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 
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 . 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?
 the photo is of my sun damaged hand after 40 years of surfing.
 Ballard’s Talk
Awesome post. I’ve never had a lesson about the gospel topics essays at church. I’d love to have a lesson and discussion about them. I think (or would like to hope) that about half (or maybe even more) of the members of my branch would be receptive and have thoughtful comments.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t continue teaching these lessons, and they really should be taught throughout the church.
Q: What is my exposure to the Gospel Topic Essays in Church settings?
That of course raises the further question of “why?”. The answer is that the vast majority of members are not willing to put in the study time to educate themselves enough to truly understand the essays.
Sadly, most of today’s members want to just show up and be taught a lesson without having to put forth any effort themselves. They do not read ahead in order to be prepared.
The Essays require a certain level of prior background learning to understand. Most local leaders understand that their members will spend their discretionary time playing video games and watching cat videos on YouTube, not in studying the areas covered by the Essays. Thus, they rightfully conclude that it would be unproductive.
I don’t know about the Essays, but forty years of surfing — that’s impressive.
I think Elder Ballard’s remarks are sort of the high water point of what you might call the endorsement arc of the Essays. Since then they have quietly and rather quickly receded into the background. At some point they will probably go away. Bottom line: they were more than mainstream members could handle on most controversial issues. They are more than leaders (at any level) want to talk about in any setting. Once upon a time they were seen as “inoculation,” fortifying members against more critical discussions of controversial issues. I doubt they have had that effect for most mainstream readers, instead introducing doubts or inviting further reading that undermines the orthodox narrative.
What they (the leadership) need to do is upgrade and fortify the curriculum, but the “new curriculum” did little or nothing to accomplish that. It’s like there were two forks in the road about ten years ago. The Essays and the JS Papers Project were attempts to go down More Transparency and Candor Way, but by and large it has been Let’s Not Talk About It Lane that the Church has followed. Perhaps this was the choice of the new Nelson-Oaks team.
I believe in nuance ! At some point my wife will find out that my faith is wavering, until then I do things like accept a call to teach Gospel Doctrine (recently).
The teacher manual for Come Follow Me lists Church History Topics and Gospel Topics (with links to the essays) as additional resources.
This weekend I read a tribute to Stephan Sondheim in the Washington Post, which concluded with: “Talent does an old thing well. Genius makes an old thing new.” Sondheim was an example of the latter. I wonder if the best we can hope for in well-established institutions, churches in particular, is the occasional opportunity for talent to flourish. Genius, after all, can bring danger as well as enlightenment (depending on who’s in charge?). Oh that there aren’t more courageous teachers daring to open old doors to see what’s on the other side.
“Most local leaders understand that their members will spend their discretionary time playing video games and watching cat videos on YouTube, not in studying the areas covered by the Essays.”
Source, plz. “Most local leaders”? Have you done a survey or found one … online?
The entire Christian project is fact-free. Facts are not why we go to church. I could care less whether BoM is actually historical, but treasure my relationship with the good people in my little Kansas ward.
While serving as a youth Sunday school teacher a couple years ago, one student requested that I teach a lesson on the priesthood and temple ban. I prepared a lesson based largely on church sources (gospel topics essay and scriptures) along with a couple of citations to Paul Reeves’ work. Afterwards, two parents complained to the bishop and I was accused of teaching false doctrine. I sent my lesson notes to the bishop and told him I would be happy to issue corrections for any errors in my material. He looked them over and said, “Just stick to the manual from now on.” I got released when the church did the reorganization of youth leaders shortly afterwards. Have not been asked to give a talk or lesson in the years since, and the only calling I was offered involved activity planning for the primary kids. Pretty sure I’m at least tacitly blacklisted.
I’d be more offended but I’ve been worshipping with the Community of Christ in recent months and it’s been a lovely experience.
