The Uncorrelated Church

PriesthoodCorrelationFrom 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.

Church-Approved Answers

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 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.

14 thoughts on “The Uncorrelated Church”

  1. Pingback: Near Death Experiences and Me « Latter-day Commentary

  2. Wow! This happened to me in 2007. I was in a ward and stake where Jesus Christ was “Elder Brother” and “Elder Brother” only. I gave a fervent testimony that we are children of Jesus Christ and that he is the father or our spiritual rebirth. I also testified that we could pour out our heart and soul to Jesus as did Alma the younger in Alma 36:18. My bishop, stake president and other high priests sharply rebuked me, both publicly and privately. My stake president used Elder Bruce. R. McConkie’s 1982 BYU talk against me. My family and I then moved to a new stake for this and related reasons. We have lived in several wards since, due to boundary-realignments and a more recent job transfer move. In each of these new wards, I have made similar declarations about developing a personal relationship with Jesus, but no one has batted an eye. As an aside, the stake where I had the problems has since been disorganized. Its wards have been absorbed into another stake. This was ostensibly done for changing demographic reasons, but there were other problems…

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for visiting and sharing. I appreciate your comments. I see no problem with what you shared. The Book of Mormon teaches that we are the children of Jesus Christ exactly in the sense you declared. We must indeed be spiritually reborn though Him. Thus, he becomes the Father of our salvation, the Savior of our souls. How could anyone object to a direct quote from Alma 36:18? I remember well Elder McConkie’s BYU talk and the consequences. I wrote about it here: but my opinion that he did some damage did not diminish my respect for how he served the Lord:

      I think he saw the damage he did and learned from his mistake. He spent the last years of his life producing some of the most powerful prose and commentary on the life and mission of the Savior. Thus, Bruce R. McConkie developed a personal relationship with the Lord like he perhaps never had before. One can be an apostle and not have a personal witness of the Savior. We call those administrative apostles. In my opinion, Elder McConkie started as an administrative apostle, served the church as such for many years and then became an apostle in very word and deed as he grew to know the Lord intimately through his study and in delivering that powerful, memorable and emotional testimony in General Conference just before he died.

      I’m sorry to learn that your priesthood leaders rebuked you for bearing testimony of the Lord. That should not happen in the Church of Jesus Christ. Alas, we are a church of imperfect lay members. We should always encourage each other to come unto Christ and be perfected in him. It is the Savior who directs the angels to minister to us to prepare us to come into His presence. It is the Savior who wants to come unto us to give us power and teach us the things of eternity. He deserves all the glory and worship we can give him. Yes, we worship the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, but we also worship the Savior. We meet each Sunday to remember Him. We are empowered as we remember Him, worship Him and bear testimony of His love.

  3. A few comments:

    1) I agree that the youth curriculum changes are a step in the right direction, but it’s still pretty correlated. While the teacher is able to choose from a variety of materials, those materials are correlated. Also, the teacher is most likely correlated as a member/thinker in that most members wouldn’t venture outside of material from Maybe throw in an inspirational Sheri Dew book from Deseret Book, but very few members are combing through the Journal of Discourses, or reading some of the books discussed on this blog.

    2) I received an email the other day from the CES person over seminary and institute in our area. It says: “One thing can be said about Brother [name removed], he is no stranger to repentance!
    You may have noticed that I have removed some folders from our shared Dropbox. This is because some of the quotes, glue ins, lesson ideas, etc. that I was sharing were not correlated (i.e. officially approved by the Church correlation department). I am trying to better align with policy, and thus need to go through the information that I have been sharing and ‘clean them up’ to ensure doctrinal purity. I sincerely apologize for any issues this may have caused you. My only desire was to bless you and your students, but stupidly chose a non-approved way to do that. I will be more careful with what I pass on in the future. For now, please disregard and delete any of the files that I have shared previously unless they clearly come from correlated and approved sources.
    Please let me know if you have any questions, or if would like to join the public flogging to take place at high noon just outside of town.
    Thanks, and again I am sorry.”
    Now this is from someone who I view as already very correlated. I didn’t pay close enough attention to what was in the Dropbox, but I sincerely doubt it was anything that far removed from approved materials.

    3) In all of this discussion, I try not to fault the Church and leaders but rather just view it as an indication that the membership needs to spiritually develop before correlation can be loosened up. Hopefully the changes in youth curriculum are an indication that maybe correlation is slowly being unraveled. But maybe as long as a great number of members struggle with the basics of the gospel (what percentage of members even go to the temple?), deeper teachings will only be discussed in families, non-canonical books, and the internet.

