Virtue, Part One: More modesty, please

Depending on your personal circumstances and inclination to pay attention to stuff that goes on at church, you may or may not be aware that for the last twenty years the Young Women’s program has revolved around seven “Young Women values”: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice & Accountability, Good Works, and Integrity. Each value has a corresponding color. Faith is white, Divine Nature is…blue…I think. I’m pretty sure Choice & Accountability is orange. I don’t know, I was on my way out of Young Women when they came up with this stuff, so I never really got around to mastering it. Doesn’t matter. The point is that they had these values, see, color-coordinated for the sake of mnemonics and aesthetical pleasure, and over the course of your six years in Young Women, you were to have so many “value experiences” in each of the seven areas, and also compete a project or something in each area. (I, ah, never actually earned my Young Women medallion…but I did listen to a lot of people talk to me about earning it, so I’m kind of like an expert, just not certified.)

Anyway, recently the church announced that they would be adding an eighth Young Women value: Virtue. (Corresponding color: gold—not to be confused with yellow, which is… Knowledge? Or something.) My initial reaction was, “Well, okay. Virtue is good, but it’s kind of gratuitous in the face of Good Works and Integrity, isn’t it? Unless they mean Chastity, of course. Then it’s gratuitous for a whole other reason.” Well, it turns out that as far as the Young Women’s program is concerned, Virtue means “high moral standards, including chastity and moral purity.” Of course.

(Incidentally, when the YW president announced that the young women would now be required to have “Virtue” experiences, I turned to the women next to me and asked, “Isn’t the point not to have experiences?” She didn’t get it.)

Let’s be clear about this much: Chastity is a very good thing. Personally, I’m a fan. If we were on Facebook right now, you’d be getting a notification on your newsfeed: “Rebecca J. has become a fan of Chastity.” (Actually, if you’ve changed your Facebook language to “Pirate,” it would say, “Rebecca J. now be flyin’ the flag o’ Chastity.” Which would be extra fitting, since Young Women are so fond of flags.) Chastity is important, and I don’t have a problem with the Church emphasizing it. I don’t even have a problem insofar as the Church tells young women that they should “help” their priesthood-bearing counterparts remain chaste, for the simple reason that when it comes to illicit and premature sexual activity, young women have more to lose. Some will take issue with this assertion, but I don’t care because that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. I’m just letting you all know how very much I favor teaching Chastity to our young women.

But I’m not a fan of this eighth value, Virtue, and I’ll tell you why.

1. It’s creepy.

Seriously, is it not embarrassing enough to be a young woman without people constantly drawing attention to your purity (insert fancy curlicue lettering)? It’s not that chastity is anything to be ashamed of, or that we need to be squeamish about sexuality, but getting up in church every week and declaring your chaste intentions just seems a little gauche and, well, not very modest.

And somehow the use of “virtue” as a euphemism for sexual “cleanliness” smacks simultaneously of prudery and prurience. If we mean Chastity, why can’t we just say Chastity? Because Chastity reminds us too much of sex? But now Virtue is going to be reminding us of sex. If you ask me, it’s just that much worse, given that Virtue starts with V, which is also the first letter in virginity and vagina. It has sex written all over it, and the flashy gold lettering doesn’t help matters. Sure, I understand that all the good colors were taken—white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple were already representing the original seven values; indigo is too subtle, and brown is too, you know, dirty. So of course they turned to gold, and why not, as Virtue (i.e. Chastity) is most precious? Which brings me to my second, more salient point.

2. It distorts the value of chastity to remove it from the context of an ordered, virtuous (if you’ll pardon the expression) life and make it an end in itself.

As I just said, I do not dispute the importance of chastity. I don’t dispute the importance of honesty, either. I assume we want our young women to be honest just as much as we want them to be “virtuous.” Honesty gets its own temple recommend question, but it doesn’t get its own Young Women value and corresponding color. Why not? Well, duh, it’s implied by these “old” values, like Accountability (yellow?) and Integrity (purple—I’m pretty sure). But so is chastity. So are all the commandments. We don’t have a value and corresponding color for Not Murdering People either. Are you feeling me?

