Posted by: Jay | January 6, 2008

Teaching 11 year olds

Today I started teaching a Valiant A 12 class. This is basically a class full of 11 year olds. My class has 7 kids and today there were only 4. The subject was the Book of Mormon and how it was a gift to us from God. I felt a little uncomfortable teaching it to them. I really don’t want to teach about the Book of Mormon since I’m unsure of its authenticity myself. However, here I am in the position to teach a bunch of kids about it (My wife is also teaching the class, but couldn’t be there today).

Anyway I decided to ask questions to find out what they really knew about the Book of Mormon and then teach them a little more about the facts surrounding the Book of Mormon to see how they would react. First question I asked was:

Who wrote the Book of Mormon?

One of the kids said jokily that it was Joseph Smith. Then they started repeating all the Books in the Book of Mormon. After that one of them said that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. I then asked them how he translated it. They answered the Urim and Thummim. I told them that he didn’t just use the Urim and Thummim. He also used a stone. Surprisingly, there was no reaction to this. They kept on talking without it making any impact.

I then asked them if they could name the 3 and 8 witnesses. When they didn’t answer I told them to open their Book of Mormon to the “witness page”. I explained that the 3 witnesses were Oliver Cowdry who was Joseph’s scribe, David Whitmer, who funded the printing of the first Book of Mormon and Martin Harris a friend of Oliver Cowdry.  Next I asked one of them to read the names of the 8 witnesses.  I asked if there was anything that stuck out to them.  One of them said that they were all from the same family.  I then explained that all the witnesses with the last name of Whitmer were David Whitmer’s (one of the three witnesses) relatives, the one with the last name of Page was his son-in-law and the ones with the last name of Smith were Joseph’s dad and brothers. They didn’t seem to think this was a big deal.

The last thing I had time to cover was the quote from Joseph Smith that says the Book of Mormon is the most correct Book. I asked them if that meant the Bible. Without missing a beat they said yes. I asked them how they could know if the Book of Mormon was true. The lone girl in the class said she knew it was true. I asked if she had read the Book of Mormon, she said no. When I asked if she had prayed about it, she said I think so. I asked her how it went. She then admitted that maybe she hadn’t. I asked if they thought that was important, there was no consensus.

To end the class I asked what was the most interesting thing they had learned today. No one had an answer. I guess they are just too young and not inquisitive enough to take in the information. I can’t say that I blame them, I was the same way. However, it would be nice to know that the youth are thinking about these things and not just accepting what their parents tell them.



  1. Hi Jay! This is Lisa, your friend from the CoC. I plan on teaching my daughter all the main stories from the Book of Mormon. She will be raised as either a Methodist or an Episcopalian, BUT I DO NOT want her getting her information about the Book of Mormon, CoC, or LDS church from the anti-Mormons! There is much you can do. For instance, the story where Nephi is holding onto the rod of iron, and the people in the great and spacious building are laughing at him. It is easy to draw a lesson from that story. You have to have faith and do what is right, even if it is hard for you. …On another note, I’m about halfway through Bushman’s book, “Rough Stone Rolling.” I believe it is an outstanding, well-researched book. There are some things in there that are troublesome. For me, though, it doesn’t change the way I feel about the Evangelicals. It doesn’t soften the way I feel towards them, and it doesn’t make me want to reconcile with them.
    I just want to say that I have empathy for you in your questioning of the Book of Mormon. For the first 21 years of my life, I never questioned at all. But the thing is, you have to be so careful who you listen to. The Evangelical enemies of the LDS church have zero credibility with me anymore. And I sure do not want any other LDS or CoC person to be led down the primrose path the way I was. (And I’m not saying that you are in danger of that, quite the contrary, I think you know exactly what’s going on.) Anyway, Best wishes in teaching your class. I was a sixth grade teacher for one year, and this is a very difficult age to teach. They are not little kids anymore, but they are not in high school either.

  2. Lisa,
    I feel like an idiot, what is CoC? I know there are plenty of good stories in the Book of Mormon. I do try to focus on the fact that they are good stories and not whether I think they actually happened. Bushman’s book is really good. I’m also reading it in my spare time. It amazes me how much he knows and still has a seemingly concrete testimony. I would like to be the same way, but right now I fall far short of that goal.

