (only for “Gospel Principles), I can’t help you. Actually, since it’s specifically designed to avoid anything controversial, I doubt there’s much fodder for that type of skeptical analysis.

    OTOH, I think you should seriously consider the links that Seth suggested. Even though they’re from faithful LDS sources (or rather because they’re from faithful LDS sources), they have interesting points that you could bring up to keep the discussion lively without coming off as anti-Mormon (and thus having people dismiss everything you say).

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