Lesson 42: Continuing Revelation to Latter-day Prophets
no specified scripture; we used OD2
Purpose: To show class members that the Lord continues to guide the Church through revelation to latter-day prophets, seers, and revelators.
Unlike other Sunday School lessons I’ve taught, I do not have a “script” that I can post today. This is a report of what was done, rather than a lesson that can be easily adapted by others – you’re on your own for any adaptation.
We focused entirely on the 1978 revelation extending priesthood to all worthy male Church members because I think it is the clearest, most dramatic instance of continuing revelation in my lifetime. Also, many of my class members are too young to have direct memories, while I do not think older members like me can be reminded too often that some of what we were taught in our youth needs to be rooted out of understanding.
I organized the lesson around the new headnote of Official Declaration 2, and, using a PowerPoint presentation, expanded on the sentences of that headnote:
The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. …
Here I briefly presented the stories of a half dozen faithful black members of the 19th and early 20th centuries, using their photographs and quotations from their writings or talks. I wanted to remind class members that this policy and the 1978 revelation were not merely nice intellectual concerns, but directly affected the lives of flesh-and-blood men and women. I wanted them to care about these people they had never met.
During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. …
This was a brief discussion of Elijah Abel’s life and the contributions he made in the temple and as a missionary, contributions we associate very closely with the priesthood.
Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. …
This was the longest section of the lesson. I ran quickly through the history of the development of the priesthood restriction, grossly oversimplifying it in the interest of time and clarity, drawing on work shared by a friend. In addition to ticking off specific developments on a timeline, I basically laid the responsibility for the restriction on the religious culture and political mindset brought into the Church by the first generations of members.
Trying to make this clear, I pointed out a few theological points that were either spelled out in modern revelation (e.g. manner of baptism) or that surprised some converts enough to ask and be told that their scruples were sectarian nonsense (e.g., proscription on dancing). I contrasted those with points about which we have no peculiar understanding drawn from modern revelation (e.g., no revealed doctrine about the Apostle Paul) that would cause converts to question or change their prior sectarian beliefs. I summarized beliefs about race prevalent in the Christian and American culture of the early 19th century and surmised that, in the absence of distinctive Latter-day Saint revelation on race, converts brought those prevailing cultural beliefs into the Church, which gradually hardened with the force of tradition and the assumption that earlier generations knew something that later generations had forgotten.
Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance …
We went through the history of Church leaders questioning the legitimacy of the restriction and seeking for revelation, drawn largely from Edward L. Kimball’s Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood.
The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978 …
Again drawing from Edward L. Kimball’s article, we talked about the day of the revelation itself, quoting from some of those who have left descriptions. I pointed out that the revelation was given through the Holy Ghost as an indisputable impression, a rush of pure knowledge, but not a dictation of words. What we have in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2 is not the revelation itself, which was not words, but rather a notice of the revelation.
The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.
Using quotations from Bruce R. McConkie, Dallin H. Oaks, and Jeffrey R. Holland, I pointed out that the folklore, no matter how authoritatively taught once upon a time, had been repudiated, and that these apostolic statements were unanimous in declaring that they were “inadequate” at best (Elder Holland) or “spectacularly wrong” at worst (Elder Oaks), and were not to be taught or defended any longer. We ran through the most common of those old statements in order to say specifically that “this is wrong … that is wrong … this is never to be taught again.”
We wrapped up with a few personal recollections of that day in June 1978, from me and a few class members.
I think it went pretty well. Class attention seemed to be entirely focused. As always, we could have used much more time for more class participation and for questions. That was a huge amount of material to get through in 40 minutes (35, really, since the elders were late – again! – in vacating the room so that I couldn’t set up ahead of time). But I still think it went well, and judging by most comments (with one possible exception) I think it went well.
How did your wards deal with the topic of continuing revelation?