I just finished reading the article Fellow Citizen (Vigor #4), and I feel compelled to respond, because I have struggled also with the accusation for one reason or another, either by others or myself, of being "second rate."
I, too, have often wondered about the theory that the Race of Ham was less valiant in premortal life. I have wondered about 2 Nephi 5:20-24 which talks about the curse on the descendants of Laman and Lemuel. I have wondered about the idea that children who die before the age of eight are considered special, because they are spared the trials of this life. All of these concepts have several things in common: they presuppose who or what we were in the premortal life; they tend to make us dwell on the past; and they affect our attitudes on our life for good or bad.
I do not know if the idea about the Race of Ham being less valiant in the premortal life is true. But I do know that God is no respecter of persons. Those who keep his commandments are his church. I do not believe that what we were in our premortal life is what is most important. God doesn't look to the past. He's more concerned in what we are, than in what we've been. That is the purpose of repentance and forgiveness. If what we were in the premortal life somehow makes us disfavorable with God, then repentance and forgiveness is of little avail. If someone judges us and treats us in a prejudiced way, then the problem lies with that person, not with ourself. Those people are at a different level in their progression, and someday maybe they will learn that their thoughts are not right with God. Study how Jesus reacted with the people in his day -- did he ever rebuke somebody, because they were shoving ahead of the crowd to get a look at him, or to talk to him, or to touch him or just because they were plain rude? No, he had love for all people, despite their weaknesses and he showed that love and tolerance. We must love like that too. Maybe our love will help to change people for the better, just as Jesus' love did.
Concerning the curse on the descendants of Laman and Lemuel -- I read those words over and over, wondering as I am sure many Mormons do, why black skin is a curse. But in reading the verses very carefully I realized that the black skin was not the curse. The curse was being separated from God. That is explained in verse 20 and in the first half of verse 21. Versus 22-24 go on to explain what will happen to the Lamanites now that they have chosen to not keep the commandments of God. The second half of verse 21 explains that the black skin was the mark of the curse -- a mark on that original group of people who chose to separate themselves from the teachings of God. I get the impression that this mark was partially for the purpose of helping the Nephites to distinguish this group of people from themselves. As you will recall in Alma 3, the Amlicites, who were a group of light-skinned people who chose to align themselves with the darker-skinned Lamanites, marked themselves with red in the forehead, so that in battle the Lamanites would be able to distinguish them from the Nephites. The mark and the curse of the original Lamanites is also explained in Alma 3. What other reasons there may have been for the mark, I am not sure. But, whatever may have been the reasons for different colors of skins in the early histories of this world, I believe that these colors are unimportant in comparison to whether or not we are living by God's will.
As to the third viewpoint, I have often felt cheated because I have lived a longer life and had and still have to go through all the trials of this life, and bring sin upon myself. Why should it be so much easier for the spirits who die while still so young that they automatically return to God? Does it also mean that I am not special? It seems unfair. I am struggling to just keep the Ten Commandments. Why should it be so easy for them and so hard for me? I'm still struggling with this idea. But I think I am beginning to see a glimpse of an answer. I don't know what I was in my premortal life, but I do know that I was excited to come here and to experience all the wonderful things there are in life, and yes, even some of the not so wonderful. I may not like feeling the icy winds of winter burning my cheeks when I have to go out and shovel the snow, feed the animals, or dig the car out of a snowbank, but when I think of eternity I will be able to look back and have these memories and perhaps say, I experienced even that. With all the mundanity of my life, the demands, the disappointments, the petty annoyances, the headaches -- literally and figuratively, and the dangers, I still love life. And as odd as it may sound, I love being able to hate -- hate food that tastes bad, hate appliances that don't work right, hate being prejudged or not given a chance to prove myself, hate the danger of walking down a city street alone. I love the range of emotions that come through each experience. I love the feeling of my long hair on my back; I love going barefoot in summertime; I love the feeling of fulfillment when I have finished a day of strenuous physical labor; I loved knowing the friend that I had so many wonderful times with and that I watched being buried only a month ago. When she died for no apparent reason, it was like reading my own obituary, but her death gave me a greater understanding of our purpose in mortality, the principles of repentance, and the atonement and resurrection. No, I wouldn't give up my life in mortality for anything. It is such a short time in eternity, and someday all it will be is a memory. And I want memories of it, good or bad. I want to be able to look back and say I experience mortality and I experienced it fully. I got to experience all the things a body of flesh and bones gives, the pain, the suffering, the joy, the emotions that lift me to the heights and bring me to the depths, while still living under the commandments of God. I did what I was supposed to do here, and I didn't waste my life.
So, whatever or whoever I was in premortality is past. As each person did in this world, I came here for a reason or reasons and those reasons may not be what other people presuppose just because of what they see on the outside or because of certain ideas they've formed. I made the choice to come and I accepted whatever circumstances I came into, because I don't believe we come into this world completely blind. I look to the future as to who or what I am and am to become. Not where I was. Through repentance where I was is not who I am. I am whom I choose to be now and in the future.
Correspondence to a Seminary Student from his Grandfather
I'm sorry it has taken a few days for me to get back to your letter. But at least I AM getting back. I hope this "delayed promptness" doesn't shock you too much.
Actually, my main answer to the questions you raise about what Brother Jones is telling you is about the same for all of them. The most important thing to remember, I think, is that different people in the Church will, for their own reasons or because of their own experiences, have many different interpretations of some things. And that's alright, so long as they are willing to recognize two things: (1) The only interpretations that are the official positions of the Church are those that have been approved formally by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve, and announced as such; and (2) Beyond that, personal opinions must be taught as just that -- personal opinions, and those who teach them really ought to make it clear that they are simply trying, the best way they can, to explain things that are interesting to them. You can't really disagree very well with your seminary teacher on most of the items he mentions, for they are items on which the leaders of the Church have never taken an official position. Different Church leaders have spoken privately on some of these things, but that does not make it Church doctrine.
I personally disagree, like you, with your seminary teacher's interpretation on all of these things, but I would not argue with him if it meant antagonizing him. I would, however, try to get him to tell the rest of the class that on these matters he is giving you a personal interpretation, not the official one, then go on to other things. And going on to other things is very important. We have been counseled strongly to avoid the "mysteries," and some of the things you mention are certainly "mysteries." I don't think there is any harm in doing a little speculating about such things, but there is harm, I think, in spending much time on them in the context of the seminary class. You really ought to be talking about the basics of the gospel, and what all these things can mean in your life. If that is not what you are doing, it might not hurt to simply try, in class, to take the discussion in a more positive, less "sensational," direction.
Incidentally, I have always liked a little statement that Elder B.H. Roberts used to quote: "In essentials let there be unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity!" That, I believe, is the spirit in which we should discuss such things -- and in the process make sure that we really do agree on the "essentials," but respect everyone else's right to have an opinion on the non-essentials. And most of the interpretations you mention are really in the area of the non-essentials. (That is, whatever you believe about them is not going to make any difference at all to your salvation. But what you believe about the atonement, about baptism, about repentance, about the Holy Ghost, about the temple, about marriage, and about several other "essentials" you can name will make a difference to your salvation, for they will make a difference in the way you act.) But it seems just a bit arrogant to "pontificate," or give authoritative answers to such controversial questions when the Lord has, for his own reasons, not seen fit to give his own answer! Well, after saying all that, let me make just a few brief comments on the specific questions you raised (though I don't know enough about them to say a lot).
First, on the question of whether Christ was married. That is a speculation that has been going on for generations in the Church -- and one of those things that the Lord has never seen fit to give us a specific answer on. I see no problem in believing that he was married or that he was not married, except that I believe that most Biblical scholars would assume that he was unmarried -- there just is not enough direct evidence to suggest otherwise. But if it were important enough for us to know, why would it not have found its way into such important Church books as James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ, or Bruce R. McConkie's series on the Messiah? These are about as authoritative as they come, so far as Church doctrine is concerned, and neither of these even hint at the idea that Jesus was married. Neither do I find it anywhere in the teachings of Joseph Smith. (I think there is a statement somewhere to the effect that someone heard Joseph Smith suggest that possibility, but there is no direct evidence from Joseph Smith's own writings, or from anything written at the time he may have said such a thing, so we really cannot rely on one questionable piece of second- or third-hand evidence.)
