Ezekiel delivered the longest single prophecy, the longest single allegory, in the Bible in what is now Ezekiel 16. His theme is that Jerusalem has acted like a prostitute. He presses his case for 63 verses! In the middle of that, right after an allegation that Jerusalem has been a prostitute, he says that the kind of people who like to quote proverbs at other people will say to them ‘like mother, like daughter’ (Ezekiel 16:44), but he then explains that that isn’t really true because they are so much worse than the nations they have chosen to follow (=their “mothers” and “sisters”). He then says (and I’ll use the NET Bible here):
You are the daughter of your mother, who detested her husband and her sons, and you are the sister of your sisters who detested their husbands and their sons. . . . Have you not copied their behavior and practiced their abominable deeds? In a short time you became even more depraved in all your conduct than they were! As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never behaved as wickedly as you and your daughters have behaved.
In short, ouch. This is an important passage about wickedness–one well worth thinking about, especially since Ezekiel is about to explain that the sin of Sodom, which Jerusalem has outdone, was “pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49, KJV). But, again, note that the entire point of the passage is that they have gone beyond the wickedness of their neighbors.
What this passage is not about is “the importance of a mother’s example,” which is how the December Young Women’s lesson on preparing to establish a Christ-like home tags it. In the first place, Ezekiel’s point is that the proverb is not true because they have exceeded their “mother’s” example. Second, it is most clearly a negative example–not a positive one to be emulated. Third, it seems that “the kind of people who like to quote proverbs” are not exactly the good guys in this story, but rather the kinds of enemies one acquires when one acts poorly, so we might not want to repeat their taunting proverb. Fourth, the mother is an allegorical figure for their neighboring nations–not a literal mother by any stretch (the Institute manual explains this clearly).
I can understand that the lesson writers wanted some female-specific scriptures for this lesson and I applaud that goal. But this is not that. They could have enlisted D & C 138:39 or Mark 7:24-30 or 1 Samuel 1-2 or Luke 1:42-55 to talk about the influence of a mother. (Or we could avoid an obsessive-but-myopic focus on The Family and talk about the influence of righteous women more generally.)
When I was investigating the church in the early 90s, all of the sister missionaries who taught me presented a sentence or two of context before sharing any scripture. I have no idea if this was an idiosyncratic, local, or church-wide practice at the time, but it was the right thing to do. They would always begin with something like “Shortly after Jesus was resurrected, he visited the New World and taught the people that . . . ” or “Lehi was a prophet who lived hundreds of years before Christ and told his wayward sons that . . .” or whatever. It is a necessary discipline to be aware of the context in order to be sure that we are accurately reflecting what the scriptures teach and not proof-texting them. If you can’t imagine yourself telling the Young Women, “Ezekiel was comparing the people to a prostitute because they were following other nations and he warned them that . . . ” then you shouldn’t be using this passage to make your point.
This lesson engages in the kind of acontextual reading that has become all too common in our era. I suspect that this kind of thing is one of the dangers of relying on computerized keyword searches–perhaps the case with our use of Moroni 9:9 as well–but I can’t be certain. I find it ironic that the point of this lesson is the importance of examples when the example of the lesson itself is one of wresting the scriptures.