The following was originally printed in the March-April 2010 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
A major frustration when speaking with Mormons about their faith is the way they often seem to brush off statements made by their leaders with whom they disagree. Though such Mormons may also claim that their church alone is granted with “modern-day revelation” from God, to take such a position sends a clear message they personally feel that such “revelation” is nothing more than the personal opinion of the speaker and not to be taken seriously. Some Mormons have gone so far as to narrow the doctrinal playing field to merely passages found in the standard works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price). While such restrictive parameters come more from uninformed lay members, it should be understood that LDS Church headquarters doesn’t support such a view.
Christians who desire to challenge the faith of their Mormon friends and loved-ones might find an article in the January 9, 2010 edition of the LDS Church News to be of interest. Titled “Use proper sources,” the article admonishes church teachers to refrain from using “unofficial” sources when preparing their lessons. Instead, it directs them to use “correlated” material that has been prepared by “an inspired Church-writing committee” that “has been approved by the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency.”
The word “correlated” is not a common expression for non-Mormons, yet the Correlation Department of the LDS Church has been around for half a century. As the article points out, its job includes maintaining “purity of doctrine” that is taught in LDS Church manuals, making it clear that Mormons are to take such teachings seriously. While the information in the article comes as no surprise to us at MRM, it may come as a surprise to many Mormons who blithely reject uncomfortable teachings found in church manuals. In practice, the LDS Church does not hide the fact that correlated material has the church’s stamp of approval. Consider the following quotations taken from the 2003 Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual:
“Emphasize that Church correlation was initiated and continues to operate today by revelation from the Lord to His prophets” (p. 244).
“The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve oversee correlation in the Church. Correlation includes: a. Maintaining purity of doctrine” (p. 244).
“Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve said that correlation is a process ‘in which we take all the programs of the Church, bring them to one focal point, wrap them in one package, operate them as one program, involve all members of the Church in the operation—and do it all under priesthood direction’” (Let Every Man Learn His Duty [pamphlet, 1976], 2)” (p. 244).
“Explain that Church publications, such as lesson manuals and Church magazines, are produced to help members learn and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. The correlation process helps ensure that these materials are scripture-based, doctrinally accurate, and appropriate for the intended audience. All Church publications are planned, prepared, reviewed, and implemented under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve” (p. 245).
It seems rather obvious that the purpose of the Church News article was to ensure top-down control on what is presented to members on a local level and to prevent a teacher from straying from the approved script. It spoke of Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks who, in a 1999 conference talk complimented members for how they presented and received Relief Society and Priesthood lessons. However, Oaks was quoted as saying,
“I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable. A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified. Gospel teachers should also be scrupulous to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects. The Lord’s revelations and the directions of His servants are clear on this point.”
Is this a double standard? When this article was the topic of discussion at the “TimesandSeasons” blog site, one person wrote,
“But just as the Brethren feel free to quote Broadway plays, poems, news articles, movies, and even Halle Berry, N.T. Wright and Henri Nouwen in making points in conference talks, it is a mystery to me why lay members cannot be trusted to do the same.”
Inconsistency aside, the fact that correlated material has once again been touted as official information means Christians should not at all feel inhibited when asking our Mormon acquaintances to explain and defend the doctrines found within LDS Church manuals. Should a member still wish to dismiss such comments, politely remind them that if they don’t believe what their church teaches, you see no reason to believe it either.