Monday, January 19, 2015


Students don't believe their teacher 
could handle a crucible or a doubt
Phoenix, AZ—Students attending the local Institute class, concerned about his weak testimony, consistently try to dissuade their teacher, Brother Branden Nicks, from asking difficult questions or going on the Internet.

“Let’s just say we try to keep him in the manual,” said Melissa Carr, a returned missionary, Sociology major at Arizona State University, and student in Brother Nicks’ class. “We love brother Nicks, and we worry that if he started to wonder about why God didn’t give the Priesthood to every worthy man before 1978 (or to every worthy member now!), well, it could damage his struggling faith.”

When asked about why they believed that challenging issues might be difficult for their instructor, students mentioned many telling experiences.

“At the beginning of the year we get new students who think that Institute should be a college-level class with open discussions that engage the difficult but fruitful tensions between faith and doubt, especially at this particular time in one’s life and at a university setting” said Michael Lane. Lane continued that “clearly Nicks is so uncomfortable with whatever isn’t in the manual or said in General Conference that he shuts any challenging conversations down with an apostle quote, a stern warning to ‘follow the Brethren,’ and a standard plea for everyone to ‘stay in the boat.’ Everyone pretty quickly gets the message,” concluded Lane, “that Brother Nicks is so afraid of whatever isn’t easy or clearly sanctioned that it must be eliminated immediately.”

Students also report that Brother Nicks’ fear of difficult issues can emerge at any time. Melissa Carr recalled that one class, while talking about the woman caught in adultery, a visitor asked Brother Nicks how he resolved the fact that the story does not appear in the earliest Bible manuscripts nor is it mentioned by early Christian writers who had access to even earlier manuscripts than we have. Carr said that “we all looked on in stunned surprise, worried because Brother Nicks had no idea about Biblical scholarship or manuscripts.” She said that, “we were afraid that this could lead to a faith-destroying crisis for a man who clearly could not think outside the manual, when suddenly, like a miracle, Daniel Dexter just started to laugh, and then we all laughed, and in doing so we finally convinced Brother Nicks that we were pulling a prank on him. Let me just say,” said Carr, “we could have lost our weak-testimonied teacher forever right there!”

Dexter, Carr, Lane, and others all mentioned that they and other class members often meet during the week or chat online to discuss their readings of books like Rough Stone Rolling, The Crucible of Doubt, or issues of Dialogue. Such discussions give them a way to share ideas and encourage one another as they learn to develop a deeper faith while honoring and using concerns, doubts, and new knowledge to strengthen that faith.

When asked what they get out of Institute, Carr said “we mostly just go to socialize, oh, and sometimes there’s pizza.”

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