To a fault, I prefer people to be straightforward with me.
As a kid I always responded better to “Take out the trash. Now!” compared to “It would sure be nice if you did something to help out around here.”
Rather than being peppered with splinters of hints, I prefer to be hit over the head with a two-by-four.
That is why I found Elder Russell M. Ballard’s comments directed to LDS seminary and institute teachers refreshing in a February devotional.
In a nutshell, Elder Ballard told Church Education System employees to stop punting on the tough questions asked by their students.
He said, “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and the teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.”
He then listed a handful of doctrinal questions of LDS youth. These include gender issues, translation of ancient script, Heavenly Mother, seer stones and various accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision.
As a youth when I asked questions about polygamy, blacks not holding the priesthood or church policies that were bothersome to me, I remember feeling empty when seminary teachers reacted with “Just have faith,” or “It’s not essential to your salvation,” responses.
Elder Ballard informed the professional LDS teachers that it is OK to say they do not know the answer to any question.
But he advised, “However, once that is said, you have the responsibility to find the best answers to the thoughtful questions your students ask.”
I also like the fact that he told the seminary and institute instructors not to simply pass on ingrained cultural responses to difficult questions.
“In teaching your students and in responding to their questions, let me warn you not to pass along faith-promoting or unsubstantiated rumors, or outdated understandings and explanations of our doctrine and practices from the past,” he said.
As a youth, I remember hearing that at the height of polygamy only three percent of the people in the LDS Church practiced plural marriage. That mistruth was further enhanced with, “And at the time there were just as many people — percentage-wise — practicing polygamy outside of the Church.”
Historical research disproves both statements.
I am confident that Elder Ballard’s advice to the CES instructors applies to us as gospel teachers, youth advisors, parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. When kids have questions — especially those that are difficult — we should either answer directly or research and share our thoughts on the matter.
Obviously not every gospel-related question has a crystal clear explanation; however, many do. In those cases it is a matter of seeking the answer and formulating an intelligible response.
As time marches forward, it becomes easier and easier for our youths to turn their backs on the gospel of Jesus Christ. As teachers and parents, let us not give them an additional reason to do so by offering shallow answers to their sincere inquiries.
Roberts is a former LDS bishop of the Tooele 6th Ward.