Teachers have a great responsibility to help the young people of the Church think clearly about gospel truths and how to apply them to the challenges they face, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said during the Church Educational System's "Evening with a General Authority" Feb. 8, during which he addressed seminary and institute instructors in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
Teachers of the youth and young adults of the Church are "vital to preparing the rising generation for their responsibilities in the Church and Kingdom of God," he said. "Our young people are amazing in their faith and their devotion to what is good and right. Measured by any righteous criteria, they are superior."
Even though the youth are strong and faithful, they still need the help of teachers and leaders to reinforce their beliefs as they resist the diversions and evils that surround them, he said.
"The difficulties faced by gospel teachers — parents or those called or employed — are magnified by the modern technology to which their young students have instant access," he said.
Elder Oaks spoke of some of the anti-family messages that are often closely connected with media, and can be very influential on the youth. He shared some suggestions teachers can follow to counteract strong negative influences.
"In the context of your sequential scripture teaching, you are responsible to teach the basic doctrine of marriage and the family," Elder Oaks told the seminary and institute instructors. "My message is intended to help you in that effort."
Teach simple basics
"Sometimes the most important things we can teach — the things most needed by our students — are things we teachers tend to take for granted," Elder Oaks said. As followers of Christ, Latter-day Saints must think differently than others on many important subjects involving religion, he said.
"When I say that Latter-day Saints 'think differently,' I do not suggest that we have a different way of reasoning in the sense of how we think," he said. "I am referring to the fact that on many important subjects our assumptions — our starting points or major premises — are different from many of our friends and associates. They are also different from many assumptions currently used in the media and in other common discourse."
For example, Elder Oaks said that since Latter-day Saints know and understand the eternal plan Heavenly Father has for His children, they are able to recognize mortal life as the "second act in a three-act play."
"Because of our knowledge of this Plan and other truths that God has revealed, we start with different assumptions than those who do not share our knowledge," he explained. "As a result, we reach different conclusions on many important subjects that others judge only in terms of their opinions about mortal life."
Young people today must be ready to face misunderstanding and opposition from friends and associates as they live in a world where many advocate and practice things that are contrary to "the things that be of God" and His plan of salvation, he said.
Elder Oaks shared the example of a culture that maintains that it is not wrong to have sexual relations without being married, and raising children without being married is common and accepted by many.
"How should our youth respond when their associates and even their classroom teachers conclude that marriage is not important anymore, and that children suffer no disadvantage if their parents are not married?" he asked. "Similarly, how should they respond to the familiar proposals to redefine the family?"
Through identifying the different premises or assumptions of both a worldly view and the thinking of Latter-day Saints — without arguing — individuals can move the discussion away from arguing over conclusions, to identifying the real source of disagreement, he said.
He spoke of "moral relativism," or the modern school of thought that there is no absolute right or wrong.
"Behind that idea is the assumption that there is no God, or if there is a God, that He has given no commandments that apply to us today," he said. "That idea puts its adherents in the same position as the unfortunate people the Prophet Mormon describes as 'without Christ and God in the world … driven about as chaff before the wind" (Mormon 5:16).
Latter-day Saints know that there is a God who is the source of Eternal law, and He has given commandments that establish a right and a wrong for choices. They also know that they will be held accountable for their actions.
"We will be held accountable for the extent to which our mortal deeds and desires have been in harmony with those commandments. We oppose moral relativism, and we must help our youth avoid being deceived and persuaded by reasoning and conclusions based on its false premises," he said.
"Where do we look for the premises with which we begin our reasoning on the truth or acceptability of various proposals? We anchor ourselves to the word of God, as contained in the scriptures and in the teachings of modern prophets. Unless we are anchored to these truths as our major premises and assumptions, we cannot be sure that our conclusions are true. Being anchored to eternal truth will not protect us from the tribulation and persecution Jesus predicted (Matt. 13:21), but it will give us the peace that comes from faith in Jesus Christ and the knowledge that we are on the pathway to eternal life."
The Family: A Proclamation to the World
"We think differently about family issues than many people in the world, because of what we know about the eternal purpose and nature of our family relationships," he said.
Because "marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God" and "the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children," Latter-day Saints persist in the time-honored religious principle that marriage is foremost an institution for the procreation and raising of children, and is the best institution for the economic, political and moral well-being of the human family.
"We reject the modern idea that marriage is a relationship that exists primarily for the fulfillment of the individuals who enter into it, with either one of them being able to terminate it at will," he said. "We focus on the well-being of children, not just ourselves."
The best setting for the rearing and nurturing of children is within the bonds of matrimony, with a father and mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity, Elder Oaks taught.
"Our belief that we are commanded to 'honor marital vows with complete fidelity' introduces the next fundamental premise stated in the Family Proclamation:
"'God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.'
"That declaration is not politically correct but it is true, and we are responsible to teach and practice its truth. That obviously sets us against many assumptions and practices in today's world —?the birth of millions of innocent children to unwed mothers being only one illustration."
Another basic truth Elder Oaks talked about was gender. He quoted again from the Proclamation: "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."
Elder Oaks declared, "All of us — men and women alike — find true and lasting happiness when we understand the rejoice in our unique roles in God's great Plan of Salvation.
Elder Oaks said that the Proclamation on the Family concludes with a plea "'to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society' and urges 'responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed' to do so.
"When we begin by measuring modern practices and proposals against what we know of God's Plan and the premises given in the word of God and the teachings of His living prophets, we must anticipate that our conclusions will differ from persons who do not think in that way. But we are firm in this because we know that this puts us on safe ground, eternally. Many others will not agree, but our explanation of why we think in this way will give others a better understanding of our positions."
God's love and law
As individuals understand the relationship between God's love and His law know that mercy cannot rob justice, and those who obtain the mercy available because of God's great love for His children are "they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment" (Doctrine and Covenants 54:6).
"This fundamental principle helps us understand the 'why' of many things, like justice and mercy balanced by the Atonement," he said. "It also explains why God will not forestall the exercise of agency by His children."
Agency — the power to choose — is fundamental to Heavenly Father's Plan, even when the consequences of some person's choices may create an unwanted result. Agency is necessary, for if God intervened to forestall the consequences of a person's choice, He would destroy His plan for eternal progress.
"While God will not prevent those choices, He will bless us to endure the consequences of other's choices," he said. "And those whose mortal opportunities are cut short or reduced by the choices of others eventually have every blessing and opportunity offered through the mercy and Atonement of Jesus Christ."
Understanding eternal consequences helps those who know the truth to think differently than those who do not, he taught.
"The world in which we live is like the field described by the Savior in the Gospel of Matthew," he said. "Until the time of harvest, the wholesome and desirable wheat is growing side-by-side with the tares sown by the enemy, who is the devil."
As individuals identify error and exclude it from their thinking, desires and actions they will be able to press forward with confidence in these troubled times, he said.
"We must help our young people think clearly about gospel truths and how to apply them to the challenges they face," he said. "Those who do this will be founded upon the 'rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the son of God,' and will qualify for the prophetic promise that the mighty opposition of the devil will have no power to drag them into the gulf of misery because they are built upon that 'sure foundation' and 'cannot fall'" (Helaman 5:12).
During the meeting Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy and Commissioner of Church Education spoke of the need for instructors to accept change.
"Our willingness to accept change in the kingdom helps the Lord hasten His work," he said. "Resistance to inspired change hinders progress of the kingdom."
He referred to the last half of the New Testament as an example of a major challenge the Church faced when Gentile converts were being assimilated as Christians.