In this week’s post, I would love to talk about the Super Bowl (did you see the P-51 Mustang leading the USAF pregame flyover?) or the Olympics (wasn’t that Italian duo in the curling mixed doubles event awesome?) or just one of the usual Mormon topics (wow, eyeroll, that Gospel Doctrine lesson last week …). But no, I’m going to talk about the Brad Wilcox talk to a tri-stake youth fireside in Alpine, Utah last week, because it seems to be a big deal and everyone else in the online Mormon world is talking about it. But I’ll try to not to rehash the earlier W&T posts and discussions on the Wilcox talk. Instead, I’ll take a step back and take a broader view with something like a middle position. First, what do you teach LDS youth? And how do you teach it? At least for the true youth of the Church (high school age, Seminary age, the kind that go to firesides) that’s a tougher question than you think. Second, Wilcox is taking all the heat, but the problem runs much broader and deeper than just one talk. It leads quickly to the related problem of why so many LDS youth and young adults are leaving the LDS Church. Going inactive, just not interested anymore, actively not interested, passionately uninterested, vocally and aggressively opposed — the reactions run the whole spectrum, but however you describe it, a lot more of that younger cohort, the next generation of the LDS Church, have simply lost interest and gone away. Is the leadership-directed template that Correlation and CES use to teach LDS youth the problem? Is the problem with the doctrine rather than how it is packaged and taught? Is the problem generational and societal, not just an LDS problem?
I can’t very well write this post without actually listening to the talk that Wilcox delivered, so give me a minute. [If that link goes dead, you can search “Alpine Utah Tri-Stake Fireside Brad Wilcox” and find it somewhere.] … [Two hours later} … Okay, I’m back. Most of the talk was standard fare for an LDS youth fireside, energetic and upbeat and entertaining and instructive in a teach-the-youth sort of way. He used a gospel acronym G-O-S-P-E-L to talk about Godhead, Only True Church, the Spirit, Priesthood (this was what caused all the trouble, see below), Everyone can get the Mormon gospel (even dead people), and Living Prophets. I can see why he’s a popular speaker for LDS youth. A couple of initial observations:
(1) Yes, he was off-base in tone and off-base on his facts when talking about the priesthood — like most LDS leaders and like most CES types. They don’t seem to realize that, to a lot of listeners, defending the race-based LDS priesthood and temple ban sound little different than white supremacists defending slavery and segregation.
(2) This was a faith crisis talk, a “please stay in the boat” talk, directed to LDS youth. Which is amazing, when you think about it. LDS leaders are publicly saying there’s no problem, that people have always left the Church and the numbers are no different now than in decades past, that the Church has never been stronger — but I never heard a “stay in the boat” talk as an LDS youth. If leaders have to give “stay in the boat” talks to LDS teenagers, the problem is worse than we think. If even the teenagers can figure out there are big problems with the Church and can think about bailing before they are even out of high school, the problem is worse than we think. Publicly, leaders say “Isn’t the Church wonderful?” Privately in closed-door meetings, it’s pretty clear they are saying, “Why are so many people just checking out? Even the teenagers!”
Stop Defending the Race-Based Priesthood and Temple Ban
His remarks on race and the LDS priesthood are what has gotten a lot of people upset. Wilcox reacted quickly when things first flared up last week, issuing a public apology. On Wednesday Feb. 8, the SL Trib ran a story under the headline “LDS leader Brad Wilcox apologizes for remarks about Black members,” which included the full text of the short apology Wilcox posted on Facebook: “My dear friends, I made a serious mistake last night, and I am truly sorry. The illustration I attempted to use about the timing of the revelation on the priesthood for Black members was wrong. I’ve reviewed what I said and I recognize that what I hoped to express about trusting God’s timing did NOT come through as I intended. To those I offended, especially my dear Black friends, I offer my sincere apologies, and ask for your forgiveness. I am committed to do better.“
Now, just as I am writing this post, there is a second SL Trib article, “Saying he has been ‘corrected,’ LDS leader Brad Wilcox again apologizes for his remarks on race.” The second apology was not a separate tweet or email or press release but remarks delivered as part of yet another LDS youth fireside, this one to LDS youth in Alberta, Canada. I think he’ll just incorporate that into his standard talk and deliver weekly apologies for years to come. Hey, modeling a sincere apology to LDS youth is a very positive thing. It would be even nicer if he would get his historical facts and theology straight. Really, for an LDS religion prof to get his facts and doctrine so wrong, even in a talk to LDS youth, especially in a talk to LDS youth, is a serious matter.
God Didn’t Wait Until 1978. There were several African-American men ordained to the LDS priesthood in the Joseph Smith period. They served missions. They taught in LDS congregations. They were leaders in LDS congregations. So let’s be clear: Asking, as Wilcox did, “Why did the Blacks have to wait until 1978 to get the Priesthood?” is a misleading and factually incorrect statement (in the form of a question). They didn’t have to wait. They were getting the Priesthood in the 1830s. Get your facts straight.
Don’t Throw God Under the Bus. Even in his apologies, Wilcox is distressed that he got the tone or wording wrong in trying to explain “God’s timeline” for all this you-can-have-it, no-you-can’t Priesthood zig-zagging. Hey, leave God out of it! Good LDS historians (with plenty of blowback from LDS leadership) have set the historical record straight, that not only did African-American LDS men get ordained in the 1830s and 1840s, but that when in the 1850s and later LDS leaders walked that practice back and ceased further such ordinations, there was no “revelation” to authorize that change. There is no D&C section. There is no entry in a First Presidency journal or letter book. There were no contemporary diary entries reporting Brigham’s account of a revelation to change things. That Utah cohort of leaders just did it on their own initiative, thinking it was the pragmatic thing or the right thing to do. Yes, Brigham Young was a racist jerk … by 21st century standards. Not so much by 19th-century standards. But clearly this was “Brigham Young’s timeline” which was imposed on LDS doctrine and practice, not “God’s timeline.”
The Tone Thing. I’m not going to belabor this. I think every American politician realizes that race is a sensitive issue in America and that one must speak carefully when addressing the issue. Every single Mormon leader should understand that as well. (Don’t they talk about this in GA training meetings, maybe some PR expert doing 30 minutes on “Seven Things Not to Say About Race and the Priesthood”?) That holds doubly true for LDS leaders — and profs and teachers and local leaders and members — because of the LDS history of the race-based priesthood and temple ban. Just stop defending it! That’s exactly what Wilcox was doing, he was defending it to the LDS youth, who really don’t want to hear a defense of these LDS race-based exclusions along with weak and misguided justifications for the doctrine and the practice. Here’s what you do instead: (1) Acknowledge it, and get the facts straight. (2) Admit it was a mistake. (3) State how grateful everyone is that the mistake was corrected in 1978 and that since 2012 LDS leadership has forcefully and publicly repudiated the various misguided defenses of that mistaken doctrine and practice that have circulated over the years.
