I Have a Question

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Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

My husband does not read very well and may have a learning disability. What can we do?

Jon B. Fish, high priests group instructor in the Orangevale Ward, Citrus Heights California Stake, and community outreach volunteer working with illiteracy and learning disabilities.

Learning disabilities have been defined as disorders of the central nervous system that involve perception, understanding, and communication. Learning disabilities may manifest themselves in a number of ways, including difficulty with attention, memory, calculation, reasoning, coordination, and reading and writing.

Inability to read or write well, however, does not necessarily signal a learning disability. Some adults who have trouble reading may never have learned to read well when they were young.

“In some areas of the world 75 percent are unable to read or write,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. “Illiteracy’s effects are tragic. Those who are its victims … cannot understand the word of God set forth in the immortal scripture. For them there is little light of ages past, and only diminished knowledge of the vast and intriguing world of which they are a part” (“Ambitious to Do Good,” Ensign, March 1992, 6).

Reading difficulties often may be overcome with remedial assistance available through a variety of resources designed to help adults overcome illiteracy or improve their reading skills. The Church’s Gospel Literacy Effort, which is overseen by priesthood leaders in conjunction with Relief Society leaders, is a valuable resource. Through this effort, members’ literacy needs are assessed and individuals in wards or branches are identified who can address those needs. By utilizing the scriptures as reading material, the program teaches adults to read and write and helps them improve their gospel knowledge and better participate in all aspects of gospel living.

Help is also available through programs offered by public, private, and nonprofit groups.

Many people suffer from learning disabilities. In an average ward in the United States and Canada, for example, 10 people have a learning disability while another 6 suffer from some sort of communication disorder (see Carmen B. Pingree, “Six Myths about the Handicapped,” Ensign, June 1988, 20).

A learning disability will probably manifest itself in the course of a literacy or reading and writing program. Those who offer literacy programs often know where adults can be tested or receive help for learning disabilities.

Educational institutions in many areas of the world also offer periodic help and testing, and in the United States, state departments of vocational rehabilitation offer related services.

The scriptures make clear the importance of reading and studying. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Savior instructs the Saints to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). Inasmuch as the Lord encourages the Saints to study and seek learning, we must not let the challenges of illiteracy and disability hinder us. Many avenues of help are available to diagnose such challenges and provide the support and specific assistance needed. In addition, the Lord will help us if we are determined, diligent in taking advantage of opportunities to improve our literacy skills, and faithfully seek his help. In this way, we can overcome our fears and open the way for our weaknesses to become strengths (see D&C 38:30; Ether 12:27).

In teaching the gospel, how can we keep the Lord’s command in D&C 6:9 to “say nothing but repentance”?

George F. Hilton, director, Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center.

The Lord’s commandment to “say nothing but repentance” is His succinct summary of how individual progress (repentance) is the means whereby He will accomplish His work to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

Passages in the Doctrine and Covenants teach us that preaching only repentance means unstintingly preaching the whole gospel message. For example, the Lord commanded Oliver Cowdery to preach the gospel “at all times, and in all places” (D&C 24:12). Because the gospel is “the gospel of repentance” (D&C 13:1), the Lord’s instruction here is synonymous with His general directive to “say nothing but repentance.”

To Martin Harris the Lord specified what the “glad tidings” of the gospel are: “Thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost” (D&C 19:29, 31; compare D&C 84:26–27; D&C 33:10–12). This instruction clearly admonished him to avoid discussions extraneous to the basic gospel message (D&C 19:31–32; compare D&C 52:9, 36).

The Book of Mormon offers further illumination. Shortly after Alma organized the Church of Christ, he instructed priesthood holders to “preach nothing save it were repentance” (Mosiah 18:20). However, he then urged them to also practice and preach faith, baptism, unity, Sabbath observance, and other important principles (see Mosiah 18:21–29).

Repentance is a central component of the gospel because it focuses directly on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In 1835 the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “We believe in preaching the doctrine of repentance in all the world. … But … in order to be benefitted by the doctrine of repentance, we must believe in obtaining the remission of sins. And in order to obtain the remission of sins, we must believe in the doctrine of baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we believe in baptism for the remission of sins, we may expect a fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Ghost” (History of the Church, 2:256; see also D&C 84:27).

The Lord could have given us the essentials of His message in a brief, codified manual, but instead He has chosen to give us more than 2,000 pages of both direct and indirect instruction in the standard works of the Church. Why is the key message of repentance presented in such a repetitious manner? Because it is the principle of paramount importance. At the heart of the gospel, it is the key that bears repeating. Similarly, the resurrected Lord referred to baptism more than a dozen times during His appearance to the Nephites gathered near the temple in Bountiful (see 3 Ne. 11).

As missionaries use the missionary discussions to teach the gospel, they specifically teach the principle of repentance, along with 35 other principles; yet the theme of repentance permeates every discussion. Repentance through faith in the Lord’s Atonement is the vital, lifelong process—not an isolated event—of coming unto Christ and being sanctified in Him (see Moro. 10:32–33).

In summary, the scriptural phrase “say nothing but repentance” teaches us that the “gospel of repentance” is a gospel of hope and healing, of progress and perfection. It is also a gospel of joy, for we can draw closer to the Lord, improving daily as “with joy … [we] draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3).

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson; posed by models