Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

I’m not a fan of the planned 2018 Mormon curriculum

President Thomas S. Monson exits a session of the LDS General Conference on April 1, 2017. Courtesy of Intellectual Reserve Inc.

Last month, the LDS Church unveiled another portion of the sweeping curriculum changes for adults that are planned for next year, and I have mixed feelings. I’ve waited to write about this because I was trying to learn more and keep an open mind about the coming changes. Maybe next month when the new curriculum gets going, I will feel differently, but right now what I am experiencing is disappointment.

Just as background: for the last two decades the women’s Relief Society and men’s priesthood curricula have focused on the teachings of the presidents of the Church, from Brigham Young to Gordon B. Hinckley. Even Howard W. Hunter got a whole year devoted to him, which is longer than his nine-month tenure as the head of the church.

But we’re running out of modern prophets, so we need something new. Enter the “Come Follow Me” program for 2018 for all adult men and women of the LDS Church around the world. The Church’s website says the curriculum will emphasize three things:

  • Learning from general conference messages.
  • Studying special topics selected every six months by general leaders of the Church.
  • Counseling together as priesthood quorums and groups and Relief Societies.

Here’s how those goals will be implemented from week to week:

  • 1st Sunday: Counseling together about local needs
  • 2nd and 3rd Sunday: Recent General Conference talks
  • 4th Sunday: Special topic chosen by leaders in Salt Lake, to change every six months
  • 5th Sunday, when applicable: Special topic chosen by local bishop

No one I’ve talked to seems to know yet what the first Sunday will look like. “Counseling together about local needs” could all too easily devolve into “Gossiping as a group about anyone who has not come to church lately,” so I hope we’ll be getting some more specific direction soon.

It’s weeks 2, 3, and 4 that worry me. My current calling is as a Relief Society teacher in one of those weeks, so I have a dog in this fight. (Though I wonder if I will still have that calling after this post!)

Frankly, I’m not thrilled with the idea of focusing those weeks just on Conference talks – or with the fact that the fourth Sunday lessons, which take on a single topic for a sustained period, look to be structured in much the same way. Guess what’s provided online as the basis for those fourth Sunday lessons? That’s right: the scriptures, and more Conference talks.

So while I like the idea of studying a single topic in depth for several months – and I love that the inaugural fourth-Sunday topic is going to be the Sabbath, which is the spiritual practice I most cherish – I’m not optimistic that three out of four Sundays, we are basically going to be rehashing Conference talks.

There are some positive developments here too. For example, local teachers will be empowered to decide for themselves which Conference talks would be most helpful or applicable for their contexts for those middle weeks of the month. I had been bracing myself to receive a list of three or four assigned Conference talks that would be the same all over the world, whether church members are in Manila or Manti. So I think it’s great that local Relief Society presidents and priesthood leaders can choose the ones they feel are most applicable. (Other good news: Now that the women’s session is considered part of General Conference, we’ve more than doubled the number of possible talks by women that will be in rotation as possible choices.)

It’s interesting that the Church is doubling down on this practice of emphasizing Conference talks. Actually, make that “tripling down,” because we’ve gone from having one Sunday a month set aside for that purpose to three.

I would guess the new move reflects an underlying anxiety that members are not paying enough attention to Conference, a suspicion that’s borne out by research conducted among U.S. Mormons, particularly younger ones (see here and here).

But lessons based on Conference talks are difficult to teach because the talks were never designed for the vibrant give-and-take that marks an informative and thought-provoking class. Even the most compelling sermons in Conference don’t necessarily translate into interactive or memorable discussions.

As a pedagogical practice, teaching again and again from Conference talks is also a continual echo chamber: we quote two or three church leaders, who quote and effusively praise other church leaders. The narrowness is intensified by the longstanding cultural expectation (which I do not adhere to when I teach) to avoid bringing in outside sources to supplement the material.

Focusing the new curriculum almost solely on Conference talks makes it even harder for members who have questions or doubts to actually voice them. If you disagree with anything in the lesson material, this curriculum is set up so you’re not just disagreeing with an idea, but potentially challenging the authority of someone the church has sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. This is hardly an incubator for encouraging anything other than comments that uphold the status quo.

Upping the ante so that those who question will now feel even less welcome in church is exactly the opposite of where we need to be going. Lessons in Relief Society, priesthood, and Sunday School should be safe places where people feel free to bring their actual broken selves, and raise any of the questions that may be plaguing them. The new curriculum does not look like it will be facilitating that kind of exchange, though I hope I’m wrong about that.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

55 Comments

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  • I understand your concern. It is interesting that your NMS indicates that Church leaders are among the least likely sources of moral authority that “Doubters” turn to. Yet they are the ones that we believe are “prophets, seers, and revelators”, and we should read and study their words in order to understand the church’s doctrines, and what they are trying to teach us. I have been trying to make sure we included talks from the General Women’s broadcast for years as part of “Teachings for our Times”.

    I agree that local control of what topics are being taught is a wonderful change. That allows topics to meet individual Relief Society, Quorum, and Group members. If done prayerfully, and carefully, it can have a great impact.

    The Church has been trying for decades to get members to “council together.” And we are horrible at it. Many ward councils don’t “counsel”. There have been great messages in the Ensign, including the December one, about the power of counseling together. And it provides great avenues for collaborative relevatory experiences. But only if done right.

    It will be an interesting learning experience next month!

