Monday, December 22, 2014

We Need to Stop Treating Adults in the Church Like Children or Youth

I really like most of what's in the For Strength of Youth pamphlet - and the points where I have any concerns at all tend to be minor points that aren't worth nit-picking.  Each of my kids has a pamphlet, and I would love it if they followed the spirit of almost everything in it.

My primary concern is the idea that what's right for youth is automatically right for adults - the idea that the For Strength of Youth pamphlet is appropriate for adults and ought to be viewed in the same way by those adults.  My concern is addressed perhaps most beautifully in the following words of Paul, the apostle, in his wonderful treatise on charity in 1 Corinthians 13:

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  (verse 11)

One of the central parts of Mormon theology is the idea of eternal progression - of growing from grace to grace and learning line upon line, precept upon precept.  This vision depends on individual and communal evolution, on putting away childish things (things that are completely appropriate for children) and picking up adult things instead.  It requires our willingness to be children and youth, with standards applicable to those stages, and then move into adulthood, with a lessening of external constraints, a strengthening of internal control and a recognition of the need for "opposition in ALL things" - including the appearance of nuance and ambiguity that breaks down the former black-and-white boundaries of childish and youthful absolutism.  It requires a broader view of what is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy" than what sustained us in our youth. 

For example, as a child, I might have insisted that God does not recognize or honor the religious efforts of those who lack "The Priesthood" as we accept it in the LDS Church - but adulthood has brought me the ability to recognize and honor another religion's baptisms, for example, and still hold to the need to perform temple baptisms for the people who were baptized.  I am able to believe in both the symbolic and literal power of such ordinances (or either the symbolic or literal power) without devaluing or dismissing in any way the faith of the people outside the LDS Church who don't understand or accept temple ordinances.  That is an evolution of understanding that can occur with age and maturity, and I can believe in teaching the principle in different ways to children, youth and adults. 

"Standards" are the same.  I can have no problem with other people living "according to the dictates of their own conscience" - and even grant that some of our modern Mormon standards are not universal and better than other standards for other people.  I can have no problem with the general outlines of our dress standards (and I chose that phrasing carefully), but I also can have no problem with another culture that chooses to wear no clothing at all, as long as their sexual practices also value chastity, fidelity, loyalty and the rejection of sexual objectification. 

"Standards" are not the same thing as "the Gospel" - and whenever we tend toward treating adults as children, I believe we move away from treating them as developing gods.  (Some of the practices of our Young Adult and Single Adult programs are the best/worst examples of this, in my opinion.)

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