Teaching Mormonism in Germany as a Non-Mormon

By August 2, 2012

[This is the first guest post from Saskia Tielens.]

Last spring, I taught a course called The Book of Mormon and American Culture at the TU Dortmund University in Dortmund, Germany.  It was an elective class and meant for undergraduate students.

The first thing my students asked me last spring was whether I was Mormon.

Actually, that’s not true. The first thing they asked me was something incomprehensible in German. Since I prefer my German the American way (slowly and loudly), I stared at them for a moment before letting them know that however much I appreciated being addressed as Frau Tielens (it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?), Ms. Tielens would do for now.

So I guess the second thing they asked me was whether I was Mormon. No, I said, I’m not. (The unspoken question is then always why I spend my time thinking about Mormonism, then, if I’m not one of ‘them’.) I gave the same answer I always do, that I am fascinated by the interplay of religion and culture, and Mormonism is a particularly interesting example. Plus, Mormons are really, really nice, an added bonus if you want to spend time among them for research purposes.

It turned out most of my students had a Catholic background, though not all were practicing believers. (Western Germany is still heavily Catholic.) The majors ran the gamut from comparative literature to social work. The class was also mainly female, not a surprise in the humanities!

I had designed the course around several themes. We started off with Mormon history before tackling such issues as popular culture, politics, gender and race. I made sure they were familiar with the basic tenets of Mormonism before we got into Mormon culture, and I encouraged them to ask anything they wanted, sometimes resorting to Mormonism for Dummies to come up with the answer. (That book should not be underrated.)

It turns out the Plan of Salvation was surprisingly hard to grasp for them. I think this is indicative of a larger issue we had, namely that at the beginning, most of them were encultured enough in their own religious views that it was difficult for them to view Mormon culture and religion through anything else than a biased lens. For example, after one of the early classes, I got a response card from one of the students categorizing the Book of Mormon as blasphemous. She is an orthodox Catholic (with a theology major, no less) and the idea of an open canon was foreign enough to cross into blasphemous territory. This is an attitude I encountered several times from most of them throughout the course, and it was one of my goals in the beginning to help them think outside their own box and perhaps cross over to someone else’s.

It wasn’t entirely successful, I think. One class isn’t going to broaden your horizons that much. But towards the end, when I had invited the local missionaries to come talk to the class, you could tell the students were willing and able to meet the sisters and elders on their own terms, crossing over into some mystical scholarly middle ground. Even so, there were some…interesting moments. The one that stands out to me the most was when one of the elders very earnestly told the class that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 because LDS missionaries had been admitted into East Germany to proselytize. This caused some raised eyebrows among those of the class who were actually from East Germany and live with that history every day, but it turned out to be a prime example of the grounding in alternative history that Mormon culture sometimes exhibits. And it made for some pretty interesting response cards, too.

Teaching Mormonism as a non-Mormon in Germany has its own unique challenges. How much of what seemed peculiar to the students is indicative of Mormonism, and how much is simply American and thus foreign to these kids? This came out really well in the class discussion we had after viewing a couple of Mitt Romney’s campaign videos, and although I had not been looking forward to that class, it turned out to be one of the most engaging hours I spent with them.

Teaching Mormonism as a non-Mormon also means walking a fine line between holy envy and criticism. There is a lot in Mormon culture I admire, and I wanted to convey that admiration to the class, partly also to combat the stereotypes that abound. But as a scholar, I need to be critical of what I see and read and experience, and help students become critical thinkers too. In that sense, teaching this class helped me work out exactly where that line lies in my work. But in the end, the world of Mormonism and Mormon studies is wonderful and peculiar and intriguing, and I hope I managed to give them a glimpse of that.

Article filed under International Mormonism Methodology, Academic Issues


  1. Great post, Saskia. Thanks! I wonder… did your students trust you more or less because you aren’t a member? As a non-Mormon who has taught and lectured on Mormonism, I have found that the majority of my students (who were also not LDS) trusted me to be unbiased because I wasn’t a Mormon. At the same time, though, I was… surprised? maybe a little concerned?… that no one ever expressed any skepticism that I as a non-member should be their authority on the religion. Not that I think I shouldn’t be taken seriously, but it raised some interesting questions for me about whether the students would have so wholly trusted a non-member to speak authoritatively about a more well-known religious tradition — especially their own.