  • I am the priesthood teacher in my ward (a small ward where we combine HP and Elders –just like RS!). I actually see this as less constricting than before. Whichever talk is chosen for a particular week, there will be a theme to that talk. Very few GC talks have poor themes. My approach is that I will develop that theme in ways that are comfortable to me–and of course point to the talk or scriptures that are mentioned in the talk. It looks to me like we are given plenty of latitude to develop the themes. I wouldnt expect the Church would be expecting us to hash through the talk piece by piece. Its the theme and the message that are at issue. We are free to explore the theme deeply. I have been doing that even with the presidents curriculum.

  • I know this isn’t every ward, but our sacrament meetings are conference talk “book reviews” (but never critical of the talks, so I am not sure “reviews” is the right word). So 2 hours and 10 minutes of the 3 hour blocks will be regurgitated conference talks. So maybe I should just start planning vacations around conference weekend since I am going to get a recap in 3rd hour over the year of anything good. OR maybe I will just make sure I watch all of conference and skip out in 3rd hour. I may not be the only one thinking this. If some members didn’t think it was worth watching conference (or listening to MP3’s in the car afterwards), what are the chances they will suddenly really like the topic when weird Brother Jensen gets up and makes you wish you had brought a diet coke into 3rd hour?

  • Maybe someday the Lord will see fit to call you to the position of deciding all of these issues for the church. Wonder why He hasn’t gotten around to it yet? I’m sure you’d have it all fixed in no time.

  • Minjae,

    Perhaps you didn’t mean it this way, but this sort of “who died and made you prophet” comment is, I’m afraid, the exact thing I am worried about with the new curriculum. If someone voices a question or concern in a church class, or suggests things might be done a different way, some people feel the need to shut that down immediately by an appeal to a centralized ecclesiastical authority. Your comment exemplifies that approach.

    That line of defense doesn’t work in the space of an online forum because this is not church, but I’ve seen it be all too successful at church, with the original questioners being made to feel wholly unwelcome by those who jump on them for daring to question. I hope this is not the kind of remark you would make to me or anyone else in person in a church setting.

  • Members aren’t paying enough attention to General Conference… …problem must be the members.

    President Uchtdorf said leaders have made mistakes in the past. And we’re not talking about misspelled names or petty sins. If this was true in the past, then it is true in the present. But when leadership ignores his wise words, the only logical conclusion is to blame the members…, always…, and for everything that fails. I’m reminded of the GA who said he was asked by an apostle which way his tent was facing, the implication being that he only represents the apostles to the membership, but should never be so bold as to raise the concerns of the membership to the apostles.

    Conference is often boring. The manuals are often boring. Take away the teleprompters. Dismantle the correlation department. Give local leaders more latitude to respond to the needs of local members. Let things run a bit looser. Give the spirit an inch of breathing room. Put some responsibility on local members to seek revelation rather than giving them gruel that can be served with little thought.

  • I think the current curiculum will only affect bad teachers. Just because we are using gc talks as a guide does not mean we are to read them verbatim.

    If the talk is on being perfect, I would generate dicussion qyestions like “when you read we are to be perfect, what do you think Jesus meant? Essentially I would form a lesson plan, using the conference talk to reinforce the ideas presented.

    If your teaching method involves just reading the material to the class, then it might be a hard transition.

  • I see this is a radical change that will be hard for most instructors to adjust to. The big change is to turn the lessons into discussions, where the “instructors” role is to facilitate and lead the discussion. The challenge is to get people to share their insights and ask questions. It will terrify the instructors that likes to stand up front and sermonize. I have seen them say things like, I appreciate all the hands, but we are running out of time and I have a lot of material to cover. They miss the whole point that it is not about what they have to say – it is all about getting people to get engaged and thinking thoughts that they inspire them to change and improve. The new skill will be in leading the discussion without offending people who talk too much or want to say things that are inappropriate (like gossip). When I teach, my goal is to get everyone involved in some way.
    Note that the new curriculum starts each lesson with a review where people get to volunteer progress that they have made in the last week, with examples of how they applied the last lesson into their lives. The new emphasis is on getting people to apply the teachings in their real lives. It is not enough to just show up and keep a seat warm while someone talks up front.
    I expect it will take years for some people to “get it”.

  • What if the 3rd hour felt more like a heart felt discussion? Where people were sharing their insights and helping each other learn? Where you felt safe to express your doubts and trials? Where people valued and respected different viewpoints? Where you felt loved and accepted just the way you were? Where you felt connected and responsible for each other, and you were inspired to act on the inspiration you receive?
    I have been using this same method for the last year (it is not a new idea – just new for the 3rd hour), and this is how I feel. People in my quorum tell me it is their favorite hour of Church.

  • Oh wow, I have the opposite reaction as you. To be fair, I attended a class at BYU Ed Week where a guy from Church HQ explained just WHAT they were thinking with the changes. It’s going to go from dry and stiff to vibrant and alive. Lots more talking to each other and connecting. I can’t wait for 2018! I’ve assembled some lesson helps for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Sundays and the posts are well-recieved. Here is a link for 4th Sundays http://www.classicmormonmom.com/?p=320 and for 2nd & 3rd Sundays: http://www.classicmormonmom.com/?p=381

  • I have my doubts about the change too. For a while now, 4th Sunday lessons have been based on conference talks, and they have been pretty ordinary. I’ve always found fewer people in the class read the lesson and hence discussion is almost nonexistent. It becomes the instructor reading selected quotes, while half the quorum goes to sleep. Now it looks like that will be 2 Sundays per month instead of one. I also feel that many of the talks don’t lend themselves well to discussion. They are a lecture format, not a discussion format.

