Girl-Culture Wars, the Young Women General Meeting, and Sacred Time

29 Mar

I went to the Young Women General Meeting with my mom last Saturday night. I left feeling more frustrated than hopeful or edified. To improve my negative attitude, I tried repeating, “This is a net positive,” to myself. The LDS cultural and doctrinal view is better than many others to which young women are being exposed. The value of experiencing structure and support from a church organization and being exposed to strong female leadership shouldn’t be underestimated.

Still, I was disappointed. The most interesting moment of the meeting was when Ann Dibb, the second counselor in the general presidency, quoted Charlotte Bronte, illustrating Jane Eyre’s integrity. I appreciated the themes of chosenness, obedience to God’s law, temple preparation, and the gospel of Christ being a source of light in darkness. But the messages were not presented in what to me would be a meaningful or thought-provoking way. The project of this meeting was clearly a cultural one–Mormon culture should provide an alternative to the cultural evils of the world; the gospel should inspire conduct that is better, more holy, than that which young women might otherwise be led to participate in.

Given the article above, how can I say this aim is a bad thing? Nevertheless, the young women were not presented with a complex morality or series of archetypes. Difficulty and negativity were almost entirely shuttered away, except being spoken of in vague terms. The sweet young women who gave their testimonies in a video presentation were optimistic. One of the girls expressed gratitude for what she was learning now that would help her be a mother later. It was painful. What if her motherhood were curtailed? What of all the other sorrows that these young women will grow up to face? What will these girls do when prayer does not seem to be enough, when God seems to disappear? Oftentimes difficulty cannot just be prayed or studied away. Difficulty must be endured. We are forced to go through this vale of sorrows, as Christ did, and often must walk in darkness, despite trying to do everything right.

I understand these leaders only have an hour and a half in which to present the message they feel to be most vital, and that probably does not include dwelling on sad things. But without the dark, how is the light meaningful? And why create what seems to me to be an entirely manufactured culture, one whose roots seem to be only slightly connected to the great streams of history and literature and art that could otherwise enrich it?

The closing hymn was such a relief. John Keith’s “How Firm a Foundation” acknowledges the deeply distressing nature of life made meaningful, bearable, sanctified through bolstering grace. I resonated much more strongly with the soul shaken by hell who choses not to forsake her redeemer:

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

This is the message of the Psalter. God is teaching Israel that he will be their God unfailingly in the deep waters if Israel will covenant with him. Without the depth there is no salvific height. Without Israel’s pettiness and infidelity, God’s commitment would be far less significant. Without death, no resurrection. I wish the Young Women leaders could tap into some of that complexity and give the girls something to think about that might enhance their life experience and the way they deal with difficulty.

Lately I have been reading the Liturgy of the Hours from the Lectio Divina. My goal is to read each hour’s reading at the time it would be read by monks as required by canon law, to establish this prayer practice much as Muslims practice Salat. The admonition to avoid vain repetition in prayer has robbed Mormonism of what could be a great strength–an hourly reminder that we are living in sacred time and that devotion must be continually reenacted. I am incapable of always remembering Christ. I do my best to ignore him half the time. I want to think that I scrabble and subsist on my own power, that I am fittest in my survival. But reading the Psalter and hymns and thinking about the daily saints allows me to acknowledge my suffering in God’s presence and then surrender it to the infinitely greater suffering of Christ. Despite believing truth comes from many different sources, Mormons, in their meetings, often settle for a culture that does not satisfy nor is completely theologically accurate. I hope this will one day change.

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43 Responses to “Girl-Culture Wars, the Young Women General Meeting, and Sacred Time”

  1. mmiles March 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Beautiful post Elizabeth.

  2. Amy March 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    Yes, oh yes! This idea of vain repetition vs. sacred time is a powerful one. Maybe that’s why I like liturgical seasons (and religious holidays in general) so much, even though they’re not popular among the LDS–they allow me to create sacred time, to step outside the flow of days and have a time set apart to remember God, to separate the sacred from the profane.

  3. Kate March 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    Hey, I stumbled across your blog from Amy’s facebook page. I have to say that 1. I don’t really think I get everything that you’re trying to say, and 2. if you are trying to say that you’re disappointed in the YW’s meeting because it was too cheerful, I think maybe it would be good to do some self introspection before publicly criticizing the leaders who were trying to share their testimonies and inspiration with you.

    The other thing that REALLY distresses me about your post is how you basically imply that it’s not appropriate to discuss/rejoice in motherhood in a YW meeting. I think you’re trying to say that it’s inappropriate because some YW won’t ever get to be moms. Yet, motherhood is an important calling for women, even if it’s not in this lifetime. Please don’t criticize people for recognizing it as such.

    • ep March 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

      Kate, I am rejecting the over-happification of the message. The atonement is fundamentally about suffering and would be worthless were it not for this fact. I do think discussing the hardships of life would have made the meeting more balanced, more realistic. The gospel isn’t a fantasy and sometimes we treat it as such. I appreciate “How Firm a Foundation” precisely because it discusses grace in the context of suffering. Again, grace would mean nothing to us if we didn’t need feel the need for it.

      The meeting is public. Public comment/critique is entirely appropriate. And, if you read this solely as criticism, I think you did miss the message of the post. I write because I deeply care that girls are not being given a balanced picture of how the world is and the real tools of faith they need to face it. Just rejecting the negative aspects of life is actually wrong and if we don’t do it in our public meetings when will we do it?

      I don’t think it is wrong to talk about motherhood. You were not reading my statement in context. Motherhood is important. I support motherhood completely. I am glad the Young Women’s presidency talks about it and encourages women to aspire to it. I was not saying it is inappropriate to talk about it because some YW will never get to be moms.

