This Sunday’s Sacrament Meeting

podiumAs a child in the 80s, I remember often feeling a low-level dread. Not constant, not to the extent that it interfered with enjoying life, but the dread of a Cold War child that, any minute, the happy world I lived in might be destroyed in a hail of nuclear fire.[fn1]

It didn’t have anything to do with my parents, who didn’t spend any significant amount of time talking about the risk of all-out war. And I don’t recall talking about it at school or at church. But it kind of underlay the culture, emerging not infrequently from the 6:00 news. And then, of course, in 1989, that fear began to crumble.

Sadly, fear returned in 2001, and we (meaning, myopically, we in the United States) now live lives of heightened awareness of tragedy, awareness that a person with a bomb or a gun can emerge in the most unexpected places and shatter the peace that we enjoy.

I don’t want to comment on the tragedy in Boston; like many people, I’ve watched it in impotent sadness on Twitter and other places on the web. I mourn for those who have been hurt or killed, who have lost friends and loved ones, but I don’t have anything helpful or insightful to bring to the table.[fn2]

I do, though, have one request to Sacrament meeting speakers on Sunday: please don’t talk about the bombing. Or at least, please don’t talk about it explicitly.

Look, I get the motivation: I’m speaking Sunday, and I understand the need to processes the tragedy, and try to work through it. I understand the comfort that religion can bring (or, at least, try to bring) to senseless violence like this. And I think we should try to work through it from a religious perspective.

Just not in Sacrament meeting.

I ask this as a parent of small children. I don’t want them to live with the low-level worry of a Cold War child. I want them to believe the world is a good place. I want them to be afraid of Maleficent and ghosts and monsters under the bed and other things that they know, deep down, aren’t real. I don’t want them to be afraid of men with guns coming into their school, of bombs at the parade or race they’re watching.

I don’t want them to be afraid of one-in-a-million events about which they couldn’t do anything anyway.

I haven’t told my kids about Newtown. I haven’t told them about Boston. I haven’t told them about 9/11 (which happened before they were born, in any event).

For what it’s worth, we have two hours without children where we can process and work through the horror from a Mormon perspective. And I think we should use that time. Just not Sacrament Meeting.[fn3]

[fn1] That said, at least we didn’t do duck-and-cover nuclear drills in school; in Southern California, our duck-and-cover drills were earthquake-related.

[fn2] Well, except maybe this: “We actually have all the power here, and there’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.”

[fn3] Two last things: I think there probably are some wards where it would be appropriate for Sacrament Meeting speakers to address, explicitly and head-on, Boston. Wards in Boston, for example, and singles wards leap to mind.

Also, I don’t present this as normative parenting advice. You may have told your children about the bombing; I don’t see any problem with that. I’m just relating the way my wife and I have chosen to raise ours.

24 comments for “This Sunday’s Sacrament Meeting

  1. Amen.

    I’m assuming that your children are younger than mine. My oldest two are adults, and, I assume, know all about tragedy and about recent events.

    I do have a 10-year-old at home. I told her about Boston (she would have heard from her classmates in any case), but we’ve avoided watching coverage on TV.

    Kids will face reality eventually. We can’t hide them from it. But we can chose when and how to present it to them, especially when they are very young.

    Parents don’t need others trying to make that choice for us by bringing up these events in Sacrament Meeting.

  2. i agree, Kent. At some point, kids do need to be exposed. My oldest is 7. If she were older, I’d present more information. But even still, most wards I’ve been in have at least a handful of 3-to-10-year-olds.

  3. I respect the feeling motivating the post, but I beg to differ. I was scheduled to speak on what became the Sunday after 9/11. I can barely remember the original topic (something about teaching children), and on that Wednesday, a Bishopric member offered to relieve me of this responsibility. I kept it, and turned the talk into a reflection on the events. I think it worked, I think I was in the Primary Presidency at the time, I don’t recall anyone saying or feeling that it shouldn’t have been addressed. (For what it’s worth, I was in a Bay Area ward at the time. I’m in a Boston one now, and hope–not just expect, but hope–to hear this tragedy handled well by the speakers in my ward this Sunday.)

    People frequently take the stand at testimony meeting and on other Sundays and relate to us painful personal situations and tragedies. We hope they have also found a thread of hope in the Gospel, but sometimes it’s still raw and messy. We can reduce our young children’s exposure to some of the larger-scale tragedies by trammeling media within the home, but I don’t think it’s realistic to put this kind of a gag order on Sacrament Meeting.

  4. Nice post, Sam.

    The only thing worse than people talking about the bombing would be if they were to compare it to the Gadianton robbers and “secret combinations” referenced in the Book of Mormon. I got so tired of listening to those strained parallels after 9/11 that I had to stop myself from reflexively covering my ears.

