face to face with ysa mormons and elder holland

If you don’t know much about the Church, don’t worry about it, just skip this one.

The setup: On Monday, Elder Jeffrey Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles (the chief governing body of the Church), gave essentially a Q&A to YSAs (young single adults) all over the world.  It was a worldwide broadcast but was supposed to be directed a this targeted group, giving us a much more intimate feel than the standard broadcasts targeted at the entire church.  As a note, YSAs are ages 18-31 and typically have their own congregations.  That’s about it as far as background goes.

This was a 2-hour broadcast and I cannot respond to everything.  In fact, the vast majority of the material was very nice but it won’t make for a great post if I just transcribe quotes and then give them a verbal thumbs-up.  As such, I will respond to the things that I thought were wrong, needed further development, or just could use my unique and self-absorbed perspective tacked onto the end.  Keep in mind, this is the perspective of someone who the broadcast was targeted at.  So I may be wrong in my opinions, but the opinion itself may be a useful indication of how young members of the Church are feeling.

So while the tone of this may seem like I didn’t like the broadcast and the leaders, that’s not true at all.  Almost everything talked about ranged from “fine” to “decently insightful.”  Nothing that was “OMG exceptional,” or life-changing, but it was still a nice, standard Church meeting.

On to the cherry-picking of quotes from the broadcast:

Question: “How can I be single in the Church and be happy at the same time?  It seems the older I get, the two can’t coexist.”

Sister Stephens response included this: “We aren’t defined by our marital status in the Church.”

But we are, Sister Stephens.  We are.  I can’t tell if this quote represents someone who is very out of touch or if they are just being too optimistic.  The Mormon Church has a culture of families.  Not just spouses, but families.  Speaking of the doctrine of families, Elder Holland said earlier in the meeting, “The only thing that we know, for a governing principle–and the governance of people in heaven, are families.  That’s all we’ve been taught and, so far as I know, that’s all that’s there.”

“We’re not going to stop talking about the ideal,” Elder Holland continued.  He’s right, of course, but the fact is, if you don’t have your own family, Mormonism is an uncomfortable community to be a part of and it’s one of the reasons I believe the YSA activity rates are in the toilet (sorry, don’t know if we’re supposed to mention that).

We all know the doctrine and its clear that the full blessings of the Gospel and the Church are not available to singles.  This doctrine trickles down from pure teachings and creates the day-to-day culture of Mormonism.  And the culture that we’ve got is dismissive to YSAs and often pays them nothing more than lip service.  I swear there’s an underlying opinion from the family “wards” (i.e., congregations) that we YSAs are second class members.  Elder Holland alluded to it later: “We just want to talk to you as adults… We see you as adults… We see you peer-to-peer and friend-to-friend.”  Well, it sure doesn’t seem that way.  I still think there’s often an underlying condescension when YSAs hear things from our leaders, as seen in Elder Holland jokingly reminding everyone in the room that we are God’s “little ones.”  While that is definitely true, it’s not something you hear directed towards other adults in the Church.  But who knows?  Maybe I’m just overly sensitive.

Question: [Something about women serving missions.]

Elder Holland: “We’re very grateful for those [sister missionaries] who go… We went from something like… 8 or 10 or 12 percent to 30 or 35% of the missionaries of the Church being young women and everybody knows that a sister is twice as effective as three elders.”

Well here’s the math on this this one:

1 sister = (3 elders) * 2

So one sister is 6 elders, I guess?

Explain to me why it’s acceptable for an Apostle to make jokes at the expense of male missionaries.  Just another example of modern culture creeping into the culture of the Church; that, of course, being the modern acceptance of people mocking men or implying we are half-wits in order to flatter women.  I love Elder Holland but that joke was bullshit and it’s too bad so many people laughed.  I was a missionary and I supervised the work of many male missionaries.  We are not worth 1/6 of a female missionary.  If anything, in my experience, the women on average were bigger headaches for the mission leadership.  It’s just the type of casual “men suck” jokes that are hacky, played out, and have no place in a Church meeting that’s supposed to be about encouraging YSAs.