Back when they were first kicking the Seven Values around, Janice Kapp Perry wrote a song especially for the Young Women program called “I Walk by Faith.” We learned it when I was, I think, a Mia Maid. At the time, I didn’t like to sing, and I thought the song was cheesy. I suppose it is cheesy, but I still remember the words:

I walk by faith (FAITH!),
A daughter of heav’nly parents,
DIVINE am I in NATURE by inheritance.
The spirit whispers of my mission,
My INDIVIDUAL WORTH,
So I seek for precious KNOWLEDGE,
For learning and for growth.
I understand the meaning of ACCOUNTABILITY;
Every choice for good or ill is my responsibility.
I want to build the kingdom, so GOOD WORKS is the key.
By doing what I know is right,
I show INTEGRITY.

Please disregard the forced rhymes and incorrect grammar. (It’s a musical, people—go with it!) This verse illustrates how the seven values build upon one another. Faith in the gospel, which teaches one’s divine nature (and destiny!), leads to a sense of one’s individual worth, which in turn leads to a desire for more knowledge, which leads to accountability, which leads to good works, and then the piece de resistance, integrity.

Virtue, as it is being defined for this program—i.e. Chastity—is not a culmination of the preceding seven values. If you have the preceding seven values, Chastity is integrated (I’ll take root words for $200, Alex!) therein, as are Honesty and Saying No to Drugs and Not Hitting People with Sticks. The song makes it clear! And if you thought it was a challenge to fit the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth presidents of the church into the last few bars of “Latter-day Prophets,” try tacking on “By keeping my legs crossed, I protect my Virtue like the golden prize that it is” to this little ditty. (Poor Janice!)

To be fair, I must acknowledge that the program intends Virtue to encompass more than mere abstinence from non-marital sex. From the information on the church’s web site and my extensive training in Mormonism, I infer that “moral purity” consists of abstinence from sex, modesty in dress and general wholesomeness in thought and deed—all very good and useful things. Can I say for a third time that I admire and encourage chastity and everything like unto it? I’m not trying to pick a fight, and yet here I am, about to take issue with Sister Mary N. Cook, first counselor in the General YW presidency, saying, “If you are virtuous, you are strong. It is power and it is strength. It is all derived by being pure.”

I don’t have an issue with the words themselves, which are true. Virtue is strength. That’s what virtue means. But the strength is derived from a purity of heart, from the integrity (that word again!) of one’s soul. I’ve no doubt that Sister Cook would agree with that. But I fear that when we use the word “virtue” as a synonym for “chastity,” young women are apt to take a simplistic (and false) view of chastity as the cause of their virtue, rather than an aspect. It’s not uncommon for our young women who fall short of this ideal—i.e. sexual “purity” (however one defines it) before marriage—to experience a sharp and sustained drop in their sense of self-worth, something that goes beyond the natural (and useful) remorse leading to repentance; in fact it may threaten her future relationships with men as well as with the church (not to mention God).

It isn’t that people shouldn’t feel guilty for sinning. They should. But it’s crucial that they keep their sins–as well as their good works–in perspective. Keeping the commandments makes us strong–and virtuous. But the virtue of chastity should not bear the weight of being Virtue Itself.

In Part Two: What I wish they meant by “virtue.”

Comments

  1. Very fascinating analysis—I’m looking forward to part two.

    They really chose gold? I guess technically it’s a color. But when I think gold, I think metal, not rainbow. So, not only does the latest addition not fall in the proper contextual order, as you suggest, there also appears to be some problems w/ contextual aesthetics.

    If they’re running out of colors, maybe they could change the thing so that each value has a corresponding metal. Something to think about.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    This made me think of this passage, from my Footnotes:

    2 Peter 1:5-7:

    5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

    Vv. 5-7 reflect a rhetorical device called a climax (from the GR word for ladder), in which the last word in one series is the first word of the next (so “to A add B, and to B add C, and to C add D”). Generally, a climax reflects an upward sweep, with the most important qualities at the top of the ladder. Represented graphically,

    faith

    virtue
    virtue

    knowledge
    knowledge

    temperance
    temperance

    patience
    patience

    godliness
    godliness

    brotherly kindness
    brotherly kindness

    charity

    [Imagine this as a staircase with faith at the bottom and charity at the top; I can’t make the graphic work in a comment.]

    In this scheme, faith forms the foundation of these godly qualities, and the highest of them is charity (Christ-like love). Cf. 1 Cor. 13.

    [So according to Peter, virtue is near the bottom of this particular ladder.]

