Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Almost Christian 4

posted by Scot McKnight

KendaDean.jpgWho does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don’t do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. 

Kenda Dean’s new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church
, and in her next chp she examines what makes the Mormons so effective — and she calls the chp “Mormon Envy.”
What can we learn from the Mormons about passing on the faith?
She opens with something I’ve not known about: high school Mormons begin the day at “seminary” where they are taught the scriptures and theology of Mormonism. All this before school — four years, five days a week during the school year. Parents are the teachers. It involves journaling and pragmatics as well.
Her big point is that Mormons top the charts when it comes to integrating their faith as teenagers. 73% hold faith similar to their parents; 43% attend services weekly; 80% talk about religion once a week with parents. Thus: “Mormon youth participate in more religious practices of all kinds, and are much more articulate about church teachings” (51). 
And her thesis is that four components, yea five, are involved in their “intense religious socialization”: 

First, a creed: they know what they believe and know it well and can defend it.
Second, a community is at the heart of everything Mormon, and their community is more participatory for the youth than other religious traditions.
Third, a calling is important and that means their focus on mission.
Fourth, a hope shapes their behavior now.
Finally, a family-nurtured faith is where it all begins. Families take responsibility for passing on the faith and embodying the faith.


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Nitika

posted August 31, 2010 at 12:49 am


It’s quite a fine line between “intense religious socialization” and brain washing. And I’m not just slamming the Mormons here, we all need to grapple with this anytime we attempt discipleship.



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Hannah Nedrow

posted August 31, 2010 at 2:36 am


I agree with Nikita. Also, I’m not so impressed with what Mormons and conservative Protestants have produced in their discipling efforts. I’d rather raise kids that are less overtly “Christian” and more well-balanced, humble, and thoughtful.
This is coming from a kid who was homeschooled K-12, BTW.



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ben

posted August 31, 2010 at 7:42 am


I’m curious what balance there needs to be? The Gospel certainly strikes me as asking us to be “all in” rather than balancing worldly things with our Christianity. While the phrase “intense religious socialization” may come with a stigma, the four listed components seem quite rational, given that the Creator has asked us to go all in.



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Marc

posted August 31, 2010 at 8:05 am


It has been my experience that conservative evangelicals are, in practice, generally not interested in actually following Jesus but in holding creeds, avoiding certain types of sin, and making converts along the same lines. Their effectiveness is based on two powerful offerings: the avoidance of hell and some kind of religious experience.
Even if their influence were to spread all over the world to include every person you would still hunt high and low to find a disciple *actively* doing kingdom work. Several billion conservatives on the planet would certainly mean less murder, fornication and drug abuse and thus a vast improvement but it would be a shadow of the kingdom vision of love and service to all and poverty and injustice would, no doubt, persist.



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Taylor

posted August 31, 2010 at 8:16 am


@ben #3 I think by balance they are not referring to providing more sin as a counter. Rather, it’s allowing for true questions and genuine conversation about religious matters.



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Taylor

posted August 31, 2010 at 8:23 am


As a father of three small boys in an increasingly secular America this is a HUGE issue for me. Sometimes I look at the excess of the fundies and can admit I’d rather have my kids learning innerency and YEC than I would have them just going to a pizza party every Wednesday night.
Oh Lord do we need a third way…



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James Jones

posted August 31, 2010 at 8:39 am


It appears they are practicing the wisdom God gave to Israel before possessing the land of Canaan. God knew they would enjoy immense material blessings when their mission was complete. But, God did not want them to lose their focus despite all they had to enjoy around them.
Deut. 6:5-9 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”



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ben

posted August 31, 2010 at 8:40 am


@Taylor -
The post itself put the religious teaching in context with their high school schooling, which is what I was referring to in terms of “worldly things.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how much time my kids spend in school learning what secular society wants them to know in order to be effective citizens and economic units and how that reflects upon priorities.



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Taylor

posted August 31, 2010 at 8:57 am


@ben this is what is difficult about online communication–so easy to misundestand one another.



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Blair

posted August 31, 2010 at 9:26 am


As someone who had a hand in this book (full disclosure) I’m glad that you are taking a walk through it. Over the weekend balanced and intelligent commentary about this book became even more important because CNN.com ran an article that prompted a great amount of blogosphere heat. You can find Dean’s responses on her website and they are worth looking at as an addendum to reading the book. Once again, thanks for reviewing it with intelligence and charity.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 31, 2010 at 9:40 am


Blair,
Many thanks for your comment. Be assured that, so far as I’m able, I monitor the comments here so the discussion sustains civility. I can be out for a few hours (teaching or golfing etc every now and then, and RSJ often picks up the slack for me then, but we do keep an eye on this blog.
Great book.



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Anne Pearson

posted August 31, 2010 at 10:34 am


Can a Mormon comment? We do feel we are under commandment to teach our children the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I would reject the term brainwashing. The right of our children- and everyone- to then make their own choices based on knowledge is central to our beliefs (as is the truth that consequence follows choice). To quote from the _Book of Mormon_:
“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
” And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”



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Tim

posted August 31, 2010 at 10:39 am


From a psychologist’s perspective, the best way to ensure one’s beliefs are passed down to and remain held by their children involves:
1) Maximizing the child’s participation in communities that affirm the parent’s religious beliefs, while minimizing participation in communities that do not hold to such beliefs
2) Ensuring that the maximum number of authority figures in the child’s life affirm the parent’s religious beliefs
3) Convince the child that the parent’s beliefs are unequivocally true, with as little waffling or caveats as possible, and further convince the child that any departure from those beliefs can only result in destruction.
4) Ensure competing beliefs are seen unfavorably, even as dangerous.
5) Exert social control over the child’s adherence to religious beliefs. Falling away from beliefs should imply loss of access to meaningful communal activities (e.g., youth group), a potential for losing or otherwise unfavorably redefining existing relationships, having one’s status changed from upstanding member of the community to “black sheep”, etc.
Could these have been equally valid points derived in an analysis of both Mormonism and (some) conservative Protestantism?



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MatthewS

posted August 31, 2010 at 11:48 am


Tim,
It seems to me that the psychologist’s perspective you present interprets a rather sinister set of tactics.



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Barb

posted August 31, 2010 at 11:57 am


i live in a community with many Mormons–(not in Utah). I have been studying mormon issues for a while and I used to think if we could be more like the Mormons in how we teach our children it would be a good thing, But then I came upon the insight that in Mormon doctrine they are required to do these things to earn their salvation (please if you are mormon don’t jump in to correct me). If something is “required” people tend to do it–they also are required to tithe. I read somewhere that if something is voluntary half will choose to NOT do it. We need courage and encouragement to live according to the ‘freedom’ that we have in the body of Christ.



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Dale

posted August 31, 2010 at 12:33 pm


Barb,
We must realize that we are all “required” to do some things in order to be saved. Christ taught that we must be baptized (John 3:3-5), and live with faith in him and his atonement and grace. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we recognize that there are other commandments such as tithing (Malachi 3:8-12) that we voluntarily live by to remain active in our faith.



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JoeyS

posted August 31, 2010 at 1:18 pm


@ 13 Tim,
I struggle with your points there as well. I am a youth pastor and I often have to ask, how much of modern ministry practice involve this sort of manipulation?
I agree with Nitika that intense religious socialization walks a thin line with brain washing. Of course your analysis, Tim, is a negative one implying brain washing (to an extent) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a powerful observation.
What practices do we in the church participate in that moves away from the realm of freedom and towards the realm of manipulation through socialization?
I’m confident that the Christian community is the representation of Jesus in the world, and that it is the Christian community that gives people a place to hope in the promises of Christ, while also manifesting His Kingdom (though incompletely) in the world – but how do we participate in the community, do ministry, without also manipulating people?
I have no answers but these are questions I’d love to see people explore.



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Richard Jones

posted August 31, 2010 at 2:21 pm


I have enjoyed reading Almost Christian and have underlined and written notes and really engaged with the book. I did find this chapter (Mormon Envy) both interesting and enlightening. However, I have a couple of problems with it. First, only 2.5% of the teens in the study were Mormon. Is that really a large enough to generate all these conclusions? Is that a significant enough group to merit a whole chapter? Second, the ending comments on how grace trumps the social toolkit seem to render impotent all the content before. I was left asking myself, ?Why write this chapter then??. So much of the content of how Mormons live and what they believe sounded much more creepy than ideal. If the price I have to pay for highly devoted youth is keeping women down and practicing a very exclusive faith, no thanks. It seems to me that the real factors in Mormon youth?s devotedness is family and church control over the young people. And it left me wondering: is fundamentalism the price required for highly devoted youth? Can we be progressive in our theology and still impact young people? I think the answer is yes we can, but that we usually don’t. How can we improve at this? I hope I will have some ideas by the time I finish the book.



