I would like to paint for you in broad stroke what I think is a profile of the young people in the Church …
I believe we have a greater crop, quantitatively and qualitatively, of elite young people in the Church than we have ever had in this dispensation. By elite I mean not hubristic and arrogant, but an elite of young who are committed, who want to serve, who believe the gospel is true, who want to live it, and who have difficult choices. They are vibrant with knowledge and vibrant with commitment. Not all, however, fit in the above category. In the spectrum there is a great center band of active and informed young Mormons who are very impressive but who are not yet as thoroughly versed in the scholarship of the gospel as the elite. At the other end of the spectrum we have our rebels and dissenters and defectors. … It is in this context of distribution of young in the Church, from the elite to the rebel, that you function …
Importance of Relevancy
First, we are going to have to do a better job—I as a parent, I as a teacher, and you, certainly, in your classrooms—than we now do in helping the young to see that there is a connection between the gospel and the problems of the real world and the gospel does contain the solution to human problems. …
This means that the much used word relevancy is still at issue in that young people must come to see that the gospel is something we do, not simply something we talk about. And means that the relevancy of the gospel, in terms of how it can solve human problems, has got to be borne more consistently, more artfully, and more spiritually than has been done in the past …
Our Youth Must Be Peacemakers
Consider the task of the young in the Church. One of the paradoxes they face is that they are told in the scriptures and by modern prophets, rightfully, that the time speedily cometh when peace shall be taken from the earth—and that we must know; we must not be naive. Yet they are also told by those same prophets and in those same scriptures that they have the job of proclaiming peace, of being peacemakers. That twin vision has to be carried in the bosom of the young and reconciled in a life-style that permits them to be wary of a world in which there will be no peace again in our time and yet in which they must become peacemakers. Now they can do what some adults in the Church do, something of which I must disapprove, and that is to become a modern Jonah—to prophesy disaster from Nineveh and then run up on the hill in a booth and wait for the big show. It is significant to me that the Lord chided Jonah, lovingly and yet reprovingly, for that kind of life-style in which he had a greater investment in disaster than he did in salvation. Our young must work in the Ninevehs of their lives doing all they can, even though they may have a sense of impending disaster. They shall not and should not desert their post until they are relieved, and none of us should. We cannot indulge ourselves in the luxury of being like Jonah, in which we come to have a stake in disaster and almost want it to happen in order to be vindicated.
Father Lehi is a better model. Father Lehi had data and information which suggested to him that he might not succeed with two of his sons; and yet, to the end, one finds him loving them, blessing them, exhorting them, and serving them. That has to be our life-style and the life-style of the young in the Ninevehs of our lives. We cannot do as Jonah did, try to flee to Tarshish and “cop out.” We cannot go up on the hillside and wait for disaster. We will have to stay with our posts and our tasks as long as the Lord keeps us there. That is easier for the young people of the Church to do if they see some of us doing it. Now this does not mean we should be naive about the prophecies or what may happen, but let us not run to the foothills too soon …
The Power of Love
A good friend of mine in Washington D.C. came home months ago as his house was in the process of being burglarized. He made the mistake of struggling with the burglar, who shot him in the spine, severing most of his spinal cord so that he is paralyzed from the waist down for life. He was a very athletic, vigorous, sinewy man whose life was tragically changed and struck down in a moment. As I went to visit him in the hospital shortly after the tragedy, I went, as we often do in the Church, to bring comfort; but I came out comforted. Because of his wrestling with the problem of forgiveness, he was able to tell me, Through his tears, that he had come to forgive his assailent and bore him no malice, nor was there any bitterness. There was only love. Now that can’t happen except in the context of the brotherhood of eternity. When we use those words we ought to specify more often the ways in which we use them and explain their implications, lest the young assume that our jargon means the same thing as the jargon of those outside the kingdom. When we talk about the fatherhood of God, we speak not of a life force that is unreachable, we speak not of a kindly grandfather who would indulge mankind in whatever they wish to do, who cares not and judges not. Ours is a loving Father who will, if necessary, let come to each of us some harsh life experiences, that we might learn that his love for us is so great and so profound that he will let us suffer, as he did his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, that his and our triumph and learning might be complete and full. It is vitally important for the young to understand what that kind of loving fatherhood means as compared with the ideas of those about them.