    For the last year, our stake gave direction to bishoprics to use conference talks as the basis of sacrament meetings. Probably 90% of the time, talks become “I can’t say it as well as Elder [pick anyone], so let me quote what he says” and they go one to read the talk, but with less inflections. Makes for a better cure of insomnia than Alma. Looks like in the coming year I’ll be getting a fair bit of sleep.

  • “I think the current curiculum will only affect bad teachers.”
    You are probably right, but it’s certainly been my experience, particularly in smaller wards and branches where the choice is limited, that there isn’t exactly a glut of good teachers. I think in practice, in most wards and branches there will be a yawning gulf between what was envisaged with the new curriculum, and what will happen in actual practice.

  • If one approaches the use of a conference talk by reading pages 36-37 of Elder Bednar, then I can understand the concern; however if one approaches the use of a conference talk as a frame upon which to build the lesson it’s another matter entirely.

    A possible suggestion, find something in that talk that both resonates with the instructor, and that may have application to the local members, then build upon it, with the scriptures, other conference references.

    We don’t brother so-and-so, or sister so-and-so opening up Elder Hollands’ talk and reading it to us, like a parent who’s reading a bedtime story to their children.

    Approach these opportunities in this way, then there will opportunities lost for disucssion, Spirit led discussion.

    We’re counselled to use the scriptures in our teaching, all of them. Conference talks included.

    IF one is going to read pages 34-41 during the 40-45 minute block, count me out, I’ve got my iPad, I can watch the whole thing and still get the same thing.

    Dare to be different. Dare to be prepared. Dare to use all of the scriptures. Dare to invite discussion on what was said.

    Dare to stand out among the lemmings, let the ark alone, it’s sturdy and steady enough without any of our help.

  • Sister, have you brought these concerns up in your teacher council meeting and to your ward Council? Those two bodies are responsible for the teaching in your ward. You and they together can develop a way to make this joyful and welcoming for everyone. I bet all of you can develop a great way to help eachother.

    There seems to be little explanation of how this will work because you and I are asked to be the ones to fast and pray and carefully study and prayerfully teach.

    And I really hope that covering the topics of conference does not mean reading conference talks. If you take a cue from the youth Come Follow Me manuals, it’s lots of overall topic conversation starters and very little verbatim reading. A healthy amount of media too, but the number one part is the discussion at the beginning of class about how are YOU (classmember) are doing. How’s your life? What’s real out there? What are you struggling with? And how can we help? Then talk, if it’s right. And adjust the lesson if it’s needed, or postpone the lesson completely, if the spirit dictates.

    As I read this and think about the RS teachers in my ward, and some of them who may be cautious about the curriculum change, the thought strikes me that I’m glad your ward has you—to be curious, and to be hopeful about “how can this material help my sisters and friends in my ward?”

    Wrestling with that question between you and the Lord will surely ensure that, at least when you’re teaching, your relief society will be loving, welcoming and full of vibrant discussion and the spirit!

  • Run, run away!! The LDS is simply a business cult using the myths such as the angel Moroni invented by Joseph Smith that perpetuates the cult.

  • Just shoot me now. These have been the bane of my existence since I started thinking on my own. Conference talks all come from the same mold: highly manicured, intensely edited statements of surface-level belief. Rarely do I listen and think “wow, that was a great insight!” Or “that personal experience was beautiful.” Maybe I’m just hardened. But when I’ve been asked over the years to teach or speak from a conference talk, I find it painful. It’s like saying “here, use this talk where someone did all the modern church-approved thinking on a topic and recite from it for awhile.” Conference talks do NOT encourage individual thought. Why can’t we instead go back to the scriptures? This week, tear apart the Beatitudes, 1 Nephi 1:1, or do a deep dive on D&C Section X. Feel free to supplement with a conference talk. But let’s encourage some original thinking, which conf talks seem to suppress.

  • The new curriculum shifts the responsibility from the leaders/instructors to the quorum members. This is more obvious when everyone sits in a circle and no one is standing near a whiteboard. As long as the facilitator is asking good questions and keeping the discussion on track, it is what everyone else is saying and more importantly, what they *do* after the class that determines if the lesson was effective.

  • I agree, that Jana’s ward is fortune. She will be the ideal instructor because she cares about those that get left behind, and she is bold enough to stick up for them. If she puts into her lessons what che does to these articles, they will be thought provoking and will have lots of participation.
    I am sure that some wards will struggle, and there will be people that take advantage for personal benefit, but that is because they are human and still figuring it out like the rest of us.
    I am please to see the church adopting such modern teaching methods. Classes with a teacher standing at the front of a room with rows of chairs and a whiteboard is a relic that needs to go. People resist change, so some patience will be necessary.

  • I have seen that too, and I take a nap. It seems that the assignment is poorly communicated or else misunderstood. When I am given a conference talk as a theme, I read it for inspiration and collect my own stories from my own life to share. I make the talk *mine*. I will usually select a quote or two from the talk to make my point – because I found them inspirational. I do the same for lessons, but my job is to get everyone in the class to share their stories – and I try and talk as little as possible.

  • Don’t mean to troll but some comments here just invoked some thoughts. No, I’m not traumatized or triggered. Maybe a bit rueful.

    All this effort makes my head hurt. Grasping to find meaning in a demonstrable fiction called the Book of Abraham (the hieroglyphics are also provably wrong), and on and on. Busy work. This meeting, that meeting, wear this, don’t wear that, watch this rated movie, don’t watch that rated movie, read from this approved source, don’t read from that source (even if factual), talk about these approved topics, stay away from those topics, on and on. Being gaslighted because I didn’t find so much joy in living “the gospel” as preached by LDS Inc, so of course it was my fault.

