MIA as a Priesthood Function

A conversation with Elders James E. Faust, Marion D. Hanks, and L. Tom Perry; Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown, Bishop H. Burke Peterson, and Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone

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    This year’s June Conference for MIA will take on special significance: It will be the first conference since the November 1972 realignment of the Mutual Improvement Association into two priesthood-oriented organizations—the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA (Mutual Interest Association) and the Aaronic Priesthood MIA (Mutual Improvement Association). The Melchizedek Priesthood MIA is divided into two groups, Young Adults, for unmarried persons 18 through 25 years of age, and Special Interests, for unmarried persons 26 years of age and over. The Aaronic Priesthood MIA is for young people 12 to 18.

    To gain an insight into the guiding philosophies of the two priesthood organizations, the Ensign met with Elder James E. Faust, managing director of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA and Assistant to the Council of the Twelve; the two associate directors, Elders Marion D. Hanks and L. Tom Perry, also Assistants to the Twelve; and Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown, and his counselors, Bishops H. Burke Peterson and Vaughn J. Featherstone. The Presiding Bishopric is responsible for the Aaronic Priesthood MIA.

    To Reach Every Single One

    Q: What are the special needs of the members of the Church that prompted the organization of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA?

    Elder Faust: The first thing that needs to be made very clear to the members of the Church is that the Lord cares about those who are single, divorced, or who have lost their companions. They have been often neglected in terms of their needs because the Church has properly been oriented toward family and marriage. But these persons are chosen vessels. President Harold B. Lee has recently made it very clear in that great film Strengthening the Home that some of the choicest members of the Church belong to this group. The message that needs to be announced is that the Lord loves them, the President of the Church cares for them, and the leadership of the Church has an interest in them; and we are hoping and wanting to have a program that will make them know that they are cared for, that they belong, and that they are involved.

    Elder Hanks: We have a bigger church today with a great many more persons of this age group requiring attention and inviting the interest of the Lord’s kingdom. The Church, after all, is made for man. There are different circumstances today that have never existed before. All the problems that afflict individuals seem to be intensified in our time, and with a growing church and a growing number of these wonderful people, there has come about, through the revelations of the Lord, an effort to help meet their needs.

    Q: Is the main purpose of the program to meet social needs?

    Elder Perry: We have not found that to be the greatest need of the unmarried persons of the Church. They want a spiritual attachment and to be close to the Church. They want to feel that they are involved and helpful. They want to participate in service projects, and I think we have found that spiritual development, service, and a need to study intellectually together, as well as social activities, are all a part of the program. The social aspects will come about as a natural outgrowth of other activities.

    As we have listened these past months, it has appeared to us that the need for service is indispensable to the whole person. Each needs to have a sense of his own worth, a sense of doing something for someone other than himself. He needs to feel he is doing something for the Church rather than waiting to see what the Church will do for him.

    Q: What are the principles upon which the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA is based?

    Elder Faust: The prime concern of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA is reaching the one, reaching every single one through three great principles: priesthood leadership, individual involvement, and flexibility.

    Using these principles, local wards and stakes initiate programs designed to meet the needs of every single one. This concept needs to be especially emphasized. Much of the activity is self-generating on a local level. It is not intended that Church headquarters send out prepackaged programs for everyone to implement. What we do provide are principles and options. Now, this concept is basic, and it needs to be understood and implemented on the local level or there may be a vacuum.

    Q: Is there a problem in training the local leadership to accept that kind of initiative?

    Elder Faust: We have had some pilot projects in which this concept has been tested by experience and it has been marvelously successful. However, it may take some time to be understood on a larger, Churchwide scale.

    Q: Will you have any seminars, workshops, or training sessions at regional, stake, or ward levels for leaders or potential leaders?

    Elder Perry: We have planned area conferences for leadership training. At present we have 12 of them scheduled within the continental United States and 12 outside the U.S. These will be primarily leadership training conferences that will start a chain reaction, with conferences on a regional basis, then on a local basis. Of course, we will have a great June Conference this year as a tool to help get the program started.

    Q: Speaking of June Conference, who should attend?

    Elder Faust: From our view, those who are invited are the priesthood leaders, stake presidents, and their designated high counselors for Young Adults and Special Interests, as well as the stake Young Adult leaders and stake Special Interests leaders. It is hoped that two representatives, male and female, of each stake group will be represented.

    Q: This would appear to place emphasis on leadership at the stake level and above.

    Elder Perry: Most activities take place on a stake and district basis. But important involvement on the ward level probably comes through family home evening groups for single persons under family home evening leaders assigned by the bishop. If there are not enough members on the ward level, they might meet on a stake family basis. This would be the principle of flexibility at work.

    Elder Hanks: Where the legitimate family is established, there is no need for this kind of arrangement; but in some areas young members are moving away to city centers, away from their families, and need a close tie and the opportunity to study together and associate spiritually, socially, and in service.