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Henry Zonio

posted August 31, 2010 at 3:08 pm


I lived in a community and went to high school with many Mormon friends. I remember talking with my friends about them having to wake up early to go to their Mormon “classes.” At that time in life I thought, “Wow, you have to get up early to learn about your church?” Getting up early for anything is not my cup of tea :)
I have to ask this question, though, when again it looks like Dean’s answer to weak faith is simply to teach more: Are these “committed” and articulate kids demonstrating a transformed life? Yes it’s difficult to try and measure that… but how many of them are involved in service? and of those, what is different about those families that is not common among the other Mormon or conservative Protestant families?



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JoeyS

posted August 31, 2010 at 3:27 pm


Henry,
Service may be an unhelpful standard as that can also be required. Maybe a better question, and one that is not truly answerable, is ‘How many of them give themselves up for love of others on a day to day basis?’
That isn’t a question just for Mormans, but for all of us. Service, of which I am a fan, can become part of the life of a community as a requirement rather than out of true transformation within one’s heart. A better standard is to see how often a person enters into the suffering and joy of others.



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MatthewS

posted August 31, 2010 at 3:47 pm


I grew up in Colorado, about a half-hour away from Utah. There was a decent collection of LDS folks around though not like in Utah. I worked alongside some of them while working my way through school for my first degree. One guy that was perhaps in his 60s was a credit to their faith. He was a genuinely nice guy and was trusted and respected by everyone. We had a neighbor who was younger family man and had a similar reputation.
However…however… both my wife and I interacted with younger guys who were planning to go on their missions. They could speak of their mission in one breath and joke about watching porn and exploiting females in the next, seemingly with no sense of guilt. They seemed to have a profound disrespect for women. I realize every faith has its hypocrites and Christianity has at least its share. I knew many more hypocritical Christians than hypocritical Mormons. But there was something brazen about the young guys who saw no dissonance between their attitude towards females and porn and such – between that and their mission activity. They didn’t seem to see the two as opposed and that really surprised me.
My point is just that you can dress a young man up and send him out on a bike but that doesn’t change his heart any more than making sure his Christian counterpart doesn’t cuss, drink, or chew, or run with girls who do.



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JamesD

posted August 31, 2010 at 4:40 pm


MatthewS,
As an LDS bishop, I’m certainly disappointed in your comments about future missionaries. I can tell you that there will always be some who “slip through the cracks” but there is a rigorous interviewing process of each missionary candidate by a bishop and a stake president. Of course, a young man can lie and make it out on a mission, but they rarely last.
I concur completely with your comment about looking the part without “walking the talk”. I would be curious to see if those young men referenced did in reality serve missions.



