Taking Back Sunday: A Call To Put Up Or Shut Up

Shawn LarsenMormon 26 Comments

Beyond white shirts, facial hair and Coke — the Bloggernacle’s equivalent of the Holy Trinity — nothing gets Mormon bloggers’ collective knickers in a twist quite like the perception that they are forced into silence during the Sunday meeting block. On an almost daily basis, I run across posts and comments in which members bemoan the fact that, during their worship service, they feel unable to share with others (i) some nugget of non-correlated history, (ii) their left-of-center view on a theological point, or (iii) their discomfort with a cultural practice that has been adopted by the rest of the ward as a founding principle of the Gospel. I personally know folks (and you probably do, too) who have reduced their activity level because they do not agree with lessons being taught. For example, a buddy of mine has bowed out of Gospel Doctrine altogether because he cannot get behind the idea of a literal flood in the Bible account of Noah.

As a bearded Mormon history nerd with a head full of non-traditional opinions, I empathize with these feelings. I, too, have stifled comments in Elders’ Quorum for fear of rocking the boat or derailing an otherwise by-the-book lesson. Just like you, I have simmered quietly while others expressed opinions that I found offensive. But, at the risk of biting the digital hand that feeds me, I’m here to say, I’ve grown weary of the complaints. Enough is enough, already. It’s time for us all to put up or shut up!

I have come the conclusion that it is time for we bloggers to quit whining about members and teachers who we believe force us to keep our more controversial, liberal, non-traditional, etc. views to ourselves, and to take action. Here’s why:

First, by keeping quiet, we perpetuate, and become co-conspirators in, the same “unwritten order of things” that is driving us crazy in the first place. Thomas Jefferson once said, “all tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Certainly no tyranny is afoot, but the same principle applies to our ward meetings. If we keep our mouths shut, we are actively contributing to the problem.

Let me give you a very recent example. My best pal is currently serving in our Bishopric (and doing a fantastic job, by the way). At dinner on Saturday night, his wife raised the issue of women being the concluding speaker in Sacrament meeting. She noted that, for as long as she could remember, the last talk had always been given by a man. To be honest, I am usually juggling books, crayons and Cheerios all meeting, so I had not noticed this particular trend. My much more observant wife, on the other hand, had. My pal confirmed that, in fact, the standing rule in our ward is that the concluding speaker must be a Priesthood holder. As a result, for all of the High Council Sundays we endure, we will never have a ladies-only program. As you might imagine, the wives pressed him for the reasoning behind this practice. The answer was simple: that’s the way the Bishop (who is, by all accounts, a great Bishop) wants it because that’s the way it has always been in our ward, period. My friend had never thought to raise the issue with the Bishop or to use his own discretion in scheduling a woman as the final speaker on a week for which he is responsible. And until he (or someone else in a position of power) says something, nothing will change.

Second, if we don’t put our best selves forward in Church, we unilaterally restrict the depth and range of the discussion and, as a result, we potentially stunt our own spiritual growth, as well as the spiritual development of our brothers and sisters. Christ warned against hiding our candles under a bushel, and instead commanded us to “let your light so shine before men.” This mandate applies not only to our dealings with outsiders (i.e., missionary work), but also to the way we interact with one another inside the Church. I am not so narcissistic to believe any of my random Sunday comments are going to change the world. But the ‘Nacle is full of accounts describing everyday members desperately seeking someone, anyone with whom to discuss their thoughts, concerns and questions. As John Nilsson’s excellent “People Who Helped Me Stay Mormon” posts make clear, sometimes the difference between activity and inactivity is finding such a relationship or, at a minimum, knowing that you are not alone in your congregation. We often hide behind the pretense of not wanting to offend. But I believe that well-intentioned comments and interjections are at least as likely to have a profoundly positive effect on listeners. Isn’t it worth the risk?

And as for our own spiritual development, separating ourselves from our community by any degree is bound to be unhealthy. Take my friend with the Noah issue. Staying in the foyer during Sunday School is a short-term fix to his problem: he avoids the cognitive dissonance he feels when attending class. The long-term effects of that decision, however, may be quite negative. As anyone who has ever gone through a spate of inactivity knows, once you start skipping one hour, it’s much easier to find reasons to avoid the other two hours as well.