    Comment by Cristine — August 2, 2012 @ 10:14 am

  2. Excellent post!

    I think that many of the situations that you encountered are met by LDS who teach about other religions (I remember one girl in a class at BYU ask a professor “why do you like Methodists so much?” during a lecture on 19th Century Methodism.

    I think the most difficult task that LDS teachers of Mormonism face, whether at a University or Sunday School, is the balance between adoration (seeing Mormonism without any flaws and everything is directed by God) and criticism (trying to teach in a way that allows the humanity of Mormonism to shine through). I’d be very interested to see your syllabus, to learn how to teach Mormonism as a religion/culture, rather than as a path to salvation. I think LDS need at least a basic understanding of Mormonism from an academic perspective.

    Comment by J Stuart — August 2, 2012 @ 10:33 am

  3. Saskia, you refer to “the stereotypes which abound” – I’m curious if you could let us know what stereotypes you think your students might have come in with.

    Comment by Craig M. — August 2, 2012 @ 10:44 am

  4. Really interesting. Can you tell us a bit more about “response cards” and how they are used in the class?

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 2, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  5. Lovely post! I’m also curious about the response cards. What are their format? How often do students submit them, etc.?

    Comment by Tod R. — August 2, 2012 @ 11:35 am

  6. Very interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.I’m also interested in the preexisting stereotypes among the students.

    Comment by Ben S — August 2, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

  7. Thanks for your comments! Let me see what I can do to answer your questions.

    First of all, they trusted me because I wasn’t Mormon. My professor actually told me that had I been Mormon, I wouldn’t have been allowed to teach the class. I have more than a sneaking suspicion that had I been Catholic and teaching a class on Catholicism, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Somehow a lot of Europeans are still tapped into the “Mormons are scary” thing (maybe because most have never met a Mormon). The fact that I wasn’t Mormon yet was speaking authoratively is what led me to invite some missionaries to answer questions. I really felt uncomfortable being the sole authority on a tradition not my own. On the other hand, the department is a literature-based department, so each class included primary as well as secondary sources. That at least means Mormon voices were heard every class, even if I was the one helping the students interpret them.

    Then, the response cards. Students here hand in big index cards (about half a sheet of paper, give or take) in most classes, listing their response to the readings and questions they might have. They’re a useful teaching tool in that it forces them to already have engaged with the readings and you can gauge their process in reaching class objectives through what they write as well. (Keep in mind that you kind of have to coax European students to talk–they’re definitely not as used to speaking up as American students. Asking them about their response cards can jumpstart that process.)

    Then, tthe stereotypes. Most of them are pretty typical:Mormons are secretive, cultish, want to convert you. Mormon women are oppressed. Mormons are, if not a bit brainwashed, taught not to think for themselves. And because so many Mormons are American, you tend to get those stereotypes as well: Mormons are shallow and frightenly/creepily optimistic and care about money too much.

    Many of these stereotypes weren’t fleshed out in the students’ minds, but those were definitely some of their associations.

    And lastly, on teaching Mormonism as a culture rather than a path to salvation: I definitely think it helped that I used primary and secondary sources. So we read Joseph Smith’s account of his First Vision, but also looked at art. I had them work through the Book of Mormon seminary manual and read straight-up historical accounts of the pioneer experience, but we also read Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites and short stories having to do with pioneer heritage in contemporary Mormon culture. You get the picture.

    I hope this answers some of your questions! Thanks again for the warm welcome.

    Comment by Saskia — August 2, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  8. Saskia —

    Interesting! I sometimes do a similar exercise with my students, and flip through them before the start of class. It helps me get a sense of what questions they have and where the discussion might go.

    I’ve never taught a class on Mormonism, but I do share that what I study. Once they find out what it is and that I’m not Mormon, the questions about Mormon culture begin. Do they really wear magic underwear? What goes in the temple? Why do Mormons all have such white teeth? They see me as an informant to a world they normally wouldn’t have access to.

    Comment by Amanda HK — August 2, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

  9. Fascinating, Saskia. Thanks for sharing this with us. It sounds to me like your class was a huge success, even if “one class isn?t going to broaden your horizons that much.”

    J. Stuart:

    ?why do you like Methodists so much??

    If I had a nickel for every time a BYU student asked me that question … well, I’d have about 50 cents.

