Episodes

One Family’s Letter to a Leader

For a Formatable Copy – http://www.mormondiscussionpodcast.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Letter-To-Leader-Format.rtf

Otherwise the letter can be read in it’s entirety below


Dear Church Leader,

 

Spouse XYZ and I have discussed at length the conversation you had with us at our house Tuesday night as well as the follow up texts the next day and the three hour conversation you and I had on Father’s Day.  You said many contradictory things. You said things that many would find offensive. However, understand that we take no offense and honor your authenticity. We saw a guy in anguish, sincerely struggling to do the right thing and lead his ward in the best way possible.

 

You asked us to again review what the church has said about how and what we should be teaching at church and you asked us to help you. We appreciate your honesty and vulnerability and want to do what you have asked of us. 

 

When you and I spoke, you told me my “reputation preceded me” and you had heard “gossip and rumors stretching back ten years.” At our home, you told us that you have received “consistent and multiple complaints from several people” about our lessons. I haven’t taught a lesson in a year and a half and Spouse XYZ has taught 4 in he same time period as a sub in Relief Society.   You didn’t want to give us any examples or relay any actual complaints, although you emphasized how consistent the complaints were. Eventually you told us of two specific complaints. They were both about Spouse XYZ, that she had played a song that wasn’t a hymn during a lesson and more recently she did not teach the numbered lesson assigned to the week.  You told us we need to follow the curriculum, which you said meant only teaching from the scriptures and words of the prophets and to eliminate songs, stories, personal thoughts etc. You admitted that your concern was all based on hearsay and gossip, that you’d never personally heard us teach but continued to insist that we both need to stick to the curriculum.

 

The rumors and gossip are not true.  We teach from the current curriculum and are up to date with the most recent instruction from the brethren. We would never show up and simply read a manual. Regarding the song- Spouse XYZ had been talking to a sister who shared her current struggle with self esteem and coincidentally her love of Whitney Houston songs. When she was asked to sub she was inspired to use the song “Greatest Love of All” by Houston to set the mood to link personal self worth with the knowledge of the love our Father in Heaven has for each of us. It seems to me that “consistent and multiple complaints from several people” is petty, high school-ish and mean spirited coming from our friends and neighbors and shouldn’t be worth your time. 

 

Regarding how and what to teach in church, you brought and left us chapter 11 of Teaching, No Greater Call, to review.

The most recent quote in that chapter was from the 1990’s before the creation of LDS.org. In that chapter, you pointed to and read the quote “To help us teach from the scriptures and the words of the latter-day prophets, the Church has produced lesson manuals and other materials. There is little need for commentaries or other reference material.”

However, if you look on LDS.org, in instructions for 2017 Curriculum, in Teaching The Savior’s Way; you will find chapters titled:

Focus on People, Not Lessons

Teach by the Spirit

Take Advantage of Spontaneous Teaching Moments 

Use Music, Stories and Art to Teach Doctrine

 

And in those chapters, the church tells us to not only “teach pure doctrine” but:

Often the best teaching moments are unexpected—for example, when someone shares an experience or asks a question that leads to a meaningful discussion. Allow time for such moments. Listen for promptings—both as you plan and as you teach—and be willing to change your plans if necessary to follow the promptings you receive…. Remember that it is more important to follow the impressions of the Spirit than to cover a certain amount of material.”

And:

 “When you prepare, let your understanding of the people you teach guide your plans. To reach different learners, you may be led to use music, make an assignment in advance, or share an analogy about something a class member is interested in, such as sports. Christlike teachers are not committed to a particular style or method; they are committed to helping people build faith in Jesus Christ and become more like Him.”

Teaching, No Greater Call, was put together in 1999 and the quotes in the chapter you gave us ranged from 20 to 79 years old, with the majority of the quotes from the 1930s-1970s. These quotes are instructions on how to teach. The 1999 manual gives specific instruction to teach one way and the new 2017 guidelines are different, even contradictory. The church is constantly evolving and adapting, even when it comes to doctrine. This makes many uncomfortable. 

Less than a year ago, in an Ensign article that was addressed “all who teach in the Church,” Elder Ballard said:

All good teachers must be good listeners. In addition to listening to your students, encourage them in class or in private to ask you questions about any topic.”