    I don’t hate evangelicals; I do think they get off track when their whole ministry or purpose is just to “prove” the LDS Church is false or not Christian. I just don’t think it is a very productive way to spread the gospel. I like the LDS model much better, share your message and let the Spirit change peoples’ hearts.

    It does make me sad however that the Church chooses to not talk about the things that Richard Bushman talks about in his book. History is history and not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. In fact, by not talking about it the Church has allowed Anti-Mormons to place the events in the context of their choosing (usually bad). It also forces members that come across the full history to interpret these things themselves because there is no Church answer. Many times their interpretation of past events leads them to leave the Church. It’s all such a tragedy that could be avoided if we were just more open. That is why I believe it is important to share these facts with our members, even the young ones. If they learn it somewhere else it becomes a much bigger problem. I know from experience. I no longer can take seriously what my leaders say. I don’t trust that they are always lead by the Spirit and I think many times they are just doing what they think is right (see my post below about being denied a voice).

  3. Jay,

    I think CoC is the Community of Christ, the formerly RLDS church.

    As for the primary lesson, I wouldn’t sweat trying to teach them to think critically about the Book of Mormon. It’s simply the fact that kids at that age cannot think critically about anything. I would just stick to the text itself and forget about the manual. I teach seminary and that’s the approach I take.

    I conducted similar experiments in my seminary class, to try and get the kids to think critically about the Bible and it was a major disaster.

    My first attempt was to read both Matthew 2 and Luke 2 at Christmas time. The exercise was simple: after reading each chapter I had them go verse by verse and tell me each piece of data that the chapter gave. I wrote the data from Matthew 2 on one side of the board and the data from Luke 2 on the other side of the board. At the end I had two lists, side by side. I asked the students, “Do you notice anything about these lists?” Someone said, “They are pretty much the same.” This absolutely stunned me because the lists were completely different, only the names of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are the same, that’s it. They simply could not see it because they probably assume that any two texts describing the same event will be harmonizable. I literally had to go item by item in each list and ask them, “Is this item in the other list?” The answer was of course always, “No.” Only then did they get that the accounts are completely different. These are juniors and seniors in high school, much older than your primary kids.

    On another ocassion I had them analyze Joshua 3-4. I gave them a list of verses and told them that these sets of verses are groups of actions, such as in one set the verses talk about crossing the Jordan, in another they talk about setting up an altar of stones etc. I told them that I wanted them to look for repetitions, flashbacks, and contradictions, using the verse groupings as a guide. It was a fiasco, they didn’t identify a single repetition, flashback, or contradition, though I pretty much gave them the answers by giving them the verses to look at. Having already seen the failure of analyzing Matthew 2 and Luke 2 I gave up quickly and vowed to never try something like that again.

    The conclusion I drew is that kids at this age simply don’t have the critical, cognitive, and social tools to critically look at these kinds of issues. I have heard that some people want to “innoculate the youth” from the stuff that makes people start to question their faith, by addressing the questions in a safe environment. I think this is a failure because the obvious places for doing it (primary, seminary, institute) all have students too immature to readily see the issues. It’s no accident that most people who find out about these issues are in their late 20’s or early 30’s, that’s simply when people are capable of thinking about this stuff. The REALLY bad part about this is that by that time there really isn’t a forum inside the LDS church to address these things. The church by that time assumes that you are busy working and making babies and that for the most part your church education is finished. The problem is, this is the earliest it could have started!

    By the way, my story is similar to yours, but I think that I have for the most part made peace with LDS History and Doctrine. The bad part was that it took a long time for that to happen, and it would have been nice to not have to do it on my own.

    • Im 28 years old and Im from Brazil, All my life I was LDS, I served as a missionary and have my whole family Lds. This year I started to question many things about the doctrine and study the church history,and I realized that the church is not perfect as I was taught in my life, so I turned inactive member, but I miss the church life, principles and teachings, I would like to believe and feel the spirit or feel ok about my self and God…but nobody from the Lds in Brazil could talk to me about it, so I feel alone about this problem, I want to know how did you return, if you returned…what councel you have for those that have similar experience.

  4. I admire that you have come to make peace with the troubling parts of our history. Are you still able to bear your testimony as “I know”. Right now I can’t even say I believe. I can only say I want to believe.

    I suppose the controversies would be a lot easier to swallow if the Church talked openly about its history. Instead a member has to spend large amounts of time searching it out and digging it up. This includes many interactions with those not at all friendly to the Church. Its hard to believe that the Church is willing to accept the loss of people that leave because they are not more open. There really does need to be more openness.

    I think I will continue to inject tidbits of history into my class even though they are so young. It isn’t just because I want them to be exposed to it. It is also because I just don’t feel like I’m being honest if I don’t. Whether the pick up on it or not I guess is really a secondary issue (although I would really like them to).

  5. Lisa,
    I think that’s awesome that you are a CoC member! I met a family once while camping that was RLDS. I didn’t really get to talk to them much, but they seemed nice. Why will your daughter not be brought up in the CoC? You sound like you are a fairly strong, albeit thinking, member.

  6. I think injecting history is fine in class, I just wouldn’t expect much thought about it at that age level.

    As for the “I know” part of a testimony, I haven’t really paid attention, but I think what I normally do these days is to just state facts, as in “Joseph Smith was a prophet” not “I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet.” I would like to say “I believe that Joseph Smith was prophet,” but in all honesty the social aspect of saying this in LDS circles (at least English speaking) is really negative for the speaker. On this one I have Evangelical envy; there belief is the norm and “knowledge” is not expected, indeed they would probably say that faith makes knowledge unimportant, and they are right. To be honest, LDS social discourse should change to this as well. For now, if you just leave off the belief/knowledge part it is still socially acceptable and you don’t commit yourself to something that would be a lie.

  7. Jay,

    My husband is a Methodist and would not approve of our daughter being brought up in the CoC. That is the main reason why she is not being brought up in the CoC. However, I plan on attending CoC whenever I can. If at some point when she is older, she decides on her own to join the CoC, that would be fine with me.
    I was a born again evangelical for almost twenty years. I feel like they trampled me underfoot for all that time, so I am not at all in a charitable mood towards Evangelicals. I find it abominable all the hateful things they say about the LDS/RLDS, when, in my opinion, they are guilty of alot worse. Like I said, they have zero credibility with me.
    I haven’t read all of Bushman’s book yet, but I know that he talks alot about how in the Book of Mormon, it really teaches solidarity with the poor, and helping the poor. How is this bad, or wrong? To look at some of these Evangelical megachurches–where are their priorities? Certainly not with the poor. The same with our lay clergy. RLDS has a lay clergy just as the LDS do. When my Dad was flat on his back in the emergency room, the RLDS elders were there at his bedside in 45 minutes–snow and ice on the roads and it being Christmas Eve notwithstanding. By contrast, the Methodists said they could get somebody out in two weeks!!!! How is this of God? How dare they run us into the ground like they do! I apologize if I sound emotional or upset, but that’s just the way I feel about it. It’s like my husband said, I’ve seen too much. I’ve been exposed to too many religions, all of whom are absolutely opposed to each other, and I have a hard time processing it all. ( On top of everything, I spent five years working in a Muslim environment, that is part of what my husband is talking about.)
    For me, the belief I always come back to is that Salvation is by grace through faith, in Jesus Christ alone. I trust in Christ always. I know that makes me sound like an Evangelical, but I don’t worship the Bible the way the Evangelicals do. In many areas, I still hold traditional RLDS beliefs. Having a born again experience didn’t change my RLDS heart. There were some things that I really believed in, such as chastity until marriage, that did not change just because I converted.
    I appreciate the opportunity to post here. I hope that what I have experienced will be of help to someone.

  8. I think that is great that you have been exposed to so many religions. It makes you more able to understand people around you. It makes you less judgmental, more capable of loving others. While my main understanding is of the LDS faith, I do have a general understanding of the differences between it and other Christian Churches. Some of their criticisms are not totally unwarranted, but many of them are too full of hate toward Mormons to think straight. It is rare and wonderful when I am able to converse with others from different religious backgrounds in a good way, where we come to the conversation respecting each other and leave it that way. Too many people let themselves get offended easily or give offense way too fast.

