387: LDS Church Changes to Its Scouting Program

On May 11, 2017, the LDS Church announced it is dropping Varsity and Venturer Scouts as the primary program for its U.S. and Canadian young men ages 14–18 effective at the end of the 2017 calendar year. In its place, the Church is asking leaders of these groups to now enact the guidelines and suggestions for youth this age that are already in place in the rest of the world. At the moment, the church has made no change to the Cub and Boy Scout programs for these North American youth ages 8 to 14. Reactions to the news ranged from surprise and confusion to disappointment among some and celebration among many others. What is the church saying about this change? What led to it? What other factors besides those in the press releases might also be at play here?

In this episode, we turn for perspectives and processing of this news to four experienced church members who, from various roles and vantage points, all have a great deal of experience with the scouting program, including at these older ages. Chris Tucker, Cynthia Winward, Matt Jones, and Walt Wood join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a far-ranging discussion of scouting within the church and possible reasons church leaders felt the program wasn’t meeting the needs of those boys ages 14 to 18. They discuss everything from the rule changes the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) made with regard to gay leaders and the inclusion of girls in the Venturing program, to the unwieldy nature of BSA rules and regulations and intense trainings and time commitments required of leaders, who, for the most part, consider scouting just another “calling” and don’t truly embrace the whole BSA program, to the changing interests and demands on youth, especially as they enter their mid-teens. They discuss possible financial factors such as lawsuits and financial settlements from injuries the occur during high adventure and other activities to the inequality between the monies spent on and emphases on Young Men’s vs Young Women’s programs and awards. They ask and speculate on possible factors for the change, such as the decline in the number of young men choosing to serve missions, and perhaps a desire to focus the boys’ gaze even more directly upon just the church and its social networks. They discuss the “achievement” culture within the church and world, with its pros and cons. Though the discussion here was prompted by the news of the change in the program, it goes beyond its scope to many interesting and important deeper cultural and societal issues. It is a great conversation!
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Links to News Stories:

Mormon Church Takes Steps Away from Scouting; Does Total Exit Loom?,” Salt Lake Tribune, 11 May 2017

Mormons Drop Scout Program for Older Teens,” Deseret News, 11 May 2017

First Presidency letter announcing the Changes

Questions and Answers about Changes to Young Men Program,” LDS Newsroom, 11 May 2017

What You Need to Know about Today’s Announcement,” Deseret News, 11 May 2017

Top BSA Leader, Who is LDS, Hopes Scouting-Mormon Marriage Lasts, But He Is Not Sure It Will,” Salt Lake Tribune, 11 May 2017

Here’s How the Internet Reacted to LDS Church’s Announcement to Drop Scouts for Older Teens,” Deseret News, 11 May 2017

2015 LDS Newsroom response to news of the BSA vote to allow Gay scout leaders

New Program for 14–18 Young Men:

Aaronic Priesthood 14–18 Activities,” LDS.org (This link contains the program already in place outside the U.S. and Canada.)

386: Announcing a July 2017 Mormon Matters Retreat!

A MORMON MATTERS RETREAT!

“Understanding and Navigating Healthy Perspectives and Journeys within Mormonism”

Led by Dan Wotherspoon, Ph.D.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST,
Marty Erickson, Ph.D., LMFT

14 – 16 JULY 2017, SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH

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Many of us find ourselves a bit outside the Mormon norm but still feel committed to continue our journeys as engaged members of the church. This retreat is focused on building community among and strengthening Mormons like us in the following ways:

• Navigating faith development in adulthood, including the integration of new and enriching perspectives within a less-traditional Mormon paradigm

• Creating and nurturing healthy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, especially in light of faith and worldview differences

• Finding ways to full and healthy sexuality

• Raising children in ways that encourage them to have confidence and depth as they negotiate various Mormon terrains

• Finding friends/community who have similar outlooks and can offer support
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To register for the retreat: click here. (After registering, participants will receive more detailed information about venue, parking, lunch and dinner options, etc.)