And:

“… let me warn you not to pass along faith-promoting or unsubstantiated rumors or outdated understandings and explanations of our doctrine and practices from the past. It is always wise to make it a practice to study the words of the living prophets and apostles; keep updated on current Church issues, policies, and statements through mormonnewsroom.org and LDS.org; and consult the works of recognized, thoughtful, and faithful LDS scholars to ensure you do not teach things that are untrue, out of date, or odd and quirky.”

https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/12/by-study-and-by-faith?lang=eng

 In our True and Living Church, guidelines, instructions, official history and even Doctrine change and evolve. 

That fact can be exhilarating or frightening, but to know it to be a fact can help you resolve some of your internal struggles in how to handle things and help you understand better why so many people are struggling with the Church at this time.

Let me illustrate with a beautiful example:

In the Lesson 11, that you left for us, there is a quote by President Spencer W. Kimball. 

In 1948 Elder Spencer W. Kimball said: 

There are those today who seem to take pride in disagreeing with the orthodox teachings of the Church and who present their own opinions which are at variance with the revealed truth… Men may think as they please, but they have no right to impose upon others their unorthodox views. Such persons should realize that their own souls are in jeopardy” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 109). 

How amazing is it that 30 years later, this beloved prophet would listen to the many members that were questioning the orthodox teachings of the church and begin to question the orthodox teachings of the church himself. In his biography, President Kimball shares the long years of personal struggle that eventually resulted in a revelation that changed the orthodox teachings of the church, changing the doctrine of priesthood worthiness to include blacks. Imagine if he had stuck to his own advise, where would our brothers and sisters of color be?

The Brethren know that these things aren’t easy, but they are asking us to learn these things now. Elder Ballard, in the December 2016 Ensign article addressed to “all who teach in the Church” said:

As you teachers pay the price to better understand our history, doctrine, and practices—better than you do now—you will be prepared to provide thoughtful, careful, and inspired answers to your students’ questions.”

There is a reason our current Prophets and apostles are telling us to know the current issues, to study the essays and to include them in our Sunday instruction.

 

Marlin K Jensen (previous Church historian and 1st Q of the seventy):
“Often in the church, when someone comes with a bit of a prickly question, he’ll be met with a ( a certain Church leader ) who number one, doesn’t know the answer. Number two, he snaps and says, ‘Get in line and don’t question the prophet, and get back and do your home teaching.’ And that isn’t helpful in most cases. So, we need to educate our leaders better, I think, to be sympathetic and empathetic and to draw out of these people where they are coming from and what’s brought them to the point they are at. What they have read, what they are thinking is, and try to understand them. Sometimes that alone is enough to help someone through a hard time. But beyond that, I think we really need to figure out a way to live a little bit with people who may never get completely settled.”

http://mormon-chronicles.blogspot.com/2012/01/rescue-plan-to-address-difficulties-of.html

 

Elder M Russell Ballard :

We have heard stories where someone asking honest questions about our history, doctrine, or practice were treated as though they were faithless. This is not the Lord’s way… We need to do better in responding to honest questions. Although we may not be able to answer every question about the cosmos or about our history, practices, or doctrine, we can provide many answers to those who are sincere.”

https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/to-the-saints-in-the-utah-south-area?lang=eng

 

Elder Steven Snow:

 “My view is that being open about our history solves a whole lot more problems than it creates. We might not have all the answers, but if we are open (and we now have pretty remarkable transparency), then I think in the long run that will serve us well. I think in the past there was a tendency to keep a lot of the records closed or at least not give access to information. But the world has changed in the last generation—with the access to information on the Internet, we can’t continue that pattern; I think we need to continue to be more open.”

https://mi.byu.edu/truth-in-church-history-excerpts-from-the-religious-educators-qa-with-elder-steven-snow/


Elder M Russell Ballard:

 “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, “Don’t worry about it!” Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.” 

 https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/evening-with-a-general-authority/2016/02/the-opportunities-and-responsibilities-of-ces-teachers-in-the-21st-century?lang=eng

 

Elder M Russell Ballard:

 “It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine, and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the Church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life. Our curriculum at that time, though well-meaning, did not prepare students for today— a day when students have instant access to virtually everything about the Church from every possible point of view.”

https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/12/by-study-and-by-faith?lang=eng

 

Elder M Russell Ballard: 

“”It is important that you know the content in (Gospel Topic 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.””

 https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/evening-with-a-general-authority/2016/02/the-opportunities-and-responsibilities-of-ces-teachers-in-the-21st-century?lang=eng

 

President Uchtdorf:

 “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.”