The Four E’s of Learning
We learn and teach, usually, it seems to me, in the context of four different styles and ways of teaching—all of which are needed and all of which are appropriate, but concerning which there needs to balance. I call them the four E’s of learning. The first is exhortation. We do that pretty well in the church; we do a lot of it and it’s necessary. The second is explanation. We do a lot of that too, which is also necessary. The third is example. We all know that teaching by models is best, and one author has said, “the only word authority to which the young will respect today is example.” The fourth is experience. I would like to suggest to you that in our homes and in Sunday School classes and perhaps even in the institutes and seminaries, we are a little shy on the last two. We come down very heavily on exhortation and explanation, and rightfully so; but what needs to be balanced out in terms of the learning situation is more example and more experience. I worry, frankly, that the members of the Aaronic Priesthood feel that the only service they need perform is the blessing and the passing of the sacrament on Sunday. I’d like to see more widows’ garbage cans carried out and more snow shoveled, so that the young experience the gospel and its fruits and know it is true. Then nobody has to tell them; they experience it. And if you reread Third Nephi, when Jesus comes and the multitude approaches him on this continent, the verb formations are interesting—“did see,” “did feel,” “did witness for themselves,” “did thrust their hands into his side.” They experienced the gospel and knew it was true, and that’s the thrust of the thirty-second chapter of Alma [Alma 32]—experimentation which produces pure knowledge because we know it is true experientially.
I know we can’t empty the classrooms of the Church in terms of running out to have experiences, but what happens beyond the classroom has got to involve firsthand experiences with the principles of the gospel in application. These experiences will give each of your young people a storehouse of spiritual experiences on which he can draw, much as our people can draw upon the supplies of food and clothing they have laid away.
Each of us has times in his life when he needs to draw upon his storehouse of spiritual experience. Some of our storehouses are nearly empty, and some have never had anything in them. We need to be able to draw upon them to see our young people through the periods of time when they have intellectual problems; then experientially they will know the gospel is true because they have seen it happen.
Our Tolerant Youth
May I suggest, also, that I’ve had to learn this the hard way, and maybe part of your teaching assignment is not with the young but with their parents. If I were to make just one point on that score today, it would be this: I have had to learn that the young are reluctant, more so than preceding generations, to denounce the misbehavior of some of their peers. This does not mean they necessarily approve of that behavior. Now that is a subtle point, but a very profound one. They are more tolerant and less inclined to cut their peers when they do things that are wrong. Some of us, seeing that, think it is tacit approval. It is not. They often disapprove but will not put down their peers. Now I admit that as a parent there are times when I would like my son and daughter to denounce something that goes on around them. But as I talk quietly and lovingly with them, I find that that they don’t like it, but they are not going to put their peers down. Adults need to understand that youth are not as inclined to express righteous indignation about peer conduct as you and I might like them to do, but we make a terrible mistake if we automatically assume that they means they approve of it …
Scriptures Like a Songbook
Lastly, I hope you find fresh ways to involve our youth in the personal reading of the scriptures. I guess the best analogy that comes to mind is that it’s like a songbook that has all the proved and useful songs in it, but we as adults may want to sing certain favorite songs over and over again. They may not be the favorites of the young. The scriptures, in a sense, are like a songbook. There are many melodies that need to be sung and heard, and my favorites and your favorites are not necessarily those that would attract or be relevant for the young. Only by some personal involvement with the scriptures can they find the song the scriptures would sing to them today to meet their needs. You cannot count on the curriculum—any curriculum—to respond to individual needs that adroitly and that precisely. They have to open the songbook and hear the music. It is there. It will speak to them; it will sing to them, but sometimes it’s going to have to be in the privacy of their own scholarship. There is no way you can anticipate all those needs that precisely.
I will close with a phrase from the Book of Mormon and join it with a popular song of our day. The Book of Mormon speaks, I believe it is the only place in the scriptures where the phrase occurs, of “the man of Christ.” And because of a special perspective the gospel gives us, on a clear day, “the man of Christ,” can see forever, and out of that kind of perspective and out of that cluster of insights that the gospel gives us, comes rejoicing, to be sure, that you and I are so favored, but a sense, too, of being very overwhelmed.
So as we take up the chores of the kingdom, and there are days I know, when they are chores, it ought to be with that kind of special sense of gratitude that God has called each of you to be where you are at this appointed time in history. May he bless us to that end I pray in the name of him whose church this is, Jesus Christ, Amen.