5 Quotes Plus Discussion-Promoting Questions
See also Teaching Helps
We affectionately call Elder Oaks “the Hammer” (think Thor’s hammer.) He often tackles the harder, sometimes politically unpopular tenets of our faith. That takes some real courage, stamina, and love of the Savior. I have abundant respect for Elder Oaks and having met him once, I can tell you he is like a teddy bear in person. Warm and loving.
Back in April 2021, my husband and I were assigned Sacrament meeting talks. Even though we have a fair number of more progressive-minded members – Joel (my husband) couldn’t wait to base his talk on Elder Oak’s conference address about the Constitution. Neither could the teacher in Elder’s Quorum that day – so it got great coverage. I loved all the Constitutional history and understanding Dallin H. Oaks gifted us; it was an eye-opener for me. So let’s get this powerful talk broken down into some excellent lesson material.
His complete talk can be found here. Unless you opt to spend a lot of time on a particular quote, try to pick around 2 questions per quote. Choose the questions which resonate the most with you and which you feel will make a meaningful discussion for your group of personalities. These highlights and questions fit right in with Lesson Template 1 or Template 2. You can also check out several other General Conference Talks with 5 Highlights.
All quotes by Dallin H. Oaks and in blue (unless otherwise noted).
Quote #1 (around the world)
Normally I don’t prioritize quotes for you, but you might want to do quote #5 first or second because this IS a political discussion – and a needed one. The world has become so polarized and uncivil.
So, you know how discussing politics at Thanksgiving makes for a lonely, inexpensive Christmas? It’s the same potential problem at Church. In fact, Elder Oaks at one point says:
“We also insist, and we ask our local leaders to insist, that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our Church meetings.”
Quote #5 will bring peace and civility to the discussion.
Back to Quote #1.
What is the Constitution? Why would it matter to members all around the world? Elder Oaks answers both of these questions and builds a foundational piece for this whole lesson:
A constitution is the foundation of government. It provides structure and limits for the exercise of government powers. The United States Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in force today. Though originally adopted by only a small number of colonies, it soon became a model worldwide. Today, every nation except three have adopted written constitutions.
The United States Constitution is unique because God revealed that He “established” it “for the rights and protection of all flesh…God has given His children moral agency—the power to decide and to act. The most desirable condition for the exercise of that agency is maximum freedom for men and women to act according to their individual choices. Then, the revelation explains, “every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment”
Doctrine and Covenants 101:77,80:
77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;
80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.
Possible questions: Does it surprise you that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired? Why or why not? If outside of the United States, what is your country’s version of the Constitution? What are some examples of “just and holy principles” found in the Constitution? (Elder Oaks mentions both maximum personal freedom and the right to collectively select rulers and laws.)
Quote #2 (five principles)
This is perfect material for breaking into discussion groups if variety appeals to you. I’ve included instructions below for discussion groups even introverts will like.
Because this is a lot of material to consider – make sure everyone has their own list to follow along. This list works with whole-class discussion or multiple smaller groups. Invite your class or smaller groups to take a couple of minutes to read through these five principles from the Constitution – have them pay attention to which one feels especially important to them today and why? Do not worry about discussing all five principles; you taught them simply by having them read them. The ones that your group needs to discuss the most will be the ones that get the most airtime.
Principle #1 – First is the principle that the source of government power is the people. In a time when sovereign power was universally assumed to come from the divine right of kings or from military power, attributing sovereign power to the people was revolutionary. The Constitution established a constitutional democratic republic, where the people exercise their power through their elected representatives.
Principle #2 – “A second inspired principle is the division of delegated power between the nation and its subsidiary states…Significantly, the United States Constitution limits the national government to the exercise of powers granted expressly or by implication, and it reserves all other government powers “to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Principle #3 – Another inspired principle is the separation of powers…The inspiration in the American convention was to delegate independent executive, legislative, and judicial powers so these three branches could exercise checks upon one another.
Principle #4 – A fourth inspired principle is in the cluster of vital guarantees of individual rights and specific limits on government authority in the Bill of Rights, adopted by amendment just three years after the Constitution went into force.
Without a Bill of Rights, America could not have served as the host nation for the Restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades later. There was divine inspiration in the original provision that there should be no religious test for public office, but the addition of the religious freedom and antiestablishment guarantees in the First Amendment was vital. We also see divine inspiration in the First Amendment’s freedoms of speech and press and in the personal protections in other amendments, such as for criminal prosecutions.
