Thinking about Gospel Doctrine Lesson 32

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This guest post is provided to you by Bill Atkinson from Gospel Doctrine class for Youth. If you’d like to be a guest poster on Our Thoughts, email us at

“To Seal the Testimony”

As I begin to prepare for this lesson, I am in a bit of a quandary. Clearly the martyrdom of Hyrum and Joseph is one of the key events of this dispensation and very important for the Saints to understand and appreciate. The lesson manual’s purpose—To teach class members about the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and to strengthen their testimonies of his calling as a prophet of God—needs to be the guiding principle for preparation.

I teach a youth Gospel Doctrine class, and I find the lesson manual is generally inappropriate for this age group. It tends to lead to “teaching” rather than focusing on the students “learning”. So I have a few principles I follow in preparing:

  1. Never attempt to cover the entire lesson. Prayerfully pick the key ideas you think your students need at that point in time. In this case—as I have found since teaching them this summer—they need the historical context, the real sense of why things happened.
  2. Focus on what the students need to learn not on the performance of the teacher. If possible every student should participate actively.

So I am considering focusing the lesson around verse 3 of D&C 135:

Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!

We will look at and read the scripture with the idea that each person will think about what they consider to be Joseph’s most important contribution and express their ideas as to why that is so.

As class members share these insights, as appropriate, I am going to fold into the discussion the basic historical context of why the martyrdom happened, which the lesson really doesn’t consider:

  1. The simple gathering of the Saints to one place in such numbers giving both economic and political influence
  2. Plural marriage capping the sense that the Mormons were too strange to tolerate
  3. The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor
  4. Joseph’s presidential campaign
  5. Continued Missouri attempts to get at Joseph
  6. Apostates stirring up people with newspaper articles, particularly John C. Bennett

So that is the starting point for thinking. I think I might dig up an excerpt from the Nauvoo Expositor, so class members can see the kind of thing that was being written by William Law, and see if I can find one of John C. Bennett’s articles that were appearing in various papers at the time.

I started the blog Youth Gospel Doctrine Class, which has some of the lessons from June to August since I have been working as the main substitute teacher. I was, in fact, finally called to teach the class this past Sunday.

So what do you think? Any ideas on what directions to go with adult classes? How many of you are teaching Gospel Doctrine right now?

7 thoughts on “Thinking about Gospel Doctrine Lesson 32

  1. Bill,

    I think your first principle is the single most important difference between good teachers and bad ones in the Church. If your goal is to teach, then that best happens if you concentrate your focus on the important parts/principles of the lesson. If you just want to cover the material, I don’t think it gives students a chance to really learn anything–the “mile wide and inch deep” approach.

    I don’t teach GD now, but when I did, I spent more time developing real questions that helped the class see why the principles were important, rather than the “Sunday School” answers. I like your idea of putting things in context. Until I learned more of the background like you describe, I couldn’t answer the question of “Why would anybody want to kill Joesph Smith?” In the New Testament, we learn why the mobs wanted to kill Christ, but we rarely learn at Church why the mobs wanted to kill Joseph.

  2. Ah Jeff you do ask the tough questions. The short answers is that I wouldn’t bring it up with either teenagers or adults BUT if the question were asked directly I would answer. I admit I would try to put some spin on it for much the same reasons that I suspect Joseph did, first it was a sacred ordinance connected to the temple and second it was clearly irritating to the world and the less they knew the better. I admit that it does show that the prophet was willing to lie (there is no better word for it) in public to protect the Church.

    it is a tough one and I suspect the discussion could go on for a long time in a blog but I would shut it down as fast as I could in class.

    CS Eric, thanks for that thought, in a youth class especially if it is relatively small (mine is about 12 max but that varies of course) you really can develop a learning place, instead of waiting for the teacher to ask all the questions and bring all resources they start doing some of it, very exciting to be in.

  3. I’m really not sure how I will be approaching this lesson. I imagine everyone in the class has learned ad naseum regarding the Martyrdom. I can’t imagine I would teach them anything new and practical.

  4. I agree Kim, but what they have “learned” is the standard, dare I say it “romanticized” version of the Martyrdom. I think we need to pull them back to the reality a bit and discuss how it was that people could hate so much.

    For anyone who wants to take a look I have now posted Lesson 32 on my blog (click on link up above) and you can see what it looks like at this moment, comments and ideas appreciated.

    I have followed, more or less the outline above and have decided to have a debate (in a very mild sense — really more of a discussion from a point of view) looking at the idea that Joseph has done more for salvation save Jesus. We are going to look at the heads of various dispensations and see how Joseph in fact compares. So for example it is fairly clear to me that without Adam you don’t have salvation at all so he seems pretty important to me.

  5. your lessons not quite so challenging?
    No disrespect intended.
    I love the deep stuff. It really makes me think, and I seem to learn so much more, so much easier. I know that’s not the way with all. We just went from having a series of less challenging Gospel Doctrine teachers, to having an ABSOLUTLY WONDERFUL and inspired teacher who I’ve heard was over the heads of some, even though a lot of people really liked his lessons. And now we have an equally wonderful, and inspired teacher who is trying very hard to live up to the former teacher. He doesn’t need to, IMO. He just needs to be himself. I do like this new teacher, but I can tell that he is struggling to keep those of us who really enjoyed the previous teacher, while at the same time not going quite as deep for the others.

    So what type of Gospel Doctrine teacher do you prefer?

  6. Hi Financial Analyst

    Good ideas and I guess all I really require in a GD teacher is someone who actually prepares for the lesson. I want someone who doesn’t have the the lesson manual in their hands, reading from it, throughout the lesson. If they’ve done some preparing, in our adult Sunday School, the class members will participate and hop into a discussion so it works.

    I am glad to hear that you’ve had 2 good teachers in a row, that is a bonus.

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