Third, I personally find the rationale behind this “keep quiet” approach to be as offensive as any “Democrats are of the devil” comment I’ve heard from teachers. No matter how it is couched, this philosophy boils down to the belief that other ward members are (i) too spiritually fragile, (ii) too close-minded, or (iii) too ignorant to comprehend the wisdom that we more-enlightened Mormons possess, but judiciously choose to keep under our hats. Furthermore, such thinking drives (and exacerbates already existing) artificial wedges between us: liberal Mormons vs. conservative Mormons, Iron Rod Mormons vs. Liahona Mormons, etc. Even worse, this attitude is wholly un-Christlike. He taught, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” I doubt that assuming the worst about our brethren, and then stifling discussion with them based on that prejudice, meets this lofty standard of conduct.

Furthermore, I have come to believe that most (or at least many) Mormons with whom we share the pews on Sunday are open to, if not eager for, the meatier Gospel discussion from which we abstain. Put another way, not only are our prejudices unholy, they are unwarranted. Two recent examples brought this point home to me very clearly:

  • In December of last year, I was asked to give an EQ lesson on a recent Conference talk. I spoke with the EQ President and told him that, in light of the fact that we were closing out a year of discussing Spencer W. Kimball, I would rather teach a lesson about the 1978 Priesthood revelation. Being overly cautious, I offered to give him an advance copy of the lesson outline. He agreed, but laughed off the idea of “pre-screening” the lesson. In the preceding days, I was quite nervous about how the Elders would react to what I had to say. Would they shout me down as a liberal? Would they stand on thier own pre-conceived notions about curses and fence-sitting? The lesson was nothing spectacular – in fact, I cribbed most of it from Darius Gray’s Mormon Stories presentation. But I made clear that the justifications concocted to justify the Priesthood ban were not doctrinal and should not be passed on as such. To my great satisfaction, the class was engaged, attentive and involved. Not one of them fought me — we had a fulfilling, informed discussion of the issue. Afterwards, a couple of them took a moment to tell me how much the enjoyed the class. I don’t tell this story to toot my own horn. Far from it. Looking back, I am ashamed to admit that I assumed the worst about my fellow Priesthood holders. Assuming myself to be better informed, I had pre-judged them all as racists, or something close to it. Given the subject matter of my lesson, the irony of such prejudice was especially bitter.
  • A few weeks ago, I sent an e-mail to my Bishopric buddy, asking whether anyone would be speaking in Sacrament meeting on 6/8 about the 30th anniversary of the 1978 revelation. I let him know about the Genesis Group’s planned fireside that night in the SLC Tabernacle. I (a lowly Sunday School teacher) then humbly suggested that a few words on this subject would be appropriate and appreciated. He called my bluff, bumped a youth speaker and gave me a 10-12 minute slot on the program. Not quite what I had in mind, but I’ll admit to being impressed with his willingness (i) to take suggestions from the congregation, and (ii) to allow a speaker to address this subject from the pulpit. In my 35 years of Church attendance, I can’t remember ever hearing such a talk so, needless to say, I’m a bit nervous (looks like it’s time for a refresher visit to Mormon Stories — thanks again, John D.).

So, for these reasons, I say it is high time for us to all quit whining about how we can’t speak up in Church. Let’s take charge of our Sunday worship and became active, engaged participants in the discussion. How? Make it a practice to comment in class. Even if your input does not contain some pearl of great intellectual price, get in the habit of conversing with the instructor and the class. That way, you will build up a trust, such that your more potentially controversial or out-of-the-box contributions won’t be viewed as purposefully provocative. If your quorum or RS lessons are boring, volunteer to teach a week or two. In doing so, however, we should heed Armand Mauss’s warning against becoming “intellectual adolescents,” those who “are searching less for understanding than for cheap shots at traditional shibboleths, or for juicy and scandalous tidbits about Church leaders past and present.” I’d be interested to hear approaches folks have taken in this regard.