  4. When I was a missionary, the church still used 6 standard discussion that missionaries in the area I was at were encouraged to memorize word for word and share without deviating. As I worked to memorize the discussions, I would often find that when I was talking to someone and they would have a question or concern, the Spirit would bring to my mind one of the short paragraphs or sentences that I had memorized and I would share it in answer. And even though we generally taught the discussions to people in a particular order, if we were talking to a person and I could see we needed to go in a different direction, we could teach any discussion we needed to because we had them memorized.

    After I had returned home and the church changed direction with Preach My Gospel, I reflected how the methods were really the same as they had always been. Missionaries are called to teach by the Spirit (of course that is true of any church member). I believe it was all in how the members of the church viewed the program. Did they recite the discussions in a very rote fashion, without regard to what the Spirit prompted them to do or the concerns the person had? Or did they follow the Spirit and still stay within the basic topics that the church had instructed to be taught?

    Correlation was put into place by the church in order to keep the doctrine pure in a worldwide church with many countries where the church is still fledgling. As you stated, I fully support them in this course of action – it makes sense to me why they did it. I believe they don’t want the general church members to push it to the extreme case and lose the spirit of revelation.

    I also believe that we need to understand the purpose of correlated materials. They are meant to teach the doctrine of the church. Where sometimes past authorities may have given their opinion or possibly erred in doctrine, the correlated materials are meant to teach true, basic doctrine. They aren’t meant to teach history or defend the faith or anything else. The materials are also meant to be basic so that church members are encouraged to grow to seek out their own answers from the Spirit as they receive line upon line. I believe the correlated materials are meant to be a foundation only. And of course the scriptures are the ultimate correlated and yet uncorrelated materials.

    Like you, I fully sustain the general authorities. I think the church is headed in the right direction. I believe its the Lord’s organization for spreading His gospel and bringing salvation to all of his children on the earth. I think we as church members have the responsibility to take the tools we’ve been given and strive to live and learn by the Spirit so we can become what the Lord wants us to become and enjoy eternal life.

    1. Hi Dustin,

      Thanks for the great comment. We have a lot in common. I also memorized the discussions – in Spanish. I also had many experiences where the spirit prompted me to use a specific phrase or concept from a discussion in my everyday efforts to teach the gospel in Central America. As a zone leader I had opportunities to teach with many missionaries.

      I recall clearly the differences in teaching style of some missionaries who could not get past the memorization, or who struggled with it. Hearing them teach was painful. They tried to follow the program but failed and felt badly because they knew they were not effective. Was correlation to blame because they could not teach in their own words? I don’t know.

      I continued teaching those same discussions – in English this time – for many years as a stake missionary. I think I served in that capacity on at least five separate occasions in the first fifteen years after I returned. Carol and I even taught the missionary preparation class in our stake. We always encouraged the missionaries to follow the spirit within the basic topics.

      That’s great for teaching investigators and new converts. We do indeed want to keep it clear and pure, basic and simple. You know what they say, milk before meat. Unfortunately, we live in the Internet age where almost every investigator can now read all kinds of stuff that is not found in the correlated materials. They ask our missionaries about things that are difficult to answer.

      The problem is that we have carried that over into our Sunday classes and meetings to such a degree that there is almost NEVER any real depth of the gospel discussed in our classes. I go back to the example I used in my essay. Who does a new member turn to when he wants to talk about how prayers are answered and revelation is received that is beyond the standard answers?

      It has been my experience that most members do NOT study the gospel. They struggle to read the scriptures regularly. They are not informed as to what issues are confronting the church today. They do not know how to answer difficult questions they are asked. In fact, they can’t answer even simple questions like how the Book of Mormon was translated.

      This is because you don’t hear in church about seer stones as opposed to the Urim and Thumim, the plural wives of Joseph Smith, multiple versions of the First Vision, Mountain Meadows, the similarity of the temple ceremony with Masonic rituals, and many more. I remember we covered some of these in seminary or institute but most I had to dig out and study on my own.

      I learned when I was in seminary not to bring up certain topics I had studied because what I learned and tried to share was not found in the standard, acceptable answers the teacher was supposed to share. When I taught seminary years later I made it a point to share more than I found in the curriculum and believe my students were better off because I did.

      I love to discuss the gospel in depth. I love to talk about spiritual experiences – what it feels like, how we can and should seek for them. I like to talk and write about the differences between a basic testimony, which is what so many members have – that the church is good, that it helps the family and that God answers prayer – and the kind of revelation required to come unto Christ.

      But because we live with correlation in the church today, there really is no place to have that discussion that prompted this essay. It just seems to me that people get uncomfortable if you talk about how God answered your prayer with a visionary experience or revelatory ideas and words. “Keep your visions and revelations to yourself” if the clear message heard in the church today.

      But what of that new convert who was so enamored with what he had learned about revelation that he went and tried to get his own? I’m talking about revelation beyond the “acceptable” answer that “God answered his prayer and gave him a testimony of the Book of Mormon.” No, he got that and wanted more. He wanted to have the heavens opened and see the glories of God.