I think this idea really comes from the time around 150 years ago when some of the leading brethren were doing everything they could to find scriptural support for the idea of plural marriage. The only sermon I know about that devoted any time on the idea that Jesus was married given by Orson Hyde in October 1854. You can find his reasoning in the Journal of Discourses, vol 2, pp. 81-83. He alluded to it again in 1857 (see JD 4:259). In the 1854 sermon Elder Hyde went into great detail, attempting to show that the marriage feast at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle, was Jesus's own wedding feast. He also suggested that Jesus had more than one wife. Ever since then a few people have used the reasoning put forth by Elder Hyde to teach what Brother Jones is teaching you. But it has never been taught, so far as I know, by a president of the Church, and there has never even been any thought of making this a doctrine of the Church. If you will read Elder Hyde's sermon very closely, you will see that he puts all of this into the context of marriage in general, and the importance of marriage, as well as the validity of plural marriage! So I think he was trying to show that Jesus was married mainly to support the larger concept of marriage that he was trying to teach. But the important thing to remember is that just because one apostle believed it does not necessarily make it true -- and there is no evidence that very many Church leaders ever taught it at all.
Now about the earth having a spirit, being baptized, etc. I assume you are referring to the interpretation some people put on passages such as D&C 123:7 ("the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity); 84:101 ("the earth hath travailed and brought forth her strength); 88:25-26 ("...the earth abideth the law of the celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law -- Wherefore it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it."); and Moses 7:48 ("And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of he wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?"). I have heard such passages interpreted by people who say, in effect, that the earth is alive, that it is going through the same process of salvation that people go through, etc.
Again, I think this is a rather strange idea -- certainly one that is very difficult to understand. I can see one value in it -- if you are an ecologist it certainly can be used to strengthen your argument about not messing around with mother earth.
But, in reality, I do not see how such an idea is of any consequence for our individual salvation. On the other hand, I see these statements as powerful, beautifully symbolic statements that help dramatize the responsibilities mankind have. Read all of these things in their broader context (that is, read all the verses surrounding these verses), and I think you will agree that the main message here has to do with the people the Lord is talking to -- emphasizing their iniquities, etc. through powerful symbolic word pictures.
Remember, when interpreting scripture it is always important to read the whole context -- not just a few verses. Then ask yourself, what is the main idea the author is trying to get across in this whole book, or whole chapter. Then you can interpret the particular verses accordingly.
I am reminded that years ago I prepared a lesson on appreciating the Doctrine and Covenants as literature. I still have all my notes from that lesson, for I thought some of the ideas in it were pretty important -- at least for me. One of the purposes of the lesson was to show that, even though the D&C is not always written in the most exciting literary style, there are many inspired passages within it that are wonderful pieces of literature, and can be appreciated as such. I suggested that one of the things that characterizes good literature is that it will have a powerful emotional appeal, and that sometimes authors use a variety of literary devices to create that appeal. Some words and phrases may not be intended to be taken literally -- rather, they are powerful literary tools for putting across feelings and ideas. The meaning thus becomes very literal in terms of the impact these expressions are intended to have on our lives -- which is usually to persuade us to repent of our sins. This is the reason that we have great anthems, poems, allegories and other kinds of symbolic, figurative passages scattered throughout the scriptures, including the Doctrine and Covenants. In fact, the liberal use of such literary devices is one of the inspired things about the book, I think. At any rate, in the Doctrine and Covenants you will find examples of poetry, psalms, anthems, imagery, parables, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, and proverbs. You will also find numerous examples of "personification," a common but extremely powerful literary device that endows animals, ideas, abstractions, and inanimate objects with human form, character, and/or sensibilities. This form is never intended as a literal description of such objects but, rather, as a way of emphasizing a much deeper and more important message. In my opinion, for example, you will find no more beautiful or powerful passage than D&C 128:23. "Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the fields praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy!" This is a perfect example of powerful personification, intended to bring to the reader or listener a powerful feeling of gratitude for all the Lord has done--but certainly not with any literal implication that mountains can shout or rivers be glad or trees praise the Lord, or rocks weep for joy. In my mind, the other passages that I cited above are the same kind of thing. I think the thought of the earth being a living entity is a beautiful symbol -- but the purpose of the passage is to use the symbol to help bring us to an awareness of something far greater than a debate over whether the earth has a soul! The secret is to study the scriptures prayerfully, and get to the root of that deeper meaning.
I don't know what to make of the material in Abraham 3 about all the governing bodies. That is one of those "mysterious" pieces of information that I will just have to have cleared up when I know enough (probably not in this life) to understand it. In the meantime, I hope I am not too far off when I suggest that the main idea of these verses is simply to emphasize the fact that God rules over everything, and that is the important thing for us to remember.
