Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: "The Family: A Proclamation to the World"; Part 1

This month's topic is "Marriage and Family". The very first resource listed in the lesson outlines is "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" - and we are going through it sentence-by-sentence and discussing it in detail. We will be going over what the words themselves mean, the history of how we and other religions have viewed what it written and the implications in our broader society and culture.

We made it through the first three paragraphs today, so this is going to take two or three weeks.

"We . . . solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children."

We talked about the wording of "a man and a woman" - and how that is different than in the past, when polygamy was accepted; we talked about what "ordained" means (sanctioned or set apart in some way); we talked about other family structures (one-parent families, grandparents raising grandchildren, gay marriage, etc.) and how we need to treat people in marriages and families that aren't "a man and a woman" (with children).

All of them agreed with the student who said we need to respect and love people, regardless of their family situations.

I mentioned a friend of mine whom I respect greatly. She is a convert; her husband got into addictive activities that were highly destructive; they ended up getting divorced; she is pursuing an advanced degree while trying to raise her children on her own; etc. I told them how much she loves the Church and the Gospel and that the hardest thing about attending church meetings for her is the constant tsunami of messages she and her kids hear every week about the "ideal family" - that the message she gets constantly is that her family situation sucks - that her children get told (as part of the general Primary group) to go home and talk with their parents (plural) about what they heard that week - etc. I asked what we can do to help her and others in different situations not feel so alone and, sometimes, attacked at church - and we talked about various answers. I told them that I believe the most important, fundamental things we can do is be aware of other people as we talk about marriage and family and be willing to not beat them over the head with this type of belief once we become aware of how it can affect them to hear it so frequently and stridently.

It was an excellent discussion and lasted much longer than I thought it would.

"All human beings - male and female - are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny."

We talked about how our theology says each of them, the boys and the girls, is a child of God and can become like God and gods in their own right. We talked about the historic association with God being spoken of in exclusively male terms, and I asked them what this wording says about that idea. When one of the students began by saying, "He . . .", I immediately interrupted and pointed out that always talking about God and using "he" reinforces the idea that "God" is a male figure and completely ignores our teaching about having a Heavenly Mother who also is God in every meaningful sense.

"Gender is an essential characteristic of of individual premortal, moral, and eternal identity and purpose."

I laughed and told them that I get a kick out of this sentence, since "gender" has role connotations, while the more accurate word to fit the meaning I believe is intended is "sex" (as in, biological sex). I told them that most people wouldn't read it that way, however, if the sentence said, "Sex is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose" - so I believe the leadership chose to use "gender" instead. They all got a chuckle out of that.

I told them that the kind of discussion we had about the first paragraph is important for this sentence, as well - but that I wanted to be able to take enough time to talk about it extensively and answer any of their questions, so we were going to skip it for now and come back to it next week or the following week.

"In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life."

We talked about how each and every person who is born has chosen once to accept and follow God and, therefore, they will be blessed as a result. We talked about looking at other people, no matter how different they are, and seeing them as valued, loved brothers and sisters - seeing them as worthy of God's love and our own love.

"The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave."

We talked about what that means in practical terms. The description everyone liked the best was of great-grandparents who live together and watch their own children who live together, watching their own children who live together, who are raising their children still - NOT each couple living with and raising their children. I mentioned that I will be my children's father forever, but they will be their own children's parents simultaneously.

That was an eye-opening discussion for some of them.

"Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally."

I mentioned again, after all the lessons last month, that I love the temple ordinances as symbolic of our belief in being united with our ancestors and willingness to accept living eternally with all of the rest of God's children. We talked about the difference between predestination and fore-ordination, and I told them directly that I cannot worship a God who would created people and condemn them to a life of eternal torment and separation regardless of their choices.

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