Relief Society Lessons. Chapter 12 – Obedience: Simply Live the Gospel

“The way of the gospel is a simple way. … Humble yourselves and walk in obedience.”

I chose to write about this lesson because this tagline troubled me. In reading through, it feels (to me) as if the lesson (and maybe the church) would like to equate humility with submissiveness – and obedience to church above all, including personal revelation.

Mormon culture loves black and white thinking, which has the advantage of certainty. The disadvantage can be a culture that is damaging and stifling to personal revelation and individual thought.

A Covenant People

From the Lesson:

“We are a covenant people, and great are the obligations that go with that covenant. We are a covenant people, and that is a very serious matter. When this work was restored and the Lord set forth the purposes for that restoration, He said that one reason for the restoration was that His everlasting covenant might be reestablished.”

“Now, in this dispensation, that everlasting covenant has been reaffirmed. We, in effect, made that covenant when we were baptized. We became a part of His divine family as it were. All of God’s children are of His family.”

Some questions we can consider when thinking about covenants –

  • What are our covenants – exactly? Do we know what we covenant to do / be – vs – what the culture expects us to do / be?
  • Who do we make our covenants with? God – vs – The Church
  • What covenants involve other people – vs – just ourselves?
  • Do we make any covenants of loyalty to the church? To what end? What does this mean for our independence?

“Each time we partake of the sacrament, … we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and pledge ourselves to keep His commandments.”

This quote is followed by “The Lord expects us to live the gospel in every aspect.”

I know there can be danger in splitting hairs, but I worry that words like “pledge” and “expect” can make us feel bound down and unable to grow and expand.

  • Who determines what the commandments are?
  • Who determines how we live the commandments?
  • Who determines what faithful commandment keeping is?

“We must cultivate the strength to follow our convictions.”

I like this statement. Are we focused on the convictions that we each LEARN for ourselves through church attendance, study, and prayer?

The lesson says: “we are under pressure from our peers and the beguiling voices of those who would persuade us.” We can remember that peers and voices come from both in and outside the church. Mormon culture is strong. If we want to hold to our personal convictions, how do we do this in a strong culture?

President Hinckley encourages:

“Try a little harder to live up to the stature of divinity that is within us. We can do better than we are doing. We can be better than we are. If we would hold before us that image constantly of divine inheritance, of the Fatherhood of God and the sisterhood of woman as realities, we would be a little more tolerant, a little more kindly, a little more outreaching to lift and help and sustain those among us. We would be less prone to stoop to those things which clearly are unbecoming [of] us.”

Lives of order. Lives of gospel living – in every aspect.

From the lesson:

“God will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments.”

Some questions we can consider when thinking about blessings and obedience –

  • What does it mean to be obedient? To what are we obedient?
  • What blessings are given?   Peace of mind? Money? Health? Safety of family?
  • Does the rain fall on both the just and the unjust?

The lesson tells the story of Elijah obeying the Lord without question – and being blessed by being saved from calamities happening around him.

  • To remember: examples of specific blessings happen SOMETIMES , but not ALWAYS.

The lesson tells of the Book of Mormon pride cycle – and the blessing of riches.

  • To remember: examples of specific blessings happen SOMETIMES , but not ALWAYS.

The lesson quotes: “True freedom lies in obedience to the counsels of God. The gospel is not a philosophy of repression, as so many regard it. It is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior. Its fruits are sweet and its rewards are liberal.”

  • To remember: this is not an absolute.

Church leaders point out the way (and invite members to live the gospel).

The idea of “authority” could be an interesting one to discuss.

  • Who has the authority to speak for God?
  • Who has the authority to point the way for an individual life?
  • What is greater: personal authority (ie: a person’s feeling about direct revelation from God about the way to live her life) or church leader authority?

The lesson indicates that church leaders do not “force a man to heaven”, but that it is a loving guide back to God. I would point out here that it is hard to be a loving guide when the church is convinced of its own rightness. I will note that the church actually does punish people who stray from the guided path.

From the lesson:

“The Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it will counsel, it will persuade, it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein.”

It feels more accurate to me with this re-write:

The Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the a way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it (in my experience, the church does dictate, so I would strike this simply as false) will counsel and it will persuade. it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein. (I would strike out this last part, because I think it’s poor form to urge people and to expect loyalty.

A discussion that would interest me in Relief Society would be – seeking inner authority. And also loyalty expectations – from church and from God – pros and cons.

The lesson goes on the quote President Hinckley’s experience with serving in the leadership of the church.

“I have … served in the general councils of this Church for [many] years. … I want to give you my testimony that … I have never been in one where the guidance of the Lord was not sought. …. Those who sit in general counsels have no personal agenda. We have only the Lord’s agenda. There are those who criticize when we issue a statement of counsel or warning. Please know that our pleadings are not motivated by any selfish desire. Please know that our warnings are not without substance and reason. Please know that the decisions to speak out on various matters are not reached without deliberation, discussion, and prayer. Please know that our only ambition is to help each of you with your problems, your struggles, your families, your lives. … There is no desire to teach anything other than what the Lord would have taught.”

I prefer to give church the benefit of the doubt. Generally, I think they are good people who want what is best for people and for the church. I generally believe that they believe their counsel is beneficial and from God.

I also believe that leaders must allow space for personal revelation and for personal journeys.