By the way, I love the fact that you have already figured out that D&C 77 is a great answer to the question about the beasts. Isn't it interesting that Joseph Smith used the term "figurative expressions"? He was apparently not quite the literalist that Brother Jones is. I'm glad you are in the Prophet's company!
And I don't know what to say about Ezekiel -- except that your Bible dictionary will tell you that chapters 1-24 constitute a section of "prophecies of judgment against Jerusalem and the nation." Like so many other places in the scriptures (especially in books like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelations), the symbolism and figurative language used here is intended to create powerful images that will mean something to the people being called to repentance. But I don't believe most serious Bible scholars would call this a prophecy about modern technology. You will hear the idea at times, but it always seems to me that this is taking the scripture out of context -- not trying to understand the specific problems Ezekiel was concerned with, and trying to deal with. I could be wrong, of course, and that is why it is not good to get into a "either-or" kind of discussion with Brother Jones or anyone else. But neither is it bad to read the material time and time again and then come up with your own interpretation of what it means (recognizing that you, too, might even be wrong, so you don't want to teach it as the doctrine of the Church.)
Well, I can't imagine that you are very wide awake after wading through what I thought was going to be a very short letter! Don't be too hard on Brother Jones -- he is probably doing his best. But if you want to share some of my ideas with him, you certainly have my permission.
Love and best wishes, Grandpa
The Missing Blessing
Where is Nephi's blessing from Lehi? The first four chapters of 2 Nephi contain Lehi's counsel, prophecy and blessings to the members of the group which he had led from Jerusalem to the Americas. These include remarks directed to his sons (Laman and Lemuel by implication, since he's chastising them for their behavior on the board and pleading with them to repent); Laman, Lemuel, Sam and the sons of Ishmael; Zoram; Jacob; Joseph; the sons and daughters of Laman; the sons and daughters of Lemuel; the sons of Ishmael "and even all of his household" (it's unclear whether that's Ishmael's household or Lehi's, though context would indicate the former); and Sam again (with mention of his children). At this point, Nephi states that Lehi "had spoken unto all his household" (2 Nephi 4:12), but there is a very conspicuous absence: Nephi and his children.
It's clear that Nephi was working from detailed sources, since he transcribed lengthy discourses by Lehi many years after the fact. And it is hard to believe that Lehi would bless and counsel every other son of his, both older and younger, as well as Zoram and the sons of Ishmael, and yet not have anything to say to Nephi. But there is no such blessing on Nephi's small plates. Instead, Nephi follows all these other blessings with what is often known as "Nephi's psalm", lamenting his own weaknesses, his sins, his failings as he perceives them (2 Nephi 4:16-35). After this, he briefly chronicles his own flight (with followers) into the wilderness to escape his brethren and the subsequent history of his group, covering about 18 years in a few dozen verses. With that ends any of his own history-keeping on the small plates; the rest of 2 Nephi comprises discourses, prophecies, and quotations from Isaiah.
Nephi almost certainly had a record of the blessing(s) his father gave him; why did he omit them and instead write his soul-searching psalm? Several possible factors could account for it. Modesty is one, though Nephi has no trouble making himself the focus of the history he has recounted to that point, virtually all of which portrays him in a very good light. Avoiding duplication with the large plates is another, yet the other blessings were most likely copied from Lehi's record on the large plates (1 Nephi 19:1-2; 2 Nephi 4:14), so if they were duplicated; why not then duplicate his own? A third could be the ultimate fate of his descendants: extinction at the hands of his brothers' seed. Knowing that, why bother to copy the blessing, which would probably detail that yet again?
The key factor may well be pain and regret over his family's division and his own possible role in it. Note where the lament is inserted: right between the account of Lehi's death and his brothers getting angry with him and the account of his brothers threatening death and the subsequent family split. This is not to imply that Nephi had actually somehow failed, but that he felt all too keenly his shortcomings. Did he regretted his rather blunt and sometimes tactless chiding of his brothers and even his parents? Did he miss his brothers and all those who remained with them? Did he wondered if there was something he could have done differently that would have kept his family together? Anyone who has been through a divorce knows the pain and doubt that can linger years after the fact, even when it was for the best.