I think we all understand what the Brethren understand: there are major tradeoffs with the GT Essays. For some, they serve as a great inoculation tool. For others, they have the opposite effect by introducing and endorsing ideas that had not even occurred to the reader/member.
That’s it. There’s friction because of this trade off. That’s why a bishop might shut you down for teaching the GT Essays even though a Q15 member said to know these like the back of your hand.
Those of us who value authenticity and transparency are going nuts.
I have never participatrd in a discussion of any of the essays in a church setting. My Brothers ward in New York used the essays a curriculum a few years age. I find that most mainstream members do not like to be put in situation were thet have to think mush about anything. I taught Elders quorum for seveal years prior to the pandemic and tried to make the lessons interesting and with lots of discussion. Getting the quorum to descuss things was a very difficut task. There wer 2 or 3 that particiated and that was on a goosd day. I know alot of that is becase a lot of people are anxious about participain in discussion in church or anywhere. I had similar expereince teaching High School for 30 years. I my own study of the essays I have found the book, The Gospel Topics Series: A Scholaly Engagement, by Harris nd Bringhurst very hepful. Since coorelation we have been dumbed down with mediocre church curriculum. The lesson manuls use to be authored by scholas such as Widstoe, Pack,Nibley, Robets etc.
The essays are definitely not Faith promoting. Anyone who reads them seriously can see that they dance around certain issues rather than address them head on. It creates the impression that the issues can’t be addressed head on in a satisfactory way.
@Bro Jones, that’s awful. Do these parents / leaders realize our kids can find this info on the internet presented in a very unfriendly light? My 14 yr old has already read all the things online. He’d be much better off having an open and honest discussion in Sunday School than reading things on ex-Mormon Reddit. Seems very short sighted.
I taught a lesson on Emma Smith earlier this year. Ahead of the lesson I sent all the girls & parents a bio from the Church’s own website and encouraged them to read it ahead of time. The bio expressly mentioned JS’s polygamy and Emma’s falling out with Brigham Young over the disposition of property after JS’s death, which I also addressed in the lesson. Mostly I did it because I didn’t want any complaints after the lesson that I’d taught false doctrine. I didn’t get any.
JCS is right, although his ultimate conclusion is off base.
Most members avoid careful study of church history. Those who do generally avoid reading anything that would make them the least bit uncomfortable.
I can say that reading the essays damaged my testimony. Not because I was unfamiliar with the concepts, but because the essays were far from straightforward. As Rudi mentioned above, the essays dance around challenging issues. They also use phrasing, particularly in the polygamy essay, that is misleading.
This creates the impression that these aspects of church history cannot be brought into full light without damage. Well, keeping them hidden has caused greater damage.
We’re lucky enough to have a fantastic GD teacher who is spending two lessons on the temple & priesthood ban. Today we got to see some of the racist things BY said, the egregious incorrect justifications used to explain the ban. To be continued in two weeks time.
Just a few weeks ago here in the UK we had a representative of the Church History dept run a series of firesides. I mentioned before they were very badly publicised. I managed to attend the final Zoom session. My interest was not in getting an answer to a thorny historical problem, but to see how such questions would be tackled. My conclusion: we still can’t trust the institution to be open, honest and transparent. Do they think we’re stupid?
I’ve read all the essays and also the background history from a guest in a couple of John Dehlin podcasts. Some essays are better than others.
When I was a bishopric counselor my bishop at the time – a man that I looked up then and still do now – said I’m not going to read them because even though they are approved by the church I don’t want to weaken my testimony. I think that is a common attitude in the church.
@Trish says two really important things.
First, re us not wanting to be uncomfortable – we are reaping the fruits of the teaching that discomfort = the absence of the spirit = evidence that something is “bad” and the fruits are very, very rotten. Discomfort is essential to growth and it is NOT evidence that something is “evil.” But we’ve been taught that and it’s keeping so many members in a state of emotional and spiritual immaturity because we don’t want to confront difficult things. It’s also creating massive issues in Utah right now where we are seeing ridiculous efforts to censor materials and curriculum because it’s making students uncomfortable.
Second, agree that while for some people the actual history revealed in the essays was the problem, for many people it was the fact that the essays themselves – while purporting to be an attempt at transparency – were themselves misleading. It’s not the crime but the cover up. Which we seem to be continuing.
I’ve never once heard the essays discussed. Although I remember reading an article in the news about a member who was released from his calling and reprimanded for not “sticking to the manual” and because he used the Race and Priesthood essay to teach a Gospel Doctrine class.
I am glad you were able to give lessons on this.
I was past my faith “crisis” and more into my faith “transition” and I was called to be the high priest group leader. I was in my mid 50’s and almost everyone else that attended 3rd hour priesthood meeting was older than I am. I took the Ballard talk to the CES employees (not quite what was put in the Ensign) and taught a lesson on this. I focused on the “know these like the back of your hand” and “gone are the days of just bearing your testimony” and then we did an overview of all the gospel topics. I mentioned this was directed towards CES employees, but I emphasized that we were all teachers of our grandchildren. I showed them where they were located on the app. Nobody had heard of them at all and I don’t know if anyone even looked at them.
I was in a phase of trying to make it all work and I thought it was important for them to know as I knew statistically that they were going to have some grandkids leave the church and I didn’t want them to be unaware of what the church was talking about. I do know the church has often tried to change and make the change without people realizing things had changed (https://wheatandtares.org/2020/07/03/modus-operandi/ ) I don’t agree that is being fully honest, but the church leaders can decide what they want to do. I just didn’t want these guys to be telling their grandkids, “No the truth is X” only to have the grandkids say, “Go look on the church’s own website and you will see that isn’t true.”
And I agree with Dave B – it sure feels to me like this was the high point of the church being a bit more open and honest, but I don’t think that has fully worked out well and it does seem like things are backsliding a bit in this area. I do think for some their efforts to “inoculate” did help keep them in, but I think for the majority of those that leave church leadership isn’t being honest enough (just finished reading a few more comments and Josh H said it well). I even threw a few bucks at the internet archive as the service they provide to be able to show “look, here is what was on the church’s web site back in 2016.” When they released them I felt encouraged that this was a step in the right direction. Given that the church leadership still does not want to talk about them AND that already having studied almost all the materials covered rather extensively for a few years, I feel they are very slanted propaganda. They have been very carefully worded in many places to say something that will probably be interpreted one way even though that wasn’t the way the majority of historians would get behind – but not technically/legally misleading. It almost feels like they were writing them to be able in the future in a law suit to be able to reference them as evidence that they were not whitewashing everything.
Elilsa has just summed up almost the entirety of Mormonism’s problem: Discomfort, which is necessary for growth, is seen as “bad” in the context of the Mormon view of spirituality. And because the church itself has created a group of people who are so uncomfortable with any kind of nuance, that’s where we are. When the church encourages (demands?) the kind of conformity that is just not possible to achieve if people think for themselves and don’t all grow in the exact same direction, it reaps the fruits it is reaping now, which, to go by some of the anecdotes here, indicates that the church’s own words are not believed by many of its members (even some in leadership). So really, we’ve got an example of an organization trying to break out of a pattern of whitewashing and gaslighting, but because the members of that organization have been conditioned for so long by said whitewashing and gaslighting, they now refuse to recognize or accept the nuance that the church is trying to interject into church discourse. It would be hilarious if there weren’t such real-world consequences, such as people feeling lost, not knowing where to turn, leaving the church or conversely, doubling down on false teachings. And those are just a few examples of the myriad responses to the essays. If you’ve spent more than a century and a half lying to people, you can’t be surprised if, when you start trying to tell at least some truths (in an admittedly indirect way, as many commenters have noticed), the people you’ve been lying to are going to suffer incredibly intense cases of cognitive dissonance.