Principle #5 – Fifth and finally, I see divine inspiration in the vital purpose of the entire Constitution. We are to be governed by law and not by individuals, and our loyalty is to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any office holder. In this way, all persons are to be equal before the law. These principles block the autocratic ambitions that have corrupted democracy in some countries. They also mean that none of the three branches of government should be dominant over the others or prevent the others from performing their proper constitutional functions to check one another.
Possible questions (whole-group discussion): Instruct your group to skim through the five principles on their own for a couple of minutes. Then ask if there is a particular Constitution principle that feels more important to them today? Which one and what are the benefits you see? How does it help our individual lives or our religious lives and freedom?
Small group option: Have people split into small groups (3-5 people per group if possible). Instruct them to skim through the five principles on their own and then decide as a group which 1 or 2 they want to discuss together for 5-10 minutes (Having their own paper of quotes and questions in hand to look at and discussing the options as a group are a great warm-up for introverts). Also, walk around and listen to each group for a bit without directing their conversation. Validate and nod. Only jump in if they are extremely challenged and no one is talking. These next group questions are best put on the same paper as the 5 principles: Explore why a particular Constitution principle feels important to you? What are the benefits you see? How does it help our individual lives or our religious lives and freedom? At the close of the discussion time, have each group elect a spokesperson to summarize their group’s ideas. Allow others to add comments as you go along. Expect about 15-20 minutes for this activity.
Quote #3 (threats)
Quote #3 has the most potential for heating up the discussion so consider your group of personalities. If you feel like you need more discussion, include it. If you are short on time, it’s also probably the least important message of all the quotes in this lesson. Elder Oaks shares some modern challenges to the Constitution:
Despite the divinely inspired principles of the United States Constitution, when exercised by imperfect mortals their intended effects have not always been achieved. Important subjects of lawmaking, such as some laws governing family relationships, have been taken from the states by the federal government. The First Amendment guarantee of free speech has sometimes been diluted by suppression of unpopular speech. The principle of separation of powers has always been under pressure with the ebb and flow of one branch of government exercising or inhibiting the powers delegated to another.
There are other threats that undermine the inspired principles of the United States Constitution. The stature of the Constitution is diminished by efforts to substitute current societal trends as the reason for its founding, instead of liberty and self-government. The authority of the Constitution is trivialized when candidates or officials ignore its principles.
That one sentence is stellar! The stature of the Constitution is diminished by efforts to substitute current societal trends as the reason for its founding, instead of liberty and self-government.
Quote #4 (uphold and defend)
What we can do as members of the Church in regards to the Constitution?
Our belief in divine inspiration gives Latter-day Saints a unique responsibility to uphold and defend the United States Constitution and principles of constitutionalism wherever we live. We should trust in the Lord and be positive about this nation’s future.
What else are faithful Latter-day Saints to do? We must pray for the Lord to guide and bless all nations and their leaders. This is part of our article of faith. Being subject to presidents or rulers of course poses no obstacle to our opposing individual laws or policies. It does require that we exercise our influence civilly and peacefully within the framework of our constitutions and applicable laws. On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.
Possible questions: What do the Articles of Faith teach us about elected officials? (we uphold them – see Articles of Faith #12) What is the difference between protesting a person and protesting a policy? (Sometimes, I tell my kids…”make it about principles, not personalities.” In other words, personal attacks are not productive and usually start a downhill spiral for everyone.) What are some ways we can contest issues**?
**Optional List from Elder Oaks: In the United States and in other democracies, political influence is exercised by running for office (which we encourage), by voting, by financial support, by membership and service in political parties, and by ongoing communications to officials, parties, and candidates. To function well, a democracy needs all of these, but a conscientious citizen does not need to provide all of them.”
Quote #5 (play nice)
Elder Oaks reminds us how to treat each other when we have different viewpoints:
There are many political issues, and no party, platform, or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences. Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time. Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.
Such independent actions will sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve. That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters. We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate. We teach correct principles and leave our members to choose how to prioritize and apply those principles on the issues presented from time to time. We also insist, and we ask our local leaders to insist, that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our Church meetings.
Hopefully, the discussion for this lesson doesn’t turn partisan.
Possible questions: Without this becoming a gripe session, by raise of hands – have you ever had someone question your church worthiness by your political choices (just a yes or no question)? Why is that not sanctioned in our Church? What can we say when someone holds up one side’s political opinions as a measurement of our faithfulness (or intelligence)?
It’s no coincidence you are teaching this lesson. Your courageous voice is needed. Have faith in what you feel drawn to teach. Last April, Elder Oaks taught much-needed understanding for our times. I’m so glad you’re a part of spreading the message!