    So glad I left on my own power with my beautiful wife 3 years ago after 50 years of what I think is spiritual abuse and manipulation. (Remember, I was a teen male during the Boyd Packer, Spencer Kimball era, may they rot in hell). I have reclaimed my life, my autonomy, my authentic self. I rue the day my parents were converted and thus raised me from a wee lad to drink the cool-aid. Two of my four kids now out of “the church”, a third probably out too. A person can find meaning far more easily from hundreds of other sources than reading the god-awful conference talks.

  • Definetly sounds like it’s not for you. I truly do wish you the best. I feel the core of the church has nothing to do with the things you noted above, but of course I would say that since I am “in”. Just curious why the new curriculum is interesting enough to comment on, since you’re doing fine now, it appears? Honestly curious why its even worth your time. I tend to ignore things online that I consider mere foolishness, which it seems you would consider the Mormon faith to be. Why bother with us?

  • Truly, I think that’s a curious way to respond, too. You simply did to Minja what you felt she was doing to you — called them out claiming that they feel holier than you.

    Perhaps the sarcasm at the end of the intial comment was unwarranted, but, truly, how would I lead an entire church across all these continents, and make things applicable across all cultures and across all people?

    A way to allow each local Relief Society or Quorum choose their own lessons based on the “rails” of current and recent conference talks (so we dont start hauling off into our own doctrines or trying to decipher Abrahamic Heiroglyphics) actually sounds like a brilliant way to do it, when I think of it in that context.

    I’m glad im not in charge 🙂

  • This points to a bigger, more malignant problem: quality of instructor. Let’s be honest if you’re going to teach Conference Talks there isn’t much room for discussion because (I was taught) Conference is as close to new scripture as you can get. To nuance instruction, to guide discussion is a tricky business. Given the source material you’re hands can be pretty tightly bound. From management perspective you risk a game of “My GA is bigger than your GA” fight–or worse yet–a scriptural face off with someone who actually knows what’s said where conflicts are.

    For example suppose you have a talk that posits that all men are created equal and an crusty High Priest who actually can quote Abraham 1:26 and what McConkie or Brigham Young had to say on the matter. You want to try to wrangle the potential food fight? OR what if the instructor him/herself brings up these matters in order to “defuse” them? That’s one scary minefield especially given the changed nature of “translation”. Imagine moderating the discussion about “that’s a mis-translation” or “we just weren’t ready yet” (which brings up hope for all those with gay children–things change when we’re ready).

    Will it happen? Yeah somewhere and an unskilled, unprepared teacher could end up deep in the dookie.

    And if GAs contradict each other (not possible!) then what?

    Hopefully there’s some professional development workshops that will be shared with those tasked with teaching.

  • Robert, to your question, please remember I was an “us” for a long time. I knew the temple ritual verbatim, stumped temple presidents with questions, taught seminary for 4 years, knew over a 100 scriptures verbatim (the scripture mastery references), also served in a bishopric, the high council, scoutmaster, you name it. Was a popular speaker if I do say so. Wife was RS prez, etc. Married in temple. Children born in the covenant.

    As a complete aside, I attended the same congregation as Mitt Romney when I was a boy. (The Bloomfield Hills ward in Michigan. There wasn’t a temple there then. Gov. George Romney was very nice and dignified if I remember correctly.)

    The questions you pose seem to be in the same family as “you can leave the church but you can’t leave it alone”. Here are my thoughts.

    First, after 50 years of toeing the line and being all in, I still have a morbid fascination for this organization that so affected my life for decades.

    Let us both agree that mormonism is what I would refer to as a “high demand” religion. We have a 3-hour bloc on Sundays. We have volunteer callings, often requiring our attendance at additional church meetings before and after the bloc and on other days. We have to prepare to perform our callings. There is mutual during the week. There is seminary for the teens. We are to hometeach our group of families. We are to visit teach our assigned sisters. We are to attend the temple. We are to participate in other ward and stake activities. Then, of course, we pay a 10% tithe on our gross. We don’t watch R-rated movies. Don’t show your shoulders if you are female. Spare time, don’t forget to write in your journal. And, oh yeah, we’re even told what underwear is appropriate. We are told, “every member a missionary”. I served a mission to South Africa during the apartheid years. Tried to work an 87 hour workweek to show my devotion to SWK.

    Second, if I have not made it clear, I believe the church to be actively harmful. It’s not just a neutrally benign entity. One on one worthiness interviews with teens and pre-teens about sexual matters. Counseling by lay leaders who are utterly untrained and ill-equipped to speak about many matters that come to them. Preposterous teachings that the membership at large must uncritically accept. Such as, you can pray the gay away. (I’m not gay. Flaming hetero here.) Pay tithing before paying for necessities like rent and food. Pay on 10% of your gross. Rock Waterman’s blog demolishes that one. Not to mention the November policy preventing children of parents in gay marriage from being baptized. Or the rate of suicide among LGBT youth in Utah. It is also dishonest. For instance, the use of ellipses to distort quotes from their original meaning. Knowingly and deliberate use of half-truths in its gospel essays and sometimes outright falsehoods.

    What I would say is the church created me. It taught me to evangelize what I believe to be the truth. I sang Do What Is Right (let the consequences follow). The church cannot have it both ways, It cannot on one hand pressure me nearly my entire life to voice a warning to my neighbors as a member, and then expect me to shut up when it appears overwhelmingly to me to be a false church. I still stand for what I feel is the truth. It’s just that I’ve exchanged feelings and promptings for actual evidence.