      In one of your comments on Amy’s page you called this vague. Perhaps. What I would do? I would wish the YW leaders spoke specifically about trials they have had and how they have overcome them, using the tools of the gospel. I would ask that they treat YW like thinking individuals. Some people have questions. Is that okay? What do you do about it when you have them? Do you shove them aside or do you search and pray and learn? LDS culture doesn’t really encourage that at all.

      I agree with you. The atonement is everything. I am so glad they talk about it.

      • Kate March 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

        I basically agree with what Glenda wrote on the fb thread. Now that you’ve clarified your point, I can understand where you’re coming from. I think you already summed up my entire criticism of your criticism when you say that you know there is only an hour and half in the meeting to present the most vital message. And I’m totally okay with us disagreeing on what that most vital message is, which is probably what it all boils down to.

        Just because a meeting is public does not mean it is right to criticize leaders who are earnestly trying their best to share a worthy message with you. Just because they are distant does not make it the right thing to do. Imagine if President Dalton were in your home ward. I am not for blindly obeying leaders. But I am definitely not for publicly critiquing their [perceived] flaws. I think you should be careful with what you say online.

        Anyway, maybe you should check again at what was actually said. They DID give multiple specific tools for how to overcome trials. (pray, read the BoM 5 minutes a day, smile, obey the standards in the for the strength of youth – especially modesty.

        You’re right, they didn’t use many real life examples of the trials. Maybe there is a reason for that. One time, someone close to me told me about how she overcame a problem with the law of chastity. You know what that did? It made me think, “Oh, well, if SHE was having problems with that, it’s not so bad that I do too!” It is the issue of not hanging your dirty laundry in public.

        Anyway, the leaders didn’t “reject” as you say, the negative aspects of life, just because they didn’t give specific examples. In fact, multiple times it was acknowledged that Satan is hard at work setting up “mists of darkness” aka temptations for latter-day YW.

        You should reread what you actually wrote about motherhood. It certainly sounds like you don’t think it was okay for this girl to be thankful for things that she was learning now that will help her to be a mom later. That is a terrible message to put on a blog. It is such an important goal of the YW’s program that it is in the theme: “strengthen home and family.” And while obviously not all women will achieve motherhood in this life for whatever reason, it is still a good and worthy goal. And every worthy woman WILL get to be a mother someday.

        You are upset that these leaders don’t treat the general YW audience as “thinking individuals.” I get that you (and Amy) have a penchant for verbosity. I get that you both really like to hyperanalyze deep doctrine, and I am totally not dissing you for that. Whatever floats your boat. But you forget who the message was for. Not just you, but millions of girls, some barely entering prepubescenthood. Not only is the audience varied in age (not that that has anything to do with intellect, just experience and maturity!), but language! And yes, actually, intelligence! Those reasons alone are adequate cause for a simplified message about God’s love for his daughters, and multiple strong affirmations that keeping the commandments that are primary answers will help you be happy. But actually, I guess I totally disagree with you because I happen to think that message really IS deep! Simple is not shallow.

        They totally answered what to do when you have questions. I’m repeating myself here. Pray, read your scriptures, go to church, keep the standards, live worthy of a temple recommend. This is how you search. This is how you learn. Going online and reading about the gospel is not how you will learn what the blessings of it are. The only way to learn it is to DO it.

        Anyway, I really don’t want to offend you. I know this criticism of your criticism probably comes across as harsh. I’m not trying to be mean. I have strong feelings, apparently we both do actually. I’m okay to disagree with you. By commenting, I’m hoping to show you an opposing viewpoint that maybe the people who actually know you in the flesh might be intimidated to share.

  4. Michael H. March 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    I actually watched half this meeting on Sunday morning, curious as to the messages presented. You’re definitely right that the complexity of life is rarely acknowledged – giving the impression that complex things, disagreement, or hardship is somehow *wrong*.

    I’m also waiting for the day when the Young Women’s values will be preached to the young men. I feel that all too often spirituality and sensitivity, as well as things like virtue, are inaccurately feminized.

  5. Michael H. March 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Clarification: “wrong” in a more general sense (things must not be going right if they’re complex), though that can easily turn into “wrong” in a moral sense (I must be doing something erroneous or sinful if things are complex).

    • ep March 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

      Hip hip hooray, Michael. You are exemplary. I think you should take that up. :)

  6. Kate March 29, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    You know what is good about this, though? Someday when you are called to teach YW, you will be sure to make your lessons relevant, deep, and thought provoking. That is actually the reason I wanted to become a teacher; I thought, “Man, I could teach this SO much better!”

    Either that, or you will suddenly realize that even when putting forth their best efforts, the older generation will still remain out of touch with the younger.

    • ep March 29, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts, Kate. We don’t disagree about message–just about its mode of expression. I would not be ashamed to share my thoughts with Sister Dalton. I am not attacking her or any of the leaders. I think they are doing a fine job. I am addressing a cultural issue and its public expression. And I like a lot of what you say about tools and simplicity being depth. We have different backgrounds and experiences, and your personal attacks are unwarranted and undiplomatic. We could both use a lesson in moderation it seems.

      • Kate March 30, 2011 at 1:38 am #

        Oh dear, I’m sorry you felt like I was attacking you personally. That was not my intention, and I don’t see how I was doing it, but nonetheless it seems I offended you, so I apologize.

        If I had written this post, I would not feel comfortable sharing it with the speakers of that conference, but you can and obviously do feel differently, which is interesting.

        I actually really find your thesis a fascinating topic: the wide gap between what YW are taught and what they need to know. I guess you’re never going to convince me that they did a poor job of it during the conference, but I’d be interested to read a followup post about YW lessons at church. Because I totally remember being in YW’s and wishing for more. But I think that really speaks to what that other fb commenter said about it mostly being the fault of teachers in the church, not necessarily “Mormon culture.”