Another tone error was the whole segment on “play church.” Sure, it’s cute that Mormon 4-year-olds play church together in the living room. But when he jokes that that he “got a little nervous when my daughter started blessing the sacrament,” I’ve got to think a lot of mothers and a lot of daughters and even some fathers think it is sad, not funny. It’s not at all a joke. These girls are growing up to be good little Mormons, excited about doing Mormon things, and at some point around age 6 or 8 or 10, they figure out boys get to do all this priesthood stuff and get compliments from leaders and visitors, and girls get … a bead or a certificate or sometimes just nothing when they turn 12 or 14 or 16. At least LDS young women can now serve missions on relatively equal terms, and the huge increase in LDS women serving when their eligibility age was dropped to 19 shows how excited they are to serve. It has been a quiet revolution for LDS young women, little remarked by the senior leadership or the locals. But that patronizing “Oh how lucky you women are, you don’t *need* the priesthood the way men do” line is just more salt in the wound. Many don’t feel lucky, they feel slighted.
What Do We Teach the Kids?
And how do we teach the kids? Here’s your word for the day: pedagogy. You teach math to second graders differently than to fifth graders or freshmen. You teach calculus differently to undergrad mathematics majors than to engineering students, and you teach it much differently to grad students. Here’s the question: What and how do we teach seminary-age LDS youth versus college-age LDS youth versus adult LDS?
Keeping Their Attention Isn’t Easy. What makes an LDS youth fireside a successful one? Well, it has to be attractive enough in terms of topic and speaker that the kids will come. And it has to be entertaining enough (or relevant or attention-grabbing, pick your adjective) to keep their attention. Newsflash: Not many LDS speakers can pull that off. Take a look at how many adults snooze through sacrament meeting or General Conference and you’ll see the bigger challenge for talking to teenagers and keeping their attention. Some of the Wilcox rhetoric — humor, some chiding, joking around a bit, inviting a young man up to the podium to make a point, adopting a bit of teen-speak here and there — that might rub an adult viewer the wrong way is exactly what makes him or others like him an effective youth speaker! Effective in the sense the kids will come listen to him and he gets and keeps their attention. A speaker who just can’t connect with the assembled youth is not the right person for the job, no matter how smart or experienced or apostolic they are. If someone thinks Brad Wilcox is a little too animated or lighthearted or gently mocking in his delivery, go watch a few pacing, ranting, gesticulating Christian tele-evangelists or the preacher at your local come-to-Jesus church.
But Get the Facts Right. Pedagogy again. Speaking to youth, sometimes you have to simplify, but don’t oversimplify. You may have to summarize, but don’t misrepresent. Use a little humor, but don’t make fun of or mock anyone. It’s a tricky business. On the one hand, teens want to be told things. On the other hand, they quickly get overwhelmed by details and tune you out. One the one hand, they think they know things. One the other hand, just try to get a teenage LDS kid to read a book on LDS history or doctrine. So I’m willing to give Brad Wilcox and others who travel the youth speaker circuit a good bit of leeway. I just wish — since the kids are actually listening to them — that they would work harder to get the facts straight. The main point is that, in fact, they have a *duty* to get the facts straight and not misrepresent them.
An Ethics of Teaching. You can talk about morality and ethics in the general sense, but specific professions and activities carry their own specific rules of ethics. Obtaining “informed consent” is a key ethical duty of doctors. Keeping client information confidential in all but the most extreme scenarios is a key ethical duty of attorneys. Well, teachers have standards and an ethic to follow as well.
A book I read a few years ago discussed the following values related to teaching or the duty of a teacher: learning, authority, ethics, order, imagination, compassion, patience, character, and pleasure. I don’t want to embark on a whole new topic, but at a minimum I’d say this means don’t teach false facts, don’t omit relevant true ones, listen to your students, encourage questions and serious reflection, and don’t belittle or mock students or others not in the room. This isn’t directed at Wilcox in particular (although I wish he’d get his facts straight) but sometimes I get the impression that LDS speakers and leaders think their office or their priesthood grants them the right to ignore any sort of ethical duty of honesty or candor or accuracy or compassion when speaking or teaching.
I didn’t get to the possible connection between bad teaching and rising inactivity. I’ll bet there are girls in his audience who played sacrament when little — and who don’t laugh at the Wilcox joke. In a few years they’ll learn that women get ordained and preach and lead congregations in other churches. Maybe you can’t flip a switch and give them the LDS priesthood, but don’t make jokes about them or belittle their sincere desire to serve. I could insert five more examples here. Bad teaching and tone deaf speaking and offensive comments aren’t the whole story of why more LDS youth are leaving the Church and not coming back, but that is certainly part of the story.
Instead of just griping, let’s think constructively about how to change things for the better. What suggestions for reform would I propose? (1) Any LDS prof or CES type who gives an off-campus presentation or fireside must provide a transcript of the remarks he or she delivered to the department chair or dean, who can make some designated faculty reviewer actually review them to make sure the Botts and Wilcoxes of the world stay within the lines of truthful, accurate, and respectful dialogue. Self-regulation is obviously not enough. We need some oversight.
Another suggestion. (2) Don’t let entertaining youth speakers do solo presentations. Send a bona fide LDS religious scholar or historian along with them. Let the Entertainer entertain the youth for 40 minutes. Then give the Expert 15 minutes to clarify and correct any misstatements, plus add a few shiny details. Sort of like good cop, bad cop.
Here’s another suggestion. (3) Every LDS parent should sit down with their kids and ask them, “Hey, did any LDS teachers or fireside speakers ever teach something that troubled you? Offended you? Made you think they were a little nuts? Made you a little embarrassed to be a Mormon?” That’s damage control. Sometimes you have to do LDS damage control.
I don’t think more oversight and correlation is the answer. I suspect that if this talk had been reviewed by his chair, it would have been approved, since this talk had been given multiple times with apparently nobody objecting. There’s also the problem of his tone, which couldn’t be critiqued by review of the text. That dismissive and mocking tone was to my ears as problematic as the text.
Because his talking points apparently represent mainstream thought among CES and church leadership, the only constructive solution is to reform the widespread notion that withholding the priesthood from blacks is “God’s timing.” Just take responsibility and stop blaming God please. The prophet must acknowledge that this is human error, and we now move forward having been shown a better way. Take a page from BRM and say we operated with lesser light and knowledge in the past if you want. It just seems obvious that this is the only way forward. Then do the same thing with women and priesthood.
I’m not sure it’s coincidental that a church survey I received yesterday after asking whether I was a parent of either youth or young adult children asked the following questions:
What could Seminaries and Institutes do, if anything, to help strengthen the faith of those youth and young adults (vulnerable and not active)?
What evidence, if any, do you see that youth and young adults are becoming more converted through their experience in seminary or institute?
