By Julia Madeline Taylor
(For those of you who have read my comment on the BCC thread, I have added additional details to the story of the family in Brasil, after rereading the two letters from the missionary who originally shared it with me. I have asked him, and he prefers to remain anonymous at this time.)
So you have to teach the lesson on the Proclamation on the Family: You want to be sensitive to everyone who doesn’t have two parents, who are sealed in the temple, all siblings born under the covenant, all served or serving missions and finding perfect marriage matches at BYU. But, how do you do that when all the examples in the lesson manual are of those “perfect, ideal situations?”I know it’s pretty radical in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but why not use *Jesus* as your example?
|Hard to Walk in Christ’s Shoes, If You Never Try Them On|
I have been asked to teach lessons on family, at least six times since the Proclamation to the World on the Family was announced in a Relief Society broadcast. Whether in Primary, Sunday School or Relief Society, pretty much all of the materials provided have given examples that are “teaching to the ideal.” Certainly I know a few families who are kind of reflected in the lesson materials, but mostly the examples completely ignore that mortal families almost always have major challenges. Lucky for us, Jesus didn’t live in 1950s America, and so he left us quite a few conversation starters. It turns out that 33 AD isn’t all that different than 2013.
(I have always loved the asterisks that encourage a teacher to be sensitive to the needs of the class members, and adjust the lesson accordingly. I have always decided that as a teacher, I can be sensitive to myself, (and in Primary, as child who felt like I was the only ones with a screwed up family, I try to remember what I felt at their age) and teach the lesson I could have, and would have, latched onto, if only had been given. So, when I teach lessons that are supposed to be on the Proclamation, I instead talk about Christ, and what he said and actually did. You might be surprised how little of the Proclamation lines up.)
1) Christ forgave the adulteress, and then gave her the command to be a better person, to go and sin no more. He tells all of us the same thing, and wants us to act like He did.
He didn’t pretend there wasn’t a problem. He acknowledged something went wrong, which makes it okay to talk about if we need to, and then told her to do better. Most families could use a little more of this.
2) Christ had half siblings and a stepfather, and he worked alongside his stepfather daily, learning about life and how to be a carpenter, a desirable career with a heavy apprenticeship. He didn’t forget His other Father, Heavenly Father, and sometimes he got caught up in things related to His “real dad” even though He had a great stepfather.
Once, He kind of made a mess of things. He worried His mother because He stayed at the Temple way longer than His visitation was supposed to be. He got caught up in the stuff with His Other Father. He was perfect and did things that were confusing to Him and the adults in His life. So, its probably okay that it can be confusing to have parts of your family be separated. Its okay to want to be with all your family, even if it gets messy for a little while. Families can be worried, frustrated, scared and loving all at the same time.
3) Christ called his Apostles from men who came from all walks of life, many with seriously “messed up ” pasts. Instead of dwelling on all the bad stuff, He nurtured them, showing them that they were capable of becoming spiritual leaders, meant to share the gospel. He didn’t call any of the great rabbi’s or well known religious scholars. He chose humble men, who could relate to the people they taught and served.
None of them had book deals, a fabulous portfolio or collection of jewels, and despite there being 12 of them, no one suggested a Hunky 12 Apostles Calendar, to show off their ruggedly handsome good looks. Jesus looked not at the things important to men, but upon their hearts. When we spend too much time focusing on how attractive a person is, and forget to look at them through the eyes of the Savior, we can start valuing the wrong parts of our spouses, children and those we serve with at church. Christ did not teach a Pedigree Gospel, Prosperity Gospel, Beauty Gospel, or any other kind of snobbish Gospel. A good rule of thumb; if it would be *great gossip,* it definitely doesn’t matter to Christ, unless you are gossiping. Then, you should totally stop it! (Need a little backup, here is Elder Holland on this!)
4) Christ allowed women to learn the gospel alongside the men. Mary and Martha were both invited to sit at His side and learn all that He had to teach. There is no indication that either woman was married at the time, (all speculation about a married Jesus aside) and they were women old enough to have their own home. Were they widowed, “spinsters,” divorced, married but to men who had abandoned them? The scriptures don’t say. What they do not say is, “Mary wife of He-Man,” or “Martha mother of Tom Brady.” They were disciples in their own right, whatever their relationship with man. Heck, for all we know they were lesbians, and if they were it wouldn’t change that Christ would invite them to come unto Him and learn His gospel and be part of His church.
