Something this one General Authority once said

The Daily Universe, BYU’s daily dose of student journalism, printed a Viewpoint yesterday (August 8, 2006) that got me thinking about all of the common phrases we hear at church. Then it got me thinking about another (better) rant on the subject, written by Eric D. Snider back in 1998 while I was a freshman at BYU – in the same newspaper, no less. I’d quote from it, but the whole article is so well done that I’d be doing a terrible disservice to pull excerpts from it. So read the whole thing:

How to be a Gooder Speechist by Eric D. Snider

Anyway, back to the original topic. Besides the complete lack of humor, the author of yesterday’s article seems to think that referring to the scriptures and other Church publications during a lesson is an obvious cover-up for lack of preparation. Sure, the phrases he cites are trite, but in several cases the intentions are sincere.


Here’s his first example:

“I don’t know who said this…”

The First Presidency sent a letter to all wards a few years ago asking us not to recite quotes from General Authorities without citing the source. Disobedience to this counsel often leads to the spread of misinformation. We’ve all played “Telephone” before, right?

Right on. I made it a practice in my teaching years ago to never quote anyone during my lessons unless I could provide the source in writing. That practice significantly reduces the amount of "hearsay" in gospel talks and lessons and helps class members feel at ease that what they’re hearing is actual doctrine.

“I can’t say it nearly as well as he can, so I’m just going to read…”

The purpose of a Sunday School, Priesthood or Relief Society lesson is not to sit in a room and read from the manual. If it was we could all do it at home. We’re supposed to be learning together and sharing testimonies, ideas and insights.

And reading from the prescribed lesson material. Often quoting directly from the source is better than paraphrasing. Try paraphrasing a verse from the scriptures, and decide for yourself how well it holds up against the original both in terms of doctrinal accuracy and inviting the Spirit. While I agree that reading from the manual is not the purpose of the lesson, sticking closely to the scriptures and approved curricula is fundamental in keeping lessons doctrinally grounded.

“I know we’re not supposed to give travelogues, but…”

If you know, you’re accountable. Testimony meetings are meant to give us all the opportunity to share our testimonies of the Gospel; not of the various places we’ve been.

“I got the call to teach this lesson at 2 a.m. last night, so bear with me…”

The teacher who says this is probably not to blame for what happened, but saying this just makes the audience think there’s not much point in listening.

Yes, and yes. Wards need a regular refresher course on what a testimony is and is not. And telling your audience at the beginning of a talk/lesson just how feeble and unprepared you are not only downgrades their expectations, but subliminally discourages you as well from thinking that you might be able to invite the Spirit through your teaching. Even if you have less than 30 seconds notice, speak with confidence and allow the Holy Ghost to prompt you to say something that would be meaningful to at least one person in the audience.

One final example:

“Sorry guys, there’s going to be a lot of reading today so I’m going to need some volunteers…”

We should be reading from the scriptures in our church classes, but again, that’s not the primary purpose of coming to class. Scripture reading should compliment a well-prepared, well-thought out lesson, not the other way around.

Besides confusing compliment with complement, this last statement makes little logical sense. If "scripture reading" and "a well-prepared, well-thought out lesson" complement each other, then the statement is true regardless of which term comes first. A well-prepared, well-thought out lesson by definition should refer to the scriptures. Frankly, some of the best lessons I’ve had the privilege to participate in consisted primarily of lengthy scripture chains which showed doctrinal connections and strengthened my knowledge and testimony of multiple principles at once. Conversely, haphazard or poorly integrated scripture reading tends to belie a lack of preparation and can become rather tedious, as the author mentions. Again, scripture reading is not the enemy here. And no teacher should apologize for asking class members to spend significant time in the scriptures during class unless he/she is trying to burn time or is otherwise not sufficiently prepared to teach.

You can read the rest of the article here. And speaking of improper quoting of General Authorities, check out this wholly unsubstantiated statement near the top:

Some [overused phrases] are just cliche, but some are actually doctrinally inaccurate. At the very least they go against the counsel we’ve received from our prophet.

Can I see your sources?

One Response to “Something this one General Authority once said”

  1. :) OK, so your last point is hilarious!

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