First Corinthians

by Kelly Ann

Yesterday, I attended a very awkward Sunday school in a conservative southern state.  The teacher followed the lesson outline for chapters 1-6 which focused the discussion on contention and disunity, relying on the wisdom of the world, and immorality.  The comments on contention focused on how the church and families are or should be unified in their decisions.  People talked about how the quorum of the twelve counsels together but then stands behind the prophet.  There was no room left for any type of questioning and the potential difference between differences of opinion and dissention was not made.  The analogy to following the prophet was then drawn about how a family should counsel together but then stand behind the final decision – giving final power to the husband who was presiding …  The teacher’s exact response to several comments regarding it can be complicated because we are flawed humans was that the good thing was that it would get easier in the eternities as her husband would “be perfect” and she would “be perfectly submissive.”

Following an awkward laugh, the conversation quickly moved away to the other topics.  While the point was made in discussing the wisdom of the world and differentiating between the milk and meat of the gospel, that there are some things that we don’t understand, nobody really seemed phased by the submission discussion.  Most of the comments were drawing black and white lines about obeying the gospel and keeping the commandments.  And then it became an even more awkward discussion about immorality and the evils of homosexuality.

I would have normally spoken up but I was so speechless (and slightly distracted holding my new niece whom I’m visiting) that I had no idea what to say.  My gut response was if I am expected to be “perfectly submissive” in eternity, then I’ll gladly go to a lower kingdom.  I’d like to believe that the instructor was joking but I really got the impression that it followed her understanding of patriarchy  – something that I simply can not look at the same way after reading so many posts on the Exponent and elsewhere.  There are plenty of scriptures in 1st Corinthians to go along with her line of thought as well. 

I recognize that in LDS Sunday school lessons, people continually try to draw direct applicability from the scriptures.  However, I think that the text and context of 1st Corinthians was totally lost.  Very little scripture was even read.  Although honestly, 1st Corinthians has a number of problematic texts and interpretations.   One of the most debated sections will be next week in Chapter 11:1-16.

Therefore, I am wondering how the women reading this blog approach the texts of First Corinthians and subsequent discussions.  How did your own discussions of Chapters 1-6 go this week?  And how do you plan on approaching the rest of First Corinthians next week?  If you happen to be a gospel doctrine teacher, would you be willing to share your outlines, as the problem I find online is that the LDS lesson outlines skip the feminist issues entirely (even though they are definitely far better than the lesson I just had and I would recommend them as resources). 

Also, even in other lessons when problematic issues arise, how do you respond on the spot?  I’d be interested in how people introduce the idea that questioning is ok, that the prophet is not always right, how to look at things from a feminist perspective, or whatever else may go against the standard points being made.


Miscellaneous Links

LDS Resources for Lesson 33 (in no particular order):



LDS Resources for Lesson 34 (in no particular order)



General Feminist Interpretations of 1st Corinthians:

  6. (God’s Image or Man’s Glory?: A Kenyan Postcolonial Feminst Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16)

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31 Responses

  1. Lynn Anderson says:

    Quelle horreur. No wonder more young women than young men are “less active” these days.

    • alex w. says:

      And I was just thinking that i’m glad I decided to stay home from church yesterday, as one of those less active young women (early 20s). This is the type of lesson I’ve been dreading.

      • Kelly Ann says:

        Alex, I think this example was extreme. But I totally sympathize with the feeling of having to be on guard. I knew this ward and instructor would be conservative but I was still caught off guard.

  2. hpm says:

    We had to combine the two 1st Corinthians lessons yesterday because we missed a Sunday thanks to Irene, so I had to leave some (many?) things on the cutting room floor in order to have a coherent lesson. I suspect that my cutting room floor was populated by many of the things that got to you/may yet get to you about these lessons. I chose to cover Paul’s take on wisdom of god/wisdom of the world, unity as a congregation and diversity of spiritual gifts. In tribute to Chieko Okazaki, and because I really dig her oars analogy, we had something called “Spirit World Cafe” where she and Paul (pre-scripted, really a bunch of scriptures/conference quotes broken up by cheesy banter) compared notes. It was novel and nutty and I think it worked. Wish you had been there. Stop by sometime and bring your darling new niece!