The first of those questions, worded as it was, did cause me to wonder if it had previously followed some other questions that I hadn’t been asked. Anyhow I long ago lost all respect for CES. And I have seen no evidence of the current supposed or intended benefits…
Nice follow-up post. Some really good points raised. I’ll respond to just a few of them:
1. When the Wilcox talk made the rounds, many people noted that Wilcox got in trouble for “saying the quiet part out loud”. That’s actually not the case; Wilcox said the out loud part out loud. As has been noted by many commentators, he was simply parroting a long-established party line, which is really the deeper problem, to your point about the problem being much more broad than one talk. IMHO, the reason why this problem exists is because we’ve still got a core group of leaders (maybe almost all of them?) who still believe in Wilcox’s explanation, but who are savvy enough not to spew such hate speech in public fora. So that’s why “correcting” Wilcox won’t do any good, because it’s not about correcting Wilcox, it’s about letting go of Mormonism’s foundational, discriminatory theology. And that isn’t going to happen any time soon, because while it is obviously harmful and discriminatory, it’s also foundational.
2. The youth. As someone who works with young people, I can tell you that sending out loud, obnoxious ass clowns to talk to them inevitably does more harm than good. Young people are condescended to all of the time; they need church leaders who treat them like the intelligent, complex people they are, not three year olds. It’s deeply offensive to my sensibilities to see these people trotted out before the youth, as if they actually are good speakers with noble intent. It’s obvious that they get an ego kick about being able to “help the young people,” but every single Mormon teenager I know would have just rolled their eyes at Wilcox’s righteous buffoonery. Young people are stressed, skeptical and in need of real care. They need someone who’s honest enough with to tell them that there are no easy answers and sometimes there are no answers at all. Wilcox, IMO, displayed a shocking amount of condescending disrespect. If I had been there as a parent of children in attendance, I would have demanded that the talk be stopped. I also wonder if this is just a reflection of the whole Utah subculture of these really harmful “schools” where you send your troubled kid, supposedly to get them “straightened out”. And BTW, young people know how the internet works. They can sniff out bullsh*t incredibly easily, which means the credibility of people like Wilcox would spring to close to zero ten minutes after a talk like that.
3. While I really like most of the post and all of your posts, really, I’d disagree with your last point. If, as a Mormon parent, you find yourself having to do “damage control,” that’s an indication to me that the church itself is at least potentially causing enough harm to your children that it’s probably better if you have them not attend for a while. The church should be a place that is safe enough for young people to ask legitimate questions, for them to express themselves honestly and for them to be able to trust their leaders. If that’s not the case, it’s not my job as a parent to run interference for the church; it’s my job to protect my children from the real harm that the church can do to them.
your food allergy, it’s my understanding that people HAVE objected to Wilcox’s talk before, many times. I think those complaints were completely dismissed because they were from women, people of color, and youth and not people whose opinions matter, such as priesthood leaders above him in the hierarchy or CES people. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people and youth are simply looking for reasons to be offended and are also asking the wrong questions, not exercising faith, and failing to be grateful. So of course Wilcox had no reason to think that there might be anything amiss with his talk.
I think there are a lot of good points here. Maybe my kids are really weird, but they can hold to a lot of complexity and nuance and find it interesting in fact. They also LOVE it when we adults admit mistakes and show humility. The Church could engage youth better IMO by acting like we have something to learn from the youth rather than acting like we have all the answers.
I definitely think it’s a good idea to ask kids what they are hearing in Church. I remind my kids all the time that just because a teacher says something doesn’t make it true, and that if someone is saying something at Church they think is wrong they are welcome to correct or walk out. I think we also all know what some of the problems are and, to take a page from the Church’s book, can “inoculate” kids against them. I tell my kids, “at church you might hear people say such-and-such. What do you think?” After hearing their thoughts (I try to let them lead so they know they get to have their own thoughts) I let them know my opinion.
That said, I agree with Bro Sky that to some extent I’m not sure you can do enough damage control. I can tell my daughter I don’t believe some of the nonsense about the priesthood, so she might not actually “believe” Wilcox, but that won’t stop her from being wounded and made feel inadequate by the things he says. And impacted by the ways that those justifications impact the community around her to the extent many of his listeners to believe him. (Ditto of course for race just using my own experience as an example.)
And yes a word on the Internet. Although I’d told him a few things, my oldest kid learned all the details about the priesthood ban, polygamy, Joseph Smith’s wives, etc. on – wait for it – Wikipedia. Not some “anti-Mormon” sites. He just heard some things and looked them up and went down the rabbit hole. The Wikipedia articles are pretty factually accurate. And he can spot CES distortions from a mile away. He asks v fun questions when he attends church classes (and does not like it when his questions are ignored instead of grappled with).
We are only five comments in and already my thoughts have been portrayed, so I’ll be stealing thoughts from your food allergy, Hedgehog, Brother Sky, and Elisa.
What these kids need isn’t yet another lecture. We lecture at these kids for an hour a day in seminary, two hours on Sunday at church, and for a few minutes every Wednesday night. If we aren’t getting our point across by then, we should re-think the whole thing. The kids don’t need another talk. IMO, if we want these kids to stay, we need to level with them that the institution isn’t perfect, but the institution needs them (and stop telling them the opposite that the need the institution, because they don’t). Then we need to help them lead the institution in a positive direction by putting the institution’s size to play and creating meaningful ways for them to serve and make a difference. We have the funds; let’s spend them.
I’ve been so frustrated lately learning from my family that are school teachers in UT, what with the proposal to require teachers to post lesson plans online months ahead of time which they cannot deviate under any circumstances. I’m so confused why UT parents are so terrified of the public school system when most of the teachers are their Mormon neighbors. But then my wife and I had an ah-ha moment. We’ve had to start doing the same thing at church. We have to read Come Follow Me ahead of time, ask teachers how they plan to approach certain topics, talk to our kids ahead of time about diversity in thought, and sometimes just opt out if we find the lesson too incompatible with our family values. While the comparison is not quite the same, I guess I have more in common with UT parents than I want to admit. Frustrated Sunday night at the time involved for us to do this, my wife finally lost it and admitted that maybe our activity isn’t worth the cost if we can’t trust the institution to do right by our kids.
Honestly I don’t have any answers for how to talk to the youth. The more I’ve reflected on it the more I’ve realized that what Wilcox said is a reflection of what is regularly said at church and through correlated church materials. The problem isn’t Wilcox per se, it is the church. Had the church formally apologized for the priesthood ban (which it never has), I think Wilcox’s message would have been different.
I have two sons, 7 and 3. Honestly they go to church because my wife takes them. I go for sacrament and still have my library calling that I’ve had for 5 years (I’ve told the bishopric that I won’t accept any more callings, so they haven’t released me for fear that I’ll just fade away (which I will) if they do).
My plan is to to subtly steer my kids away from seminary and especially from missions. I want them and my wife to feel that it is their choice, but I’ll be showing seeds behind the scenes, no doubt. I feel that most of what is “learned” in those environments has to be unlearned in adulthood. It isn’t like learning math and reading. If my wife insists they go to seminary, luckily we live in Salt Lake County and they wouldn’t (I hope) have to do it early morning, which I’m hugely opposed to for sleep reasons.
