Correlation Shall be Known for Good and Evil
Earlier this week Dave kicked off another provocative post on Correlation and teaching quality in the Church, producing a slew of insightful comments on the topic. Correlation is Killing Sunday School (2010).
Where We’ve Been
It should come as no surprise (although it might) that Correlation and Gospel instruction has been a passionate and perennial topic in Mormon blogdom for years. Correlation: Blessing or Curse? (2005); Round Table: Correlation Part 1 (2006); Round Table: Correlation Part 2 (2006); Creating a Market in Correlation (2006); Church Teaching Manuals & Correlation – Is it Broke? Can It Be Fixed? (2007); A Declaration of Independence… from Church Lesson Manuals (2009); Inoculation Works (2010): Everything that is Wrong with Gospel Teaching (3 parts, 2010); Comparing Correlation with the Supreme Court (2010). Some have wondered: Who is Correlation? (2008), seeking to identify individuals on these committees, although I’m sure many answers were found. “Correlation” has even been the topic of a Ph.D. dissertation. Correlation: An Uncorrelated History (2010).
The coverage has been decidedly negative, yet arguments supporting Correlation have been advanced. Apologia Pro Correlation Sua (2007); Why I Like the Correlation Committee (2009); The Childless Woman: Some Correlation Needed (2009).
It’s More then Just a Word
Correlation seems to have become an essential term among Mormon bloggers. Whether it refers to a specific administrative reorganization that occurred in Church history (still seen as either reducing inefficient redundancies in the church or robbing auxiliaries of independence), or whether it represents more of an overall approach or perspective among Church leadership, it appears to have developed a number of connotations including control, censorship, order, organization, centralization, priesthood, uniformity, banality, and lately, even death (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Hoping for the Best
Part of these reactions can be illustrated with a few recent events. For example, Mormons have watched the production of new Church manuals with great hope. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007) (touted by some as “the best manual to be released by correlation”); The Curriculum Department and the Search for the Authentic Joseph Smith (2009). News of a new Gospel Principles manual early last summer generated a flurry of excitement. Anticipations of a New Gospel Principles Manual (2010) (surveying a number of reactions across several blogs).
Rumors of changes in the manual likewise provide a fascinating look into the Mormon psyche. Were these changes substantial? Were they doctrinal? Would these changes solve problems with ineffective teaching? What were the changes? Expectations were high. Perhaps too high.
The Church, in a bold and open move, solicited comments and feedback for the manual (even though the survey was only open for a day or so). Gospel Principles Class Member Survey (2010). Many Latter-day Saints hope that with each revision or production their suggestions and comments will finally be incorporated or at least validated. My Letter to the Church Curriculum Department (2010); Their Response (2010).
Whatsoever Is More or Less than This, Cometh of Evil
Remember this opening sentence? “A woman sat at her dining room table, buried in dozens of books and magazines. She looked discouraged. Her daughter asked if she could help.” Early this year, Church News published an anonymous article titled Use Proper Sources suggesting, with the use of an anecdotal episode between a mother and a daughter, that Gospel instructors should not turn to “unofficial — not correlated — materials in the planning of lessons and activities.” The fact that the article, like Church manuals, had no attributed author was an irony not lost on some readers. It received quite a reaction from Correlation watchers. Underwhelming Thoughts on Correlation (2010); LDS Church News Says: “Use Proper Sources” With Gospel Teaching (2010).
Lastly, the decision by Deseret Books to no longer publish Mormon Doctrine thrust, once again, the topic of Correlation into the spot light. The Death of McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine (2010); Forgetting McConkie (2010). For some, the existence of Mormon Doctrine, affectionately called MoDoc by some, suggests an almost failed opportunity where Correlation could have prevented something unfortunate, but for whatever reason, did not.
What are we to make of this propensity to speak of Correlation? Has it received too much coverage or not enough? Is it really the cause of our problems with Gospel Instruction or Church manuals, or even if there are other issues at work, do they all ultimately derive from Correlation? Or perhaps to ask a different kind of question: Does the ambiguous and amorphous nature of Correlation (its genesis sometimes shrouded in history) allow Mormons a venue to offer robust criticism of problems in the Church safely without directly criticizing leaders? Has the term “Correlation” become akin to an essentially contested concept in Mormon discourse? Is Correlation merely a reorganization in Church administration, or it is more symbolic, taking an almost mythic role in Mormon discourse?