A supplementary lesson plan for October 2014 Sharing Time, week 2

I love Primary. It’s my favorite place to serve in the Church, and if I had my way I’d serve there for the rest of my life. This month’s Sharing Time theme is “‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ Came from God to Help My Family.” Looking through the October lesson plans in the 2014 outline, week 2 caught my eye: “Marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God’s plan.”  The topic — the importance of marriage — is one that matters a lot to me. I thought that the suggested lesson plan could do more to make the material applicable and memorable for all children. So just for fun, I put together a supplementary lesson plan that covers the same topics, but — I hope! — makes it more relevant for more kinds of families.  Enjoy!

Week 2: Marriage is essential to God’s plan for men and women

Tell the story of God creating Adam and Eve. After he created the earth, the plants and the animals, God knew the world was not complete until he created men and women. Have a child read Genesis 1:27, and ask the rest of the children to put their hands on their heads whenever they hear the word “create.”

Explain that God created two humans so that they could help each other and take care of each other. He said “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God also wants us to share our lives with somebody special, so that we can help each other and take care of each other. We call this special partnership “marriage.” Marriage is one part of God’s plan of happiness for his children.

Ask for several volunteers to come up. Instruct them to place one hand behind their backs, then give each child a simple task, like unscrewing a jar, breaking a popsicle stick, or tying a knot in a string. Ask the children why it is hard to accomplish the task. (Because they only have one hand!) Now tell them they can use both hands. Just as two hands working together can accomplish more, two people working together as a married couple can serve and bless others.

Heavenly Father has a special job for married couples. It is not unscrewing a jar, breaking a popsicle stick, or tying a knot! It is raising children together. Working together, two parents love, protect and teach their children, just like our Heavenly Parents love, protect and teach us. Read the following quote from the Proclamation on the Family. Ask them to listen for a secret word that starts with “L” that they will hear twice: “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” What was the secret word? Ask everybody to whisper it on the count of three. LOVE! Love is the most important part of marriage and family.

Sometimes mothers and fathers can’t be married anymore. When that happens, other people can help them. Tell the story of Ruth and Boaz. After Ruth’s husband died, a kind man named Boaz helped her by letting her pick up food from his fields for her to share with her mother-in-law. Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz all helped each other. Ask for a volunteer to attempt a small task one-handed, as before. This time, instead of allowing the child to use her other hand to complete the task, invite another child to help her. Explain that Heavenly Father loves all his children, and wants us all to help each other, especially those who are alone and need extra help.

Conclude the lesson by reiterating that marriage is one important part of God’s plan for men and women. Married couples help each other and serve others. Heavenly Father loves all his children, and he wants us to live in families so we can love each other.

48 comments for “A supplementary lesson plan for October 2014 Sharing Time, week 2

  1. Thank you both for reading! I had fun trying to be both creative and subtle in the way I altered the outline’s plan. “Marriage is essential to God’s plan for both men and women” v. “Marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God’s plan” — a world of difference in the syntax. :)

  2. I’ll likely be teaching primary this Sunday, and am very happy to have your help here in thinking through making the lesson meaningful.

    I’ve got to ask you, however, about your change in syntax (and the accompanying shift in meaning). It certainly appears that the theological shift you’re invoking is the importance of each individual committed in a LOVING relationship in order to rear children and serve others, without implying any significance to gender or sexuality. Did I get that right?

    (Not that this would be a part of any lesson – any more than any child would ever grasp a difference in the syntactical shift – or any more than we’d insert the bit about Ruth uncovering Boaz’s feet pre-marriage)

  3. Right, James, it was an attempt to re-frame the importance of marriage without direct heteronormativity (though of course it is still implied in the scriptural accounts, which we can’t jettison) but also without triumphalist progressive political language. My hope would be that most people wouldn’t sense a shift away from traditional LDS teachings and language, but that children with gay parents (or, I suppose, gay children) would not hear themselves specifically excluded. (Maybe I was a bit too subtle about my intent here?)

  4. I actually liked your ideas of the two hands working together, but God’s way is between a Man and a woman and changing the word difference and meaning isn’t ok. We should definitely be teaching our children that marriage is between a man and a woman and it isn’t just, “two people working together as a married couple…” That is what the world teaches, it is not up to us to change the word order and meaning. The church worded it this way for a very specific reason. If you happen to have children with gay parents in your primary it is perfectly fine that they learn that marriage is designed of God and is to be between a man a woman. We love and include all but we don’t change our teaching to make it include the world’s views!