    Elder Perry: That would be an excellent application of the principle of meeting the needs of the individual. The needs of the individual living away from home without a family are considered by that individual and others of the group who understand the problem. The priesthood leadership hears of this need, assesses the situation, and applies the principle of flexibility to meet the situation.

    We are centering on the one and the needs of the one to be satisfied. Then the program develops from how those needs are satisfied in a ward, stake, region, or area.

    Elder Hanks: The members of the group themselves assess their own needs and offer counsel as to how those needs could best be met, and then they themselves take the leading part, under the direction of the priesthood, in implementing their own suggestions. The flexibility comes in fitting a program or activity to the particular needs of particular situations. The regular priesthood structure provides leadership at ward, stake, and regional levels. The circumstances, whether in San Juan, San Francisco, or Santiago, Chile, dictate the program to be selected and implemented. There are many options. The experiences of the past, the experiences reflecting successful efforts, will be shared widely with the Church. Successful programs have included working with elderly people, with community organizations in regular service projects, heading up Cub Scout packs, and many other projects. We need to share these experiences so that there will not be the chaos that might occur if people were left totally to their own devices without guidance and priesthood leadership. That leadership will be strongly involved at every level.

    Q: What is the leadership on the ward level?

    Elder Faust: Many of the needs of the single priesthood holders are met through the quorum. Numerically, since most of the single men fall into the elder or prospective elder categories, one of the elders quorum counselors is assigned the concern for the single men of the quorum. In terms of the single sister, she relates to her ward Relief Society through one of the counselors assigned that responsibility. Hopefully, there is communication on the ward level between the priesthood and the Relief Society in terms of meeting these needs. Those two great organizations, the priesthood and the Relief Society, have the responsibility for every single one, both Young Adults and Special Interests.

    The name Special Interests has special meaning because many enrolled in the group have interests that are special. Under the principle of flexibility, we would hope that interests as well as age are being considered.

    For instance, if there are those who would like to attend a concert or sporting event together, then they should go ahead and do it, regardless of whether they are in their twenties or their sixties.

    Q: So Young Adults may have joint activities with members of Special Interests groups?

    Elder Faust: The local priesthood leaders have authority to combine these groups if it is desired.

    Q: Do you visualize any problems arising from the wide age span covered by Special Interests?

    Elder Hanks: Some situations may call for more than one Special Interests group to be established in a ward or stake. One might involve a lower age group—for example, 26 to 40, and another beyond that age group. But these would be established according to local needs.

    Q: What is the primary difference between the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA and the previous programs?

    Elder Faust: The primary difference is that the new program is priesthood centered and priesthood led. There is one high councilor who is working under the stake president with the Young Adults and one or more working with the Special Interests.

    Elder Perry: One signal that has come through from our stake presidents who have been working with us in some pilot experiments is that it is a good thing for a priesthood leader to advise and counsel and direct, but he should stay in the background and allow the Young Adults and Special Interests leaders to create their own programs.

    Q: How have you determined the needs that the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA aims to fill?

    Elder Faust: We have brought in representatives of these groups, and we have listened for days to determine what their basic needs are. We are trying to fit the organization to meet the needs of the individual.

    Q: What is the role of the Relief Society in the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA?

    Elder Hanks: The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve have established the structure of an accountability through the Relief Society with one of the counselors being assigned the particular responsibility for single women. Every lovely woman has a dream and a purpose in her life of fulfillment in a home and family. As a church we appropriately emphasize this and try to help accentuate the importance of preparing for this goal. But the fact is that a great many do not enjoy these privileges, or have some apprehensions, as life proceeds, whether or not they ever will.

    One thing every person needs is fulfillment as a human being. If life’s fullness doesn’t in fact become available, if it isn’t enjoyed, then there is yet much that every individual as a human being can do, can become, can contribute. What we are saying is that a great many wonderful people are going to have attention paid to them, emphasis will be given, and opportunities will be provided for their fulfillment as human beings.

    Elder Faust: The other day we heard of a young lady who seemed to be having a marvelous time. She said, “I have decided I can be someone, even if I am not able to be someone’s.”

    Q: Brethren, would you share with us your testimony of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA?

    Elder Perry: We have witnessed the inspiration, direction, and concern of our prophet for this program. He is patiently awaiting our implementation of it. This team of managing directors and the director of Melchizedek Priesthood MIA complement each other in a most remarkable way. We work together with a great spirit and harmony. This has been a confirming witness to me that this program is needed, is divine, and is for this particular time.