    • Whitney says:

      Chieko Okazaki and Paul having a chat together in the Spirit World? LOVE IT.

      • Kelly Ann says:

        HPM, Thanks for sharing how you presented the lesson. How great to bring in a tribute to Chieko Okazaki. I’d be interested in seeing which quotes you used and how they fit with the lesson.

  3. Rahel Ringger says:

    it is actually doubted by scholars that that particular passage is written by paul and is believed to have been inserted at a much later point. i don’t have the time to go into details here about the basis for this conclusion, it mainly has something to do with the flow of the text, subject and word-choice. actually, many of paul’s anti-feminist remarks are believed to be interpolations. so i decided to just skip them.

    • Kelly Ann says:

      Rahel, You make an important point about noting the historicity of the text. I think this is something that we loose in our lessons given how many chapters we try to study at once. As the rest of the Christian world does, I wish we delve into the New Testament in greater detail. And while I see the merit of skipping problematic text, I would like to open the discussion of why is it there and how do we interpret it, without giving people free reign to make false conclusions by ignoring it.

  4. It boggles my mind that an instructor can take an ultra conservative approach that likely offends many members with statements like a wife being “perfectly submissive” and no one objects.

    But let an instructor say she feels inspiration from Heavenly Mother and she’d be called into the bishop’s office for a chat.

  5. LovelyLauren says:

    We focused a lot on the unity part of the lesson and the differentiation between the milk and the meat of the gospel as well as “the spirit of contention” which seems to be a pet favorite of our gospel doctrine teacher. No gender issues were brought up, although there was a significant discussion on chastity issues in response to the “body is a temple” part. I wouldn’t have gone that direction, since most everyone is an adult or married and no matter how old I get, I still cringe when Sister Old-Lady-has-a-comment-for everything starts talking about “procreation” in the “confines of marriage.”

    I tend to approach the bible as a cultural document in those situations. I take into account that they were written for a specific people in a specific time. This was an epistle to the Corinthians, and I would assume, includes information that is specific to them, not to me.

    • Kelly Ann says:

      Thank you LovelyLauren for sharing how your class approached it. I too cringed in the later half of the lesson over similar comments but they didn’t have near the same impact as the other comments. Perhaps because they seem more expected or I was too numb. I am glad to hear that even though your lesson was a bit awkward that it went better and that other classes found even better ways to approach it.

  6. I taught 1 Corinthians 11-16 yesterday. I decided that the topics of the sacrament, spiritual gifts (including charity), and the resurrection provided more than enough to talk about – focusing, as I always try to do, on being disciples of Jesus Christ – that I just skipped 1 Corinthians all together.

    • I meant, I skipped 1 Corinthians 11 all together.

      • Kelly Ann says:

        Allison, I love that you focused on Christ. It kills me that so many lessons in the New Testament, which directly testifies of Christ, end up on tangents.

    • EmilyCC says:

      Our lesson on Sunday was also on 1 Corinthians 11-16, and I was so excited because 1 Corinthians 12 is about my favorite chapter in all the scriptures, but I had a fussy baby and had to leave.

      I kept trying to get desperately back in, and when I did, they were saying the closing prayer. I told my husband how disappointed I was, and he said, “I think that might have been divine inspiration…we didn’t talk a bit about the body of Christ. We talked about traditional gender roles in marriage.”


  7. Chris says:

    Our teacher devoted most of his lesson to the heading covering of women and how it related to the temple. He also asked us why women had shaven heads. He taught us that Paul’s teaching about women’s head coverings are temple imagery. Has anyone heard of this before?

    • DefyGravity says:

      I’ve heard about a head covering as a sigh of women efficiating in the priesthood. Look in The Lost Language of Symbolism by Alonzo Gaskill.

