Watch the Mormon seminary curriculum transform before your very eyes!

Over the last two days, the LDS seminary lesson on prophets and revelation seems to have changed and then changed again, as the church apparently grapples with its understanding of race and revelation.

If you’re an LDS seminary teacher, it has been a strange couple of days.

On Thursday you woke up to a world in which the “Prophets and Revelation” lesson of the seminary curriculum was fairly predictable.* Somewhat disturbing, sure, but predictable. Disturbing because it contained a few questionable elements:

  • A section in which students are taught that “as the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ continues to lead and direct His Church through His prophets and apostles. He reveals laws for all of God’s children and guides His Church through these ordained servants. God’s laws include doctrine, principles, commandments, ordinances, and covenants, as well as Church policies and practices He reveals through His prophets.” It’s the “as well as Church policies and practices” phrase that has been the major sticking point as people have complained about the new curriculum over the summer—namely, that it seems to uphold Mormonism’s racial ban on African Americans from holding the priesthood and attending the temple as a policy that was personally revealed by Jesus Christ. This statement was followed by an activity in which students were told to sort various examples of eternal laws (which do not change) from Church management and policy (which may change, but only by “the Lord’s prophets” as they “counsel together and seek guidance from the Lord”).

Thursday version with 7 options

  • A recent statement from President Russell M. Nelson that declares last year’s leaked policy barring children of same-sex marriage from baptism to have been a full-on revelation from the Lord, received through President Thomas S. Monson and confirmed spiritually by every member of the Quorum of the Twelve. (See here for a post about Elder Nelson’s speech from January of this year.)

Thursday Russell M Nelson quote

  • A role-playing scenario in which a seminary student was asked to defend prophetic revelation from a pesky leftist uncle at a family meal who says that examples such as blacks receiving the priesthood or polygamy being abandoned demonstrate that the Church has sometimes caved to social pressure when its previous stance has put it too far out of the mainstream. (To be fair, the curriculum did not explicitly tell the students how to tell the uncle off; it instead pointed them toward the original texts of those official declarations and, quite helpfully, invited them to make up their own minds.)

So if you were a seminary teacher, that’s where you were on Thursday: trying to figure out whether the lesson was suggesting that the racial priesthood/temple ban was actually God’s will, and wondering how to teach sixteen-year-olds to guard against the mealtime encroachments of secular humanism.

Then yesterday, on Friday morning, it all changed. An altered version of the lesson replaced the one from June. The sorting exercise was gone. The mention of blacks and the priesthood was gone. The quote from Russell M. Nelson entrenching the LGBT policy as revelation was gone. And the uncle? History. The lesson was cut from nine pages to about five, and people started buzzing online about what great news this was. I was thrilled to hear about it too.

And then it changed again yesterday afternoon. The next iteration was an eight-page hybrid, but mostly like the first version in that it restored Elder Nelson’s long quote, brought back the “Is it an eternal law or is it a policy?” game show, and reinstated the uncle at the dinner table.

The Church curriculum giveth, the Church curriculum taketh away.

But there was still one very good change from the original. What was not there was all seven policy-or-eternal-law choices for the activity. The part about blacks and the priesthood had been deleted entirely:

Friday afternoon version with 6 options

So even though yesterday afternoon’s version brought back some troubling items, especially the quote from Elder Nelson, at least it didn’t perpetuate the idea that the racial ban was divinely inspired. That was something.

But wait . . . there’s more!

It appears as though last night or this morning, Version 4.0 was quietly posted up on the HTML site. It’s identical to yesterday morning’s version, the five-page lesson with all the controversial parts removed. So again: no blacks and the priesthood, no Elder Nelson, no weird uncle.

Is this a series of ordinary human errors — posting the wrong version, then trying to correct it? Is it reflective of serious internal discussions about whether the priesthood/temple ban was inspired by God or the byproduct of a very human racism?

And that’s where we are as of Saturday evening — with more questions than answers. I can only imagine the conversations that have occurred at Church HQ in the last 36 hours. I would speculate that there were numerous spontaneous exclamations of “Holy fetch!”

For a church that has for so long relied on an entirely obscure, anonymous process of curriculum creation, it must have felt like a PR nightmare to see these changes being played out and analyzed in real time.

Moreover, the changes appeared to be at least partly in response to social pressure and close public scrutiny. Maybe that uncle was right after all. But I hope, at least, that the fourth time was the charm.

Compare all four (well, three, really) versions by downloading them here:

* My thanks to a wonderful source who sent cached copies of all four versions to date and helped me ferret out the confusing timeline—much appreciated.

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