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John Ross

posted August 31, 2010 at 5:50 pm


I am a devout Mormon living in Salt Lake City. I am pleased that Kenda Dean thinks we are succeeding in transmitting our faith to our children. But even if we do a better job than some, we sadly lose way to many of our children to the temptations of the worldly life. Our struggle for discipleship is much like yours. We desperately want our children to love the Lord. We try to center our lives and our teachings on the Jesus Christ, but sometimes it just doesn?t sink into the hearts of our youth. I am not troubled that our teenagers do not have the spiritual maturity of an adult, but I am troubled when they remain in spiritual childhood. I am encouraged by those who allow the Lord transform them, but I am dismayed at the many which leave the strait and narrow, and become lost in the wide paths of worldliness.
As to indoctrination, – that is what other people do. We merely try to teach, inspire and set a good example. Our teens are like yours, they are strong willed, and will not be regimented, nor brainwashed. The same goes for our adults. About half my neighbors are members of my church, and none of them seems to me to have been lobotomized. Each chooses their own level of participation in church activities, and each has individual perspectives, beliefs, and practices that differ from their neighbors. I know many people think we look alike and act alike because they see our uniformed missionaries, and they confuse us with the prairie dressed polygamists isolated from the world in their compounds. But when you actually get to know some Mormons you find they are each individuals facing pretty much he same struggles as everyone else.
I am embarrassed to read of MatthewS experience with Mormon teens who were planning on missions, while living lustful lives. Yet I confess I knew a few guys like that too. Some of them repented and turned their lives around and became true disciples of Christ, some fell away as you might expect. I think we do a much better job than we once did in preparing our future missionaries, and screening out those who are not living worthy to receive the spirit and preach the gospel. But it is still a struggle, and there are always those who for some reason try to keep one foot in The Church and another in Babylon.
My three children are now adults. As a stay-at-home father, I worried and prayed about them constantly for about 25 years. When they were young I chose their involvement in church, and I chose the religious practices in our home. When they were teenagers they made more choices for themselves. I knew if I pushed or manipulated they would push back and rebel. Gratefully, some of all that religious stuff stuck with them during their perilous teen years. But even so I could tell they were fragile, and I worried they might not soften their hearts and commit their lives to the Lord. I always knew some day each of my children would have to choose whom they would serve. Now in their mid-20s they have each sunk their roots deep into gospel soil, and I believe all the effort we poured into keeping them close to the faith was worth it.



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karen

posted August 31, 2010 at 9:36 pm


Having raised my own brood in an area where Mormonism is the predominant religion, I admire many things about our Mormom friends. However, being married to a high school teacher I happen to know that the issues that Christian kids face in their faith journey are no different than the issues faced by their Mormon counterpart. Yes, there is a heavy-handed indoctrination, but the biggest difference is that when the Mormon kid screws up, everbody and his brother are talking about it.



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JohnN

posted September 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm


Karen mentioned that “when the Mormon kid screws up, everbody and his brother are talking about it.” I am a Mormon and was a “Mormon kid” in high school. We are taught to treat those who sin with love and charity. We are specifically taught not to talk about them, or gossip. In fact it states in the Doctine and Covenants, one of our books of scripture, “he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” I am sure there is not any more gossiping happening among Mormon teens than there is among other Christian teens.
Many have spoken of requirements. Any Christian faith must recognize that the Bible states numerous “requirements” in order to enter into the kingdom of God. Love is as much a “requirement” as any of the other commandments. However, despite the fact that these are all “requirements”, they are all obeyed on a volunteer basis. In order for any of us to be a good Christian, we are “required” to do things like service and love and follow Christ. I don’t think there are some of these things that are requirements and some that are voluntary. They are all both.



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JohnN

posted September 1, 2010 at 9:26 pm


Marc,
I’m not sure if you were including Mormons in your thoughts about evangelical Christians, but I can tell you as a Mormon that we are very interested in following Jesus. We are very serious about the action that requires. Service, love, helping the poor, visiting the sick, etc. is a huge part of our religion. While all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) don’t perform these actions, it is taught a great deal and there are many members who are very actively pursuing these things.



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killerbug

posted September 7, 2010 at 12:57 am


Always the backhanded compliments. Here’s how Mormons are successful, Mormon envy etc. yet the authors maintain their distance and maintain attempts to keep an unlevel playing field, i.e. despite all these “nice” things about Mormons they aren’t really Christian you know.
So many times I encounter these bigots who are possessed of ironclad belief in their Bible as the only authority and yet compared to any active Mormon they don’t know their “Bible” from a hole in the ground.



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brandon andress

posted September 22, 2011 at 10:02 am


VERY poignant book! maybe even tough for many in the church to read…



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Taylor
posted August 31, 2010 at 8:23 am

As a father of three small boys in an increasingly secular America this is a HUGE issue for me. Sometimes I look at the excess of the fundies and can admit I’d rather have my kids learning innerency and YEC than I would have them just going to a pizza party every Wednesday night.
Oh Lord do we need a third way

Hey Taylor, there is NO third way. You are either saved or NOT! You either believe or you don’t! Nobody is half pregmant and the only thing worse than a liberal is a moderate!!



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AndyM

posted July 16, 2012 at 10:50 pm


I don’t know the details of mormon worship services, but do they segregate their children by age the way we christians do? I can’t help thinking that putting the kids out of the main service where they don’t feel as part of the main body of believers would present a barrier to their eventual “growing up” from youth group and joining the “adult service”.



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