  3. I personally do not have any issue with the word ‘virtue.’ I found your tone disappointing. Maybe YW leaders today should be applauded for being more forthright — instead of working their way around to modesty/chastity/purity of thought through good works and integrity, now they can hit the nail right on the head. Sometimes teens need things spelled out plainly.

    My guess is there is a greater need now to be more direct with the YW, what with all the lack of virtue the media (particularly online sources) afford. My daughter is not quite old enough to be in YW yet, but as a parent I will look forward to her hearing lessons reinforcing these issues. There are too few supporting causes for what we are teaching her in the home.

  4. The etymology of the word virtue is interesting here–it comes from the Latin virtus which means maleness. (The vir- is also in virile.)

    Since maleness hasn’t really been associated with chastity in known history, it seems an ironic choice of word for a Young Women’s value.

  5. This post reminds me that I really really hate how the church uses the word “morality” as a euphemism for chastity. I wonder what color morality is.

  6. So, if a girl has sex, can she still get her YM medallion if she repents? Or is virtue, once lost, irretrievable? How long will it be before the message subtly becomes “virtuous = virgin”?

  7. I agree with Ann – I also think that adding virtue as a value could be very alienating for a girl who has made some mistakes. If I had to stand up every week and read something off a wall that reminded me of one of my major sins I would stop coming to church real fast. Everyone knows that we all struggle with faith, or integrity, but virtue (when it means chastity) brings up something else entirely.

  8. After 5 years I am within three letters of finishing my cross stich of the YW theme and they announce a new value. Aargh!

  9. This post reminds me that I really really hate how the church uses the word “morality” as a euphemism for chastity. I wonder what color morality is.

    It’s the color of dazzling sequins! (but NOT the colors of a rainbow)

  10. Seriously, though — outstanding post, Rebecca. This is really a post about language and euphemism. We develop code words to signify things that we consider to be important, but which for largely puritanical reasons we don’t want to talk about up front and directly. A notable example here would be the use of the word “gender” in the PoF as a stand-in for biological sex. Because, like, could you imagine if the FP/Q12 all signed a doc repeatedly laced with the word SEX?!?!?!?!?!? Problem is, this interferes with our ability to talk (and think) clearly about some things. We take words like “morality” and “modesty” — which don’t actually by themselves connote things sexual — and we use them to tell one another not to have pre-marital sex and (at least in the case of our females) not to allow our bodies to serve as living pr0nography for our helpless, weak-willed males. But the euphemisms, over time, weaken the referential capacity of the words in question, so we have to find new ones, lite Virtue. Morality has its meaning narrowed to no non-approved kinds of sex, but then becomes itself a rather weak and inadequate way of (not) talking about bad sex. Same with modesty and, uh, appropriate dress standards. Next on the chopping block, virtue.

  11. How long will it be before the message subtly becomes “virtuous = virgin”?

    Subtly? It already is, for all intents and purposes.

    I found your tone perfect, RJ.

  12. Thanks Rebecca. Yeah, this seemed to me to be a strange way to react to what is a major worry for church authorities. I think there should be more worrying about helping to raise strong, well-rounded girls who are confident in themselves and capable of making good decisions. I really think this way of hyper emphasizing chastity really hinders girls in relationships later in life, and is condemnatory of those who do not live up to expectations. I think there is probably a better means of dealing with the craziness of hormones that teenagers experience.

  13. StillConfused says:

    The pot of Gold at the end of the rainbow! They got the idea from Lucky Charms cereal!

  14. Rebecca (3) – I have no problem with YW leaders being forthright or with spelling things out. The explicit goal is to prepare young women to make temple covenants and, implicitly, prevent them from committing sexual sins that will prevent or delay them making those covenants. It is a beautiful goal. I support it. I just don’t think it was necessary to tweak Personal Progress (and unfortunately, in such an inelegant way). I also hope they’ve got something else up their sleeve besides a new flag.

    I don’t think having Chastity/Virtue as the eighth value is necessarily going to lead to more young women feeling alienated and overly guilty in the event that they stray from the ideal. I just don’t think it’s going to be particularly helpful in that regard, either.

  15. iguacufalls says:

    Chastity is integrated (I’ll take root words for $200, Alex!) therein

    Not to sound too much like a stuffy linguist (cause I’m not), but the root word here is “integer” meaning “whole”, “complete” or “untouched”, according to the etymological dictionary. Just like in High School Algebra.