 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng

 

And the instructions from the current manuals say:

We can use music that has a sacred message outside church approved music
“4. Use hymns, Primary songs, and other sacred music to prepare class members’ hearts to feel the Spirit.”
https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history-gospel-doctrine-teachers-manual/helps-for-the-teacher?lang=eng 

We as teachers can share unofficial ideas in the form of insights, personal experiences, feelings.
“6. As appropriate, share insights, feelings, and experiences that relate to the lesson. Invite class members to do the same. Class members could also tell about how they have applied principles discussed in previous lessons.”
https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history-gospel-doctrine-teachers-manual/helps-for-the-teacher?lang=eng

And the Church suggests that we draw from the following resources:
“In addition, you may also find the following resources helpful.”
“Revelations in Context.”
“Gospel Topics Essays.”
“The Joseph Smith Papers. Original documents, transcribed and annotated, providing in-depth sources on Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Church, including detailed historical introductions to most sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.”
“The First Fifty Years of Relief Society.”
“Daughters in My Kingdom.”
https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history-gospel-doctrine-teachers-manual/helps-for-the-teacher?lang=eng

The ( a certain Church leader ), the leaders of our ward and the teachers of our members have been asked by the brethren to know what is in these sources, particularly the Gospel Topics Essays. And our Church guidelines for teaching recommend that we draw from these sources to teach our Sunday classes.
With that said, I want to share with you details that are approved because they are in the sources we have listed.

 


– In the past Prophets have declared that certain teachings on race were God’s will and they named these teachings doctrine at the time only to have current leaders say those prophets taught false doctrine which we now will call “disavowed theories”
https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng
https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/od/2


– While Joseph claimed to be translating the Egyptian Papyri and claimed it was the writing of Abraham written by his own hand, the Church acknowledges that is problematic and we have 5 possible solutions though each has logical problems.
https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng


– Women used to give blessings of healing by anointing others with consecrated oil and Relief Society was given a priesthood key and Joseph told the men to leave the women be in giving blessings only to have later leaders remove said privilege
https://www.lds.org/topics/joseph-smiths-teachings-about-priesthood-temple-and-women?lang=eng


– While we taught people for decades that the Book of Mormon was translated by the Nephite spectacles , the actual method predominantly used was a seer stone in a hat by which the stone Joseph used for treasure digging long before his first meeting with Moroni.   Most scholars think the Seer stone was solely used for the translation and at most the Nephite Interpreters were only used for the 116 pages which is not part of our Book of Mormon
https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/appendix-1-agreement-of-josiah-stowell-and-others-1-november-1825/1


– there is really no reason we can not talk about Heavenly Mother as long as we do so with reverence
https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng


– The leaders of the church on some level organized and approved the Danite group who acted in violence against the Church’s non Mormon neighbors
https://www.lds.org/topics/peace-and-violence-among-19th-century-latter-day-saints?lang=eng


– Joseph kept many if not most of his marriages secret from Emma
https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng

 

– Joseph had plural wives (at least 33) including his 2nd plural wife a 16 year old Fanny Alger in 1833. Joseph likely had sex with many of them including Fanny.
https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng 

(be sure to click the read more on this and the other essays)


– While the Church had taught for decades it had ended polygamy with the manifesto in 1890, the Church secretly kept practicing polygamy as late as 1911 to 1914 though denying it publicly.
https://www.lds.org/topics/the-manifesto-and-the-end-of-plural-marriage?lang=eng

 

– While we only taught and framed the First Vision using the 1838 account, there are other accounts and there are discrepancies.  Sadly the 1832 account didn’t become publicly known until the 1960’s (1832 account is the earliest and in Joseph’s handwriting in his personal journal) (FYI: reason the 1832 didn’t surface until late was that Joseph Fielding Smith cut out the 1832 account from Joseph Smith’s journal and withheld it from the public when he was church historian)
https://www.lds.org/topics/first-vision-accounts?lang=eng
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/site/accounts-of-the-first-vision
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/1


