A while ago, as I mentioned, I was moving through the interview process to be an FSY counselor until suddenly there were no openings because several sessions were canceled due to low enrollment. As part of that process I had to prepare a five-minute devotional based on a section of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. So I read through the pamphlet again for the first time in years. I think it teaches good values for people young and old people to live by, but as the cynic and skeptic that I am, I don't agree with every single thing in it, and now that I'm no longer trying to become an FSY counselor I'm free to say so. It's not like anyone should expect it to be perfect or timeless - the first edition, published in 1965, was very different and is kind of a laugh riot now. (My favorite part is "Pants for young women are not desirable attire for shopping, at school, in the library, in cafeterias or restaurants.")
Having said that, I can only remember six parts in the current edition that I disagree with and I'm not going to read the whole thing again, so this will be a short post! And again, it does contain a lot of good stuff. The pamphlet, I mean, not my post. Insert your own quip about none of my posts containing a lot of good stuff here.
"Young men generally take the initiative in asking for and planning dates."
This is true, of course, but it shouldn't be. Young women should be encouraged to go after what they want instead of passively hoping someone will offer it to them. This sentence is only descriptive, not prescriptive, but still it offers implicit encouragement to an uncool status quo and could be deleted without losing anything of value.
Dress and Appearance
"Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance."
The sexist double standard here is so obvious, it would be funny if it was funny. The reasons this section gives for dressing modestly are to "show that you know how precious your body is" and "show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him." Yet this passage shows what the writers really believe: that dressing modestly is far more important for women because they have a responsibility to help men control their bestial urges. It's nice that they, unlike many people in the church, didn't explicitly state this toxic and false belief, but it needs to be scrapped altogether. Either make a detailed list of clothing that men shouldn't wear, or be equally vague for women.
"Young women, if you desire to have your ears pierced, wear only one pair of earrings."
I stopped believing that God cares about this when I read Leonard J. Arrington’s diary and learned that General Authorities in the 1970s disagreed among themselves about whether it was even okay for women to have one pair of earrings. My thoughts were a. why the hell was it any of their business and b. why should I believe what they said publicly about earrings thirty years later?
Entertainment and Media
"Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way."
Nobody in the church follows this ridiculously un-nuanced standard unless they eschew entertainment and media altogether. It would rule out any movie that depicts Jesus Christ being tortured and executed. It would rule out any movie that depicts Joseph Smith being murdered. It would rule out Star Wars, which the local Institute had no problem screening at an activity even though it literally has "wars" in the title. It would rule out any Peanuts cartoon where Lucy yanks the football away and makes Charlie Brown flop onto his back.
"Choose not to insult others or put them down, even in joking."
I could quibble about how Jesus insulted people all the time, but it's really the "even in joking" part I take issue with. This happens to be how I bond with my friends. Without my snark, sass, and sarcasm, few of them would notice that I exist. And in fact, multiple studies have found that romantic partners who tease or roast each other are happier. I observed this principle years ago when Dale G. Renlund and his wife Ruth spoke in the USU Spectrum. They roasted each other constantly and I thought it was way more romantic than the "My wife is a literal goddess and I am unworthy to kiss her feet" spiel I usually hear from LDS men. I wish I remembered all the specifics. I just remember that he teased her about the time she thought it would be nice to frame his stethoscope and then her mother almost died because he couldn't find his stethoscope, and he teased her a lot about being a lawyer, and then he said, "I know, I know, it isn't fair to judge the entire profession based on four... or five... hundred thousand bad apples."
"Homosexual and lesbian behavior is a serious sin. If you find yourself struggling with same-gender attraction or you are being persuaded to participate in inappropriate behavior, seek counsel from your parents and bishop. They will help you."
As I have recently explained, I don't believe that homosexual behavior is a sin because in my observations, for the most part, gay and lesbian members who pursue committed monogamous same-sex relationships against the church's wishes seem considerably happier than those who pursue lives of celibacy or marry someone they're not attracted to. I expect this passage will be reworded with a bit more sensitivity but not really changed for some time. Seeking counsel from parents and bishops is a bit of roulette. In the past, parents might have "helped" by throwing their child out on the street and bishops might have "helped" by arranging some kind of conversion therapy. Things have vastly improved by now, but there's still no standardized training to ensure that parents or bishops in the church know what they're talking about. In a recent study, gay Latter-day Saints said the most helpful thing bishops can do is show love and empathy, and the least helpful thing they can do is remind them of church teachings and policies that they're already perfectly aware of.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.