In 1991, Dr. Robert F. Bohn gave this great talk at the Sunstone Symposium titled “Cultural vs. Gospel Doctrine and the ‘Unsaid Sermon Phenomenon'”. I recently listened to the recording and found it poignant, practical, helpful, and encouraging. As an illustration of the topic, here’s an example:
Original quote from a sermon: “When that earthquake hit when I was on my mission, there were many deaths, but I felt calm because I knew that God protects his faithful missionaries.”
The false notion, or Unsaid Sermon: “My son was killed on his mission. I wonder if he was unfaithful.“
Dr. Bohn goes on to give many such examples and ultimately gets to how we might be able to protect ourselves from this kind of interpretive doctrine. The talk, and the response by Toby Pingree, explores a serious problem in the practical everyday lives of Latter-Day Saints. I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but as a highlight I’m including Dr. Bohn’s list of 9 steps that will help neutralize the perpetuation of these false notions in your own life.
- Understand how we develop false cultural doctrines. (IOW: Identify Unsaid Sermons as such.)
- Replace these false notions with the correct gospel doctrine which brings hope and happiness, not despair and misery. Correcting our thinking helps us overcome cultural guilt much like correcting our behavior helps us overcome gospel guilt in the repentance process.
- Be careful not to make generalizations about the specific experiences of others. (Side note: we do this with scriptures all the time, in fact we are taught this is the proper thing to do with them, its called “likening the scriptures unto ourselves”.) Because something happens a certain way to one church member does not mean that all other members must experience life exactly the same way.
- Realize that sometimes people say things they genuinely feel but may not be gospel doctrine. Often people people justify their own circumstances and say things that make them feel good based upon what happened to them.
- Remind ourselves that what we hear is meant to edify us. It is not necessarily a representative sample of what most saints are experiencing in their lives each day.
- Stop trying to live our life exactly like others. Instead, we should develop our own lifestyle which is consistent with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While gospel principles are the same for all of us, how we apply those principles in our lives sometimes varies.
- View our life from an eternal perspective of justice, which is not limited to our mortal existence.
- Assume responsibility for our feelings and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ instead of reacting to other members’ well-meaning, false notions and cultural doctrines.
- Focus upon changing ourselves so that we reflect the gospel in our words and deeds, rather than becoming cynical about the shortcomings of others. In reality, we can only change ourselves, not others. The best we could do is influence others.
- Bonus (added by Toby Pingree): Don’t take offense where none is intended.
In the Q&A portion he goes into a great point that if you are waiting for any person, group, or organization to change before you will be happy, you will never be happy. Definitely something to ponder.