I had not been back to church in 18 months in September when I got an an e-mail from the EQP asking me to teach a lesson in Elders Quorum. The EQP is my former 1st Counselor when I was Bishop, so I know him well. Also, this is a well known tactic to call people to do something (teach, speak, etc) to get them back to church. Here is what I sent him via e-mail

I’m not big on regurgitating a conference talk. We heard it once, lets move on to something new and actually learn. Here is my proposal. 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.”

You can read his talk here [2]

I will teach about the essays for the lesson. It will take 3-4 weeks to get through them. The list of what I will cover are:
Are Mormons Christian?
Becoming Like God
Book of Mormon and DNA Studies
Book of Mormon Translation
First Vision Accounts
Mother in Heaven
Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo
Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah
The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage
Race and the Priesthood
Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.

You can find a copy of all the essays here [3]. I will only teach what is found on the church’s web sight. If this is agreeable, I will prepare to start teaching in Nov, and may do one every month for several months. If not, you can find somebody else to teach. Let me know!

Well guess what, he agreed, and I gave my first lesson a few weeks ago. We covered the BofM and BofA ones (History/DNA/Translations), and the First Vision one. There was about 20 people in attendance. When I ask by a show of hand who had read all the essays, only one person raised his hand. He is a former counselor in the Stake Presidency, and is currently a counselor in the Temple Presidency for our local temple. He played a good strait man to my nuanced view of the essays. As I would hit the highlights in each one, he would try to steer it back to to orthodox beliefs. For example when I said the bottom line from the BofM translation essay was that Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat, he said “no, the bottom line is that it was translated by the power of God”. I enjoyed his comments, and though I could tell on some faces that the rock in the hat made some people uneasy, he would try to reel them back in with his testimony after we coved each essay.

I wondered if I was going to be invited back to finish them up, and this week the EQP asked me which Essays I’d be covering for my December lesson! I don’t know if I’ve got some “ex-Bishop” capitol that is letting me do this, but I’ll run with it.

What has been your exposure to the Essays in a formal church setting?

[1] the photo is of my sun damaged hand after 40 years of surfing.

[2] Ballard’s Talk

[3] Link to Church Essays