I taught Relief Society last week, and the assigned topic was #11 from the Jospeh Fielding Smith manual: Honoring the Priesthood Keys Restored through Joseph Smith. When I first saw the title, I had a bit of trepedation. The priesthood, especially women’s role in the priesthood, has been a highly controversial topic lately. I was worried that our discussion time would turn into a full-scale argument. I wallowed in my thoughts for a bit, and then buckled down and read through the lesson. Once I read it, I realized that this was the perfect time for this lesson. Rather than being nervous to discuss women and the priesthood, I was actually excited to do so. There’s been many discussions about LDS women and the priesthood occurring lately, so this was a great time to discuss it, share our thoughts, and seek wisdom from one another.
Everyone loves discussing the nice “fluffy” topics, but we need to tackle the difficult topics head-on too. Although the exact subject will change, there will always be difficult topics and there will always be a need to discuss them among a community of sisters. Here are a few tips for preparing Relief Society lessons about difficult or controversial topics:
- Read about the topic in True to the Faith for a quick, basic overview of relevant church doctrine. In regards to the priesthood, True to the Faith reminded me how the blessings of the priesthood really do apply to everyone: “…[T]he blessings of the priesthood are available to all—men, women, and children. We all benefit from the influence of righteous priesthood leadership, and we all have the privilege of receiving the saving ordinances of the priesthood.”
- Use your personal scripture study time to review the topic, and then refer to the LDS Scripture Citation Index from BYU. The Scripture Citation Index is an incredible resource for lesson planning. Find a scripture pertaining to your difficult topic, click on the reference in the Scripture Citation Index, and it will give you a list of every conference talk that has referenced that same scripture. It’s a great way to find supplemental material. This tip comes with a warning though–the lesson manual must be the main source of content for your lesson. Don’t spend more than a few minutes on supplemental articles, even really really good ones. I know that it’s difficult to rely on the manual, but the more practice you have the easier it will get.
- Don’t provoke controversy, but don’t ignore it either. Most of the time I don’t straight out ask the difficult questions, because I’ve found that they have a way of coming up as the sisters share their experiences and questions throughout the lesson. If it needs to be discussed, someone will bring it up and when they do bring it up, don’t zoom over it without allowing others to share their feelings. Use your best judgment though–sometimes it’s good to just ask the difficult question up front and get it out there. Do your best to foster an environment where your sisters feel that they CAN share their honest questions. The creation of a Relief Society community isn’t something that happens overnight. You can help your Relief Society build their community by encouraging as much discussion as possible during your lessons–stay away from questions with quick “primary answers” and word questions in a way that you would feel compelled to answer.
- When questions come up, answer them honestly. Don’t sugar-coat things. If you don’t have an answer, say “I don’t know” or “I’ve never understood that either” AND then ask for others to share their own experience and learning. You’ll be surprised by how wise your fellow sisters are. Remember, you’re not the fountain of wisdom, you are the discussion facilitator. If no one volunteers an answer, search together for an answer. You can divide the room into a few small groups, assign each group a book of scripture (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) and have them look for instruction pertaining to that particular discussion item. If you have sisters who bring iPads or other devices to Relief Society, have some look up conference talks and other items on LDS.org in search of an answer as well. It’s okay to spend an entire lesson tracking down answers to one question.
- Bear your testimony about what you DO know. If you’re like me, you don’t have a perfect understanding of all gospel principles; but, you DO know some things. Start with what you know and go from there. Use your current knowledge as a foundational testimony for further study and learning. I don’t know all the answers about LDS women and the priesthood; but, I do know that because of the priesthood I have been able to be baptized, repent of my sins, make sacred covenants with the Lord, and have the opportunity to be with my loved ones for all eternity. There is no greater gift I could ask for, and I am thankful to live in a time where the priesthood has been restored to the Earth.
- Take a deep breath and then slowly blow it out. You’re going to be okay. The conversation isn’t going to get so out of hand that there is no recovery. The sisters in your ward will help you through the lesson if you give them ample opportunities to participate and you prepare engaging and thoughtful discussion questions. You’ll survive, and you’ll probably even learn a few things along the way. It’s just 40 minutes. You can do it.
Please go to the comments section and share your tips about teaching Relief Society so we can all grow together in our faith.