Clay Cook: was this a typo?: ( “think mush”). I think you meant to say “think much” but now that I think about the essays maybe you really did mean “mush”
@Brother Sky “So really, we’ve got an example of an organization trying to break out of a pattern of whitewashing and gaslighting, but because the members of that organization have been conditioned for so long by said whitewashing and gaslighting, they now refuse to recognize or accept the nuance that the church is trying to interject into church discourse. It would be hilarious if there weren’t such real-world consequences”
This is at the heart of the matter. Parents disown their children (and in some cases eject them from their homes). Children disown their parents. Decades-long marriages crumble. Individuals experience mental health crises associated with this; the fallout can be extreme. Consequences are real and can be devastating.
(Didn’t I learn lessons about this at church–that you can choose your actions but you cannot choose the consequences? Does the lesson apply for institutions as well as individuals?)
I took Elder Ballard at his word, and tried to present a more honest version of events when I was teaching church history. I was released from that calling the very next week after talking about JS polygamy, and I have been blocklisted ever since. No calling, no talks or prayers, I haven’t even been asked to feed the missionaries. (It probably helps that I’m a female, and already have significantly less value to the church than a priesthood holder.) I’ve come to the conclusion that either E. Ballard didn’t mean it, or local leaders didn’t hear it, or local leaders heard but didn’t believe it.
I’m a simple person. I believe in honesty because it works better than anything else to get us closer to living in harmony with the ultimate truth (as if we’ll ever clearly understand it) and because it makes our lives less complicated on a practical basis.
Life is full of complication, ambivalence and failures to be able to see the big picture. And yet we have to muddle through somehow anyway. Searching for truth and aligning ourselves with it is, as I see it, our best chance to succeed. I
Everything that isn’t truth is an error or a deception. Each mistruth sets us off in a direction away from the truth into more error and makes the truth harder to comprehend. t makes our lives more complicated and uncomfortable.
Everything that’s murky or ambivalent is a moment when we have to choose the complexity of life or simple “truths” that explain them away. We can, of course, make our sincere best guesses on which to act. But, bottom line, living with the angst of ambivalence and/or being ready to abandon the simple “truths” as soon as it becomes more clear that they were misleading us is the only honest and brave way to go.
In my opinion, the church made a choice a long time ago to go off in the direction of simple “truths” and doubling down on them in very authoritarian ways. In the process I think they’ve damaged themselves, the institution and the followers. That is to say, I’m sorry to say, that the church made a choice to support errors and deception. It hurt my heart but it’s been a good number of years since I’ve had to face the fact that the church has become a dishonest institution at its core by choice. Even the Gospel Topic Essays were their best attempt to make the mistruths more acceptable. And, sad to say, the actions of the church, lead by their embrace of the dishonest, have been more and more clearly disruptive and counterproductive to individuals and society.
That’s just something I had to face to carry on. I’m past the pain of it and finding that my life is becoming more simple and more positive as a result.
I applaud you, Bishop Bill, for finding your truth and bringing it into the church community. It can only help some folks find their own truth that they can live with.
MW – I too have often times wished to send a comment to a top church leader of what was repeatedly taught to me as a youth in the church of, “you can choose your actions but you cannot choose the consequences.” Such as, “You can choose to not FULLY accept LGBTQ individuals into your church and theology, but you can’t choose how people are going to react to it.”
In approximately 2016/2017 (likely as a result of this same Ballard talk I assume) our Ward Conference was taken over by the Stake leaders per the usual custom, and the entire second hour had the Stake SS Presidency attempting to introduce and teach the essays. All adults not in Primary were there. It was a disaster in my opinion.
There was not enough time to go through each essay in detail, of course. So instead they asked a member to pre-read a topic essay and give a summary to the class. Depending on the person, their summary either sounded like they had no mastery or grasp of the concept, or they just regurgitated the intro/concluding paragraphs from the essay itself. It was truly strange to have random folks try to discuss controversial topics this way. Awkward, uninformed, slightly embarrassed are all descriptions I would give the presenter.