        My husband also enjoyed reading this post, fwiw.

  7. Johnna March 30, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    I like your mantra about it being a net positive.

    On Liturgy: don’t you think the way many of us read the Book of Mormon or other scriptures works daily is like the Muslim Salat or recited prayers? Because many of us read (in personal study) without much interest or understanding in any historical context, the words are familiar and evocative, and it is a context for divine guidance in the now?

    regarding the young woman in the video, which Kate commented on above and a comment discussion followed, there was a girl in the video who said she would be a mother soon and she looked to be about 13 years old. It was creepy. I’m sorry, it was. My daughter thought it was creepy I could back-translate it into YW lessons that are supportive of future motherhood, but really, it came off strange.

    Mind you, these are the small things, the nuances, in what was a great meeting. My daughter loved it in general, she’s a big fan of Elaine Dalton, which I think is sweet. She doesn’t listen to conference with a critical editor’s ear–she noticed that the virtue talk was cast in terms of protecting boys, but that’s because we already talk at home about self-respect to counter some of the irresponsible suggestions that blame girls for boys’ thoughts.

    We had seen the new Jane Eyre movie the night before, and had a discussed Jane Eyre’s moral choices being grounded in self-respect. My daughter loved that Ann Dibb brought up Jane Eyre, she elbowed me and we both started to giggle. And it was great that President Dibb read that entire paragraph about Jane’s decision from the book–obviously not all that language was in the movie, and it’s good stuff, and it added that emphasis of being virtuous for yourself, not just for others.

    • ep March 30, 2011 at 1:59 am #

      Johnna, I really like what you say about reflexive reading of the Book of Mormon and its importance to Mormon devotional life. I agree that the little girl talking about being a mother soon was strange. I think the message of the Eyre passage–women’s agency in maintaining their virtue for themselves and not just for the sake of men in their lives–represents more of what I would like to hear for YW.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and bringing it back to earth with the real life example of you and your daughter enjoying the broadcast.

  8. Nate March 30, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    I have read through this post and many of the things said. I have not listened to the YM conference so I might very well be speaking completely out of ignorance but this whole conversation has called to mind a YSA meeting in Florida with Elder Bednar. He had a question and answer for the whole meeting. During the course of this one brother asked for counsel on how he and his family might deal with a specific problem. Elder Bednar gave a general answer. This upset the brother and he expressed that he felt the answer wasn’t helpful. Elder Bednar then gave the truth that he had missed.

    He said (summarizing) I have give you the guidelines that you can fallow so that the spirit can work with you in your individual problem. I could stand up here and give specific but that wouldn’t help you because am not in your situation and so my specifics would not necessarily be helpful and might even be hurtful to you and your problems. The only way to deal with personal issues is by applying the general principles with the spirit and getting that personal revelation so you will know what to do.

    Elder Bednar also said that the most important thing for the youth is to be founded it the simple basic gospel principle.

    You learn deep truth through the basics. You learn to deal with every trial and temptation, to overcome every problem by applying the basic gospel, and receiving personal revelation for yourself specifically. Someone else’s personal experiences might not apply to your situation and might even be the wrong thing. I would think if the leaders are teaching basics it is because those simple principles are always right and safe. They will always bring the spirit and with the spirit you will know how to deal with the problems of life, and that is the most important thing anyone can learn.

    Lastly I am happy they have spoken of motherhood. As everyone has stated this is such an important calling and women need to know this, and because it is so important that is why they should do it now so that all may hear. I truly wish the brethren would speak so openly about fatherhood for just as women’s greatest call is that of mother so to is the very peak of the priesthood in that of father and I feel often both men and women don’t realize that.

    As said earlier though I have not listened to the conference so I don’t know. Also I am a guy and have a different view but I do know that every talk in those conferences is written out before they are given and the prophet has seen them. So I would wager to guess that he agreed with what was said.

    • ep March 30, 2011 at 1:50 am #

      Nate, I’m really grateful for your thought that men should be encouraged to prepare for fatherhood with the same degree of urgency and sacredness as women are encouraged to prepare for motherhood. And I think learning deep truth through basic doctrine is exactly right.

  9. ep March 30, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    Kate, I appreciate your call to come up with concrete ways for improving and to consider my approach to the YW lessons. That kind of thinking can be extremely productive and collaborative, more than me just expressing my opinion. I am grateful you challenged me, although I don’t think anyone I know would be afraid to share contrary opinions with me in person. I am not intimidating, nor am I monolithic in my views.

  10. Alan March 30, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Elizabeth, your topic has provoked me into finally making my maiden post on your blog. No worries, it’ll be short. :)

    I’ve read a bit recently about how the simplification of the message from Salt Lake is an attempt to strip out American cultural content (or at least diminish its influence on Church teaching) and leave more room for adaptation of the Gospel message at the local level across the world, such as the adaptation you bring to it when you teach. If you look at the YW Conference in that light, does it change the way you think about it? Do you think it’s possible to give the more complex message you justly desire and not have it lost in translation when it’s broadcast simultaneously in Germany, Guiana, and Ghana?

    And that’s the best alliteration I can come up with for you this morning. Sad, isn’t it? ;)

    PS – Kate, thanks for your comments. I understand the impulse toward self-defense when someone criticizes something you find spiritually very meaningful, but on one point you’re a little unfair. The reason those of us who know Elizabeth personally haven’t said what you’ve said is that we know Elizabeth has the biggest heart in the world, and that she’s speaking here out of love and anguish for those who feel like the simple Gospel message misses them entirely, that it doesn’t begin to understand what they’re going through and often makes it worse. Right or wrong, that’s how they feel, and Elizabeth here is asking how the Church can better leave the ninety and nine to rescue the one.

    When you read posts like this that bother you–and there are blog posts out there that certainly should!–please try to remember that they might be writing because they hurt or because they love someone who does. I’m not the best at this myself, but nevertheless, it’s good advice.

