Lesson Plan: We Can Do Better and Be Better by Russell M. Nelson
This talk by President Nelson was directed toward male members of the church. The first part of the talk focuses on repentance and is equally applicable to men and women. Later in the talk, he speaks with men about purity and emotional labor, areas of concern that have been traditionally disproportionately directed toward women within American and other cultures. A discussion of this talk is an opportunity to address unraveling gendered cultural expectations that place responsibilities on women that should be distributed across genders equally.
Repentance as a Process, not a Punishment
Too many people consider repentance as punishment—something to be avoided except in the most serious circumstances. But this feeling of being penalized is engendered by Satan. He tries to block us from looking to Jesus Christ, who stands with open arms, hoping and willing to heal, forgive, cleanse, strengthen, purify, and sanctify us. The word for repentance in the Greek New Testament is metanoeo. The prefix meta- means “change.” The suffix -noeo is related to Greek words that mean “mind,” “knowledge,” “spirit,” and “breath.” Thus, when Jesus asks you and me to “repent,” He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children, and even care for our bodies. —Russell M. Nelson
- How can we reframe repentance as an opportunity rather than a punishment?
- How can we readjust our attitudes if we feel like avoiding repentance?
Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Whether you are diligently moving along the covenant path, have slipped or stepped from the covenant path, or can’t even see the path from where you are now, I plead with you to repent. Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day. —Russell M. Nelson
- How does defining repentance as “doing and being a little better each day” change your perspective on repentance?
- How is repentance liberating?
Purity Vs. Purity Culture
Repentance is the key to avoiding misery inflicted by traps of the adversary. The Lord does not expect perfection from us at this point in our eternal progression. But He does expect us to become increasingly pure. Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power. Personal purity can make us powerful tools in the hands of God. Our repentance—our purity—will empower us to help in the gathering of Israel. —Russell M. Nelson
Describing repentance as purity is different than a common idea taught by Christians, including Latter-day Saint Christians, which equates purity with virginity, leaving no room for repentance.
Many object lessons revolve around food. There’s one where the woman at the front of the room holds up an Oreo cookie and says, “Who wants this?” All the kids raise their hands. And then she says, “We’re going to pass this Oreo around the room, and I want each of you to spit on it or to throw it on the ground.” When it comes back to the front of the room, she holds it up again and says, “Okay, now who wants this Oreo?” And nobody raises their hand. It becomes this analogy: The untouched cookie is the virgin and the cookie that has been spit on or dropped by everybody in the room is somebody with sexual experience, who will never be wanted again. —Linda Kay Klein, author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free
In addition to ignoring the power of repentance, this worldly concept of purity is also sexist, putting the responsibility for sexual purity and the blame for sexual sin in the laps of women, while excusing male behavior.
Women and girls are fully defined by one thing about them, which is the community’s perception of their “sexual purity.” They can be considered less pure based on their own sexual thoughts and feelings, but also based on men and boys’ sexual thoughts and behaviors toward them. Women and girls are seen as the keepers of sexual purity, so if men and boys are taking sexual action or having sexual thoughts about them, questions will be asked, like, “What was the girl wearing? Was she flirting?” —Linda Kay Klein
Elder D. Todd Christofferson has discussed this double standard previously:
There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality. The unfairness of such a double standard is obvious, and it has been justifiably criticized and rejected. —D. Todd Christofferson
Speaking to the men of the church, President Nelson flips the script on purity culture:
And remember that it is your responsibility to help the women in your life receive the blessings that derive from living the Lord’s law of chastity. Never be the reason that a woman is unable to receive her temple blessings. —Russell M. Nelson
- Why is it damaging to view purity as synonymous with virginity?
- How does repentance bring about purity?
- How can we ensure that the men and boys in our lives are taught that they are equally accountable with women for sexual purity?
The Ungendered Responsibility for Emotional Labor
Like sexual purity, the emotional labor within relationships has been disproportionately assigned to women by American and some other cultures.
Gemma Hartley, author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward, describes emotional labor this way:
…the unpaid, invisible work we do to keep those around us comfortable and happy. It envelops many other terms associated with the type of care-based labour I described in my article: emotion work, the mental load, mental burden, domestic management, clerical labour, invisible labour. —Gemma Hartley
She also describes how men are acculturated to neither appreciate nor do the emotional labor that women perform. President Nelson discusses how men should adjust their behavior with the women in their lives, taking on their share of not only physical labor but also emotional labor.
Brethren, your first and foremost duty as a bearer of the priesthood is to love and care for your wife. Become one with her. Be her partner. Make it easy for her to want to be yours. No other interest in life should take priority over building an eternal relationship with her. Nothing on TV, a mobile device, or a computer is more important than her well-being. Take an inventory of how you spend your time and where you devote your energy. That will tell you where your heart is. Pray to have your heart attuned to your wife’s heart. Seek to bring her joy. Seek her counsel, and listen. Her input will improve your output. If you have a need to repent because of the way you have treated the women closest to you, begin now. —Russell M. Nelson
Review and discuss Emotional Labor: A discussion guide for partners and roommates for ideas on how to better divide emotional labor, instead of defaulting to gender norms.