Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Commandments - Measurable or Subjective; and, Changing Our Discourse about Modesty

While putting the finishing touches on my Sunday School lesson prep tonight, I realized that it has been a few weeks since I've posted a summary here. We had Stake Conference; my wife taught the following week; we had General Conference last week; I forgot to post the summary from the last time I taught the class. Here is a VERY abbreviated summary of that last lesson:

With the topic being "commandments", we talked about the difference between commandments that are fairly objective and easily measured and those that are more subjective and impossible to measure consistently or universally. Since the students had mentioned the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity in the first week's lesson, we focused on those commandments again - and added modesty as another discussion point.

First, I asked the students to list the things that are part of the Word of Wisdom. All of the first answers they gave were the things from which we abstain, with the things that are encouraged coming after the forbidden things. We talked about how easy it is to define and quantify the prohibitions in the Word of Wisdom - how they are easily enforced - and how that contributes to them being the focal point of most discussions about it. We talked about how impossible it would be (or how bad it would be) if local leaders had to try to enforce the more ambiguous aspects of meat, fruit, vegetable and grain consumption, for example.

We then talked about the Law of Chastity and how there are some things that clearly are forbidden for everyone, while there are other aspects that are more open to individual interpretation - and how local leaders often view and enforce the more subjective aspects differently, especially with respect to teenagers.

We spent most of our time talking about the principle of modesty and what it means in its fullest, purest sense - moderation, in all things. We talked about how we focus almost completely on how we dress when we talk about modesty- and how we focus inordinately on how women dress. Every student, male and female, understood that distinction and thought it was wrong without any need for convincing from me - and their conservative / liberal orientation didn't make any difference in that regard. We talked about how there is almost no way to "measure" modesty of dress universally and have a definition that everyone will accept and upon which they will agree. (As a simple example, I had the shortest and the tallest students stand and asked how long a modest skirt would be that both of them could wear. That caused some serious laughs, but we talked about how even anatomy-focused measurements [like covering the knee] are arbitrary standards that are culturally-based.) We talked about modesty in language - and in house size - and in car purchase - and in cost of clothing - and in any other way that deals with moderation as a principle.

I finished the lesson with a direct statement to all of them. I told them flat-out that we need to quit blaming women (of any age) for the thoughts of men (of any age). I told them that I believe in the principle of modesty, but that I do NOT believe in it as a way for one group to control the thoughts of another group. I told them that if a man lusts after a woman he is not justified in blaming the woman for it, no matter what she wears or how she acts. I told them the way we often talk in the Church seems to blame the women and/or put the responsibility on them to keep the men's thoughts in line - and that such statements are wrong, and the students need to help put a stop to it in their own spheres of influence.

Two of the young women in the group thanked me specifically after the class for that part of the lesson.

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