I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

Several interesting courses are available to adults in the Sunday School. How does a person know which class to attend?

Joe J. Christensen, second counselor in the general Sunday School presidency, and associate commissioner of Church Education responsible for seminaries and institutes of religion

The basic Sunday School course of study for adults is the Gospel Doctrine course. This is a stimulating, on-going, eight-year curriculum based on the standard works of the Church. The Gospel Doctrine class in a ward may be divided into several groups, depending upon the number of adults and the availability of qualified teachers and classrooms.

In addition to the Gospel Doctrine class, three other adult courses are offered: Gospel Essentials, Family Relations, and Genealogy. These are twelve-week optional courses designed to supplement the Gospel Doctrine course and meet specific individual needs of investigators, parents, and other adult members. (Teacher Development Basic Course, a class for the training of present and prospective teachers, may also be conducted during Sunday School time.)

It should be emphasized that these courses are temporary options only. It is intended that participants who are recommended for these classes attend for the specified twelve weeks and then return to the Gospel Doctrine class. The optional courses, intentionally limited to small groups of students at a time for the sake of increased effectiveness, are offered as often as necessary to meet the needs of the ward. Since we consider the Gospel Doctrine course to be the mainstream of the adult Sunday School, these might be considered twelve-week diversions to obtain specific training, after which the participants would be returned to the mainstream.

It is not the intent that any of these optional courses be taught as ongoing classes to compete with the Gospel Doctrine class. After twelve weeks, new groups of participants are formed and the course work repeated; therefore, it would be a duplication of instruction for a student to continue to attend beyond the twelve-week period.

It is the desire of the General Authorities that we all become serious students of the scriptures, and for this reason we are counseled to attend the Gospel Doctrine class and complete the eight-year curriculum based on the standard works. President Kimball has also stressed the importance of each member bringing the standard works to all Church meetings.

Which class should you attend? The Gospel Doctrine class, except for those twelve-week intervals when you are a member of one of the optional courses.

What is our responsibility to our aged parents? Does the Church provide rest homes or other special help for the elderly when their children cannot support them?

Dr. Victor Brown, Jr., commissioner of LDS Social Services

Wherever I travel in the Church, questions about our older brothers and sisters arise with increasing frequency. There is no doubt that this is a major concern.

By appointment of the First Presidency, considerable attention is being given to the circumstances of elderly members by a task committee working under the direction of the General Welfare Services Committee and the Presiding Bishopric. At this point one principle is very clear: we make a serious mistake whenever we treat old members as if they were either obsolete or objects of pity to be cared for but not included in the full range of our personal and Church activities.

The “world” has created a throw-away society ranging from bottles to diapers; regrettably, this is also too often applied to people. Some in our society respond to the elderly as though they have become of no value at age 65 (or earlier). This myth has convinced many older people—and their families as well that with advancing years they should become relatively inactive and retire, which can also be interpreted as “out of sight, out of mind.” The Church is not of the “world,” however, and does not share in this view.

It is interesting that the scriptures; when describing the happiest and most righteous periods in mankind’s history, refer to a society in which the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of each person are adequately met. The Pearl of Great Price describes the City of Enoch in this way:

“And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness.” (Moses 7:18.)

We infer from this that everyone is entitled to exercise his or her free agency in a situation of full activity all during mortal life—and indeed should have a prominent place in society’s activities in the later stages of that life. The productivity and usefulness of an individual need not be dictated by age. Quite the contrary! There is (or should be) a place for anyone who is willing to serve and contribute.

Older members of the Church are in a unique position to give and receive love and companionship with their children and other family members and to otherwise render service to their fellowmen. A considerable number of the volunteers serving in our LDS Social Services agencies are retired individuals or couples, providing a great service to those in need. Calls to serve in ward and stake positions are crucial. Elderly members make wonderful fireside speakers and influencers of youth, and all of us know of the contribution senior couples are making as full-time missionaries. There is a depth and wisdom among our older brothers and sisters that is greatly needed by those younger.

To discard some people merely because they have lived beyond a certain arbitrarily established age seems very wrong indeed. There is no righteous way to avoid the commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

One of the most basic gospel principles is the sacredness of the family and its eternal scope. Too often the family is considered as being only mother, father, and children. However, no family that hopes to endure eternally can exclude grandmothers and grandfathers; neither should other relatives be forgotten, especially those who have never married or who have married but do not have children. These should have a special place of dignity; God forbid that any elderly member should be considered a burden.