    Elder Hanks: The most important creation of God is his individual child, and that is what the gospel plan is all about, that is what the Church exists for, and that is how the power of the priesthood is implemented. We are grouped in families, and in the kingdom we are grouped in wards and stakes, but the heart principle of the gospel is the worth of the individual. So as God lives and Christ is our Savior, this is his earthly kingdom, and the purpose of it all is to bless the individual child of God with a sense of his relationships, his purposes, his possibilities. We believe that the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA will materially assist the Lord in accomplishing his purpose for his children: to bring to pass man’s immortality and eternal life.

    Elder Faust: We have been as one. We have had personal and assuring convictions of the correctness of the principles and concepts. But the implementing will not be in our hands. The local leaders will develop local programs. However, we are persuaded and have the full conviction that the local leadership knows best how to reach the one. It has been very inspirational for us to share these concepts and principles with the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve and other General Authorities. On each occasion as we have presented these principles and concepts, which we have thought were innovative and creative, we have learned that President Harold B. Lee has been way ahead of us in understanding and vision. He is inspired and farseeing. We have had a reaffirmation of his calling as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

    To Fill Every Need

    Q: Brethren, let us start with the basics. What is the purpose of the Aaronic Priesthood MIA?

    Bishop Brown: Our charge, which is the same for every officer in the Church, is to save souls. That is the purpose for which we function. Our challenge, as I see it, is to devise programs and curriculum that will appeal to every individual boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18. And I must stress that the inactive young person is just as important as the active. We must appeal to them in such a way as to make Church experiences more enticing and more worthwhile than the experiences of the world.

    Bishop Peterson: We are called to save souls. We are called to save the marijuana-smoking soul, just as well as the 100 percent active soul. I think the Lord will look unkindly on us if we direct all of our attention to the so-called active person. The President of the Church is the prophet for the whole earth, not just for members of the Church. Bishop Brown is the Presiding Bishop for the whole world. On a stake and ward level, the Church leaders are responsible for everybody in their area, teaching the gospel to those who don’t have it, bringing out those who are inactive.

    Bishop Featherstone: When we realize that our purpose is to work with every soul, then this may suggest that some of us need to adjust our thinking. There are many young people in the Church whom some of our leaders simply turn their backs on. Some leaders don’t seem to manifest the same concern for youths who are different in dress and conduct, and they don’t provide programs to fire the interest of these young people.

    When some adults see a long-haired youth, they simply turn off. They don’t try to help. We don’t condone long hair, but we can’t turn a young man out in the cold. We simply can’t.

    Bishop Brown: We must not turn our hearts away from these young people. They are our sacred responsibility. Our efforts are going to be directed at working with the youth to find programs that will give strength to them spiritually and give them a sense of purpose.

    Q: What is the difference between the MIA as it previously functioned and the new program?

    Bishop Brown: The MIA was previously an auxiliary organization. The Aaronic Priesthood is a priesthood program. It is one priesthood program, composed of activities and curriculum that look at the total needs of the young person, as far as the Church is concerned. The basic challenge is that the priesthood must devise and carry out programs for the whole boy and the whole girl. I think that a good many young people find that “going to church” can be boring and mundane. But when all activities—cultural, social, service, spiritual, and athletic—become part of the priesthood activity, then the priesthood will come to mean something more than a Sunday morning class.

    Q: Is your aim for more involvement by the young people?

    Bishop Featherstone: Yes, we feel that young people need to become more involved. But they need adult supervision, particularly in the younger ages. As they grow older and gain maturity, they also need increased responsibility. Young people need to be more involved in leadership positions.

    Bishop Brown: We need to see the world of youth through the eyes of youth. Adults cannot see the world as youth sees it. We need their input. We want their influence in what we do.

    Q: What kinds of specific program changes do you anticipate?

    Bishop Brown: Stake and ward leaders need to create an environment in which all of our young people will be comfortable. They should feel good about being active in the Church for one purpose: not for the sake of records, but to achieve eternal life.

    We also need programs that will appeal to all cultures—this is a universal church. Our programs can’t be just basketball, or just Scouting. Scouting is important, but there are boys who do not like Scouting, and those boys must have a program. The emphasis needs to be on the boy or girl, not on the program.

    We will send out from Church headquarters a wide range of programs—a “recipe book” of ideas for activities—which local leaders may use as best fit their needs.

    Bishop Peterson: However, we want our priesthood curriculum to be more than just Sunday morning classes plus fun activities. All of the youth’s meaningful experiences should not be basketball, Scouting, volleyball, or whatever. Young people should also be involved in experiences leading to Christlike service.

    The youth are encouraged to undertake such service projects as finding a homebound elderly person who has no family and making themselves a part of his or her life. They can cut lawns, paint the house, cook meals, and really serve—and really obtain spiritual experiences. This brings fulfillment, and that is precisely what our young people are searching for. Many of those who are getting involved with drugs are seeking a spiritual experience, and they are misguided in thinking that drugs will give it to them. They will get a fulfilling spiritual experience only through helping someone with no thought of reward.

