5 Quotes Plus Discussion-Promoting Questions
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How grateful I am, Elder Renlund tackled this touchier topic. The world is at each others’ throats over various issues. For example, medical opinions have become politicized and polarized. The media everywhere hammers its differing points, and some of this has found its way to Church. I see otherwise respectable members labeling and pointing fingers over vaccinations and face masks and claiming that anyone who disagrees with their worldview is not following the Prophet. People were speculating before the last General Conference that the Prophet would condemn those who did not get vaccinations on a popular Facebook site. I felt I needed to weigh in:
My private comment to a good friend was: They ARE at Church; they must be following someone good?
Thanks to Elder Renlund for his outstanding spiritual guidance on divisive topics. 2020 and 2021 have been tough years – most wards and branches could use some help with compassion and unity.
You may find his full talk 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 that resonate the most with you and 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 Dale G. Renlund and in blue (unless otherwise noted).
Quote #1 (stress test)
Elder Renlund used the example of a heart stress test where someone undergoes hard, physical exercise to get the heart pumping. This reveals underlying problems that can be medically treated. He compares the pandemic to a strenuous heart stress test for the world.
The pandemic is also a spiritual stress test for the Savior’s Church and its members. The results are likewise mixed. Our lives have been blessed by ministering in a “higher and holier way,” the Come, Follow Me curriculum, and home-centered, Church-supported gospel learning. Many have provided compassionate help and comfort during these difficult times and continue to do so.
Yet, in some instances, the spiritual stress test has shown tendencies toward contention and divisiveness. This suggests that we have work to do to change our hearts and to become unified as the Savior’s true disciples. This is not a new challenge, but it is a critical one.
Possible discussion questions: In what ways have you noticed the pandemic as a stress test in your own life? (I gained almost 30 lbs. – I ate my way through it) In what ways do you feel you have grown closer to others at Church, or have you grown apart? In what ways have you been blessed and strengthened by the pandemic? Have you noticed contention and divisiveness increasing?
Quote #2 (contention)
Dale G. Renlund goes over a basic gospel principle we need to re-visit:
When we contend with each other in anger, Satan laughs and the God of heaven weeps.
Satan laughs and God weeps for at least two reasons. First, contention weakens our collective witness to the world of Jesus Christ and the redemption that comes through His “merits, … mercy, and grace.” The Savior said: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another. … By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” The converse is also true—everyone knows that we are not His disciples when we do not show love one to another. His latter-day work is compromised when contention or enmity exists among His disciples. Second, contention is spiritually unhealthy for us as individuals. We are robbed of peace, joy, and rest, and our ability to feel the Spirit is compromised.
Possible discussion questions: Where can contention happen?
Quote #3 (unity)
How do we achieve unity? What kind of mindset do we need to avoid contention and to have compassion instead? Thankfully Elder Renlund shares a snapshot of what that looks and feels like:
Unity requires effort. It develops when we cultivate the love of God in our hearts and we focus on our eternal destiny. We are united by our common, primary identity as children of God and our commitment to the truths of the restored gospel. In turn, our love of God and our discipleship of Jesus Christ generate genuine concern for others. We value the kaleidoscope of others’ characteristics, perspectives, and talents. If we are unable to place our discipleship to Jesus Christ above personal interests and viewpoints, we should reexamine our priorities and change.
We might be inclined to say, “Of course we can have unity—if only you would agree with me!” A better approach is to ask, “What can I do to foster unity? How can I respond to help this person draw closer to Christ? What can I do to lessen contention and to build a compassionate and caring Church community?”
When love of Christ envelops our lives, we approach disagreements with meekness, patience, and kindness. We worry less about our own sensitivities and more about our neighbor’s. We “seek to moderate and unify.” We do not engage in “doubtful disputations,” judge those with whom we disagree, or try to cause them to stumble. Instead, we assume that those with whom we disagree are doing the best they can with the life experiences they have.
Possible class activity: Ask your class to volunteer some of Elder Renlund’s advice for unity and perhaps list them on the board. (Hint: increase participation by asking a volunteer to write them on the board for you while running the discussion.) Here are some I came up with:
Elder Renlund’s unity list
- make the effort
- focus on eternal destiny
- identify all as children of God
- commit to gospel truths
- feel genuine concern for others
- value and appreciate others
- prioritize discipleship and love of Christ above personal interests and viewpoints
- champion others’ sensitivities before your own
- don’t engage in disputations
- don’t judge
- assume others are doing their best
Note: Do not expect your class to list everything you can find. If they list a third of the items – that’s enough to ponder and discuss. Validate every contribution and thank them at the end.