    Comment by Christopher — August 2, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

  10. Chris, Tell them about our awesome potlucks!

    Comment by Amanda HK — August 2, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

  11. Thanks for this. It makes a wonderful addendum to the Teaching Mormon Studies courses panel at Sunstone.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — August 2, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

  12. Saskia,

    Are you likely to repeat teaching this course? What is your objective/criteria in using Mormonism as a critical thinking subject? I mean how did you come to select/choose a culture/religion to broaden one’s horizon?

    Comment by Bala R Subramanian — August 3, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  13. Very interesting post!

    I was a missionary in Germany in the mid-90’s. I would have loved to have met someone like you who “paved the way” so to speak.

    It’s interesting that you note all of the stereotypes that are still prevelant in Germany nearly 20 years since I’ve been there.

    I would be a millionaire if I got a dime for every time I heard someone say “Ach! Die Mormonen!!!” and then turn and walk away.

    I have two questions:

    1. What led you to become interested enough in Mormonism (of all religions) to teach it?

    2. What do you think the best way is to tear down the stereotypes people have of Mormons in Germany and Europe in general?

    Comment by graceforegrace — August 3, 2012 @ 8:51 am

  14. Grest post, Saskia, thanks!

    Comment by Jared T — August 3, 2012 @ 9:45 am

  15. Great article.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all face each other with an attitude of appreciation for what their individual qualities bring to the world, rather than criticizing what we perceive as being misguided or in error.

    As I Mormon, I cling to my beliefs tenaciously, but I have learned to appreciate so much the stalwart qualities of other religions which have helped to mold and shape my nation as well as the world. It’s refreshing to know that others are willing to admit the same about us.

    Comment by Elmer Jorgensen — August 3, 2012 @ 10:01 am

  16. This may be a deeper level of insight for you to consider. I was 24 when I met LDS missionaries in outer islands of French Polynesia crewing on a small sailboat from Canada in 1970. I grew up Lutheran, went thru 2 yrs Saturday Cathechism classes before I could take Communion at age 14. My barrier was new scripture in form of Book of Mormon. Missionaries showed me it fit as the “Stick of Joseph” that would one day be in the same hand with the “Stick of Judah” (Holy Bible) as predicted in Ezekiel 37. Later as a Gospel Doctrine Sunday School tecaher (adult classes) I always made it clear to my students they need to read and study the Bible and Book of Mormon not separately from each other because of it being the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. It gave me heavy heart every time I watched LDS leaders at conferences encouraging Book of Mormon study and forgetting to include Bible as I had been doing. In a recent read of my Book of Mormon it suddenly hit me hard. It includes some key chapters from Book of Isaiah that Lehi and sons brought from Jerusalem. In the days of Ezekiel the writings of Isaiah comprised the bulk of what he knew as the “Book of Judah”, and it is right there already IN the Book of Mormon portion that we have available. Both books truly are “together in your hand” in that one book. By the way, on the more secular level, I currently serve as my stake’s finance clerk training ones in 9 wards or units. The computer system we have is second to none in the world for local volunteers managing over 20,000 units instantly. LDS Church began computerizing info services in the earliest days of computers in early 1980s. Most churches have only a small clue – maybe 10-15% at most -how to administer and manage a worldwide system for taking the SAME message to maximum potential listeners.

    Comment by Robert Brown — August 3, 2012 @ 10:06 am

  17. Interesting, Saskia. So, what did you tell them about the stereotypes you mentioned. Frankly, most of them sounded pretty accurate to me, a 50+ Mormon lifer.

    One correction, though, about German religious persuasions. The Catholic and Lutheran (Evangelisch) churches each claim about 30 percent of the population. In Bavaria, people are predominantly Catholic. In the north, where I served my mission, they are predominantly Lutheran. In the southwest up to the Ruhrgebiet, where Dortmund is, it is mixed but more Catholic than Lutheran. The reverse is true for the area surrounding Frankfurt. In the former DDR, the majority is not religious, due to the communist influence after WWII. And, frankly, in the West, the predominant religious persuasion is actually agnosticism, regardless of what they are “on paper.”

    Comment by T Arkay — August 3, 2012 @ 10:22 am

  18. Thanks for the interesting article. If you teach this class again, I would suggest also bringing in a local German member of the church. This might help some in dispelling the idea of “Mormonism” as strictly an American church.
    Also, did you mention to your students that one of the highest ranking church officials is German (Dieter Uchtdorf)? If so, how did they react to that?
    And finally, let me recommend a book by F. Enzio Busche called “Yearning For the Living God” that tells the story of his long investigation and later embracing of the LDS faith as a typical German in Germany. In the process he had to deal with many of the pre-conceptions that, as you have indicated, are still common today.