Paul outlined to Timothy the stewardship of the family:

“But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite [repay] their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. …

“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:4, 8.)

Quite simply, then, the responsibility for the security and the continuity of activity in the lives of the elderly remains with what is called the extended family—the family beyond parent and child.

Every Latter-day Saint extended family, as part of their Family Preparedness Program, should plan and provide for the time when parents and others will grow older and eventually retire from the work-day routine. This plan includes consideration for financial security, adequate health insurance, and a properly prepared will. It should also include a determination to continue to serve usefully and vigorously in the Church, the community, and, most importantly, the family.

Of course, special problems require special help. In these situations, eternal principles of personal integrity revealed by the Lord teach that we first turn to our own resources, then to our families, and then to the Church.

There are very legitimate occasions where specific emotional, physical, or medical care in a rest home is needed for the elderly or for any other family member of any age. The Church does not sponsor rest homes or other types of what are called “residential care facilities.” These are considered legitimate private enterprises. When it is deemed necessary that a family member have institutional care that is beyond the individual’s or the family’s capability to provide, the local ward or branch Welfare Services Committee should have available a list of rest or nursing homes and other high-quality special-care facilities that are clean and decent. The ward Welfare Services Committee should, through the priesthood quorums and the Relief Society, monitor the services of these facilities and, if needed and where appropriate, financially assist the family in meeting the needs of members needing such care.

It must be emphasized that once in a special-care facility, a person is still a member of a family and a ward or branch. Never should our elderly members be shut away and left alone. There is considerable evidence indicating that the greatest barrier to social and Church activity by the elderly is not their health, but transportation. Every family and ward or branch can overcome this problem for these members.

According to the law of eternal progression, the end of our mortal probation should be better than the beginning. This means ideally that our last years should be our best, most enjoyable, and most productive. By properly applying the principles of the gospel and through stronger ties, this ideal can become a greater reality for more of our members, especially if Church officers and family members help our elderly Saints contribute to the utmost of their ability.

How can our family set up guidelines to ensure that the movies we see will not be destructive to our spirituality?

Ralph D. Barney, associate professor of communications, Brigham Young University

The important thing to remember about the situation in the motion picture industry today is that television has gobbled up much of the money that the public used to spend on general, or family, movie entertainment. In order to attract audiences to movie theaters, then, movie makers find they must offer something that cannot be found in the home on television. Therefore, they have largely dedicated themselves to the treatment of mature subjects that attract primarily young adult audiences. The vast majority of moviegoers today are between the ages of seventeen and thirty.

Another limiting factor is the generally low quality of the “family” movies that are made. Because family-type movies seldom attract enough paying customers to cover high production costs, movies for general audiences are quite often low quality and disappointing because they are poorly photographed, have uneven or ineffective story lines, employ poor actors, or are in other ways amateurish. This generally poor level of the G-rated movies, brought about by the economics of movie production and exhibition, makes it necessary for parents to be most careful about evaluating, for their worth, even the G movies they take their families to see.

Most people are aware that the movie rating system in the United States is based primarily on the content of offensive language, sexual activity, and violence, and has little or no relationship to other values transmitted by the depictions. Consequently, parents should use caution in assuming too much about the meanings of the ratings for individual movies.

For example, one major producer of family-type films made and distributed an entire generation of films that have subsequently been rated G; yet these movies consistently contained story lines in which children successfully disobeyed not-too-bright parents and defied bumbling police to track down and capture gangs of thieves. It is not unreasonable to think that a prolonged diet of such portrayals promoting disobedience could have a substantial effect on impressionable children who watch with parental approval. It may not even be too farfetched to suggest that such movies could have contributed to the widespread derision of parental authority by young people in the 1960s.

With these problems in mind, I would suggest that parents not rely completely on the rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America in the selection of appropriate movies for the family. Such reliance would delegate the parents’ decision-making for their family to a force outside the home.

This is not to say that the rating system is of no value. Generally speaking, the rating given to a movie can be viewed as a general guide to the type of entertainment value it may have for the family. (A G movie is judged wholesome enough for anyone, while an X film is closed to young people because of the sexual activity, violence, or offensive language it contains. PG and R are intermediate gradations that suggest parental guidance and accompaniment, respectively.) President Hartman Rector, Jr., of the First Council of the Seventy, for example, used the rating system as a guideline when he, counseled the youth of the Church in 1972 to “not attend R- or X-rated movies.” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 131.) However, such advice should probably not be construed as an endorsement of G- and PG-rated movies. Rather, parents should set up their own rating system. Such a system—one that is tailor-made for the needs of the individual family—may be more difficult to devise, but it is a proper exercise of the responsibilities placed on parents by the Church to supervise the spiritual and temporal instruction of their children.