On the other hand, if you choose to keep your wisdom to yourself, I beg that you quit taking up valuable blog real estate with complaints about how no understands or appreciates you. The choice to get involved is yours alone, my friends: either put up or shut up. If you take the latter option, you have only yourself to blame.

Comments 26

  1. Personally, I don’t feel like there is much of anything I can’t bring up in Church. It seems to me that the whole trick is to confirm other people’s opinions as a possiblity. Since we know nothing for certain, the demands of truth will always include the “orthodox” (or what we perceive as the “orthodox”) option.

    For example, if someone taught a literalist Noah story, I would have no fears speaking up and saying “well, it could have happened just like that and maybe it did, but also consider these possiblities…”

    I get the feeling that bloggernaclists just don’t understand this principle. You can say almost anything you want so long as you don’t rule out other people’s beliefs as a possibility. We’re a creedless church and frankly people are used to multiple and wild opinions. But we’re also a church who believes our salvation is related to our unity, so we avoid contention.

    Voicing other people’s opinions and acknowledging them as a real possiblity while then voicing yours accomplishes both purposes.

    Side note: you should hear the things I tell the guys in my carpool… all of them faithful Mormons. They NEVER get upset no matter what I say because I’m always open to all their opinions too. I don’t rule out possiblities.

    Also, I recently taught gospel doctrine and included one of my own short posts in the lesson (admitting it was an internet post.)

  2. Great post Shawn. You make some great points here. When my father was teaching gospel doctrine he often brought up topics that were controversial (to maybe only 5 people out of the 50 there) – plus, he had just been the Bishop for 5 years, so people had a lot of respect for him.) Anyway, the majority of the members appreciated his efforts, with just a few who tended to argue. I think we can bring up alternative views or our own points without being overly confrontational if we have a friendly attitude, and a decent relationship with the other members. In just talking with friends from church (on other days) I have had the opportunity A LOT to talk about some of the reasons behind polygamy, the priesthood ban, etc. Sometimes they restructure what I’m saying to fit into their own schema of the church, but usually they are receptive and listen. I just try to do it in a way that is casual and a tone that affirms my belief in the gospel.

    As for Noah, I don’t know what I believe, but I don’t see why it’s important to assert that it was literal. 🙂

    Bruce – you’ve hit an important point. Often when I think I’m right on something (historical or otherwise) I have a hard time validating other members’ opinions–especially if I think they’re way off.

  3. One important point here: ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS make sure to avoid being confrontational about how you bring up your points. I am extremely vocal in my classes (I teach EQ, but I’m afraid I don’t shut up much in GD either), and the one reason I never have a teacher tell me to shut up is that I try to be respectful. I never shout down others, and I never tell other’s that they are wrong.

    Respect and avoiding conflict are key here. Apologizing for offense, even when none was meant, or when you are the one offended, are very important.

    I am very opinionated (gee, imagine that), but that’s the educated man syndrome.

  4. These are great points, and important. I do think it’s important to learn how to speak up in a way where you maintain your credibility. But well worth it. I agree we need to speak up!

  5. I think there is a time to say something and a time not to say something. In my branch, most members there are not that educated theologically, and I tend to keep the conversation in Sunday School to more basic principles. However, in priesthood, we had a situation once where an Elder (a husband/wife elderly couple on a mission to our area), who was from Idaho and quite conservative, brought up Anne Coulter to talk about atheism today. He was railing on atheists as godless corruptors of our society, and I would not stand for it. I will be quite forceful about making sure that such crap is not brought up in church. I want to feel the Spirit on Sundays. Bringing up Anne Coulter or any of her ilk will take it away, and I will let you know it.

  6. My approach in church is the same as my approach here and on other blogs. I say what I believe, but I generally try to make sure it’s clear that it’s only my opinion. Sometimes, I am forceful in my comments, but I try to make them the exceptions – limited to those times someone says something that I simply think is hurtful or truly damaging in some way. It’s nothing more than the Golden Rule, really, with one addition: I try to read (or think) through a comment before I post (or say) it, thinking about how I would react if someone else said it to me.

