Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

A Case Study In Inoculation

Posted by Andrew on December 18, 2007

Submitted by: Shawn L

One of the issues that has had the Bloggernacle (ugh, I really hate that term) all a-twitter this year is “inoculation,” the notion of getting what may be controversial information to members sooner rather than later. I don’t want to open the “is inoculation a good idea?” can of worms again – the posts and accompanying commentary on that subject are legion. For purposes of this discussion, let’s assume inoculation is a good idea and one that should be put into practice in each of our own home wards (this is my own personal view). I am interested in how to make that process actually work, and my responsibilities as the administrator of the so-called “vaccine” in question.

For the better part of this year, I have served as the Sunday School teacher for our Ward’s 12-13 year olds. I have 11-12 regulars who are there week in and week out, with another 2-3 who come once a month or less. Generally speaking, these kids all come from very active families: they have graduated from nearly a decade of Primary classes, they actively participate in their respective Beehive/MIA Maid classes and Priesthood quorums, and they seem to enjoy being at Church (at least as much any human being can enjoy being stuck inside on a beautiful Spring afternoon, while wearing a collared shirt and tie, no less) This year, we are studying the Presidents of the Church. My students and I have developed a good relationship and while they are awfully squirmy, more often than not, I feel like my lessons are heard. Beyond the fun we have together, I take seriously my responsibility to teach these youth the Gospel. For half of them (the 12 year olds), this is their first “real” Sunday School class, and for all of them, this is a year where “getting ready for Seminary” is greatly emphasized by their leaders.

With all of this in mind, here’s how inoculation comes up for me on a weekly basis:

(1) The Manual, like many Church manuals, is virtually worthless. Each lesson generally consists of a series of seemingly unrelated anecdotes from the President’s life, leaving me to try and weave them into an overarching and, most importantly, interesting lesson. Each week, I have to decide what to include and what to leave out. Should I even mention polygamy when discussing any of the Presidents from Joseph to Heber J.? What about the Manifesto during our discussion of Wilford Woodruff? Is it the best use of time to talk about the 1978 revelation on Priesthood when teaching about President Kimball? If the answer is yes, how deeply do I delve into these topics?

(2) One of my less active students (let’s call her Sara) has been coming to class more often in the past few months. I have been trying to encourage Sara and I really feel like she has been making progress. However, as a result of her family’s bouts of inactivity, she has a much shallower pool of Church-related knowledge from which to form answers. While discussing President Kimball, Sara was shocked when she heard about the 1978 revelation because she claimed to have never heard about the Priesthood ban. Her honest question to me was, “why would we do that? Are we racists or something?” Now, I fancy myself a relatively well-informed guy on this particular subject, and have my own thoughts on the Priesthood ban. But to my surprise, I found myself at a loss for words in trying to respond to Sara. After stumbling a bit, I said “well, only God knows the answer,” or something equally as milquetoast. She was visibly unsatisfied with this answer, but I moved everyone on to my next talking point.

Are you in a similar situation? How have you juggled (or brought into harmony) your responsibility to be a shepherd to your small flock and your desire to expand their Gospel horizons. I’m in no way a model teacher, but here are three guiding principles I find helpful:

Tread lightly: It’s not my job to bombard these kids with historical information and revisionist history. While I make an effort to have interesting discussions drawing from non-manual sources, I try not to overdo it (“So, kids, has anyone ever heard of the Adam-God theory . . .”). For example, in our discussion of Brigham Young, we talked very briefly about the Utah War, giving them just enough information to see the issue and peak their interest to learn more.

Ask Good Questions & Demand Good Answers: I’m amazed at how early our youth learn the pat answers to every question – Jesus, scriptures, faith, etc. We all learn these responses, I believe, as a direct result of poor questioning. If I want my kids to think harder, I have to give them a reason to do so. Similarly, if I want my class to have a discussion that will stretch them a bit, I need to be well prepared to lead them through it.

Offer Honest Answers To Honest Questions: My class is brimming with curiosity. The students are at an age where their “Christian” friends are coming to school loaded with mean-spirited questions about our beliefs (of the “do you really believe” ilk). Naturally, these questions sometimes make their way into our classroom discussion. I try to give them real information in response, as opposed to a bit fluff and a prayer they’ll quit asking hard questions.

At the end of the day, I want my class to learn that they can trust their elders (and Elders) to give them the straight dope. I’m always pained when I hear people claim that they were misled or duped by the Church. In my own little way, I’m trying to prevent that from happening within my own limited sphere of influence. I just hope Sara gives me another chance soon.

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2 Responses to “A Case Study In Inoculation”

  1. aainsworth said

    I think this post raises another equally interesting question: if the Church has not seen fit to directly address these “tough” issues in its teaching manuals, to what extent should we members be feeling obligated to use Sunday School time to discuss them?

    Based on the quote below, I’d say Elder Ballard would approve of the idea of innoculation, so long as it’s done carefully:

    [B]e innovative. As we work to magnify our callings, we should seek the inspiration of the Spirit to solve problems in ways that will best help the people we serve. We have handbooks of instruction, and their guidelines should be followed. But within that framework are substantial opportunities to think, to be creative, and to make use of individual talents. The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify.

    Being innovative also means that we do not have to be told everything we should do. The Lord said, “It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant” (D&C 58:26). We trust you, brothers and sisters, to use inspiration. We trust that you will do so within the framework of Church policies and principles. We trust that you will be wise in counseling together to help build faith and testimony in the lives of those whom you serve. (M. Russell Ballard, “O Be Wise,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 17–20.)

  2. kerrykane said

    AA, that is a great quote from Ballard. I would love to see a post started that is called:

    “The definition of ‘magnifying our calling’ is…”

    I see so many people who think that “magnifying their calling” means working harder, longer, and spending more time in their calling. Not sure why so many people think that way, but once a person serves in a leadership capacity, that person learns that (1) no matter how hard you work, you cannot do everything, (2) often you have to simply say ‘no’, (3) working smarter is a better way to magnify your calling than working harder.

    “To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify.”

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