By Eric Johnson
Beginning in 1997, the LDS Church began producing a regular series of church gospel manuals called “Teachings of Presidents of the Church.” Each book features a different deceased church president.
We have taken the chapters from these manuals and sorted them according to topic. If you had to guess which issues would rate in the “Top 40” of all topics, what would you say?
If you guessed apostasy, chastity, final judgment, perfection, plan of salvation, sacrament, work, or worship…well, these topics—while each is emphasized in more than one volume—still do not qualify for the “Top 40.”
Topics that did not have even one chapter of dedication include living allowances for general authorities/mission presidents, polygamy (or polyandry), blacks and the priesthood, and anything having to do with homosexuality! Anyone who wonders why must not know the inner workings of the LDS Church very well.
Now we may have your interest. In descending order, let’s go through the top issues and see if you are surprised. The following 20 topics were mentioned four or five times. These topics were:
- Church organization
- Gifts of the Spirit
- Kingdom of God
- Second Coming
- Unity in the Church
- Women (including Relief Society)
- Word of Wisdom
Before we head into the final topics, look at the list above. If you’re game, take out a piece of paper and write down what you think the most popular subjects will be. Special bonus points if you can name the one topic that was mentioned in every single president’s manual.
Now that you have come up with a list, let’s look at the Top 22, in descending order (with number in parentheses indicating how many different volumes made reference to this topic):
- Faith: Issues related to personal faith (6)
- Holy Ghost: Issues related to the Holy Ghost (5)
- Service: The admonition to serve each other and the community (6)
- Truth: Seeking the truth, especially through knowledge and prayer (6)
- God: Teachings about God the Father, including His nature (6)
- Eternal Life/Exaltation: The possibility of attaining immortality and Godhood (7)
- Gospel: The LDS gospel message (6)
- Missionary: Going on a mission as well as encouraging the lay people to be everyday missionaries (7)
- Presidents/Prophets: The authority of the LDS leadership (7)
- History/heritage: A variety of topics related to early Mormonism (5)
- Marriage: Including how marriage continues into eternity (7)
- Neighbors: Being kind to neighbors, treating them like yourself (7)
- Scriptures: Topics dealing with the Standard Works (8)
- Trials/Temptations: (7)
Witnessing: A little different from the topic of “missionary.” Issues related to sharing one’s faith (6). It should be noted that four chapters on this topic are found in consecutive order in the George Albert Smith manual, which was used in 2012. This was this same year that the church lowered the age for missionaries. Is this just a coincidence that the church chose this year to stress the importance of evangelism? Could there be concern for the decrease in the percentage of annual growth?
Personal discipline: Topics put together that were imperatives for Latter-day Saints to improve their personal walk (9)
One topic is left. And many of you may have already figured this one out. Yes, the topic of Joseph Smith was mentioned in eighteen different chapters in the presidents’ series, with each manual dedicating at least one chapter to the “Prophet Joseph Smith.” Eight of the chapters about Smith came from the 2007 manual that was dedicated to Smith. The only manual listed above that did not have a specific chapter on Smith was, strangely enough, Gospel Principles. Perhaps this is because new converts go through this basic manual; I theorize that the curriculum committee thought this was too early to introduce Smith to potential or new believers.
Were you surprised?