    Comment by Jeff Davis — August 3, 2012 @ 10:48 am

  19. T Arkay, I was writing of the west. Agnostic or not, you definitely feel the Catholic vibe, in a way you do not here in the Netherlands, even in the areas that were historically Catholic. On paper leaves a big cultural mark in my opinion. But I’ll grant you the more accurate typing of the entire German country! Thanks for that.

    Graceforgrace, I’m writing my dissertation on Mormon culture and thus teaching it because I’m fascinated by the interplay of religion and culture. And because I grew up in California and my sisters had Mormon friends, and I read a lot of Mormon blogs, I was already pretty well acquainted with the culture, at least enough to write a proposal that got accepted.

    On stereotypes: I think the best way to tear them down is simply by being there. People talk differently of groups they know, and they usually talk kinder of them. At least in my experience.

    Bala, I think a lot of what goes on on an undergrad level in a humanities department is teaching students how to think critically by introducing them to concepts unfamiliar to them. Ditto for ways of thinking. That’s why the course broadened their horizons–most courses do at that level (and beyond). I will probably repeat the course in 2013-2014; in the next year, I’m teaching the American religion landscape in literature and a course on gendering the internet/mommyblogs, both which will feature Mormons. So my students haven’t heard the last about the LDS Church!

    Comment by Saskia — August 3, 2012 @ 11:02 am

  20. It might interest your students to know that Mormons aren’t just in America any more. In fact, 57%–more than half–of all LDS members live in, meaning are natives of, countries outside the United States. Students might also be interested in seeing the pages of a conference issue of the Ensign (in May or November)which show pictures and names of all the General Authorities of the Church. There is such a diversity of culture, and interesting names to pronounce!

    Comment by Susan C. — August 3, 2012 @ 11:20 am

  21. Saskia, great post. I’m curious to know more about how you used the BoM text itself. You mention the Seminary manual and Tennis Shoes; did you have the students read selections of the text? Did you use the 1981 edition, or another? How did the students react to the language? Did they find it confusing?

    Comment by David G. — August 3, 2012 @ 11:27 am

  22. The following story may enhance your next class on Mormonism in Germany. I’ve talked personally with the author and with others who knew Sister Specht and who validate the truthfulness of the account.


    Comment by Robert Starling — August 3, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  23. I think it is great that you are teaching about Mormons. One thing you might want to take note of though is that it isn’t the Mormon religion, the official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is important that you use the title that the church calls itself, otherwise you are mis-representing their true identity and actually promoting stereotypes. The term “Mormon” was actually imposed on the LDS Church during the 1800’s by anti-mormon mobs in Missouri. The nick name has been difficult to separate from the church ever since. Please use the proper name of the church at least once in your official articles, and in your class lectures. I appreciate your excellent attention to detail and your regard for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!

    Comment by Jennifer H — August 3, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  24. Kudos to you for being so open-minded and willing to reach beyond your comfort zone. We need people like you in the US!!!! I would have enjoyed taking your class and gain a better understanding of how the people think and feel. The best of luck to you!!!!

    Comment by Linda Winans — August 3, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

  25. Christine if I may remark on your comment.

    As a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have witnessed exactly what you’re talking about. I can share my thoughts and beliefs all day long about my beliefs and experience as a Mormon but people who are not Mormon don’t lend as much weight to what I am saying as they give to someone who is not Mormon but is talking about my faith.

    I find this frustrating, but also to be part of the human condition. For example–your best friend might be a Ford dealer. You can take him with you while you’re shopping at the Toyota dealer and he can tell you all he knows about Toyotas. You might place more faith in what he says because you know him and thus trust his opinion and experience. But does that mean you shouldn’t listen to the Toyota dealer? Should you discount his experience with his own Toyotas because your friend, whom you trust, knows something about them, being in car business, even though your friend is a Ford expert?

    The way I have resolved this dilemma in my own life is to actually attend the worship services of various faiths besides my own. Thus far I have attended services in the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Episcopalian Church, and the Anglican Church (two different countries, same church). I have also visited some non-denominational churches. I find that I do not need to have a belief in what those churches are teaching to experience those services for myself in order to understand what they believe and why people attend and worship there.