I recall after each summary a member of the Stake SS Presidency would chime in a bit and smooth over any rough edges. No real discussion with the main audience. Just move along.
We lost 2-3 strong families shortly after. It introduced those members to topics they never knew, and explanations they couldn’t accept. I remember leaning over to my wife and saying, “If I was a non-member visitor or newly baptized, I would feel as though we were being asked to learn how to cover up really controversial things, or explain strange practices/beliefs away.”
At that time, nothing presented was new to me, most of it was new to my wife who hadn’t been that interested in church history or doctrinal truth claims up to that point. But it did set me on a path for more primary source material and a more critical look as those issues. I think the church gave me permission to do so. And well, here I am now commenting on this blog, and we are not active attending right now so . . . 😁
Bishop Bill, I’m also in SoCal and would LOVE to attend your lessons! Where’s your chapel? Because if I don’t go to your lessons, I’ll probably just stay home, like I did today (but not to surf; I went hiking at Crystal Cove instead =)).
@counselor these piecemeal efforts sound like a disaster and a reason they need to lead from the top in transparency.
I do feel for leaders who aren’t necessarily the ones who created the problems and hid history, but now have to deal with the fallout. (Although Oaks is one of the guilty parties here so I don’t feel too bad for current leadership – he’s in the “not everything that’s true is useful” camp). And their attempt to be more transparent in the essays ended up proving their fears (that people would leave) to be founded so I can understand why they are skittish. But I think they really just need to rip the bandaid off or this will never ever end.
I’ve heard from CES that they’ve basically written off middle aged folks who feel betrayed because there’s no fixing that – at least not in a way they are willing to do (like apologize) – and they are just trying to do better with younger people and avoid that. But it doesn’t seem like they are trying that much harder.
Bill, You may have a melanoma on the back of that hand. We have a thing about skin cancer with 300 days of sunshine a year. You do not have scars on your hand.
I spent my first 10 years in a place called Surfers Paradise, but we never went to the beach let alone surfed, because my parents believed leisure was time wasted. I still struggle to do leisure, well done.
I do think there may be some power left being an ex bishop. I was an acting bishop for a year but that carries no residual power. It will be interesting to see if you are allowed to finish this lesson schedule, and how many of your class stay active. Let us know.
@Elisa, Wow. Your comment “I’ve heard from CES that they’ve basically written off middle aged folks who feel betrayed because there’s no fixing that .” really left an impact on me. Can you expound any more on it? I understand that you probably can’t quote people or give names due to confidentiality- but can you share anything else about the context that you heard this? (What sort of position the person held, how they came to this determination, what that means?”) I am sincerely interested in better understanding what they meant by that. – On first glance my thought is, “They don’t have a good answer for those people, so they’ve thrown their hands up in the air.” Does that sound about right/is that your understanding? Or is there other information or a different context that I am missing? Thanks.
The inoculation effort may be primarily directed at youth. Maybe 8 years ago the church started having seminary teachers teach Nauvoo Polygamy. I don’t know if they introduced the students to the GT essays, or just taught the simplified information. I got a sense that the youth were not particularly phased by it.
I was already independently having a god crisis after a difficult experience, and was trying to figure out how to be a Mormon but not believe in god, (alternately with not very successfully trying to believe in god), when The Essays were serially released. I read a fair amount, but much of it was devastatingly revelatory to me. I guess I didn’t read the right things.
To people here who note that they already knew much of the material in the essays, why wasn’t it bothersome to you?
I get it to a degree, but am interested in hearing your perspectives.