  8. Caroline says:

    Kelly Ann, I would have been paralyzed by horror at such a lesson. Or I would have been sick. I’m sorry you had to endure that.

    I taught 1 Cor: 11-16 yesterday. Mine was a feminist take. Anyone who wants my lesson plan can email me at carolinekline1 at gmail dot com.

    I started out by asking the class what stories, impressions came to their mind when they thought of Jesus and women. We established that he was constantly breaking through social barriers, including them, etc. I mentioned that Paul carries that strand through some of his writings as well (Galatian 3:28 – no Jew, no Greek, no male, no female, all one). Looked at the careful symmetry and equality he established in 1 Cor 7 when he talks about rules for men and women in marriage. Then I said that there’s another strand of thought in Paul, and it’s one in which he upholds barriers and emphasizes distinctions. We read the first 15 vs or so of chapter 11 and listed ways he was emphasizing distinctions. Then I asked the class how they reconciled these two strands, manifest in various parts of Paul’s writings? What did they make of it? Are these verses difficult for them?

    We had a good discussion, and fabulously, the idea of cultural context came out strongly in people’s comments. Paul is the product of a certain time, place and culture, his goal was to convert people who lived in a starkly patriarchal world — of course he would make concessions to this culture. How could he not? I also emphasized vs. 4 and 5 in which paul tells women to cover their heads when they prophesy and pray. That means women were liturgical leaders in Corinth — they were prophesying and praying!

    I skipped 14 which is where the real problems for women come in. Many, many scholars think the woman section in 14 is a later interpolation since it completely conflicts with what he said 3 chapters before and because it makes no logical sense in the flow of what he was talking about.

    • Kelly Ann says:

      Thank you Caroline for sharing your lesson. That sounds like an amazing approach. I like your emphasis on how women were praying and prophesying. I also want to check out DefyGravity’s reference to the Lost Language of Symbolism. I think there is so much we miss in our standard lessons. I also liked how your directly tackled what some may skip (although I can see merit in skipping some things given time constraints – going back to my earlier point that I wish sometimes lessons chapters were given at once).

  9. People talked about how the quorum of the twelve counsels together but then stands behind the prophet. There was no room left for any type of questioning and the potential difference between differences of opinion and dissention was not made.

    Funny, the stories I’d heard of the workings of the Presidency and Quorum of the 12 were of waiting on decisions until there was a concensus, not keeping differences of opinion to themselves (according to D&C 107:27). There have been instances of weeks going by without a decision being made until all were in accord, it being reached not because of politicking or compromise, but because of additional understanding of the subject (one way or another) from the Spirit.

    I’d think those looking for an example of strict patriarchy would stay away from the GAs.

    • Kelly Ann says:

      Frank, You make an interesting point. I have heard similar stories about the Quorum’s decision making process. However, the problem is that there are also stories which backed the points made in the class. Many people also really just see the polished unified front we see in conference. When you go back in history, more debate in conference and definitely behind the scenes was present – but I don’t think most people know that. I’d like to believe that it is still present but I think it gets underplayed in presenting the unified front. Because even with what you said, one could emphasize that they did eventually come to one accord. I’d like to believe that even if they come to an agreement, that there are still differences of opinions and discussions past it – as there use to be in history.

  10. April says:

    Kelly Ann, what a lesson you suffered through this past Sunday! I echo those who said it is important to differentiate between eternal truth and Bible era social norms, but I honestly don’t know what I would have said if I had been in that classroom.

  11. E says:

    I think it is sad that any LDS person would endorse this kind of view, but shocking that no one said anything in the class to counter this comment by the teacher.

    • Whitney says:

      I’m probably extremely jaded, but I’m not at all shocked that this was expressed in church, and not at all shocked that no one said anything. But having said that, I’m also 95% sure that at least one other person in that room was also uncomfortable with what was said, and was hoping someone would say something.

