The tireless Kevin Barney is hosting a discussion of LDS apologetics for teenagers over at BCC, trying to get a handle on the tone, approach, and content of a fireside-type presentation to LDS youth on that topic. Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that one of the challenges is how the topics that get thrown at Mormons (and that therefore get discussed by LDS apologists) change from generation to generation and how this might be a problem.
Here’s the setup: Teenagers are (obviously) in their teens. Their parents are in their thirties and forties. Local leaders span roughly the forties to sixties. Senior LDS leaders cover an age bracket from about the sixties to the nineties. That’s four different generations (which I will not try to name). The problem is that each of these generations faced (or faces) a different set of apologetic issues in their formative early years. So when you say “apologetics,” the issues that leap to mind to different individuals are often a function of their generational cohort. An “apologetic fireside” might have a completely different agenda depending on the age or generation of the person planning it.
Let me try to give some examples. I think for the local leadership, most of whom came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, the priesthood issue, “women’s liberation,” and drugs were examples of issues that would confront young Latter-day Saints. I think the issues of that period were primarily doctrinal, and an informed response would explain the basis (or lack thereof) for LDS doctrines related to these or other issues by reference primarily to the scriptures and the doctrines implied there.
In the 1980s and 1990s, historical issues became more central to criticism and the LDS apologetic response. The emergence of the New Mormon History probably moved the discussion toward these issues, but external events such as the rediscovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri certainly played a role as well. An informed “apologetic response” to these types of issues requires some familiarity with LDS history. Since many Mormons are fairly uninformed about LDS history (as compared to their knowledge of the scriptures and LDS doctrine), it was harder for many Latter-day Saints to respond to these issues, even for themselves.
Here we are in the nameless first decade of the 21st century. Historical issues are still standard fare for apologetics, but my impression is that a new set of cultural issues are now the primary apologetic concern of LDS teenagers. In high school and college, LDS youth have to deal with or explain to their peers issues like why LDS youth won’t get tattoos, why LDS youth won’t typically cheat on exams (answer sharing is surprisingly common at some schools), why modesty is such a big deal in the Church, etc. While there is a doctrinal angle to these issues, of course, I think it is fair to call them “cultural” because LDS youth aren’t being asked to defend LDS doctrine, they’re being asked to defend LDS culture and their own “intolerant” lifestyle choices. And it there’s one think teenagers don’t want to be called, it’s intolerant.
Obviously, I’m generalizing a bit and it wouldn’t be hard to throw out a cultural issue that faced Mormons in the 1960s or a doctrine that remains an apologetic issue today. But I think the contrast is useful. Coming back around to Kevin’s apologetic fireside, I doubt most LDS parents or local leaders think of cultural issues as needing apologetic responses, but teenagers (who have to deal with it more directly) probably do. Maybe they need less of a doctrine and history review than some clear thinking about the historical and practical context of pressing LDS cultural issues. Maybe “three reasons not to get a tattoo other than that my body is the temple of my spirit” is what they’re really after.