  5. If the assignment is to teach “Marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God’s plan”, i think the teacher errs in teaching instead “Marriage is essential to God’s plan for both men and women”. Indeed, I think the teacher willfully subverts the doctrine and teaches false doctrine, and betrays his or her trust and sustaining.

  6. Rosalynde, I think as comments 6 & 7 clearly show, as a church we’re completely fine excluding the children of gay parents for the sake of “keeping the doctrine pure.”

  7. No, Kristine, no one here hates children. Rather, your comment shows the truth of 2 Timothy 4:3-4:
    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto myths.

    Ruth (a woman) married Boaz (a man), not Naomi (a woman).

  8. I think most people would agree that we don’t want to politicize Primary. Leave the culture wars to adult Sunday School. Any children of gay or lesbian couples who are attending Primary — hey, the LAST THING we want to do is offend them. You know what happens to people who offend little ones (hint: millstone). That includes, of course, children who have one parent in a gay or lesbian relationship or marriage but who do visitation with the other biological parent and go to church with the hetero-Mormon parent, so there might be more kids in the category than you think.

    That said, I have no doubt at all that if Rosalynde’s lesson draft were submitted as part of a proposed actual Primary lesson, “between a man and a woman” would get tacked on to almost every mention of marriage. “The Church” and many Mormons are likely to object to linking anything positive or good with gay marriage, and even expressly link negative and bad things, without even realizing, perhaps, that sometimes this means throwing children of gay or lesbian couples under the gospel bus. That seems like the wrong approach and Rosalynde’s effort seems like a helpful correction, if only to raise awareness of adults teaching such a lesson to children or youth.

  9. Dave,

    Surely one can teach that marriage should be between a man and a woman without “throwing children of gay or lesbian couples under the gospel bus”?

    This notion that the church can no longer teach that marriage should be between a man and a woman is absurd. However, it is the next and much predicted step in the culture war.

    For comparison, we have taught for a long time that our Word of Wisdom counsels against strong drink. We encourage members, children and youth, not to ever start drinking, or to stop drinking. We even teach the Word of Wisdom in Primary, and even to children who may have parents who drink. And we do this even though all fifty states allow adult drinking! Yes, all fifty states! Yes, the law and teachings of the church may (and in many cases, should) differ from the law and customs of the land.

    So it is with gay marriage. The church and its loyal members should continue to teach that marriage should be between a man and a woman. A member who accepts a teaching calling in the church should be loyal to his or her trust and sustaining. If the assignment is to teach “Marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God’s plan”, I think the teacher errs in teaching instead “Marriage is essential to God’s plan for both men and women”. Indeed, I think the teacher willfully subverts the doctrine and teaches false doctrine, and betrays his or her trust and sustaining.

  10. ji, I am guessing you are the kind of person who could offend people, then pat yourself on the back for offending people (see justifications in your comment), then go on to complain about people who stop attending because they are offended.

  11. Maybe you’re right, Dave. The federal judges have spoken. Maybe the church should embrace gay marriage and stop teaching that God’s plan is for marriage between men and women. After all, we don’t want to offend anyone. The gospel always has been, and always will be, a stumbling block, or a stone of offence, to many.

  12. Gay parents send their children to Primary? Yeah, I bet that is a pretty large group. We should redesign the entire curriculum for that eventuality. ;) And let’s take out the prohibitions against adultery, fornication, murder, cussing and booze while we are at it. I don’t know what God or the Brethren were thinking…

  13. Lindsay and ji, I probably have more in common with you on this issue than you realize. But given the fact that gay marriage is likely to become increasingly normalized in society, I think it might be helpful to practice adjusting our rhetoric — just as our rhetoric on divorce, contraception and indeed homosexuality has moderated in the years that those issues have gone mainstream in the last fifty years. I don’t know whether the doctrine will change, but if history is any guide the Church will find a way to dial back the confrontation so that missionary work can continue. This was an effort to begin that process.

    ji, I’m curious which statements you see as false doctrine. My intent was to try to avoid any overt statement that orthodox Mormons would object to, but at the same time avoid any overt statement that gay or gay-sympathetic Mormons would object to. (And yes, Segullah, there are many children with gay parents, siblings and relatives who attend primary. Probably much larger than you realize.)

  14. 1. There are many primary kids with gay relatives. I look at my ward with small youth and primary programs. Amongst them are kids whose parents are divorced (and dad is openly gay and living with a boyfriend), kids whose mother’s first husband was gay (so their half-siblings father is openly gay), and kids with openly gay and now (legally) married uncles (including my kids).

