Primary Sharing Time Lesson: All Are Alike unto God

Illustration via lds.org

This month’s Primary Sharing Time outline provides two weeks to cover the topic of the Sabbath. Because our presidency covered the topic well last week, I’ve created an alternate Sharing Time lesson plan. Given recent events in the US, I focused the lesson on respect for human difference and universal equality. The lesson draws on scriptures, topics, and techniques included throughout the yearly Sharing Time curriculum, bringing them together into a single lesson to underscore the importance of Christ-like love. The lesson reflects my limited North American perspective in its language, techniques, and assumptions, but I hope Primary presidencies around the world, if they encounter this post, will feel free to transform it for their Primaries. In writing the lesson, I consulted the church’s Sharing Time outline, and the websites shouldertothewheel.org and Blacksinthescriptures.com, as well as this article. By citing these resources, I do not imply personal endorsement of every idea therein, but I found them to be helpful in stimulating my own thoughts. I created separate lesson plans for Junior (ages 3-8) and Senior (ages 8-11) Primary, because older children are generally ready for a more developed treatment of the topic. I hope readers will find these lessons useful in whole or in part, this week or any time they are relevant. I invite further suggestions or variations in the comments. Feel free to share the content in any form or forum. Enjoy!

 

Junior Primary

  1. Attention activity: Tell the children that somebody very important is coming to Primary today! This person has done amazing things in their life, and they have a very important job to do in the world. They have a famous mother and father, and someday this person will be as powerful as their parents. Ask the children to guess who the person might be. Ask the children how we can show respect for this very important person, and suggest that giving flowers is often a sign of respect. Instruct the children to look under their chairs, where you have previously taped colorful paper flowers. Instruct each child to give their flower to the child sitting beside them: that’s the important person! Each child is an amazing person, with an important role in our community, powerful Heavenly Parents, and an exciting future.

    Example image courtesy of iheartcraftythings.com

  2. Using a puppet, tell the story of a child walking through a garden. The child sees many flowers, but they are all the same color (use the blackboard to post monochromatic paper flowers). The child decides to plant a flower garden with many different color flowers. The child takes good care of the seeds, and the plants grow into a beautiful garden. Invite some children up to post their paper flowers in the new garden, and admire the diversity of color. Differences make the world beautiful.
  3. Explain the Doctrine: If available, show the children the cover of the book Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families, with artwork by Caitlin Connolly.* Explain that our Heavenly Parents are the parents of all humans, and we are all brothers and sisters. They created their children in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, and when they finished, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Heavenly Father created his children to look and be different from each other.

    Image courtesy of deseretbook.com

  4. Encourage Application: Explain that Jesus taught us to show kindness and respect to all of God’s children, no matter how their bodies work, what they look like, or what country or family they are from. Using foam letter tiles spelling out L-O-V-E (or any other object you choose), select children to come up and match the letter to its base. On the back of each letter, write a scenario in which the child can show kindness. Ask the children to stand up when they hear the answer that Jesus would choose. For instance: There is a new child in your class who just moved to our country with their family. At lunch, some other kids are making fun of the unusual food they brought in their lunch. Should you: a) not join in, and sit quietly eating your lunch; b) tell the others, “That’s not kind,” and ask the new child about their favorite food; or c) plug your nose, because the food smells funny.

 

Senior Primary

  1. Attention activity: Humorously tell the children that you wrote your sharing time lesson earlier in the week, but your handwriting is so messy that now you can’t tell what words you wrote. Post the following on the board, and invite the children to decipher its meaning:

La vunna nubber as cheeses lazoo. Titus so kine nessa nall dachoo doo. Beej enter en lubb eenin dee dad enfawt, forties arduff eens cheeses dot.

“Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do. Be gentle and loving in deed and thought, for these are the things Jesus taught.”  

  1.  Explain the Doctrine: One of Jesus’s most important teachings is that we are all equal in his eyes, no matter our race, gender, nationality, or religion. Invite the children to compete with the teachers in locating 2 Nephi 26:33 in their scriptures: “[The Lord]  inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” Explain the difficult terms in that scripture (bond, heathen, Gentile). With sensitivity to the composition of your Primary, explain that racism and other kinds of discrimination exist in the world, but that the gospel condemns it. The gospel teaches that we are all equal brothers and sisters. 
  2. Jane Manning James. Image courtesy of lds.org.

