I didn’t have many close Mormon friends in high school. There were a few of us, of course – California is no Utah, but neither is it the Eastern U.S. – but us Latter-day Saints didn’t really hang out in the same circles.
This is by no means a lament – I had wonderful friends, inside and outside the Church, and I’m all the better for them. Being part of a diverse crowd, however, did give me the chance to see how other churches did things.
When I went to youth group (called “mutual”), I did Boy Scout stuff, or participated in the occasional service project or co-ed “etiquette night”. When my evangelical friends went to youth group, they… well, I don’t know what they did, because I was never there on youth group night, but in their youth group building they had (among other things) a Halo/projector setup, rock instruments, and what I can only describe as a pinball pool table.
I went to seminary, which required me to wake up early and go to what was basically Sunday School with 15 other (sometimes pretty odd) teenagers (though we did get doughnuts on Fridays). My friends had actual church rallies on my high school campus with motivational speakers and free pizza.
For the ill-informed, pizza > doughnuts. It’s a close call, though.
During the summer, I went to scout camp, which, while incredibly fun and rewarding at times, also meant hiking to the site with my pack and sleeping on the ground and watching idiot-jocks do idiot-jock things, like seeing how long they could stand with their backs to a fire they’d created with some kind of liquid accelerant or make blowjob jokes once people started breaking out Vaseline for chapped lips.
(Random story: I lost my temper once after getting an egg tossed at me during a post-breakfast skirmish, and proceeded to literally jump the egg-tosser. My plan was ill-conceived and without any real next steps, and the momentum of my pounce and the weight of my body wrapped around his torso threw him off balance, and he fell almost like he was sliding headfirst into home plate, his face dragging in the pebbly-dirt. It… left a mark. I still feel bad about that. Maybe that’s why it pops into my head often when I think about scouting.)
During their summers, my friends went to a Christian camp – a co-ed Christian camp – and slept in cabins and did, I don’t know, Christian camp stuff (clearly I didn’t go to this either). Regardless of what they did there, their Christian camp had something my scout camp didn’t.
You can certainly discuss the merits of each of these contrasting approaches (along with details my keenly honed observational skills obviously have missed), but to my teenage brain, the weights were generally tipped in favor of, well, the activities with girls and pizza. But especially girls.
So when some of my seminary friends came to me with a petition, I was intrigued. There’s something to this whole co-ed camp thing, they told me. We should do it in our church like they do it in other churches. Why don’t you sign your name on this petition we’re passing around, and we’ll get it to the right people, and then we’ll have one big youth group camp with the young men and the young women together.
Wait… Camp? With girls?
GIMMIE THE PEN!
Not long after, during early morning seminary, we had a surprise visitor. It was our stake president (a local ecclesiastical leader). He had received our petition, and wanted to talk with us about it.
There are many different types of governments, he explained, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not like our national, or community, or even school governments. The people leading the Church led by inspiration. It was really the Savior’s church, and the things we did, from the highest levels to the local levels – including policies dictating the type of young men and young women camp outs – were not there because someone had campaigned for them or voted on them. They were that way because the Lord inspired his leaders to make those decisions.
I felt like I should have known that. I wasn’t all that sophisticated (and I’m still not all that sophisticated), but I should have known that.
I was embarrassed that my name was on that petition he was holding. We weren’t being censured, or reprimanded. On the contrary, the stake president was really only teaching us, and in the most loving way at that. But I still wanted to grab it back and scribble my name off.
It was a powerful lesson for me.
I am infinitely grateful for the leadership structure, the priesthood structure, of the Church. And I am infinitely grateful for the care my old stake president took in teaching us, a class of dummy teenagers, the important lessons of Church government. Maybe I’ve come to appreciate some grey in all the black and white as I’ve gotten older, but still, I’m blessed to have learned that lesson so early.
This is not the work of men. This is the Lord’s work, and the Lord’s church, and it is guided by His hand. Though I don’t understand everything, I understand that.
I wanted to camp with girls. My perspective on the particulars has changed, and my position has, well, evolved. I’m grateful that I had the faith then to sustain my local leaders, even when my persuasions pushed me in a different direction.