    • Kate March 30, 2011 at 9:50 am #

      True, that’s good advice for online dialog, Amy. Again, I didn’t mean to make personal affronts to people, and I still stand by opinion that I didn’t (what I wrote has to do with this post, not with her as a person, I’m pretty sure!) I think I’m in a unique position because I don’t know Elizabeth in the flesh; ALL I have to go on is what she has written, literally. And I disagree with some of the ideas in her original post. And if THAT is what offends, tough! We are allowed to disagree.

      I think it’s an impossibly ridiculous standard to hold people to: “you have to know them in person in order to understand what they’ve written.” What of…all literature!? Journals of my ancestors? News media? I’ll admit, I’m sure if I actually knew her, I would probably understand her thoughts better, but I definitely think that text can and must often times stand alone. If you’re saying that I’m misinterpreting her because she didn’t actually write what she meant, I also think that’s silly.

      • Alan March 30, 2011 at 11:08 am #

        Kate, please don’t put words in my mouth. I said almost nothing of what you responded to. I guess I should have made this more explicit, but I was responding to the following quote from one of your posts:

        “By commenting, I’m hoping to show you an opposing viewpoint that maybe the people who actually know you in the flesh might be intimidated to share.”

        In other words, I was suggesting that the reason that those of us who know her have responded differently has nothing to do with being “intimidated.”

        Please, learn to read people more charitably.

    • Liz March 30, 2011 at 9:56 am #

      Aw, thanks, Alan! I absolutely agree with you about the universality needing to be translatable. I just think it’s theologically inaccurate to not consider the bad with the good, to avoid talking about difficulty. I think it’s a simplification in a slightly wrong direction. That’s my opinion, though. A lot of people seem to not agree.

      • Alan March 30, 2011 at 11:19 am #

        Yeah… It’s a challenging point, and I’m glad you raised it. I’ve always thought that the General Authorities are wise to emphasize their responsibility to teach general principles rather than debate exceptions, but when you wed that emphasis to Mormon culture’s pressure toward conformity, it can make it awfully uncomfortable when following the Spirit leads you to different conclusions than your neighbors.

        On an unrelated topic, I think this is a pretty good example of what you’re afraid the YW messages aren’t preparing women for. The author absolutely infuriates me, and I get the strong impression from her writing that she wasn’t really that converted to start with, but she still seems to me like someone the Church failed to teach and comfort effectively when it would have helped.

    • Michael H. March 30, 2011 at 10:25 am #

      As an aside, it’s actually interesting how much of what is produced is specifically geared toward Americans. For instance, the “True to the Faith” booklet’s section on salvation has a long discussion about “being saved”, as you would hear it defined by Evangelicals in the US, especially with the grace/works false dichotomy. However, I only ever got into a discussion about that twice in two years in Argentina, even though I spoke with many Evangelicals. I was more likely to hear “I don’t need to go to church, because I AM a church” than “Are you saved? No, really – have you been saved?”

      If authorities openly recognize that they’re trying to filter out culture-specific content, I find that commendable. I feel that what Elizabeth’s proposing could go a long way to accomplishing that, though: basically, presenting the possibility of a broader discourse on family and parenthood could help people in their attempts to understand those things at a deeper level and *not* merely equate them with certain cultural/temporal/geographic instantiations thereof and their incidental traits.

      • Alan March 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

        Ugh… you do not need to tell me about the baneful effect of conversations with Evangelicals on our theology. They are just so, so, so wrong in so many ways, and explaining ourselves to them in language they understand has corrupted the way we understand ourselves. For just the most obvious example, look at our historical (and thankfully weakening) reluctance to use the words “grace” or “born again,” despite the heavy emphasis of the Book of Mormon on exactly those themes!

        As for your general point, though, I’d say be patient. They’re working on it, but there’s only so much you can do when so much of your leadership is American, as well as the staff of the curriculum and correlation departments. And don’t forget, God didn’t put old men in charge of his Church to make sure it changed quickly.

  11. Sanford March 30, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    ep – I have been reading Scholaristas since the first post but have not commented. I welcome this post. You are taking a little heat for your willingness to openly discuss your experience, but I value seeing you try to work through your thoughts and feelings. I often leave church meetings wondering why it all seemed so formulaic and bland. Is there not more wonder to explore in the gospel?Is there no poetry in how speakers experience their religion? You and I, and each of us, look for different things I suppose, but we each have to come to terms with dissatisfaction. Some bottle it up and some try to make sense of it with others. Thanks for letting your readers be a part of your process. Maybe Kate is right about the message being for the bulk of listeners and not for the few. Perhaps some are too far out on the fringes to expect resonance. And as Kate makes it clear, not everyone reacts alike. But I for one value your analysis as it helps me understand my feelings. Thank you for your efforts.

    • Liz March 30, 2011 at 10:03 am #

      Thanks, Sanford, for being understanding of my effort. And thank you for reading.

  12. Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    This post and its subsequent comment have provoked a great deal of thought and discussion in my little world. I find myself compelled to comment on a few points that I have been considering as a result.

    A. Not Everyone Gets their Happy Ending
    I completely agree that girls in Young Women need to be informed about their various life options. A woman’s life is not just marriage or bust. To teach young girls as if it were is a misleading mistake. Leaders need to be sensitive and aware of the various paths any given young lady’s life might take, and make sure to instill in these girls the knowledge that their lives have innate worth and purpose no matter what.

    B. The Necessity of Teaching that Marriage is A Worthy Goal Regardless
    I doubt that many people will dispute the fact that it’s not particularly cool in popular culture to devote one’s life to being a mother. Don’t get me wrong; it’s very in to have children. Celebrities do it all the time. (Yes, I read those magazines in checkout stands.) But to then to leave your career and stay home with your kids? Not cool. That is where the nanny comes in.