  16. Martin Willey says:

    I recently attended a meeting where there was a big talk about the new eighth value by a YM General Board member. She went to great lengths to describe virtue as something encompassing, but not limited to, sexual purity. But, from there it got a little confusing. It was like she could not decide if the message was chastity or integrity. Or that chastity was part of integrity (I said it got confusing). Maybe they were not quite ready to roll out the new value?

  17. Still Confused -LOL. :)

  18. iguacafalls – Obviously, you would kick my butt on Jeopardy.

  19. As a current YW leader, this post completely describes my disappointment with this “new value.” While I am all for virtue, I hate using it as a euphemism for chaste and/or modesty (and hear hear to the comment that said a similar thing about the meaning of “moral” in the church). Furthermore, I think that if the girls understand and are making an effort to live the other seven values, particularly the 7th value Integrity, then this virtue business is, at best, redundant.

    From another angle, I’ve been EXTREMELY disappointed regarding the role out of this. We’ve been given the instructions to add it to the theme, etc and therefore have done so. But I have no idea what to tell the girls they mean by virtue and have been given very little direction about it. As per above, I’m not exactly thrilled about the idea of explaining it to them as a euphemism. So our presidency has basically ignored it – only adding it to the theme and nothing else.

  20. Rebecca:

    You realize, of course, that the Young Women are just now catching up with what the Boy Scouts have been espousing for decades:

    On my honor, I will do my best
    To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
    To help other people at all times;
    To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

    I don’t think virtue is “creepy” in the slightest, nor is it somehow limited to the Young Women. As someone who raised six daughters and three sons, I can tell you that it is a vital characteristic for men and women, both young and old. I’ve gotten to watch, up close and personal among those I love the most, the devastating and lasting effects of a lack of virtue. So think carefully about what you mock and dismiss. ..bruce..

  21. “So think carefully about what you mock and dismiss…”

    Bruce, Rebecca made it very clear that she does not dismiss or mock this topic. I don’t think that was fair to her.

  22. It is probably worth pointing out that the word virtue has long been a euphemism for chastity, particularly when being applied to a young lady. The church is not creating this usage by any stretch.

    Cole, I would think that if they have not given very much direction about what is meant by virtue that is a good thing. You could give a lesson in which you teach your young women that even though being “virtuous” is sometimes viewed narrowly as a euphemism for chastity, the words actually has a much deeper meaning and refers to moral excellence, courage, righteousness, and valor. Even if it is redundant, as Rebecca J points out, you could inoculate them against the stuff Rebecca J points out.

  23. Mark Brown says:

    This post is virtuous, lovely, and of good report. Also praiseworthy.

    Last October sister Dalton (who is the general YW president) gave a talk called A Return to Virtue (yes, it has flags and banners!). I think her sermon gives some background into the processes that went into the announcement of this new value. After re-reading her talk, I surmise that the consensus is that our YW are still dressing immodestly and chasing boys, so something additional is called for. Presto, a new virtue. I mean value.

  24. Wait — you can set your Facebook language to “Pirate”?

  25. Mark Brown says:

    kuri, on the bottom left, you change from English(US) to English(Pirate) – BETA.

  26. Thanks Mark.

  27. Plus, adding another value also makes the YW manifesto (proclamation? I’ve forgotten what it’s actually called) awkward to recite. Over Christmas I was in a ward where the Young Women joined the Relief Society for their opening exercises, and when reciting the manifesto half of the room added the virtue value and half didn’t. It totally threw off our groove.

    And I also agree with your idea that it’s a rather redundant value, and gold is a silly choice for the color (BTW, good works is the yellow one).

  28. You realize, of course, that the Young Women are just now catching up with what the Boy Scouts have been espousing for decades:

    “On my honor, I will do my best
    To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
    To help other people at all times;
    To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

    “Morally straight” in the context of the Scout Oath doesn’t mean “chaste” (although it may include that). It means: “to live your life with honesty, to be clean in your speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character.”

  29. Jacob,

    Yes, at first it seems that way. But topics incorporating sex in YW are touchy. We have a pretty small (all three classes meet as one) but diverse group with parents who have widely different approaches to this sort of thing. Hence, when we do lessons that are related to dating, sex, and even modesty, we stick to bare basic facts and doctrine instead of euphemisms. The last thing I want to do is open a can of worms with no “official” backing. I suppose we could use “A Return to Virtue.”

