I watched the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ last night. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it is a chilling and accurate account of heroism in the face of the genocide that ravaged the country in 1994, resulting in an inconceivable number of deaths. For me, the most impressive aspect of this movie was that the movie effectively conveyed the horror, the despair, and the terror of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people, but didn’t focus on grisly scenes of Rwandans being tortured and hacked to death by the side of the roads (putting aside the question of whether we should have had to watch people being hacked to death by the side of the roads, since this is what actually happened, while the world looked the other way).
On a much smaller scale, Mormons share a violent past replete with massacres and martyrs. A Primary lesson I taught a few weeks ago made this violence more real to me than ever before, and left me wondering how I should understand and teach the violent stories found in the scriptures and in the lesson manuals.
As part of the lesson on Joseph Smith’s Childhood (Lesson #4 in Choose the Right B), I brought in an illustrated copy of the Book of Mormon (published by the Church) to tell the story of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. The kids loved the pictures in the book, and started asking questions about why the Book of Mormon was named the Book of Mormon. So we started flipping through the illustrated stories in the book to find the pictures and stories of Mormon and Moroni. Somewhere along the way, we got lost in the story of Ammon and his fellow servants of the King fighting and cutting off the arms of the robbers stealing the King’s sheep. The book showed pictures of Ammon and his fellow servants fighting the robbers with swords, cutting off their arms, and then bringing the severed bloody arm stumps triumphantly back to the King.
The reactions of the kids in my class to this story made me laugh – one girl shrieked out loud, horrified that they were cutting peopleâ€™s arms off (that’s so gross!!), but the boys loved the story, and were particularly fixated on the picture of the bloody arm stumps.
After I told this story, I wondered are five year old children able to distinguish between ‘good’ violence and ‘bad’ violence? I know that a number of parents in our ward do not allow their young children to play with guns, and they monitor television programs, video games and other media to screen out violence. I wondered how these parents would distinguish violent Book of Mormon stories from violence on TV and in movies. How should we deal with violence in the scriptures and in the history of the Church, particularly as we tell these stories to young children?