Guiding Class Discussion
When my husband and I were newlyweds, our bishop invited us to attend a 12-week marriage and family Sunday School course. On the first day, the couple teaching the class made a speech about how “liberal” comments about “adapting roles” would “detract from the Spirit” so such comments were explicitly forbidden. However, class members were more than welcome to make comments that were even more conservative than the text.
Looking back, those torturous twelve weeks of instruction on the glories of 1950s social culture did not harm our marriage. In fact, I would say that our commitment to our own marital style was strengthened by the animated discussions the two of us held with each other every week after we left church. After biting our tongues during a full hour of classroom instruction, we both had plenty to say. For me, however, the repressive classroom commenting policy greatly detracted from the Spirit the teachers said they wanted to cultivate.
In the Sunday School classes I teach, I would prefer a more open dialogue. I want my class members to feel free to talk about their own unique ways of applying gospel principles, even if their strategies would be considered “adaptations” instead of strict, orthodox conformity.
On the other hand, I have sat through a number of classes where class members have pulled the discussion to questionable places, such as the estimated date of the apocalypse, the ethical responsibility to vote in certain ways, or unique and creative rewrites of world history. I don’t believe that a little openness about adapted familial roles would detract from the Spirit, but in my experience, some of these other classroom tangents do.
Like my old marriage/family instructors, I also feel a responsibility to my students to steer the discussion in a direction that invites the Spirit. Yet I wonder if my judgment is clouded by my own personal attitudes. Through their life perspective glasses, my former instructors saw apostasy in any statement slightly to the left of church norms, but could see no evil in views to the extreme right. I have my own views and prejudices, including, I am sure, some biases that I haven’t even recognized yet. How can I know if I am simply guiding the discussion or repressing opposing views?