    I cannot be quiet about an organization that does these things in the name of God or has policies that foster such things. This organization makes people believe their eternal destinies are at stake, resulting in much anguish and pain. Why would I stay silent about this? Do we expect exmembers of Scientology or Islam to remain quiet? It’s so much more than just a new curriculum. It’s the ideas embedded that somehow this change came from inspiration and all the members must dutifully strive to find God in all of this somehow.

    Finally, as one person recently said, “I am not responsible for the structural integrity of the bubble others have chosen to live in.”

  • Danny, thanks for replying. It’s a fascinating side of things that I appreciate you saying, and I am curious about more, should you determined to share. I definitely am NOT asking you to be silent. I absolutely find it interesting why the curriculum, which seems like a small thing in the overall scope, is worth passing comment if the entire religion, to you, is false, wouldn’t the content of the 3rd sunday relief society be mere blather? Its got me curious, is all. There’s more there, which intrigues me.

    To your other comments,
    I agree the church is high demand.
    I agree the church is tangled in complex societal issues and though I see many of them differently than others might, there is no denying that these are complex and interesting issues that need careful attention and care.
    I agree that from the right context, any broad-sweeping doctrine from any religion, societal group, political party or social club can be seen as damaging to society. My grandmother was shamed for being part of the Sierra Club! (what?!) Darned fools trying to save the planet!! haha.

    What I can’t shake is that when I study the life and teachings of Jesus, I feel the spirit. When I read and ponder about the messages in the Book of Mormon, I feel it, too. And, when i simplify my life and lift or help another person, that same thing is there again. Peace. Witness. Surety. I feel it.

    It’s not something I can share. It’s not something I can explain or give. You surely had experiences like this in your life that, at the time spurred you forward, albeit now feel hollow and maybe even painful to you, and a part of me aches for that truly–not because I think its my place to change you, but because surely you deserve joy and not anything less–regardless of your adherence to this church.

    I’d be curious about that, should you want to share.

    I see joy in people’s lives when they live the simple teachings of this Gospel.
    I see joy in people’s lives when they adhere to myriad other faithful ways of living as well.
    I also see pain in people’s eyes when they feel they have missed out, lost faith, fallen short or just simply don’t deserve to be happy.

    I have felt that way.

    I hate the idea that you may have lost that joy or that you may have painful feelings about that part of your life now. Yet, if you have found peace now, then who am I to tell you that you are wrong? I cannot and would not do that. Just as I cannot describe away the feelings I have had, tender and sacred, that spur me to continue in my chosen path.

    Some have chided me for this, thinking perhaps that I am naive to the world or a more enlightened life outside of the “bubble” or mormonism, but the path I walk is my own. Fully and completely and blatantly, purposefully chosen. Sometimes, it has been walked with feet bloodied in pain and trial and tribulation. Other times, I have been blessed to walk this path in joyful peacefulness with spiritual rose petals to cushion my steps. Still other times, terrible times, I have chosen deliberately to walk other paths and reap their natural and terrible rewards.

    I do not think myself above any other or better than anyone. I think I am probably the lowliest and smallest. I also dont think I have the answers or that I have solved anything. And I have nothing to prove and no agenda to convey. I simply have enough hard-scrabble experience with the world and enough questions have been answered for me in ways that are seared into my soul that I cannot deviate from this course without first denying that I ever knew God and his Son, my Savior, who loved me when I wasn’t worth loving. And spared me when I wasn’t worth sparing.

    As you and I walk beside each other right now on this path, I hope only to listen and learn, and when we see each other again along the way, I only hope you’ll give a nod of respect in passing–fellow traveler to fellow traveler–seasoned, battle tested, hopefully wiser not wearier since we last crossed paths with each other.

  • Just a thought: the good things about the church aren’t unique. They can be found in just about any fellowship. Just as we shouldn’t tell others their experiences are invalid we shouldn’t deny them the right to watch (as an interested party) the things that the church (or the members thereof) are doing. Some are dreadful and clearly NOT what Christ would do, Christ invited ALL to come unto him and barred none from salvation–something the current leadership DOES do; I would encourage you to find somewhere in the Bible where Christ turns someone away with “Don’t worry–it’ll all work out”.

    As a resigned member I am always curious as to “What’s Up?” I really enjoy Sister Riess’ writing and opinions and, if they were more widely spread and encouraged by the leadership, would consider some form of re-engagement.

    I have a right (as former Gospel Doctrine teacher) to interest and opinion as to curriculum. Having been EQP, YMP and a counselor in the bishopric I have empathy for those who have to implement the wishes that come from Salt Lake. That empathy may simply be a muttered “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that” or a “That’s going to be impossible to implement–poor sons of guns…” But it’s natural and human and caring. Having had walked in the shoes I have an interest in those who still walk the path and their health and sanity.

  • I think you might be over thinking this Jena LOL That said it does take more teaching skills than many possess to turn a lecture into a teaching plan which prioritises 2 or 3 key elements. Most simply read out the talk or get class members to take turns doing so.

  • My late father-in-law used to say (after a boring Sacrament meeting), “I would have slept better at home.”

    I tell my friends, “I hope my snoring doesn’t keep you awake.”