    Two more poins:

    1) My statements that might otherwise be “controversial” almost never are taken that way in church *because I’m not seen as a controversial person*. I’m not argumentative, and I speak in a quiet, gentle voice. No one who listens to my comments feels threatened by me, since I never phrase my comments as an attack on anyone else.

    2) My statements that might otherwise be “controversial” almost never are taken that way in church because *I have served and do serve in highly visible leadership callings*, so people assume I am “mainstream” or “orthodox” or “safe” in my beilefs. I wish all statements were evaluated solely on their own merits, but it just doesn’t happen that way, unfortunately. So, the solution is to live your “non-doctrinal”, “non-intellectual” life in such a way that you can serve in the Church and be accepted as not being a threat.

    (I DON’T mean by that to imply the short hair, no facial hair, politically conservative, etc. stereotype that might jump to mind. I simply mean attend church, pay tithing, serve willingly, respect people, be friendly, hold a temple recommend, etc.)

  7. It’s all in the approach or delivery of one’s message. People are turned off by an argumentative or confrontational or opinionated tone, rather than what the speaker says. And when the argumentative speaker gets a cold reception, he tells himself it was because the audience is ignorant and closed-minded.

    There’s no better way to undercut your own credibility than to make a good comment with the wrong tone.

  8. Shawn,

    Excellent, excellent, post! (Thanks for referencing me, by the way!)

    John Dehlin’s point about “building credit in your ward” is crucial in these matters.

    I’ve gone the occasional skipping out on Gospel Doctrine route but it’s not very satisfying. As long as I contribute my time and talents in the ward, I will feel free to open my mouth.

    For example, Sunday I respectfully disagreed with the GD instructor (who is a great friend of mine and a lawyer)for using yet another legalistic analogy for a gospel principle. I prefaced my statement by saying,”This is going to be controversial and offend people” with a smile. Even though it was different, it wasn’t offensive, and everyone knew that.

    I make sure that what I say is not heard as debunking Mormonism but as sticking up for God, which is easy to do in most cases. No one can seriously fault you for sticking up for God, a la, “I’m concerned that the picture of God we get if we accept the justifications for withholding priesthood from black men pre-1978 is not very fair, etc.”

    It works well enough that one of Joseph Fielding Smith’s children, of all people, tells me to keep making comments in Gospel Doctrine!

    As Sterling McMurrin once said, “There would be more freedom in the Church if the members would simply have the courage to take it!”

    Amen Brother Shawn!

  9. Ok, here’s my chance to speak up. I’ll apologize now for being a contrarian on this point.

    I used to teach Gospel Doctrine class until about 8 months ago. I wasn’t confrontational, tried to present information as thoughtfully as possible, and frequently received comments from ward members that they enjoyed my lessons, and that I often gave them something to think about.

    Even still, I was called into the bishop’s office, and told that he had “the belief that other ward members are (i) too spiritually fragile…” (as you put it in your post) during my Isaiah lessons. What was the controversial thing I did to shatter everyone’s testimony? I brought a non-King James Version Bible to help them understand what Isaiah was talking about. The bishop actually used the words that I might “damage someone’s testimony” by doing such a thing.

    I wasn’t teaching false doctrine, espousing homosexuality, or any other obviously contrary opinions. I frankly can’t understand why an easier to read translation is so damaging to testimony. So, when I was released, I have exiled myself to avoid damaging other ward member’s fragile testimonies.

    However, I was asked to substitute teach GD this past Sunday. I got some nice comments about my lesson after class, as we talked about “flattery” and “forgiveness”, while discussing Mosiah 25-26. (I had planned on talking about similarities between Alma and Paul’s vision, but ran out of time.) I’m still wondering who I damaged by teaching the lesson this past week, as I noticed a member of the bishopric attending my class. (They never attend class when the normal teacher is there, and I know he was checking up on me.)

    Sorry for being so cynical. I just find that blogging helps fill a need that Sunday School doesn’t fill for me. I really don’t want to damage the fragile testimonies of my ward that my bishop is so concerned about. (Oh by the way, my bishop is a great person, I think the world of him, and he a wonderful next door neighbor, but I STRONGLY disagree with him on this point…..) I’ll be skipping GD and priesthood again this week, and use that time working in the clerk’s office figuring out who has moved in and out of the ward as part of my membership clerk duties. (Our ward is quite transient.) Frankly, I think my bishop likes it better when I don’t attend class.