    2. I can appreciate anyone’s attempt — perfect or imperfect — to be sensitive to my family and my young children. My kids are little (6, 4, and 2), but we’ve already had to answer questions (mostly from the oldest) related to same-sex marriage and homosexuality. (Why do I call so-and-so uncle if he’s not your brother? Why does uncle so-and-so have a wedding ring if he doesn’t have a wife?) Not so long ago, my oldest came home from a primary lesson on the Word of Wisdom with the conclusion, “God doesn’t love people who smoke.” I doubt the primary teacher said exactly that, but I found myself quickly trying to explain God’s love for a person doesn’t change even if God doesn’t like a behavior. I’d hate to have my daughter come home from primary thinking God doesn’t love her uncle, etc. even if she is taught that God wants marriage to be between men and women. I worry a lot about that because most of the comments about homosexuality and same-sex marriage I’ve heard in the past 10 years (in adult classes) have often been devoid of nuance, sympathy, or love. I’ve heard a lot of words that essentially demonize gay and lesbian people (which I think played a good part in my brother’s decision to leave the church.) I digress, but this explains my appreciation for attempts at sensitivity.

    3. If the author had not told us what she changed about the lesson or why, I doubt any of us would find fault in the proposed lesson plan. I really didn’t see anything doctrinally inaccurate or even edgy in the principles or illustrative examples. The lesson’s examples included men and women as marriage partners.

  15. I have one child who has decided he wants nothing to do with the Church, in large part because he was tired of hearing his gay father and divorced mother casually dismissed/erased/demonized/insulted at Church. My younger two children are on their way out because they are tired of feeling like second-class citizens in the relentless lessons on family that they have to endure. I’m sure children in my kids’ situation are a tiny minority of any Primary/YM/YW group, but it matters a lot to me that they should get the message that the gospel is about Jesus, not The Family, and that the Church is for them, too. Unfortunately, I think most of their teachers feel like Segullah (14). In a way, that attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy–if we can’t be bothered to think about kids whose parents don’t represent the ideal, then pretty soon we won’t have to think about them because they won’t come anymore.

  16. “I’m sure children in my kids’ situation are a tiny minority of any Primary/YM/YW group”

    First of all, this isn’t really true: cast the net to include gay and divorced and single people, include all of the family’s aunts, uncles, and cousins, and you’re now describing every family in the church.

    Secondly, I think Jesus had something to say about the value of the one in relation to the value of the ninety and nine.

    (FWIW, I have some reservations about Rosalynde’s tweaking of the lesson–not on the face of it, but because I don’t want Segullah changing a lesson titled “God wants us to love everyone and help them keep the commandments” to “God wants us to love everyone who keeps the commandments,” and so I get a little nervous about _any_ lesson tweaks. My approach is to avoid, not tweak, topics that make me cringe. But that has its own problems, so I am left at a loss.)

  17. Surely there must be a way to retain the ideal while acknowledging that for many the reality is different. I’m also uncomfortable lumping gay, divorced, and single together into one homogenous category, since each of those three could be further broken down. (A gay man committed to chastity his entire life is different than one who has had many partners, for example.)

    That primary-age kids are not particularly adept at nuance is another wrench thrown into the gears. However careful a teacher might be, I think it’s likely kids are going to take home a simplistic idea as happened above with “God doesn’t love people who smoke.”

    Can we be inclusive without being permissive?

  18. (By the way, I didn’t mean my previous comment to be dismissive of anon’s gay father + divorced mother situation, but just to suggest that virtually every child in Primary will feel alienated by the dismissed/erased/demonized/insulted rhetoric, if we take their extended family into account, therefore it isn’t OK to marginalize anon’s kids just because not many Primary children have a gay father and divorced mother.)

  19. Ben–it seems to me that Rosalynde has done a terrific job of being inclusive without being permissive. Kids are not going to notice that she fails to explicitly condemn divorce or homosexuality; they’re just going to know that, for once, talking about families didn’t make them feel like crap.

  20. You may feel that way, Kristine, but that wasn’t my reading. I even dropped her a note privately to discuss.

  21. I wasn’t talking about how I feel. I was talking about how my kids would have responded to such a sharing time. I have some experience here.

  22. On the larger question, then, how do we condemn sin without making people feel like crap? How to we teach children/youth that people who do things we define as sin are not necessarily evil people, e.g. “God doesn’t love people who smoke”?

  23. There just really isn’t any danger that a kid could participate in Mormon worship services for more than, say, a month, without being very clear on the fact that marriage between a man and a woman is the ideal. Whomping them over the head with it one less time in Primary is not going to lead to an epidemic of kids running home and saying “God is in favor of divorce and gay marriage.”