For His time, Christ was a radical feminist, way more than any Mormon can be a feminist in our day and age. Christ was also way more socially liberal than anyone in the Democratic Party when it comes to fiscal policy. He wants us to feed ALL the hungry, clothe all the NAKED, care for ALL the sick and afflicted. I never really understood what my seminary teacher meant, when he said that politicians take Christ’s name in vain more than any other group of people. With the advent of FOX news, I now understand. While swearing might be bad, lying about what Christ wants us to do, and using His name to advocate for things he *never* would have thought or wanted to have happen, is much worse. Christ was/is not a chauvinist who thought women, and their spirituality and education, are unimportant.
After covering those basics, with as much detail is appropriate, (Primary) or required to grudgingly accept the majority of my points in spirit, (Sunday School and Relief Society) I usually then open up the lesson and ask the class:
“Who in your lives has made a difference, who doesn’t/didn’t have an “ideal family,” as expressed in the Proclamation?”
I’ve never had a lesson that ran out of stories before the lesson time has been finished. *****
****(Teacher’s Note: I really can’t emphasize enough how much can be shared and learned in these discussions, if kept on track to just cover things learned in their own lives, or from the lives of other people they have known, who do not meet the “ideal.”)
****(Teacher’s Note: I usually leave the last five minutes of my lesson time to add this international view of the church, both to “remind” former international missionaries that they probably learned a lot from members and investigators on their missions, and it is unlikely that those investigators and members had Utah pioneer ancestors. If it has been brought up more than once in the comments, I spend less time discussing the variety of circumstances in other parts of the world. I also try to bring in comments shared about experiences outside highly concentrated Mormon areas, as an additional reminder that the Proclamation is largely a relic of North American Mormon culture, which may have some use to the rest of the world, but not as much as North Americans might think. I try to end with the story below.)
I usually end my lesson on family with this story, and a few simple questions:
I will never forget one letter from Brasil, from a missionary describing the best baptism of his mission. It was an experience that transcended the missionaries, and was a testament to the importance of allowing members of the church to love and serve, even if the ideal in the Proclamation, does not seem anywhere close to that member’s family circumstances. A man was being baptized, and almost everyone in the branch and stake knew him, and had known him for years. His wife had been a member for 22 years, joining the church after less than five years of being married. She had held a variety of callings during that time, and had been the RS president for the last 10 years. Her husband had supported her decision to be a member of the church, but was uninterested in joining the Mormon church. His parents were deeply religious people. Two of his brothers were priests, and one sister was a nun.
The husband attended mass daily, and his wife attended with him, twice a week, for the entire 22 years since her baptism. Their children had been raised in both churches, baptized at the Catholic church, and blessed in LDS sacrament meeting by their uncle, who had introduced the gospel to his sister. Their children were encouraged to participate in both faiths, and expected to attend Mass on the times their mother went, so that it was a family event, and most also attended Sunday services and LDS youth activities. One of their sons had chosen to become a Catholic priest, and all three of their daughters who were over 18 had been baptized into the LDS church.
The young missionary who I was corresponding with, said that he hadn’t realized that the man sitting next to the Relief Society President in church, every Sunday, was her brother and not her husband. He had seen another man come with the family a few times, usually when the children of the family were speaking or singing. Most ward members called him Tio, and because so many over zealous young missionaries had approached her husband over the years, without knowing or understanding the fragile balance that kept harmony in this dear woman’s home, the branch kept this secret from the missionaries who never looked too close anyway. Until the RS president asked the missionary and his companion to come to her home and teach the discussions to her husband, no missionary assigned to their branch in the last 15 years knew of the existence of the non-member husband.
This RS president was a beloved member of her branch and stake. Over the years, most of the local members had learned to love her husband, and his deep love for the Bible and its teachings. He had given Stake Fireside presentations about the beatitudes, and most of the Stake came to celebrate this baptism. In fact, there were so many people, that not everyone would fit in the branch building. Family and branch members were given priority to the baptismal font and the honor to even be in the building during his baptism. The room with the font was so packed, that a hapless deacon fell in the water, immediately after the baptism was completed, from everyone jostling to try and see the ordinance performed. The deacon was put on the shoulders of the newly baptized man, who was smiling and joking with his brother-in-law, as all three got out of the font together, and went to dry off.
His choice to be baptized was celebrated, and because of the deep love and respect that his wife and the branch had shown to him and his family, there were many Catholic family members there as well, including a son and brother who were Catholic priests, and 8 nuns, who were sisters or nieces of the man who was baptized. In fact, the person who actually bumped the deacon into the water, was one of the nuns, a niece who wanted to be sure she saw all of this novel baptism. The party that went on after the baptism lasted late into the night, and the branch sacrament meeting had to be held outside, because so many members of the stake stayed overnight and were there to witness his confirmation the following morning. Many of those same stake members filled the Catholic church, for the mass that was conducted by the son of the RS president, in honor of his parents, and hour after the LDS services finished.