    Q: We have been talking basically of priesthood orientation. Are there any major changes in the girls program?

    Bishop Brown: There aren’t any major organizational changes. However, there will be some changes in the curriculum. There will be much more emphasis on gospel teaching, including the authority and responsibility of the priesthood.

    Q: How much can you tell us now about the organizational structure of the new organization?

    Bishop Featherstone: The bishop is the key; he is the one whom the Lord has called through revelation to be the president of the priests quorum and the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in his ward. The prophets of the Church have consistently said that the bishop or the branch president is responsible for the girls as well as for the boys. We expect that the bishop’s role in the youth program of the Church will become even more important.

    Q: Will you please share with us your testimonies of the development and growth of this program?

    Bishop Featherstone: I know with all my heart and soul that Bishop Brown was preserved and has been prepared and raised up for this very day to be the Presiding Bishop over the Aaronic Priesthood. I have watched him. I see inspiration and guidance come to him constantly. He is one of the greatest souls on earth in our day.

    Bishop Brown: It is my conviction that the young people of today, and the spirits of the children being born today, were held back intentionally to come forth in this time. I believe that they are special spirits because they are the ones who will do some of the final preparing for the second coming of the Savior. No man knows the day or the hour, but we have every evidence that it is not far off.

    Intellectually, spiritually, and in every other way, this generation is ahead of any past generation with which I have been acquainted. They are faced with some of the most challenging times because Satan has never been more active. Temptation is more enticing than it has ever been. The sins have not changed, the transgressions have not changed, but the degree of acceptance has changed. We live in a world that is comparable to Sodom and Gomorrah, in many respects. And so we, as leaders, have the great obligation, the divine charge, to understand our youth, to teach them, to lead them, to guide them, and to show them the way, so they will become worthy of returning to the presence of their Heavenly Father.

    These young people are leaders today and will be our adult leaders in a few years. I have great faith in them. I have no worry about the future—none whatsoever. I recognize that it is difficult for them, but when they go through the fire of temptation and come out clean, they are going to become some of the greatest leaders the Lord has ever placed on the earth. This is why we as leaders have no right to determine that we are not going to work with any individual young person because we don’t agree with what he is doing. We have no right. The Savior himself, through the lesson of the Prodigal Son, taught us what our obligations are to every one of his children. And we have no right to cast any one of them out.

    Bishop Peterson: Satan is winning the battle that is now going on. It is a real battle. It isn’t the figment of the imagination. I believe the Savior isn’t as happy with us as he would like to be, because we haven’t been out fighting hard enough. Satan, of course, has been fighting with cunning and deceptive weapons. The war is now in Satan’s favor, and the only ones who can change it are dedicated, committed Latter-day Saints.

    Bishop Brown: I think too many of our people have been a part of the so-called silent majority. In conjunction with what Bishop Peterson says about the battle, too many of us haven’t recognized that it is a real battle, and that Satan is winning not just on the fringes, but he is winning some of the finest.

    One of the great challenges that we have is to teach our youth what it really means to be a Latter-day Saint. Too many of our young people feel that as long as they look all right and act all right in public, they are good Latter-day Saints. We have to teach them the gospel in depth—morality, honesty, integrity, industry—all of the virtues, not just the surface virtues.

    Bishop Peterson: We need to give them opportunities for spiritual experiences because a spiritual experience builds testimonies. These experiences should not be superficial but should be in-depth experiences in which our youth really do Christlike things, the things the Savior would and did do. This is why we say that activities such as basketball are fine, but we need to get down to helping our youth help the widow, help the boy with long hair, help the girl who always wears miniskirts, help youths who are hooked on pornography. We need to help them move upward from wherever they are.

    Bishop Brown: My brother Emmett, who was a judge, told me of an experience he had while sitting on a child-custody case. A girl, nine years old, had been reared by her aunt. Her father, of whom she was frightened, was suing to gain custody. All of the family thought that she would stay with her aunt. After hearing the arguments on both sides from the attorney, Judge Brown took her to his private chambers. With just the two of them there, he asked her whom she loved more than anyone else in the world. She did not respond. He said, “Do you love your grandmother more than anyone else in the world?” She said no. “Your grandfather?” “No.” “Your auntie?” “No.” “Whom do you love more than anyone else in the world?” She said, “Mr. Judge Brown, I love the Lord Jesus more than anyone else in the world.” She said, “Do you mind if I speak to the Lord Jesus?” And then, in the privacy of the judge’s chambers, this little girl pushed her chair back from his desk and knelt down and said, “Lord Jesus, would you please bless Mr. Judge Brown so he will know what is best for me.”

    How wonderful it would be if we would teach our children to love the Lord that much and then teach them how to show their love for him. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”