    Regarding saying virtue is bigger than keeping our sexual desires and messages appropriate – well it is. And that is always how I’ve approached Integrity… something that was pointed out by one of our Laurels immediately.

  30. Rebecca, I have enjoyed and agreed with pretty much everything you’ve written here – up until now. Young men have been taught to be virtuous as a separate characteristic for years; our 13th Article of Faith says we believe in being virtuous, and it’s not specific to any group regardless of sex or age or even marital status; the characteristics of godliness listed in 2 Peter 1 (referenced by KB in comment #2) include virtue; I could go on and on and on.

    I think it is ironic that I read harsh diatribes in various places around the Bloggernacle occasionally about how Church members need to be more open when teaching their children about sex, and yet we are appalled when the Church decides it should emphasize “virtue” as an explicit standard for the young women (again, when it has been part of what the young men have heard for decades with that exact same term) – especially in posts that acknowledge that the Church has stated that virtue is not being equated narrowly with chastity.

    Frankly, that’s my biggest problem with this post – the number of times you stated, essentially,

    “I know the Church has said over and over again that ‘virtue’ does not equal just ‘chastity’ – but I don’t believe it. It’s going to morph into just chastity in local YW programs, so the Church shouldn’t do it – regardless of the fact that they say that’s not what they want.”

    (I counted at least five times when you insist that “virtue” means nothing more than “chastity” – and your third paragraph makes it crystal clear that you’ve rejected the actual stated meaning and reduced it to nothing more than chastity, since it is perfectly possible to have “virtue” experiences if the term doesn’t mean only chastity.)

    I also share your concern that in some local units this value will be reduced to chastity, but I can’t reject the focus simply because it might be misunderstood or misapplied in places. If we do that, we might as well reject all focus on individual values, since they all have the potential to be abused or misunderstood in some way – and often with disastrous effects.

    I’m not sure I could disagree more with this post.

  31. I guess why I am unimpressed is that if virtue is a big enough deal to increase the YW program by 1/7th, then it should be a big enough deal to put some definitions and parameters regarding the learning objectives when they role the value out.

  32. One significant problem with defining virtue for YW, of course, is that the word has as its root ‘vir’, which is “man.” Virtue means something like manly strength. Talk about gender confusion!

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Here, I’ll help. From Lewis & Short, the Latin dictionary, for virtus (the source of English virtue:

    manliness, manhood, i. e. the sum of all the corporeal or mental excellences of man, strength, vigor; bravery, courage; aptness, capacity; worth, excellence, virtue, etc

    Military talents, courage, valor, bravery, gallantry, fortitude

    So you can use this for your next YW lesson on virtue.

  34. If we are going to start citing dictionary definitions, how about we quote modern definitions? I’m lazy, so from dictionary.com:

    1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
    2. conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
    3. chastity; virginity: to lose one’s virtue.
    4. a particular moral excellence. Compare cardinal virtues, natural virtue, theological virtue.
    5. a good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one’s weaknesses.
    6. effective force; power or potency: a charm with the virtue of removing warts.
    7. virtues, an order of angels. Compare angel (def. 1).
    8. manly excellence; valor.

    Yep, let’s reduce it to two of the definitions (#3 and #8) and ignore the other six. The church seems to be using 6 of the 8 (not #7 or #8), so limiting the value to #3 and #8 seems fair.

  35. I’m even lazier than Ray, so I’m not even searching the e-scriptures. The two scriptural statements that occur first to me are: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (Ray’s #1), and the woman with the issue of blood who touched the hem of Christ’s robe and “he felt virtue go out of him” (Ray’s #6).

    There are lots of ways to understand the value without waiting to have it spelled out or thinking that it can only be a synonym for abstinence. Chastity isn’t a synonym for abstinence, either.

  36. #33:
    > Military talents, …

    And now we come full circle back to pirates. :-)

  37. I’m a YW president and I talked to the girls about the new value a few weeks ago. I asked them what word virtue meant and they said things like “goodness”, “overall righteousness”, etc. I agreed with them and the subject of chastity never came up.

