Beyond stereotypes: Being a Mormon teenager offers challenges, rewards

Perfect World

Anchorage Daily News/February 18, 2005
By Katie Walther

My mom yells my name from her room at 4:45 a.m. every weekday. Groaning, I get up, pull my towel off my bed stand and head for the shower. It is yet another day of seminary.

Most people don't realize what a typical Latter-day Saint's teenage life is like. Don't get me wrong, I understand other religions have to go through hours of Bible studies and church camps too, but this is just a peek at what life is like as a Mormon teen.

The Lowdown

First off, not all Mormons are required to do anything. Our endless rules are like a string on a kite: seemingly restrictive, but in the end offering us freedom by lifting us up. Those of us who accept the offered standards find that being free from addictive behaviors more than makes up for what may appear to be restrictions to an outside observer.

Now that that's out of the way, back to seminary. After driving to our local church, we are assigned a room for each class level. Seminary starts our freshman year, as if high school wasn't busy enough.

As in school, seminary has its social classes: the kid who memorized all his Scripture mastery verses, the girl who does her makeup, the forced ones, the sleeping ones, the empty chairs and the ones who actually want to be there because they like it. I don't mind being there, but I lean toward the resting ones.

Seminary is basically like a normal class, except we can pray, sing and say the J- and G-words. Yup, Jesus and God. We watch movies and go though the usual lessons on happiness, converting and where we go when we die.

Living the LDS Life

Each Mormon teen is given a guidebook called "For the Strength of Youth." Inside are all those things you've heard about, the excuses Mormons give. You remember that time you tried to ask out that hot freshman and she said that she's not 16 yet? How about the time you tried to share your Dr Pepper and the kid next to you said no to your vital source of caffeine? Don't tell me you thought it was normal when that Mormon guy yelled, "Oh, to heck!"

The fact is, the rules are just summing up what's written in the other books that we study such as The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.

On weekends, while some Mormons could choose to be at your local kegger by exercising their "free agency" (a principle that Mormons strongly adhere to based on their own history of persecution and the intolerance they once faced), the majority are more likely to be either at their jobs or at one of the Mormon dances, which are held a couple of times a month throughout Anchorage.

Teens basically run around a room to "Space Jam," "Cotton-Eye Joe" or crazy swing and salsa music. You know, like real dancing. Then again, they could be just standing there trying to get eye contact with any girl in the room. The only rules are that you have to be modest, appropriate and at least a full Book of Mormon-length away from your partner.

So... Polygamy, Right?

When you think of Mormons, the first thing that comes to your mind is polygamy. It's no wonder; in high school, polygamy is the only thing listed in your U.S. history book under Mormonism. Chances are your English class suggested that you read "Under the Banner of Heaven" too, which makes readers hate Mormons without realizing they're reading primarily about the fundamentalists.

No matter what your cousin in Texas says, polygamy is illegal, even in Utah. There are colonies of polygamists, but they have been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Polygamy didn't start with Mormons, considering that it occurs in the New Testament.

What it comes down to is this: Polygamy was a practice that was used when it was needed. I'm not saying that I agree with it, I just don't deem it necessary to hold Mormons accountable.

One of the things that I respect about the Mormon religion is that none of the clergy get paid. The church is based on the volunteer work of its members. We tithe 10 percent to the church and have the options of donating to other funds, which go to causes such as families in need, missionary work and disasters.

It would be nice if I had some extra cash to put some gas in the tank or get those new shoes, but I don't think it's that much to sacrifice if I consider all the blessings I've gotten. Maybe it really is hard for some people to give thanks or be fully committed once money is involved. Maybe this test of faith is too much and personal satisfaction can't overcome greed.

No Free Ride

Being a member of the Mormon church isn't easy, especially if you're a teen. There are organized groups finding any way they can to prove that it's a cult. It even gets to the point where a Mormon teen may come to school and a group of teens from a different church will gang up on him. They say that they attended a seminar or workshop during the weekend about Mormons and argue about things they don't even understand but that their pastor assured them was true.

I've seen kids come to school with little anti-Mormon pamphlets from a church and read from it to tick someone off. What ever happened to living in harmony with each other?

Maybe now that you've heard about the things we go though and the expectations we have to live up to, you have a different view of Mormon teens. The Latter-day Saints' teen population has grown in Anchorage over the years, especially in the very active Samoan wards. More teens understand what it's like to take part in a religion that weaves its way into every part of their busy lives.

It could be that the only Mormons you'll ever come across are ones that swear they're related to Napoleon Dynamite, but you should know that there are some Mormon teenagers out there who lack sleep, put up with intolerance, don't live in Utah and strive to keep their religion strong.

Katie Walther is a junior at Dimond High.

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