    Show the children a picture of Jane Manning James, like this one. Invite a child to come forward and put on a simple dark dress, as in the photo. Briefly explain Jane’s conversion story and harrowing journey to Nauvoo. Ask the child representing Jane to read the following quote from Jane James’s autobiography:  

When we found [the Smith home in Nauvoo], Sister Emma was standing in the door and she kindly said, “Come in.  Come in!”  Brother Joseph said to some white sisters that was present, “Sisters, I want you to occupy this room this evening with some brothers and sisters that have just arrived.” … He then said, “God bless you!  Now I would like you to relate your experience in your travels.”  I related to them all that I have above stated and a great deal more minutely, as many incidents has passed from my memory since then. … [Brother Joseph] then said, “God bless you. You are among friends now and you will be protected.”

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley. Image courtesy of BYU Magazine.

    Show the children a photo of President Hinckley like this one. Invite a child to come forward, don hat, glasses, jacket and tie, and read the following quote from the microphone:  “No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.”

5. Encourage application: Talk about bystanders, who might witness racism but do little to stop it, versus upstanders, who stand up for anybody who is being mistreated. Play the game “Last One Standing”: Invite all children to stand, then issue a series of quick statements like “I have two sisters,” “I have read the Book of Mormon cover to cover,” or “I speak another language.” Any child to whom the statement does not apply must sit down. The last person standing will share something that he or she can do to “stand up” for those who may be mistreated. Repeat as time allows.

 

*Any representation of sensitive topics like the ones represented in this picture will be minutely scrutinized, and will be found to reflect the perspective of its maker. My purpose in including this image is its clear visual representation of humans of many races descending together from Heavenly  Parents. However, the point can be conveyed to children without the image.

17 comments for “Primary Sharing Time Lesson: All Are Alike unto God

  1. ji
    August 25, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Have you discussed your alternative lessons with the parents of your students?

  2. Need citation
    August 25, 2017 at 9:01 am

    What part of the lesson do you find problematic and suggest would need approval by parents, ji? (This is a serious question.)

  3. Kol
    August 25, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I love this!

  4. August 25, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Nicely there is an article in the upcoming September Friend that features Jane Manning James that you could also use for Jr. or Sr. Primary: https://www.lds.org/friend/2017/09/janes-choice?lang=eng

  5. Lily
    August 25, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I have the same question as “Need Citation”, how is “all are alike unto God” a controversial topic?

  6. James Olsen
    August 25, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I think we’ve generally done a good job of getting rid of our racist materials and narratives. But we still suffer significant problems in part because we don’t have enough positive materials—at all levels—directly addressing racism and offering clear doctrinal explanations for its evil. Thank you for offering a brilliant lesson for our primaries.

  7. Elizabeth Osborn
    August 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    ji, I think her lesson is spot on; and entirely in line with the material in the September 2016 Ensign, p. 72. There is such a huge lead time in preparing church magazines for publication… it is a sweet mercy to have this lesson of Respecting Others published right now!

  8. Elizabeth Osborn
    August 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Fat thumb… 2017, not 2016

  9. MH
    August 25, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    I know we’re talking about Primary here, but a lesson like this really runs the risk of whitewashing things (no pun intended. Okay, pun half-intended). I know this isn’t a history lecture, but if you’re going to use historical motifs like Jane Manning James’s story or Gordon B Hinkley’s words, I would feel some need as a teacher to go further. I would consider briefly telling the kids that not every member had the smooth ride sister Manning’s narrative may suggest and that not every leader had the same mentality on race as President Hinkley.

    Again, I know these kids are young, but for me, freshman year at BYU was way too late to be finding out that the Church’s experience with diversity was not as harmonious as every teacher from primary, young men’s, and seminary wanted me to think it was.

  10. Marianne
    August 25, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    I love this. Our family is transracial and I would love for my son to have this lesson. He gets lots of black history lessons in school but I love this in the frame of the Gospel.

  11. Jerry Schmidt
    August 25, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    I do agree rhat these lessons are well-thought out, and feel they are consistent with my understanding of the element of equality at least implied in the gospel.

    I feel the need to speak to speak to jj’s comment, though it bteaks my personal policy of avoiding crosstalk.