    In doing this I’ve found that there are a lot of people (on both sides–Mormons and non-Mormons) who are very afraid to step outside of their own church home. It’s a shame, really. I have learned that I don’t have to agree with other religions to appreciate them. Conversely I have found that there is much that we of differing faiths do agree on and what’s more, there are things we can teach and learn from each other.

    Comment by Catherine — August 3, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

  26. in the next year, I?m teaching the American religion landscape in literature and a course on gendering the internet/mommyblogs, both which will feature Mormons.

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with Scott Hales or his blog, but he taught a course called American Religious Landscape earlier this year which featured a unit on Mormons. Here’s a blog post about it, if you’re interested, and I’m sure he’d love to compare notes: http://www.low-techworld.org/2012/01/teaching-dispensation-finding-teachable.html

    Comment by Katya — August 3, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

  27. Amanda (#10):

    Chris, Tell them about our awesome potlucks!

    To paraphrase Joseph Smith, “We Latter-day Saints are Methodists, only our potlucks have advanced further.”

    Comment by Christopher — August 3, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

  28. Back in the early 90s, I had a chance to teach a school class as a sister missionary in Hagen in the Ruhrgebiet. It was a very interesting experience. One of the major questions that came up was about polygamy, which you do not mention here. And I remember asking the students a question about some basic principle of the Bible — the Holy Ghost, or something like that — and seeing a class full of blank faces. I had to quickly recalibrate my idea of their religious knowledge, or their willingness to discuss religion.

    And, about Dortmund, I do have a special place in my heart for that city, since I spent about half a year working there, in Wickede and neighboring Unna. It’s not the most glamorous part of Germany, and it was a bit of a shock moving there from Köln, but the people were generally hospitable and kind.

    Comment by Amy T — August 3, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

  29. Hi this was an interesting article to read and I can understand where the teacher was coming from. I found myself defending Mormonism even before I joined the church from lecturers who were key members of other denominations. It was funny to me because at that time I was on an antiMormon crusade; due to neighbours I didn’t really get on with who were Mormons. I tarred them with the same brush as other heretics but getting to know the religion proper I realised I was wrong, after meeting some Elders, who were really good at their job, and after some time joined the church. Everything you say about being fascinated by the religion was me all over. Nice to see you having an open mind, keep up the good work.

    Comment by Guy — August 3, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

  30. I’d be interested to learn more about your scholarly work and you upcoming American religion landscape in literature class. As Katya pointed out, I just finished teaching a class like that at the university where I’m a Ph.D. student. I used Mormon literature and had a very positive response. You can read some of my thoughts on the class here: http://www.motleyvision.org/2012/scott-hales-on-teaching-mormon-literature/

    Comment by Scott Hales — August 3, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  31. The so called “Mormon Culture” comes from the Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints living Gospel Principles. The problems and stereotypes you ran into would have been more easily explained if you taught with authority (D&C 11:21). However, you aren’t teaching the Word of God, you’re teaching about people who do live the Word of God. An experience you admit not having.

    Comment by Jimmy — August 3, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

  32. Jimmy – I actually doubt that Saskia had any members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in her class, because there’s fewer than a thousand of them and most live in the Midwestern United States. You may be thinking of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which case I’d encourage you to become familiar with the name of the religion you’re getting all snotty about defending before you chastise others for their unfamiliarity with it.

    Comment by matt b — August 3, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

  33. Wonderful! I highly recommend Parley P. Pratt’s autobiography. When I read it, I felt it ought to be included in every university level class on American Literature, and it certainly would not be out of place in a class such as yours. In some places its eloquence is astounding. Best wishes!

    Comment by Linda Hyde — August 3, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

  34. Robert Starling, the author of the Gertrud Specht legend and the people who have claimed to verify it have some explaining to do:

    Comment by T. Delfus — August 4, 2012 @ 12:32 am

  35. Some of these comments I’d like to address, others, not so much.

    Susan C., we talked extensively about internationalism, and the students (and I) are very aware that the LDS Church is international in its numbers. However, since I teach in an American Studies department, my focus (and the title of the course) was heavily American.

    David G., I had them spend an hour or so working through the latest edition of the BoM with the seminary manual, in a kind of bible-study style. I felt it would be helpful for them to engage with the text is a religious, not just literary manner. They found it hard going, as did I when I first read it, I have to admit. And yes, they did struggle with language-their English was pretty good, but they are not native speakers by any account.

    Katya and others, I think I may have read that post and now I may have realized where the idea for the course comes from. (it seemed kind of uncanny to me the way it just came to me. Now I know why, and to keep better track of what I read!) Scott, I’d love to talk with you sometime!