  10. Mormonheretic,

    Your bishop’s comments floor me. The best way to understand where he’s coming from is to see that Sunday School itself is ritualized. Gospel Doctrine has its ritual form, which includes the KJV, every answer being correct without analysis and moving on to the next comment which contradicts the first with no attempt made at reconciliation or simply saying, “that racist opinion is not the best view on the matter. Let’s look at what Christ said…” What you did was not damaging to belief, but to ritual purity. You brought the pork chop into the synagogue.

    The “non-contentious” atmosphere we can thank Joseph Smith for. He had a personality which abhorred conflict.

    Keep plugging away. Many class members enjoy your approach, as you’ve said.

  11. Interesting post. I agree with your overall assessment as an ideal, but in practice ideals do not always play out as anticipated.

    I have tactfully and thoughtfully raised unorthodox questions and opinions but instead of provoking thought and discussion, they provoke ire and a deluge of church approved responses. Instead of outwardly challenging those responses I simply shrug and reply that their point of view is reasonable.

    So… How far does one push the envelope?
    Is it appropriate to damage the faith of others in order to promote a more engaging atmosphere for the minority?

    Your opinion is well taken, but I believe it to be an oversimplification of reality.
    Please let us know what happens and if you think this approach is successful.

  12. -Hey Say what ever you want. Luckily the Savior gave us the Holy Ghost to “guide us [in] every hour”. The Holy Ghost will testify to me what is true, If you throw a piece out there that I need to know, he will let me know. I love when people bring up different Idea’s and their thoughts. And if in the end I’m just not feeling your idea’s, don’t be discouraged. You may have planted a seed!

    -My Larger Concern is this: in regards to sending your friend an email about a certain topic in Sacrament meeting(it was the action not the topic that sparked my thought). Why do so many seem to think we know what the Ward needs. All over the blogging world I see discussions on what should be addressed over the pulpit, sending Emails to leaders to criticize, etc…what is this about? I just don’t understand it. My thought is one or two instances doesn’t seem to be an issue, but collectively we seem to be doing it more, and are encouraging others to do it as well. Don’t we have enough Faith or trust in our leaders to let them fulfill their calling their way, not ours. I could go on…

  13. “Put up or shut up” sounds good, but lets talk specifics:

    #9 talked about reading from a non-KJV bible. I can’t imagine how anyone could find this offensive, but it still raised issues with the bishop.

    How appropriate would Doug G’s comments (#53 on the ‘Our Foundation Stories’ thread) be in sunday school?
    -He quotes Pres. Hinckley and then says “I personally found his talk very hard to reconcile.” Is this OK, or is this “evil speaking of the Lord’s annointed”? Is it appropriate when discussing a general conference talk to simply voice disagreement with what the general authority is saying?
    -He says: “feeling like the First Vision was at best believed by Joseph as a type 2 event (thanks Benjamin) or at worst made up to add validity to his claims of divine authority.” Is this an appropriate comment for sunday school?
    -He says: “Based on the things Joseph was teaching in the early days of the church, it seems quite clear that he didn’t develop an understanding of God being corporeal and separate from the Son until after 1835 or so.” OK or not?

  14. #13 (BILL) You’re welcome–glad to see that I’ve contributed something that is useful. I have an innate desire to classify things, and that’s one of those semantic things that I hope has been helpful!

    All that said, I hope that when I teach EQ people are more talkative. I’d rather have someone say stuff completely off the wall than sit there like flies. I’ve got the 1st (or is it 2nd) counselor in the EQ presidency right now who I can’t get to show even the slightest emotion during the lesson. He needs to do SOMETHING. I swear I’m going to go half-naked to see if he cracks a smile or anything!