  • The author of this article says ” I’m not a fun of the….” ); and I think “and”?
    The lessons will be taken from talks of G.Conference, so we are going to study what the First Presidence, the Twelve, Seventies, and members of The General Boards of Auxiliary Organizations will say.
    The books we studied for so many years were talks for the Prophet we read each year. There’s no great difference, from my point of view.
    It’s interest in to prepare classes from talks of the authorities. What are we going to learn about? We’ll learn doctrine.
    How can we teach for these talks? First: the members of the class will have to read the lesson.
    Second: the teachers will have to read it two, several times, to look for the inspiration and help of the Spirit and prepare many interesting questions to help the students to think, and ponder how to apply what they learn an feel in the classroom.
    Elder Scott used to say: when our students THINK, the Spirit COMES to them; and so they LEARN.”
    What do they LEARN? To apply in their lives what they studied, felt and thought with the help of the Spirit.
    The teachers are not going to repeat the talks….they will study, learn, feel and live the doctrine points the talks teach and give to theirs students goals to achieve in the week that comes ahead.

  • Jana, you have a long and public history of placing your own thoughts, opinions, and “wisdom” before the teachings and instructions from those who have been called to lead the Lord’s Church. If you do not believe that they are called of God and speak by revelation and inspiration then I do not understand how you can represent yourself as a believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are not a lot of doctrines that you are “required” to believe in the Church but if you do not believe it is lead by inspiration and revelation to those called to serve in leadership positions, the rest of it all falls apart. If the leadership feels inspired to try something new and some people don’t happen to agree with it they feel the need to “steady the ark” immediately by pointing out the flaws that they perceive.

    If I hear someone at church with a sincere question I do not make such remarks as I made here but I try to discuss the matter and try to understand them, with the thought that it may be me who misunderstands always in my heart. With you, it is different. You consistently question everything you hear from the leadership that doesn’t fit your own way of thinking and post it publicly, apparently seeking to persuade others to also question or to appeal to others who share in your apparent disbelief in the calling and inspiration of the leadership.

    If you did not hold yourself out as a representative of the faith, none of this would bother me in the least, but you do and it requires a response.

    You do not represent the vast majority of believing Latter-day Saints. You never seem to stop to think that, perhaps, you do not see the end from the beginning and may not know what the Lord’s plan is. Sometimes things that seem to mortal minds to be foolishness are part of a larger plan that we do not yet comprehend. Faith is required to see that and to hold one’s tongue and wait upon the Lord. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways saith the Lord.”

  • If that is the case, you are not doing it right. In my opinion, the new “discussion” format will encourage original thinking. Of course, if you don’t believe the leadership speaks by inspiration from the Lord then I can see how you would rather go back to dead prophets who cannot correct your misunderstandings. Personally, I prefer to use both the words of the scriptures and the words of living prophets. But that’s just me . . .

  • I’ve been member of the Church for many years, I was young when I learned about it, and now I am a grandmother…never, nobody told me what I can read, what music to listen to, what to wear and what not, about what I can talk o not with friends and my children, (they’re no children anymore) or with my grandchildren.
    Nobody has come to my home to watch what books I have or don’t in my library, or what show I am watching on TV…
    THe missionaries who talked to me about the gospel and the Church taught me “the good principles of the gospel”, and I have lived my life using my free will over and over.
    So when I read what you say I think we are not members of the same Church.

  • Beautifully written, and precisely my own experience. Hardly a Sunday morning goes by when I don’t wish, from the warmth of my snuggly bed, that the teachings of the Church were false. How much simpler it would be (for me, coming as I do from a family of non-believers who routinely pressure me to leave) if I could just roll over and go back to sleep. My problem is that it IS true. God has spoken to me in ways so unmistakable and personal that I cannot honestly deny it. And so I drag myself out of bed, and pull, again, for the team, for my human family that needs my faithful activity nearly as much as I do.

  • I am the HPGL in my ward. For some time now we have not had prepared “lessons” during the 3rd block. Instead we have group discussions on the topic for that week. Participation and discussion are highly encouraged. One person helps to facilitate the discussion but no one teaches anything. This new format just confirms what we are already doing. I love it. The only real change will be the counsel meeting on the 1st week where we discuss quorum business and go away with assignments for the next month.

  • Totally agree with you, Reuben! It will be a nightmare if the teachers are just going to read a talk, just as it was when teachers just read the lessons. It’s lazy teaching. That’s why, when it happens in a class, I try to ask a question or bring an insight that is related, but not in the actual text. Then it usually starts a good discussion. I’m not a great teacher, but I find I do a great job of hijacking a teacher who isn’t a great one either!

  • A small caveat: I am not completely comfortable with the idea that teachings must be applied in our lives to be useful or valid. There are topics that cannot be done so, e.g. the creation (3 different places in scripture plus the temple), the scattering of Israel, the spirit world, the three degrees of glory, etc. Properly studied and presented, these topics enlarge the soul, and avoiding or downplaying them only diminishes us.

  • My wife and I compiled a spreadsheet of the topics of all the conference talks back through 2014, using the topical index from the May and November Ensigns. As you can imagine there is a great similarity of topics throughout the years and likewise for decades prior to that.

    A problem with teaching conference talks is that we will continue to get the same basic topics over and over – love, service, family, family history, adversity, and obedience. Some may respond to that, “Well that must be because we need it.” I disagree, at least in that every high priests group, every relief society, and every elder quorum worldwide needs those same topics over and over, year after year.

    Why not have the option to delve deeper as a group, depending the needs and abilities of that group, into the great wonders of scripture such as the teachings of Christ in 3 Nephi 11-28 (note his admonition to search the words of Isaiah in 20:11), why a third to a half of the Book of Mormon is devoted to wars (it isn’t simple as not being prideful), and how nations rise and fall? Likewise for the rest of the standard works.