    Now, don’t get too riled up yet; my mother worked full time my whole life. That worked for us. There is no one perfect way to raise a family. The point is that in my personal observation it appears that the raising of children (or, mothering) is not currently high on the societal priority list. (There are always exceptions! These are of course generalizations!) We live in a world where it is perfectly acceptable and normal to say “Nah, I don’t want kids. They will ruin my figure and take all my money.” (Or maybe I am the only one who has had that conversation before?)

    In light of these realities, Young Women should be encouraged to hope for an eternal family and prepare themselves to be a part of one, so that when the time comes, (regardless of age, or even I suppose, the current stage of her eternal life) she will be ready. Girls need to be presented with the idea that it is not only ok to want to be a mother, but that there are things that can be done to prepare oneself to do so, and bringing souls to this earth is a part of God’s Plan for His children. Because that is, after all, The Plan. If we stop teaching this to young girls because some people might not ever get married in this life, or might be unable to bear their own children, or might get married and have their spouse die at a young age, or whatever other horrible contingency might arise, then we will stop teaching the basic gospel principles that help to make up our Heavenly Father’s plan. (I refer to this statement: “One of the girls expressed gratitude for what she was learning now that would help her be a mother later. It was painful. What if her motherhood were curtailed?” Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you wished our leaders had done in the alternative?)

    So how do we the teaching of doctrine with care and concern, empathy and realism? How do we do both of these things effectively?

    C. Consider the Audience
    I agree wholeheartedly with those who pointed out that this was a general message given to a wide variety of young women in various situations, which taught correct principles that can then be applied to these individual situations through prayer and personal revelation. I had my mom read this post and spoke to her about it. She has worked in young women’s and made the very interesting point that this was a forum for the delivery of a general message to a large group of young ladies. She went on to state that individual ward, branch and even stake leaders have the responsibility of teaching more specific lessons to their girls as needed and as directed by the Spirit.

    I am of the opinion that the call for “overtly complex morality or series of archetypes” may not be appropriate in this situation. Worse than a simple message in a general meeting like this would be an overly complex message that alienated a majority of girls while appealing to the intellectual curiosities of only a few. (Perhaps I am misunderstanding what the author desired when she used that language?)

    D. Let’s Give Our Leaders a Little Credit
    I do not envy the job being the President in any auxiliary organization, but especially in any of the general auxiliaries of the church. That is a lot of pressure. This was not a job they applied for. Having not sought their position, it is quite possible that for some of these women and men they would rather be doing anything else. I appreciate what the author commented about the nature of a public meeting inviting comment and/or critique. I invite those who do so, however, to be kind. These people are not politicians, they are not speech writers, and they are not CEO’s or reporters. Instead they are people who have been called to do a very big job they might feel quite unprepared and untrained for. If they are in the public eye, they very well might be despite themselves.

    I am sure they are doing their best. They have been called to their position for a specific reason and in LDS doctrine we believe these callings come from God because He is in charge of His church. Let’s give these hard working individuals a little credit for relying on the Spirit to guide them to speak the words their audience needs to hear. In this particular case, the Lord was directing leaders to speak to Young Women, between the ages of 12 and 18. The message was for them. Not me, not my brother, not my widowed grandmother, not my 40 year old cousin who is still single, but Young Women. (I understand that we can learn from any source. Nevertheless, the technically intended recipients of the message should be in the forefront of our minds as we attempt to dissect the message that was given. That is my opinion, at least.)

    E. Room for Improvement
    The basic ideas behind this post I feel are generally correct and important and necessary. Voices like this need to be heard, and as women and men speak up, various needs that might not have been considered previously will be heard and action will be taken to meet them. I must confess, however, to initially having a very strong (and negative) reaction to this post. This confused me, as I find myself generally of the same opinion. (That is, on the topic of Young Women meetings; I haven’t spent much time contemplating sacred time and at this point do not feel I have a lot to contribute that is useful.)

    As I thought about my reaction to an idea that normally I would be cheering, I have come to the conclusion that I was reacting negatively to the tone behind the post. Regardless of the author’s intention, this post comes across as a bit resentful, accusatory and perhaps even self-righteous. (Ex: “The closing hymn was such a relief.” After the author’s discussion of the lack of depth or complexity in this meeting, this sentence makes it sound like she was a thinking individual trapped in a room of babbling idiots who just weren’t doing their job correctly, and this home was the only respite from her troubles.) I doubt very highly this was the author’s intention. As others have pointed out, I know her to have a heart of gold. But I became quickly concerned with the strong reactions this post provoked and my mind immediately turned to 3 Nephi 11:29, which states that ‘he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” When contention enters the picture, a discussion often quickly ceases to be productive.

    This is by no means intended to be a personal attack. I wanted to comment in support of an idea that I agree with, and perhaps with some constructive criticism for how this important message might be even more effectively delivered. Perhaps I am way off base, and I am sure there are those who disagree with me completely; nevertheless, take this (incredibly long comment) for what it is worth as a different take on the subject matter and how it might be effectively delivered to promote a positive change in the very real issue of Mormon culture vs. Mormon doctrine/religion.

    F. Give Credit Where Credit is Due
    ep, as Sanford stated, you must in turn be given credit for the courage you have to honestly speak your mind. You are what I like to call “a mover and a shaker”. Thank you for calling for all of us to seek ways to improve. You have inspired me to engage in an honest reflection of my own opinions and views. I hope I have not been offensive in sharing some of them with you and want to thank you for being a catalyst in that process.

    P.S. If the length of this comment is inappropriate I am very sorry. I am not sure if there are correct protocols for discussions like this?

    • Kate March 30, 2011 at 9:57 am #

      I think you did a much better job of expressing exactly how I feel. Clearly I contributed to stirring the pot of contention, though this was not my intent. I really enjoyed reading your response, and I literally wanted to say “touchee!” after every single paragraph. You articulated your ideas very, very well. Thank you for sharing.

    • Liz March 30, 2011 at 10:01 am #

      My mom would agree with you about my tone! I’ll try to do better next time. I wasn’t intending to create any kind of controversy or to stir up contention; I was just sharing my experience. I certainly don’t think these leaders are idiots.

  13. Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    I see a lot of typos as I read through what I just posted. How embarrassing.

  14. Stepheny March 30, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    I would like to add that each person is responsible for her own spirituality. What she gets out of a meeting, personal study, or prayer is largely determined by what she brings to it. At one point when I was still single I complained to a friend that there was nothing in the young adult meetings for me. He asked if they started and ended with prayer. Did we sing a hymn? I had to admit we did. His point was, since that was true, there was something there for me.

    This might sound irrelevant, but I think it is important to remember that our personal relationship with deity is of paramount importance and our willingness to find the kernel of truth in what we are offered helps to mitigate all the objectionable things that we leave by the way side.

    • Liz March 30, 2011 at 10:11 am #

      Yes. Thanks, Stepheny.

  15. Paul March 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Liz,

    Thanks for your thought provoking post. I did not assume you were speaking ill of the YW leaders despite your feelings about the meeting.

    I think your concerns are reasonable ones. My first reaction was similar to other commenters, that the local leaders can now take these messages and localize them, including more specific discussions of potential pitfalls, special circumstances and local limitations. And I very much appreciate the perspective of Elder Bednar that Nate shared. I’ve sensed that same “generalization” of ideas in the general sessions and the priesthood session of conference, as well.

    I hope that we’ll continue to be encouraged to offer local “color” as these and similar messages are used in future teaching (compared with the “teach from the manual” rote repetition that sometimes passes for teaching).

    I remember a story recounted by Carlfred Broderick when he was a stake president in California. He attended some kind of stake Primary event in which the leaders had prepared a lovely presentation for girls “graduating” to YW in which they were figuratively shown the yellow-brick road to the temple (maybe there was even a yellow-brick road prop; I can’t remember). At the end of the presentation, the person conducting invited him to share a few thoughts (he comments that he suspects she thought he’d say no), which he did. And then he proceeded to tell the girls that their life would NOT be a yellow-brick road, that marrying the temple was not a guarantee of happily-ever-after, and that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

    So your desire to hear more complexity is not without precedent.

    As for the reminders of liturgy, we have them of course, in the weekly sacrament ritual and regular temple attendance and scripture reading. But those are driven (all of them) by our own personal motivation to use them, not by a cultural climate which reinforces them in that role.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m glad I stumbled on them today. (And I’m fairly confident that any member of the YW presidency would have been happy to read them as well.)

  16. CCJ March 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Oftentimes difficulty cannot just be prayed or studied away. Difficulty must be endured.

    Liz, this line alone made this worth my read. It accurately sums up what I feel I’ve learned the last couple of years as I’ve dealt with as I’ve tried to figure out and learn what I believe. I mentioned to you a year or two ago that I consider myself “atheological” (though certainly not agnostic or atheistic), and still think identify as such in many respects, but what you’ve outlined in those two simple sentences encapsulates much of what I’ve learned about myself and my relationship with God. Thank you. I needed this.

  17. CCJ March 30, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Sorry–the second sentence in my response should read:

    It speaks to my own experience as I’ve tried to figure out and learn what I believe the last couple of years.

  18. michelle March 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    I think it’s not uncommon to hear one talk or one meeting and think that somehow something was missed — and the truth is, it probably was because there is simply too much to cover. ;) But I think it’s important to remember that the gospel is a whole, not just found in a meeting or two. When sometimes I have felt that something was missing, it has helped me a lot to remember this and to go back and see what else has been said recently in the bigger context of our meetings and leaders’ teachings. That always, always makes a difference for me. Look at even the last year of General Conference messages, and I think you’d find a lot of recognition of the fact that life can be hard — while also hearing a continuing stream of the beauty and simplicity of the gospel juxtaposed with those messages. Synthesizing them to me is part of what it means to learn by experience and how opposition (a result of the fall) and faith in the Savior and His Atonement play out in our lives.

  19. Mike March 31, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    3 Nephi 11:29 is my least favorite scripture by far. It is too convenient for anyone who wants to stifle an interesting conversation. Acrimonious debate rarely does anyone much good, but honest disagreement is an inevitable result of different people thinking about the same things. So let me share a few of the things I disagree with in these comments so far:

    The argument that church leaders are somehow making their message more culturally neutral by focusing on simple optimism is a joke. First of all, having lived in a number of foreign countries I can tell you that simple minded optimism is one of the most American characteristics of the church. Go to Russia and all you will hear about is suffering. Also, are we meant to assume that simple minded Africans and South Americans aren’t ready for the complexity of life experience that we weathered Utahns are mature enough to digest?

    Also, I don’t buy for a second the idea that we have to focus on the same simple minded message every time because we only have 90 minutes. I could give you a fairly decent introduction to quantum physics in an hour and half. The church leaders give the same simplified message at every general conference for a reason. The repetition has nothing to do with time constraints. The object is to foster uniformity.

    A lot of what the church has to offer depends upon people being “of one mind and one heart.” There is a lot of value in belonging to a group of people with the same outlook and convictions. It is a key ingredient to feeling the spirit, for example. But this kind of community comes at a price. We should not ignore the necessity, or the cost, of maintaining uniformity of beliefs and attitudes in the church.

    Another thing I disagree with: the use of all caps.

    Hmmm….let’s see if I can find anything else to be disagreeable about. Well, there is the ridiculous assertion that we shouldn’t post personal things on our blog. And of course, I disagree with the use of the words “salvific” and “prepubescenthood”.

  20. mercedes March 31, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    now i’m probably drawing from a biased sample here, but just about everyone i know says that they would like a more frank discussion of life’s challenges in general church meetings. so often the things that are said (especially by the women) leave the impression that the speaker is massively out of touch with what women around the world are dealing with.

    (and yet common sense says they have to know…i mean they travel and talk to so many people…..they have to be acutely aware….don’t they?)

    it isn’t so much that i want them to “air their dirty laundry.” rather i want them to find ways to convey the message that other women out there, including women in positions of authority in the church, are struggling. i want to be able to relate to them, to find community and camaraderie in our shared struggles. i want to learn about how other women found and/or are finding the courage and strength to endure to the end.

    the idea that doctrine needs to be watered down to make it relevant for members outside of north america suggests a very low opinion of non-americans. while it is true that the culture and customs of people living in sub-sahara africa are different, why does that make them less capable of understanding a slightly more nuanced discussion of human existence? the fact that someone doesn’t read does not mean they can’t understand.

    similarly, the ability to read does not imply the ability to understand what you read. kate. i am talking to you. you may have read the OP, but like you said in your first comment, “you don’t really understand.” maybe next time “you don’t really understand,” you will consider asking for clarification before jumping to conclusions about someone’s intent.

  21. Alan March 31, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    A brief response to the last two posts.

    First, the argument was not that focusing on simple-minded optimism makes the Church more culturally neutral but that simplifying the message generally does. I think Elizabeth and Michael were perfectly right to question that the simplification is being done right—indeed, it’s clearly still a work in progress.

    The reason a simpler, more focused Gospel message has the potential to be more culturally neutral is not a matter of intelligence, as has been alleged, though education levels certainly play a role. To be honest, I’d have a hard time explaining half of my trials to half of my high school graduating class unless I boiled them down to stock phrases like “peer pressure” and “doubt” that don’t resonate with what I actually feel.

    More important is the choice of examples. Ever tried to translate a baseball metaphor into Twi? An in-depth discussion of body image and weight loss would probably be fairly incomprehensible to people struggling with malnutrition, and a talk about flawed gender norms in the U.S. might cause utter havoc among Church members in societies with dramatically different norms.

    Again, I’m not claiming that the Church has struck the perfect balance here or that the attempts at simplification have achieved cultural neutrality. Far from it, I’ve acknowledged that the Church is hindered in this effort by the lingering uniformity of its leadership and employees. But the general idea of the program—simplifying the message from Salt Lake so as to allow greater freedom for local adaptation—could potentially be very effective, not least because it opens space among tiny minorities like us for conversations like this one.

    (Also, be nice to Kate. I agree she hasn’t read everything in the most charitable light, but I understand where she’s coming from, and she’s already taken more abuse than is particularly Christian.)

  22. Mike March 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    “I’ve acknowledged that the Church is hindered in this effort by the lingering uniformity of its leadership and employees.”

    I do not necessarily agree with this. Uniformity is something of a no-no in our society, so church members get a little defensive if they are “accused” of it. But I think it is a big part of why the church works.

    Though uniformity is important, there is also a place in the church for people who feel a little like outsiders. The church should accommodate them to some extent, but I don’t see any reason to abandon simplification/unification approach. Many (most?) church members expect and appreciate the simple message. It is comforting and uplifting to be among people of similar faith.

    Also, perhaps we should distinguish between struggles of faith and other life challenges. Many who have difficult lives rejoice in a simple message of salvation. They do not necessarily feel the same way as those whose problems are more philosophical. For those struggling with physical challenges, I think it is helpful to simply say “smile and have hope, because God is on your side and everything will work in favor of the faithful.” Those struggling with their faith may want something else.

  23. Ashley March 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    I have been following the discussion about Liz’s post and am feeling very frustrated at the majority of the comments. I feel frustrated because I have heard so many of them so many times before to similar and heartfelt criticisms I have made about my experiences in church, and the fact that they are so common and so eerily similar makes it hard to see them as something besides cultural cliches that are used to silence, dismiss or reduce the suffering and desires felt by Mormons like Liz.

    Liz’s post, in my view, was a very moderate and actually quite accommodating post about how she felt listening to the Young Women’s broadcast. If there was anything that disturbed or offended me about it, it was the easily-recognizable and significant pains she was taking to give “the leaders” credit, see things from their perspective, and furnish as many justifications for them as she could. If anything, the first paragraph of Liz’s post makes me want to hold her and tell her that she doesn’t need to do that, that she can say exactly how she feels and exactly what her experience was. But clearly Liz has learned from her culture and her religion that she has to couch her experience in these forgiving terms because, even when phrased this way she will receive a deluge of comments telling her that her experience and sorrows don’t matter as much as the experiences of her “leaders,” that these leaders need forgiveness and understanding more than she does, that she needs to shelve her intellectual and ethical longings for the sake of a PR gospel or some simpleton notion of what an African or Latin-American or fill-in-the-blank convert needs–a view that, to ditto Mercedes, is a very bleak and racist view of what these people want or are capable of. If I had written Liz’s post, it would have been much more offensive, apparently, because I have decided after long experience trying to love myself that my leaders are not more important than I am, that my opinions and needs matter just as much as the next person’s, that a truly egalitarian gospel would believe in the minds and hearts and potential of all people, and–more than anything–the the problems Liz criticized in the Young Women’s meeting are responsible for massive, deep and unwarranted self-loathing, confusion, and unhappiness in the young women in the LDS church.

