I read a blog post at Beliefnet this morning touting how moral mormon kids are compared to kids in evangelical churches.
One of the researchers in the National Study of Youth and Religion, Princeton Theological Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean, now draws upon the data to issue a gentle jeremiad to Protestant congregations. In Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, she argues that if teenagers don't have a firm grasp of core Christian doctrines and instead worship at what she calls "the Church of Benign Whatever-ism" -- or don't worship at all -- it's because youth pastors and other leaders have watered down the message, she claims. Teenagers in Protestant churches get the idea that they're supposed to feel good about themselves, but that little is expected of them; Christianity is designed to make them "nice," but it's not supposed to form them as disciples. The first part of the book draws upon copious research data to diagnose the problem that Protestant teens are being taught a brand of Christianity that is a mile wide and an inch deep.
Then the book takes a surprising turn. In a chapter called "Mormon Envy," Dean further indicts Protestant churches by holding up Mormonism as an example of a religious group that is doing right by its teenagers. She makes it clear that she has serious theological disagreements with Mormonism, but from a sociological perspective, Mormonism is succeeding in creating young adults who firmly understand what they believe and why their faith needs to have a claim on their behavior.
I can safely say that few mormons know much about what their church believes beyond the talking points. Once you press them, they are completely unprepared to address the glaring discrepancies between what their church teaches and what the Bible teaches, or even more tellingly what their church teaches now and what the “prophet of the restoration” and his cronies taught. Nowhere is this more true than among the missionaries, young people who supposedly are firmly grounded in their faith. What they are grounded in is having it pounded in their head that their feelings rule and that those feelings influenced by years of indoctrination by their parents tell them that mormonism is true. If that is the sign of success, i.e. borderline brainwashing, I want no part of it.
In many ways mormonism is more of a culture than a faith, a culture that requires certain pious activities and a certain mindset. Mormonism overcomes a problem that evangelical churches have yet to “solve”: how do you integrate and retain young people who are not transformed by the Gospel? Mormonism accomplishes this by replacing the Gospel with a religious culture. The end result are kids who are very, very nice and respectable, who go to church in their Sunday best, get married young and have big families. Those same kids are as lost as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia or an atheist in France, but they sure are nice people!
Molding kids who obey a series of rules and are taught from a young age to parrot back their “testimony” that Joseph Smith is a prophet and that they know this church is true is not a behavior that Christians should seek to emulate. The answer is not to try to retain kids or make them more moral by making them go to church but rather by presenting the Gospel to our kids and leaving the results up to God. That might mean that some children are not going to keep going to church but that is not really up to us nor is that our goal. Our goal is to see lost sinners come to faith in Christ and our role in that is to proclaim the Gospel, not to make our kids obey religious rules. Sure we should bring our kids to the gathering of the church and sure we should teach them about Jesus and of course we want to make our kids obey certain rules, but that is not the end result we are after.
Touting mormon kids exhibiting morality is just another way for the mormon church to try to infiltrate the Christian church.