    The YW leaders can make whatever they want out of this. It doesn’t have to be the ‘don’t get pregnant in high school’ value.

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Good point, Ardis. It’s an interestingly little phenomenon we have going here.

  39. Amen, Rebecca. My first thought was that this was just a way to insert more (inappropriate and superfluous) modesty lessons into the curriculum. And a way to justify that new “modesty advisor” calling. :)

  40. Mark Brown says:

    If we expand the definition of virtue to mean something beyong chastity, Rebecca’s larger point still applies. Faith, courage, honesty, loyalty, and charity are all virtues. If we use virtue as a catch-all for everything else, what is the point?

  41. I am with Ray on this one.

    I have been thinking (and reading) the multiple ways the word virtue is used in the scriptures (Ardis brings up a couple of the key ones). Virtue in the scriptures is, more than once, equated with power.

    If a young woman were to search on this topic, she’d quickly see that there is much more to the word’s meaning than simply keeping virginity. (Even the specific mention of the virtue of the virgins offered up in Abr. 1:11 includes more than just their virginity as part of their virtue — they wouldn’t practice idolatry, either.)

    I think there is much potential here with this concept, and while I know there is a focus on the morality aspect of it (I saw the letter announcing the value, and I think that is not a bad thing), imo, there can be much drawn from the scriptures on this value as well. Like any other Christlike characteristic, there are layers of meaning in the word.

    I think it would be better to temper knee-jerk responses to this value, which, imo, will only increase the chance that the teaching and exploration of this value will be limited. (I also doubt there are many young women who would equate this word with a manly trait. It seems pretty clear to me that, in the scriptures, it’s not tied to gender, and I think we ought not limit the concept in such a way.)

    (I also like the fact that the leaders are willing to take something that has been used and that has stayed the same for a while (these seven values) and adapt it to focus on what they feel inspired to focus on. We live in a day when virtue — all faces of that concept — is sorely needed.)

  42. If we use virtue as a catch-all for everything else, what is the point?

    While I’m here, I’ll share my thought on that — if the scriptures use the terms as a separate characteristic (it’s not presented as a catch-all for everything else), why not the young women theme?

  43. Rebecca–I had pretty much the same reaction to the announcement of the new value you did. I’m really hoping virtue doesn’t morph into chastity. As for saying the YW theme, I’ve completely given up on that when the YW meet with the RS. First they add that stupid line about protecting home and family or whatever it is, and now they’ve added a new value. My ossified brain can’t handle all the change!

  44. I”m not bothered by adding virtue, though I think it ought to be at the same place in the ranking that Peter puts it (see Kevin’s comment, #2). I’m bothered by the very idea that these are values. I could get Nietschean and talk about what is wrong with values (short answer: they are ultimately subjective), but I’ll spare you.

    What I object to most is saying that this is a list of values. “One of my values is divine nature” isn’t good English since divine nature is a state of being, not a value. It’s like saying “One of my socks is gravity.”

    And as long as I’m being grumpy, divine nature isn’t one of the things on the list, it is what comes from not only avoiding the lust of the world (verse 4), but also doing the things that follow in verses 5-7. That is more clear in most modern translations than it is in the KJV, though it isn’t all that obscure there.

    I’m sure that the list has been used for good, but it could be used for the same good and be done in a way that is integrated reasonably with the scriptures.

  45. Wow, this is an interesting thread. I’ve not much to add, except to brag that my wife earned the Young Women’s Medallion twice! (Once as a child, and again as an adult.)

  46. I love your posts, RJ. While reading, I had this image of the Junior Anti-Sex League from 1984. My wife has been puzzled over the meaning of Virtue in the YW context as well, and has got different responses from different sources. Dalton’s money quote seems to be,

    Virtue “is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.” It encompasses chastity and moral purity.

    The meaning of encompasses’ seems to be the issue, or why that clarification is necessary. In that regard, it’s important to have these kinds of posts — to stake a claim on what the word means.

  47. Interesting thread, indeed! I’m really enjoying this one. My orginal thoughts about this new “value” were very much like Rebecca J’s. I heard about this from my recently-turned-twelve daughter, and I confess, rolled my eyes. She and I have already discussed how about 80% or so of the For Strength of Youth Pamphlet is all about not having sex..(don’t wear clothes that make someone think about sex, don’t listen to music that makes you think about sex, don’t watch movies about sex, don’t go places where you might be able to have sex, don’t dance in ways that make anyone think about sex, etc, etc, etc).
    All that, and my bad attitude about YW’s in general aside…some of the comments here have influenced me to feel a little less harsh about “virtue”, and the depth that there is in that word, in the scriptures. Thank you for that, and all the other great comments.

