Excerpts of A new -- or is it old? -- manual for Mormons by Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune
After a decade of going back to Brigham, back to Joseph and back to Wilford, Mormons are going back to basics.
Starting this month, adult Latter-day Saints will shelve their study of past Mormon prophets and return to fundamentals of their faith as spelled out in a 30-year-old book called Gospel Principles .
Until now, the book largely has been used as a primer for new converts to the 13.5 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"The more we reflect on the principles and doctrines, the greater our understanding becomes," Elder Kenneth Johnson of the Seventy, who oversaw the revision of the manual, said in the Ensign , the church's official magazine. "They never grow old, and our understanding of them is increased and enhanced. The truth is not just an intellectual truth, but more of an understanding as the Spirit is present."
The revised edition of Gospel Principles is about 90 percent the same, says Matthew Witten, a business analyst in San Antonio who has compared the two. "The changes are not a big deal."
One intriguing change, Witten says, is that all references to late apostle Bruce R. McConkie's quasi-authoritative book, Mormon Doctrine , have been excised.
"Quotes were updated to reference materials that are more accessible to members of the LDS Church worldwide," church spokeswoman Kim Farah explains. "For example, the series, Teachings of Presidents of the Church , is referenced because it is available in 28 languages, while Mormon Doctrine is only available in a few."
Julie M. Smith, a stay-at-home mom with a degree in biblical studies: "There is a new concern: How does a teacher make a lesson on a very basic topic interesting and relevant to the class?"
"As I began to prepare my first lesson from the Gospel Principles manual, I noticed -- and appreciated -- the tips to the teacher that are included in each lesson," Smith wrote in an e-mail. "These lessons are very, very short and extremely basic, and it will be interesting to see what directions various teachers take with the material."
She does wish, however, that "more penetrating, thought-provoking questions had been included."
Steve Evans, a Seattle attorney, has a similar feeling about the move.
"It makes me wonder what happened to the prior approach of viewing principles through the eyes of a particular prophet and cultivating a quasi-historical library," says the father of four. "While the prophets we've studied have been great, there are several more I'd like to hear from."
On top of that, Evans doesn't see the revised Gospel Principles manual as "a cure for the problem of boredom, but maybe no manual can cure that."
Church leaders say the Teachings of the Presidents will return in 2012.