UU Mormon

“Who’s Judas?” Or, What My Kids Didn’t Learn in Primary

Posted on: January 15, 2012

Who betrayed who how?

A while back the kids and I went to see a performance of Godspell that a friend of ours was in. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s one of those weird hippie musicals, like Jesus Christ Superstar or Hair, only with clowns and no nudity. It’s based on the Gospel of Matthew and portrays Jesus’s ministry, starting with John the Baptist and ending with the crucifixion, and in between the cast acts out various parables.

My kids weren’t quite sure what was going on, though it was a fantastic performance and was entertaining enough that they didn’t particularly care that they didn’t understand it. I provided a bit of commentary now and then.

At one point near the end I leaned over and whispered, “This is the Last Supper. Judas is leaving to go get the soldiers to arrest Jesus.”

They both looked at me blankly. “Judas?”

“Yeah, you know… Judas. He betrayed Jesus.”

No sign of recognition.

Now, they went Primary until they were 11 and 8, respectively, and I know they heard about Judas betraying Jesus because I taught CTR8 for three years and it’s in the Easter lesson. They heard that story every year.


So what were they learning in Primary?

And surely it wasn’t only once a year. Jesus! The Garden of Gethsemane! The atonement! Isn’t that the point of it all? I remember name-dropping Jesus in a lot of contexts unrelated to the New Testament Gospels — Jesus wants us to pay our tithing, Jesus doesn’t want us to drink coffee, Jesus gave us (at least the male segment of “us”) the priesthood, Jesus wants us to follow his example — but there had to be Bible stories too, right? There’s the story about John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, and there was one about Jesus healing a blind man, and… um…

That’s all I could come up with. I knew there had to be more, though, so I went back and looked through the manuals online. Turns out, the Choose the Right A manual does include many references to the New Testament. I found the story of Jesus’s family escaping from Herod and going to Egypt, Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus calling his disciples to be “fishers of men”, the healing of Jairus’s daughter, calming the seas, “suffer little children to come unto me”, healing the ten lepers, the widow’s mite, and others.


Jesus wants us to be correlated

But something struck me that I never noticed before. The purpose of the lessons is not specifically to learn about Jesus, but to learn principles, which are illustrated and supported by the New Testament scriptures.

For example, the story of the prodigal son illustrates the principle of repentance. The widow’s mite is in a lesson about paying tithing. The healing of Jairus’s daughter is about priesthood blessings for the sick. Jesus calming the seas during the storm is also about the power of the priesthood, and how men with the priesthood can perform ordinances like baptism, confirmation, blessings, and weddings (which is exactly like having the power to control nature). “Bear testimony,” the lesson text instructs the teacher, “of your gratitude that we have the priesthood—the same power Jesus has—to help us in our lives.”

Ironically, the lesson called “I Can Tell Others about Jesus Christ” doesn’t talk about Jesus at all. It mentions his name, of course, but if you swapped out every occurrence of the word “Jesus” and replaced it with “the Church”, it wouldn’t change the meaning or substance of the lesson. In fact, the lesson itself uses the two terms interchangeably.

The CTR B manual uses the Book of Mormon as the primary source of its supporting scripture references, and both manuals also occasionally reference the Old Testament and other books of scripture. In Senior Primary the classes start focusing on the actual scriptures, and they spend one year each on the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants/Church History (no comment), New Testament, and Old Testament. So they do get two years of Biblical education before they go into Young Men/Young Women.  It’s just that neither of my kids got that far.


A possible solution

The problem is, Bible literacy is required for cultural literacy. Whether or not you believe in it as a book of scripture or the word of God, it’s going to be nearly impossible to understand the literature, art, and culture of Western civilization without a certain level of familiarity with the Bible.

But if we went back to the LDS church and sent the kids to early-morning seminary (which Horatio vowed he would never allow after the year he spent teaching it), it wouldn’t help. To get a decent grounding in the Bible, you’re going to also spend a lot of years on the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, and then what you’re taught about the Bible will be colored by the Pearl of Great Price, so it’s not going to match up with the broader culture. Obviously they’re not going to get that type of education in public school either. We toyed with the idea of vacation Bible school (there was a Harry Potter-themed Episcopalian one near here that sounded amazing), but ultimately we decided we’re just going to have to do it ourselves. And we came up with a revolutionary idea for how to do it…




That’s right. Now that we’re apostates we’re having FHE for the first time ever. And it’s so much fun! I’m not even joking. We’ve done a couple lessons, but we’re still working out the details and curriculum, so…

To be continued.


2 Responses to "“Who’s Judas?” Or, What My Kids Didn’t Learn in Primary"

My brother and I were raised without any religion education, but I guess I absorbed a lot more general religion knowledge through reading and observation than he did. I remember having a conversation when he was around 12 (and I was 16) in which it was revealed that he didn’t know what the Garden of Eden was. I was shocked by his ignorance, but I didn’t exactly have a solution — I certainly didn’t wish we’d been raised religious.

Later he took a high school English course in which they studied the Bible as literature, so I imagine he now knows about the Garden of Eden, Judas, etc.

My husband and I are Primary teachers. We were teaching junior primary, and those manuals are not that great. Now we teach senior primary, and we’re finding the lessons so much better. I think a lot of what the kids know about the scriptures they learn at home, not at Primary.

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