The benefits they get from church are entirely social. Their cousins all live in Salt Lake County and their parents are deeply in the church. We hang out with cousins lots. I’m sure my kids will want to be kind of like them for a bit as well. I won’t stand in their ways. But I’ll gently teach them the difficult past when time comes. I won’t hesitate to undermine what the church teaches if needs be. But I don’t want to come off as too insistent. I think as teenagers that the burden will be greater on the church to get them to stay and be fully participant than on me to dissuade them anyway.
But alas, church is a clean environment. And I’m sure changes will be made a decade from now. We’ll see what happens.
Has leadership ‘forcefully and publicly’ repudiated the racist myths of previous generations? If they have, I missed it. I mean, there is the essay, but messages only really register when they come over the pulpit in a general conference session. As far as I know, no one with significant heft has stood up there and said all the garbage about not being valiant in the pre-earth life and dark skin as a curse is untrue, harmful, and bigoted. Please correct me if I’m off.
My only child is an infant and won’t be in seminary or attending church unless she chooses to at some point in her life, so I have no insight there and others clearly have a great deal. I can say that, first, there is not a lot the church could have done to keep my 16-year-old butt in the pews. The message never registered, and it simply also won’t with so many kids today, who are much more sophisticated about the world than I was. I think that sophistication, much of it the product of the internet, has created a much, much more significant challenge for church leaders, as both Dave B and BrotherSky have already said. What appeals to that level of sophistication and absolute need for authenticity is clearly honest and vulnerable communication, again, as others have said. I also don’t think the church can make this turn. They simply can’t release the now decades-old narrative illustrated by Wilcox’s condescending acronym presentation. What the church faces now could very well be an existential crisis if they want to be more than a throwback to a more bigoted age fondly remembered by the several octogenarians who regularly attend meetings. Too alarmist?
Most adults in the church and SLC have no clue what is going on with the current youth. My teens have so many LGBTQ+ friends at school. My middle schooler says every girl in choir is a lesbian or bi. Two of her church friends are asexual and trans but their parents don’t know.
We don’t live in the jello belt and my teens have both had recent church lessons where their teachers insist they must be persecuted at school because they are Mormon. Then the teachers dismiss them when the kids in class insist their friends are respectful of their religious beliefs. The tolerance of this generation goes in all directions but the adults don’t get it. They do not listen to the teens about their own actual lived experiences.
Is it any wonder they don’t want to stay in this environment? My kids go to church but do not really enjoy anything about it. I have a hard time imagining them sticking around once they are adults.
We heard Wilcox on a zoom fireside and were not impressed and let our teens turn it off. He was so arrogant and condescending in his tone and talk of other faiths. None of it resonated with my kids. I didn’t find any of it very Christlike.
The only way this kind of talk works is if the recipients live and operate in a bubble. If you can keep the kids off the Internet (podcasts, TikTok, YouTube, etc.) you might be able to keep them on the LDS track. But today’s kids are ON the Internet. The culture has changed. Guys like Wilcox, with their pompous know-it-all patronizing themes, totally discredit themselves with anyone who discusses their doubts with other doubters.
The Church will have to decide how to recalibrate their messaging in terms of content and tone. In the meantime, Wilcox is doing more harm than good.
Reiterating some of Elisa’s parenting styles, my wife and I have tried similar things with our 8 children. Admit when you are wrong, actually apologize to your children when you have done something wrong. We have been brought to tears at times when apologizing to a child for something we did or said that was wrong. It works WONDERS! It creates a strong bond between parent and child, a loving, caring, understanding bond. 50 years ago it was standard, acceptable practice to treat children as second-class citizens. Phrases like *Because I’m the Mom (or Dad)* to justify why a child should do something never seemed right to my wife and me. We tried to listen to the concerns or questions of our children. We didn’t always succeed, but this was our aim. My wife is much better at it than I am. I mean she would talk to and reason with our kids when they were toddlers even and continued on from there. She would validate their feelings to them, even if they seemed somewhat unreasonable to an adult. She continues this with our grandchildren. Our children love and respect her.
So, in answer to the question, *How do we teach the youth?* – listen to them, reason with them in love, apologize to them when needed, don’t think you are any better than they are, accept that there are things you can learn from them – I mean really accept that and look for it, don’t just rehearse the concept that *the youth can teach us something*. Then use this same approach when teaching adults! 😉
I’ve been wondering about what the end goal of teaching the youth should be. The OP talks a little about trying to convince the youth not to leave the church – the whole *don’t leave the boat* idea. While that is, and should be, a big concern, I’ve been wondering if God’s primary goal is to make sure His children are able to exercise their agency. Throughout history, He seems to have been willing to let His children do what they wanted to do up until the point where the free exercise of agency was removed, i.e., when people could no longer choose between good and evil because only evil was present. At these points in history, civilizations were wiped out. Provide a clear choice and let them choose what they want. There is a plan prepared for all possible choices.
It’s been informative reading all of your comments regarding the BW issue here and in other posts – thanks.
As a parent, it never occurred to me that I should require, make the decision, that my children must serve missions. I suggested to them that it might be a good experience—but the decision was theirs to make.
I’ve mentioned my kids experiences in other discussions but just to recap:
My husband and I grew up in Utah. Our kids did not.
All attended early morning seminary—the two oldest had a 20 minute drive on winding, narrow tree-lined roads.
Our oldest took to scouting and became an Eagle Scout. Went away to college, rarely or never attended church—despite it being close by. Basically, he says he never had a “spiritual” experience and remains agnostic/atheistic.
(But is married to a Mormon).
Second, upon graduating from high school, went to BYU, served 18 mons,.in the mission field, returned early due to depression. Struggled for a couple of years, but remains active in the Church.
Youngest, attended early morning seminary but was denied graduation certificate because he didn’t do the make-up work required for being 5 or 10 minutes late. Graduated salutatorian in high school and got in a highly ranked university for his major. Some of our ward members gave him crap because he wasn’t going to BYU. Nevertheless, he became involved in the LDS institute right off campus, but was basically chased away because his girlfriend (now his wife) was not Mormon. He feels being raised in the church was emotionally damaging.
Sadly, I agree.
Too often, the CJCOLDS seems more about worshipping the institution than following Jesus’ teachings.
He used the word GOSPEL as an acronym. I have my own acronym and it’s a reminder to us to be careful: Incorrect Doctrine Infiltrated Our Teachings.
I share the collective disgust at Wilcox’s statement both in terms of his substance and tone. Yes, somehow Wilcox “did not get the memo” that the Church is trying to play nice with the NAACP, BLM, etc. As someone else mentioned, I imagine that many of the Brethren still privately consider that Blacks were less valiant in the premortality or are otherwise inferior. But the Brethren are careful with their words to avoid the appearance of racism.
But the Brethren have a primordial need to lash out at some real or imagined bogeyman or monster hiding under the bed. They realize that for the time being they can still call for “musket fire” against the LGBTQIA+ community. And they still seek to exercise dominion over feminists, lazy learners, people of other faiths, etc.