  9. Jay,
    In my experience, the act of conversion was a very intense, psychological experience. Many of your anti-Mormons are converts out of the LDS church. I think this explains much of their extreme anger. I actually find myself, in a very odd way, with some understanding of these anti-Mormon types. Not that I like them or agree with them, God forbid! But for so many years I tried to practice something that was so clearly unsuited for me! And eventually, this took a huge toll. I’ve been accused of being very angry towards the Evangelicals in my posts, and I am!
    There is a scene in the movie, “Chariots of Fire” where Eric Liddle is meeting with the Prince of Wales and British Olympic officials, one of the high ranking British officials accuses him of being arrogant, to which Liddle fires back, “The arrogance lies with the people who would try to separate a man from his beliefs!” It is one thing to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, and believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It is another to adopt an Evangelical lifestyle, and try to live in their world. Ultimately, I found this to be impossible for me. I’m fifth generation CoC, so I believe that this probably had something to do with it. You read the accounts of many of the anti-Mormons, they were converts, or maybe their parents were converts. It’s my personal opinion that the LDS/RLDS lifestyle was unsuitable for them from the beginning. I believe that true LDS/RLDS and true Evangelicals are two different kinds of people, they are not compatible with each other. It has NOTHING whatsoever to do with doctrine! (in my opinion) Each worships God in their own way. For me, the ultimate truth is that salvation is by grace through faith, in Jesus Christ alone. In my opinion, as long as you believe that you’re ok. That’s what the Evangelicals told me when they came to my dorm over 21 years ago, and I believed it. Only they reneged on it and started telling me all this other stuff I had to believe and practice or I wasn’t “really saved” It’s spiritual terrorism. If you disagree with them, they keep calling your salvation into question. Well, I’ve jabbered on enough about this. The only other thing I want to say is that, I agree with you about your attitude towards church leaders. The traditional RLDS church placed a heavy emphasis on the concept of Agency. If all you do is sit there and do what someone else says without questioning it–even if it seems to you to be wrong–in my opinion, that’s not a good use of your agency. Take care and God Bless, Lisa.

  10. Teaching the 11 year olds will be awesome. They mostly respect you still (they haven’t turned into teenagers yet) and they’re willing to participate. You can do a lot of innoculation with these kids, gently exposing them to some of the lesser known facts and details. That may protect them from having the same problems that you and I are having with the church right now.

  11. I am an evangelical and I do not understand how we are considerdered anti-Mormon. I am not accepted into my church yet so I may be missing something in teaching. My parents also never told me anything about Mormons that I remember. I mostly found out about mormonisim through a family I know. Now, i also do not understand mormonism I know I am 15 but I don’t think should make a difference. I am trying to read a lot to understand but (no offence at all intended) it seems pointless. All of it seems improbable, now I know people may say God seems improbable so I understand where you come from. After all my looking around I cannot find a straight answer for why mormonism even exist, or what makes it different, apart from the book of Mormon and a higher moral code. Please correct me on anything or if something dosnt make sense, I am not the best writer in the world.

  12. Oliver,
    Being an open-minded Mormon the best advice I can give is be patient. Most Mormons don’t know about their own history and can be shocked by someone that knows more than they do. Hearing accurate but challenging information, especially from someone of a different faith can be disconcerting and many LDS members will immediately stonewall and sometimes deny things that are actually true. Usually this is done because they have not taken the time to actually study it out themselves.

    Unfortunately, some outside of the Mormon faith go about talking to Mormons the wrong way. Mormons are taught from youth that contention is of the devil, and if you get in an conversation that turns into an argument I guarantee they will interpret it as Satan trying to influence them. They are also taught when they feel confused or generally bad about something that is Satan as well. The bad thing is most LDS members when first confronted with LDS skeletons will feel conflicted even though what they are learning is true. It is difficult for them to trust in themselves and get past that, opening themselves up to the truth. It is important to go slow with them and be patient.

    I do not believe you are anti-Mormon and having sincere questions about Mormonism is appropriate as a non-member. Unfortunately the LDS faith is not positioned to currently to handle people that have questions about controversial topics.

    When you approach your Mormon friends do so in love. If you really have a desire to learn about Mormon history topics I can guide you to some books that would help and that would be at least somewhat acceptable to your friends. Really learning about these topics takes work though and few, in or out of the Mormon faith, have enough interest to truly do the reading it takes to understand the issues.

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