Lesson 14: “Who Is My Neighbour?” (Matthew 18; Luke 10)
“How can you be a ‘good Samaritan’?” (See Mosiah 4:26) (p. 9)
“Make a list of your friends, relatives, and other acquaintances, asking each family member to contribute at least one name to the list. Make plans to serve one or two of the people on the list in the coming week.” (p. 9)
The above exercise focuses on people we know. However, the Savior’s example included people He did not know, those who were outside of his circle of friends and acquaintances. You may wish to suggest to others that they make a new friend outside of their usual circle, someone who is unlike them and who they may be slightly uncomfortable with. As the Spirit guides, the person may come closer to loving ALL of God’s children, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, age, social or economic status, gender, sexual orientation, or any other measure that distinguishes them from us. As we do so, we will come closer to the Savior’s love for all of us.
Lesson 23: “Love One Another, As I Have Loved You” (Luke 22:1-38; John 13-15)
“Jesus said, ‘By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ (John 13:35). Does the way you treat others show that you are a disciple, or follower, of Christ? What are some specific things you can do to follow Christ’s example of love?” (p. 14)
As stated under Lesson 14 above, this statement can be extended beyond those who are like us, to those who are different but deserving of Christlike love nonetheless. Another measurement of Christ’s love is what we think and say about others when they aren’t in our presence. If a close friend makes a disparaging remark about someone else, do we agree in order to reinforce our own friendship at the expense of the other person, or do we find a way to show love for both without offending either?
Lesson 30: “God Is No Respecter of Persons” (Acts 10-14; 15:1-35)
“What should we do when we receive new instructions from our Church leaders, even if we initially dislike the instructions or find them difficult to understand? (See John 7:17; 2 Nephi 28;30; D&C 6:11, 14-15) (p. 18)
For LGBT members, families, and friends, this question from the lesson can be a very personal and sensitive area based on many circumstances throughout one’s life. At times, we have struggled and wrestled with the Spirit. However, that has also led many to their knees, finding their own personal sacred grove, and getting closer to their Heavenly Father and the Savior than at any other time. “Being led by the Spirit, not knowing what to do” takes on a very personal meaning. Likewise, listening to other class members’ ideas on how they deal with their own challenges may offer new insights to approaching ours, while also appreciating others for facing their own struggles.
Lesson 33: “Ye Are the Temple of God” (1 Corinthians 1-6)
“What can we do to treat our bodies as temples? What are the blessings of being morally clean?” (p. 19)
Moral cleanliness is an area that can be full of personal attitudes that may or may not reflect accurate and current Church teachings. For example, many members still believe the R rating is the Church’s standard for what movies are inappropriate. (“The church teaches us not to go to R-rated movies.”) However, that has not been the Church’s standard since the last century! The R rating appears nowhere in the current 2011 edition of “For the Strength of Youth,” nor does it appear in the previous 2001 edition. Even the term “R rating” or “R-rated” has not been mentioned in a general conference talk since 2004–over 10 years ago. The current standard is to seek movies that elevate, and go by the Spirit. Citing this as an example may teach the principle of searching current teachings and standards, such as at mormonsandgays.org and from the recent press conference regarding LGBT issues.
Lesson 34: “Keep the Ordinances, As I Delivered Them” (1 Corinthians 11-16)
“What does it mean that ‘neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord’? (1 Corinthians 11:11). Why is the relationship of husband and wife so important in the kingdom of God? What does this teach us about how husbands and wives should treat each other?” (p. 20)
The above comments reflect a core doctrine and teaching of the Church in its definition of marriage as one man and one woman. Therefore, it may be wise for LGBT members, friends, and families who have strong opinions about same-sex marriage to study, pray, and fast, if necessary, in advance of the lesson date, seeking Spiritual guidance and strength in dealing with this portion of the lesson. It may be difficult to remain silent while someone offers an opinion that others may find offensive. That is when the guidance of the Spirit is so important, so you may know not only what to say, but how to say it, and whether it’s better left unsaid. Look for points on which you can agree, instead of focusing on the negatives. No one has ever changed a person’s testimony by proving them wrong.
In addition, look at this area as only one part of the lesson. Other points include the sacrament, spiritual gifts, and kingdoms of glory. For example, the Scripture Chain in the study guide provides extensive passages regarding the various spiritual gifts that each of us has, and how we can share our gifts with others, while seeking help from them and their gifts. As we focus on what gifts a person has, rather than on what he doesn’t, we will find more to appreciate and value in each other. The Spirit may then use the same approach to help us see each other not just by their politics or attitudes or sexual orientation, but as a total person, a child of God.
Lesson 39: “For the Perfecting of the Saints” (Ephesians)
“How can Paul’s counsel in Ephesians 6:1-4 help strengthen family relationships and maintain unity in the home? What counsel have latter-day apostles and prophets given us regarding families?” (p. 23)
There are many variations of the term “family” within the Church: Single, divorced, widowed, single/divorced with children, etc. Indeed, the typical ward may only have about 30% of the families of record that fit the traditional “married with children” family. Thus, the above questions reflect correct principles that apply to all such families. If a group discussion veers off into roles of gender and the traditional family model, one should be able to easily mention one of the other types of families to get back to general principles.
Within the principle of fostering love within the family, there may also be an opportunity to discuss the unique challenge of LGBT acceptance within the home. At mormonsandgays.org, Elder Quinton L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve stated:
“As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach. Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender.”
Depending on the nature of the group, the discussion, and as led by the Spirit, the above quote by a Church apostle may help others understand how such a general principle as love and acceptance within the family can be applied to different types of families, including those with an LGBT child, and it may also help others understand the unique opportunities within that family, as well as the challenges they face from others in the ward. It may also introduce class members to mormonsandgays.com, many of whom are unaware of the website.
Lesson 43: “A Chosen Generation” (1 and 2 Peter; Jude)
“Peter and Jude warned that there would be false teachers among the members of the Church. What did they say were some characteristics of false teachers? (See 2 Peter 2:1-3, 10, 12-19; Jude 1:4, 8, 10-13, 16, 18-19.) What counsel did Peter and Jude give that can help us avoid false teachings and remain faithful as we prepare for the Second Coming? (See 2 Peter 3:11-14, 17-18; Jude 1:3, 20-21; see also Moroni 7:12-17; D&C 45:57; 46:7-8.)” (p, 25)
The Books of 2 Peter and Jude contain strong, even harsh language of condemnation for false prophets and false teachers. Some class members may look for examples that justify their own biases. Although the verse is not specifically mentioned in the Study Guide, Jude 1:7 speaks of those “going after strange flesh,” and a footnote is added which references Homosexuality in the Topical Guide. While the addition of footnotes to the LDS KJV was a major undertaking, changes to the footnotes have been made since the originals, showing that revisions may be appropriate from time to time. In addition, 2 Peter 2:10, which is specifically cited in the Study Guide, speaks of those who “despise government” and who “are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” Many people who speak ill of homosexuality may also despise government and speak evil of government leaders, including the president. The Spirit is not likely to quicken our minds in a discussion focused on faultfinding. Such comments may feed our pride, but not our spirit.
The title of this lesson, “A Chosen Generation,” is such a positive, uplifting statement. If possible, it would be much more meaningful and spiritual to discuss the characteristics of a chosen generation for this time, rather than focusing on the characteristics of false prophets and teachers, which can easily deteriorate into name-calling and faultfinding. Such “righteous bullying” has no place in our classes, our families, or our Church.
Lesson 44: “God is Love” (1, 2, and 3 John)
“How did John describe those who claim to love God but do not “love one another”? (See 1 John 2:9, 11; 3:14-15, 17; 4:20) Why is our love for others a measure of our love of God? (p. 26)
Many LGBT members consider one of their greatest gifts to be a greater capacity to love their fellow man. They feel an increased awareness, empathy, compassion, and desire to serve others, especially those who have faced uphill battles in society. Depending on the discussion and as led by the Spirit, a personal experience involving this greater capacity to love may help tear down walls and build bridges towards love and understanding of each other within the group. Others may be more receptive as you focus on the principle of love and allow the Spirit to teach and apply the principle to each individual as appropriate.
Lesson 46: “He Will Dwell with Them, and They Shall Be His People” (Rev. 5-6; 19-22)
“One thing we learn from Revelation chapter 6 is that Satan has fought against the righteous throughout the history of the earth. According to Revelation 6:4-11, what are some ways he has done this? What tactics does Satan use today to try to overcome the righteous? How can we maintain hope and a positive outlook as we fight the war against Satan?” (p. 27)
The Church has focused on various “lifestyle” sins over the years as society has evolved, both legally and culturally. In the 1950s and 1960s, smoking and drinking were in the spotlight. Then came drugs and gambling. More recently, immorality and pornography with its personal access through VCR’s, DVD’s, computers, and smartphones have received much attention.
The current issue appears to be the dramatic change in society’s acceptance towards homosexuality, gay rights, and same-sex marriage. The Church has addressed homosexuality by distinguishing between sexual orientation and behavior, and applying the Law of Chastity consistently, whether straight or gay. In 2012, they developed an official website, mormonsandgays.org, which provides official, up-to-date statements of the Church, tools to help members and local leaders overcome fear and ignorance through education and Christlike love, and interviews with members who share their thoughts and insights regarding these issues. On this website, for example, the Church states that sexual orientation is not a choice.
At a recent press conference held January 27, 2015, the Church came out officially supporting gay rights in housing, employment, and public accommodation when balanced with protections of religious freedoms, acknowledging that they wish to work more closely with the gay community to find ways toward mutual understanding and supporting each other’s needs where possible, while showing a greater love in any case. At that press conference, the Church also avoided the use of the term “same-sex attraction,” using terms such as “gay,” “lesbian,” and “LGBT” instead, which are considered less offensive and more gay-friendly. Following the press conference, many conservative groups and churches felt the Church was selling out, while many liberals and gay activists and advocates felt it was just a slick public relations campaign to improve its image without changing any doctrine. However, Jonathan Rauch, an openly gay Senior Fellow from the Brookings Institution, observed that the Church’s position was very bold—because they placed themselves in the middle, where they were all alone, while so many others were polarized at one end of the spectrum or the other. (Tad Walch, “LDS leaders emphasize fairness for all,” Deseret News National Edition, 2-1-2015, p. 9) Individually, these may all seem like baby steps, but collectively, these developments show a significant attitude change in just six years following the bitterness of the Proposition 8 campaign.
The Church also faces a unique challenge in this area from a global perspective. As it continues to grow throughout the world, it seeks to maintain consistent doctrines and teachings throughout the Church as a means towards a “unity of the faith.” (Ephesians 4:13). However, a teaching of supporting gay rights that seems so simple to us in the United States may bring life imprisonment or worse to a member teaching it in a country where such speech is prohibited by law. Ironically, the Church and its members could face persecution for supporting LGBT non-discrimination, as well as for the religious freedom to teach it.
Finally, in an age where science is making such advances into the uncharted territories of medicine, genetics, the environment, agriculture, and other areas affecting all of us, the Church is facing issues with moral implications that were unheard of until recently. For some areas, the Church has no guidelines or policies at all. In an era where right and wrong increasingly seems filled with gray areas and no longer just black and white, the Church, like individuals, may need to rely more on the Spirit as our Liahona, and less on our own limited knowledge, opinions, biases, and past practices to guide us.