  24. If Rosalynde’s shift was intended to be sensitive to polygamist relatives, would that change things?

    I suspect most kids grow up thinking whatever their culture says is ok, is ok, unless it’s explicitly taught contrariwise by their parents or teachers. So if one’s parents are countering the church’s position on this, and then individual members doing the teaching collectively did this, it’s not at all certain a kid could grow up with that knowledge.

  25. Ben S.–I think there was a response to that question in the New Testament somewhere…

    People already feel like crap when they sin. NO ONE is more aware of what an ideal marriage is than kids whose parents don’t have one. “Teaching the ideal” mostly helps people who are already there feel better about themselves. People who aren’t there are acutely conscious of the fact without being rhetorically bludgeoned on a regular basis. Really. They are.

  26. “People already feel like crap when they sin.” Well, except those convinced that what they’re doing is not sinful.

  27. “Teaching the ideal = Please allow me to think of the people around me as abstractions and don’t make me respond to the needs and messiness of their actual lives.

    “Teaching the ideal” is also how we wind up needing an apostle in conference to remind us not to do really dumb things, like not allowing our chindren to play with non-ideal kids, i.e. those who aren’t church members.

  28. If Rosalynde’s shift was intended to be sensitive to polygamist relatives, would that change things?

    Why not? Kids of polygamous parents deserve to feel as welcome in church as kids whose dad works and whose mom stays home, who deserve to feel as welcome as kids who don’t know who their dad is, or kids who are being raised by their grandparents, or kids who are adopted. I can’t think of a single justifiable reason to make anybody feel unwelcome at church, but I’ll double that down with primary kids who, by definition, are younger than 12. There’s no justifiable reason to make them feel like there’s something wrong with the family they’re growing up in (and possibly to undermine their caretakers’ moral authority in their eyes).

    What we can do, and should, is help to prepare for their own family formation in the best way possible. But we owe it to the kids (millstones and all that) to do it in a sensitive, helpful way, one that won’t degrade the families they have.

  29. The people who are (presumably) sinning are not the ones this lesson is even directed at. Do you really think it’s necessary to make kids feel worse about themselves and their families at church every week, just because there is some miniscule possibility that one of them is gay and won’t grow up to be appropriately self-loathing? Or because one of them won’t miss her absent father enough to spend the whole rest of her life trying to find a man who will stay with her? I fail to see the harm of letting all children think for a moment about the good that they find in their own homes.

  30. Thanks for the comments, all!

    Julie, you make a really good point. I also get leery about members imposing their individual ideological spin on lesson material, for the same reason you do. In my defense, I really did try hard to take the feelings of traditional Mormon parents into account and not teach anything that would be upsetting or alienating to them.

    Ben, I do appreciate the pushback. Your question about inclusiveness and permissiveness is an eternal conundrum for me, and I’m a bit less sanguine about erring on the side of inclusiveness than Kristine is (though I hugely appreciate your support for the post, Kris!). It’s worth nothing, though, that this lesson still includes several normative assumptions that would hardly be considered permissive, and are indeed quite traditional: that marriage should be considered a necessary and expected passage of adult life for women AND men; that marriage is conjugal in nature and primarily intended to be an effective environment for raising children; and that children should not be borne outside of marriage.

    If these assumptions remain normative in our culture even as gay marriage becomes normalized (and walking that line was the entire pedagogical purpose of the lesson), then frankly many of my concerns about gay marriage will melt away. I suppose in some sense this lesson was my hope for the best possible future marriage culture, now that the definition of marriage has changed so significantly. (Significantly for the better, I hasten to add, for my gay family and friends, even though my continued concerns are clear in this comment.)

  31. Mark, I’m using “teaching the ideal” to be equivalent to “maintaining our doctrinal and behavioral standards.” I flatly disagree with your assessment and uncharitable mind-reading.

    Sam, I’m hardly against sensitivity, and have repeatedly called for broader and more diverse role models in Church. I’m just not seeing in yours or Kristine’s comments a way to balance making people feel welcome without watering down or simply rewriting the doctrine. I also resent the implication that making a general statement about doctrine or teaching the ideal equates to advocating for insensitivity and throwing people out. Interpersonal behavior is quite a different thing.

  32. Ben, just to be clear — I certainly didn’t mean that I thought that applied to you pesonally. Rather, I meant to say that we obviously have a problem in that area, otherwise an apostle wouldn’t think it was necessary to address it in conference. My apologies for not making that clear.

  33. “I’m just not seeing in yours or Kristine’s comments a way to balance making people feel welcome without watering down or simply rewriting the doctrine.”