This is a very sad situation. It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus wants us to love everyone and show kindness.
God created man in his own image, including male, female, LGBTQIA+, black, white, rich, poor, lepers, eunuchs and everyone else. Anytime we persecute or speak against any of these souls, we are likewise doing so to God.
As I’m sure others have previously noted the E (Education) in CES is certainly a misnomer; I for Indoctrination is the correct initial. “Education” implies some connection to a Socratic Q&A exchange whereby conclusions are not, shall we say, foreordained. If, during the course of a BoM lesson a student reaches the conclusion that the entire tale is fiction, I don’t see this proposition examined with respect & dignity, though perhaps this has happened. Reality per se plays no part in the machinations of the Church’s or anybody else’s indoctrination system.
@P, in church Sunday someone literally said we needed to indoctrinate our kids to protect them against sin 😂. I doubt they were using the word as the dictionary defines it (which literally says have people accept things without thinking) but it was pretty funny. And not the best time to have my kids tune in, they gave me major side-eye.
I suppose my kids are lucky to have both parents aligned in a nuanced view of the Church’s truth claims (mixed-faith or differing levels of engagement can be really hard on marriage and kids), no force to participate in activities or even Sunday services, no pressure to serve LDS missions or advancements. Are they going to be different than a majority of kids at their Utah County schools? Absolutely. Am I worried about their spiritual and moral development by not participating at the high level most LDS youth do? At times, yes. Might they struggle to find a person to date and marry in this community. Possibly.
So why do I not just force them to go through the motions, attend Church, look the part, give the Sunday School answers, try to fit in? Because that level of engagement with a religion is dying. It is not sustainable in today’s climate. There is simply too much access to information that will contradict most of the truth claims they would be taught in church and seminary. There are too many compelling and important voices in the world that address real concerns about equality, discrimination, evolution, climate, economics, health, etc. which are at odds with past and present church policies and doctrines. There are better ways to spend time and money to make a real difference in the here and now for humanity. I cannot at this point just hand my children over an institution such as the Church and give the Wilcox’s of the Church the opportunity to teach them for me.
If I force or manipulate their participation and attendance, I fully expect them to either resent that effort and rebel later on and leave the institution with some contempt or anger, or to embrace it all in the name of the Church (not necessarily in the name of Christ) and to be smaller-minded and limited in their capacity to engage in a world that needs less tribalism.
I have told my parents that if they had known the issues and concerns with the Church’s history and truth claims back when I was a youth, but didn’t step in to protect or educate me, I would be very upset at this point. But they didn’t know, so I grew up in a TBM environment, and thrived accordingly. I don’t have the luxury of doing the same. I have felt strongly to take a different approach with my children. If I am screwing it up, I expect a loving God to understand that I did the best I could with all information in front of me.
The way I see it, the church has a pretty clear path forward. I, for one, would love to see them be transparent about the church’s history, the big mistakes that were made by beloved and revered church leaders (who maybe shouldn’t be quite as revered anymore), and to have the hard discussions about where human arrogance and fallibility can impede our ability to understand the divine. I mean the scriptures themselves are FULL of those kinds of stories. That’s the kind of organization I want to be a part of! Think of what we could achieve.
But then I think of my mother. The big appeal of the church for her is Certainty. The prophet won’t lead her astray. The rules don’t change (even when they do). Everything is what the correlated machinery purports it to be. She left Catholicism because she felt the priests didn’t have “answers” (which as an adult I interpret to mean they saw and pointed out nuance) and also, reading between the lines, Vatican II was incredibly jarring for young her. When Elijah Abel and other ordained African American men came up in a conversation I had with my father, she freaked out. Eventually she reconciled it by repeating the mantra (out loud! several times) “our leaders are inspired and we need to have faith in them.” But a person can only take so much cognitive dissonance, and she’d notice the kind of turn away from Certainty that I’m talking about.
Now, if I’m the church, I’ve gotten and continue to get waaaay more mileage out of my mother, a returned missionary who has held some big-deal callings and raised a clutch of tithe-paying, line-towing children, than they’re getting out of me. And my (significantly fewer) kids? Oh dear, the chances the institutional church will keep them as things stand now are vanishingly small. My seven year-old scents out unjust treatment a mile away. She’s already asked some very wonderful and tough questions about why things are the way they are in church and pointed out inconsistencies between the way Jesus operated (she loves stories of Jesus) and the way the institutional church operates. This isn’t because she’s a godless atheist. She loves to pray. She feels a strong connection to the divine. And she’s already unsure she wants to be baptized next year. (The way that plays out with Grandma is gonna be interesting.)
I’m the middle generation, and the odds are the church will keep me for the rest of my life. I’ve got too much skin in the game. I think the church means more to my parents than anything, including their children. They wouldn’t say that. They’d say that they have their children forever -because- of the church. Due to heaps of privilege, I find the demands of the church manageable and although I disagree vigorously with the way it sometimes operates and with some of its teachings, I can do enough good inside that it assuages my conscience. It’s the house I’ve always lived in.
So, if I’m a shot-caller in the Church Office Building, here’s the choice: my mother or my daughter. (I think Professor Bushman gave a similar talk, no?)
And, if I’m going to take the cynical view, that’s an easy call. My mom will live a life of useful service to the church for another twenty years (at least!). She literally worships (she wouldn’t use that word, but what else is it?) the redchairs. And if they betray the faith she has in the Certainty she was promised, they may get her granddaughter, but it’s equally possible they won’t. Choosing my mother requires no self-examination and no apologies. And the damage such a change in the party line could do to people like my mother can’t be overstated. Plus, there are convenient narratives to fall back on about how only the most faithful remain as the Millennial Day approaches. If I’m in the red chairs, it’s so much easier and more convenient to write my precious, thoughtful, profoundly spiritual little girl off as fallen, silly, arrogant, or offended. Or to blame her parents.
Until they lose too many of them. And it’s possible that day is coming. But it’s more likely, in my mind, that the decision-makers will instead settle for a (much) smaller, institutionally hyper-loyal group. Hope I’m wrong.
Censoring speakers and having people read scripts isn’t the answer. We are already too correlated and dry as it is. We need authentic changes of heart.
No podium should be given to any CES or church person who goes in the direction of racism, sexism, or church-bashing. The answer is not to have an egg-head correct dynamic false teachers in the last 15 min of a meeting. Again- we need authentic change of hearts.
Amen to the fact that we’ve got to stop defending the ban. We should be studying the abolitionist churches of the early 19th C …the Quakers, Shakers, Methodists (who put themselves in mortal and legal danger to serve in Underground Railroad). The spiritual movement that helped stop the practice in the UK and the US (and elsewhere). There were churches actively engaged in saving lives, reuniting families, escaping. Why weren’t we heroes on the right side of history? (People should stop saying that everyone in the day was racist, the “Lord” needed to wait for people to grow up and shake off the false traditions, etc. We had contemporaries who both KNEW better and ACTED better.
It’s still happening. We keep failing tests of charity when we turn our backs on refugees, fail to notice about a world-wide refugee crisis, vote for people who brag about forced family separation and prisons at the border, etc.