Question: [Something regarding preparation for marriage]

Sister Stephens: “We reviewed a lot of questions and one of them was, ‘If we find out someone we’re dating or someone we’re serious about has an issue with pornography, should we continue to date them or should we run?’… [Answering this question:] Are you dating someone who has a good heart, who’s honest about it, who’s willing to work with you?… What’s the condition of his heart?  I think that’s where a lot of this decision will come [from]… You’re going to have to have the Spirit work really close with you… to be able to discern if this is going to work or not.  I think we don’t want to ever give up on anyone.”

Pretty good answer from Sister Stephens.  Church leaders don’t usually do so good when giving advice regarding dating and pornography.  I’ve even heard–from a very reliable source–rumors of at least one prominent leader telling girls at a fireside to refuse to marry a man who used to look at porn.  Be that as it may, I’m on board with this answer from the good sister.

A caveat to this is that for many women, this advice won’t matter.  They will just end the relationship.  They won’t care about this advice–and I’m not saying they should–that’s just how it is.  Mormon women are petrified of pornography and while I agree that it’s a blight on our modern world, it’s merely a symptom of a sick society and men who use it are merely self-treating for an unfulfilled emotional need.  It’s not about the porn.  (I will probably write more on this at a future date.)

Question: [Regarding the status of gay members and how hard it can be in the Church for them.]

Elder Holland: “Let me say this to begin a response: I think we have talked altogether too much about gender and altogether too little about chastity… We do not make a judgment about someone’s attraction… We don’t make any attempt to say why that happened or how that happened… What we do say is that we teach chastity… We just go with what the Lord has declared… It’s at least as much spiritual as physical.

Now, when that [homosexual] attraction exists, we ask exactly what we ask with heterosexual feelings…and that is be faithful.  Be clean.  Be chaste.  And for you, every blessing of this Church is available including the Sacraments, the ordinances, going to the Temple… whatever you need and whatever you desire and hope, those blessings are available to the chaste… It’s in the governing handbooks that are given to the Priesthood leaders of the Church.  Now if some members fall short in that, then shame on them.  And if I haven’t done well enough to teach that, then shame on me… We’re not making them [gays] second-class citizens… but there are commandments.”

“We would be the first to say that every person is welcome at the Church and in our circles and in our associations and in our friendship on the basis of everyone trying to keep the commandments.”

Wonderful answer from Elder Holland with a caveat.  He failed to address the idea of gays in the Church being second-class citizens from a cultural standpoint.  To Elder Holland’s point, the doctrine is very clear that there is no second-class citizenship in the Lord’s church.  But culturally?  It is weird.  It’s outside the norm, people often have a hard time accepting it, and I don’t see this changing very quickly.  My apologies to gays everywhere.

However, if you are gay and feeling strange and out of place, instead of coddling you, I’ll give you some real-world advice: move.  If you currently live your everyday life being uncomfortable and being treated weird by well-meaning but dorky members, just move.  Trust me.  If you’re a gay YSA in places like Los Angeles, New York, D.C., Austin–really, the more liberal places–no one cares, everyone’s used to it, and you’ll be fine.   You’re more likely to be comfortable, have friends, and fit in.  Again, trust me.

Elder Holland is right about the availability of blessings but, come on, we all know you can’t achieve the highest blessings if you’re gay.  Of course you can technically achieve all the blessing if you’re gay and you don’t act on it but instead get a wife and have kids, but guess what?  If you’re super gay (as opposed to leaning more bisexual or being comfortable switching to the standard team completely) that would probably be miserable for you.  So yeah–it sucks but I don’t know what else to tell you.  Seek help from others who’ve gone through the same thing.

Follow-up question: “A lot of people who struggle with homosexual attraction feel that happiness is not available for them because of whatever reason.  What words of hope do you have for them that there is happiness?”

Elder Holland: “In my professional life, I’ve only had two married secretaries… and all the others have been single.  And those women can just as justifiably ask the same question… ‘What is there for me?  What hope is there?’  I say there is hope for all of us.  I don’t know when–some blessings come now, some blessings come later, some blessings don’t come till heaven, but they come.  Every word that God has ever uttered will be honored and fulfilled.  Every word.”