      He prayed with great faith. He fasted and he prayed. He fasted some more and prayed longer. He wanted to see the face of God. He went to the temple after a year. He continued hungering and thirsting to have the heavens opened. He talked about his desire with others. They counseled him to back off, to not try so hard. They told him that opening the heavens could not be forced.

      But he exercised sufficient faith and received the kind of revelations Joseph taught we should receive. God could not resist that kind of faith. He was visited by an angel. He was shown things of eternity. He wanted to bear testimony of that but because of correlation, it is not “allowed.” So he learned to keep quiet in class. His fellow saints were poorer because he could not share.

      I understand the purpose of correlation. I agree with the concept that it is designed to keep the teachings of the church pure. But I continue to maintain that the unintended result of correlation is that members do not feel comfortable sharing spiritual experiences. Revelation feeds upon revelation. When one testifies that God opens the heavens, others are encouraged to try harder.

      In essence, correlation teaches that it’s not OK to share testimony beyond the basics we hear in most testimony meetings every Fast Sunday. If someone were to get up and testify that they had been visited by an angel, you can be sure he or she would be talked to by their priesthood leader and told to keep such declarations to themselves. Again, we are poorer because of correlation.

      Moroni 7:37 – “…it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.” What the Lord wants us to become is a people who are taught by angels and shown what we must do to come unto Christ – to have the heavens opened and be visited by the Savior.

      I want to associate with Saints who understand revelation. I want to hear my brothers and sisters explain what they did to have the heavens opened. I want to discuss in Gospel Doctrine class how my fellow ward members went to the Lord in prayer about the subject to be discussed and experienced revelation, and not just the impressions or whisperings of the Holy Ghost.

      The bottom line is do we believe and teach that we can see visions and receive revelations today – dictated words from the Lord – just like Joseph, or are those days past? Was Joseph the only man who could open the heavens? He taught that we do not have to be prophets to receive and know for ourselves everything he received and understood. I want that. I am striving for that.

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I share your feelings about wanting more opportunities to discuss the gospel in deeper detail than is generally done on Sundays. There are precious few of these. I fear it is human nature to pay not enough attention to these spiritual things – resulting in a lack of revelations, visions, and general gospel knowledge. I think the fault lies with each one of us inasmuch as we don’t heed the words of the Savior.

        But why this taboo on sharing spiritual experiences? There seems to be a general feeling in the church (at least wherever I have been) that these experiences are too sacred to share. I have heard and read some statements by authorities that seem to indicate this. I don’t know why this is. Moroni, as you point out, is quite clear at the end of the Book of Mormon (both the sermon from Mormon he shares in Ch 7 and in his final closing words in Ch 10) directly says that such things are only done away by unbelief. I fear the general membership of the church, myself included, is living far below what we could be.

        I know the various times that I have received knowledge from the Lord it is because I have paid the price in study and prayer and pondering. I know I am a weak and sinful individual but if even I can have a spiritual witness and receive knowledge from the Holy Ghost, then certainly it isn’t reserved just for the prophets. Joseph taught that plainly. Neither are visions and revelations. If we receive such things, should we stand up and share? Would the people receive it if we did? I suppose the Spirit will dictate.

  5. I am currently living outside the church. What I appreciate about the correlation program is that no matter where I go in the world, I can expect to have the same lessons, and learn the same doctrine as in any other location in the church. I don’t have to worry that someone will come up with some new theory about the lost ten tribes, or some other gray area topic. I don’t think the church is saying that we can’t study these things ourselves, but we must teach only pure doctrine within the church. If our knowledge of the subject is sketchy, then we shouldn’t share it. I think there is a danger in thinking that correlated material isn’t enough for those of us who are more intellectual. We need less to be taught than to be reminded.

    1. Why is “the same lesson” a good thing? If we are all teaching the same stuff, is not that evidence that we are not being led by the Spirit? I anticipate some will say, “no, it just means that someone got revelation for the whole church that these 10 scriptures, the same ones we read 4 years ago, are what we need to hear on Sunday.” Does that not mean that we are not allowing the Spirit to inspire a local teacher to teach to local needs? Is not this tying our hands?

      I can assure you that correlation does not prevent false doctrine from being preached. If you look, you can find plenty in the approved manuals: Scriptures wrested for things they have nothing to do with, doctrinal ideas that are false (baptism of fire is a gradual, imperceptible event), the president of the church can never be wrong and everything he says is revelation from God, etc. And, unlike whether the 10 tribes are on another planet or not, these things actually matter.

      I would much rather have inspired teachers who sometimes make mistakes than the same oatmeal filled with rocks that is not only wrong frequently, but also void of the Spirit. What ever happened to “if ye have not the Spirit ye shall not teach?”

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