@aporetic1, someone in my immediate family has worked for the church for a decade so interacts regularly with CES and other church employees and that’s where I heard that. I’m sure that’s not necessarily some uniform policy but it’s reflective of my personal experience so I think there’s some truth to it and I think your read of it is correct & how my family member and I interpreted it as well. I’ve heard similar things from other friends in stakes with a lot of CES employees but that’s the most direct I’ve heard it.
It also seems to be the case that the church is not at all interested in sponsoring classes or support groups for people in faith crisis because they’ve seen that once people get past a certain point there’s essentially no saving them and instead of viewing them as people to be ministered to or trying to make a place for them, honestly I think they are viewed as a contagion to be contained. A virus.
You do have a few things like people going around doing firesides but no real support groups or communities where people connect and speak with each other. My stake recently had Elder and Sister Hafen speak on their book “Faith is not Blind” and I was less than impressed – I really tried to understand what they were saying, but ultimately it seemed like although they were trying to create a stages of faith framework like Rohr / McConkie / McLaren, what they were *really* telling people to do was to revert back to stage 1. Because you simply cannot tell people to Follow the Prophet in later faith stages but obviously that’s what people like the Hafens have to do. And I think it’s pretty common for people in crisis / transition to vacillate between stages and go back to earlier stages thinking they’ve “resolved” things (I certainly did that more than once) but really it’s just that the discomfort of transition is too much to bear so you bury your head in the sand for a bit. Some people may be able to do that for forever but most don’t.
I was trying to find it but didn’t Elder Jensen basically say that once people learn about the history and feel betrayed there’s basically nothing they’ve found that can be done? I could be wrong or misquoting that but I thought I’d heard that somewhere. They have enough data showing them that on some issues at a certain point there’s little chance of rescuing people and a high chance that those people are going to infect others with their doubts, so they don’t bother. The middle aged crowd like me who heard all the crazy stuff first-hand AND is very aware of the changing narrative is going to be hard for them to please. What I can’t work out, though, is how they think they’re going to hang onto the youth if the youths’ parents are leaving.
I attended an adult institute class a couple years ago that spent the summer studying the essays. The teacher did a great job going through each one. I taught gospel doctrine class two weeks ago and spent most of the time on polygamy using the essays and other resources. Had some good discussion and didn’t get any push back from it. I told my bishop ahead of time that I would be discussing polygamy and he said to go for it
I don’t have any deep contacts within CES or church HQ, but I have heard more than one person that does have some connections say the same thing about the older generation(s). I look at is as they were taught a REALLY whitewashed version of church history and of all the miracles at the start of the church and it can be REALLY hard to feel betrayed when they found how different the history really is.
And I agree with rest of what Elisa states in the rest of her comments. It seems spot on.
@Elisa Thanks for taking the time to reply. This is so interesting to me. I haven’t heard Elder and Sister Hafen or read their book. I do really like hearing the perspective of Teryll and Fiona Givens, and Michael Wilcox. Their perspectives have helped me to remain active in the church despite drastically changing my beliefs about the church. I’ve always wondered why their ideas aren’t shared more in General Conference or made more accessible to the membership. From what it sounds like, based on your experience (and Bishop Bill’s post, and many comments on here) is that the church doesn’t want to promote any thing that may cause people to question their faith – and in so doing they aren’t providing support/answers for people who are questioning their faith. I find this all so interesting.
Like you said, “I do feel for leaders who aren’t necessarily the ones who created the problems and hid history, but now have to deal with the fallout.” Yeah, such a tricky situation. I wonder what sort of thoughts/decision-making processes the leaders use. You sum up the situation nicely in your last paragraph:
“I was trying to find it but didn’t Elder Jensen basically say that once people learn about the history and feel betrayed there’s basically nothing they’ve found that can be done? I could be wrong or misquoting that but I thought I’d heard that somewhere. They have enough data showing them that on some issues at a certain point there’s little chance of rescuing people and a high chance that those people are going to infect others with their doubts, so they don’t bother. The middle aged crowd like me who heard all the crazy stuff first-hand AND is very aware of the changing narrative is going to be hard for them to please. What I can’t work out, though, is how they think they’re going to hang onto the youth if the youths’ parents are leaving.”