Nephi created the small plates some 30 years after he and his family left Jerusalem and some 15 years after the flight from his brothers. He crafted on them the story of his family, contrasting time and again his willingness to do the will of his father and the Lord with his brothers' disobedience and rebellion. But when he got to his father's last blessings and counsel, all that may have seemed like ashes in his mouth. His family was divided, his brothers still were seeking to destroy him and those he led, and he would be for the rest of his life a stranger in a strange land (cf. Jacob 7:26). Weary and heartsore, he probably looked at his own blessing, shook his head, and brought his history to a quick close, pausing only to express his pain and frustration with his own failings and to encourage himself to press on and trust in the Lord.
The Resting Place
When I saw him coming up the road I ran to greet him. I embraced him and kissed his cheek, as a sign of respect. "Master, we had heard you were coming, and have heard many wondrous stories concerning your life this past year." He placed his hand upon my shoulder, smiled at me and said, "Is that so? You shall hear many more things in a short while, for I have been chosen to die very soon because of my virtue and truth. I will be scorned and spit upon, cursed and smitten, and die that all might have life everlasting."
As our eyes met, I remember the first time I had heard him speak in our little town. Everyone wanted to know who he was, and by what authority he preached. What was his mission? His words burned into my soul and I went and knelt at his feet. I implored him to "help" me. What he did was "heal" me.
The Master didn't heal me of some dreaded bodily ailment, nor of insanity, but gave me the key to escape the prison of sinfulness, greed, lusts, anger and hate! He gave me love and peace. And now as I beheld him, even though he was weary from this long dusty road, I could see the love in his eyes for me. I believe he could feel my sadness as I listened to his words.
Jesus looked around and gestured with his arm in a wide arch, asking, 'Is there no place to rest for me in this town?" I replied, "Yea, Lord, you are always welcomed in my home. Come with me now and bless our family with your loving presence."
"Then, my disciple, lead the way . . . that I might rest."
Is your home a place where the Savior can rest and be welcomed at any time? Like our brother in this little story, will you invite him in to rest? Will we likewise embrace him? Will we allow him to "heal" us? . . . learn about love and what love can do for us? Above all, will you be willing to get to know Jesus as your personal friend and Savior? "Wow," you're saying to yourself. "How am I going to do that? I'm weak and have so many faults, and my house is always a mess! I'm just not good enough. I'll never be perfect." Well, my friend, none of us are perfect. We all "have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." The Savior only expects us to try the best we can to gain perfection, one step at a time; line upon line.
Here are a few short steps (or suggestions) on how you and I might gain a "Testimony of the Savior" in our lives. With your own efforts, in time, you can expand on those ideas. And believe me, Brothers and Sisters, I have to work on them myself!
Prayer: Learn to pray with heartfelt sincerity, desiring for the things you need (not for the thing you want!); asking the Father to help you to know His Son. Don't be trapped by vain and repetitious prayers. Change the way you pray. Try it. It may be a bit awkward at first to try something different. Ever hear a little child have a "conversation" with the Lord?
Strive to have a talk with God (not at Him), and then, leave a moment for him to answer; let the Spirit flow in you. This is especially important during personal prayer. Talk about prayer at a Family Home Evening, and ask for suggestions from the children on how you as a family might "pray better." At morning or evening family prayer be a good example by never asking for selfish and ludicrous things . . . like "new tires for the van," a "CD player," :what color to paint the house," or "that Billie can make lot of money when he graduates." Pray to know Jesus as a friend you can trust!
Scripture Study: Personal and family Scripture study can be as important as prayer when it comes to knowing the love that the Savior has for you. In the Bible and the Book of Mormon we can read about the things that He did and said; we can use His life as His example! In the D&C we can see how He interacted with modern man (with people like us: weak, selfish and sinful).
The best source for getting to know Jesus as a man and about his ministry is in the New Testament gospels, and for a glimpse into his workings with the early Church read "Acts." Also, there are numerous good books at your LDS bookstore on His birth, His life, His trials and triumphs, and what His life means for each of us. When you read, ask for the guidance of the Spirit . . . find quite place . . . than meditate and pray!
Music: They say music can "soothe the soul." Listen to good music in your home, while at work or at play, and in your car. Music is another way of giving praise to the Lord; an expression of love and devotion. Turn off the TV and put on a spiritually uplifting record, CD, or tape (especially while reading the scriptures, the Ensign, or as a prelude to prayer). Expressing yourself through music lets Jesus know that we love him. I even enjoy a good gospel music group now and then to give me a much needed lift, tapping my feet and singing along. There are many selections to choose from at your local LDS bookstore . . . which you can pick up while you're there. The Church Distribution Center is another great source of materials. Praise the Lord in song!