      • Kelly Ann says:

        Whitney, I am 95% sure that there were a number of people uncomfortable with the submission comment, and I wish I had countered it. It does kill me that like Course Correction said that if it had been liberal leaning instead of conservative that there would be no doubt it wouldn’t have gone unaddressed. I try to respond in the moment normally as appropriate but I completely failed here.

  12. Corktree says:

    I’m not altogether surprised anymore to hear that a teacher would think this a perfectly acceptable thing to say and not receive any conflicting reactions.

    I missed this lesson as I was helping out in nursery for the 2nd hour, but I had some similar moments in RS where I was wondering how it was so easy for people around me to nod their head in agreement to statements like “One of the things that is wrong with the world today is that women are becoming less feminine. ” (said the former beauty pageant contestant) and “You’re right, women have to be so tough and hard these days, and I think the world is telling them that they have to be this way in order to succeed in careers, which I just don’t think is true” (said the teacher, who is also the RS Pres). Uh, what? The world is teaching that because it’s still unfortunately true! The topic was Mothers and Daughers, and included other gems like “we need to teach our girls not to arouse the boys”, and “if we don’t teach them that being a mother and wife is the most important thing they can do, who will?!”

    So in response to

    …in other lessons when problematic issues arise, how do you respond on the spot?

    I’ll just say that after chewing the inside of my cheek raw to keep from blurting out contrary opinions throughout a lesson like this, I wait for the moment that feels right, when I know that I am most likely to really be heard, and I share from a place of wanting to give something positive. Of course, sometimes people are just plain *wrong* and need to be corrected before anyone assumes something is true because no one said otherwise. So I’ve been getting better at speaking up when it seems to matter most. “I don’t think we should teach girls that they are the gatekeepers of chastity” is one that I have found can be used frequently, and this past Sunday, I chose to counter what was being said by sharing how my own mother taught me to trust myself and my individual path rather than conform to expectations blindly. It was clear that I was offering an alternate opinion to what was being said, but it wasn’t inflammatory, so I think people listened better. I also got a meaningful head nod by a visiting single sister that had previously commented using an “Ask Mormon Girl” reference (no one else would have caught it), so I know there are others in lessons that feel similarly and we need to speak out to show support.

    • Ziff says:

      “I don’t think we should teach girls that they are the gatekeepers of chastity” is one that I have found can be used frequently

      I like this, Corktree. I like your approach to offering differing opinions without being inflammatory. Would you please teach an online class in this? I almost always keep silent because I’m not good at objecting without being argumentative.

      • Kelly Ann says:

        Thank you Corktree for sharing your experience. I do agree that timing is important. I like your coined chastity response. I agree that a simple tempered response is the most appropriate. Had I responded “Are you f-ing kidding” (what I was thinking to the submission comment), it would not have gone overwell. I do think that as I concrete what I agree and disagree with that it helps me know what to say. As I have discussions online and cement my non-traditional perspectives, I do find that most of the time, it is not that hard to slip in an appropriate comment.

      • Corktree says:

        Yes, fleshing things out here has definitely helped me in real life situations. And I’ve been pretty close to expletives myself during some lessons lately. 😉

        And Ziff, it’s taken me a long time to learn to say things in a way that doesn’t put people on the defense. I’m really not a naturally tactful person IRL, and I still find myself inadvertently fueling the fire of a good conflict. 🙂 Sometimes it’s just really hard not to.

  13. Whitney M. says:

    I just remarked on how offended I was by this lesson on the Feminist Mormon Housewives page on Facebook. I too had this lesson yesterday in my ward. I had taken a leave from church and decided to begin anew come September to try to look past all the offensive experiences I have had, and this lesson was taught. Is this a sign for me? I hope not!

    • Erin says:

      Please don’t take this as a sign! We need people like you to be there and take offense and suggest a differing point of view. Whenever I feel like not attending and am tired of the feeling of hitting my head against the brick wall, I tell myself that if those of us who have sense leave, then how will anything ever change?

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