I share your final question. My wife has shared that overall she feels like the church is a net positive for our kids, so she’ll continue attending while they live at home. But once all the kids are out of the house, she really doesn’t see herself continuing to attend. I wonder if a lot of people are in that boat? Thanks again for sharing. I’ll be thinking about this for the next while. I’ll let you know if I come up with the answer 😉
Yes @aporect1, I like the Givens version of the gospel as well, but it does start to feel like an actual alternative reality to the “General Conference” gospel. Like some kind of underground version for nuanced Mormons but a lot of what they say if you said in Sunday School you’d be seen as a heretic I think. (I must also admit that I soured a bit on them with the whole Radical Orthodoxy ridiculousness but I digress.). That’s a whole separate and interesting topic! There was a v interesting Mormon Stories interview with a former seminary teacher who said the Givens would come and speak at trainings and he’d love it, but then other seminary teachers would complain, so then CES would basically disavow what Givens said. Totally weird. CES is crazy.
I would love to know exactly what the CES approach is. Are they using different materials than the essays and like writings? Or, are they just hoping they end up successfully married and endowed/more likely to feel invested.
Bishop Bill, would you be able to post outlines of your lessons? I think seeing how you approach the discussion to each essay would be fascinating.
The essays were definitely less satisfying than I expected them to be, although in many cases they matched how I more or less addressed these topics when I was teaching. The problem is the areas that are so clearly misleading or downplaying unsavory facts (marrying the almost 15 year old was just gross, gross, gross). And they still omitted a lot of information. There are many problems here, and it seems that eventually the only ones left will be those who are simply incurious, who deliberately don’t look at information they don’t want to know. Then again, we’ve got a whole lot of people decrying CRT right now, and it’s the same exact motive. We’d rather cling to comfortable, unchallenging fictions than to deal with the reality. The problem the Church has is that it did these things, then it hid them and gaslit members for a long time and told straight up lies to preserve the members’ affection, and it blamed people who saw what it was doing as if they were the faithless ones. It’s just not a sustainable position.
A more sustainable position, to quote the Phantom of the Opera is “Why can’t the past just die?” If we were willing to say “Joseph was a serial adulterer who brought a whole lot of what happened to him on himself, and Brigham Young was a dictator whose ego knew almost no bounds, BUT we’re here, not to worship them or the current crop of fallible leaders, but to learn as a community from the teachings of Jesus and each other” I have to think we’d be in a better place. To me, it seems that the core problem is that humans cannot relinquish power when they have it, and they see it as undermining their power to let go of the past. The Catholics are able to get over the “bad popes.” We just haven’t disavowed ours.
@Elisa made a really interesting comment, “…Elder Jensen basically [said] that once people learn about the history and feel betrayed there’s basically nothing they’ve found that can be done? I could be wrong or misquoting that but I thought I’d heard that somewhere. They have enough data showing them that on some issues at a certain point there’s little chance of rescuing people and a high chance that those people are going to infect others with their doubts, so they don’t bother. The middle aged crowd like me who heard all the crazy stuff first-hand AND is very aware of the changing narrative is going to be hard for them to please. What I can’t work out, though, is how they think they’re going to hang onto the youth if the youths’ parents are leaving.”
I feel like the church is going at the issue with an either/or approach when a third way is likely to be so much better in the long run.
@LivingontheWasatch, on the recent “Economics and Tithing” post, comments, “With that much money the church has such an opportunity to do so much good and live up to the name they want to be called. Think about the Church in a refugee camp in Syria building schools and feeding the starving. On the US Southern border offering aid and coming up with creative ways to help Refugees obtain economic success. This would be a Church that I would be proud to belong to. I would hustle my butt over to tithing settlement every year. The Church could be such a force for Good.”