The answer to keeping kids (and adults) in the church is not correcting or even having entertaining speakers, but putting faith and the moral right into action. It’s more meaningful to be part of something important, something worth risk, something that both calls for and creates bravery and character, than listening to EFY talks.
And no, we aren’t called upon by LDS Inc. to do anything but pay and sit in spiritual spas. What do we rally to? For? That’s why kids and adults are leaving. There’s nothing to do other than praise our pioneer ancestors, celebrate organizational birthdays, droningly debate doctrine, rehash conference talks (that were boring the first time around), and clean meetinghouses.
The 19th c needed abolitionists, the civil rights era needed champions, the ERA needed educators, today’s refugee crises needs political and collective humanitarian help, and there’s so much more. And at a certain point, we’ve got to be willing to risk upsetting the curmudgeons among us, risk our blessed tax exemption, spend that $100B nest egg, to stand up today (not in the millennium) for what’s right.
I thought Margie’s post so interesting that this long time lurker finally feels compelled to respond. Thank you all — everybody — for your considered thoughts and sincerity on so many intriguing and difficult topics.
Margie’s depiction of “my mother or my daughter” really struck me. I think this is a fascinating distinction. Whether calculated or not, I think the church is clearly choosing — at least 80% or more of the time — Margie’s mother. IOW, the older generation. I feel they are short-sightedly giving up trading seven decades of service and tithing from the daughter in order to get two more decades of service and tithing from a TBM Mom. Given the growth trends, they are choosing to settle for a “smaller, institutionally hyper-loyal group.” I think we will hear much less “and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” narrative and much more about a small, chosen few in the future as the lack of growth becomes undeniable. That said, with $100B+ in the bank and a very loyal TBM core, the church will probably be just fine.
But here’s my (sad) contention — the church doesn’t have to make this choice. I don’t think it has to be “my mother or my daughter”. They could have most of both. Here’s the thing — the vast majority of the older generation isn’t going anywhere. They will accept whatever the prophet and “red chairs” say. They are already fine with JS’s polygamy and happy to excuse away racial and gender discrimination. They are fine with believing in a book of scripture with no physical evidence. Like many of us, they love the church, have grown up in the church, have seen a lot, why would any significant changes bother them?
If President Nelson were to stand up and finally, properly apologize for the priesthood/temple ban in this April’s GC and formally renounce all misguided notions and rationale for the ban, the older generation would be just fine. In fact, I’ll bet most of them would probably nod their heads and say, “yeah, that’s exactly what I always thought” (whether they really thought that or not). If in this next GC, they announced a half dozen or more of the wonderful changes proposed in hawkgrrrl’s “My Apostolic Platform” , the older generation would probably get excited — look at that, continuing revelation, what a church!, I’m glad I took my vitamins!, we thank thee O God for a prophet, etc.” If they announced that half of stake high council’s now be made up of women and every B-ric have a female counselor, most TBM’s would be thrilled. My parents are in their 80s and very TBM and they would go along with all of that. Sure, you might lose a small amount of that older generation but I don’t think it would be very many. Very very few, I would think. And if you lose some older folks but gain some younger ones, isn’t that a trade that any entity or religion would make any day of the week?
But, sadly, they won’t. (Or rather, they probably will do many of those things over the next 50-100 years but end up losing many of the daughters and granddaughters in the process). But why not? Why won’t they make these changes? Because making those changes, apologizing, etc. insinuates that a previous LDS prophet was wrong. And they just can’t bear to do face that. It is far too painful. Earlier prophets cannot be wrong. They cannot be. They can be men caught in their time, imperfect, we just don’t understand their insights, etc., etc. But they cannot be mistaken. Because, if they were wrong, then maybe we (current prophet or apostle) could be wrong and then maybe people won’t do what we urge and then also maybe it’s gets really hard to say Christ is directing the leaders of the church and the whole “only true church” scaffolding collapses. And they just can’t bear to do that. It would probably be better if some of that scaffolding did collapse. I think it could be a better church. But that’s just me.
I agree with Margie that in the calculus of keeping the grandmothers with sunk costs and total fealty to their institutional power, those in charge are probably mathematically right to cater to the old crowd, particularly because 1) they don’t have the foggiest notion how to cater to anyone under 60, and 2) they themselves will not be around to see the demise of the Church as it continues its slide into utter irrelevance. I guess in that doomsday scenario, local leaders are the one last hope we have, keeping enough of the people engaged and undoing the damage done above them. That’s not probably enough.
Back to Dave’s question about what the Church could do, the one thought that occurred to me is that the Church does a lot of surveys about the youth, to parents, but do they survey the youth directly? I think they are afraid that in asking the right questions they will sow seeds of doubt, which is always a risk in surveying, but I think it’s still worth it to ask a few things. I’d probably include (just spitballing here) questions about the various church organizations that kids encounter, like:
– What do you like best about seminary / church / youth activities?
– What would you change about seminary / church / youth activities?
– Do you feel seminary teacher / church leaders / youth advisors are relatable and supportive? How could they be more supportive to your spiritual journey?
– How often do you feel inspired at Church / seminary / youth activities?
– What do you like about worthiness interviews?
– What woud you change about worthiness interviews?
– How inclusive do you feel Church is for you and your friends? How would you like Church to be more inviting?
These are just some random thoughts, but asking the youth and taking their answers seriously is probably an important step we are missing. I also think it’s problematic that we over-weight the input of leaders, and we care a lot less in general what those who are on the fringe think. There’s a reason those on the fringe don’t love the status quo, but then again, that assumes that the Church wants to invite all people to Christ, not just the like-minded ones who don’t question authority.
I won’t defend Bro. Wilcox talk.
I will defend CES as a whole. Some of the comments seem to want to throw out the baby with the bath water. My experience, and my daughter’s experience with seminary has been a positive one. She enjoys going, and she has really learned the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that she wouldn’t have otherwise. She has learned of a loving God and Savior. She has had really great seminary teachers (We don’t live in Utah, so maybe something different is going on there). But when controversial things have come up, we’ve talked about them at home. Like many commenters have said, kids these days are intelligent and tolerant. When there has been something amiss, she recognizes it, but she hasn’t felt betrayed, She’s felt more like “I think their understanding of that is wrong.”
Yes- I agree with the reforms others have suggested- don’t teach racist/sexist theories that aren’t true. But overall, I think seminary is good, and that teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and the scriptures to our youth on a daily basis is good.
CosmoTheCat: I think most of the criticisms of CES are about BYU’s rel ed dept, not necessarily the seminary teachers, but I wouldn’t really know for sure. I’ve never lived anywhere that CES teachers were teaching seminary, just unpaid volunteers chosen by the stake. BYU deliberately hires professors of religion with no degrees or academic credentials whatsoever in religion, often discriminates against non-white-male candidates, and touts all this as a “best practice.” The university seems to want to employ this subjective criteria across the university as a whole, which is partly why so many are terrified the school will lose accreditation. It’s more important to the members of the board that they only have professors who will do as they are told and create the kind of 1950s bubble some think is the pinnacle of human achievement, not to have programs that prepare students for life in the real professional world of 2022. I do not include Pres. Worthen in this picture. I believe he has a more realistic outlook of what is needed.
