Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Teaching from the manual

An interesting discussion was started in early March on the Nauvoo.com Forums, about what to do when you, as a teacher, come across something in the manual that you don't agree with. Specifically, the questions asked were:

Suppose that you are a teacher in Church (whether of Sunday School, Primary, RS, MP or whatever). You are preparing your lesson for next week. In reviewing the lesson manual, you discover that the manual includes statements or assertions that you do not know to be true. What is the best way to handle such a situation?

Does the answer differ if, instead of not knowing something to be true, you actually believe it not to be true?

Do you resign your calling? Teach the lesson but steer around that particular point? Ask to have someone else teach that entire lesson? Decline to respond to questions addressing the point you have an issue with? Teach what the lesson manual says even if you think it to be wrong?

I was faced with precisely this situation a couple of weeks ago as I prepared to teach the deacons quorum. The lesson was on spirituality, which the manual defined in David O. McKay's words: “the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite.” The lesson focused on controlling our bodies.

Some of the phrasing of the manual suggested a struggle between body and spirit for control, especially this quote from Brigham Young:

If the spirit yields to the body, the Devil then has power to overcome the body and spirit of that man, and he loses both.

Recollect … every one of you, that when evil is suggested to you, when it arises in your hearts, it is through the [body].

Problem is, I don't believe it is correct to say that the body and the spirit are struggling against each other for control, though I do believe that the spirit does struggle in trying to control the body. I think the idea of a “war” between spirit and body is carried over into Mormonism from the incorrect view of much of the Christian world that matter is evil. So I had to figure out how to approach this issue. The manual also centered on a scriptural passage, Galatians 5:16-25, using an interpretation I am not sure is correct. It suggested that the “works of the flesh” in this passage were the works of the body, and the “fruits of the Spirit” were the works of our individual spirits in control of our bodies. I think the correct interpretation is that “the flesh” refers to our mortal, fallen condition, and “the Spirit” refers to the Spirit of God, which can lift us out of our fallen state.

A few questions: If you were in my situation (assuming you shared my views), how would you have approached teaching this lesson? Do you think this is an important enough issue even to worry about? Do you think the body and the spirit are at war with each other, vying for control?

(Soon, I'll post what I actually did in teaching the lesson.)

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