In 2016, Elder Ballard, while speaking to all the seminary and institute instructors world wide, talked about the “Gospel Topic Essays” found on the church web site. He said:
“It is important that you know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand. If you have questions about them, then please ask someone who has studied them and understands them. In other words, “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” as you master the content of these essays.”
He also said : “ inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful, and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history, and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.”An Evening with Elder M. Russell Ballard
Address to CES Religious Educators • February 26, 2016 • Salt Lake Tabernacle
I find it interesting that he chose the word inoculate, making an analogy that teaching the essays to the students will somehow immunize them from these “sometimes misunderstood” topics. So lets delve into what it means to “inoculate” something, and I think you’ll find that this is in fact the perferct word for what the church is trying to do.
Inoculate means “to implant (a disease agent or antigen) in a person, animal, or plant to produce a disease for study or to stimulate disease resistance.” The implanted antigen is usually modified in some way so that the receiving person does not get the full blown disease. This is done by changing the antigen, watering it down, or otherwise rendering it imponent. The first smallpox inoculation was actually a cowpox viruses, which was close enough to smallpox to fool the body into developing antibodies that protected it from the much more potent smallpox. Other smallpox inoculation involved putting a little bit of the smallpox viruses in a scrape in the skin. Too much would kill the person, so it was just enough to create the antibodies, but not too much to kill them.
Now this analogy to what Elder Ballard was talking about writes itself. The disease is the full history of the church, lack of DNA evidence for Lamanites, or Book of Mormon/Book of Abraham translation among many such topics. The implanted antigen is a watered down, altered or otherwise impotent Gospel Topic Essay.
Lets look at an example about how this works. The truth is the Book of Abraham is no way found in the surviving manuscripts or the published facsimiles. That truth is the disease. To counter that disease, the church puts out an essay that talks about the Book of Abraham Translation, but like a good inoculation, it is a watered down version, giving just enough information to fool the mind (body) into creating resistance against further attacks from this truth (disease).
All the essays are like that; a watered down version, keeping the most potent facts out of the message, lest they kill the patient. In medicine, sometime people get an adverse reaction to an inoculation. That is the same with the church essays. There have been people that lost their testimony because of the church essays. Again, like in medicine, it has been decided that it is worth the bad reaction in the few for the greater good of the masses.
Elder Ballard has admitted by using the word “inoculate”, the essays are watered down, not the full “dose” of the truth. What has been your experience with the Gospel Topic Essays?