    We need to develop a quiet resilience to these events and not allow the media to monopolize our attention, and that of our children, when they occur. Yes, we should mourn the suffering of those killed or wounded, but if we allow the tragedy to instill fear and alter our way of life, then the bad guys win.

  5. I’ve told my 10 year old (my oldest) who asked what happened in Boston. My 8 yr old read a headline over my shoulder and I told him the sugar-coated basics. The rest have no idea. I’m not sure asking it not to be covered will matter because I don’t know if they grasp what is really said in sacrament meeting anyway. Those old enough to hear about it are probably the ones who can understand the message…

    But I’m not sure that those that understand will hear what they should hear. So my support for Sam’s plea here is really my own distrust of my church family to cover such tragedies the way I want them to be covered with MY kids. And so weighing the two I come down on Sam’s side.

    Good post!

  6. No we don’t have cold war drills at school any more but we do have required unauthorized person in the building drills, and hiding from the gun man drills, and run to the safe place drills, and shelter in place drills, and stranger danger talks, and safe touching programs. If you want to be sure that current news including tragedies are covered the way you want you need to cover them at home first because they will be discussed at school and other public places. I agree that too much detail is not a good. I also agree some of the testimonies on fast day are not family friendly. Finally I agree finding similarities with Book of Mormon events is questionable.

  7. Let me begin by saying that I agree with everything you say, Sam. I would feel exactly the same way. However, living in Boston and being covered by your third footnote, it will be mentioned on Sunday and I won’t have a problem with it. I think it is incredibly important to move forward. Not sure we can move forward here without first acknowledging it. After that acknowledgment, I hope we will then move forward.

    I struggled with discussing Newtown with the kids. We did discuss it with them, and answered all their questions. We discovered the following Sunday that our son had fasted for the families and classmates of those who were killed. Not sure I’ll be more proud of him than I was that day. There was no question about having the discussion this time – we had no choice. They saw the pictures, and they recognized the street they have walked down, and the shops they have been in. We told them that we would be there again, and that we would keep doing the things we do in this city. They each nodded their head, and they were fine. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but those were the words that came out, and they were effective.

    I expect to hear about this on Sunday. But will be annoyed if we keep coming back to it on subsequent Sundays. Thanks, Sam.

  8. The Sunday after 9/11 I was on the high council and we were asked to address it. I did not talk much about the attacks–in fact I probably only referred to them vaguely. I believe I (and all others on the HC) spoke of the peace the gospel brings, etc. It’s been a while.

  9. I always hope for sacrament meeting talks centered on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and charity in the Lord Jesus Christ. If a sacrament meeting speaker was in Boston the other day, or feared for someone who was, and can relate that to faith, hope, and charity, he or she might have the makings of a good talk. But I really don’t feel much good after talks on social policy or societal problems.

    p.s. The best way to deal with social policy and societal problems, in my mind is through individualized faith, hope, and charity. Faith, hope, and charity is not often taught well through use of fear or social commentary — it is very personal, and our sacrament meeting talks should be more personal and less academic. My two cents worth.

  10. I often hear President Packer’s famous quote, “The study of doctrine and the teaching of doctrine will change behavior more than the study of behavior will change behavior,” being used in reference to various ‘personal’ sins (chastity, word of wisdom, etc.) But I like to think it can be stretched to a much wider context: Discussing the love of the Savior and the peace of the gospel will heal broken hearts more than discussing heart-breaking tragedies will heal broken hearts.

  11. I agree. A message about 9/11, Newton, or Boston can be given without relaying the disturbing details. I once sat in a ward conference once where the Stake President told, in excruciatingly horrifying detail about the sexual and physical abuse of a member of the stake (with their permission), in order to make a larger point about the Atonement. I felt trapped and sickened, and my children as well as all the children in the ward heard every word. Mine were young enough to have the words float over them as they played with their workbooks and ate their snacks, but there were many old enough to absorb and understand the words, and many were very upset by it. It was very hard for all involved. I truly wish he had chosen his words more carefully in that context.

  12. hpm: Thanks. I agree with you – though rather than referring to a ‘gag order’ I suggest allowing the Spirit to guide the speaker – and the listeners.

    I am NOT suggesting anyone is at fault in these situations – I’ve worked the security field for several decades and spent a year in Iraq working with their law enforcement folks. Situations may be addressed in full harmony with the Spirit.

  13. I personally lean towards your side Sam, but I think often the Spirit guides people to overtly mention things for other individuals who need it. The Sunday after Newtown, the Bishop spontaneously asked a few people to bear testimonies. Also, I as the ward music chairmain was led to pick a hymn I’m not a huge fan of ‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day.’

    I see this stuff as my personal preference, and not necessarily a good official approach. Although it breaks my heart for my young kids to start learning about stuff like this, I think a gradual approach may be better than just kind of letting things come full force in the teenage years and possibly disallusioning them?