Many religious groups form and eventually adapt as sometimes-difficult truth emerges. As our sometimes-difficult truths emerge, we could move forward in a way that prevents repeating the same mistakes that got us to this spot in the first place. The church could move toward being fully transparent. It could work toward dispersing the enormous concentration of power found at the very top levels of leadership and empowering the individual members to examine and live according to their carefully-considered values. If we could acknowledge difficult truths and move forward in a direction determined by careful ethics and consideration of important human values, the church could be a force for good in the world we can only dream of at this point in time. But it starts with dealing with the issues contained within the essays in a straightforward manner, with complete openness and honesty, putting the needs of individual church members over those of the institution.
If we were willing to say “Joseph was a serial adulterer who brought a whole lot of what happened to him on himself, and Brigham Young was a dictator whose ego knew almost no bounds, BUT we’re here, not to worship them or the current crop of fallible leaders, but to learn as a community from the teachings of Jesus and each other” I have to think we’d be in a better place.
That’s one of the things I’ve loved about the Community of Christ—that’s basically what they say. (Minus the Brigham part, of course.) They’re at a stage right now where they analyze the past in the context of approaching stronger discipleship, and part of that approach involves reckoning with mistakes, injuries, and traumas. They see it as just one more tool in approaching Christ, and reject hero or leader worship. It’s mighty refreshing and wish the LDS church could do more of that. The words and deeds of Brigham Young may have produced a stronginstitution that I am (still nominally) a part of, but they have not led me closer to Jesus in any measurable way. I am at peace with that, and my discipleship is not strengthened by “Follow the Prophet” cheerleaders emerging from the depths to urge me towards obedience.
What has been [my] exposure to the Essays in a formal church setting?
As Sunday school president with 15 years of apologetic studies behind me, I offered to teach or facilitate a series of Sunday lessons on the GT essays in 2016. I reviewed the titles with the bishop’s counselor and immediately got shut down. Several additional attempts yielded the same results; “we don’t talk about those things in church, we need to stick to the approved lessons.”
In 2018 and a new ward, I got support from the bishop to conduct a weekday class. It was well publicized. The ward was composed of mostly young families. I had expected the 25-30-something members to have an interest in exploring these nuanced issues and having an honest, open, casual discussion. By the third lesson, I was alone. The effort was dropped.
Now that I understand faith stages, I can see that younger members had either already left or were not at a stage of independence to consider stepping outside of the norm.
1) The church does not currently allow for or have models for faith development beyond Fowler’s stage three (Thomas McConkie’s Expert). It is difficult to remain engaged (or be allowed to engage) if you are outside of the norm. (The Hafen’s book, “Faith is Not Blind,” mentioned in previous comments, was a rather poor attempt to introduce the LDS community to the concept of faith stages.)
2) The excuse of losing the middle-aged generation seems shortsighted and may allow current believers to feel good about the effort to be more open and transparent. The mistake is that they may be ignoring the departure of younger generations. Older members (30+) may feel lied to and may be emotional traumatized by the resulting crisis and faith transition. It is my observation that younger members seem to just walk away without all of the emotional baggage. The church is often just not credible or is irrelevant to them.
When the middle-aged people leave, their children then have permission to do the same … without guilt.
In the beginning it was about the messed up kingdoms of heaven and how the people I loved would be in a lower kingdom, and also the polygamy there.
The essays finished me though, with the different first vision accounts. The only one in his handwriting and the closest to the time it happened, albeit 12 years later, proved he was a fraud. And a later prophet cut it from his journal and hid it away from the knowledge of the body of the church. I’m not sure the last detail is in the essay, but it proves deception and deceit.
To have very good and detailed knowledge of something: I know this area like the back of my hand. People have said it’s from when palm reading was a more common and accepted thing, i.e. that your palm is the back of your hand. https://catalyticministries.com/