Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

A letter to my daughter’s Mormon seminary teacher

Mette Ivie Harrison
Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

Dear Brother So-And-So,

I know you chose to become a teacher because you must really love teenagers—and the gospel. I am fairly certain that you are trying your best to understand “kids these days,” since it’s been maybe forty years since you were in high school yourself. I know you believe deeply in Christ and in the gospel of loving and repenting, in the goal of Zion, and in the word of God in our scriptures.

That said, I think there are some things I could help you with. My daughter is really struggling right now with the church and I’d like to ask you to think specifically about her as you teach her class and other classes, as well.

  1. My daughter is fiercely protective of LGBT Mormons. This means that any time you say something about that sensitive topic, she is listening carefully and will be making judgments about whether or not you consider her to be a “real” Mormon with that loving, sensitive heart of hers. Many of her generation feel the same way. Their friends are openly LGBT. Their family members are, as well.
  2. Sometimes it feels to my daughter like there is an expectation that taking things on “faith” means she has to turn off her brain. She spends all day in school, exercising her mind and then seminary is a break, right? It’s a place for her to relax and just listen and express herself. Except that for her, thinking isn’t something she stops doing easily. She’s going to ask questions. About everything. About uncomfortable topics. Please tell her that she isn’t bad to ask questions. Please treat her questions with respect, even if you don’t know the answers (I don’t, either).
  3. Seminary teachers know that the teen years are important times for forming identity. I know this, too. As her parent, I worry about how often she is told either implicitly or explicitly that people who are like her don’t belong in the church. I am at peace with her choosing to stay or not to stay, but I’d prefer for her not to be pushed out by being told that she has to be some kind of cookie cutter Mormon or she doesn’t belong.
  4. A mission is a wonderful thing for young men and young women. It is still true that young men are pressured more than young women to serve, but I would prefer that the pressure decrease for both. I encourage my children who feel called to serve and I support them one hundred percent, but I have also seen what pressure to serve does. It makes teens feel unworthy and it makes them stop attending. I don’t want this and I don’t think you do, either. So can you talk about missions with that in mind?
  5. Marriage and family are very important in my life. Having children has been a wonderful source of happiness and purpose for me. I know that the church teaches that families are important to God’s plan of salvation, but is there a place for those who are not sure that they want to have children? Must they be browbeaten to accept that this is the only way that they can make it to heaven? Can we allow them some space to decide if having children is what they want on their own?
  6. Can we do a better job of reaching out to those of other religions? I don’t mean proselytizing them. I mean really understanding their worship, sacred texts, and praxis. I would love to see some of Seminary time spent visiting other churches or having guest lecturers come in to talk about our commonalities. I think this would do wonderful things to our high schools so that students of other religions (particularly in Utah) would feel more understood and perhaps free to speak about their own faith. I’d like to see my daughter with a broader understanding of the place Mormonism holds in religion, beyond our insistence that we are the “one true church.”

Elder Ballard recently spoke about how different it is now to teach teens about the gospel. In the time of the internet, he said, we can no longer imagine that teens will not be exposed to some of the less pleasant historical facts about Mormonism. I look forward to seeing seminary teachers tackling head on the church’s fine Gospel Topics essays about some of these trickier topics. And thanks again for all you do.


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Mette Harrison is a regular guest blogger at Flunking Sainthood and also at the Huffington Post. She is the author of many acclaimed novels, most recently the Linda Wallheim mysteries The Bishop’s Wife and His Right Hand.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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