Adventures in Religious Education

Casey Paul Griffiths

In her debut episode, LDS Perspectives podcaster Stephanie Dibb Sorensen interviews Casey Paul Griffiths, an expert on the history of the Church Education System and its globalization efforts. Together they discuss the history of the LDS Church Education System, its early struggles, and its current vision and scope.

The formal foundation of education in the Mormon Church began in 1888 when the church board of education was established. Around this time, the United States initiated a free schools program. President Wilford Woodruff, the president of the church at that time, became very concerned about the idea that young Latter-day Saints would be receiving their schooling without any instruction in the scriptures. Starting in the 1890s, he instructed every stake to launch their own academy.

By the early 1900s, the academy system became unsustainable, and the church opened its first seminaries. Little did church leaders realize that this would lead to a whole new problem — training religious instructors and the establishment of professional religionists in a layman church.

In the 1930s the consequences of having professional theological scholars started to become apparent as some key tensions emerged — tensions the church is still grappling with. Find out what this first generation of scholars faced when they came back to Utah to teach in Mormon religious classrooms after studying in the liberal classrooms of the University of Chicago on this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast.

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LDS Perspectives Podcast: “The Delicate Art of Critical Judgment,” with George Handley

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In November 2015, George Handley, associate dean of the College of Humanities at BYU, spoke on his journey of faith in an Education in Zion lecture that was later published in BYU Studies.

Partially because of its timing and mainly because of its powerful message, his speech has been widely circulated since that time. Not only did he offer words of comfort to those who were struggling but also tools to be a more critical consumer.

Handley suggests that the three crucial ingredients of criticism, compassion, and charity must work together to create a quality intellectual and spiritual life. These elements also work together to develop meaningful relationships and build communities.

Exploring the humanities offer an incomparable opportunity to expand the soul, increase creativity, learn from others, and criticize our environment. Critical judgment allows us to step back and analyze a situation and to get out of ourselves emotionally; it is a deliberate and calm process of evaluation. We can’t experience all things so must look to others for deeper understanding of diversity in this complex universe.

Handley has found that the major driver in one’s relationship with the church can be the relationship one has with the people within the church.  People who struggle stay because they feel loved and that they belong. A community cannot be realized without coming to terms and accepting difference through compassion and charity and realizing the natural ebbs and flows of any relationship.

Join Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast as she discusses with George Handley the importance of encouraging criticism, compassion, and charity in order to build community and find belonging.

Check out the resources referenced in the podcast at LDS Perspectives.

LDS Perspectives Podcast: “The Lectures on Faith,” with Noel Reynolds

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In 1835, the church published the Doctrine and Covenants, which contained significant additions to the 1833 Book of Commandments. At the beginning of the collection of revelations were seven theological lectures that had originally been delivered at the Kirtland School the preceding winter.

Details about the purpose and curriculum of the Kirtland School, later referred to as the “School for the Elders” or “School of the Prophets,” are uncertain. Most of what we know is taken from late reminiscences recorded nearly fifty years after its commencement. Lessons included at least an English grammar element and the seven theological lectures, which were part of a series to “unfold … the doctrine of Jesus Christ.” The classroom consisted of prospective missionaries and church leaders and, by all accounts, was presided over by Sidney Rigdon.

The lectures were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition, but they did not fade away. They have proven to be particularly buoyant as they have experienced resurgent popularity over the years and an ability to maintain a loyal following. But the history of the Lectures on Faith are a cautionary tale for members of the church that illustrates the dangers of historical forgetting.

It was common knowledge in the 19th century that the lectures were written by Sidney Rigdon, but by the mid-twentieth century it was thought that the Prophet Joseph Smith had penned them. Perhaps enamored with the arcane rhetorical style of the arguments, some members latched on to them as a source of deep theological thought. What they didn’t realize was that the style mimics that of the preachers of the 19th century and of the Campbellites in particular. Especially telling is the reference to a binary Godhead in the fifth lecture. Joseph Smith explicitly declared in Nauvoo that his concept of the Godhead had never changed, and he had always taught the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost were separate entities.

