As part of an ongoing effort to improve and coordinate Church curriculum for youth, the LDS Church recently released a new version of the “Doctrine and Covenants and Church History” seminary manual.
When the First Presidency authorized the new Youth curriculum in 2013, they also authorized the revision of seminary and institute manuals and encouraged curriculum developers to make the materials more student-centered.
The new Church History manuals — one for teachers and one for home-study students — come after the release of a new Book of Mormon seminary manual in 2013 and precede new manuals for the Old Testament (2015) and New Testament (2016).
“Everyone feels the urgency now to prepare these young people,” said Robert Lund, manager of seminary curriculum. “I believe that today’s youth have an advantage because they get a more consistent approach between seminary, lessons in Young Women and Young Men, and Sunday School than they ever have in the past. They’re being well-prepared for the temple and are learning to rely on the atonement of Jesus Christ. I think that’s one reason the minimum age for missionary work can be lowered.”
The new Church history manual speaks frankly about controversial Church history issues that are popular among critics of the Church. While coverage of these topics — like race and the priesthood, plural marriage and the origins of the book of Abraham — is getting a lot of attention, it isn’t anything new.
“As writers, we don’t get to pick the topics that we’re going to cover,” Lund said. “We only have the revelations (in the Doctrine and Covenants) themselves. We didn’t have a checklist of topics that we wanted to bring up. That wasn’t our job. We didn’t bring up plural marriage; section 132 did. These topics are there only because they’re reflected in the standard works.”
Revised editions of the Old Testament and New Testament study manuals will receive similar treatment. If difficult issues arise in the scriptures, the seminary study guides will discuss them openly.
“In the Old Testament, issues like the origin of the Book of Abraham don’t come up,” Lund said. “However, what does come up is Sodom and Gomorrah. We let the Lord deal with it in the scriptures, then we comment on it. Our goal is to build faith as we go through the scriptures. As we looked at the revelations we were not afraid to allow the fullness of the revelation to come out and even acknowledge what critics say.”
Some topics, like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, don’t appear in scripture but are still covered in the manual. That’s because the manual is for the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history, so it includes some historical topics not included in the standard works.
HTML vs. print edition
The seminary lessons were designed to work hand-in-hand with Gospel Topics pages and other Church media, but it’s difficult to incorporate external resources into a printed book. But there are no space constraints online, and there’s more opportunity for functionality as well. The HTML version of the manual available at LDS.org has more commentary and more background information than the printed book and includes dynamic content with direct links to lesson helps. While the printed manual is 577 pages, the online version has enough information to fill 850.
“I’d encourage others to use the HTML version whenever possible,” Lund said. “It not only saves on printing costs, but the online version is also more robust, with more functionality and media.”
Correlation of Church education for youth
If it seems like the Church is taking a special interest in the youth lately, it’s not your imagination. In light of the lower age requirement for missionary service, youth are being more prepared by improved curriculum on all fronts.
“We unified the manual with the basic doctrines taught in the new youth curriculum,” Lund said. “We placed them in our manual and realigned our scripture mastery scriptures to go along with those basic doctrines. Those doctrines come from chapter 3 of ‘Preach My Gospel.’ There’s a united effort to qualify for the blessings of the temple and go into the mission field. It’s given me greater faith in the First Presidency to see how everything has been orchestrated. We think of ourselves as a foot — just a part of the larger body of the Church.”
Ideally, all of these tools work together to prepare future missionaries for service in the mission field and throughout their lives.
“I love that some of my children got to come through the tail end of this,” Lund said. “My daughter is a missionary in Scotland. She was the beneficiary of the new youth curriculum. I believe she’s a better missionary than I was because she’s better prepared.”
Help from the Joseph Smith Papers Project
As it happens, the revisions of seminary manuals coincided with the timing of the Joseph Smith Papers Project and the associated updates to the Doctrine and Covenants headings. More accurate historical information that was discovered as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project was valuable to the seminary manual writers as they studied the same time period.
“The people at the Joseph Smith Papers Project were very kind and did some courtesy reviews for us before the new edition of the scriptures came out,” Lund said. “Especially in sections 78, 82 and 104, there were some substantial changes in the headings. We’re grateful for the scholarship that they have and for their willingness to looking at the manual prior to its publication to make sure the manual and the scriptures were in harmony.”
Meeting the needs of a global church
When the commission came for a complete revision of the seminary curriculum, the committee did their homework. The seminary program has 391,680 students in 149 countries, so they knew they had their work cut out for them.
Church seminaries and institutes representatives spoke to thousands of seminary teachers in more than a dozen countries about their needs. They learned that teachers wanted the lessons to be more student-centric, which happened to be the same thing the First Presidency wanted. They also learned that the new manual needed to better accommodate the needs and resources of seminaries around the world.
“In the previous edition, we wrote to an audience with more resources, mainly in the United States,” Lund said. “We assumed teachers would like these kinds of lessons, and the ones with a lot of access to resources do. But when we got feedback for this edition, we knew we had to help the global audience a little better.”
The formula is simple: each lesson follows a simple format that has been taught by Church authorities as an effective way to teach. In the new manual, each lesson aims to help teachers and students:
1. Understand the context and content of the scriptures
2. Identify doctrines and principles
3. Understand the meaning of those doctrines and principles
4. Feel the truth and importance of the principles and doctrines through the influence of the Spirit
5. Apply the doctrines and principles
“We’re not just there to learn academically,” Lund said. “The students can change their lives because of what they learn in seminary. This method was in the old lessons; it was just trickier and a little harder to see. In the new edition it’s more overt. I don’t know how you’d miss it.”