Kimberly Teitter is a clinical psychologist who has studied family systems theory at length. Family systems theory says that family members are all interconnected and we influence one another’s behavior. So, if we believe that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, how do our actions affect one another’s behavior? Are we all interconnected? Teitter believes that we are, and that Jesus Christ showed in His interaction with the woman taken in adultery that how we treat one another can have significant repercussions.
It is perhaps important to note that the Joseph Smith Translation of John 8:11 says that after the Savior’s interaction with the woman taken in adultery, she “glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.”
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones Pearson: Kimberly, while we’re on the topic of family, I wanted to ask you about another thing that you wrote that I found interesting. You said, “Family systems theory emphasizes the interconnectedness of people within families, and through the generations and an eternal ebb and flow of seeking for balance and relationships. In this view, so many behaviors that seem unforgivable, are understood in context, which helps provide insight that leads to movement and growth. It is akin to how the Savior ministered to the woman caught in adultery.” I wondered if you could, with your clinical expertise, explain how you see that story from the Bible in this theory, and why that was an important to you to point out?
Kimberly Teitter: So family systems theory talks a lot about how people are related to each other. But it almost compares to a system like a cell; every part of a cell has a job to do. And when part of the cell is not doing that job, then this cell can’t function in the same ways. And so then the cell tries to do things to get it to return to homeostasis, it just feels somewhat like the organic way of being. So then when you think about behavior and relationships operating in the same way, then you find a lot of meaning in patterns. … What might seem like it will totally shatter a system will really represent the cell regaining homeostasis to what it needs to be.
I feel so much disarray when things are out of order in my life. And I think about how when the Savior came in His mortal ministry, so much of what He was doing was earth-shattering, so much so that He had to tell people, I'm not here to destroy anything; I'm here to fulfill. But what did He do? He came in and He said, like, these people who you think are the top? No, they're not the top these people are the top, the ones that you have been considering the least of these.
So, in family systems theory, it talks about how a lot of recalibration of relationships comes from determining insiders and outsiders. So when you look at the woman who was caught in adultery, she was very much an outsider in society, or at least [that’s what] the powers that be wanted Jesus to say. But Jesus said no because we are all doing the thing that we are guilty of, in some way. We are all sinners. This woman sinned just like you sin. This is what it means when He says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone at this woman,” [he was] bringing balance to a system of people that are interconnected; we're not made different from each other by sin. We are the same because we are children of a Creator. And so, when we create outsiders of people who sin, we're not doing what's right in that system.
It was interesting last month at Genesis group, Zandra Vranes was there and she talked about this story. And she said, “Why is it that we still call this woman by her sin? The Lord says she was forgiven, we should call her ‘the woman who's standing in the room with Jesus.’” But this is what we're used to doing.
Even as faithful Latter-day Saints, we want to say we’re doing the right thing and it’s the world that is sinning. Or it’s like we're keeping our covenants and it’sthat person who's gone astray. But Jesus didn't say that. He said, whoever is the least of you, whoever you're going to regard the least, that's who's at the top of my kingdom, that's who we need to have proximity towards. Jesus moved toward this woman to make her the insider and bring balance to the system. It's not to say that sin is not bad. Of course, sin does distance us from the Father, but it distances us in the sense of what we are then able to receive. It's not so much an unchangeable part of our being when we do wrong, and we know this, or else we wouldn't be trying to repent. But so often, we are willing to judge and remove things from our lives when really Jesus calls for us to be closer, to be in proximity to one another, to increase understanding so that we can all function as this body of Christ that He wants us to.
Morgan Jones Pearson: So well said. That called to mind a couple of things for me. One, what you were saying about why do we still call her the woman taken in adultery? A friend of mine was giving a sacrament meeting talk and was talking about Thomas and how we always call him ‘doubting Thomas.” But she said, “Jesus never called him that, not once.” And so we put these labels on people. And we still do that. And so how do we how do we eliminate that practice?
And then also of the biggest things that has stood out to me, in this year's Come, Follow Me, is just how radical the things that Jesus was teaching really were and how He kind of flipped everything on its head, and how we need to be open to new ways of thinking, because that's honestly, I think that''s something that Jesus modeled for us.