Cost: $375 per person; $550 per couple (even two friends or family members deciding to register together).

If you cannot afford to pay to attend, or can only swing some of the cost, please inquire abut partial or full scholarships and volunteering. We are working hard to encourage people to donate funds for others to attend, and we are happy to put you on a waiting list to see what might unfold.

Schedule:

Friday (14th): 6 to 10 pm

Saturday (15th): 9 am to 9 pm or later
(includes lunch and dinner, and entertainment afterward—much of it starring you!)

Sunday (16th): 9 am to 5 pm (lunch included)

Contact and Further Information:

For questions about registration, logistics, etc.:
Lorri Wotherspoon: lorspoon@gmail.com

To learn more about retreat content, purposes, what to expect, or to inquire about possible scholarships that would allow you to attend:
Dan Wotherspoon: dan.wotherspoon@me.com
Natasha Helfer Parker: nhelferparker@gmail.com

We look forward to seeing you at this event! I know it will be something everyone will really enjoy as well as receiving great perspectives, renewed energies, and making new friends!
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Note: This will be the first of two Mormon Matters retreats in Salt Lake City this year. The other one will be held 13–15 October (previously announced as 20–22). More information about that will be forthcoming.
If you would like to help bring a Mormon Matters retreat to your area, please contact Dan and Natasha. We will work with you to see what might be possible!

384–385: Gaining Spiritual Confidence

All religions point adherents toward gaining knowledge and insights for themselves through their own spiritual dives. Religious cultures, however, often (overtly but more often subtly) put a premium upon group cohesion, following rules and counsel from leaders or elders, staying on the well-worn path, and so forth. These cultures encourage one to rise up to the level of the collective, but then discourage her or him from too much exploring. (There be monsters out there! Stay safe!)

How can we gain the confidence to explore Spirit as fully as our traditions invite us to? How do we overcome the cultural and psychological barriers that sometimes discourage us? What is the experience of direct spiritual experience like? How do we seek it? Must we be at the end of our spiritual ropes before it can enter in? As we experience it, what should we expect? What, exactly, is the “experimenting” section of Alma 32 really saying? Spiritual journeying is hard, but why do so many who have gotten the taste of their own eternal nature and spiritual belonging keep at it, even with all the difficult things one must confront as we move ahead?

This episode features two insightful and powerful spiritual explorers, Billy Phillips and Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, speaking about all of the above and more. What emerges is not exactly a step-by-step guide to finding one’s own spiritual confidence so much as a chance to immerse oneself in a conversation among three people for whom this transition to trusting their own experiences even in the face of occasional discouragement from other Latter-day Saints has been and still is a wonderful and worthy pursuit.

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Link:

Lower Lights Sangha. Learn more about Thomas McConkie’s work, workshops, gatherings, and retreats.

Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map (Salt Lake City: Mormon Stages, 2015).

382–383: The Living Nature of Mormon Covenants

Covenanting is a huge feature of Mormon theology and group life. Beginning at age eight with baptism, and extending through the temple endowment and sealing rites, Latter-day Saints make a lot of covenants. Sundays build into the sacrament ritual the chance to “renew” the covenants one has made. For many Mormons, making these covenants are among the most sacred events of their lives, inspiring them to try to live up to the promises contained within each covenant. For others, especially those whose faith has shifted in the years following the time they made covenants, the burden of having covenanted to do something that they are no longer as certain about, or perhaps even now reject, can be crushing. Some feel regret that the “Mormon track” has members make covenants at very young ages, prior to the typical times when complexity enters one’s worldview. “If only I’d known what I know now, I would have chosen differently.” Others feel they were underprepared for the specifics of the covenants they made in the temple, and that when they reached that stage of the endowment they went ahead with them partly because of family and loved ones who were present and expecting that of them. Mormonism teaches that when things are done through proper priesthood authority, “what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.” How, then, should someone whose journey is taking them into great complexity regarding Mormonism relate to such weighty covenants?

