If you have read or had a lesson on the New Testament, chances are you encountered something related to the Pharisees and their rigid adherence to 600+ rules based on the Law of Moses. We often talk about the religious leaders’ unwillingness to accept a higher law and how their litany of laws interfered with their ability to truly live the gospel. But as emeritus General Authority and former Sunday School General President Tad R. Callister points out in a recent article for Church News, Pharisees didn’t just exist in the time of the Savior. Even today, we are at risk of becoming Pharisee-like in our lives and especially in our parenting, when we become too focused on rules instead of principles and don’t give others an opportunity to exercise agency first.
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If our children ask if they can watch a certain movie or engage in certain activities on the Sabbath, we might appropriately review with them the principles enunciated by the Savior, and then ask: “Will that movie, that activity, help you keep the Sabbath day holy (meaning make you holy) — will it help you do good?” If instead, we always give yes or no answers to our children’s questions, we will have participated in shifting their agency and accountability from them to us. But, if we teach the correct principle and let them answer their own questions, then we give them a chance to exercise their own agency, and in the process to accelerate their spiritual growth. In addition, it will help them understand how to act with regards to future situations of a similar nature.
He then adds that some minimal rules can and should be implemented until children are able to understand a principle well enough to apply it. He ends with a quote from President Nelson, who said, “Don’t answer a behavioral question with a behavioral answer. It is much better to give an answer based upon a principle, or even better, with a doctrinal answer, if you can.”
To read more of Elder Callister’s thoughts on principles, rules, and parenting, check out “Tad R. Callister: Principles versus rules” on Church News.