– While leaders taught since our inception that Native Americans are the Lamanites and have over time added all Hispanics, Polynesians and pother tan skinned people, we acknowledge their is no evidence of Jewish DNA that dates to the right time period in these people and that based on our scripture heading changes we no longer can with certainty specify any tanned skinned person Native American or otherwise as surely a Lamanite. Lamanites are no longer taught to be the primary ancestors of the Native Americans but rather “among the ancestors” of the Native Americans. This takes away certainty on any given person of tan skin.
https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng
https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/introduction?lang=eng


– While we taught for decades we in the next life would receive our own planet we now consider such a teaching a caricature and cartoonish and we would not identify with such a concept
https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-like-god?lang=eng


–  Joseph denied publicly and to church members the practice of polygamy. He took wives beginning in 1833 in Kirtland (Sealing keys were not restored by Elijah till 1836 in Kirtland), had intimacy with many of them and kept most secret from Emma.  Emma sadly was the 23rd wife sealed to him and his plural wives were as young as 14 years old.  Some were sisters and some were mother daughter but few of the women knew about each other.

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/doc/introduction-to-journals-volume-2
https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng

 

( a certain Church leader ), these are now the approved historical facts we are dealing with. The online Sunday School manual says we should begin implementing these sources and the data they discuss. Our leaders quoted above have pointed us to begin the difficult task of learning and understanding these issues and the facts that surround them. It is even added as the curriculum for our youth classes and seminary.  In 2017 no one should learn this info from critical sources and be caught off guard and feel betrayed or lied to.  This is our new church history. Listen to the encouragement our leaders, and those under their direction writing this new curriculum.


We are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration,”

said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a February appearance that sparked the additions to the Sunday School curriculum.
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865669945/Essays-on-Mormon-history-doctrine-find-new-visibility-in-official-app-Sunday-School.html


“Church leaders intend the essays and the course materials to provide scholarship, historical perspectives and outside resources that increase member understanding of complicated events in church history and complex doctrines.”
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865669945/Essays-on-Mormon-history-doctrine-find-new-visibility-in-official-app-Sunday-School.html
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865669945/Essays-on-Mormon-history-doctrine-find-new-visibility-in-official-app-Sunday-School.html

“the church has published Gospel Topics essays to help answer questions about church history and controversial issues. Become familiar with official church resources, and encourage those who have questions to study them as well.” At the same time, the church grouped the essays together in one place for the first time in its popular Gospel Library app, used actively by more than 3 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The essays also are easier to find on lds.org, which asks teachers to “encourage members to study the Gospel Topics essays.”
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865669945/Essays-on-Mormon-history-doctrine-find-new-visibility-in-official-app-Sunday-School.html

  These issues are not something we have to be afraid of.

I realize that some members are unaware of these facts, and when they learn them, some are disturbed. They feel misled, lied to and even betrayed. The issue is most disturbing when they learn these facts from the critics and wonder why they were never told these things from the Church they love. While there is risk talking about these things, the brethren seem to realize the risk is greater if we say nothing. We need to understand there are many members who are leaving and disconnecting because they see no safe place in the church to move into the material that the brethren are now encouraging us to begin learning and discussing. These leaders believing if we tell our members the details in a faithful setting and with faithful context, we as a people can begin processing our complicated history. 

You know that Spouse XYZ and I have an extensive library. Thousands of the books in our library where either written by or about the prophets and apostles. We know the things that have been said and we know how things have changed over the years. We understand the context of these issues the complexity and the many, many discrepancies. We have been studying these issues in depth since we attended BYU nearly 3 decades ago. And still, we’re here worshiping with our friends and neighbors. We openly discuss the gospel with our children. Our family doesn’t aspire to high callings or upward movement in the church. We are content with simple gospel living.  Maybe that’s one reason we enjoy the gospel so much!

We could begin a united effort within our ward, to be both loving and inclusive, and accurate and forthcoming as we worship together, and lift one another’s burdens. 

Warmest regards,

XYZ and Spouse XYZ

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