If the members of the church had pressured the RS president to not participate in Catholic worship services, would this story have been possible? Do we focus on the ”one true church” aspect of the gospel, in ways that make it less likely that family members would be interested in learning about the LDS church?
If this woman wasn’t given a leadership calling, (and instead was marginalized with few responsibilities) is it possible that her husband might never have joined the church? Is it possible that she might not have wanted to stay active in a church who thought she was only worthy of leadership callings if her husband was a member of the church?
More important, how many people’s lives would not have been touched, how many needs would not have been met, how much love would not have been spread, if that dear sister had not been given the chance to serve during those 22 years that her husband was not a member? How many people sitting in the pews, who are in part-member families, have you not even considered as counselors, teachers, or other positions?
Why is this so important? What does this lesson plan offer that reading the Proclamation and discussing it doesn’t?
The most important answer comes in the answers to the questions above, but my experiences after teaching this lesson have taught me that there are other important things too.
I’ve had many people, especially those who are the children of intact two parent families, and a spouse in an intact two parent family, (with children, and sometimes grandchildren) tell me that they learned a lot of surprising things. Some said that they were amazed that they learned anything at all, during the lesson, and that they may have been missing out by not taking people seriously who are not part of a “Proclamation Family.” Many have admitted that they wouldn’t have thought single sisters, or people from part member families, would have any useful insight into their own “Proclamation families,” since they have considered anything less than a “Proclamation Family,” to be a failure.
For me, those comments are always the most poignant and heartbreaking. We have fetishized two parent families, with children “born under the covenant” so much, that we forget that there are things to be learned from everyone, even and especially, those who do not meet the ideal. Christ did not show that fetish in his lifetime, in fact he NEVER mentions it, so why should we make it so important, that we are willing to dismiss the reality and wisdom of a large group of members of the church in the US, and elsewhere?
When you leave North America, it is extremely unusual to have two parents, sealed in the temple before they have children. The reports from missionaries I have corresponded with, over the last 25 years, have served in countries all over the world. Having an entire stake presidency, and a bishop in each ward that is married, and has been sealed in the temple is a goal that can be hard to meet in areas of the world where the church is growing fast. Wards and branches could not function if members, who are from a part member families, were not considered for leadership positions.
The Worldwide Church does not look the same as it does in North America, and even in North America, the East and West Coast LDS communities leave many Mormons raised in Utah culture shock! If we want to be effective missionaries, we need to not see failures or assume that non-member parents are less important, less spiritual, or less able to be loving, Christ-like people and parents. The Proclamation is a document, and there are truths to learn from it, but it should NOT replace the teachings of Christ!
(The following comment was posted after the original publication and is included here because of its moving plea)
I’m sitting here with years running down my face. I’ve never had this lesson, but it is one that my heart has needed 100 times. I didn’t choose to grow up without a mother, before my parents were sealed, a drunk driver took her away. I didn’t choose to have my husband choose gambling over me and our children, and I certainly didn’t choose for him to steal money from his employer. Some people judge me for having been married to a felon, others judge me for filing for divorce after it was clear to me he was guilty, even before the jury verdict came in. No matter what, my life has never been the Mormon ideal, and with my divorce, I am now marked forever. No matter who I marry, no matter how noble a man he is, whether he has been married before or not, my Mormon neighbors will see him as taking a wife that quit on a marriage, and so I am untrustworthy.
I stopped going to church the day my daughter came home and told me that since her dad was excommunicated, her family isn’t forever. That was two months ago. The bishop keeps asking to talk to me, but I didn’t know how to explain my pain, or what I need from the church. Now I can. I am taking your lesson plan with me, and I am not talking until he has read it. Then I’m going to ask permission to give it as a talk in sacrament meeting. I will know if I am truly valuable, by his response.
This is a lesson that should be taught every year. A talk should be given about one part of it or another every month. Your gospel, your understanding of struggles and faith, that is the gospel I want in my life.
A Utah Mom Who Has Never Been Part Of A Proclamation Family
Julia has been writing poetry since grade school, and it is one of the constants in her life, along with her faith. She currently blogs at poetrysansonions.com, where she is the main author of the My Mormon Perspective, My Feminist Mormon Perspective, and the Mormon Moment Series which focused on the events surrounding the 2012 Election, Pants, Prayers, Priesthood and of course Mitt Romney. Julia’s poetry, and random bits of insight, as well as guest posts from Mormon and non-Mormon authors and poets, round out the blog posts which are not related to the Finding Heavenly Mother Project.