    Given that not many 11yos will enter gay marriages _this_ year, maybe we could hold off on telling the Primary children how bad it is, when it won’t affect their own decisions but will affect their sense of self and family formation. I am much more comfortable with these things being taught to older teens, who are already well convinced that their parents aren’t perfect and that that doesn’t mean that they are defective. (ETA: Most emphatically NOT saying LGBTQ are defective–just saying that kids often can’t disambiguate their own worthwhileness from an attack we make on their home/family and so might come to that [unwarranted!] conclusion.)

    We don’t do extensive temple prep in Primary, etc–the temple is a long way off, kids don’t get symbolism, etc. We just speak very generally: “temple = good.” Could we do the same with families? We may decide that preserving the moral authority of their parents, helping them love all people (when they are developmentally very likely to miss the nuance, as you mentioned above), and feel that their home/family is a “good” place outweigh inculcating other doctrines at this point.

  34. Ben S. said “Surely there must be a way to retain the ideal while acknowledging that for many the reality is different.”

    The true ideal is the real and concrete actual human beings we live, eat, play, fight, learn, sleep, laugh, cry, and die with. When we worship at the altar of a static nuclear family model we forsake the true, living, breathing, sometimes-suffering-sometimes-glorifying relationships of countless children of God. We forsake our sisters and brothers. We risk using the Idea of “Family” in a way that harms real families. There is no worthwhile ideal that cannot encompass the family of God in its variety.

  35. Rosalynde,

    You raise good points. We hope for our Primary teachers to love the children in their classes, and to have some sense of discretion and tact.

    With this sense of discretion and tact, a teacher can kindly and lovingly teach children…

    – the correct principle of the Word of Widsom without condemning the child’s parent who smokes;

    – the correct principle of selecting wholesome entertainment and media without condemning the child’s parent who selects the unwholesome;

    – the correct principle of Sunday worship and fellowshipping with the Saints without condemning the child’s parents who don’t;

    – the correct principle of honoring one’s father and mother, even though one child’s father abandoned his mother for a trophy wife;

    – the correct principle of being kind and the ten commandments and the commandment not to kill, even though one child’s uncle is in jail for murder; and,

    – And, the correct principle wholesome appreciation for God’s plan for marriage between a man and a woman without condemning the child who is taught at home that he has two fathers and no mother.

    I haven’t knowingly had to do the last one, but the principle is easy to understand. Teachers do need to be careful to teach correct principles, not to change doctrine.

    I appreciate your posting because I appreciate this discussion. I regret that those who appreciate God’s plan for marriage between a man and a woman are thought of as bigots, even by some in the church.

  36. I also want to suggest that we ALL — mostly unconsciously — do what Rosalynde has done here explicitly. When we are given a lesson to teach or a conference sermon to use as the text of our sacrament meeting talk, we filter that lesson or text through our own experiences. This is unavoidable, especially when we are not even aware that we are doing it, which is most of the time. So to suggest that there is some ideal, church approved way to teach or sermonize that does not wander a bit from the correlated ideal, is, I think, quite naive.

    This leaves us with a dysfunctional dynamic that allows us to think that what WE teach is the ideal, but what our neighbor teaches is not. Motes and beams, people.

  37. Interesting, the way ji situates a single-parent family/household along side breaking the Word of Wisdom and murder. He/she is giving us a glimpse at the deeply problematic vision some Mormons have of families who don’t meet their idol/ideal.

  38. Also, ji: “The gospel always has been, and always will be, a stumbling block, or a stone of offence, to many.”

    True. Like black people who couldn’t hold the priesthood or go to the temple. And like monogamous 19th-century Americans outraged by polygamy.

  39. “People already feel like crap when they sin.” Well, except those convinced that what they’re doing is not sinful.

    The goal of missionary work must be to inculcate proper shame in others. This is also the goal of parenting. It is crucial that our gospel message openly condemn those whose actions we deem immoral, as long as we also say “but we love you!” as well.

  40. Thanks for this outline as I have been struggling to find a way to teach this lesson in a sensitive way that includes kids from all types of families!

  41. Thank you for the suggestions for sharing time. Although there is a topic and format in the primary guide I so appreciate the thoughtful helps that this site and others have provided. I know it’s myjob to be prayerful in determining the best supporting stories,games, or other ideas. We know each primary have very different compositions.

    I am saddened that as gospel sisters and brothers there has been such contention. We need to encourage and strengthen one another. And be quick to see the positive additions to help enrich our primaries…instead of the offenses and criticisms.

    I love you all and pray that you will find inspirations that work to teach to your primary accurate truths with sensitivity and kindness to all

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