  15. Post

    #12 — re: my e-mail, I certainly don’t presume to know what my fellow ward members “need to hear.” Similarly, I certainly don’t, and never have, believe that what they need is an earful of me! My e-mail was in no way critical of anyone. Here’s the exact text, if you’re interested: “Hope all is well. Just wanted to run an idea by you. As you may already know, the 30th anniversary of the 1978 Priesthood revelation falls on Sunday, June 8. Are we having anyone speak on the subject? It might be nice — the Church (well, the Genesis Group, at least) is holding a fireside in the Tabernacle that night, with a member of the 1st Presidency presiding. Just let me know.” Hardly an instance of ark-steadying.

    However, I do agree that oftentimes, we are too quick to criticize our local leadership. That is a grevious mistake — of course they make mistakes, but aren’t we all in this together. I have not seen anything to suggest that we’re “doing it more” recently. The issue is that complaints can now be aired publicly (hello, Internet), rather than behind closed doors.

    One other point merits metion, ann. Isn’t there a place for member suggestions about meeting content? I agree that leaders are entitled to inspiration on this subject and, hence, have the final vote. But what’s wrong the congregants politely putting in their two cents? This is our Church, after all. That’s what I do with my home teaching families. I’ll often ask the parents on Sunday if there is any specific lesson or topic they want me to cover with their family during the week. I have never had a bad experience with this approach. The same principle, I think, can apply to our meetings.

  16. Amen, Shawn.


    I think most criticism of church leaders comes from people who feel that they don’t have input into the way the church is run. Far from encouraging criticism, greater numbers of suggestions and a sense that input is welcomed is the quickest way to dampen criticism, in American culture anyway.

  17. I’ll give a few more details of my ward, and try to help you see how I see it. My bishop has a master’s degree in Education, and is vice principal at a local high school. He has a counselor with a high school education–a good man, but definitely no scholar. I am completing my masters degree in the fall, and have been teaching college classes for 7 years.

    The counselor attended my class and became concerned that I was not teaching exclusively out of the KJV bible. (We know how fanatical mormons can be about that version of the bible.) The bishop checked his handbook, and there is a reference in there about using only KJV bible. I know this because he read it to me. My bishop loves to quote the bishop’s handbook, and is a real letter of the law person.

    As I look at our backgrounds, I just think that the bishop hates any conflict. Since I was not towing the company line on my lesson, technically the counselor was correct. However, I was trying to “seek after good things” by helping class members understand the language of KJV Isaiah. So, I guess the Bishop’s Handbook trumps the 13th article of faith, no matter how many quotes from Joseph Smith I could find where he talked about reading other versions of the Bible.

    Whatever. I guess I can understand that the counselor felt somewhat threatened that I would dare use a non-KJV bible, and didn’t seem to understand the rationale behind my use of another bible. The Bishop said, “many ward members don’t even know there are other versions of the Bible, and we don’t want to damage their testimony.” Frankly, I think the members are religiously mature enough to understand the distinction, but apparently the counselor is not. I think the bishop was really just backing up his guy, and probably didn’t have too big of a personal problem with my lesson. However, since I wasn’t following the Handbook to a T, I was in the wrong. No amount of my arguing the point was going make a bit of difference.

    I think he waited a judicious amount of time, and then released me. I did follow the brethren in the fact I didn’t introduce a non-KJV bible again, but I wasn’t shy about quoting non-LDS bible scholars. Apparently that damages testimony too, even if it is completely congruent with LDS principles.

    Anyway, I think the bishop is used to working with high school kids who take a little knowledge and abuse it. I work with college kids who are a little more responsible. I think his reaction to my lessons was the sort of censorship that high schools have to deal with daily, while college environments allow more freedom of thought. So, it really comes down to a philosophy on how to deal with “meaty” principles of the gospel. Frankly, I think many bishops would prefer “milk” discussions over “meat”, because they are much less controversial, and cause them less complaints. However, this gospel carnivore is bored to death with milk.

    So, Shawn, how would you respond in my situation? Is it better that I follow the brethren silently, or kick against the pricks in gospel doctrine class? Frankly, I’m not interested in a power struggle, and that is why I am choosing the “easy” route. Coincidentally, I started my blog a few months after getting released, and enjoy talking about much meatier topics than I even dared talk about in GD class. So, I’ll “put up” on the internet, and “shut up” at church. In a sense, I’m doing both, but I’m sure that’s not what you intended when you wrote this post.

