Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: The Family Proclamation; Part 2

Last Sunday, we talked about the rest of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World". This is going to be long, since we went through the all but the first three paragraphs (covered last week) sentence-by-sentence and talked about what each sentence means.

I began the lesson by reminding them that I had skipped the sentence last week dealing with gender, identity and purpose, and I told them that I had thought a lot about how to address that sentence openly and honestly with them. I told them that my own view on those topics is outside the norm for most members - that it is not orthodox - and that I didn't feel comfortable sharing that view with them as their Sunday School teacher. I told them that I would be wiling to discuss it with any of them on an individual basis, as long as their parent(s) approved, but that we simply would skip it in the setting of a Sunday School lesson.

"The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God's commandment to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force."

We talked about that first commandment - to multiply and replenish the earth. I mentioned that some people can't have kids and others never marry, so this isn't a universal commandment that must be followed, but rather a commandment for those who can multiply within marriage. For example, I told them explicitly that I would rather have someone die single than marry just to marry and end up being miserable and/or abused their entire lives. We also talked about the fact that the LDS Church has NO mandate relative to how many children any couple should have and that there are top leaders who don't have large families - and, in some cases, have no children or are not married.

We talked about how in the temple Adam and Eve report their partaking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden to the Lord - and how, in a very real way, Adam chose to suffer with his wife rather than remain in paradise with God.

"We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife."

We put it in direct, simple terms: No sex outside of marriage - and I pointed out that there is no prohibition in this wording on intimacy that is not procreative. I mentioned our previous lesson about the actual wording of the Law of Chastity in the temple and how the Church does not take any official stance on what can and cannot be done within marriage.

"We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed."

We put it in direct, simple terms, which started as, "Sex is good." I told them the sentence goes further than that by calling it divinely appointed. I told them that I hate it when I hear any member of the LDS church echo the old Catholic original sin concept and call sex bad, dirty, or in any other way that implies negative connotations.

"We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God's eternal plan."

I asked them what that means and what issues are addressed in it. One of the students said, "No abortion" - so we talked about the Church's official statement about abortion. We talked about how it emphasizes that life is sacred, but it also mentions explicit cases where abortion is not forbidden - like rape, incest, the health of the mother (and I mentioned that the wording includes emotional health, not just physical health). It also says, ultimately, that the decision is up to the parent(s) involved. We talked about how the Church no longer encourages teenage mothers to marry the father in all cases or have the grandparents raise the child - that the counsel is to give birth to the child and allow it to be adopted. We talked about why that is the current counsel - all of the issues related to teenage parenthood and marriage and the effects on the parents and the baby. I told them that we do not see abortion automatically as murder, like many other people do. I told them that the best description I have heard of the statement is that it is BOTH pro-life AND pro-choice - but that, ultimately, it is based on agency and individual accountability.

The next paragraph deals with caring for children and how God will hold people accountable for how they do that. There was a very good talk in Sacrament Meeting about that basic topic given by one of the students in the class, so I endorsed what was said in that talk and we moved on to the next paragraph.

"The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan."

I simply reiterated what I said last week about being aware of and sensitive to how we teach that within a group that includes many people who are not part of traditional families.

"Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity."

I told them I believe deeply in the "general ideal" being taught in this sentence, but that I am bothered by how badly it is misused by some people. We talked about what "entitled" means (possessing a right), so this sentence is focused on what would be ideal for children - to be raised by a couple who are faithful to each other. I asked them if they would support taking children away from single parents - or putting children into abusive situations simply because the parents were married and monogamous. They all agreed they wouldn't do that, so I emphasized again, like when we talk about interpreting scriptures, that we can't pull something out of context and use it in selective, damaging, uncharitable ways.

The rest of the paragraph deals with happiness in family life and parental responsibilities, and since we have talked about that paragraph in at least two former lessons, we simply emphasized that it is up to each couple to decide how to balance the things they have to do to care for their families. As an example, I mentioned that I know some Mormon couples where the husband stays home and takes care of the kids while the wife works - and that such an arrangement is not forbidden in the actual wording of the proclamation. I told them that they have to make those decisions on their own when they get married and that they shouldn't do anything just because most other people do it. They have to take responsibility for how they structure their marriage and family life.

We also talked about what it means to have a marriage and family "founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ" - that it does NOT say successful marriages and families have to be Mormon or Christian or anything else. As long as the teachings of Jesus are the foundation, even if Jesus is not known to the people, successful, "ideal" marriages exist - and Mormon or Christian marriages are worse than other marriages if they are not founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the others are.

"We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity (adultery, particularly, since the word "covenant" is used), who abuse spouse or offspring (in any way, not just physical or sexual), or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God."

I told them about the temple recommend question about obligations for children and how someone is not supposed to receive a temple recommend if they are not taking care of their children - like failing to pay child support, for example.

"Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

I emphasized that this is focused on "disintegration" - NOT general issues all marriages and families face and not occasional divorce or death. I told them how much I am bothered whenever I hear this sentence used to preach against divorce in a broad, general way - again, because it hurts good people doing their best to cope with divorces that are necessary and, in many cases, better than really bad marriages. I also told them about working for years in places where the out-of-wedlock birth rate is over 90% - and how "calamity" is a good description of what life is like for those communities and many of the children, especially, who are raised in them.

"We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society."

I told them that there are controversial things we could discuss relative to this sentence, but I stressed instead practical things like parental leave policy differences between Europe and America - how much longer the leave is for parents in Europe and how fathers can take paternity leave as part of that extended leave, if the mother returns to work before it ends. I told them that there are so may "simple things" like that we need to address that it would be a shame to spend all of our effort fighting people and ignoring the things that actually can improve our own marriages and family lives.

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