    Jeff Davis, that is def. on my list for next time. I did mention Uchtdorf, also because he’s one of my favorites. I have that book you mentioned on my wish list and I hope to discuss it and similar works in my dissertation. Thanks for the suggestions!

    Thanks everyone for the kind and engaging comments!

    Comment by Saskia — August 4, 2012 @ 3:03 am

  36. Okay, I read the Motley Vision post again, and there are a lot of similarities but my course will have a different objective, I think. That’s good on a plagiarism front…just wanted to add that.

    Comment by Saskia — August 4, 2012 @ 3:45 am

  37. Apparently I just want to keep commenting this morning. Low tech world, I mean. Sorry.

    Comment by Saskia — August 4, 2012 @ 3:47 am

  38. Further on the Gertrude Specht story here.

    Comment by Ben S — August 4, 2012 @ 9:21 am

  39. Your experience was interesting. When I was getting my undergraduate degree I went to Antioch in Yellow Springs, ohio, and in a class there we studied gangs and several religious groups including Amish, Gypsies, Mormons, the Oneida Group and the Father Devine Group. After reading some information, not too lengthy, we had to decide which group we would join if we had to do that. Since I am Mormon, I decided not to choose my own religion but from the others. I chose the Amish as they were modest and were hard workers, or that was my understanding, although it probably would be too restricting for me. And described why I would do that. Several women chose the Gypsies though it was more on the romance I think, rather than the actual life of a woman in the gypsy world. We did talk about Mormons in relation to my choice and a couple had misconceptions and were sort of attacking but there were others there who had lived in an LDS environment and spoke up in defense even though they were non-Mormon. They had people welcome them and help them unpack and to pack up when they moved. They were invited to parties both at church and in homes but were not pushed toward the church other than being invited to activities. It was great to hear non-members mention the church and the help it gives others. I also provided them with information about how much the LDS contribute to other countries and their tragedies and losses in the form of food and clothing, etc. The catholics and LDS have teamed up and the catholics have shipped materials that the LDS church through BYU have supplied of a food that is good for babies and the starving as it can be easily digested. They were under the impression that we only took care of our own. Even our primary is now working on collecting food in our ward to give to the missionaries with Books of Mormon to give to people who need food and who are investigators. The women are collecting things like soap, shampoo, lotion and combs, etc. for the women’s shelter. The church itself is not supplying these things, but individuals are donating these items to be of service to others who need help. In the election this year, I intend to vote for Obama and not Romney as Obama better represents my feelings for the poor and the middle class. It seems to me that Romney is more about the rich getting richer thinking it will trickle down and it hasn’t because of corruption and greed at the top of organizations. So we are not all rubber stamps and we have democrats and republicans in the church.

    Comment by Carolyn — August 4, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

  40. Those elders should never have said anything like what they said about the Berlin Wall. What he said might be is unlearned opinion. Remember, they are young, doing their mission before going to college. They don’t know everything. You can’t judge the Church by their mistakes.

    Comment by Ross — August 4, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

  41. Saskia, what a wonderfully interesting experience you’ve shared. One off the authors of Mormonism for Dummies lives about two blocks from me and I regularly take his kids to school. He’ll be happy to hear you find the book useful.

    Comment by Peter — August 5, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

  42. […] Teaching Mormonism in Germany as a Non-Mormon (Read Story) […]

    Pingback by The Cultural Hall Podcast – Articles of News/Week of August 6th — August 6, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

  43. Thank you Ms. Tielens, for being fair and open minded as well as knowledgable in your teachings. I had no idea of the part our missionaries played in bringing sown the Berlin Wall back in 1989 but I am Mormon (a convert since 1999) and very happy. I studied various religions for 19 years off and on trying to find what felt right. In my heart and very soul, I know I am in the correct place now. I invite you to open your heart as wide as you have opened your brain and perhaps the next time someone asks if you are a Mormon, you will say yes. Respectfully yours. Meilin

    Comment by Meilin C. Lani — August 6, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

  44. [NOTE TO COMMENTERS]: This is an academic blog devoted to the study of Mormon history. It is not a venue to proselytize. Please respect that policy.

