Youth Conference Report –-
Wife of Bath and I were heavily involved in stake Youth Conference this weekend as a result of my stake calling. We were also a host family for five young men. The combination kept us going pretty much constantly from 5pm Thursday to the end of the testimony meeting Saturday evening. We drove kids, we cooked hot dogs, we served food, we painted blocks, we sang songs, and generally handled a lot of behind the scenes logistics.
The theme was “I walked where Jesus walked”. Given my current state of mind this conference had a lot of potential to sway me either way. Last year’s conference was basically a tribute to Joseph Smith, so something a little more Christ-centered was definitely in order.
This was a good conference. The presenters did their best to present their messages about Christ, there were inspirational murals of the empty tomb and the city of Jerusalem, the food was good, and the youth were almost uniformly spiritual and well-behaved.
A couple of things really jumped out at me, though. Christ’s message was very complex in character, sometimes talking about social justice, sometimes talking about worship of God, sometimes talking about sin. His role was multi-faceted, subverting the political/religious hierarchy and teaching us how to express our love for God as well as our love for each other. He exemplified obedience, love, service, and personal righteousness, as well as taking upon himself the role of sacrificial lamb for our sins.
Almost uniformly the presenters at the conference focused on the atonement to the exclusion of other things. We have a tendency to see everything in the gospel through the lens of personal righteousness and morality, which reduces Jesus’ role to mainly paying the price for our sins. I think this tends to elevate the consideration we give to sin way out of proportion to the emphasis Jesus placed on sin. The gospel is not just about our personal behavior, keeping ourselves free from sin, and our righteousness. It’s mainly about relationships. Our relationship with God, and our relationships with others. Especially our relationships with the poor and those who suffer in other ways. This aspect of Jesus’ life went largely unexamined in the sessions I went to. We basically reduced Jesus’ life to a laundry list of things to do. Obey. Refrain. Serve. Be ye therefore perfect.
Another thing that struck me was the testimony meeting at the end. After two and a half long days, the testimony meeting is the payoff. The depth of the testimonies of the youth of our stake is always inspiring. Sitting on the stand you can see their hands shaking and their heavy breathing as they walk the long walk up to the microphone. Their strength is always inspiring.
I thought it was interesting that, after two and a half days of talking about Jesus, they rarely mentioned him in their testimonies. They bore their testimonies of the church, of President Hinckley, of the Book of Mormon, and Christ got a couple of sentences at the end. Only one young man really centered his remarks on Christ’s love and how the conference had helped him appreciate that better.
This reinforced my feeling that the members in general have a knowledge of Jesus and an appreciation for the atonement, but most of their loyalty and their attention goes to the church and church leaders, because that’s what’s in front of them most of the time. Rather than putting Christ at the center of our worship, I think we really have “the restoration” at the center of our worship much of the time, with Christ as kind of a component part of that. If you asked most of our youth who their hero was and who they wanted to emulate, I bet President Hinckley would edge out Jesus Christ.
In their defense I think most members consider it one package, and that their devotion to the church encompasses devotion to Christ, but I believe this is a dangerous lack of discrimination. We have elevated our leaders, our founders, and the organization of the church to a level where it seems to be on a par with Christ and the events of his historical ministry, and this is a big problem.