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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

What Can Mormonism Offer to Young People 

by John H
Hi all,

I'm honored to have been invited by Steve Evans to guest blog now and then. I'm relatively new to the world of blogging, so forgive any gaffes on my part. By way of a brief introduction, I'm the managing editor of Sunstone magazine and the symposium coordinator. I'm also editor of Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, coming this summer from Signature Books.

Compared to many in the world of independent Mormonism (ie, Sunstone, Dialogue, Mormon History Association, Association for Mormon Letters, etc.), I'm a relative youngster at 27. I am struck by how many of my friends are leaving Mormonism. It's as if there is no middle ground for young people right now. They're either in the Church - in without any questions, fears, doubts, concerns or worries. Or they're out - out without any interest in trying to hang on or in trying to find value in the faith of their parents. They aren't angry as they leave, so far as I can tell. There isn't a sense of "I've been lied to!" or anything close to it.

Rather, they seem bored stiff by Mormonism. And eventually, they seem to wake up one day and realize there really isn't any good reason (in their minds) to continue to put their trust in authority figures who tell them that Mormonism is God's Church. They've been told their whole life that it's a sin to not go to church, that it's a sin to drink or smoke, and that if they aren't part of Mormonism, there may not be salvation for them. Then, they realize their own personal experience doesn't bear these claims out, or that they have no reason to inherently trust the voices that have been telling them this. So they drift away.

My question is, does Mormonism have something to offer young people? By that I mean, does it have something to offer beyond the belief that it is God's church? In other words, if a young person isn't convinced that Mormonism is God's kingdom on earth, if they might be questioning or doubting, do they have any reason to stay?

By way of partly answering my own question, I believe Mormonism has much to offer people my own age. Faith is a very important component of life, and I worry that so many people seem to be losing it. But I believe there are certain things that need to happen before retention among young people will increase. First and foremost, we must begin to trust journeying more in the Church. As it is, if someone begins a journey of self-discovery or walks down a path where they question their beliefs, we see that as something to rescue them from, not something to encourage as part of life's learning process.

What else can be done? Am I alone in believing that young people leaving Mormonism has reached near-critical levels? What value can we offer young people in Mormonism in the here and now (rather than simply saying that if they endure to the end - which can be a gloomy outlook - they'll be with God in the next life)?

John Hatch
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