One important contributor to that personal rating system could be a trustworthy reviewer who comments on films regularly. But since no nonmember reviewer is likely to react to a movie the same way that a Latter-day Saint parent will, you may try and discard several before an appropriate one is found.

To supplement the “good” reviewer’s opinions, or to give a quick assessment of movies the favored reviewer or reviewers (it would be preferable to have several reviewers you rely on) may not have commented upon lately, each issue of Parents’ Magazine contains a comprehensive list of movies, with a brief description and evaluation and an indicator of the sexual activity, violence, or vulgar language content of each one.

The combination of reliable reviewers and listing services offered by such magazines as Parents’ Magazine should provide fairly reliable prescreening information, particularly when you are faced with deciding whether your teenage children should be permitted or encouraged to attend a certain movie you have not seen.

These suggestions may not be best for everyone, but some adaptation of them may work for you. The main point to keep in mind is that parents have the responsibility for selecting movies for themselves and for their children, and that responsibility should not be turned over to movie raters in Hollywood, to hometown theater owners, or even to “reliable” reviewers. The more carefully decisions are based on the values of the family and the Church, and the more reliable the prescreening sources are, the more likely it is that both children and parents will see movies that are uplifting and instructive as well as entertaining.

What does the Church do to help people when a catastrophe such as an earthquake, flood, or tornado occurs?

Richard W. Linford, assistant manager of program development and marketing services, Production-Distribution Division, Welfare Services Department

On Friday evening, February 1, 1974, the Brisbane Australia Stake president reported that twenty-nine families of Saints whose houses had been flooded in the wake of a devastating hurricane had been evacuated to the homes of other members. After the Saints had exhausted their own resources, the stake provided food and shelter for those in need. A ward meetinghouse was made available to the local civil defense organization as a place to care for those in the city who were suffering because of the terrible flooding. One bishop reported that he had twenty people staying in his home; they were living from his year’s supply of food. Local priesthood brethren were organized to work day and night to clean out the silt and garbage. Funds were sent from the Presiding Bishopric’s Office to supplement the available local fast offering funds.

The Omaha, Nebraska, tornado that struck in May of 1975 resulted in substantial property damage. Although the Omaha Third and Fourth wards and others were affected, no Latter-day Saints were killed or injured. Local priesthood brethren organized clean-up and repair crews. They indicated no need for help from other Church organizations in the region or from the general church headquarters and followed fundamental Church welfare principles in doing what they could to help themselves.

These are but two of many incidents in which Church members and priesthood leaders have cooperated to assist those suffering from disaster. These examples illustrate the fundamental principle that governs Church response in times of emergency: Whenever a disaster occurs, every effort should be made to solve the attendant problems at the lowest possible organizational level.

The responsibility is, first, for each individual to help himself, and next, for each family to help its members. Church resources are utilized only where individuals and their families are unable to care for themselves.

Where Church involvement does become necessary, bishops or branch presidents take all emergency action necessary to care for the welfare of Church members and their families—and nonmembers as well, where possible. Priesthood quorums and local members are called upon to help as needed, and local resources such as commodities available at bishops storehouses and, where available, Deseret Industries facilities, are used as long as they last. Where ward resources are inadequate, stake or mission presidents may make available the resources of the other wards and branches under their jurisdiction and may also seek regional or area assistance.

When still more assistance is required, stake or mission presidents report conditions and urgent needs and recommend a plan of action to the General Welfare Services Committee for approval by the Presiding Bishopric. After an evaluation in which local resources are balanced against pressing needs, the Presiding Bishopric may, under the direction of the First Presidency, then proceed to send aid in the form of materials and personnel to the stricken area.

The Church has responded quickly to emergencies throughout the world in past decades. After World War II, 140 railroad cars loaded with food, clothing, and other materials, all valued at about $2 million, were shipped to Europe. Many thousands of tons of goods have been sent in recent years to flooded areas in western Europe, to earthquake-devastated countries of South America, and to disaster areas within the United States.

Individuals are encouraged first to help themselves—to be prepared, to be independent and self-sustaining, and, to the extent possible, to work for the interests of others. Then, each family should help its own members. And finally, Church resources should be utilized only where individuals and their families are unable to care for themselves. Again, the fundamental principle is that problems should be solved at the lowest possible organizational level.