New Youth Curriculum, and the Digital Facilitation of New Revelation

 

[Cross posted over at Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable, a wonderful group blog where I have recently become a contributor]

joseph_phoneI have often considered the massive practical difficulties in regards to promulgation that would be involved if the Church today were to present a radical, paradigm-, policy- or doctrinal-shifting revelation, the likes of 1978’s Official Declaration 2. This difficulty can be seen on a smaller scale, with relatively minor decisions to subtly update the presentation of the modern scriptural canon and normative manuals, such as “Gospel Principles”.

For example, in the recent past, there have been some well-documented updates to some of the introductory material and chapter headers in the Book of Mormon. While some of these changes appeared in some printings of the Doubleday Mass Market edition of the Book of Mormon in 2007, the official church print editions as of yet remain unaltered.

However, these changes are to be found in the current official electronic text, found on lds.org, and all of the mobile apps, such as LDS Gospel Library. Which, at least in the wards I’ve attended in the United States, is becoming more and more the standard edition referenced in Church meetings.

This can create confusion. For example, during a recent Gospel Principles class, I was asked to read from the introduction to the Book of Mormon. I read aloud from my official Gospel Library app on my smartphone that the Lamanites  are “among the ancestors of the American Indians.

BM_Electronic

My wife nudged me, and pointed to her print edition, hinting that I left out the word “principal” as found in her newly purchased leather-bound mini quad.

BM_Print

Both are current and authorized editions of Church documents. While this example can validly be seen as a minor detail , it still raises the question of which is to be institutionally preferred? As far as I am aware, the changes to the explanatory introductory material, footnotes, and section headers [1] have never been officially announced or presented to Church members. My experience is that, five years after they have been altered, most Church members do not even know that these changes exist.

Similarly, while the publication and existence of the new 2010 edition of Gospel Principles was well known, no official attention was called to the individual changes in wording and emphasis, and what their significance may have been. When the new edition was first released in July 2009, I personally went line by line and documented each and every change, no matter how minor, and documented my discoveries on an LDS Message board. The reason and significance for individual changes was at times heatedly debated. [2] Since the manual’s implementation as an official replacement in 2010, I have seen teachers still content to use the old print edition, thinking any changes were only in form of format and shifting of some chapter orders. They had no significant reason to believe otherwise.

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The coming of a new and completely revamped curriculum for youth has been rumored and whispered  about (and clamored for) throughout the web in the past year. Well, it’s finally here, and will most likely be announced and explained in this weekend’s General Conference.

While I’m sure there will be much more to be said about the new curriculum in the coming months before its implementation in January 2013, both by Church Leaders and throughout the bloggernacle, there is one key element about its presentation – and very existence – that I find fascinating, and worth exploring.

The old curriculum for Young Men and Young Women was infamous in some circles for its occasional highly dated cultural and even doctrinal stories and examples. [3] AP_Resource_GuideIn recent years, the Church attempted to update these manuals by issuing print as well as online ‘Resource Guides’, which are supplements with new stories, references, and even suggestions to cut certain lessons from the regular rotation – all while the ‘base’ manuals remained in circulation, and in print.

For 2012, the supplement took a significant step, became purely an online resource, without print editions being distributed to units. While certainly a helpful step forward, somewhat like a software patch for fundamentally outdated version of software (or simply a band-aid), it did not stop many teachers from still simply ‘sticking to the manual’, and rehashing the old quotes, stories and emphases.

come_follow_meWith the introduction of “Come Follow Me”, the curriculum for Aaronic Priesthood, Young Women, and Youth Sunday School is now completely online, and completely dynamic.

The new system is structured around 12 monthly doctrinal themes, which are based on those in the Preach My Gospel missionary lessons, and are minimalistically defined on a page of ‘Basic Doctrinal Principles’ with suggested outlines for discussion and practical application of these ideas.

What struck me the most on first surveying the new material was how versatile and flexible this online system was, in the context of implementing and promulgating the teaching of a hypothetical substantial doctrinal readjustment.

An exercise helpful in recognizing the power inherent in this model:

  • Think of any hot-topic doctrinal principle that, if revised through through a new prophetic pronouncement or Official Declaration, would effect in any degree one of the 12 topic covered in this curriculum.
  • Dig down into the site to see where in the present curriculum the traditional explanation is set out.
  • Consider what very little else may need to be practically shifted to bring what is currently there in line to that new hypothetical revelation.
  • Change a few lines of text. Add a couple words here, delete a few words there, remove this link to Old Reference, add new conference talk and different scriptural proof-text.

And with that, source texts for editions of teaching curriculum used on smartphones, tablets, and other e-readers around the world are automatically adjusted, without remaining outdated print editions to worry about.

If made me realize that if the majority of Church curriculum (and definitive versions of the Scriptures!) begin to move to purely and substantially online content, this facilitates the ability for hypothetical New Revelation and/or readjusted emphases or corrections to quickly be implemented and distributed, and abrogated understandings to be institutionally removed in an incredibly efficient manner. [4]

If I was a worldwide Church leader, and I was discussing the practicalities of advancing a major potential policy or doctrinal revelation if it were to come, such a move to more reliance on dynamic digital curriculum – and deference to it over existing print editions – would be one of the very first things I would look to implement.

While I know there are many church members who do not desire, wish, or look forward to any further paradigm-and-policy shifting revelations, it is fascinating to see a Church that proclaims Living Revelation and Open Canon as a major selling point begin to move forward with a curriculum framework [5] which would practically allow and provide for the efficient institutional implementation of the creedal affirmation that through the institutional Church, God will "yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." (Articles of Faith 9).

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[1] Other examples of electronic-only changes include the removal of the explicit association of skin of blackness with the Lamanite cursing in the header to 2 Nephi 5, and the related change in Mormon 5 which used to reinforce the image of the ‘dark, filthy, and loathsome’ Lamanites. Also,  the FARMS-inspired changed from ‘Nephite coinage’ to ‘Nephite monetary system’ in the header to Alma 11. – one view of the significance and history of this last change was just highlighted again in a recent post at the FAIR Blog.

[2] The thread is now archived, and most of the links no longer work, and the formatting is significantly off, but the nature of discussion can still be seen here.

[3] Such as the manual used in 2011 for Aaronic Priesthood holders discouraging interracial marriage, using a quote from 1977 before the Priesthood Ban on those of black African descent was lifted

[4] Not only would this be helpful for revelation and policy, but for also manuals that include historical or scriptural examples that become unacceptably outdated or inaccurate as scholarship develops.

[5] Which I very much look forward to seeing rolled out into Adult curriculum

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