I was recently called to serve as a gospel doctrine teacher in my ward. The Saints in the ward are awesome. They are open and anxious to learn new things. The bishop invited me to teach by the Spirit, follow the general correlated curriculum (including teachings of living prophets, seers and revelators), AND introduce class members to critical/definitive content that I find in research from contemporary scholarship. It both informs and fortifies. The scholarship side is new territory that my predecessors–who are excellent teachers–may not have been charged to implement in their preparations). This is a sacred trust. Striking the balance implicit in these instructions is a sobering challenge no doubt. I’m doing my best. However, I am thrilled to bring a light spackling of Mormon Studies, Religious Studies, and history to bear on lessons and discussions. Our class discussion on women and priesthood from D&C 84 and 121 (wherein men were invited NOT to comment thank you very much) included the scriptural text, general conference teachings of Elder Dallin H. Oaks and M. Russell Ballard, and writings from scholars Neylan McBaine and Claudia Bushman. No surprise that the women provided great insights on the topic. I am spiritually and intellectually invigorated when I study apostolic teachings and scholarly treatements of Mormonism. I am certain that both are critical to Spiritual stabililty. So far, members of the class appear to approve of the commissioned approach.
One thing I have begun to do is provide a “book of the week” for class members to consider. This week the book was “A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870” by Laural thatcher Ulrich (professor of history at Harvard, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Latter-day Saint). I am in the read and it is fantastic. No one in the room had heard of Ulrich and they were quick to write down her name and the title or take pictures of the cover of my copy after class. One brother even bought the book online while still at church! I anticipate a rich conversation when we study D&C 132 together.
So, if my ward is an indicator, many Saints are very hungry for high quality reads published by outstanding authors at university presses. These books are generally not included in Deseret Book/Seagull Book mailers (where apparently you can buy loads of vinyl lettering, delightful rolls with honey butter, “modest” clothing, imagined history about Mormons and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, framed art, and spectacular novels about Mormon romance or Mormon vampires–OK, the vampire reference is dated–yet illustrative). To be fair, I was able to buy my copy of Ulrich’s book at Deseret but it was buried in the very back of the store with the other really good stuff like the Joseph Smith Papers volumes. But the fact that it was there is a rather new develpment and commendable. Props.
I’m considering including the books I introduce to my ward’s gospel doctrine class in posts on this blog. If that is something you’d like to see give this post a “like.” An enthusiastic response from you will prime me to provide titles that I think are exceptional must reads. The bottom line is that we must, in ways appropriate for church settings, “Feed the Flock.” Oh wait, that is the next title I’ll introduce to our gospel doctrine class. “Like” if you want more and stay tuned.