Meat, milk, and self perception

Over at BCC there is an discussion of the percieved anti-intellectualism being taught and discussed in the church.  The idea that too often the church will not discuss things of weighter gospel origin because of the fear of turning off the simplest of saints.

I was going to post this over there but I think it needs a broader discussion which I can give it here. 

1. The church has one of the highest educated members of any church.

2. The church, through such things as the perpetual education fund encourage all members, no matter where they are, to get as high an education as possible.

3. It is also an undeniable fact that, at times, the church leadership have been percieved as hostile to intellectualism.

4. Six people were excommunicated in 1993.  They happen to publish things that some thought were edgy and they were all ‘intellectuals’.

Ok now, with all that said let me give you my opinions here.  First, if one looks at the lessons of Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society they are certainly not built to forced down one angle or another, while the Sunday School lesson has a particular frame of reference they are often open enough to go any direction.  The P/RS lessons generally are so open ended to allow any sort of discussion.

So what limits the so-called meaty discussions?  The teacher.  While I know that some have stories of priesthood leadership stepping into a situation I can say honestly that most of the problem is the teachers.  Some teachers give about two minutes of prep time to their lessons (I know because I am occasionally guilty of this). 

Often in Priesthood they are the teachers who say, “Brother soandso can you read the first paragraph, [brother does so] ok brother Whojamwhatit can you read the next one.”  And so on.

These type of teachers get as much from the lesson as you do.  Not a lot in my opinion.  Sunday School teachers can do this by pulling out 20 quotes which they dish out at the beginning of class and have them read throughout the lesson.  In my opinion of course.

The best lessons I have had were not intellectual masterpieces, instead they often discussed the gospel in a way which is nuanced rather than “meaty”.  In my last ward our Sunday School teacher could bring ideas to the scriptures which were original enough that I spent time marking my scriptures and noting what she said.

In short the lessons are set for the weakest, especially the teachers.  They do well when they stimulate conversation and just act as the moderator rather than looking to come up with a massive thought.  Often that just is not possible.

Which brings me to my second point.  In classes of this nature there is usually one person who represents, and at times more than one, that annoying personality who measures the world in white and black.  “I never let my kids… I would never… Prophets said it I do it…” Fill in your favourit blank.  They are believers in ways I could never be, I marvel at their conviction, or more often than not just roll my eyes at their all or nothing attitude. 

These people are not prepared to have an “intellectual” discussion, as often as not this is when I will clam up.  Why discuss why watching the Superbowl might be a family activity on a Sunday with someone who is never going to see it as such. 

So what I do is pick spots, bring up little things or correct false doctrine, not get into huge debates about Joseph Smith and his polygamy.  These people are never going to see your point of view.

Finally, if one looks at institute, I think a lot of interesting discussions and lessons are taught in these classes.  Again it depends on the teacher as to what is given, and the students as to what is discussed.  One occassion saw our class sitting on the edge of a coulee (where water has etched into the ground through erosion creating something not as big as a canyon but similar) at 6am when the light came up discussing the role of Light in the gospel.

The right teacher can bring meat of all kinds, they do not necessarily get into every controversial topic in the church and still expand your faith. 

Conversely I had a Stake Missionary in our gospel essentials class who was obsessed with the obscure doctrine.  In the middle of class she is teaching she would go off on Heavenly Mother, Adam-God, you name it.  It made me cringe.  Because it was not the right place or time, yet she just could not stop herself.

Yet in Priesthood in a different ward they would discuss art in the church and have a fascinating discussion which was intellectual without going off into topics which might be hard for others.

Anyways, just my two cents this Tuesday morning.


5 Responses to Meat, milk, and self perception

  1. bfwebster says:


    See my post here in response to the PBS Special on “The Mormons”. It echoes many of your points, though it doesn’t go into the ward-level discussion that you do. ..bruce..

  2. Nitsav says:

    As a volunteer Institute teacher and sometimes-BYU teacher, I posted my thoughts on this here.

  3. Jon W says:

    thanks guys I will have a look at them.

  4. Jon W says:

    Btw Bruce I love your night theme way awesome.

  5. Sanford Barrett says:

    I think you are right about teachers. I have had the good fortune of being in Church classes with some of the best teachers I have ever witnessed whether in Church, undergrad or grad school. But they are by far the exception. And they adapted the manual to the class — meaning – they used the manual as a starting point but went way beyond it when they thought it appropriate for the class. Perhaps it’s not realistic to expect the church to allow a teacher to use his or her discretion when deciding what level to teach a class at. Maybe most church teachers just are not that skilled at instruction.

    And let’s not forget that the people who select the teachers have to value and be able to select good teachers. And then there is the whole problem that my idea of good teacher is probably not the same as my EQ president or Bishop or Dallin Oaks.

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