I hope these suggestions will help you in your search to know the Savior. Many volumes have been written about these subjects, by persons much more qualified than myself. I claim no special authority. I am (much like you) far from perfection. I struggle with these things daily and my only purpose is to share things with you that have helped me in my quest to prepare myself to receive the Lord, and give Him a "resting place" in my heart and home.
Questions from Readers:
"I just moved from Washington State to Utah and would like to know if your writers have any suggestions on how to avoid becoming a 'Utah Mormon.'"
If you have a response to this question, please let us hear from you. Send your answers to Vigor at P. O. Box 18184, Greensboro, NC 27419-8184.
The Return of the Chaperon
My children have known all their lives that they would not be dating before they turned 16.
Hey, we're so radical that we even adhere to the quaint idea in the Church guidelines that even when dating begins, it should be group or double-dating. As far as we're concerned, there is no place for unchaperoned dating during high school. Period.
And, laughable as this might sound, if all parents adhered to this rule -- which is, please remember, Church policy -- there would be virtually no teenage pregnancy or social disease problem in the Church. During the age of maximum hormonal surge and minimal responsibility, our children would be protected. Why? Because they would have no opportunity to fall into a pattern of courting behavior that leads, inevitably, to loss of self-control. Only those grimly determined to get pregnant would defy the cultural pattern.
Impossible? Hardly. I've just described the way it worked only two generations ago. Those who whine, "You can't stop kids from having sex!" have very short memories: We used to stop them. No, let's get the generational perspective right: They used to stop us.
The Church rule about dating beginning at 16 was already firmly established before my first date, and that was back in the 1960s. So it can hardly come as a surprise to anyone reading this. Yet all over the Church, it seems that the world has taken over our courtship patterns to an appalling degree. Parents who would never dream of letting their kids go to an R-rated movie think nothing of letting their sixteen- or seventeen-year-old go off in a family car with a partner of the opposite sex to whom he or she is sexually attracted -- without a chaperon!
And an astonishing number actually let the process begin even before the age of sixteen.
Rationales. "But my daughter is so much more mature than other girls." Yeah, right. So she gets good grades. So she does her homework. So she helps around the house. What in the world does that have to do with her ability to control herself -- and to keep control of an insistent, hormone-maddened boy that she "loves"?
"But my son is a good boy." Of course. Generous to a fault. Loves giving pleasure to the girl he's going out with. Lots and lots of pleasure. And, of course, he gets some pleasure out of this himself. No matter how good he is, his body wants more and more.
They can't help it. It's built into us, to desire sex and go crazy when the opportunity presents itself. It's how the uncivilized species reproduce themselves. But we choose not to live like chimps or baboons. We choose to bring our children into the world organized in families. Warm, nurturing, reliable mother; protective, provident, dependable father. This is not the description of your average teenager. It is not even a description of your "exceptional" teenager. When you succumb to their pleading and send them off on early dates, on unchaperoned dates, you are telling them that you do not love them enough to protect them.
Teenagers are to sex what two-year-olds are to busy streets: utterly incompetent to make an intelligent decision without strong teaching and close supervision.
I say this knowing that my two oldest children are, in fact, extremely good, obedient, decent, worthy people. They will be wonderful parents, when the time comes. Not to mention excellent spouses (applicants form a line on the left, please). But there is not a chance in the world that I would expose them to the risk of ruining their own and someone else's life through a misadventure while dating too young. When they date, they will go with a trustworthy group, or Dad will drive. They know this; they have grown up with the rule; and their friends all know that this is what their strange parents expect of them.
But there sits my son in seminary class, listening to other kids explaining, with varying degrees of surly defensiveness, that they were able to talk their parents into making an exception for them, so they could date younger.
You parents who rationalize (or simply give in), let me ask a simple question: What are you thinking of!
Uh ... Pardon me for shouting. I get carried away, I'm afraid.
I'm just having trouble understanding what it is you think your fifteen-year-old daughter is going to miss out on by being made to wait until she is actually, literally, completely sixteen years of age.
Will all the boys she's going to date be married before she turns sixteen?
Is she so hopelessly unattractive that you fear that if she doesn't go on this date she will never be asked on another when she finally comes of age?
Does this particular boy know some secret that no other boy knows, so that if she does not go out with him, she will never learn it? Let me give you a hint: The only secret this boy knows is the same one that every other boy knows, and they'll still be eager to teach it to her when she's older. But when she's older, she might have more sense about when and how she learns it.
