Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mormon Teenagers: Outstanding Examples of Christianity

Mormon Teenagers are Outstanding Examples of Christianity

The Church of Benign Whateverism be•nign - of a mild type or character that does not threaten health or life; especially … having no significant effect; harmless. (m-w.com)________________________________________

This section contains excerpts from a paper titled Youth And The Church Of “Benign Whatever-Ism” by Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, assistant professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, and an ordained United Methodist minister. She presented the paper at the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry, London, England, January 3-7, 2005. It is available in its entirety at www.iasym.org/conf2005london/papers/Creasy-Dean.htm. Her faculty bio is at http://www.ptsem.edu/PTS_People/Faculty01/dean.htm.

Our distinct impression is that very many religious congregations and communities of faith in the United States are failing rather badly in religiously engaging and educating youth. - Christian Smith, National Study of Youth and ReligionTeenagers are heat-seeking missiles. They’re drawn to fire. They yearn for experiences that will channel their passions. And by and large they’re not detecting many signs of life in the church. - Cuyler Black, youth pastor … According to the National Study of Youth and Religion--the largest study of religion and youth ever undertaken in the U.S., extensively profiling 3,370 American teenagers between the ages of 13-17--a sizeable portion of young people, 40%, practice their faith in significant ways, and have lives in which their religious convictions noticeably affect their daily lives and decisions. … These youth are disproportionately Mormon, conservative Protestant, and African-American Protestant …As the project’s principle investigator, Christian Smith, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, put it, “Most religious communities’ central problem is not teen rebellion but teenagers’ benign “whateverism.” Most of these youth call themselves Christians, and attend worship--and often Christian education, and youth ministry programs--regularly. But they have virtually no religious language to prove it, nor do they understand central doctrines of historically orthodox Christianity. In short, while they apparently engage in sometimes substantial Christian education, the amount of Christian learning that has taken place seems exceedingly slim.[To these young people] religion is not particularly necessary, but it can be useful, especially in terms of validating what teenagers want to do anyway ... [Their] creed … goes something like this:

1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die. …

They practice it because this is precisely what we have taught them in church … [This view] is supplanting Christianity as the dominant religion of mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations in the U.S.--and young people are the theological barometers of this shift. As Smith observes, “Our religiously conventional adolescents seem to be merely absorbing and reflecting religiously what the adult world is routinely modeling for and inculcating in its youth” …So this essay issues from my suspicion that something deeper lurks beneath teenagers’ frank descriptions of their bland religiosity: disappointment. They would like to believe more than they do. They wish they had a church community important enough to lay claim to them. They wish God would just tell them what to do with their lives, and give them some reason to hope in anything other than themselves … My real suspicion is that we have disappointed youth by selling them—and Jesus Christ—short. If the majority of young Americans find the church worthy of “benign whateverism” and no more, then the indictment falls on us, not on them. Nothing reveals our apostasy more clearly than this: American young people are becoming exactly who we have taught them to be-- extensions of ourselves … [To counter this American churches must preach] a community that loves sacrificially, and that calls young people to love and sacrifice as well, and instills hope that God is up to something, with them and with the world. [The nationwide study reports that] Mormon teenagers are faring best. In nearly every area, using a variety of measures (i.e., comparing the truth content of their religious tradition with adherents’ actual spiritual life and health), Mormon young people showed the highest degree of religious vitality and salience. After Mormon youth, conservative Protestant and black Protestant teenagers scored strongest in terms of religious vitality and salience—followed by mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and non-religious teenagers …Supply and demand matters to the spiritual lives of teenagers. The greater the availability of religiously grounded relationships, activities, programs, opportunities and challenges for teenagers, the more likely teenagers are to be religiously engaged and invested … Stated negatively, churches that do not invest in their youth will find youth unlikely to invest in them.Spiritual and religious understanding are very weak among American teenagers. The vast majority of U.S. teenagers are, to quote the study, “incredibly inarticulate [incapable of giving clear expression to one's ideas or feelings] about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives” … [The study’s leader] hypothesizes that youth were inarticulate in matters of faith because no one had taught them how to talk about their faith, or provided opportunities to practice talking about it. For a striking number of teenagers, researchers reported, the [research] interview seemed to be the first time any adult had asked these young people what they believed and how it mattered in their life. “Our distinct impression is that very many religious congregations and communities of faith in the United States are failing rather badly in religiously engaging and educating youth”

…Highly religious teenagers appear to be doing much better in life than less religious teenagers … The study supports the assumption that religious identities, organizations, and practices significantly shape people’s lives, despite the fact that most teenagers are only dimly aware how, why, or even that this is happening.