Leaders may not have personal agendas, but do they have a church agenda? (Earlier in the lesson it states loyalty to the church is expected.) How do church leaders choose when there is a conflict between church interests and individual interests?

Closing Quote

“I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. Let every man and woman and child resolve to make the work of the Lord better and stronger and greater than it has ever been before. It is the quality of our lives that makes the difference. It is our resolution to live the gospel of Jesus Christ that makes the difference. THIS IS AN INDIVIDUAL MATTER. We cannot stand still; we have to move forward.”

 

Suzette

Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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13 Responses

  1. Tabriya Anderson says:

    In my opinion her comments border on apostasy. Rewriting church materials; criticizing leaders, even saying President Hinckley’s words were false. I disagree with many of her opinions and I hope she prays for a stronger testimony in regard to being lead by a prophet. Yes, they are human, but they do receive revelation in regard to the Church as a whole while I agree each of us can receive personal revelation that relates to our personal lives, our families and our callings.

    • Tina says:

      You do realize that these materials are cherry-picked quotes, edited, and taken out of context, then cobbled together to create a thematic statement, right? And the people in charge of doing the work aren’t General Authorities, but mid-level Church bureaucrats. While you might appreciate the words of the original speeches from which the quotes derive, I think you’re placing far too much value in the lesson manuals themselves.

  2. Taylor says:

    I agree with the above comment and this was not helpful in preparing my lesson.

  3. Leann says:

    I also agree with the above statements. How can you rewrite the words of the prophet. The first step in apostasy is murmuring against the leadership. This article makes me very uncomfortable

  4. Colene Johnston says:

    Agree with above comments as well. I used some thoughts from the lesson 10 post last month for my lesson which felt very inspiring….this one makes me want to leave this site and not return.

  5. V says:

    Everyone is of course allowed to have their own opinion, and I am not saying the previous comments are incorrect. I can also understand that they may feel their opinion more strongly if they were hoping to get some ideas for their lesson plan by being able to go off of this, and they feel like they can’t really read this in front of their relief society. Understandable.

    -I can’t find a way to articulate the reason that it doesn’t bother me that she swapped the word THE for A in “The Church will point out the/a way and invite every member to live the gospel” but intuitively I see where she’s going with that even though I do believe living the gospel is the way.
    -And it seems like she suggested to strike this “and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. ” because not everyone gets the same blessings all the time even if you do the same things.
    – As for striking “The Church will not dictate to any man” —well, if you read the definition of DICTATE it says to prescribe or lay down authoritatively, and what do we have in the church?? General Authorities 🙂 And they do tell us what to do (thankfully, I love them!) The definition of DICTATE also says “To control or command” which is bossier and sounds more rude, so perhaps that’s what President Hinckley was more so meaning when he says the church doesn’t dictate? Just another way of thinking about it.
    -And this “it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein.” Ya I don’t know, she just thinks it’s rude to expect loyalty I guess haha. I mean, it WOULD be nice if the people that say they’re members would be loyal though, even though expecting it may be poor form.

    In her little re-articulation, she simply said that it FEELS more accurate, not that it is, or that she hates Prophets and they’re wrong and she’s right—- it simply FEELS more accurate to her.

    One of the comments said that she criticized leaders— maybe I missed it but I didn’t get that from this.
    Some of the questions she posed made me think, there were some good ones :
    What are our covenants – exactly? Do we know what we covenant to do / be – vs – what the culture expects us to do / be?
    Who do we make our covenants with? God – vs – The Church
    Do we make any covenants of loyalty to the church? To what end? What does this mean for our independence?

    I understand why some may feel disappointed by the way she phrased her thoughts.

    Coming from someone who struggles with deciphering and receiving personal revelation, a Relief Society lesson on seeking inner authority would also be interesting to me, as she mentioned.

    I was very grateful for the help that was provided by this blog for Lesson 10 (and I’ll re-read this and maybe it will spark something for my lesson as well) Looking forward to more lesson helps in the future!

  6. Ivy says:

    It’s always great to have another view on a lesson. While I feel that this one was a little “out there,” I truly appreciated the help from last month and will continue coming back for more insight. Thank you, sister!

  7. Kristine A says:

    Suzette, I thank heaven every week I’m in primary….but if I had to go to RS, would you be my teacher?

  8. Jenny says:

    Great lesson. Obedience is a hard one to tackle. I wonder, for those who commented their dislike above, if the two quotes in this article were given anonymously, and you didn’t know which one was the original by President Hinckley and which one was modified by Suzette, which one would feel right in your heart? I think that is the whole purpose of the open, real, and relatable dialogue that Suzette created the possibility for in this post. God gave us the capacity for our own internal authorities so that we don’t need to rely on blind obedience or loyalty to people and institutions to understand truth. We can feel it in our own minds and hearts.

  9. Katie says:

    One of the things we talk about a lot in primary is learning to recognize how the Lord speaks to us, and then having the courage to follow what he says. I’m voting for RS taught by Suzette that focus on seeking Inner authority.

  10. Tina says:

    I agree with your edit, Suzette. Quotes like the one included in the manual perpetuate the feeling (which is quite justified) that the main purpose of the Mormon church is to keep people being Mormon, rather than helping them find a meaningful relationship with Christ. The two are not necessarily synonymous, and we need to stop acting like they are.

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