From a reader: I have a question; I was curious what you meant by “those still in the uncorrelated church.” Are there LDS churches not correlated? Thanks! My response: Ah yes, was wondering if someone would ask about that. Glad to know someone’s reading and thinking about my stuff.
Tightly Structured Teaching
The uncorrelated church (Google it) is a phrase made popular by John Dehlin a few years ago. It refers to the idea of a church being a body of believers, not necessarily a specific congregation, who are not too fond of the direction from Salt Lake that “you shall” present, study and discuss specific topics within tight constraints each Sunday in the block of meetings. They object to the idea of correlation as being a tactic or practice that kills the spirit because, the impression is, you are only allowed to bring up specific “approved” quotes and specific scriptures when discussing the assigned topic. The people who see the church as being too tightly correlated do not seem to enjoy teaching methods where one individual stands at the front of the class and spews forth everything they have studied during the past week.
New Youth Curriculum
The church recognizes this and is doing something about it. Beginning with the youth this year, the classes are designed to be less formal and structured, encouraging more involvement and discussion by the participants and less rigid in what can be shared or discussed in that specific class. The problem is that we are a church of lay teachers, so many of whom struggle with the confidence needed to effectively lead a class or to even present a decent sacrament talk without strong and tight direction from the priesthood leaders. It has even come to the point where ward and stake leaders hand out, in writing, specific rules of what you shall and shall not say when standing in front of the congregation. As President Lee opined when correlation was just beginning, he was afraid it would kill the spirit of revelation. I believe it has.
Sharing Sacred Experiences
Everybody is afraid to share any kind of personal or sacred spiritual experience that may be misunderstood because it hasn’t been run through correlation, the committee that approves everything that goes into our manuals. We are repeatedly warned in priesthood bulletins and directives to prevent or not allow individuals to teach unauthorized and unapproved doctrine from the pulpit and in the classrooms. I get that. I have seen the result of false doctrine being taught. A well-meaning brother or sister may share a beautiful, uplifting story that touches the heart and stirs the emotions but unfortunately, is based on a false premise or belief. It does more harm than good. So the church has cracked down over the years, beginning back in the 1950’s and reaching the zenith in the last decade. I have watched this happen firsthand.
Approved Stories Only
But again, the problem is that correlation has created an environment of fear in our church. Members are so afraid to say or share anything that is not in the official approved curriculum that they just keep their mouths shut. Very few people know what’s approved and what’s not so they don’t say what the spirit puts into their heart to say for fear of incurring the wrath of someone who says, “Where did you read that? Are you sure that’s approved by the Brethren?” Then they turn to whatever priesthood leader is sitting in the class and wait for him to respond. It puts the poor priesthood leader on the spot. I have seen this over and over in Gospel Doctrine classes. The pendulum has swung too far. I remember hearing all kinds of wild things when I was growing up but at least people felt they could share among their fellow saints.
Unique Spiritual Feelings
One specific example that really rankles me is the idea of discussing what happens during prayer. You and I have dialoged about this in our recent emails. Can you imagine bringing up your question when the subject is being taught in a priesthood quorum about the vibrational feelings you and I have both experienced in prayer? We would get blank stares or worse. Unless you can put what you have experienced into the proper words that one of our apostles has recently used (can’t use words of old apostles) then your brethren in the quorum will feel uncomfortable with what you have shared. Perhaps if you use the phrase “feeling in tune” or “in harmony with the spirit” you might get some heads nodding. But what if what happened to you in prayer went beyond the vibrational phase or being in tune with God?
Visited by an Angel
What if, to use your example, while deep in prayer one night, feeling happy and loved, at peace with the universe, you poured out your heart in devotion and felt the love of God descend upon you in great power and abundance? You were so happy and filled with joy that you felt your heart might burst. Just at that moment your spirit leaves your body and you find yourself in the spirit world with a guide there to meet you and show you a few things that the Lord wanted you to know. You are wrapped in the spirit. You see and hear things that are unimaginable to anyone in this world who has never experienced such things for themselves. When you return, and are still filled with the spirit, you write these things in your journal as a great treasure. You taste the joy of the Lord with you for days, weeks and months to come.
Sharing Your Testimony
Now, what if, during a lesson on prayer and revelation, such as the one we’re going to receive in Gospel Doctrine class tomorrow, the teacher has you read D&C 42:61, which reads, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal,” and then asks, Brother Jones, (this is right out of the manual), “How have these promises been fulfilled in your life?” How would you respond? Remember, you have just received a marvelous manifestation from the Lord a few nights ago in which he showed you joyous things about the world to come. You have received revelation. You have received knowledge. You have beheld the mysteries of God which bring joy.
I Have Seen a Vision
Do you share that? What if you feel impressed to stand and say to the class (and not just to the teacher), slowly and distinctly, “I have asked for and have received revelation from God. I have been shown things in vision that have given me knowledge of the spirit world. I have been visited by angels. I have been taught the mysteries and peaceable things of God. I have felt his joy and understand better what eternal life is going to be like.” You then sit down. What do you think would happen? How would the teacher respond? How would the members in the class around you respond? Would they whisper to their neighbor, “Did he say he had seen an angel?” Would someone in next week’s Ward Council meeting say, “Did you hear what Brother Jones said in Gospel Doctrine class last week?” Could this happen?
Ward Council Meetings
You bet it could and it has. I have sat in those ward council meetings over the years. There is great concern expressed about what some members say in class. Because of this they are not asked to teach or to speak in church. In essence, they are ostracized for sharing their spiritual experience, when they felt prompted by the spirit to do so. They are shunned and looked upon as being weird or different. “Why, he said he’s seen an angel. He said he had a vision,” implying that such things are only for the prophet or the apostles. “I’ve never seen an angel or had a vision. What makes him special? I know Brother Jones. He’s a sinner. There’s no way the Lord would send him an angel. He must have been deceived.” Yes, I know this last part is fictional but it is based on real leadership meeting conversations.
All this is the result of correlation, where the members feel that unless something has been approved of the correlation committee in advance, you had better not share it in church. Correlation causes us to feel we must keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves and only share approved or authorized stuff from church history. Go take a look at lds.org under Resources, Manuals, Melchizedek Priesthood and note the wording, “will study,” and “are to be taught,” from “church-approved resources.” Do you get it? Isn’t that pretty tightly controlled and correlated, even to the point of what you will study or read? And that’s why I say I am still in the uncorrelated church. I am old school, an old man who grew up studying whatever I felt the Lord wanted me to study, not necessarily what Salt Lake told me to read and study.
I Sustain the Brethren
I’ll bet that was a lot more than you asked for wasn’t it? Thanks for asking. Hope you don’t mind if I post my response on my blog. I won’t reference you other than in passing as a reader. It might get me into trouble. I love this church and I love the people in it but we have a problem in that people who don’t know, understand, teach and answer with the “official church-approved answers” are made to feel that they don’t quite fit in. I’m one of those and always have been. Because I have made it a matter of great effort in personal study over the years I can teach and speak at the pulpit in the way the church wants. I am OK with that. I sustain the Brethren in the direction they have taken the Church through correlation. That doesn’t mean I agree with the results of correlation that I have seen firsthand in our church today.