Three conversations during the past couple of weeks caused me to think about something I read as a college student that had lasting impact on my life.
The first conversation was a brief discussion with my sister about a study she had recently read on the attitudes and behaviors of “millennials” – roughly defined as persons born after 1980 who are now in their twenties and thirties. The study noted that this generation tends to have greater confidence in the Government to solve social problems, but less confidence in organized religion. Significantly, millennials tend to look to peers rather than religious leaders for answers to social and moral questions, and they are very tolerant of and often endorse social behaviors that are not aligned with traditional religious views but are widely popular. In short, Facebook and Twitter are more influential than prophets, and tolerance of what was once considered unacceptable behavior has a higher value than moral absolutes.
The second conversation was with some friends about the recent public announcement by two disaffected members of the Church that they had been notified of potential disciplinary action by their respective bishops or stake presidents. Our friends commented that their son-in-law seemed much more sympathetic to the complaints and accusations of the two disaffected members than to the positions of their priesthood leaders. They then commented, almost by way of explanation, that their son-in-law had always been very “intellectual.” The implication was that intelligent people were less likely to support priesthood authority.
The third conversation was really a series of discussions while preparing a Sunday School lesson. Kathleen and I teach the 16-18 year olds. The topic this month is “Priesthood and Priesthood Keys,” and we were reviewing a sample teaching outline on the topic, “Why is it important to follow the counsel of priesthood leaders?” The lesson outline included a reference to Ephesians 4:11-14, a scripture that neatly summarized why God provides His children with priesthood leaders:
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Priesthood leaders exist to help us become perfected, to become Christ-like. And they help us avoid being tossed about by the cunning and often superficially appealing doctrines of men, which in the end only deceive us.
All this reminded me of something I read as a young college student which shaped my life then and has influenced me for decades. I entered college in the fall of 1965 – an era of great turbulence and turmoil, an era of student protest, free speech, occupation of college offices, burning of university buildings, and marches on Washington. Even on the BYU campus there was energetic discussion and argument. There were divisions between “conservative” and “liberal” Mormons, between “iron rod-ers” and “Liahonas.” It was in that environment that I came across a short essay written by Dr. Chauncey Riddle, a professor of philosophy at the university. Professor Riddle was one of the great BYU professors of the day. His classes were notoriously challenging, and he pushed students to think so deeply and intensely that they often complained that their heads hurt by the end of class!
But this short essay – less than two pages in length – seemed to strike at the heart of many of the debates on campuses across the country. Reading it changed my life. And my recent conversations reminded me that it is still very relevant. Maybe it will change your life, too.
For more by Chauncey Riddle, see http://chaunceyriddle.com