Saving Sunday School, Gospel Principles 2 Style

“Morning” by Maxfield Parrish

I’ve been ditching Sunday School since I was released as a Gospel Doctrine instructor 3.5 years ago. It’s been nice, actually. I only live five minutes away from the church, so after Sacrament Meeting, I would drive home, enjoy half an hour or so in the quiet house without the kids, and then drive back to church for Relief Society.

Though I’ve enjoyed my alone time during the second hour of church, a part of me did wish we had a Sunday School class that addressed my needs. Gospel Doctrine just wasn’t working for me. I didn’t feel free to contribute my thoughts, questions, or experiences. Not that the instructors were bad or shutting me down or anything – but the very assumptions about testimony and belief that were embedded in the discussions made me feel like an outsider. I would sit in silence. Who was I to steer discussions in places the teacher didn’t want them to go? And did I have the emotional fortitude to be vulnerable and honest in this setting that wasn’t really looking for that kind of honesty? No, it was better to not say anything. And after a while, it just felt better to not even go.

Several months ago, however, my bishopric came up with the idea for a Sunday School class for people who didn’t feel at home at Gospel Doctrine or Gospel Principles.  (Full disclosure: my husband is a counselor in the bishopric.) They wanted a class for people who were in different places on their faith journey, a safe place where they could share  their questions, experiences, insights, and more. The bishopric saw this class as a chance to minister to an at-risk population which needed a different kind of conversation than a traditional Sunday School class could provide.

So after much discussion among the bishopric and potential class members, Gospel Principles 2 was born. It’s a discussion based class led by skilled facilitator, a PhD student familiar with difficult Mormon issues, and it’s premised on the value of honesty and authenticity. It is built around class members’ particular questions and interests, and it was described to the ward as a place where people, especially those who feel they don’t fit in, can more freely and openly talk about gospel topics and their own unique faith journeys. So far we’ve discussed race and Mormonism, Book of Mormon translation/historicity, the nature of revelation and authority in the church, sacred vs. secret, and gay marriage. The readings have been chapters from the Gospel Principles manual and the gospel topics essays. Usually the class has 7 to 11 people attending, and about a third of us are people with serious questions and issues with Mormonism, and the others are people that are interested in talking about these issues, even if they’ve never been much of a problem for them.

It’s been fantastic. For the first time in years, I’ve felt free to talk, question, contribute and more openly share my true self. People who haven’t had the same questions I’ve had have thoughtfully listened and asked questions to try to understand. They’ve shared their perspectives and thoughts as well. Not that there’s not some tension sometimes. It can be a bit uncomfortable for orthodox people to hear my perspectives, and it’s a bit uncomfortable for me sometimes to hear their perspectives, especially opinions that tie everything up in neat tidy bows.  A few times I’ve felt somewhat silenced despite the efforts of our wonderful facilitator, depending on who decides to attend the class. But overall, it’s been a liberating, invigorating, and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I look forward to Sunday School every Sunday. I love that we’re talking about hard issues that so often are never broached in the three hour block.

Last night I told my husband that I’ve been spiritually suffocating in our ward for the past few years. It’s the first time I’ve articulated it that way to him, though I’ve articulated it that way to myself for a while now. But thanks to Gospel Principles 2, for the first time in years, I feel like I can breathe.



Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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14 Responses

  1. Dani Addante says:

    I love this! I wish my ward had a class like this!

  2. Carolyn says:

    wow! This would be an incredible curriculum, everywhere.

  3. Frustrated says:

    I really wish that our ward would do this. I find Sunday School frustrating and wish we could discuss these sorts of things but a) don’t want to be labelled an apostate and b) without some sort of background reading by everyone involved it would be difficult to have a meaningful discussion anyway.

  4. Happy Hubby says:

    Wow – Is that ever going to be something available to all? I too have been skipping the 2nd hour. I just couldn’t go. My SP tells the bishopric to only respond to questions about the essays with, “yes, there are essays and you can read them” and no more.

    • Caroline says:

      It would be great if more wards did this. I think it’s up to individual bishops to decide if they want to do this — essentially, they have the authority to create classes as long as they use church curriculum.

  5. heidi says:

    This sounds amazing and I wish I had a safe place to discuss these topics within the church. It gets pretty lonely not being able to talk about my shift in faith. When I try to bring up taboo topics I get the look like I’m some kind of crazy. The only people that will talk to me about this kind of stuff are post-Mormons.

    • Caroline says:

      Yeah, that was one of the things that was so liberating about this class. A place within the three hour block to talk about really hard things — that means a lot to me.

  6. Em says:

    I always skip SS. This would be balm of Gilead to me!

  7. Ziff says:

    Wow, Caroline! This sounds *great*! I echo some of your thoughts on Gospel Doctrine. I just went back to it after being released from nursery, and I realized (again, as I always do when coming back after an absence) that it’s not really a good place for me. I wish I were in your ward.

  8. Jason K. says:

    Oh, this would be marvelous. I wish it were in my ward, but I’m so glad you have it in yours.

  9. Sally says:

    I’ve been teaching gospel doctrine for 7 years now, and ironically, it’s teaching GD that has been wearing down my faith. The themes of violence and other awfulness in the scriptures, especially those instances where it is condoned by God, prick my heart. We manage to usually have very respectful and involved discussions. The class has a great rapport with each other and me. I have been injecting lotttts of nonviolence and restorative justice ideas, and principles from other religions, commonalities, stuff like that, but couched in Mormon lingo. (This is hard for me to admit, being the typical Mormon woman who can’t easily admit her strengths, but–) people love my classes. They really do.

    I admit that I don’t bring up the hard stuff, not explicitly. I emphasize the importance of compassion, especially for our loved ones who might struggle with addiction or who live differently than mainstream Mormons do, or who experience mental illness, or who have been deeply hurt by something or someone in the church. I emphasize not judging, because we can’t always know a person’s heart and everyone deserves to feel loved and have the benefit of the doubt. I suggest the possibility that some of the stories in ancient scripture might be retellings of retellings, with vastly changed details, while maintaining true principles. ( I got the talking donkey / God-directed genocide lesson this OT cycle AND last OT cycle. I’m over the talking donkey lesson)

    But I don’t explicitly talk about my broken heart with respect to how addicts are judged, and family systems not supported, or how I’m reeling from the realization that we are a Bible-literalist church, and the Bible is literally not literal.

    This kind of class would be a godsend to me. So happy you benefit from this experience. Save a seat for me next week, haha. I just asked to be released.

  10. amber says:

    How refreshing. This is what I envision church to be.

  1. May 6, 2018

    […] we talked about the first chapter in the manual which focused on the existence of Heavenly Father. Gospel Principles 2 is a class our ward constructed to give people who were at different places in their faith journeys […]

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