Mormon Youth

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Mormon youth in a church seminary class

Mormon Youth stand out from the youth of the world and the youth of other churches for the depth of their involvement in church function, the depth of their knowledge and testimony of Jesus Christ, and for their goals and standards. An article on called "Flunking Sainthood," by Jana Riess, [1] compares American Protestant youth with young U.S. members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The article cites a report in USA Today [2] which shows that youth attendance at Protestant youth group functions is falling radically, now down to 1 in 4. "This all has [Protestant] churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in....A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They're not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, 'We don't see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.'"

Two other books from Oxford, Soul Searching and Souls in Transition, reveal that though "American youth profess belief at a high level (in God, the afterlife, and the Bible), their level of religious practice does not typically match what they say they believe."

The article also reviews Kenda Creasy Dean's book, Almost Christian:What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dean says that "teenagers in Protestant churches get the idea that they're supposed to feel good about themselves, but that little is expected of them; Christianity is designed to make them "nice," but it's not supposed to form them as disciples." Dean claims that youth "are being taught a brand of Christianity that is a mile wide and an inch deep."

Mormon Envy

One of the chapters in Dean's book is called "Mormon Envy." Dean holds up Mormonism as the religion that is doing right by its teenagers. "Mormonism is succeeding in creating young adults who firmly understand what they believe and why their faith needs to have a claim on their behavior. She says that Mormonism is giving teens the four things they need in order to have a growing adult faith."

Those four things as explained by Dean, are...

A Mormon "Family Home Evening"
  • Mormon youth are taught both by church programs and home-based programs their core doctrines, and indeed, all the beliefs of the Church. The seminary teaches doctrine on a daily basis. Students in Utah attend during the school day, and elsewhere youth attend early morning religion classes every school day. These classes go all the way through the scriptures and explain doctrine and lifestyle choices in detail. This learning is reinforced at home through family scripture reading, family prayer, and weekly family home evenings. "Mormon teens are nearly twice as likely (79%) as other teens to pray with their parents at times other than grace for meals."
  • Mormon youth are taught that they need to acquire a sincere and deeply rooted personal testimony that Jesus is the Christ and that the doctrines of the Mormon Church are true. Mormon youth are expected to put their faith into action by serving in the Church. The Church has a lay clergy and members serve in every capacity. Youth are expected to serve, and they began as little children. According to Dean, more than half of LDS youth reported giving a talk or presentation in church within the previous six months (compared to one in seven Southern Baptist youths and one in twenty-five Catholics). 48% of Mormon youth reported making a leadership decision that would be binding on a group. These experiences pave the way for other crucial "faith-forming" events, such as serving a full-time mission for the Church. Youth develop skills that help them share their faith, provide service and leadership, understand doctrine, and feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
  • Mormon youth develop a concrete set of religious goals and a "sense of vocation." "Part of the problem that Dean is diagnosing in American Protestantism is that there's nothing teens are working toward, no sense of spiritual growth being a closely monitored goal. Much of that seems to end with confirmation around age twelve or thirteen, which is an invitation to drop out." In Mormonism kids prepare for missions and the temple. Mormon children begin fasting with the community at age 8 and may stand up and speak about their testimony of Christ from the time they can talk. Children pay tithing and learn the doctrine behind the practice. They participate in service projects and keep track of their service in journals. Boys work toward becoming Eagle Scouts and also work on Duty to God awards. Girls track their participation, development of character, and service as they work toward Young Women of Excellence awards.
Mormon Boy Praying
  • Mormon youth develop hope for the future, which is absolutely necessary for a deepening of faith. Mormon teens talk confidently of the purpose of life. They have concrete goals that stretch out into the eternities.

Faith and Life

There are interesting statistics on teen pregnancy and religious conservatism. One study shows that teen pregnancy rates are highest in the most religious conservative states in America. Utah is the one exception. It rates 6th in religious conservatism, but 34th for teen pregnancy. Mormons make up about 62% of Utah's population. (See Law of Chastity.) Something about concrete religious goals, involvement in service, learning doctrine, developing personal testimony, and support from church and home, help Mormon teens to lead moral lives. Not only are they striving to live the Law of Chastity, increasingly difficult in today's world, but they also strive to be honest and to live according to the Word of Wisdom, the health laws of the Church.

  • Utah has the lowest percentage of youth of any U.S. state who drink alcohol. [3]

In the World But Not of the World

In October 2012, Prophet Thomas S. Monson announced that the qualifying age for young Mormon missionaries would be lowered. For young men, the age was lowered from 19 to 18, and for young women, the age was lowered from 21 to 19. This is the reverse of the trend worldwide for youth to mature and take on adult responsibility later than ever. Missionary work requires extraordinary maturity, with the mastery of a foreign language and culture and rigorous schedule and dedication, combined with leadership responsibilities considered far beyond the ken of youth.

Meanwhile, two studies [4] show that the "Y" generation and the "Millennials" in America are less concerned than ever about environmental or humanitarian issues.

Jean Twenge (San Diego State) found that “Millennials were less likely to think about social problems, make efforts to conserve natural resources, be interested in or participate in government, voting, contacting their representatives, participate in demonstrations or boycotts or giving money to political causes. The decline in environmental concern and action are markedly steep. Remarkably, three times as many Millennials said they "made no personal effort at all to help the environment" compared to Gen Xers, (15% vs. 5%).”
Christian Smith (Notre Dame) found that “Based on interviews with hundreds of emerging adults in national samples,...these youngest adults possess an ‘extremely low estimation of anyone's ability to make a positive impact on the world. . . . Very few are idealistic activist when it comes to their making a mark on the world.’ Just as few "are bothered by their disconnection and low expectations. The "slacker" descriptor seems to apply to Gen Y as much, if not more, than it does to Gen X."

Contrast the above to the response to President Monson's announcement. Missionary applications rose by 500% immediately and have evened off to double the usual applications. Whereas young women had comprised about 14% of the former missionary force of around 55,000, new applications showed women submitting around 50%. Mormon missionaries support themselves during missionary service, most by earning money before they go out into the field, or relying on family support. This huge sacrifice in order to give 100% of one's time in selfless service is unmatched in all the world.

The Mormon Moment

During the 2012 presidential campaign, a Mormon Moment developed, with intense interest in the Church of Jesus Christ and Mormons in general. Even after Mormon Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, lost the election, interest continued. Every summer Mormon teenaged girls enjoy the experience of a week-long camp-out, sponsored by the Church. One summer, a young women's leader decided to make a video of the boys singing to the girls about how beautiful they are. Other congregations caught the bug, and these videos went viral on youtube. Here is one: