The Church Never Taught Me This!

“I’ve paid the price.”

My mission president had just finished telling us a story from his time as a stake president. One of the members of his stake presidency at the time, Joseph Fielding McConkie, is a brilliant LDS author, and President Hawkins had called him up with a question.

“I called him,” President Hawkins told us, “and said that I was looking for something in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith but I couldn’t find it.

“I told him what I was looking for, and he said to me, ‘Oh, yeah, go to this page, and you’ll see it about a quarter way down the page on the left side.’

“Stunned, I asked, ‘How do you do that?’

“Do you know what he told me? He said, ‘I’ve paid the price.'”

Brand New Information!*

*Not really

The Church has been slowly releasing in-depth essays on various topics of special interest. All over the internet, people are saying, “The Church never taught me this!”

J'accuse!

(I don’t doubt that this is being said by a number of active Latter-day Saints who are genuinely surprised to hear about things like Joseph’s polygamy, but I have my suspicions that it’s also being said by a number of disaffected or ex-Latter-day Saints wanting to feel vindicated for their choice to distance themselves from the Church.)

This has invigorated the debate about the role of such information – whether it be about multiple accounts of the First Vision, the Book of Abraham, or polygamy – in correlated Church meetings, like Sunday school.

The assertion that “the Church never taught me this!” is an interesting one, and one that Dan Peterson (wisely) divides into three other potential assertions:

  1. “I didn’t know about x!”
  2. “The Church doesn’t teach about x!”
  3. “The Church prevented me from knowing about x!”

The most important discussion to have, in my view, is about number 2 (number 3 is painfully mind-numbing, patently false, and pragmatically impossible). Should the Church be expected to teach on these special interest topics in a more in-depth manner?

It’s really a question of purpose (and one we’ve discussed before). In the very limited time we spend together as congregations, how much time should we devote to collectively learning about these very complex topics? (M* talks about this very opportunity cost.)

I think it would be a terrible idea to have, for example, a “polygamy” Sunday school class, for a number of reasons (I’ve been in church meetings were we can barely get through a discussion on The Family proclamation without controversy, and it’s sometimes a struggle to make it through a simple discussion on the Plan of Salvation…).

But perhaps the most important reason is that those kinds of classes do not fit the purpose of the Church. The purpose of the Church is to help others come unto Christ. History classes, while worthwhile and good, do not necessarily contribute to that purpose in the same way as our current Church curriculum does. Devotional learning and scholarly learning each have their places, and most Latter-day Saints (myself included) could benefit from a more academic focus from time to time. Yet at Church, perhaps we need more of what we’re already getting.

Thankfully, now, more than ever, those interested in scholarly learning have access to great resources to use on their own time.

Betrayal

But that doesn’t deal with the sense of betrayal, does it?

First off, I think that it’s alright to feel like that. Presenting (or not presenting, as it were) this information like the Church currently does may be the right decision, but that doesn’t mean it comes without some negative consequences.

It’s okay to be a little shocked.

But it’s important to know that there are ways through those feelings other than denial. In fact, the best way to respond to an “I didn’t know!” is to, well, learn.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can wash away your shock with a quick BuzzFeed list. Like Joseph Field McConkie suggested, there is a price to pay to know things well.

Be a wise consumer of information. Learn what there is to know and how that information has been interpreted. Most importantly, counsel with the Lord about what you’re feeling and learning. Pay the price to become familiar with these topics.

And with these new essays, learning is easier than ever. That’s an exciting proposition.

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