But all the historical evidence to discredit Joseph Smith and attribute Sidney Rigdon as author was circumstantial. It wasn’t until Noel Reynold’s discovered some new documents that he realized he had found the “smoking gun” and the confirmation that he needed to form a solid argument for Sidney Rigdon as the author.

Join Laura Harris Hales as she discusses with Noel Reynolds the mystery of the authorship of the Lectures on Faith and what we can learn from this episode in Mormon history.

Check out to the resources referenced in this podcast at LDS Perspectives

LDS Perspectives Podcast: “Genre in the Bible,” with Ben Spackman

Please note that this will not be available until July 19. We apologize for publishing the notice too early. Please check again on that date.

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From the New Testament, we learn that Jesus’s favorite mode of teaching was through fiction; he taught parables. Although the characters and events may not be historical, few Christians question the truth in the messages.

Despite comfort with parables, some Christians become unsettled thinking about elements of the Bible as being non-historical. Biblical scholar Ben Spackman points out that this hesitancy is inherited from Enlightenment thinking, which regarded revelation as truth and truth as scientific or historical fact. This thinking, Ben points out, causes many readers to jettison common sense and plain readings of scriptural text.

Often times when reading scripture, the assumption is made that the text is either literal or figurative, but these two categories are insufficient to describe the different genres of scriptures.

It would be more helpful to approach the Bible as if it were a library that contained books of many different genre instead of being all the same type of writing. No Christian would presume to label all scripture as parable. Likewise all scripture should not be labeled as history. The Bible contains books of satire, law codes, poetry, parables, myth, conquest narratives, and prophetic revelation among other things.

The type of “thing” or genre of a given book is indicated by genre markers. For instance, Americans can tell a book is a fairy tale if it begins with “Once upon a time.” Genre markers in the Bible can be identified similarly by biblical scholars familiar with the culture.

Readers should also keep in mind that ancient Israelites approached the use of history in scripture differently than modern authors. Historical accuracy is actually a modern concept. Biblical writers often fashioned history to teach a higher purpose. If some of the historical details were fudged, then that was regarded as acceptable if done to make a point.

Join Laura Harris Hales of the LDS Perspectives Podcast as she interviews biblical scholar Ben Spackman about the different genres of literature found in the Bible.

Check out the resources referenced in the podcast at LDS Perspectives

LDS Perspectives Podcast: “The Genesis Group and the Priesthood Ban,” with members of the Genesis Group

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Don Harwell, Eddie Gist, and Wain Meyers make up the current Presidency of the Genesis Group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Genesis Group was started in 1971 as a dependent branch of the LDS Church with the charge to fellowship and meet the needs of a growing number of African-American members. It was considered “dependent” because members were dependent on other members for the priesthood.

This policy changed in 1978 under Church President Spencer W. Kimball.

After the 1978 policy change (Official Declaration #2), Genesis Group numbers began to dwindle as black members were integrated more fully into local congregations. However, in 1996, LDS Church leadership re-organized the Genesis Group as a support effort for the needs of a growing and diverse worldwide church.

Today the Genesis Group meets on the first Sunday of every month in Salt Lake City. In recent years, the membership has grown to over three hundred members of all ethnicities. Many come to experience a less traditional and some would say more fun Mormon worship service. The Genesis Group also hosts a gospel choir that tours and performs at local events.

Although the Genesis Group is the only official auxiliary of its type, other informal groups have been formed in scattered urban centers around the globe in order to offer similar support.

The history of race issues and the LDS Church is complex. To address the questions some have had about this issue, the LDS Church published an essay entitled “Race and the Priesthood.” It describes some of the history on this topic, from the first African-Americans to be ordained to the priesthood under first Church President Joseph Smith Jr. to the ban instituted under second Church President Brigham Young to the current policies and doctrines.

In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, host Nick Galieti, the Genesis Group presidency, and their wives discuss their lived experience with race and the LDS Church.

Tune in for this delightful discussion as perspectives on the priesthood and temple ban are shared by faithful members who were affected by the restriction.

Check out to the resources referenced in this podcast at LDS Perspectives