  48. Peter LLC says:

    Well done, except for the reckless (and, frankly, un-American) use of “gauche” and “piece de resistance” in a post on the English language. Why isn’t our native vocabulary enough for you?

  49. Wow. This is right on. My wife and I were just talking about this the other day.

    I echo complaint about gold. I don’t envy the YW leaders (like my wife) who are inevitably going to have to pick out girls camp shirts/flags/bandanas/socks/whatever-it-is-they’re-handing-out-at-girls-camp-these-days that are yellow, orange, gold and all distinguishably different colors. I’m pretty sure that some blue-green/teal variety was still available. But the more laughable oversight is that there is still no pink value.

    Adding “virtue” to the list of virtues just sounds silly and snubbing pink in favor of gold is even more pathetic.

    “As we strive to uphold the Young Women values which are white, blue, red, green, orange, yellow, purple, and gold.”

  50. By keeping my legs crossed, I protect my virtue like the golden prize that it is

    I laughed at this so hard that I snorted.

    This was a timely lesson– I was just called into the Mia Maids. I haven’t heard a thing about the new value, so when it comes up I’ll have already done some thinking about it.

  51. Er… timely BLOG POST, not lesson. *headsmack*

  52. The Right Trousers says:

    If I were to say that when talking about issues in a modern context, people who dig up a word’s Latin origin look incredibly out-of-touch, would it deter those same people from doing it again?

    I would hope so. It’s fun to think you have your fingers on the pulse of the Church’s youth… but Latin? Let’s not kid ourselves. If you’re groping for Latin roots, you’re less connected with the times than those fifteen geezers in Salt Lake.

  53. The value is not exclusively defined as chastity. Where are you getting that information? Everything I’ve seen so far explicitly does NOT reference only chastity, but moral strength and temple worthiness. Those are not code for chastity or modesty. If they wanted chastity to be its own value they would have just called it that. Sister Dalton has a broader definition in mind, if you’d read her talk, and so should we.

  54. Ray and Ardis,
    Respectfully, you are missing the point. Rebecca isn’t arguing that virtue does not have a larger meaning. The problem is, as has been pointed out, that the larger meaning is already encompassed by the other virtues of the YW chant. So, to those listening, virtue obviously isn’t about faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, accountability, good works, and integrity; it must be something that is complementary. So then, what is virtue? Rebecca is suggesting that in most wards it will be turned into shorthand for chastity, partly because it is the first thing that came to mind and partly because she is familiar with the “morality talk” which was ostensibly to teach us about morality in YM/YW, but always seemed to wind up being about how to not have sex, look at pron, or engage in related behavior. Being familiar with that reduction of morality to sexual morality, I’m not all that shocked by this reduction of virtue to sexual virtue. I think that RJ is probably right.

    And, sadly, today’s meaning of losing one’s virtue is not the same as the KJV’s.

  55. Also, Jim F is absolutely correct in everything he says. I think teaching the youth about Nietzsche could do a world of good.

  56. I grant that in some wards, the presentation and focus will be reductive. But it is anyway, for any given value. I’m just saying that it’s uninformed to claim that’s what the intent is from the top, when everything we’ve seen so far goes out of its way not to reduce this to “chastity.”

  57. Mark Brown says:

    Right Trousers, # 52,

    If I were to say that when talking about issues in a modern context, people who dig up a word’s Latin origin look incredibly out-of-touch, would it deter those same people from doing it again?

    In her sermon in general conference about this new value, YW pres. Dalton said this:

    Virtue is a word we don’t hear often in today’s society, but the Latin root word virtus means strength.

    Right Trousers, I think this is where you say “Doh!”

    Also, if I were to say, when talking about the leadership of the church, that people who refer to them as fifteen old geezers quickly make themselves unwelcome around here, would it deter those same people from doing it again?

