As defined at Wikipedia, the Mormon Church’s priesthood correlation program is “a program designed to provide a systematic approach to maintain consistency in its ordinances, doctrines, organizations, meetings, materials, and other programs and activities.” The Church began its correlation efforts in the early 1960s, to bring all aspects of the Church under one large umbrella (so to speak). A few months ago Doug Gibson at The Political Surf noted the effect that correlation has had on Mormon Sunday School lessons. He wrote,
In a concise but detailed 7-page chapter in “The New Testament: The Acts and the Epistles,[”] by Russel B. Swenson, Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1955, here is one paragraph, not unlike the others in its attention to details. It reads:
“Paul’s answers to the above charges were swift and vigorous. Nowhere does he appear more in anger, not even in Galatians. He does not take time to answer them with a reasoned detailed argument. With sharp biting retorts, ironical sarcasm, bold assertions, which he admits border on extravagant boasting, and an extremely fervent faith in his authority as an apostle, he takes a decisive and resolute stand. Though he admits he does not have a polished rhetoric in speech, he claims he has knowledge. And finally, he is so angered and hurt by the many false charges and attacks against his record and authority that he is led to state specifically what he has suffered for the sake of the gospel. He had been inclined to be too modest and had been ignored and insulted as an insignificant person. Therefore, he felt constrained to enumerate his sacrifices for the gospel, not on account of any personal vanity, but in order to validate his authority and preaching as divinely commissioned. What he tells about himself is of priceless value as history because most of it had been neglected by Luke in his writings of Acts.” [See 2 Corinthians 11]
Now, let’s move 58 years into the future and get an LDS Gospel Doctrine Sunday School summary — for teachers — of Second Corinthians today. At LDS.org, it reads:
“Explain that the book of 2 Corinthians contains prophetic counsel that applies in our day. Paul’s teachings in this letter are similar to the teachings we often hear in general conference. Elder Eyring observed, “When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention [on them]” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 32; or Ensign, May 1997, 25). Encourage class members to receive the counsel in this lesson and ‘hold it close.‘”
The correlated manual Mr. Gibson spoke of is the New Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (specifically, Lesson 35: “Be Ye Reconciled to God”). The copyright date on this manual is 2002, but it is the current manual used today (and was last used throughout the entire Church in 2011 Sunday School classes).
Mr. Gibson complained that the correlated Sunday School lessons are “bland” and remind him of the dumbed-down “simple stupid” lessons he taught to investigators while he was on his mission 31 years ago. This may be true, but to me, the post-correlation changes in this lesson are much more than merely bland and basic. The whole emphasis of the lesson has changed.
In the example Mr. Gibson cited from 1955, the lesson focused on the biblical text: how the apostle Paul responded to false apostles — his anger, his rhetoric, his faith, his sacrifices, his authority, and the calling on his life from God; and how Paul’s actions and words fit into a larger biblical context.
The correlated manual Mr. Gibson cited, on the other hand, does not appear to try to help students understand the details and context of God’s Word at all. Rather, its focus is on validating Mormonism.
The newer manual uses 2 Corinthians and the apostle Paul to direct the student toward the Mormon Church’s General Conference and latter-day apostles, without much consideration of what Paul actually says in his second letter to the Corinthians and why he says it. Of course, there is more to the lesson than what’s cited here, but nothing in that lesson even comes close to an exposition of the biblical text. It is indeed “bland” and “basic”; it also misses some very significant aspects of Paul’s teachings.
For example, the correlated manual skips over 2 Corinthians 11:1-21 entirely. Students don’t look at Paul’s warning against accepting another Jesus, a different spirit, or a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). They’re not directed to Paul’s description of false apostles, deceitful workers who fraudulently transform themselves into apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13). The lesson never discusses Paul’s caution that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light and that the devil’s servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
How unfortunate. This is such important counsel for Mormons (and everyone else) to understand. Wouldn’t you agree?