The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the R.E. Classroom
by James D. Holt
Published in REsource A Journal of the Professional Council for Religious Education. Summer 2002.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the fastest growing religions in the United Kingdom and the world. If this is the case why are the perceptions of Latter-day Saints in the U.K. still based on myth and sensation? This article is not a plea to accept the truth claims of ‘Mormonism’, rather it is a plea to eradicate misconceptions about the Church, and to utilise its value in the R.E. classroom.
The study of R.E. can continue without a mention of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, this study could be diversified and enhanced if the Church were given an appropriate place within the classroom.
Are there really still misconceptions?
Aside from the usual ‘How many wives do you have?’ there are examples of negative, stereotypical views of the Church within the teaching profession. As a part of my undergraduate degree I undertook eight weeks of work based learning in a Secondary School. In my mock interview, the head teacher questioned me with regard to my religion (it was mentioned on my C.V.). He asked if I would try and proselytise the pupils, seemingly dismissing my assurances to the negative, he expressly forbade me from mentioning my religion in the classroom. Certainly Latter-day Saints are to follow Jesus and his commandments in all that they do, but this does not extend to forcing their religion on everybody at any opportunity.
In applying for a place on a PGCE course, I was questioned by the head of equal opportunities about my faith providing problems within the classroom. Latter-day Saints throughout the country are faced with similar misconceptions. One Year 8 pupil was asked to produce a project on a Christian denomination other than the Church of England. When she said she was studying The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was told this was not a Christian Church. It was only with intervention from her mother that she was allowed to proceed.
It is experiences such as these that reflect a need for people to become more knowledgeable. An attitude of a ‘good neighbour’ from Latter-day Saints gives them the hope that people would extend them similar courtesies. The current President of the Church has said;
“We want to be good neighbours; we want to be good friends. We feel we can differ theologically with people without being disagreeable in any sense. We hope they feel the same way toward us. We have many friends and many associations with people who are not of our faith, with whom we deal constantly, and we have a wonderful relationship. It disturbs me when I hear about any antagonisms… I don’t think they are necessary. I hope that we can over come them…
Be friendly. Be understanding. Be tolerant. Be considerate. Be respectful of the feelings and opinions of other people. Recognise their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and virtues, and you will find strengths and virtues, and you will find strengths and virtues in your own life.”
This ‘good neighbour’ attitude is the goal of any R.E. teacher, and so if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to be touched upon let it be done sympathetically and accurately as with any other faith.
How could the Church be used within the classroom? – Key Stage 3
I, myself, use the Church’s teachings sparingly in the classroom. This is because I am wary of complaints based on misconceptions. I am also aware of the rich value it could bring to a study of R.E..
At Key Stage 3 many Agreed Syllabuses mention Christian denominations. In looking at the various Christian denominations that are mainly studied in the classroom (Baptists, Methodists, and so on) the vast majority have their roots in a split from another Church and ultimately from the Catholic Church. Far from suggesting we ignore these in favour of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would argue that looking at them all would bring a good and interesting comparison. The story of Joseph Smith and the ‘Restoration’ of the Church, whether it is believed or not is a gripping and emotive story that has enormous potential within the classroom.
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other- This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him.”
For Latter-day Saints Joseph Smith is indeed a prophet. His work and message was the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth. Through him, Christ sent forth a new book of scripture to accompany the Bible, he conversed with many Biblical personalities, and received authority from God under the hands of Peter, James and John. All these events will seem strange and fantastic to non-Latter-day Saints, but they will provide the interested student with the work of a modern-day Moses. Just as they may be gripped by the stories of the Bible, so they could be with these experiences. The truths of these events do not need to be accepted to make an interesting and exciting study.
How could the Church be used within the classroom? – Key Stage 4
It is at Key Stage 4 that the Church’s teachings can be most effectively utilised. In discussing moral and ethical issues the Church has definite standpoints- that in some cases are in direct opposition to societal trends. Two such examples are the teachings on the family and drug and alcohol abuse.
Most GCSE Specifications prescribe a section on Marriage, the Family, or Sexuality. In a statement issued by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, entitled ‘The Family. A Proclamation to the World’, the Church restates the traditional principles of the family;
“We… solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
And also focus on its eternal nature;
“The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”
This is one of the most important beliefs of Latter-day Saints, that “Families can be together forever.”
Parental responsibility is highlighted;
“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”
A stance is also made against sex outside of marriage;
“We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
And emphasis is placed on vows and correct behaviour;
“We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfil family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
In today’s world of changing values, Latter-day Saints offer an unchanged view of family life and sexuality.
In marking GCSE examination questions on attitudes to drugs and alcohol, I was surprised by the failure of almost all the candidates to achieve the higher marks by recognising the diversity of practice within Christianity. Some did include a mention of Rastafarianism and their use of marijuana, however there was no mention of either Latter-day Saints or Seventh Day Adventists.
Latter-day Saints adhere to a revealed health code known as the Word of Wisdom. In this wholesome foods are encouraged while tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco and harmful drugs are forbidden. Latter-day Saints live this law because it is a commandment of God;
“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments…”
and also because of the health benefits. They are promised that they
“shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones. And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.”
Within a study of Christian attitudes to drugs, for it to be comprehensive it must include a mention of the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the recently published AQA Specification B, Module 4, there is a section that prescribes awareness “of beliefs and teachings concerning when life begins, pre-existence and who is responsible for life.” While Hinduism and Buddhism teach of samsara as a kind of pre-existence, Latter-day saints are the only Christian denomination who teach that we lived before we came to this earth, not in the sense of a reincarnation but as individual spirit child of Our Heavenly Father in a pre-mortal existence. We are still the same person here but with a physical body, with a veil of forgetfulness that came upon us as we were born.
“In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realise his or her own destiny as an heir of eternal life.”
These are just some of the uses for the Church in the R.E. classroom. Other aspects of their beliefs and practices could also be utilised.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come a long way in the United Kingdom since missionaries first arrived in 1837. Through some trying times of emigration and opposition the church now has over 100,000 members in the U.K.. At some point in our lives we will all encounter a Latter-day Saint, surely it is better to do so prepared with a knowledge of what they believe.
Similarly for a well-rounded experience of religious education a study cannot be complete without some mention of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Biographical Details (at the time of writing)
James Holt is Head of R.E. at Egerton Park Arts College in Denton.
He is also the Bishop of the Hyde Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 Gordon B. Hinckley cit. Ibid. p4
 Joseph Smith History 1:16-17 in The Pearl of Great Price p49.
 The Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1985) p304
 The Family: A Proclamation to the World
 Doctrine and Covenants 89:18
 Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-19
 AQA GCSE Religious Studies Specification B: World and Philosophical Perspectives on Religious Issues 2003 p39
 The Family: A Proclamation to the World