guest post by Shakira Johnson
[reposted with permission from Shakira’s blog, Channeling the Feminine Divine – A Woman’s Search for Her Inherent Nature. Original link can be found here.]
I remember reciting the Young Women’s theme every single Sunday of my teenage years. I remember jumping up at the prompt “please stand as daughters of God.” I was thrilled to recite the values by which I lived my life each and every day, delighted to rattle off the lifestyles that set me apart from my peers.
But now, I am an adult. My years of Young Womanhood are long gone (well, I mean, I’m still pretty young, but that is beside the point), and since my “graduation” from the program, I have come to understand that the Young Women values are incredibly skewed. The whole Young Women organization as a concept, along with its theme, values, and Personal Progress program, are all designed to turn young Mormon girls into young Mormon mothers. It doesn’t really give young girls in the Church an opportunity to explore themselves, nor does it give them the motivation to do whatever it is they want to do. I didn’t really understand that this was the case while I was participating in the program; however, it is clear as day to me now. (To learn more about the Personal Progress program, click here.)
We learn about faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue with the lens of becoming a wife and a mother. A vast majority of the Personal Progress Experiences pertain to the study of the traits of a good wife and a wise mother. So, what happens when I grow up and don’t become a wife and mother, either by choice or circumstance? What happens when I choose to go to college and have a career, or to serve a mission? What happens when I finally get the courage to come out of the closet, or when I identify as a different gender than what I had originally thought? What happens when I get raped or sexually abused by someone? What happens when I have premarital sex? When I commit serious sins? What happens when I realize that I never really had a testimony that the Mormon Church is true?
What about those girls? What happens to them?
We spend six years of our lives, from ages 12-18, learning about and practicing these values, but what if it’s just not in the cards for us to become all of these things?
The Young Women’s program as an organization does not take these factors into account. Regardless of who participates, the program in and of itself is discriminatory and exclusive. It is based on the “Mormon ideal” of growing up, marrying a nice returned missionary, having several kids, and living happily ever after. Well, guess what? That “ideal” just doesn’t really exist in the majority of young Mormon girls. That “ideal” isn’t real life for most people. Real life is hard and complicated and we never know what is going to happen to us in the future.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the Young Women values, and I think it’s time they received a powerhouse-young-woman-type makeover. I believe that they need to be rewritten to empower young women, to allow them to set goals for themselves so that they can realize their full potential. If they want to set goals to be a wife and mother, great! If they want to set goals to be the first woman on Mars, that is fine too! I really feel that the values we instill in our young people should be those of courage, hard work, love, and positivity.
Without further ado, let the makeover begin!
Church definition: “I am a daughter of Heavenly Father, who loves me. I have faith in His eternal plan, which centers on Jesus Christ, my Savior.”
Why it needs to be changed: We need to teach our young women that it is not enough to simply have faith. Faith itself is not a strong enough force to keep us grounded. I’ve heard people in testimony meeting say that they have faith in things like tithing, faith in the Word of Wisdom, or faith that the blessing they have prayed for will come. Let me ask you this: what if you DON’T get the blessing you asked for? What if you continue to keep the Word of Wisdom, but you get terminally ill? What if you pay your tithing but you lose your job, house, or financial stability? Your faith has been shattered. This is because your faith was placed in an OUTCOME, and not in something stable. Your faith MUST be based on the Savior Jesus Christ. FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST means knowing that whatever the circumstance, that however horrible life may become, that Jesus Christ exists, that He is the Savior of the World, and that He will do the things He has promised to do.
“I am a daughter of Heavenly Parents, who love me. I have faith in Their Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and I know that His Atonement is real. Through developing faith in Jesus Christ, I can become a stronger person each and every day.”
Church definition: “I have inherited divine qualities, which I will strive to develop.”
Why it needs to be changed: The value experiences listed under ‘Divine Nature’ in the Personal Progress book all have to do with becoming a wife and a mother. It asks that you study what the divine roles of womanhood are and why it is important to become a wife and a mother. But what if that isn’t your vocation in this life? What if the mission your Heavenly Parents sent you here to do doesn’t involve becoming a wife or a mother? I believe that there is so much more to our divine feminine nature than that. We are all unique daughters of Divine Parents. We all have a unique mission to fulfill. Learning about divine nature means exploring yourself, discovering your talents, and praying to know what your personal divine mission is through the help of the Atonement of the Savior.
DIVINE NATURE REDONE
“I have inherited the divine qualities of my Heavenly Parents. I will strive to develop these qualities by discovering my talents, exploring my hobbies, and by praying to know what my divine mission is in this life. I will come to know these things as I have faith that my Savior Jesus Christ will help me.”
Church Definition: “I am of infinite worth with my own divine mission, which I will strive to fulfill.”
Why it needs to be changed: I actually like the way this one is laid out right now. We are all completely unique; there is no one alive that is just like me. My Heavenly Parents know me perfectly and They value me. It is important that we take the love we feel from Them and use it to love those around us for who they are. This means finding the good in every person, and helping them love themselves. This means that we avoid making judgments about people, bullying them, or discriminating against them because they are different from us. This means loving others with Christlike love regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social status, wealth, or political affiliation.