Mormon Envy: In Search of a Consequential Faith - Perhaps this explains my reaction, and maybe yours, to the study’s consistent portrayal of Mormon young people as “topping the charts” in terms of spiritual vitality, depth of religious understanding, salience of faith in their daily lives, hope for the future, and general well-being as adolescents.... An initial “sounding” of what Mormon, conservative Protestants, and black Protestants offer young people suggests that they offer—in quite unique ways—young people four resources, embodied by the faith community itself, that provide anchors for a religious identity. For the sake of conversation, I’ll call these resources 1) a creed to believe, 2) a place to belong, 3) a call to live out, and 4) a hope to hold onto … This experience prepares teenagers for living in a morally significant universe in which their lives make a difference, where they are asked to respond to God in ways that contribute to God’s ultimate transformation of the world. The question is: Can mainline Protestants and Catholics offer that? … Here might be one piece to our puzzle. While youth in the [research] study were stunningly inarticulate about religious belief, those who could articulate a basic understanding of their faith traditions—primarily Mormons and conservative Protestants, and to some degree, black Protestants—talked about God in personal, experiential terms [derived from experience], and expressed belief in God’s active role in their daily lives …Without going into exhaustive [explanations] we can say with some certainty that, for Mormon, conservative Protestant, and African-American young people, God is not a wimp …

For Mormons, seminary takes place for an hour before school, every single day throughout high school, in someone’s home. The host parents serve as catechists (for four years), driving the kids to school after the lesson. Students typically arrive at school together, as if to reinforce their identity as Mormons before the school day begins, and to remind one another that they are not alone in their faith; they have each another to hold them accountable to the church. The point is that all religiously devoted young people actively participated in practices that enabled them to put their God-images into words and actions, giving them a verbal and nonverbal language to share the content of their creeds.

Mormons (72%) and conservative Protestants (56%) were especially apt to share their religious beliefs with someone not of their faith (only 37% of Catholic youth did this), and Mormons were especially likely to take part in personal practices like fasting or self-denial and Sabbath-keeping, as well as communal practices like being part of a scripture study or prayer group or teaching Sunday school. Music provided an important avenue for religious education for all devoted teenagers …

Mormon, conservative Protestant and African American youth seem to receive more in the way of intentional teaching core doctrines of the faith … and more opportunities to actually put those core doctrines into practice than mainline Protestant and Catholic youth. Religiously devoted teenagers seem to come from communities that value their participation in the life of the community, and encourage and offer them opportunities to practice their [interpretive] and practical skills. …

Mormon teenagers take formal leadership in church school classes, and seem to have a great deal of experience talking to their friends about their faith, from the time they are quite young ... Speaking of Mormon communities, Richard and Joan Ostling observe, “The Saints outshine most in devotion to what they believe. Generous with their time, they also put their money where their mouth is, faithfully tithing for the church and fasting for the needy, even as American society promotes selfishness. While other Americans yield to the demands of youth, adult Mormons impose high demands on their next generation, requiring them to ingest church teaching an hour a day through high school and expecting boys to save up their own money and spend two years in hard-core mission work. The system produces young adults with pride and commitment.”.…

A small minority of teenagers (once again, mostly conservative Protestants and Mormons) stand out in the study, not because they thought religion helps them do what they want, but because of their desire to do what God wants. These young people had a significantly more developed view of vocation than their peers … Young people capable of living in the “big picture” of a morally significant universe, once again, disproportionately came from Mormon and conservative Protestant backgrounds … From elementary school forward, Mormon youth rotate leadership roles among every child in the program, giving young people a chance to articulate their faith first within the safe embrace of the faith community before going out to represent the Latter Day Saints in the broader culture, and especially before the two-year mission stint required of all LDS young men after they graduate from high school. …

As one 16-year-old white mainline Protestant from Texas told interviewers, “Well, God is almighty, I guess [yawns]. But I think he’s on vacation right now because of all the crap that’s happening in the world, cause it wasn’t like this back when he was famous.” But by and large, teenagers dismiss God’s shortcomings with a colossal shrug. As long as God demands little, teens are free to invest little; everyone is happy. [The lead researcher] pointedly observes, It is thus no wonder that so many religious and nonreligious teenagers are so positive about religion, for the faith many of them have in mind effectively helps to achieve a primary life goal: to feel good and happy about oneself and one’s life. It is also no wonder that most teens are so religiously inarticulate. As long as one is happy, why bother with being able to talk about the belief content of one’s faith?

