Seminary students will no longer study the creation of the November 2015 exclusion policy to understand the concept of revelation, at least not this year.
In the new Doctrinal Mastery Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Teacher Material, seminary teachers [were] instructed to share President Russell M. Nelson’s January 2016 statement during the Prophets and Revelation lesson (Part 1). In that [statement], Nelson explain[ed] how leaders came to embrace the exclusion policy as the divine solution to a “thorny problem.” ([It was] even suggested that teachers print out the statement so students have their own hard copy).
If you’d read that post, you’d also know that this was not the first time the exclusion policy was included in (and later withdrawn from) the seminary curriculum. In 2016, a nearly identical section was found in that year’s Doctrinal Mastery New Testament Teacher Material. After an uproar, that statement was removed (along with other statements suggesting the priesthood and temple ban for those of African descent was inspired). And it looks like after this year’s uproar, President Nelson’s exclusion-policy-as-revelation statement is again nixed.
But this time there’s a difference. In 2016, there was no replacement for the omitted section. This year, curriculum writers were able to find a less controversial statement from President Nelson that teaches the same principles. They pulled his description of selecting new counselors for the First Presidency as found in his April 2018 General Conference address, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives.”
Perhaps we won’t have to worry about curriculum writers trying to use the exclusion-policy-as-revelation statement again in the future.
Can we learn anything from this? What are the elements that convinced leadership that this was a concern to take seriously? Based on what happened two years ago, someone was clearly aware this was a controversial subject. There were few blog posts (here’s one I saw), though a couple podcasts picked up the topic. Many heated discussions happened on social media platforms. It does appear, though, that people contacted Church headquarters directly through official feedback channels. But, of course, it’s impossible to tell what did the trick.
- Are you surprised the Church chose to use another statement to model modern revelation?
- The Church has recently doubled-down on the exclusion policy by including it in Preach My Gospel, so why do you think leaders were willing to back off in the seminary manual?
 The 2018 seminary materials are updated on the Church’s website, but they are not yet reflected in the PDF version or Gospel Library app. According to Facebook user Michael Benjamin, the Gospel Library app will be updated by the end of next week. The Doctrinal Mastery Doctrine & Covenants Teacher Material manual is a digital-only publication.
 The only other corollary I come up with (besides the seminary materials two years ago) is when the Church pulled the song “White” from a song collection based on the 2017 mutual theme. The song was considered by many to be offensive to members of color. There was some uproar on social media and at least one blog post that I’m aware of (by Andrew S here are Wheat and Tares). People also also submitted complaints through official feedback channels, and the Church responded within three weeks.
 Sentence changed 9/9/18. Previously read “If you’d read that post, you’d also know that this was not the first time someone tried to slip the exclusion policy into the seminary curriculum.” Commenter Truckers Atlas rightly pointed out below that the original phrasing suggested something more sinister than what likely occurred.
LeGrand Richards (in August 16, 1978 interview by William Walters): “Brother Kimball … asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray – and we did – that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. Then he invited each one of us in his office – individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, you see – so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it.”
Russell Nelson: “When we convene as a Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve…each Apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view…”
Well, I guess the apostles don’t all have the same experience or the same perception of how freely others are speaking. But then, Nelson’s and Richards’ service in the Quorum did not overlap.
Are you surprised the Church chose to use another statement to model modern revelation? No
The Church has recently doubled-down on the exclusion policy by including it in Preach My Gospel, so why do you think leaders were willing to back off in the seminary manual? Well, there is a difference in the scope of the intended audiences for Preach My Gospel and the seminary manual. But if there were an uproar, etc., about inclusion of the exclusion in Preach My Gospel similar to that about the seminary manual, I missed it. (I think I miss a lot.) Is it in Preach My Gospel as a statement of Church policy? or is it there as an example of revelation?
The positive here is that whoever runs the curriculum responds to feedback, considers the issues, and sometimes changes troublesome passages.
The continuing problem is that Pres. Nelson certainly believes the November Policy is revelation and won’t change his position, so that’s going to get into the curriculum sooner or later. The only permanent fix for that problem is to get whoever runs curriculum to change Presidents, and that’s not likely to happen.
Another problem is that these episodes show how shoddy the vetting and reviewing process is for curriculum materials. They need to circulate material to a broader audience of reviewers and catch these problems before they publish, not afterwards. This one is fixable.
My initial reading of the revelation….was it was obviously given through the Church’s legal office.it was written In legalese.
I always thought lawyers were inspired!
I’m so happy to learn this!
JR, the exclusion policy is in Preach My Gospel as a real policy, not revelation. It’s in the section on requirements for baptism for minor children. Here’s a news article on that: http://www.kuer.org/post/lds-church-quietly-doubles-down-controversial-gay-policy
And here’s the spot in Preach My Gospel: https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-prepare-people-for-baptism-and-confirmation?lang=eng
Actually, it was Lee Hale’s article on Preach My Gospel that prompted me to take a look at the Doctrinal Mastery materials in the first place. Including the exclusion policy in a missionary handbook (where they work on getting people baptized) didn’t seem as much like doubling-down as what happened two years ago. To me, pushing it as revelation was really doubling-down, so I pulled up this year’s Doctrinal Mastery materials just to verify it still wasn’t there. Seeing that exclusion-policy-as-revelation section back in the materials was honestly a bit shocking, which is why I wrote that post a few days later.
Here’s a question for Mary Ann — in looking into these curriculum entries and changes, and in discussion with various people, did you learn any specifics about who drafts the lessons, who reviews and gives feedback on the drafts, who finalizes the drafts, and who ultimately approves them? Then, now with online continuously updated lessons and manuals, who oversees ongoing edits and updates, if any?