Alternate Thinking. Whatever your rationale, you parents who defy the Church rules on dating, let me try some other thoughts on you:
When you let your child date early, what message are they getting from you about the importance of obeying the living prophets?
If you wouldn't let your child see a dirty movie, which after all is only a two-dimensional image on the screen, why in the world would you allow that same child to have a one-on-one encounter with a flesh-and-blood person of the opposite sex -- one who does not come with a convenient rating (G=Good; PG=Prone to Grope; R=Rapacious; NC-17=No Chastity after 17 minutes)?
When your children first get their learner's permits, don't you go driving with them to make sure they know what they're doing? Don't you have strict rules about what they can and can't do with the car? Do you supervise your children's use of their body even half as carefully as you supervise their use of your car?
It is the world, not the Latter-day Saint, that answers, "He needs his independence"; "I need to show her I trust her." On the contrary: He needs to earn his independence; she needs to earn your trust. It is only after a few years of dating in chaperoned situations that your child is ready to have those one-on-one dates. By then, he or she will have dated enough different people not to fall for the first line that comes along. Armed with more experience, these kids won't be so fearful, so desperate to please their partner. This confidence, this awareness in the dating situation only comes with experience -- why in the world would you allow them to be completely on their own before they have that experience?
(By the way, I hope you're training your children to recognize the common lines. For instance, "If you really loved me you'd ..."; "I've never felt like this with any other girl"; "I want us to be together forever." Believe me, nothing takes the sizzle out of a hot date faster than having a boy say to a girl the exact words that her parents already said. And if your daughter is about to go to BYU, be sure to warn her of the classics: "I ... I feel as though we've known each other before this life" and "The Spirit bore witness to me that you are going to be important in my life.")
How Can We Get There From Here? Maybe, given what's already happened in your family, you can't get the genie back in the bottle. The kids who have already dated prematurely, or dated without chaperon, may not be willing to accept a reduced level of independence.
But there are kids still under sixteen, and if we all fulfil our responsibilities as LDS parents, we can change the social patterns.
Announce to your children at the next family council that, regardless of past practices or local customs, your family is going to follow the Church dating guidelines to the letter. "These are living prophets," you say. "Let's try actually living by their words."
"Yes, dear, we know that you're much more mature than other girls your age. But if other girls in the ward see you dating early, it just makes it harder for their parents to keep them from breaking the rule. So you will be an example of righteousness."
"I'm sorry your were born too late to be sixteen in time for the prom. Next time, we'll know to induce labor prematurely. No, no, I don't mean to be flippant. I realize that you'll feel left out and embarrassed among your friends. It's all right if you blame it on your strict parents, if that's how you have to save face. But it would be better if you'd point out that you don't even want to break the rules of Christ's church. That way you'll be an example of the gospel to your friends." Yeah, an example of humiliation and misery! "Perhaps an example of strength and confidence in the Lord. But that's up to you."
The parents of young men have just as much responsibility to make sure that their sons don't even ask out a girl who is under sixteen. But then, that requires that you actually vet his decisions about dating. After all, he's over sixteen, isn't he? Right -- but would you hire him to do your job at work? I don't think so -- so don't hire him to do your job as a parent, either. So when he says, "I need to borrow the car Friday for a date," it is perfectly legitimate to say, "Who are you taking and where are you taking her?" "How old is she?" "When does the movie end, and so when will you have her home and be home yourself?"
Or, best of all, "You don't need to borrow the car, because I'll be driving." What! No, Dad, you might as well shoot me! "Fine. If you don't want me driving, then let me know who the other couple will be. I'll touch bases with their parents to make sure we all agree on what's going on."
You'll get a lot less flack if your kids have known all along that this is the way you're going to be handling dating during high school years. It's like the way things worked with car seats. My children had no memory of ever being in a car without being buckled into a car seat. My son never gave us a problem about it. My daughter, though, thought it was clever (at two years of age) to unbuckle her car seat. She learned that the moment that belt was unbuckled, the car stopped, and an angry father or mother rebuckled her. The sheer relentlessness of her parents' determination prevailed: She learned to make sure herself that it was fastened.
Your teenagers aren't two years old. That merely means that they are more articulate. At their age they know just as much about the consequences of early unchaperoned dating as your two-year-old knows about the consequences of unbelted car travel. Most of the time it goes OK. They are incapable of understanding that you chaperon the date -- you buckle the seatbelt -- only because sometimes, without protection, there is a life-changing (or life-ending) accident.
