Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fitting the mold

I received the following email yesterday from a member of the stake high council over seminary:
I told one of the teachers today that next year is the Book of Mormon. This is a critical year in helping the youth understand the Book of Mormon and create a basis for their testimony to develop. If they take it lightly, I believe they will struggle with their testimonies as they get older.
I don't exactly know why - but this bothers me. It underscores an attitude which, I believe, is prevalent in the church. It suggests a cookie cutter approach implying that if you don't fit the mold then you can't be a good Mormon. Because, of course, all good Mormon boy's and girls
  1. Attend all 4 years of seminary faithfully
  2. After high school graduation, go off to BYU
  3. [if a boy] Serve a 2 year mission
  4. Get married in the temple
  5. Graduate from BYU
  6. Have a bushel of kids
The thing is - people are different, not everybody fits that mold. Seminary can be a very faith building experince for some. But not everybody responds the same way to the same stimulus. What sort of subliminal message are we sending when we tell students that if they don't attend seminary faithfully then they are taking it lightly and will struggle with their testimony when they get older?

We have a couple of youth in our ward whom I believe are very good people and in whom I have a lot of respect - but who struggle in their seminary attendance. As a seminary teacher, I am grateful for the days that they do attend; on Sunday I often put my arm around them and encourage them to come - but I don't think less of them when they don't. I know these kids very well, I've worked with them in other callings as a youth leader. I view them as a whole person, not just through my seminary teacher filter.

The first few years following high school is a very critical time in the life of a young man or woman - and it is no big secret that it is also a time when the church loses people at an alarmingly high rate. It's been my personal observation that many of those we are losing just arn't fitting the mold. And, I find myself wondering if we are approaching this in the wrong way. Instead of looking back at their younger years and devising ways to force fit everybody into the same mold - perhaps we should be examining how we can better meet the needs of those who march to a different drum.

Maybe it's just me - but I imagine the reasoning used to justify why we need everybody to 'fit the mold' is very similar to the reasoning Lucifer used when he presented his plan at the great council in heaven - when he offered himself as an amendment to the Father's plan of saving mankind that would not respect our agency.


Alan said...

I'm going to let loose a little here because you have hit one of my hot buttons Abe.

I think we see so much emphasis on getting everybody to fit into the mold because in the last generation or so that's been the line out of Salt Lake. Everybody has to fit in order to comply with Mormon orthodoxy. This is the generation that was raised on Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet in Primary. And the employee sycophants who surround the senior leadership in the Church organization and presume to interpret what the top 15 say have, in my experience, little tolerance for a variety of approaches because Correlation actively discourages that for fear of losing control of the doctrinal message. Plus those people aren't paid to think, they're paid to police compliance.

Okay, I feel better. I haven't solved your problem but I think I've kinda sorta explained the attitude behind the high councilor's note.

Beck said...

I am not easily fit into a mold. I like doing my own thing and usually get away with it. In the lessons I teach each week, I hardly use manual, relying on the scriptures instead, and I teach in a sequence that makes sense to the class verses a correlation committee.

I was called on the carpet a couple of months ago for "not teaching the curriculum". A member of my bishopric is high up in the church curriculum department and he told the Bishop to "call me on the carpet". The Bishop did (with this councilor not present) and asked me what I was teaching. I explained my free-spirited approach and in the end he said: "I'm an end-results kind of guy. Keep doing what you're doing and I'll try to stay out of your way because I like the results you are getting."

I wish you could have an "end-results" kind of guy overseeing your seminary instruction. Your personal and caring approach to your students will go a lot farther in the long run, than cramming them into a standardized one-size-fits-all approach.

Best wishes with that. I'd do what you feel is best and let the short-sighted high-strung types push for your release if they can't handle the good results of a non-standard style and sensitivity to those who don't so easily fit the mold.

Rebecca said...

It sounds to me like the molds you're talking about are the typical "Peter Priesthood and Molly Mormon" molds. I think these are unrealistic and made-up ideals that we use to beat ourselves up with or use as a plateau to look down at others from.
The real ideal that we should be fitting is Christ's, and it comes at a very singular and individual level. And I do think that each of us has to try fitting in. It is not always the same for each person. The power of the Atonement is what allows us to shape ourselves into what would otherwise be a very uncomfortable stretch.

Philip said...

What would happen to a well-known Mormon if he or she was to openly not conform to what the Church teaches?

Just curious...


GeckoMan said...

Let us not forget that the Lord left the ninety and nine to go after the one. And there are a lot more than 'one' out there who are having problems putting on the glass slipper (or was that a 'zipper'?!!) Anyways, I agree with you, Abe, we have a vital voice to raise in concern for the youth of church who are searching for a reason for conformance, more than 'because I said so.' Indeed, it can be the Book of Mormon which will lead us back to Christ and personal testimony of the Lord's interaction with this church. It is a basis of faith in spiritual experiences that must be our anchor, not adherance to orthodoxy.

Joe Conflict said...

Fitting the mold--so true. Heaven help we go to church in a non-white shirt, or have a tatoo, or pierced ears (though I don't) and don't you dare not wear a tie. So tiring, and so wrong, given those who Jesus served during his lifetime, and the basic simple fact that Church is for sinners, not the outwardly perfect...
Thanks so much for a great blog. Just started one thanks to your inspiration. ComplicatedinUtah at blogger.