Perfect answer from Holland and clarifies one of my points from above, although it doesn’t make being gay and Mormon any easier while you’re living your day-to-day life.  At least, I don’t think it does.  Ask a gay guy/girl for a real opinion here instead of my moronic one.

Conclusion:

It was a nice event and for a worldwide broadcast, I really did feel like Elder Holland and the other two were directly speaking to the YSAs of the Church.  However, in terms of content, there just wasn’t much that was any different than any other Church broadcast.  I understand that it’s hard to very candid in front of a global audience, even an audience that’s limited to YSAs, but I just wish Church leaders could occasionally speak with the frankness that I know they use in smaller meetings.

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music and storytime friday: second hand news

Many years ago my family took a summer vacation to Sunriver, Oregon.  Sunriver is a small community in the high desert of central Oregon, just on the leeward side of the Cascade mountain range, that functions as a getaway spot for Oregonians coming from the nearby rainy section of the state.  Once you arrive in Sunriver and get settled, the best form of transportation during the summertime is bicycling.  The entire community, stores, and the like are completely accessible via nicely paved bike trails.  Implication: kids LOVE it.

Anyway, that summer my mom packed the kids into the old Dodge Caravan and drove us the 3 1/2 hours to Sunriver from Portland.  I don’t remember the year, but I couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 at at time.  Dad met us a day or so later in his ’88 Mazda B-Series pickup (the same truck I would total in just a few short years) carrying all the stuff that didn’t fit in the minivan, including a few bicycles and fishing gear.

It’s worth noting that as kids, we didn’t ride in Dad’s truck very often, but not for any reason other than efficiency.  He used the truck primarily to commute to the park-n-ride where he caught the bus to downtown Portland and for hauling tools or junk around the property.  Mom drove us most places on a day-to-day basis and when the whole family went somewhere, we naturally took the minivan.

At the end of a fun week at Sunriver we loaded all the gear back into the respective vehicles.  Seemingly out of nowhere, my dad asked if I wanted to ride with him in the truck back home while my brothers rode in the other car with Mom.  In all likelihood, the invitation was probably just a passing suggestion (or even merely a matter of logistics), but I remember jumping at the chance to ride just Dad and me.

It was a hot day and the Mazda didn’t have air conditioning like the Dodge van did, but I didn’t care–the windows were down and we were cruising.  As we left Sunriver and escaped the large neighboring city of Bend and began our climb over the Highway 20 pass to western Oregon, my dad opened a bag and took out an album I had never heard: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors.  Now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t recall a time prior to this in which Dad shared any piece of pop culture with me that wasn’t an old war movie.

Right in front of the Mazda’s gear shift, under the vent controls, was a brand new Pioneer CD player and–something I would not realize until the truck became mine–behind our seats were two 6×9 speakers in dedicated boxes, also brand new and ready.  Rumors went into the slot and Dad turned up the volume.  And as we all know, the first song is “Second Hand News.”

The moment Lindsey Buckingham’s voice came in loud and clear with, “I knoooooow,” I was transfixed.  There was no head bobbing or rocking out.  I couldn’t think of anything to say or do and ended up staring at the track time on the Pioneer deck.  What a song!  There was wind, engine noise, and the thumping of the bass drum in the back of our seats.  The album went on: “I can still hear you saying, you would never break the chain–never break the chain!”

After a few songs played, I probably said something stupid like, “I like this,” and then gazed out the windows at the passing trees and the distant mountain peaks while I listened.  I don’t think Dad or I said anything the rest of the album.  I never knew he liked Fleetwood Mac.

We grew up with Dad taking us on camping trips, golfing, fishing, Church activities, shooting, and telling us stories of his youth.  There were no shortage of outings or moments with Dad.  But there was something about this time, the first of many road trips with him, where he seemed like he was more than a father–he was a man with opinions and tastes and history that I was just beginning to glimpse and now, almost 20 years later, I still don’t think I’ve got the whole picture.