While the world is busy passing out condoms, the Saints have two different words that start with c: Compliance with the Church age limits and policies on dating, and chaperons for all dates during high school years.
I'm going to do this, whether you do or not. And because I'm doing it, it's going to be easier for you to follow the same policy. You can tell your children, when they whine that everybody else is dating and none of their parents drive them on their dates, "On the contrary, my dear: Orson and Kristine Card are chaperoning their children's dates." Of course, this may cause sales of my books among teenagers to fall off drastically, but I'm willing to make the sacrifice.
It will be easier for all of us if all of us comply with the Church policies. Wouldn't it be a lovely thing if we could say, "I'm driving you on this date" or "I'm sorry, but you're not sixteen and so you aren't going on the date, period," and when the child demands to know why, we simply answer, "Because we're Mormons," and the child couldn't think of a single counter-example ("Well, DeAnne's the bishops's daughter and she dated before she was sixteen!") to throw back in our face?
Yeah, maybe I'm dreaming. Maybe there will always be parents who lose control of their children or, worse, simply don't care what they're doing to our whole society by turning their kids loose, sexually armed and dangerous. But if enough of us actually live by what the prophets have taught us about how we should help our children through their early courting years, we can change those miserable statistics about teenage suffering and ruined lives and families. We can prepare our children to enter into marriages that will be untainted by previous sexual experience; and they will create children of their own who will grow up in purity and innocence. Yeah, sometimes that inexperience leads to difficulties in marriage -- but I daresay a lot less suffering is caused by young spouses who are sexually awkward because of innocence than by young spouses whose expectations have been artificially heightened by too much sexual experience and too much variety before marriage.
Your Kids May Surprise You. No doubt some of you, reading these words, are convinced that your children would never willingly go along with such an insane flouting of society's practices. Well, let me give you a clue: Your kids may surprise you.
Contrary to what the world teaches, most young people want to feel themselves to be part of something larger than themselves -- provided that it's something fine and meaningful. Adolescence is more than the age of sexual stirrings. It is also the age of heroism, of drama, of high epic. Your children want their religion to be more than something they passively receive at church. They want to be soldiers of Christ -- if someone will only show them how and give them the chance.
Don't present these dating rules as a law that you're imposing because you're the boss ("I have the car keys!"). Instead, present them as the advice of living prophets. If you've been lax before, admit it; confess your laxness to your children and repent in front of them. Ask them to help you bring your family into compliance with the Lord's plan. Explain the benefits, of course: but make it clear that the fundamental reason you're following these rules is because that is what the mouthpiece of Christ on Earth has asked Mormon families to do. Ask your children to help you, so that instead of it being a struggle within the family, you can all present a solid wall of obedience to the world outside.
"Yes, some of the people you might have dated will despise you for following the Lord," you can say. "But what kind of people are they? Would you want your children to be raised by a person who despises righteousness? The very fact that they reject you for obedience is wonderful because it saves you from a possible disastrous mistake."
Say it enough, and they do internalize it.
If your kids are young, and you start telling them these things now, you'll have far less conflict later.
And if your kids are literate (i.e., they can read the TV Guide themselves), hand them this issue of Vigor and then discuss this essay with them afterward. I don't mind if the conversation begins, "This Card guy is really crazy, isn't he?" It's where the conversation ends that matters to me.
If we all obey, then obedience is infinitely easier for all of us. That's as true for parents as it is for children. You can make copies of this issue of Vigor for free. Give this issue to the parents of the Mormon boys who are asking out your underage daughter. Give this issue to the parents of the Mormon girls who are trying to get your son off by himself. Ask them to help you by living up to Church standards in the way they handle their kids' early courtship years. Parents who love both their children and the Lord won't be offended, or at least won't be so offended they can't be talked to.
We all want the best for our children. No, let me be specific: We all want our children, of both sexes, to be chaste and pure when they enter the temple to begin the first day of their first and only marriage. The society we live in has come to hate chastity and treat it with contempt. All the more reason, then, for us to reject the world's courtship patterns and follow those taught to us by the prophets. Now. Today. Waiting for no one else, but asking as many as will do it to come along with us.
We're doing it. Come along with us and we can change our children's lives. Maybe we can even change the world.
-- Orson Scott Card
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