Love it or hate it, it’s still around: Gospel Doctrine in LDS Sunday School. The SL Trib has a long story detailing the upgrades to the curriculum for the upcoming year, “New scholarship coming to Mormon lessons, but will instructors really teach it?” Apparently the plan for revising the manual is to change absolutely nothing in the current instructor’s manual for D&C and Church History, but to (1) post some additional material online somewhere at the sprawling LDS.org site, (2) hope the teachers use some of the material posted at the Revelations in Context site (itself a subdomain of LDS.org), and (3) print some of this additional material in a booklet to be made available through LDS distribution centers. Maybe some teachers will use this extra material, maybe they won’t.
You really ought to go read the article before commenting. But I know some of you won’t, so here are a few quotations, with my comments following in italics.
- “Beginning in January, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embark on a yearlong study of their history, the task will be to bring this retelling [of LDS history as reflected in the Gospel Topics essays] to the rank and file without undermining their faith in the story’s fundamentals.” Okay, this is good — this is the next step on the path that started with the Gospel Topics Initiative. Balancing the “retelling” (reflecting more accurate historical facts) with the “fundamentals” or origiinal telling (which often avoided historical facts) is the challenge here.
- “Most of these supplements will be available in 10 languages online starting next week and then printed and available in LDS distribution centers by year’s end.” And send ten copies to every ward and branch in the Church, right?
- “He [Matthew McBride, editor-in-chief of history.lds.org] acknowledges there is no mandate from top Mormon leaders for teachers to use these materials.” That does seem to be a problem. Almost like they are hoping teachers won’t actually use the new material.
- “Mormon historian Paul Reeve began complaining about the 1999 D&C manual (revised in 2003) eight years ago and, he says, it’s even worse today.” Why they didn’t implement the obvious solution and just write a new and better manual from scratch is simply incomprehensible. Billions in tithing revenue, tens of thousands of employees, three university religion faculties at their disposal, and they can’t just write a better manual?
- “‘Sunday school is a misnomer,’ says [LDS historian Matthew] Bowman, author of The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. ‘It hasn’t been about conveying information or promoting transparency for about 50 years.’ Instead, that weekly meeting ‘is about the cultivation of moral behavior and ethics,’ he says. ‘The actual body of scripture under discussion is secondary to the practical application and living the life of a Latter-day Saint.'” This seems like an obvious point but it is rarely articulated.
- “It’s easy to forget how much Mormon scholars have learned in the past 20 years about their past, says LDS researcher and writer Ardis Parshall, ‘but none of that is reflected in a manual that dates to the last century.'” Again, what’s wrong with just writing a better manual?
How successful this new approach to upgrading the LDS Gospel Doctrine curriculum turns out to be will depend on the actual content of the supplementary material, how easy it is to access, and whether teachers actually figure out how to use it (assuming they even want to or are encouraged to). Let’s hope for the best.