In this episode, Charles Randall Paul, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, and Joseph Stanford, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a wonderful and intense query into covenanting within Mormonism and whether or not it, or God, has an expectation of personal growth and change that would naturally affect our views and understandings of covenants we have previously made, about what exactly are we “bound” to with regard to our covenants, and several other aspects of this topic. The panel shares their own experiences and thoughts about their covenanting pasts and relationships with them now, and seeks to celebrate best thinking and ideas about us as covenanters that doesn’t depend upon static relationships with God and “etched in stone at the time one covenanted” understandings of this important element of the Mormon tradition.

381: Why Ritual “Makes Sense”

Ritual is strange—or so it seems to our rational minds—yet, strangely, for many of us who participate in these often highly stylized and repetitive actions, we feel better afterward. Why is this so? Is there a method to ritual’s madness that helps explain this phenomena? I think so.

In a departure from the usual Mormon Matters formula of a panel discussion, this episode features me, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, reading a short article I wrote for the Fall 2016 issue of Sunstone magazine, “Why Ritual ‘Makes Sense’.” In it I address various aspects of ritual and how, even though rites and practices can be extremely diverse in nature, they share key commonalities. Rituals, through their various means, attempt to help us access more fully the energies and their attendant empowerment for us that are all around us but often missed due to the strength of the sensory input from our bodies and the clutter of thoughts and concerns going through our brains. How do rituals help us do this? Why is it important for us to seek methods that can bring us into these kinds of experiences? Why do rituals, such as the LDS endowment, often feature retellings of a group’s cosmogonic myths (stories of how the world/cosmos came to be)? I offer clues to these and many other features of ritual and the effects of our participation.

I hope you’ll enjoy these ideas and this side trip away from the panel format. I promise, though, that we’ll be back to that with the next episode!

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NOTE: Save the Dates! Natasha Helfer Parker and I will be hosting two Mormon Matters retreats in Utah this summer and fall. We will host the first 1416 July, and the second, 2022 October. Watch for descriptions and registration information very soon!

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Links:

Dan Wotherspoon, “Why Ritual ‘Makes Sense’,” Sunstone, Fall 2016

Link to the Faith Matters Foundation website, where video of the conference “New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation” will be available for download and viewing by 24 April 2017.

379–380: Effective Teaching in the Church

Mormonism provides numerous opportunities for us to teach each other. But, as we know, many times our Sunday classes fall short of being wonderful, too often failing to convey new or important insights, and hardly ever yielding transformative classroom experiences. How can we change this? How can we as teachers or class members move us into more enriching territory?

A second issue arises for teachers and class members whose faith journeys have led them to more complex views of LDS history, theology, or culture than is typically presented in the lesson manuals or anticipated by others in their various replies to questions asked during the class session. How can we who fit within this category, with integrity, teach within the church? How can we signal our willingness to engage the lesson manual materials while still seeking to reach a bit higher or offer perspectives that might lead to new thinking or deeper examination? How can we negotiate the expectations we sense from many to deliver the “safe” or the “usual” material with our own sense of being called to try for more?

This two-part episode tackles these issues and more, and features two wonderful and experienced and thoughtful teachers within Mormonism, Kristine Haglund and Stephen Carter, along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon. What are their best ideas for structuring classroom experiences? For preparing ourselves to teach within the church or share from the seats? For overcoming the fear of possibly falling flat on our face and/or being released for overreaching and offering challenging perspectives that those in leadership feel are a bit too much? What are some of the ways they have negotiated these hurdles in their own gospel lives? What great classroom experiences do they point to as highlights and approaches that might inspire all of us to work to be more effective gospel teachers?

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Links:

Kristine Haglund, “What I Wish I had Said, Part 26 or So,” By Common Consent blog, 3 July 2011

Stephen Carter, “How to Use the Total Perspective Vortex in Your Very Own Sunday School Class,” Sunstone, March 2005