Seminary, Rated R

In another ward and another state, I had the privilege of teaching seminary for almost four years. We had a small class of five students who met in my basement.  Theses particular students and I all lived in a corner of the county that made it impossible to travel from the meeting house to their high school by the time the first class was in session. Consequently, we had our own little class separate from the others who met at the meeting house.

Because the students had different interests and learning styles, I tried to employ a variety of teaching strategies. We made temples out of building blocks, we enacted battle scenes on the stairs to my basement, we drew pictures of emigration routes, and we played Bible trivia games.

Sometimes, however, we did fall back on the old standard of watching film clips. Most often we used the LDS approved materials, but I was confident that I could bring other materials in support of the standard works. I could judge what was appropriate for viewing.

The year that we were studying the Old Testament, we looked at some clips from animated Bible stories and some clips from old Hollywood adaptations from the Bible. Watching Charlton Heston part the Red Sea had more dramatic effect than just reading about it. By scouring holds on Netflix, I also found a made-for-television adaptation of the story of David. I didn’t have a chance to select my clip before our lesson on David’s fall, so I just used the DVD’s menu to find the section on David, Bathsheba, Uriah and Nathan.

As the scene unfolded, it became apparent to me that this made-for-television film was something that aired after people sent their kids to bed.  The director was vividly illustrating  the degree of temptation Bathsheba bathing held for David.  Horrified, I grabbed the remote in an attempt to stop the video and skip the love scene between David and Bathsheba so that we could watch Nathan chastise David.

Well, I am not very skilled at using the remote in even my most calm state. So in my panic, I had accidentally hit pause instead of stop. This meant that when I pressed the forward button, we got a frame-by-frame viewing of Bathsheba in a relative state of undress with the camera focusing on her naked breasts.

I wanted to die.

The future flashed before my eyes. I envisioned these sweet teens diverging from the path of righteousness over the next few years and falling into lives of sin and recklessness because of the corruption they experienced while attending early morning seminary. I finally just jumped in front of the TV to block the screen.

Once the TV was safely off, I turned around to face my students. They were wide-eyed, uncharacteristically alert, and perfectly still. They weren’t even breathing.  I couldn’t tell if they were on the verge of  laughing or crying.  But I think they were teetering a bit towards laughter.

Before they could exhale and say anything, I exclaimed, “OK. That never happened. I am deeply sorry that I didn’t view this previously. I made an incorrect assumption that this was a television show produced for family viewing. And I hereby promise to use only church-approved materials from this point forward.”

This happened years ago, so I have been watching these kids grow up. I am happy to report that they have gone on to serve missions and marry in the temple. I don’t think that I caused permanent damage. I hope that they forgot the whole thing. But if they remember anything, maybe I live in their memory as a cautionary tale for how not to teach the story of King David’s fall.

Have you ever committed a teaching faux pas at church? How did you recover? 

About Karen

After living in UT, HI, CA, DC, VA, WI, & WV, Karen now lives in KS with her family. During the week, she blogs about aging, teaches as an adjunct for WSU's Aging Studies program, and volunteers with older adults. On Sundays she tries to use hypertext literacy to teach teens about ancient scriptures.

18 thoughts on “Seminary, Rated R

  1. Thanks for that story, it made me laugh out loud. When my sister was a freshman in seminary they were also studying the OT. For some reason they read aloud the verses about Onan “spilling his seed”. My naive, innocent sister raised her hand and asked the teacher, a good family friend, what spilling his seed meant? He hemmed and hawed and tried to move on but my sister would have none of that. She asked him again, he tried to avoid it again, she asked yet again. Finally he said, “You’d better ask your parents about this” and moved on with the lesson.

  2. Oh, yes…I still cringe when I recall a RS lesson I gave as a young married woman. It was back in the Olden Days when RS was held midweek, during the morning. I don’t even remember which topic I was teaching: social relations, literature, …I can’t remember. But somehow, I wanted to use various forms of music to illustrate my point. It must have seemed like an excellent concept when I planned it, but then, standing there in the RS room, surrounded by dear (and many older) sisters, as the cassette tape launched into “Honky Tonk Women” I realized that whatever point I’d been attempting to make about rhythm, or chords or whatever, was entirely lost as the words “I met a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis…” reverberated through the room. I totally should have used the Beach Boys. I do not know what I was thinking…still feel embarrassed.

  3. That is hysterical, Karen. I’m so glad you shared that story.

    I used Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” song when I was teaching a freshman English class at BYU. I started to sing it for them, and then quickly realized I wasn’t even going to get to the part about the oxford comma before running into an unmentionable word. The students who knew the song giggled. I think it went over the heads of most of them and they just thought I was this weird girl singing half a line of a song for them.