Curriculum has always been a black box operation for the membership. We don’t really know what the process is or who is part of it, all we see is the manuals that come out of it. And the manuals aren’t really much to talk about, but how can we suggest improvements to the process that creates them when we really have no clue what that process is?
Dave B. – If you haven’t heard it yet, there is a fascinating interview on LDSPerspectives Podcast with one of the writers of the older manuals (No idea if he is still working on curriculum or not). Definitely worth a listen even if the procedures have changed since then. Even the writers find the manuals cringe-worthy.
“…this was not the first time someone tried to slip the exclusion policy into the seminary curriculum.” If you’re suggesting this curriculum addition was the work of some rogue, sneaky individual(s) in the COB, I would disagree with this characterization. Many (perhaps a majory?) of members fully sustain the First Presidency’s narrative regarding the POX’s divine authorship. I’m as glad as anyone that it has been again pulled from the curriculum, but it’s wishful thinking to paint the earlier decisions to add the POX as a model for modern revelation constituted some sort of insurgent move.
Sure happy they removed that as an example of revelation, especially since it wasn’t.
First thought: it’s almost as if there were competing factions in the curriculum department.
Second thought: nah. Probably more likely they responded to feedback, as suggested in the OP.
Third thought: perhaps I should have followed my instinct and given my feedback when I saw the lesson in the Marriage and Family Relations manual that includes as its primary reading assignment the talk called “For Time and All Eternity” by BKP. I think that talk is one of the most misogynistic talks I’ve ever seen.
Fourth thought: I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. In my opinion, removing the POX as an example of revelation is a Good Thing, which I shouldn’t complain about, even though part of me wants to use it as proof that church curriculum had problems.
Fifth thought: I can see why curriculum writers would want to use POX as an example of revelation. Something mundane like choosing councilors is really not very demonstrative of Divine influence, whereas something controversial or risky would be a lot more convincing if only it turns out well in the end.
Truckers Atlas, The First Presidency has had no narrative regarding the POX divine authorship. Elder Nelson was not in the First Presidency when he made the revelation claim in January 2016. The First Presidency had clearly indicated that it was not of divine authorship when they issued the “clarification” letter that fundamentally changed a part of it. I have not been able to find any record of any public support by any of the Q15 other than then Elder Nelson for the claim of revelation — certainly not “divine authorship.” Silence from them and from the current First Presidency on the subject does not amount to a claim of divine authorship. Neither does their not [yet] having changed more than was changed by the “clarification” letter. The notion of the POX having been revealed to President Monson was passed around SLC by various local church leaders very early on, but not by the First Presidency.
But I agree that pulling it from seminary materials again was not some sort of insurgent move.
Kangaroo, there are and were lawyers among the Q12. If the policy was written in “legalese” it was incompetent legalese, at least as demonstrated by the existence of the “clarification” letter. I suspect it was hastily drafted by someone, lawyer or not, paralleling the existing policy on polygamists and their children, at the instruction of some one or two of the Q15, and without significant thought about how it applied to some of the allegedly numerous possible scenarios that had been considered by the Q15.
Truckers Atlas, good point. The sentence definitely comes across sinister. I’ve changed it in the OP and noted the reason for the correction in Footnote 3.
JR, I don’t follow. It seems you’re splitting hairs, but if your explanation works for you, I won’t insult your logic.
Truckers Atlas, It may be splitting hairs, but for some it is important. There have been times in the Church when it was clear that only the President had authority to declare doctrine/revelation for the Church and that some of the apostles were all over the map about certain issues. So to some the distinction is important. On the other hand with the RS/PR manuals Teachings of the Prophet/President So-and-So we now also have a tradition of confusing the teachings of a person from whenever in his life before becoming the President with his teachings as President of the Church. In at least some cases, there has been a significant difference — ETB and JFS, Jr., for example. It remains to be seen if President Nelson is going to double down as President on his earlier claim about the POX. I wouldn’t be surprised, but as far as I can tell it hasn’t happened yet.
Thanks for keeping us up to date with this Mary Ann.
Tangentially, I don’t know why such a fuss is being mind in some quarters about what “weak water” the process of revelation as described above would appear to be to some. I’m convinced I remember a conference talk by President Hinckley in which he described much the same process we’re all taught to use, used by the Q12 and 1P a long time ago now. Finding said talk is proving tricky however…
Daniel Peterson was on the Correlation Committee, and talked about how he didn’t like it. https://mormonheretic.org/2011/11/26/daniel-peterson-talks-candidly-about-correlation/
Concur with Hedgehog. “I remember a conference talk by President Hinckley in which he described much the same process we’re all taught to use”
In other words, not much of current (or past) gospel policy is dictated word for word by God but rather the apostles use their own experience and knowledge to propose an idea and then bring it in prayer, individually at first and finally in quorum. One person could be mistaken, even mistaking his answer to prayer, but it would be unlikely for the entire quorum to have exactly the same mistaken revelation. Where consensus cannot be established then a major change should not take place.
Michael 2, But it would not be at all unlikely for a “consensus” to be reached, for a variety of reasons, without the entire quorum having exactly the same revelation, or for there to be differences of opinion (within or without the quorum) on what constitutes a “major change”, or for someone convinced of his [mistaken?] revelation to assume that “consensus” or non-opposition means that others have had the same revelation. I like what I understand of your theory, but I don’t think it is always clear in practice..
Hedgehog, maybe Hinckley’s “God is at the Helm” address from the April 1994 general conference? https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1994/04/god-is-at-the-helm?lang=eng