    Comment by Admin — August 7, 2012 @ 6:45 am

  45. I appreciate the article and am glad that I read the blog. I think that sometimes there are Mormons (I am one) that are biased or just don’t care to learn more of other faiths or non members of the LDS church. I’m glad that the instructor had enough sense and abilities and talents and dreams to want to teach others about the Mormon Culture and what we are about. President Gordon B. Hinkley, former prophet of the LDS Church always said to be kind to others and to be faithful. We can’t be kind if we are judging and we can’t be faithful to our faith if we are judging others on what they believe and do or not do.
    Thanks for writing this. I for one have had a testimony builder that Heavenly Father, aka, God loves all of his children and that he’ll teach them what they need to know on their personal time and location and that HE is in charge of it all.
    PHX, AZ

    Comment by Karen Contreras — August 8, 2012 @ 8:54 am

  46. […] I read a very interesting article on a teacher who is non-Mormon that taught a college course in Germany on Mormonism. […]

    Pingback by Mormons Create their own Stereotypes « Grace for Grace — August 9, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

  47. Saskia, thank you for an entertaining and at the same time enlightening message and lesson you have taught us in a very eloquent and forthright manner. Many times as LDS people we become blinded by our own percieved light and place blinders willing upon ourselves due to the ignorance we have of other Faiths besides our own. I have seen this many times as I have taught Institute (adult Theology classes) and Cospel Doctrine and Principles classes (primarily for adults) only difference is that I have an Aboriginal (Metis) father and a Jewish (Hebrew background mother), ues both are and were members. This gave me the opportunity to teach some of these classes useing Hebrew and Jewish teaching and to also use Aboriginal cultre as a parallel to the gospel principles showing that they weren’t as new as we might think, Joseph didn’t just think these things up as they have been around for yrs as further examionation of many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ebla and Elephantine, documents have shown to us in these later yrs. It definetly allows us to see out side of the box we often place ourselves into.

    However I wanted to further a point that you mentioned about the missionaries saying the church and the missionaries were partly responsible for the wall comeing down. In many cases, the wall of ignorance foremost. While I was an undergrad at the University of Victoria my Stake President was Harold Biddulph who was the Dean of the Political Sciences Dept. He and his wife became the first Mission Presidency in the Ukraine. President Biddulph became very good friends with President Gorbachov. Friends to the point that Parastroika and Glastnous(sic) were things that they actually discussed before it came into action. President Biddulph told me of an experience he had had when speaking, I believe it was in Russia, with the Secret police present and to make sure he said word for word what he had written down to present when the lights went out due to an electrical storm. Pres. Biddulph made some remark a the time that when people say the light they would know of the truth of his words. At the very moment the lights went back on. It was a very moveing moment for many in attendence, includeing the Secret Police. This was just after the church had been given permission to have the first Temple built in East Germany. Shortly after that the wall came . So maybe those missionaries weren’t that far from the truth in what they said or they may have been privy to some information that many others didn’t know as I have been.

    Ot was as hard then to get a Temple in East Germany as it was to get one in Rome vertually on the doorstep of the Vatican, and there are many very intriqueing stories about how that came about as well, haveing Prop 8 in California haveing an influence on the decision makers. As one person stated already you’re teaching a class on people who are (trying) to live the gospel as opposed to a class on gospel living people in all ways.
    Again a very enjoyable article, nicely presnted.

    Comment by Mark — August 14, 2012 @ 12:01 am

  48. I did forget to mention that the Biddulphs did have a book out about their experiences behind the “curtin”, unfortunately as it was one I was never able to obtain I don’t recall the name of it

    Comment by Mark — August 14, 2012 @ 12:33 am

  49. As a Latter Day Saint I was surprised and confused at the missionary claiming credit for the Berlin Wall coming down. I strongly disagree though I have no inside knowledge or expertise on the subject. When a certain other religion brags about their leader helping bring down communism I think “so what”. The communist realized that we were not a threat and that we would give to Ceasar that which was Ceasar’s (we had a Temple in East Gemany!).

    Comment by Marc — August 14, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  50. I remember being an international relations major in the 1980’s and thinking the Berlin wall was so permanent in the early part of the decade and being so shocked when it came down.

    I don’t credit the Church for bringing it down when I speak to others, but I do count it as a sign of the times that its fall allowed the missionaries behind the former Iron Curtain to bring the gospel to “all the world” as the Savior charged his original apostles as we have been charged to do.

    Now the internet is making that all possible!

    Thanks, Saskia, for a peek into your studies/teaching and the German culture.

    Comment by Allison — August 15, 2012 @ 2:23 pm


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