  18. Although I think it’s important to voice opinions (especially ones that are more correct than what a teacher is giving), I’ve learned that sometimes it’s wisest just to say nothing. Most of the time, a minor detail is not going to matter, like a prophet’s name being pronounced wrong. I’m not complaining that I can’t speak up in church, because I know I can and I would if I felt like it was the right thing to do. Once, a Sunday School teacher asked if we felt like he was fair to both men and women students. Because he had asked, I raised my hand and said that women’s comments were greatly overlooked. He thanked me then and later for the comment and said he would work on it. It is possible to speak up, just be careful that you feel it’s necessary, and hopefully, that you have the Spirit with you. I know there are times where people raise their hand and go on and on about deep doctrine that the rest of the class may not need/be ready for.

  19. #17 — That’s a tough one. I don’t know that I have any answers for you, but I do have a couple of thoughts.

    First, in any hierarchical organization, like your ward, the top-of-the-pyramid leader always has the final say. That’s what happened here — the Bishop was simply doing his job. You may not feel he was being receptive to your better argument, but at the end of the day, he has a specific rule in place and he applied it. Do I agree that leaders can and should look more the “spirit” of the law more often? Yes, but I’m not surprised when they don’t. He’s just a lay member trying to fulfill a very difficult calling (and he may have a very different idea of what the “spirit” of any particular rule may be). I wouldn’t be too quick to ascribe motive.

    Second, just because your argument fell short this time around, that doesn’t mean you should quit speaking up. I’m a lawyer and I’ve lost my fair share of arguments. But, it is my responsibility to come back fighting each time with the hopes of winning one. So keep at it!

    Third, despite what I just said about “winning,” having your/our way isn’t always the point of speaking up. The purpose should be to ensure a well-informed discussion. It looks like you accomplished that here. You pled your case to the Bishop. Just because he came down on the other side of the issue does not mean that your contribution is without value.

    Fourth, one thing to be careful of is assuming that because one may be better educated than a ward leader, that he/she may have better insight into the “right” way to do things. I don’t think that’s what you mean to say, MH, but your 3d-4th paragraphs could be read as such.

  20. It’s one thing to discuss _possibilities_. But it’s another to be closed-minded and say the Flood _couldn’t_ have been a universal one.

    There are possible scenarios in which it could have been universal, but you have to think outside the box, and give up some assumptions. You can make a universal global flood possible if you:

    1. don’t assume that prior to the flood that the mountains were as high as they are now.
    2. don’t assume that prior to the flood that the oceans were as deep as they are now.
    3. If God can resurrect humans, he could have resurrected any animal and plant species that were not included on the ark.
    4. God could have created additional animal and plant species post flood.
    5. assume that there were indeed waters above the “firmament” (sky), in some sort of orbting layer of water vapor.
    6. Genesis says that the ‘earth was divided’ in the days of Peleg. That might mean that “Pangea” was broken up into the continents we have now.

    There are _amazing_ things that geologists have now admitted to that were deemed crazy nutcase ideas just 50 years ago.

    It’s going to take a lot of “thinking outside the box” just to reconcile dinosaurs and fossils with the biblical record. There are plenty of things, both in our relgiion, and in our science that are not completely fleshed out.

    Shawn, your friend who insists that the Flood _coudn’t_ have been universal/global is being just as closed-minded and bigoted, perhaps more so, than those who insist it _had_ to be universal/global. In that future day “when all things shall be revealed” the presentation of those missing pieces of the puzzle, those things that will tie it all together, will have all of us going “ah-ha!”.

  21. Bookslinger,

    With all due respect, the two positions you describe on a global flood do not have equal plausibility.

    Besides that, what imperative do you feel to try to believe Noah’s ark was floating in a global deluge? I think one that wiped out the Middle Eastern civilizations alone would have fulfilled the religious and covenantal aspects of the Genesis passages in question. You have to assume an omniscient narrator in Genesis who is right about the dimensions of the earth as we know it now and yet who at the same time is mistaken about the ability of snakes to talk…

  22. Shawn – good post. I often bring up points that are differing perspectives or hear them brought up by ward members and teachers alike in my current ward. In prior wards, not so much. That is probably because the education level in my current ward is high and most are either converts or reactivated and have made adult decisions to be there vs. there out of habit or social obligation. But I agree that the key is to remain open to all interpretations in doing so. The other key is to be sensitive to where the lesson is headed and where the group’s understanding is so that you are moving the ball forward and not highjacking someone’s lesson.