    Has there ever been a time and place where a primary or sunday school teacher, or even a seminary or institute teacher, been accountable to parents for their lessons, particularly in advance of the lessons themselves?

  12. fbisti
    August 26, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Marianne: I am, admittedly, an old “baby boomer.” So, not up on the latest terminology. But, what is “transracial?” Is it different from “multiracial?”

    respectfully,

  13. Kari
    August 27, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Thank you for this. I’m using it today.

  14. stephenchardy
    August 29, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I’ll repeat this at the end of my post: I loved this sharing time, and if I were still in the primary, I would use it.

    I have concerns about the use of Jane Manning James. I am no expert of her, but based on limited reading I understand:

    She joined the church in 1842.

    She made it to Nauvoo where she was closely associated with the Joseph Smith household until Joseph’s death. Thus the warm welcome described above.

    She emigrated to Utah and lived there I believe until her death in 1908. Joseph F Smith spoke at her funeral. She and Joseph F Smith may have known each-other all the way back in Nauvoo.

    So here is the obvious hard part: she never was allowed full fellowship with the church. She was denied access to the temple and to standard temple ceremonies. From her Wikipedia page:

    “James continued to ask that she and her family be given the ordinance of adoption so that they could be sealed together forever. Her justification for asking to be the exception to the church’s rule was Emma Smith’s offer in 1844 to have her sealed to the Smith family as a child. James was now reconsidering her decision, and asked to be sealed to the Smiths. Her requests were again refused. Instead, the First Presidency “decided she might be adopted into the family of Joseph Smith as a servant, which was done, a special ceremony having been prepared for the purpose.”[10] The ceremony took place on May 18, 1894, with Joseph F. Smith acting as proxy for Joseph Smith, and Bathsheba W. Smith acting as proxy for James (who was not allowed into the temple for the ordinance).[11] In the ceremony, James was “attached as a Servitor for eternity to the prophet Joseph Smith and in this capacity be connected with his family and be obedient to him in all things in the Lord as a faithful Servitor””

    Back to me now: Thus Jane Manning James was denied an endowment and was attached as a servant to the Joseph Smith family. Her proxy work was done, I understand, in 1979, 71 years after her death.

    She provides me with an example not of equality, but of pure stark institutional racism.

    I would have a hard time teaching only part of this story, to my peers, to the youth, and to the primary. If we are going to include her in a lesson on “all being alike unto God” then we have to make it clear that we as a church, as an institution, fell far short of living up to that ideal. I likely would have been comfortable teaching that to my children at home. I am not likely to teach such a thing to a group of LDS children at Sharing Time. The story of her warm welcome in Nauvoo must be made in contrast to her unfair and racist treatment as a faithful member. Yes she was welcomed and protected. She was not a peer.

    Lest we think that her status in Utah was somehow downgraded from whatever status she had in Nauvoo, lets remember that she did not apparently take advantage of the Nauvoo temple. As a member of the Joseph Smith household. Why was that? Does anyone know?

    Let me say again: this is a FANTASTIC sharing time, and I would use it. I would however likely drop the inclusion of Sister Jane Manning James, and consider finding another person of color in her place. I would be interested if anyone else would be uncomfortable telling only part of her story.

  15. September 1, 2017 at 5:38 am

    I note that the couple at the top of the triangle of a huge world’s family is white. The lesson and the principles of it are excellent, but I accept the problem of using Jane Manning James and not telling the outcome.

  16. Rosemary N. Palmer
    September 4, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    if you add in the fact that Jane Manning James joined the Smith household only after she’s searched everywhere in nauvoo without finding employment, you tell a more informed story. No one who is aware of her full story would perceive her as having an easy time.

    Also, when you are speaking about black members, Primary should be careful to include Green Flake, Hank ? and Oscar? in all Pioneer sharing times/activities, as well as pointing out that Green Flake joined the church with his slave keeping master.

  17. Rosemary N. Palmer
    September 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Also, Jane Manning James was sealed to the Joseph Smith at a time when she could not be sealed to her own dh, and at her request — he’d asked her if she wanted to be sealed to him and Emma just weeks before his death, and she hadn’t decided yet. She was very gratified when the Prophet of about the 1920’s agreed she could be. When her proxy work was done in 1979 when blacks could hold the priesthood, she was sealed to her dh.

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