I attended my ward’s last Boy Scout Court of Honor this week. It was a somber event for me. Two of my sons received merit badges, and one young man was honored as an Eagle Scout. These were of course pleasant things to observe, but I kept on thinking about how the Scouts represented a simpler time, a time when there was nothing controversial about honoring God and being morally straight.
There is a Portuguese noun called “saudades,” which means you miss something or long for something so much that it hurts. I have saudades for that America, the America of my youth that has been lost for so many people.
And then a frightening thought hit me: the end of the Scouts for my ward also means that my young men are set free from the structure of the Scouts. Now they are supposed to set their own goals. By the end of January, my sons will have set their goals, and it will be interesting to see how many of those goals are kept.
But here is another frightening part: my sons have two parents active in the Church and a lot of support from an excellent ward. What happens to the young men and young women who do not have that support for one reason or another?
The Church is going through a revolution of sorts. President Nelson’s many, many reforms are, to be clear, welcome. I consider them inspired, and I believe they will have consequences over the long term that are overwhelmingly positive for members of the Church. But in the meantime, there will be a lot of questions and concerns, as always happens whenever we are faced with rapid change.
Members are increasingly responsible for their own learning and their own testimonies. In a home centered and Church supported environment, the onus is put on the members to do homework at home. You cannot rely on a gospel doctrine teacher or somebody else in the ward to tell you about the doctrine and Church history– you need to research it yourself.
The Church has always promoted personal responsibility and self-fulfillment. That is part of the reason I wrote this post back in 2014. It is simply a cop out to spend your time complaining that the Church didn’t teach you certain things. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own Gospel learning and your own reaction to new revelations about Church history.
But this is even more true now. You are responsible for ministering to those in need on your own without having to report monthly. (Yes, you should have regular talks with EQ leadership, but that is not the same thing as monthly reports and puts more responsibility on you to do the work without being pushed by leadership). You are responsible for discussing Gospel topics on a nearly daily basis with your family through the Come Follow Me program. And young men and young women will have even more responsibility in their quorums to act on their own without leaders prodding them into action.
When you add it all up, this means much more individual stewardship. And it means that you are more and more responsible to work out your own salvation.
As a student of Church history, I think back to the Saints in Nauvoo right after Joseph Smith died. It must have been a trying and frightening time. Brigham Young was asking them to make a perilous journey across dangerous territory to move to a barren desert surrounded by cold mountains. The Saints were literally leaving the United States to move to uncharted territory. Some people stayed in Illinois with Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III. But others followed the new Church leadership.
It was a great separation. One group was following the new prophet of God and others were not. We are in a time like that now: members can either follow the inspired Prophet of our time, President Nelson, or they can head down “broad roads, that they perish and are lost.” (1 Nephi 12:17). To be clear: I am NOT saying that all of the people who don’t study Come Follow Me will be lost. I don’t know their hearts, and I don’t know all of their circumstances. The judgement is ultimately up to Heavenly Father.
But I am saying that all of the changes going on in the last few years provide additional responsibilities for Latter-day Saints to study and pray on their own and not rely on Church leaders or teachers to provide all of the answers. Others times had other challenges. Church members in the 1830s and 1840s suffered persecution and violence that we do not, in general, suffer today. This persecution caused many of the elect to leave the Church. One of our challenges today is to do more study at home, relying on Church materials for support.
The good news is that there are many people in your wards and stakes who will help you along this journey. If you feel you need additional help, go to your EQ presidency or your Relief Society president or your Sunday School presidency. They are certain to help answer any questions you may have.
And here is a personal experience: the program is already working. In my family, the regular discussion of the Gospel through Come Follow Me has been a great blessing. All of us are pondering the scriptures and their meanings more than ever, and we are doing it at home with the help of Church material. Discussions can be very deep, and even our nine-year-old spends time pondering out loud the mysteries of existence and how the plan of happiness makes it all more understandable.
So it is a scary time, but also an exciting time. I cannot help but feel that Church leadership sees that our testimonies must be strengthened for the times to come. There are new dangers on the horizon but also new opportunities for learning and love.
It is a great thing to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ.