[Bishop Bill walks to the podium in sacrament meeting.]

Good morning brothers and sisters. When the phone rang last week and I saw it was the Bishop, I contemplated not picking it up. [Courtesy laugh from the congregation] I made a mistake and answered, and thus here I am speaking in sacrament meeting today. [more light laughter]

[Boilerplate sacrament talk begins]

The dictionary defines the word “school” as an institution where instruction is given. The word “instruction” means that knowledge or information is imparted. So Sunday school would be a class like Gospel Doctrine where one goes to be instructed and gain knowledge and learn.  

My parody of the typical sacrament meeting talk leads to a discussion of how gospel doctrine classes have strayed from a place of learning. For those that attend church, when was the last time you actually learned something in class? When I last taught GD as a substitute, we were covering the New Testament.  I would read the entire lesson in several different Bible translations (all are available online), and make note of where they differed from the KJV, and if they made a difference in the understanding, I would share that with the class. I tried to make sure the “school” in Sunday school was realized.  The same when I teach Elders Quorum. Somebody is going to learn something new whether they like it or not!

Several times over the years I’ve had members go to the Bishop to complain about my teaching. The one that stands out the most was when the subject of evolution came up, and I told the class the church does not have a doctrine on evolution, and people can believe what they want. About a week later I was called into the bishop’s office for teaching false doctrine on evolution. I came prepared with the First Presidency statement that says the church takes no official stand on evolution. It was a very short meeting. I showed the Bishop the statement, he read it, and said I was fine, keep up the good work and I left.  

So what is Gospel Doctrine class if we are not learning?  John Dehlin, in a recent Mormon Stories podcast [1], said that Richard Bushman told him in a conversation that Gospel Doctrine is more ritual than learning. In other word, we go there to affirm each other’s orthodox beliefs, not to actually learn anything.  

What do you think about Bushman’s statement?

What do you think the purpose of Gospel Doctrine class is?

Is it more ritual than learning?

Has it always been that way, and if not when did it change?

[1] Mormon Stories #1581, 39 min mark.