  • I think Rob has a point about conference addresses. By their very nature they are intended to cover a topic, or at least an aspect of it, comprehensively. Therefore deviating or even extending the topic has at least some potential to feel like disagreement with the speaker’s intention. For example, suppose instead of a single talk the instructor was given a topic and told to pick twenty interesting and valuable quotes on that topic from talks from any year at lds.org? Distribute that by email the week before and ask everyone to be ready to discuss. I would love that.

  • Discussion can encourage original thinking but it can also encourage consensus thinking.

    The bigger problem with discussion is the overall result depends on whether the participants have actually done real study, pondering, and prayer over the material. Very few people in my ward do that in preparation for a lesson, and the ones that do are treasures. Interestingly there does not seem to be a correlation between them and the ones who are most vocal.

    Unfortunately discussions too often result a lot rehashed concepts, superficial wisdom, and group therapy. While that can be sufficient for the lambs in the flock, the sheep go away hungry.

  • Wonderfully said! Oh how I agree. I wish I had your courage.

    The problem is that some people believe that is contrary to the plan. An article at the Deseret News on the curriculum (12/18/2017) quotes a Sister Bingham saying, “The discussion leader does not need to come prepared with all kinds of extra materials. … the material in each conference talk is more than sufficient to have a wonderful spiritual discussion.”

    I agree with President Kimball: “I fear at times that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or meeting, and then return home having been largely uninformed.”
    (Ensign, May 1981, p. 45.)

  • I agree. D&C 121 lists the first element of the priesthood as persuasion, and I am not persuaded that we should retreat from the priesthood duty to preach, teach, expound and exhort (D&C 20). If a preaching type of lesson, or one of expounding, is not engaging, that is not my fault nor is it the fault of myriads of teachers churchwide who hold the interest of their hearers and motivate them to greatness.

    Christ gave 3 chapters on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew and in 3 Nephi) without discussion, quoted entire chapters from the Old Testament, and more. He made it engaging. How did he do it?

    I am much more interested in answering that question and mastering it than I am in replacing all teaching methods wholesale with one new trendy one.

  • Another problem, Minjae, is that Heavenly Father is willing and able to give revelation to us who are “grunts in the trenches,” to use a military term. Because such revelation is not from the President of the church means that it not binding on the church, but revelation it still is.

    An example is that President Benson, when he was a stake president in Idaho, wrote to the brethren suggesting that the whole church should be able to go on tithing funds alone and do away with other financial assessments. That suggestion was eventually adopted and can you guess under which President of the church? Yep, under President (as in church president) Benson. However, the inspiration came to him as a local leader.

    Don’t be afraid of disagreement. As Elder Maxwell said, “Candor and love can guard against, for instance, the tendency to develop a ‘sweetness and light’ atmosphere which often leads to an unwillingness to face up to the real problems.” (More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter-day Saints, p. 105.)

  • I totally agree! I hate to go against this, but I do not like it. Our sacrament meetings are also conference talks and now 2 weeks a month will be too no real lessons. We did the sit in a circle to share yesterday and all I was thinking was I can’t handle this every week. I do not want to ‘share’. I want to be taught and uplifted and the ‘share I experienced yesterday doesn’t do it. I am afraid every 1st Sunday will be the same thing every month. In a small ward, it becomes a hang out time to chit chat. In a larger ward, it will be the same few women that like to hear themselves speak continually leading the conversation. Maybe they will call me to primary and I won’t feel bad about sitting in the hall.

  • I’ve been avoiding this entire post and all it’s comments since I am surprised there’s a lot of pushback on this, and I worry it was started with the intention to “stir the pot” more than anything else. That whole bitter fountain/clean water paradox thing… I am already cringing because I am sure someone will read this and think I am self-righteous (aren’t we all?) or worse, someone will read this and think somehow THEY are not “good enough” because their personal experiences at church are not “enough” up to some unachievable standard.

    None of that is what I mean.

    I am confident that, were we sitting together talking about this, and you could hear the inflection in my voice and the warm love that I have for my Savior and this wonderful church, it would come out more like I intend — a hand of fellowship truly asking for us to come together, not apart, and see if the prophets and apostles truly have something inspired for us to learn about in this new curriculum change — something we can’t quite see yet, but we should grasp and hold on to and TRY to make it work because we still see through a glass darkly…

    I guess where I am coming from is that I am not sure this is really something to get that worked up over, is it? I mean, being asked to walk across the plains would be a harder thing to ask, wouldn’t it? Oh, and there’s a reasonable chance someone in your family (or all of them) will die along the way. Just so you know.

    Are we all a little like Naaman and expecting some great thing to happen here, but since this is such a small thing that feels somehow distasteful to us (like the dirty Jordan river) we are tripping over this a little?

    I am just a member like all of you so I have no special “access”, but as I am trying to pay attention to the prophets and apostles and the way the church is moving forward (at least in North America), there’s a few themes that I think I am starting to see here:

    1) It is up to you and me, individually, to find the Lord, come unto Him, apply the atonement in our life and bind ourselves to him through proper ordinances and covenants. It’s up to us to do the daily religious observance required to spiritually be fed and bake our personal loaves of “daily bread”. Like mannah, we cannot rely on our past stores to feed us today or in the future. We need to struggle to find it daily.

    2) Loving our neighbors as ourselves is becoming more and more important than about anything else. It means getting out of our own homes and loving people where *they* are and a little less praying for “those that could not attend today that they will attend next week” without any effort to make that come to pass.

