What the CoJCoL-dS offers: Testimonies!
There are loads of possible reasons for wanting to join / stay in / participate in Mormonism, but the main official reason is that you know it’s true; you have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, and that the current President of the Church is God’s sole mouthpiece on the Earth. Certainly if you believe that God exists and wants you to practice Mormonism, that is a pretty strong motivation to do it.
But — as even the most faithful believers will tell you — a testimony requires effort. You have to want to get one. And that’s where a lot of the other trappings of Mormonism (like community and culture) play a role.
I read with interest this post by an LDS author listing some of the changes in the CoJCoL-dS during her lifetime (which is about the same as my lifetime since I was born the following year). I can relate to most of them, but the ones that really jumped out were numbers 14 & 15 — road shows and church farms. Neither of these are directly related to “the gospel,” but they’re both projects that build a sense of community.
Road shows and other amateur theater productions were one of my favorite parts of practicing Mormonism. I also liked the unique/esoteric doctrines of Mormonism — it was fun to participate in the theological discussions that (as I discussed in my previous installment) are being suppressed (“de-emphasized”) these days. Eliminating these varied peripheral components of Mormonism narrows the range of people who will find Mormon practice enriching and rewarding.
Replacing cultural, service, and educational* activities with testimony-building activities is (IMHO) counterproductive. Even if your goal is to build people’s testimonies. Think about it.
Imagine you’ve gotten to know a group of people through shared work on service projects and theatrical productions and through exchanging new insights and information through debates, discussions, and lectures. Then imagine that these same people — many of whom have earned your respect and esteem — occasionally stand up and give a heartfelt talk about how much the gospel means to them. That will be pretty convincing, particularly to young people.
Now instead imagine that you know a group of people, and every time you see them, you take turns reading out of a repetitive manual. And practically your only non-scripted interaction with them comes during the frequent testimony time, in which they give weepy, emotional testimonies. That might be convincing for some people, but I think that for others it’s very off-putting. I imagine a lot of kids react by finding it uncomfortable (even a bit creepy) — not a great way to increase their motivation to be a part of this community.
So, while scrapping varied activities in favor of (super-cheap) testimony activities may look like a good idea to the bean-counters in the Church Office Building, I don’t think it demonstrates wise or long-term thinking. Whipping out testimonies at every drop of a hat can’t help but cheapen them.
* non-gospel-related and/or non-correlated
Earlier installments in this series: