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In Our Ward: Lesson 42: Continuing Revelation to Latter-day Prophets

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 17, 2013

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.

Lesson Development

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?



15 Comments »

  1. Your AWESOME lesson went much better than ours. The teacher spent about 3/4’s of our lesson today on Continuing Revelation praising “Correlation” and talking about how it is pretty much the best thing that ever happened in the Church. The teacher kept asking if people knew what some of the things were that happened because of Correlation and when no one would answer she gave a long praise of an answer about different things connected to correlation.

    I finally answered at one point and essentially said “Well, before correlation the Relief Society and the other auxiliaries were somewhat independent organizations. They had their own magazines, their own funds, the Relief Society had their own budget, and they wrote their own manuals. When Correlation kicked in every Auxiliary was put under the priesthood. The various groups, but most noticeably the Relief Society, lost their budget, they lost their magazine, and they no longer wrote their curriculum.”

    The teacher ran with that and went on about how this was so wonderful and how it is so much better now and more inspired now that the Relief Society and the SS, etc. are all run so tightly by the priesthood.

    At the very end we spent a minute or two on the 1978 revelation, much more time on how the new “Women’s Meeting” is a result of a major revelation to the prophet, and how 18 year old missionaries is probably the biggest thing since the 1978 revelation to happen in the Church.

    At the very end the teacher asked if anyone knew about the 70 and no one else spoke up so I gave a history of the 70 from 1835-the present in about 90 seconds.

    Your lesson sounds waaay better.

    Comment by andrew h — November 17, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

  2. I feel for your teacher — the manual doesn’t give any help. Even if I had wanted to focus on Correlation, I would have had to have done a lot of searching on my own to be able to appreciate Correlation as revelation, and to be able to give meaningful illustrations. The manual simply doesn’t help at all — it ticks off programs that fall under Correlation, but the explanation and quotations are insipid. There simply wasn’t anything there to grab hold of and teach. And the few lines on the ’78 revelation don’t help the teacher teach — one page of Our Heritage and two vacuous questions??

    So don’t be TOO hard on your teacher. This is perhaps the emptiest lesson in this year’s manual.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 17, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

  3. Ralph was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1978–deep, deep south. The change in church policy was announced on the news before the letter arrived from Salt Lake City, and the bishop wouldn’t even allow it to be discussed in the building until he received the letter. That very week the missionaries brought a large African-American family to church for the very first time. They were a little late, and the only seats left were on the front row. Ralph says that it was awkward, and things continued to be awkward for a while. But a year later, when that African-American father was called as a new branch president, his former bishop was honored to be called as his counselor.

    Comment by LauraN — November 17, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

  4. Excellent work, Ardis. Keep it up. Our guy did the best he could, but not like this.

    Comment by Ben S — November 17, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

  5. Great story, LauraN. I’d like to see a compilation of stories like that. I think it’s going to become rarer and rarer to find stories that express any kind of hesitation — people are going to become more and more selective in their memories. One man in my class, for example, couldn’t recall any folklore (descendants of Cain, not valiant in the war in heaven) — he said that when he was a missionary in Brazil, they always told people they “didn’t know” why the restriction was in place. That’s hard for me to comprehend.

    Thanks, Ben. This is a lesson I’ve been working on for many weeks, off and on.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 17, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

  6. Since I am now regularly in Gospel Principles class, I cannot report on how this lesson was approached in my ward. However, as I read the breakdown of your lesson, I was reminded that I was roughly 4 months away from my 12th birthday when the revelation on the priesthood was read in our Sacrament Mtg. My family had recently moved to a small town in Wyoming settled by Mormon pioneers at that time (the percentage of members–active or not–was around 90%). I don’t recall my own immediate feelings (honestly, I don’t know if I really understood the major impact of what was happening at the time) but I do remember my father’s reaction. I’ll never forget the tears streaming down his face. Since then, I’ve read articles attempting to “justify” the policy and they have never made much sense to me; I’m not sure I could even teach the prior concepts in a way to make them understandable. I do appreciate those who can and have given context to the issue to help me understand the impact of the revelation. I have read Edward L. Kimball’s article and found it to be very helpful in understanding what President Kimball went through to receive this revelation.

    Comment by Chris M. — November 17, 2013 @ 11:40 pm

  7. Thanks Ardis.

    I began the lesson last week. I too focused almost exclusively on OD2 though I mentioned new scriptures as we talked about the new heading. One member of African descent talked about how frustrating he found the “Church records offer no clear insights into the practice” line. I think it was really good for all of us to hear that and perhaps for people to recognize how weighty this still is. We talked a lot about the messiness of history. And though the new intro is limited, it is so much better than the nothing we had before. The absence of any mention of a revelation is perhaps the most significant part to me.

    Somehow I have two weeks left at the end of the year, so when the class was ending and we had spent most of our time with examples of early black members, I was grateful that I could decide to extend it for a second Sunday. After rushing through things all year, it feels like a luxury to be able to continue our discussion next week (we had stake conference this week).

    Would you mind providing links to the Holland and Oaks quotes you used I want to be sure I’ve seen them all.

    Comment by JJohnson — November 18, 2013 @ 1:07 am

  8. I would also add, I gave them a reading assignment of Ed Kimball’s article a couple weeks ahead of time and really encouraged them to read it. Though the whole class has never reads everything I assign the few who do make a difference in class discussion.

    Comment by JJohnson — November 18, 2013 @ 1:11 am

  9. Chris M., that’s another of the recollections of that day that I’m glad to have preserved. The “little” moments of all the Saints contributes to what that day meant.

    Jeff, jjohnson, I love that you’re able to spend more time on this (or any other, really( topic. That gives your class a chance to become interested after the first lesson and do some reading in preparation for the second — I don’t know of ANYbody in my ward (me included, when I’m not teaching) who does any advance preparation. When the subject constantly changes and there’s no linking between lessons, there’s very little incentive to do anything but show up and hope to be entertained (or expect to be bored, whichever!)

    I’ll add those quotations to the text of the post — my citation of one of them isn’t quite complete so I want to look that up first. The Holland quote I used came from the PBS series interviews, and the Oaks quote from a newspaper interview on the 10th anniversary of the revelation.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2013 @ 8:02 am

  10. Thanks Ardis, even though I’m not Jeff. :) I had the Oaks interview, but couldn’t remember the source for the Holland quotes.

    This year has really been lovely. I’m in England and most haven’t had an opportunity for any sort of church history study beyond institute. It has been lovely to have control over the entire class and I’ve had the opportunity to teach it more like I’d teach a religion class at BYU. Many have taken advantage of the opportunity and read my blog in preparation and likewise many work to read the additional sources. Of course, it isn’t everyone, but I think there are enough to really make the class better for everyone.

    Comment by jjohnson — November 18, 2013 @ 8:33 am

  11. Oh, duh, sorry! It really would help to have class members more familiar with the material. I mean, my class has great insights into what principles ought to mean in life and we can get some great discussions going, but for the most part they’re general, not based in either scripture or history. It takes preparation and study to be able really to discuss the scriptures themselves, rather than just what we’ve heard about the scriptures. Good for you and your class.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2013 @ 9:09 am

  12. Interesting lesson and wonderful comments. Love it. Thanks.

    Comment by David Y. — November 18, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  13. Dearly wish I could attend your gospel doctrine classes, Ardis and JJohnson. Our teacher never even brought up the OD2 for discussion. That in spite of the fact that there are nearly twenty African American members of our ward.

    Comment by Barbara — November 18, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

  14. D’ya know, I think if I had African American class members, especially that many, Barbara, I probably would have taught this lesson a little differently. I think my current class needs to know that there have always been black members who were faithful despite the restrictions, despite the rhetoric, despite everything. I think we need to be “reminded to forget” past speculations.

    But if I were leading a class with black members, I think I would include something that acknowledged some of the nastiest racial remarks from certain leaders, and I would have included a slide or two of blackface shows used to raise missionary funds, and I would have invited personal accounts of how it felt to hear and see those things at Church, and whether that legacy was still being thrown by non-Mormon family and friends, and even by Church members. I think different audiences probably need different emphases and the opportunity to talk about different experiences.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

  15. The most detailed and vetted essay on race and the priesthood, including the origins of the priesthood restriction, has just been posted on lds.org. I cannot overstate the importance of that essay to anyone who teaches this lesson in any way that emphasizes the 1978 revelation on priesthood. Hallelujah!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 6, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

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