    Bringing up non-KJV can’t be that controversial. BYU teaches Bible as Literature from comparative non-KJV sources. Our current GD teacher often cites examples from both ancient and contemporary Judaism and books from other religions to help clarify concepts.

  23. Shawn,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree completely with your first point. However, regarding point #2, and given the obvious difference of opinion on this subject between myself and the counselor, I agree with Hawkgrrl that I don’t want to hijack someone’s lesson. The new teacher has openly admitted that he is not a scriptorian. I have already had people ask me what I thought about a certain topic in class, and I just felt that I didn’t want to usurp authority from the teacher, since I was previously GD teacher. Yes, I could help contribute to the discussion, but frankly, I think the bishop picked a non-scriptorian because he felt that I was straying too much from the lesson. The new guy practically reads it. I just see too much potential for conflict.

    Perhaps when the issue has settled down, I will come back, and I will substitute again if asked. However, with the counselor showing up to my lesson, it certainly appears they are still keeping tabs on me, and I think they felt my lessons went too far off the correlated curriculum. My wife made an interesting comment to me. Even though I used scriptures from the suggested BM chapters, she told me that I didn’t follow the lesson. (I wanted to say, that was because the lesson manual is terrible.) The manual did talk about forgiveness and flattery, but they were minor points, whereas, I chose to emphasize those points, and ended up covering just 2 scriptures because I had so many comments coming. The front of the manual says there is nothing wrong with that, but as John said earlier, I think too many mormons are ritualistic in their Sunday School, and expect the teacher to read the lesson. Certainly the new teacher is doing that, and following the counselor’s recommendation, which I think leads to complete boredom for most class members.

    I agree with your ideal that I should probably continue to speak up, but I will admit I am not a good enough communicator to know how to do that without offending the counselor, and getting myself in more trouble. (Perhaps if I was a lawyer, things would be better for me…) 😉 The counselor is a good man, I respect him, and he really is doing the best job he can. We still speak courteously–we just don’t speak in Sunday School….

  24. I find that it’s easy to make comments in church if you can attribute a thought to a General Authority (preferably a living one). You might be surprised how often this is possible. In this way, you can introduce an idea that goes a little deeper or perhaps even contradicts what has been taught. Of course, it’s important to use tact and discretion, but I think it’s entirely possible to do what Shawn is suggesting without offending or upsetting anyone.

  25. Is anyone here attending school regularly? It seems that in all of my college classes there are a few insufferable suck ups who will spout off comments that rarely have anything to do with the lesson and are really just a medium for showing off or looking alternative. The same happens in church. While I agree that we should, when moved by the spirit speak up in Sunday school, I find that too often those that speak up aren’t insightful, they’re annoying. Just last Sunday, our teacher asked the class to give an example of a democracy. A humble young sister gave the teacher precisely the answer she was looking for: The United States. Thanks. While most of us knew that it’s not technically a democracy, this nuance was not essential to the teacher’s point. Just as I was thinking this, some jerk had to raise his hand and proceed on a 3 minute tangent about how the US was a democratic republic.

    Don’t be THAT guy.

    I echo the previous comments. Speak up, but be courteous, tactful, insightful, and use authority (the scriptures, the prophets, etc) to back up your points. If your comment doesn’t meet these criteria–save it for the bloggernacle, or whisper it to your husband in the middle of class.

  26. Interesting.I love the level of discussion on this blog but would hate to cause others the discomfort that I have experienced at church over the years by expressing controversial opinions.I do express them privately as I see fit ie whether the individual on the recieving end may be able to use them.Arrogant perhaps but I don’t think church is th eplace for controversy but for kindness and sustenance.It’s a hard row to furrow and takes a ‘busload of faith to get by’.

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