  14. Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Cameron, I’m not averse to a vague reference: “In thinking about the tragedy in Boston” seems like a perfectly fine way to start talking about comfort or inspiration or whatever. But “When I saw the bombs go off . . .” isn’t what I want my kids to hear.

    Also, as I said, there are two hours without kids where the Spirit can guide us to enter into balming conversations with our fellow Saints; those two hours don’t risk exposing children to horrors that they can do nothing about except be afraid.

  15. My wife and I have intentionally kept the news of the Boston bombings away from our two youngest (8 and 11). Our 11-year-old has dealt with anxiety all his life, and I was hoping we could keep the news from him at least until there was some kind of closure to the story, (those responsible were caught and will face justice). However, on the way to school this morning he told me that he heard about the bombs in Boston from a friend at school and that he heard the bombs were in garbage cans (I hadn’t heard that but this is coming from a young kid). It was then that I knew I should have been proactive and prepped him for the eventual news.

    But having said that, I can relate to your post, Sam. I know of some church members that are so quick to point to any recent tragic global event, perhaps magnify it further for effect, and then relate it to the impending “End Times” in a fatalistic tone.

    I so much do not want to hear that in this Sunday’s Sacrament Meeting, or anywhere else for that matter.

  16. Having lived in a country, Ivory Coast, where bombings and killings occurred often and living in Western Africa now with my family, oldest of three being 8, I disagree from my local viewpoint. Our oldest knows all about these things and many other tragedies. I think they would be (will be when we return) surprised to find out that Americans as a culture don’t talk to and/or expose their kids to suffering in the world enough that such incidents couldn’t be mentioned in sacrament meeting.

    Having said that, recognizing that Americans don’t do so, it would not be culturally relevant to go into much detail at all in a sacrament meeting. Which I think, personally, highlights American ignorance.

    Regardless, to begin to ‘interpret’ such incidents in relation to any sort of prophecy is terribly misguided, arrogant, and dangerous–and I hope that if someone did mention the incident they would absolutely refrain from politicizing it.

    My wife and I see that inoculating our kids in temporal affairs is just as beneficial as in spiritual affairs. We believe in helping our children feel safe, but not naive.

  17. Sam:

    My oldest is six and I don’t think she even listens to a word of Sacrament Meeting. Either children develop greatly between 6 and 7, or you have one exceptional child on your hands. What’s your secret =)?

    Otherwise, though, I do agree.

    As an aside, I recently learned that a friend of mine in the Irvine stake is also a good friend of yours. Small world.

  18. How often do we hear talks in Sacrament Meetings and in General Conference referring to the tragedies that are part of our Mormon history, including the tar and feathering attack on Joseph Smith in Ohio, the suffering of Smith and other leaders in Liberty Jail and the evacuation from Missouri, the malaria suffered by the saints in Nauvoo, the martyrdom, the attacks on the saints in Nauvoo and their suffering on the pioneer trail, the Martin and Willie handcart company tragedies, the suffering of members during the polygamy persecutions? We are asked to identify closely with the saints who experienced those events. They are used as a way of teaching us that “all these things shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good”, and that the Savior suffered even more than that in order to rescue us. So there is clearly a proper way to discuss tragedies and suffering in the context of a worship service.

    What I don’t want to see and hear in church is someone indulging in an exercise of displaying how much personal empathy they have with the actual victims, or of focusing on the details of the suffering in order to evoke our fear or disgust or anger (essentially what the news media do). The message of Sacrament meeting is that in the face of all the wickedness and suffering of life, we have a Rescuer. We are there to reaffirm that we are children of the Rescuer, that we will continue His work, that we will exercise faith, teach hope, and embody charity. That is our response to every tragedy, large or small. It enables us to not just “move on”, but to push along to our destination, laying the foundation for a Zion that will be perfected and built upon by the returning Savior.

  19. Chadwick, the thing is, I’m often surprised at what my kids pick up; I often think they’re not paying attention when they suddenly chime in.

  20. Does keeping political/societal affairs out of the chapel include using our chapels to run de facto Mitt Romney campaigns?

  21. ray, I’m sure you’ll agree that any of our anecdotal complaints can’t be reasonably extrapolated to the whole church. It certainly wouldn’t be because people weren’t given counsel in that regard…

  22. Some of you would have loved our Sacrament meeting today. Nobody even mentioned Boston. It was as if it hadn’t happened. The bishopric was silent, those praying ignored it, the speakers ignored it — and one of the speakers had run in the marathon! Instead we had another boring round of talks on missionary work. I’m sorry, but when we sit around and wonder why we have a member retention problem, we might just point the finger at ourselves. Of course the ultimate aim is to bring all to Jesus as savior and redeemer, but if we can’t relate our church and the gospel and Jesus to the world around us, I think caring people will go elsewhere.

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