Relief Society Lesson 12: Obedience: Simply Live the Gospel

“The way of the gospel is a simple way. … Humble yourselves and walk in obedience.”

I chose to write about this lesson because this tagline troubled me. In reading through, it feels (to me) as if the lesson (and maybe the church) would like to equate humility with submissiveness – and obedience to church above all, including personal revelation.

Mormon culture loves black and white thinking, which has the advantage of certainty. The disadvantage can be a culture that is damaging and stifling to personal revelation and individual thought.

A Covenant People

From the Lesson:

“We are a covenant people, and great are the obligations that go with that covenant. We are a covenant people, and that is a very serious matter. When this work was restored and the Lord set forth the purposes for that restoration, He said that one reason for the restoration was that His everlasting covenant might be reestablished.”

“Now, in this dispensation, that everlasting covenant has been reaffirmed. We, in effect, made that covenant when we were baptized. We became a part of His divine family as it were. All of God’s children are of His family.”

Some questions we can consider when thinking about covenants –

  • What are our covenants – exactly? Do we know what we covenant to do / be – vs – what the culture expects us to do / be?
  • Who do we make our covenants with? God – vs – The Church
  • What covenants involve other people – vs – just ourselves?
  • Do we make any covenants of loyalty to the church? To what end? What does this mean for our independence?

“Each time we partake of the sacrament, … we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and pledge ourselves to keep His commandments.”

This quote is followed by “The Lord expects us to live the gospel in every aspect.”

I know there can be danger in splitting hairs, but I worry that words like “pledge” and “expect” can make us feel bound down and unable to grow and expand.

  • Who determines what the commandments are?
  • Who determines how we live the commandments?
  • Who determines what faithful commandment keeping is?

“We must cultivate the strength to follow our convictions.”

I like this statement. Are we focused on the convictions that we each LEARN for ourselves through church attendance, study, and prayer?

The lesson says: “we are under pressure from our peers and the beguiling voices of those who would persuade us.” We can remember that peers and voices come from both in and outside the church. Mormon culture is strong. If we want to hold to our personal convictions, how do we do this in a strong culture?

President Hinckley encourages:

“Try a little harder to live up to the stature of divinity that is within us. We can do better than we are doing. We can be better than we are. If we would hold before us that image constantly of divine inheritance, of the Fatherhood of God and the sisterhood of woman as realities, we would be a little more tolerant, a little more kindly, a little more outreaching to lift and help and sustain those among us. We would be less prone to stoop to those things which clearly are unbecoming [of] us.”

Lives of order. Lives of gospel living – in every aspect.

From the lesson:

“God will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments.”

Some questions we can consider when thinking about blessings and obedience –

  • What does it mean to be obedient? To what are we obedient?
  • What blessings are given?   Peace of mind? Money? Health? Safety of family?
  • Does the rain fall on both the just and the unjust?

The lesson tells the story of Elijah obeying the Lord without question – and being blessed by being saved from calamities happening around him.

  • To remember: examples of specific blessings happen SOMETIMES , but not ALWAYS.

The lesson tells of the Book of Mormon pride cycle – and the blessing of riches.

  • To remember: examples of specific blessings happen SOMETIMES , but not ALWAYS.

The lesson quotes: “True freedom lies in obedience to the counsels of God. The gospel is not a philosophy of repression, as so many regard it. It is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior. Its fruits are sweet and its rewards are liberal.”

  • To remember: this is not an absolute.

Church leaders point out the way (and invite members to live the gospel).

The idea of “authority” could be an interesting one to discuss.

  • Who has the authority to speak for God?
  • Who has the authority to point the way for an individual life?
  • What is greater: personal authority (ie: a person’s feeling about direct revelation from God about the way to live her life) or church leader authority?

The lesson indicates that church leaders do not “force a man to heaven”, but that it is a loving guide back to God. I would point out here that it is hard to be a loving guide when the church is convinced of its own rightness. I will note that the church actually does punish people who stray from the guided path.

From the lesson:

“The Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it will counsel, it will persuade, it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein.”

It feels more accurate to me with this re-write:

The Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the a way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it (in my experience, the church does dictate, so I would strike this simply as false) will counsel and it will persuade. it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein. (I would strike out this last part, because I think it’s poor form to urge people and to expect loyalty.

A discussion that would interest me in Relief Society would be – seeking inner authority. And also loyalty expectations – from church and from God – pros and cons.

The lesson goes on the quote President Hinckley’s experience with serving in the leadership of the church.

“I have … served in the general councils of this Church for [many] years. … I want to give you my testimony that … I have never been in one where the guidance of the Lord was not sought. …. Those who sit in general counsels have no personal agenda. We have only the Lord’s agenda. There are those who criticize when we issue a statement of counsel or warning. Please know that our pleadings are not motivated by any selfish desire. Please know that our warnings are not without substance and reason. Please know that the decisions to speak out on various matters are not reached without deliberation, discussion, and prayer. Please know that our only ambition is to help each of you with your problems, your struggles, your families, your lives. … There is no desire to teach anything other than what the Lord would have taught.”

I prefer to give church the benefit of the doubt. Generally, I think they are good people who want what is best for people and for the church. I generally believe that they believe their counsel is beneficial and from God.

I also believe that leaders must allow space for personal revelation and for personal journeys.

Leaders may not have personal agendas, but do they have a church agenda? (Earlier in the lesson it states loyalty to the church is expected.) How do church leaders choose when there is a conflict between church interests and individual interests?

Closing Quote

“I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. Let every man and woman and child resolve to make the work of the Lord better and stronger and greater than it has ever been before. It is the quality of our lives that makes the difference. It is our resolution to live the gospel of Jesus Christ that makes the difference. THIS IS AN INDIVIDUAL MATTER. We cannot stand still; we have to move forward.”



  1. I also agree with the above statements. How can you rewrite the words of the prophet. The first step in apostasy is murmuring against the leadership. This article makes me very uncomfortable

  2. Agree with above comments as well. I used some thoughts from the lesson 10 post last month for my lesson which felt very inspiring….this one makes me want to leave this site and not return.

  3. One of the things we talk about a lot in primary is learning to recognize how the Lord speaks to us, and then having the courage to follow what he says. I’m voting for RS taught by Suzette that focus on seeking Inner authority.

  4. I agree with your edit, Suzette. Quotes like the one included in the manual perpetuate the feeling (which is quite justified) that the main purpose of the Mormon church is to keep people being Mormon, rather than helping them find a meaningful relationship with Christ. The two are not necessarily synonymous, and we need to stop acting like they are.

    • Yes! I think you said it so well about the push to keep people Mormon rather than to connect with Christ. The encouragement (and execution thereof) often looks the same, but feels much much different. We need to make sure we know what we’re teaching about “the one true church”!

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