INDIVIDUAL WORTH REDONE
“I am of infinite worth with my own divine mission, which I will strive to fulfill. I will love others as I know my Heavenly Parents and Savior value me.”
Church Definition: “I will continually seek opportunities for learning and growth.”
Why it needs to be changed: The majority of the value experiences for knowledge have to do with learning to become a wife and a mother. There is only one experience listed that has to do with any sort of career research. I think that it is important to gain knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To learn of Him and of His teachings is very important; however, when we educate ourselves secularly, we compliment our knowledge of the Savior and we can gain a testimony of Him in new ways. When we learn of people, culture, science, math, history, art, religion, and philosophy, we learn more about what it means to be human. Through education, we can gain knowledge that will allow us to in turn contribute to the growth and improvement of society.
“I will continually seek opportunities for learning and growth. I will learn about my Savior Jesus Christ and strive to emulate Him in my life. I will seek secular education so that I may learn and grow into the person my Heavenly Parents would have me become.”
CHOICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Church definition: “I will choose good over evil and will accept responsibility for my decisions.”
Why it needs to be changed: I believe that it is a good idea to teach how to choose right over wrong, but we need to be teaching our young women what evil actually looks like. We spend so much time sheltering them from the evils of the world, telling them that they must always choose the right. But do we ever actually explain what the evils are, what they look like, how they enter our lives, or where they can be found? A lot of times, we are not all the way honest in explaining evil because we are afraid that if our young people know exactly how it works, they will be tempted by it and fall deeply into sin. This is just not the case. I have found that through a proper education of what evil looks like, I have been able to properly identify and proceed to avoid it in my own life. Knowledge of how to recognize and avoid evil has empowered me to choose righteousness, and has enabled me to accept full responsibility if I do fall short and make a mistake. In turn, I am able to learn from my mistake and grow for the better.
CHOICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY REDONE
“I will learn to recognize what good and evil looks like and how to discern between them. I will strive to choose good over evil, and will accept responsibility for my decisions.”
Church definition: “I will help others and build the kingdom through righteous service.”
Why it needs to be changed: Most of the Personal Progress Experiences listed for Good Works have to do with cleaning, cooking, or babysitting types of service. I feel like we are teaching our young women that the only types of service they can do are those pertaining to becoming a wife and a mother. We should be teaching them there are are limitless ways in which we can serve those around us, and not just the other members of the ward in which we reside. It is just as (if not more) important to serve those who are not members of our faith. This gives us the opportunity to spread Christlike love within our communities and create an environment of peace and safety. We should teach our girls how to serve like Christ, how to love others like He did, and how helping others in turn makes our own souls stronger. With our focus on Christ, we will come to know the meaning of true service.
GOOD WORKS REDONE
“By following the example of Jesus Christ, I will give service to those around me who are in need of love.”
Church definition: “I will have the moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong.”
Why it needs to be changed: When we learn about right and wrong, it is important to figure out what those two things are for us personally. It is important to take the things we learn at Church and pray about them, so we can know what is truly right and wrong for ourselves. This process of personal revelation is how we establish a relationship with God that is completely personal. When we ask in sincerity, God will answer our prayers and bless us with knowledge and light. We then take what we have learned and live our lives accordingly. What is right for us may seem wrong to others. For example, imagine that you are sitting a table with your other LDS friends at lunch and they start saying really mean things about the gay boy sitting at the next table. Your LDS friends are saying these things because they feel that being gay is wrong and evil, but you know that treating someone who is different from you with love and respect is righteous and Christlike. What would you do in this situation? This is how we should teach out young women to live with integrity.
“I will have the courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong that has been revealed to me by God.”
Church definition: “I will prepare to enter the temple and remain pure and worthy. My thoughts and actions will be based on high moral standards.”
Why it needs to be changed: Right now, the concept of virtue is being taught incorrectly. Virtue isn’t all about sexual purity and chastity. It goes hand-in-hand with integrity; being virtuous means being true to yourself and to the things you know to be true. It means that you are sincere in your actions and that you trust and rely on God. It means that you work hard and try to live your life in the way God would have you live it. We need to stop teaching our young women that they only way they can be virtuous is if they remain virgins until marriage. We should be educating them honestly about sexuality. We should be teaching them about rape and sexual abuse. We should be teaching them about the real meaning of modesty, and how it is not our responsibility to cover up so men can control their thoughts. We should be teaching them about love, compassion, and forgiveness. We should be teaching them about the Savior and how He lived a virtuous life.
“I will strive to live a virtuous life by being true to what I know to be right, trusting in God, and following the example of the Savior.”
The focus of our teaching in the Young Women’s program should be the empowerment of our young girls. They should leave class every week feeling stronger, more confident in who they are as daughters of God, and more equipped with knowledge of how to be the best they can be. We should help them discover who they really are, and we should encourage them to explore what the world has to offer. We should be honest about life and its hardships, and we should always ensure them that they are loved. We should teach them to rely on God and to emulate the life of their Savior, Jesus Christ. By doing this, we can raise a new generation in the Church, one that will be stronger than anyone who has come before, a generation of powerhouse women who will one day be our strong leaders in a push for equality and greater change.
Can you imagine it? I know I can.
Shakira is currently a student at Colorado State University. She served a full-time mission for the Church in Japan and dreams of entering the Foreign Service to become a diplomat.