    3) The church is a superstructure designed to provide, like a conduit, access to covenants, ordinances, blessings, judgement, repentance, access to the temple as well as temporal and spiritual assistance as well as a superficial social outlet and opportunity for us to lift and serve and help each other through the joy of common association. But the church is NOT our religion. The church is NOT responsible for your daily bread and can NOT provide it.

    But I think the safety of “the Church” has been a crutch for many for a long, long time.

    Is it too much to say that I think many of us may think our lamps are trimmed, only to find, when the bridegroom cometh (or when terrible temptations or trials are heaped on our heads) that we are lacking the oil and faith it takes to stand and go in with the Lord.

    We are told that diligent and faithful worship of God on the Sabbath and keeping that day holy will save us in the Celestial Kingdom — but keeping the Sabbath day Holy is a much bigger thing than parking our cars at the chapel for three hours on Sunday, isn’t it? Maybe this is about the prophets putting the pieces of the puzzle in our hands and saying “Here are some tools. Figure it out. God will guide you as you diligently seek Him” but not telling us how (because we always learn more when we have to struggle to find it).

    The people in 3 Nephi heard the voice announcing Christ’s coming /three/ times before they understood it. They had to both open their ears to hear it, *and* look “steadfastly” toward where the sound came from. That’s focus!

    Yet, considering that it was the voice of God, I am sure it’s exactly the kind of voice most people would have wanted to hear! –But it didn’t come easily. It wasn’t the booming megaphone we think of. It was quiet. It was not easily understood. They had to work for it. They had to WANT to hear and understand. If it was hard for them.

    These were people who had just had three days of crazy darkness along with terrible upheaval, death, fires, earthquakes, confusion and destruction– they must have been emotionally and physically completely WRUNG OUT. Yet, even in THAT condition, they still needed to FOCUS mentally, physically and spiritually to hear the still small voice.

    And compared to that, there’s me on a regular Sunday–

    I am the first to admit that sometimes I waltz into Sunday meetings after a week of filling my head with music and media and “news” and podcasts and books and social media feeds and pictures of exotic travel destinations (I cant afford) and cat videos and memes and and and and and…. and a lot of the *world* on me. In my mind. In my heart. Nothing terrible. Nothing pornographic. Nothing that would keep me from being worthy — but then I walk into the chapel and want–no, expect–to have a spiritual experience magically distilled on my soul like the dew from heaven.

    Like minute rice.

    It’s like my soul is challenging God (or at least the Bishopric): “Feed me. Instantly. Spiritually uplift me. Awe and inspire me to the point that I forget about that sweet movie I saw last night and the awesome preview for the movie “coming soon” that I am already planning to see.”

    Isn’t that a little bit silly?

    Who the “flip” am I to to come in there, to the House of God, the creator of the Universe with all these thoughts on my mind (none of them “evil” but all of them “normal”) and then complain that God isn’t doing enough to effectively entertain me!

    The summary is, I think real worship is different than what we see at least 50% of the members of our wards do each week. It has something to do with what we do when we’re not at church, and it has something to do with developing such as strong, burning, aching desire to be close to the Savior that we go to Church to be lifted and filled, but we come with open hands to receive ANY offering that gets presented – even if it comes in an initially unsavory or unexpected way such as the form of someone else who is in quiet despair, but you get the hint that you can be a friend to them in a way nobody else can. So you say hello and ask if you can find time this week to go for a walk and visit and just “talk”.

    And let the Spirit guide you.

    Something about the way the church is moving feels like we’re pivoting back to “the one”. There is less and less formality about the “order of things” in the church and things are getting more and more conversational. Breaking down walls. Opening up ideas and inviting all to come and participate.

    But then getting OUTSIDE the chapel walls and bringing religion into our homes and, more permanently, into our hearts.

    Prodigals, not preaching.
    Good Samaritans, not sermons.

  • I would give them beyond the standard diet. Joseph Smith said, “”I advise you to go on to perfection and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness…. It has always been my province to dig up hidden mysteries, new things, for my hearers.” (History of The Church, v. 6, p. 363.) “Mysteries” is this context is simply stuff they have not already heard.

    The gospel is so huge and wonderful, it is unfortunate we stay with the same topics and somewhat superficial depth. By doing so we risk falling into this problem: “… For unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30.)

    Two specific examples: 1. I think it would be perfectly viable to set Relief Society and adult priesthood into studying the Book of Mormon. Leave Gospel Doctrine to a yearly rotation of Old Testament (2 yrs), New Testament, and D&C. Note: That is studying, not reading, e.g. comparative analyses, deep diving, etc. Doing so might help us get out of the condemnation on the entire church by the Lord, which Pres. Benson says has not been lifted. 2. I could teach each Sunday for 6 months on the Pearl of Great Price, without covering what is already commonly known. That book is much bigger than it appears in its few 60 pages.

  • Well, this article seems to be something where you’re thinking outloud before it even happens. It seem to me that the lesson are set up as guidelines. I use to love taking a subject and then researching and coming up with a vague lesson plan. Or letting the class take it to where they wanted to take it and then bringing it back to the subject if it starts getting off topic.
    It seems to be set up so that the spirit of god can guide the lessons as are needed. You never know what someone has been praying about or needs to hear. So find that trust within yourself, learn to ask questions on how to deal with sticky situations as they arise and know you’ll never be perfect, but you can usually apologize or learn from mistakes. You’ve got this. And if you don’t, you’ll learn something. Have fun 🙂

    p.s. I’ve commented with my facebook account. Friends are welcome to add me but let me know it’s because you saw my comment here LOL.

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