When we head out on a family venture (say, cross-country skiing), my wife and I try to efficiently share with our children the most relevant knowledge we have, and we try to help them develop the skills to continue to learn and enjoy the activity on their own.
Similarly, when it comes to religious instruction and scripture study, we focus on the teachings we find to be most important for our children’s spiritual development. We give less attention to scriptures that have, at least at this life stage, a lower return on investment.
I’ve recently read two books that contain selections from the Book of Mormon. One is The Book of Mormon: Selections Annotated and Explained (SkyLight Paths, 2005), by Jana Reiss, one in a series of interfaith introductions to various religious faiths. The right-hand pages of that book contain excerpts from the BoM (about 10% of the BoM, altogether). On the left-hand pages Reiss gives her commentary, with a goal of providing non-Mormons an introduction to Book of Mormon studies and basic Mormon theology.
The other is the comic book The Golden Plates, an illustrated version of the Book of Mormon by artist Michael Allred (AAA Pop Comics, 2204, 2005). Vols 1 and 2 of an anticipated 12 have been published. The words in the comic consist of direct quotes from the BoM (less than 10% of the full text, I think). Allred adds to this his illustrations of BoM events, drawn in traditional super-hero style.
As I’ve read these books and observed what the authors included and omitted from the Book of Mormon, I have more explicitly considered what portions of scripture I focus on (or omit) when discussing religion with my children. The question I’ll be getting to at the bottom of this post is, what BoM passages would you be most likely to share with children, or, more broadly, what portions of the BoM do you find most important to your own spiritual life?
As I review when and how I’ve discussed the BoM with my children, I see that King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah gets top billing. This was confirmed recently by my 11-year old. On the way home from a soccer game, after I declined a request to stop to buy snacks, she reminded me of Benjamin’s instruction that “ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry”(Mos. 4:14-15). I relented and bought her and her teammates horchata and fish tacos, but only after extracting from her a commitment to pay attention to the rest of that verse, which includes an injunction that children not “fight and quarrel one with another.”
Mosiah 4 is one of my favorite BoM chapters. There, Benjamin calls me to repentance with his teaching to “impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.”(26) I particularly like his development of a theological basis to convince his listeners to share their resources with the needy (essentially, as you may remember more consistently than I do, Benjamin concludes that we must liberally share our resources with the needy in order to obtain a remission of sins. (16-27, esp. 26)).
He ends this section with “see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.”(27) I appreciate the practical instruction, although I too often use it as an escape clause to avoid an opportunity to share. For example, when our family is traveling in a city where we meet many people asking for assistance, I find myself more likely to give to the elderly or to mothers with children, but less likely to give to single men who seem healthy. I guess that is a way of measuring whether the supplicant is “deserving:”an act Benjamin explicitly condemns (16-22). When I discuss with our children both why we should share, and explain some of the circumstances where I choose not to, I justify my behavior (unsuccessfully, I think, and I tell them that) based on verse 27, explaining that I can’t help everyone, and that my discriminatory criteria of gender & age are how I share “in wisdom and order.”
I’ve also found that I take care to discuss with the kids some of the BoM passages that can be mis- or poorly-interpreted, that might be confusing to a child (or myself), or that simply beg for analysis. For example, when we read the story of Nephi killing Laban, we discuss whether the killing was justified given the rules prohibiting killing and Christ’s teachings rejecting all violence. I don’t provide the children any neatly packaged answers on this issue; I guide them through the ethical questions at stake.
For the killing Laban story, my discussion is by two Mormon Studies articles: John Welch’s “Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 119-41 (Welch argues that according to the biblical laws of Nephi’s time, Nephi committed an excusable manslaughter, not murder) and Eugene England’s article “Why Nephi Killed Laban: Reflections on the Truth of the Book of Mormon,”Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22, no. 3 (1989): 34-53 (England uses Catholic literary critic/anthropologist René Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry and scapegoat effects in suggesting that the Nephi/Laban story teaches Nephi and BoM readers “something very troubling but still very true about the universe and the natural requirements of establishing a saving relationship with God…that genuine faith ultimately requires us to go beyond the rationally moral…when God himself requires it directly of us.”)
So, getting back to the question: What BoM passages would you be most likely to share with children (either your own children, or with others’ in a class setting at church), and why? Or if you prefer, more broadly, which passages do you find end up in your own version of “Selected Excerpts of the BoM?” (and if you want to explain, why?)