  4. I didn’t commit this one, but I sure felt for the RS presidency as I sat in the enrichment meeting where it happened. They asked a sister to teach a class on making your own herbal preparations. All was going well until she pulled out a bottle of vodka and poured it into the jar with the herbs she was using. She even told us that she couldn’t find vodka at the grocery store and had had to go to a liquor store to get it. Then she held up her concoction and asked who wanted to try some. Only one woman was brave enough. I know that herbal tinctures are typically prepared in alcohol, but it still just didn’t seem to fit in the RS setting. And she was giving out more than just a few drops.

  5. Teaching released time seminary, I was using a clip from the movie “Dirty Dancing” – for the life of me I can’t remember which part I thought was applicable to my lesson. I practiced over and over at home because it was very brief and between 2 inappropriate dance scenes. Did it happen like it did at home? Of course not – it was probably the most vulgar dance scene that played before their eyes. I was so stupid to have even thought of trying it.

  6. My wife taught early morning seminary about 35 years ago. She said a couple of times the students asked her, after they had read some racier parts of the Hebrew Bible, “Do my parents know what is in there?”

  7. Up at girls camp one year a sweet young woman stood and said “I would like to bear my testicle”! Needless to say, that meeting ended in roars of laughter (including the girl that misspoke) and we ended singing campfire songs and did the testimony meeting another night. It was enlightening to me as to how many girls (mostly beehives) asked why it was funny.

  8. I have never told this story before, but here goes: I taught at the MTC for a while. In one of the lesson plans back then we were supposed to go through relaxation techniques, including this kind of arm-swinging circling thing.

    My dress had buttons down the front.

    They were not very well sewn on.

    Several undid themselves as I demonstrated said techniques.

    I’m dying now just thinking of it. Funny and also really humiliating.

  9. Oh my goodness, Emily! When I was in the MTC, our poor teacher once did the thing where she stepped on her skirt when she stooped down to pick up some chalk she had dropped. When she stood back up, she pulled her skirt off and mooned all of us!. Thankfully we were all so stunned that no one really said anything. She just grabbed her skirt, pulled it up, and kept on teaching.

    When we did Old Testament in Seminary I remember one time my teacher decided to demonstrate something about sacrifices with ketchup and putting it on various parts of one of my class member’s body. It was odd.

  10. I was teaching a gospel principles class on the mission, and we had a number of African investigators (who were very dark, which I mention only because it’s relevant to the story) who spoke English, so I gave the lesson in English rather than Spanish (this was in the Canary Islands). The lesson was on the Word of Wisdom, and for one reason or another, I mentioned that I really liked chocolate. One of the African men asked me what kind, and, innocent that I was, I answered honestly: as dark as it comes.

    Hooting and hollering ensued.

  11. I co teach Sunday School for the 14-18 age group. My co teacher was teaching a lesson recently about how women and the priesthood work together. Her questions were being met with mostly tired sighs. I could tell she was getting a bit flustered as she began explaining the importance of unity. For emphasis, she used her toddler son’s toys as an object lesson, the kind of toy with parts that snap together. As she demonstrated snapping them together and apart, she said, “This is how men and women work together.” Her husband and I were in the back of the room red faced and desperately trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

  12. As George Takei would say, “Ohhh, myyyyy.” What stories you have shared. Thanks for reading / commenting.

    We’re striving to be saints (Mosiah 3:19), but evidently every once and a while all-too-human references to the natural (wo)man emerge: sex, drugs and rock n’ roll–well, and wardrobe malfunctions!

    I guess we not only go to church to work out ways to forgive and repent for our actions in the day-to-day world; we also have the opportunity to ask for forgiveness, to repent–and to support others doing the same–for things we do during the meetings themselves!

  13. once on a young women weekend away at a cabin myself and the other leaders were making breakfast while the girls put in one of the many “retro” movies they requested my husband bring up the night before. as goonies started i froze, completely forgetting their foul language and the very near the beginning scene where a certain male anatomy part breaks off of a statue… i held my breath unsure of what to do, but the moment quickly passed and the girls seemed unphased. luckily i didn’t get any angry parent phone calls!

  14. Holy Cow. That made me laugh until I cried!

    My faux paux was when we had a RS activity watching that Anne Hathaway movie about Jane Austen (the name escapes me.) I was the one who picked the movie. I knew there was an implied sex scene at the beginning of the film but it was between an older married couple and nothing was shown and it wasn’t hot and heavy, but I was still a little nervous about it since our very sweet, very innocent RS president was with us. We got through it alright. What I’d completely forgotten about was the naked backside shots of the men running off to swim in the creek later on.. Whooops. The other counselor about died laughing at my discomfiture–especially since I’d been all worried about an “elderly love scene” instead.

  15. graciously I haven’t had a similar moment yet, but I don’t doubt I have a few in my future. Thanks for sharing, I appreciate teachers who feel real and not so perfectly configured and unapproachable. Your class sounds like a fabulous one.

Comments are closed.