    What do I mean by that? Just this last week, I have encountered or heard of at least a dozen women who, after years of being raised with the “right” simple messages of motherhood, modesty and chastity, are in absurdly terrible, abusive, uninspiring or stagnant relationships that they persist in because they believe that that is where their only value lies. When I have asked these women why they stay, they say–with their words or their emotions–that they were never taught that they mattered as themselves, as individuals with needs and wants and desires and things to give. They were told their entire lives to be a role rather than a person, and when they encounter themselves as a person–their heartaches or their difficulties or their eccentricities–they try to shove them into the shape of their expected roles. And they also tell me that when they try to speak about their sorrows, people tell them to shut up, to smile, to “have faith” (this should be disturbing), to buck up, to support their partners or spouses, to work harder, to obey, or to think about “the other person’s perspective.” What these girls and women desperately need is, first, to grow up being taught that they matter as who they are, not what role they play, that their sorrows are real and will probably only get harder, and that they will need unbelievable amounts of strength to fight the forces inside Mormonism and out that tell them that they are lesser than others. Second, they need someone to hold them and to validate their experience as their own, to think how to understand and heal and nurture them instead of defending the people who have hurt or misled them.

    The harms Mormon women face are real and terrifying and unfair. They have to stop. And if they are to stop, we have to stop the messages that create that culture. We must criticize our “leaders” and rewrite manuals and use our voice and own our experience so that we can make the next generation of women safer and happier. This is what Liz is trying to do, and we should learn a lot from how most of us respond to her. I want to see Mormons everywhere break away from their obsession with defending the powerful against the powerless and LISTEN to the experience of a person who is saying, “I am not happy. This is not enough. This is not helping.” Liz is one of the young women this program is ostensibly for, and she matters just as much as any other person in it, and certainly her needs should be paramount to the people who created it for her.

    I am deathly tired of people responding to the pain and needs of other members by defending their leaders. I refuse to think of church leaders as more important than me or anyone else, or as infallible or more deserving of understanding than me. If leaders say or do things that cause real harm to women’s psyches, they must be critiqued. I refuse to accept that more women must think of themselves only as mothers or wives or whatevers, that they must simplify their minds and endure what I think are toxic messages so the leaders can feel okay. The leaders get heaped with our love and worship and justifications. A truer religion would love and justify the sorrowers, the thinkers, the people who are trying to make the world better for others.

    I say this all as a woman who has recently become a mother (I had a baby two weeks ago). It was an exquisite experience, but I refuse to believe it is one that any woman needs to make, and I refuse to believe it is what she is. I had the amazing experience I did because I worked hard for years and years to see myself as someone besides a mother, as someone who was real despite motherhood and wifehood–not just in case I couldn’t have children, or in case my husband died, but because I DESERVE TO BE REAL AND HAPPY AS A PERSON. I will be honest: in order to find this peace, I had to fight years and years of cultural build-up, mostly from the YW program, in order to respect myself and be happy. There is something wrong there. I had to accept myself as a mind and a body and a heart that wanted to do good and to be and feel honest about my whole human experience, which involved admitting that for most of my life I had been mind-numbingly bored and uninspired in church, and that listening to most talks held me back instead of freeing me up. And then I had to stand up for it against slews of people who told me I had to go to church for other people (the people everyone goes to church for) instead of myself, who told me I was proud, who told me to respect my leaders more than myself, and who wanted me to accept years of confusion as the cost of a program that was supposed to make me like myself.

    So I thank and defend and want to hold people like Liz who are being honest about her experience. Even if it is not yours, our first response as a church family should be to say: “Tell me more. How are you hurting? What needs to change and how can I help?”

  24. Alan March 31, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Ashley, I should work, but I want to respond to your point: Yes, absolutely, our first response as a church family should be to say, “Tell me more. How are you hurting? What needs to change and how can I help?”

    And that is exactly my complaint with what is generally described as the “liberal” position on these issues, that instead of focusing on the individual in pain it focuses on the Church leaders, the institution, what they’re doing wrong and how they ought to fix things. Instead of doing the hard work of empathizing with such people and helping them reinterpret the Gospel according to their needs, this approach sits back and criticizes a faraway bureaucracy for not doing the job for us. (Which is not to accuse you yourself of neglecting your Christian duty—from what you said about your conversations with women in trouble, it seems you take it seriously.)

    This is the whole point of my praise of the simplification strategy, however imperfect it is and however much I think it can still be improved. I’m not claiming the simplified message is exactly what members in developing countries need to hear any more than I’m claiming it’s exactly what I need to hear or exactly what Elizabeth needs to hear. What I’m claiming is that the simplification leaves room for people like us, in our communities and in discussions like this one, to figure out what what we do need to hear and what the Gospel means for us, while local members and local leaders all around the globe do the same work in their own spheres and cultures.

    So, the practical thrust of what I’m saying: Instead of crusading against the ways in which “The Church,” that magically monolithic institution far away, is failing the people around us in need, we should focus on what’s wrong with the Gospel interpretation, teaching, and culture in our own circles and communities, since in my (admittedly male) experience, that’s nine times out of ten where the problem lies and ten times out of ten where we have the most influence and power to do good.

  25. Leah March 31, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    While I can’t possibly address everything said in this forum I do feel there is one aspect missing. Parents are responsible for the spiritual education of their daughters and sons not their youth leaders or the general leaders that address them at conferences. The leaders of the church are a support system for the family and as such should not be expected to fulfill all needs of every youth in a meeting held once a year or even once a week. If youth feel lost and haven’t been presented real life lessons on hard things it is because their parents have relinquished their duty to someone else who can’t possibly meet their child’s needs as a parent can. (sorry for the run on sentence) That is quite often my conclusion when such discussions are raised and I hope food for thought and application for those we have stewardship over.

  26. ep April 2, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Just a note: I am really pleased with the first session of general conference. The general authorities put pain and suffering in its proper theological context. They are swallowed up by the atonement, but also exist and persist for our perfection.

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