Possible discussion questions: Considering Elder Renlund’s suggestions for unity, which one stands out for you today? How can we be better at __(a quality they name)__? Do you have an example of __(a quality they name)__? Have you ever noticed someone making an effort to increase unity; what did they do? When do you feel the closest to others? Should we focus on others’ efforts at unity or our own?
Quote #4 (Russians)
The following account is a fantastic story. It takes a lot of time to read it entirely – it is probably better to summarize it in under a minute. Plus, if you have time, assign someone else to give a 1-minute version of this story. This increases valuable participation. If you do assign this to someone else, it is probably best to switch quotes #3 and #4 so that another person has time to share what they have prepared. I’ve included the full quote for convenience:
Even former enemies can become united in their discipleship of the Savior. In 2006, I attended the dedication of the Helsinki Finland Temple to honor my father and grandparents, who had been early converts to the Church in Finland. Finns, including my father, had dreamed of a temple in Finland for decades. At the time, the temple district would encompass Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Russia.
At the dedication, I learned something surprising. The first day of general operation had been set aside for Russian members to perform temple ordinances. It is difficult to explain just how astonishing this was. Russia and Finland had fought many wars over the centuries. My father distrusted and disliked not only Russia but all Russians. He had expressed such feelings passionately, and his feelings were typical of Finnish enmity toward Russia. He had memorized epic poems that chronicled 19th-century warfare between Finns and Russians. His experiences during World War II, when Finland and Russia were again antagonists, did nothing to change his opinions.
A year before the dedication of the Helsinki Finland Temple, the temple committee, consisting exclusively of Finnish members, met to discuss plans for the dedication. During the meeting, someone observed that Russian Saints would be traveling several days to attend the dedication and might hope to receive their temple blessings before returning home. The committee chairman, Brother Sven Eklund, suggested that the Finns could wait a little longer, that Russians could be the first members to perform temple ordinances in the temple. All committee members agreed. Faithful Latter-day Saint Finns delayed their temple blessings to accommodate Russian Saints.
The Area President who was present at that temple committee meeting, Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, later wrote: “I have never been prouder of the Finns than I was at this moment. Finland’s difficult history with its eastern neighbor … and their excitement of finally having [a temple] constructed on their own soil were put aside. Permitting the Russians to enter the temple first [was] a statement of love and sacrifice.”
When I reported this kindness to my father, his heart melted and he wept, a very rare occurrence for that stoic Finn. From that time until his death three years later, he never expressed another negative sentiment about Russia. Inspired by the example of his fellow Finns, my father chose to place his discipleship of Jesus Christ above all other considerations. The Finns were no less Finnish; the Russians were no less Russian; neither group abandoned their culture, history, or experiences to banish enmity. They did not need to. Instead, they chose to make their discipleship of Jesus Christ their primary consideration
I would move on to the following quote and not ask questions after this story.
Quote #5 (covenant of one)
This is a perfect closing statement that draws the whole lesson together.
If they can do it, so can we. We can bring our heritage, culture, and experiences to the Church of Jesus Christ. Samuel did not shy away from his heritage as a Lamanite, nor did Mormon shy away from his as a Nephite. But each put his discipleship of the Savior first.
If we are not one, we are not His. My invitation is to be valiant in putting our love of God and discipleship of the Savior above all other considerations. Let us uphold the covenant inherent in our discipleship—the covenant to be one.
At the close of your lesson, no matter what you cover, if there is still time, invite members of the class to share their favorite takeaway from today’s discussion. What stands out for them today from Elder Renlund’s talk.
Close by sharing key class highlights, thank them for their excellent participation, and/or share your testimony.
This general conference talk makes for a great class discussion. Do not worry if you do not get through all the material you prepare. Sometimes I won’t even get a third of it covered. If members are sharing and expressing thoughts, their learning and retention are more profound. Active participation is much more important than covering all the points.
Have faith in what you feel drawn to teach and to emphasize. Put the quotes in whatever order feels best to you – skip sections if you are worried about time. Blessings to you as you fulfill a vital role in the Savior’s Kingdom – teaching others and instilling a higher faith.
Note: If you would like some tips on how to feel more confident while teaching – try “9 Tips for More Class Participation.”