I also watched this fireside, and I actually really enjoyed it. I understand that some of the comments he made were insensitive, but he has apologized for them and explained that that was not his intent. I feel that his message was to explain that many different groups throughout the history of the world have not had the priesthood, for reasons that we don’t always understand.
I also would like to mention that I don’t think Brad Wilcox meant to ignore any African Americans who did receive the priesthood prior to the 1970s by his question, but rather he meant to acknowledge that 1978 was the year that all men, regardless of race, would officially be able to receive the priesthood if worthy.
In one of the Gospel Topics Essays, titled Race and the Priesthood, it is stated that “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” I do not fully understand the timeline of why any race would receive the priesthood before another, but what I do know far outweighs what I do not. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and that it is God’s church. I know that Jesus Christ lives! I invite you to learn more and seek understanding, rather than lashing out at someone who had good intentions but made a mistake. Thank you for being respectful and recognizing that all of us are imperfect, mortal beings working our way through life as we try to become more Christlike. (This essay and more about other topics can be found through Gospel Library, accessed from a free app or churchofjesuschrist.org, in case anyone is interested in learning more.)
I would like to close with a scripture, found in 2 Nephi 26:33. “And he (the Lord) denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
Gotcha. I’ve also just lived in places with unpaid volunteers chosen by the stake and have not had any experience with the Religion dept in Provo. In my mind, I was just thinking, “CES- they do seminary” I will re-phrase and limit my defense.– “I’ll stand up for the unpaid volunteer seminary teachers that I’ve had experiences with. They have been honest, sincere, and good people who have taught the gospel of Christ with love. I appreciate the work that they do.”
The BW talk was just bad. In my experience, I haven’t encountered talks like that one, and I don’t want them to become mainstream. The church (and CES) does best when they focus on the message of Jesus Christ. -If/when students have questions, the questions should be addressed and answered honestly and with humility- and apologies should be given when needed.
[Warning: Optimism Ahead]
Do we hitch our star to the older generation or to the rising generation? I like to imagine leadership is hitching it to the future. It has no other real choice. Of course, I could be wrong, but I’m having difficulty imagining a viable institutional path forward characterized by a diminished, shriveled core of hyperloyal members. Leadership will drag it’s feet, to be sure, making mini-changes along the way to give the younger generation hope of progressive change while still appeasing core legacy constituencies. The pivot has been made on women and race. Look how Oaks has calibrated our discourse on women and the priesthood–they’ve had it all along, we just hadn’t discerned it clearly enough! On race, I think most leadership is (belatedly) accelerating the pivot, especially in the face of the prospect of falling into the ranks of renewed American white supremacy. The problem is, and has been, execution, and unreconstructed legacy attitudes, esp. in the middle ranks of leadership. As for LGBTQ, the jury is still out regarding a specific path forward, which probably won’t be worked out for another generation.
It’s a rocky road for the foreseeable future, but not necessarily a dead end.
@Angela and Cosmo – I’d probably lump a good chunk of paid CES in the Mormon corridor as well, at least based on what I’m hearing.
I’m sure there are some great paid full-time seminary teachers, but I’ve heard some really depressing stuff from (1) some teachers who’ve left and been vocal about their experience, and (2) kids in our high school’s seminary.
But agree that the unpaid volunteer seminary teachers are outside of that scope.
I’m afraid I have to sadly dissent with the hope that the Church will evolve when the young people all start leaving. Unfortunately, while I wish all of these inclusive, revolutionary kiddos you all are seeing are going to force some changes, my lived experience says otherwise. We are in the heart of Davis County, Utah ; my guess is it’s 95% LDS and yes, sadly, where the racism in the school district lawsuit occurred. 1/3 of my children are likely to stay in the church. The other two are like the teens referenced in earlier posts; diverse friends, forward-thinking, and put off by the Mormon rhetoric going on right now. However, they are by far the minority in the youth in our ward, stake, and surrounding stakes. Most teens here are firmly in, not questioning anything or anyone, politically conservative, and look, to me, like the next generation of active LDS leaders. Fine kids I guess, but definitely not rocking the boat in anyway. My youngest is the black sheep of the ward; not graduating from seminary, doesn’t go to YM because of the hyper focus on missions, anti-LGBTQ+ lessons, etc, but again, he’s the only one. So, I love the enthusiasm and hope we have in the youth of today, but have to be a bit of a downer and say I believe the church will definitely have enough youth staying in and active and carrying on in their parents footsteps. And if a big enough group stay, there’s no incentive to change. I wish otherwise, but not too optimistic. Hope you all can change my mind….
I have 14 nieces and nephews, ranging in ages from 9 to 24. Of the older ones, every single one has either gone on a mission, married in the temple, or both. My children are lost to the Church, but the church is holding onto the other 14 cousins. I live in Utah and work in an office that is half active LDS and half either non-LDS or inactive. All but one of the active co-workers have children out on missions right now (during covid), or have had a child marry in the temple in the past year. The other one doesn’t have children old enough yet. I hear lots of anecdotal stuff about youth leaving in droves, but my own circle has a whole bunch of good parents with children who are firmly committed to the Church in their early 20s. I don’t talk nuance with any of them, but it looks like they’re on the covenant path and staying in the boat.
The Church won’t release statistics about youth activity. I’ve read Jana Reiss’s book The New Mormons, which shows decreasing commitment among the younger generation. I read the stories on this site about bloggers and commenters interacting with the younger people. Then I have the priest’s quorum show up on my porch to invite my son to church (he said no), and my ministering sister arrives with a cute thing to hang on the fridge and a story about her granddaughter’s temple wedding.
The Church’s message is retaining some people. It probably depends a lot on how committed the parents are, and the social connections to church through friends and extended family. I just don’t foresee a future of empty chapels because the youth will all leave. Some will leave. Many will stay and be proud of remaining faithful in the face of persecution (because being called a racist and a sexist is “persecution”). The Church may not be growing a whole lot, but if the parents who are staying are raising 4-7 children, then that’s more than the replacement rate anyway.
Not that I disagree with this post. Just pointing out that in my area of the jello belt, there’s a lot of committed youth.
Nice comment, Janey–I agree with most of what you say.
Re: Persecution: For an old baby boomer like me–to be labelled a bigot is pretty mild stuff. I’ve been hearing it all my life–and even though those labels are reaching a fever pitch nowadays it all kinda rings hollow to me. But it’s a different matter for the youth, IMO. Young people–especially the rising generation–are so hungry for inclusion that to be labelled a racist or a sexist–or any kind of bigot–is like being sent packing with a one way ticket to Palookaville. I’ve no doubt that in some instances it really is tantamount to persecution for the youth.