Here, then, might lie yet another clue to the importance of religion to Mormon, conservative Protestant, and black Protestant youth. These faith communities are built on stories depicting a universe that has a definite “end time.” In other words, God is working toward a goal in which the hope of the faithful will be consummated (and justice will be visited upon the reprobate).

The Mormon emphasis on progress toward becoming divine … suggest[s] the importance of a theology that “goes somewhere.” Eschatology [a belief of the Second Coming] provides the faithful with a hopeful end view that conditions their interpretation of events in the present, and gives young people a meaningful reason to take part in religious practices (almsgiving, Sabbath-keeping, worship, chastity, to name a few) that defy the norms of “what’s-in-it-for-me” …


  1. Interesting post. Although there is one element that is curiously missing; montheism. Mormons, like all other people, can display many seemingly good works, attitudes and beliefs. The question is however, are these things pleasing to the Living God? The answer is clear: without faith in God, it is impossible to please Him. The polytheistic doctrines of Mormonism prohibit a Mormon from displaying Christianity. The other heretical/abberant doctrines practiced and taught in the LDS church simply compound the problem. Notions such as works-righteousness and eternal progression are theological novelties that are not only absent from the 66 books of scripture, but also from any credible early church writing. Your thoughts?

  2. Theosis Jesus Christ’s church must represent man’s potential correctly 1 Corinthians 8:5-6

    Divinization, narrowing the space between God and humans, was also part of Early Christian belief. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Eastern Orthodox) wrote, regarding theosis, "The Son of God became man, that we might become God." Irenaeus wrote in the late 2nd Century: “we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods” Justin Martyr in mid 2nd Century said: “all men are deemed worthy of becoming ‘gods,’ and of having power to become sons of the Highest” Jerome wrote that God "made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods." Clement of Alexandria said worthy men "are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Savior." Origen in reference to 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 said "Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God . . As, then there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.” The Gospel of Thomas (which pre-dates the 4 Gospels, but was considered non-canonical by the Nicene Council) quotes the Savior: "He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him," (Gospel of Thomas 50, 28-30, Nag Hammadi Library in English, J.M.Robinson, 1st ed 1977; 3rd ed. 1988) For further information on this subject, refer to http://NewTestamentTempleRitual.blogspot.com The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) agrees with Early Christian church leaders regarding theosis.

    To paraphrase Origin’s thoughts in the words of Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie: "There is and can only be one who is supreme, who is the head and to whom all others are subject". Becoming like God is not saying we will ever be equal to Him, frankly we won't and can't He, and only He, will forever be worshipped by us.

  3. Michael, regarding your second comment about grace vs. works, one Evangelical Christian author wrote of his sudden discovery that his previous beliefs about salvation were very different from those held by the early Christians:

    “If there's any single doctrine that we would expect to find the faithful associates of the apostles teaching, it's the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. After all, that is the cornerstone doctrine of the Reformation. In fact, we frequently say that persons who don't hold to this doctrine aren't really Christians…

    Our problem is that Augustine, Luther, and other Western theologians have convinced us that there's an irreconcilable conflict between salvation based on grace and salvation conditioned on works or obedience. They have used a fallacious form of argumentation known as the "false dilemma," by asserting that there are only two possibilities regarding salvation: it's either (1) a gift from God or (2) it's something we earn by our works.
    The early Christians and Latter-day Saints would have replied that a gift is no less a gift simply because it's conditioned on obedience....

    The early Christians believed that salvation is a gift from God but that God gives His gift to whomever He chooses. And He chooses to give it to those who love and obey him.”

    —David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, 3rd edition, (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing Company, 1999[1989]), 57, 61–62.

    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) agrees with the earliest Christians that grace is conditioned upon obedience to Jesus Christ’s commandments.

  4. When we give much importance to our 'body language positions' before men, how much care should we take regarding our 'Spiritual Body Language'...! Read more