I agree with Janey on this. I mentioned in a previous comment, that it seems like we all know people who have left the church (and that’s more common now than when I was growing up), but I’m willing to bet that we all know a lot more people who have stayed in the church. I could be wrong, but I think for a whole lot of people, family connections and family expectations are a bigger factor in staying than liking the church or agreeing with the church. If the church is successful in making Mormonism “Home-centered, church-supported” then people will stay in the church and it will retain members despite itself. In this scenario, speakers like Brad Wilcox and the damaging rhetoric will have limited influence because kids are primarily being influenced at home.
The “Home-centered, church-supported” theme was presented as a way to help families be strengthened in an increasingly wicked world. It’s true impact may be that learning the gospel at home will shield children from harmful things that are taught at church- and will result in the church retaining it’s membership.
I appreciate these comments reporting local observations of youth engagement. What concerns me is the possibility of selective retention of politically right-wing and less-educated youth leading to further rightward shifting of the majority of church membership. A brain-drain and liberal-drain. Go ahead and call me a coastal elite if you want but I’ll only take it as a compliment since I kind of aspire to elitism.
@your food allergy your last line cracked me up 🙂 but I was thinking the same thing about the church squeezing everyone out but the far right. That is seeming like a more realistic possibility than ever.
I don’t like to be too binary about people but in my area with youth it seems we’ve either got kids who are super pro-LGBTQ, anti-racism, gender equality etc (and are not impressed with the church) or who are racist homophobes wearing MAGA hats to youth activities. Part of why my oldest doesn’t want to participate is because the kids in his quorum are very homophobic, and I can’t say he’s wrong because I’ve heard them talk, the slurs they use, and there was a recent incident at school where a group of kids took a pride flag away from another group and threw it in the trash (and threw food etc at the kids holding the flag). And kids in his quorum participated in the trashing.
So yeah, for sure there are kids for whom the black-and-white messaging is resonating (for now – who knows what will happy as they mature and potentially have a gay kid of their own.) And I guess if that’s who the leadership wants to inherit the church, oh well.
I suspect areas like Davis County and Highland/Alpine are retaining a good chunk of youth but Provo – which is unusual for Utah County and has some pockets of progressives, ironically enough because of BYU faculty – is definitely more mixed in terms of youth engagement.
I live in Utah in an area with high church activity. My children were active and engaged in the church through high school and then hit the milestones of mission, temple marriage and even graduate degrees from BYU. ¾ of my children have recently faded away from church activity due to the reasons frequently discussed on this blog: Culture war issues, church history and church exclusivism. When discussing these issues with them, the biggest reason they don’t want to stay is that there is no route for them to provide feedback to the church and effect positive change. They don’t know if the church will ever make needed changes or think that it could take most of their lifetime before those changes are made. Many teenagers in Utah may be staying active and engaged, but most ward members aren’t aware when some of those teens disengage from the church as adults. This is purely an anecdotal observation, but may support the research that Jana Reiss has put out.
Your food allergy,
Excellent point. I worry about even more liberal brain drain R entrenchment in the future as well. There’s already been a great deal of right-wing galvanizing and excommunication and exclusion of liberal members, but when current events like this arise, the church reflexively retrenches, and more gasoline is poured on the tire fire.
As much as this opinion I’m about to share typically wins me a pelting of rotten tomatoes from really smart and respected peeps on the bloggernacle, I don’t think that political beliefs and goals and religious beliefs can or should be separated. A neutral gathering place has its purposes, but honestly- we’re supposed to be neutral now, and yet there is an 800lb gorilla in the room at all times. Ceasing to talk about it, to address it hasn’t worked for us, not will it suffice in the rockier years ahead.
My suggestion is to stop this form of instruction all together. Brad Wilcox is a professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture without a degree in ancient scripture (smh) but he does have a PhD in curriculum and instruction. He used to teach in the Teacher Education Department. And he has to know that lecturing to teenagers is an extremely ineffective form of instruction. Why are we still doing this? Is there not a service activity or connection building activity youth could do with short (10 minutes) breaks of instruction (if needed) instead of making them sit there for hours listening to someone talk at them. Content aside, we need to review the education research on best practices and reform CES and youth education at the ward and stake level accordingly.
Hot take: Doubt is a virtue rather than a vice. It’s a natural bullsh*t detector generated by our god-given intuition. “Something’s off” or “something doesn’t add up” is a feeling meant to keep us safe from natural dangers and from being taken advantage of. And when we “doubt our doubts” we are essentially giving the finger to our intuition and weakening our ability to detect bullsh*t. If you have to tell the youth to turn off their intuition to stay in the boat, that’s probably a good sign they should get out of the boat.
We best serve the youth by helping them cultivate, rather than quash, their natural skepticism and curiosity. Couple this with the scientific method and, voila, you have empowered the youth and protected them from a good deal of demagoguery, abuse, and bad life choices.
This is different from Self-doubt which I do believe faith can help overcome. A healthy worldview makes space for skepticism, faith, self-confidence, and humility all at once. That’s what our youth need.
No Gotcha here – just want to point out some numbers stuff.
Membership in the church was once recorded on baptism/confirmation – which totally makes sense. Your name left the records at death (a jarring reality we faced at tithing settlement after our teenaged son died). If date of death was not known, names were removed when the member would have turned age 100.
Now (I believe it was changed in 2015 or 2016 – maybe due to the POX related resignations?) membership begins at birth and ends at age 110. That combined with the Mormon birthrate (which is also dropping), has shored up the “growing church” illusion. So a South American “baseball/soccer baptism” in 1980 will remain on the books until as late as 2082 – perhaps having never once attended church.
Retention of the active youth in one’s ward can give the illusion that things are going swimmingly. But the reality is that more than 11 million of the church’s 16.6 million members don’t attend.
Any currently active youth leaving the church will have a much bigger impact than global membership statistics imply.
As an adult I have been struggling with the message coming out of the church but I think it may be more of the way the culture or church members deliver that message. Life is hard. I rely on prayer frequently to make it through each day and sometimes each moment. I want and need church to bring some relief from the chaos of life. I have experienced it the past and I know it can happen.
BW talk is similar to recent talks I have heard at church. Shaming and questioning the decisions of friends and family members to illustrate how we supposedly have it right. Or frequent talks over the pulpit about “staying in the boat”, “following the prophet”, “attacks in the family”, etc. Generic talks that don’t call me any real action or peace. I hear a lot of checklist thoughts but rarely anything about Christ’s love. To me that is the key. We need to talk more about what that love means. What can it motivate us to do. How it can keep us going when times are hard. How we show that love through service. As others have already said we can do and be more.
I just learned Bro Wilcox will be doing a fireside for the youth in my stake soon. I know he wasn’t released, so I suppose that means continued fireside presentations, but for some reason I was floored by the announcement. Who would want to send their kids??
JE: Those who think calling someone a racist is as bad or worse than being a racist. Unfortunately, there are quite a few of them in our congregations. I am dismayed by the number of “blue lives matter” license plates I see in the church parking lot every week.