  58. Mark Brown says:

    OK, I’ve rummaged through my wife’s YW stuff and found that a special section of the Church News was published to help leaders implement this new value. Here is the link. The list includes honesty, self discipline, faith, fairness, humility, chastity, and moderation, cleanliness, courage, and grace. Those are all admirable things, but faith is already in the theme, and the others are already implicit. It appears to me that, rather than adding on ten new values, they just decided to use one as a catch-all, and tack it on to the end. In the theme, it has the same effect as saying “all of the above, and much, much more!”

    Although it does make the theme a bit more clunky, I think if I were a leader I would welcome this new approach. Since it is defined so nebulously, it gives leaders a lot of freedom to seek inspiration, adapt, and improvise according to the needs of the YW in their class.

  59. Mark Brown says:

    And I still think Rebecca is correct. Even though we list all those other attributes of good character, modesty and chastity received the lion’s share of the attention in Sister Dalton’s general conference talk. I would be very surprised if local YW leaders do not follow her example and emphasize the same things.

  60. 54: John C, I understand that Rebecca understands that there is a larger definition. What I do not understand is the overall point we’re supposed to be taking away from this (maybe that will be made clear in Part Two). Rebecca seems to be saying, “Because a lot of lazy people will reduce ‘virtue’ to ‘abstinence,’ and because I find that problematical for reasons X, Y, and Z, we shouldn’t teach ‘virtue’ as a value.”

  61. Ardis,
    My takeaway is that saying ‘virtue’ is a value is a bit like saying ‘hot’ is a temperature. In isolation, virtue could mean just about anything, which isn’t exactly helpful in terms of setting goals and accomplishing them (as the attributes are supposed to help you do, if I understand them correctly). Of course, many of the other attributes are similarly vague, so why complain, I suppose.

    It may be that Mark is right in that a very vaguely worded attribute was seen as necessary to give leaders a lot of leeway, though. My impression is that Rebecca is going to come back with a version of your argument regarding how virtue should be taught. The point of this post seems to be that we shouldn’t teach ‘virtue’ as ‘a euphemism for chastity’.

  62. What I think is cool about the new value:

    1. A Young Women President is called, she feels passionate about something and inspired and makes a major change to her Young Women’s program. She does this because she is absolutely 100% in charge of her program.

    I think that is a good thing. I like that both the Young Women and the Relief Society are doing things and making changes. I appreciate that there is a level of activism and activity there. When Church leaders are looking for revelation and for change, this is a good thing, in my opinion.

  63. Also, for anyone interested: Here is what the Young Women Presidency have up for Virtue online.

  64. Hats off to general authorities that expect good, yes virtue, from the general membership. And hats off to local leaders that can accept general counsel and lovingly apply it to teach our youth, my children, about being well-rounded and, yes, virtuous, souls. Fortunately, the negative reactions here represent a minority and the bulk of the membership doesn’t cringe at the suggestion that virtue be a value for our youth.

    I enjoy most of what I read around here, but time spent ripping virtue as a value coule be, well, better spent.

  65. #28:“Morally straight” in the context of the Scout Oath doesn’t mean “chaste” (although it may include that). It means: “to live your life with honesty, to be clean in your speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character.”

    But, kuri, I never said that I was limiting “virtue” to “chaste”; that was Rebecca’s focus (and the flaw in her “creepy” comment). I think the Scout definition for “morally straight” encompasses all that “virtue” should encompass for the Young Women. Beyond that, being “clean in your speech and actions” does (IMHO) include chastity. YMMV. ..bruce..

  66. From the Article I listed above:

    Their goal, they said, was simple: they wanted the young women of the Church to cherish virtue and to be worthy to some day enter the temple.

    So Virtue = “Temple Worthiness”?

  67. Honestly, those of you who see Rebecca as ripping virtue haven’t read the same post I have. What she is ripping is the easy equivalency of virtue and chastity.

  68. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 52 my no. 33 was meant to be cheeky.

  69. Steve Evans says:

    John C., I agree. I enjoy most of what I read around here, but time spent ripping those whom some commenters perceive to be ripping virtue as a value coule be, well, better spent.

  70. Rameumptom says:

    While their use of the word, “virtue” may not be the best, I see some value to it.

    It can be first looked at as chastity, but then for the older YW and adult women, can be viewed on a broader context. “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts” (D&C 121) is something we can all learn from.

    This is especially true in our current environment. There is an ever growing problem throughout the country of youth and sex. Kids are now being arrested for child porn – posting online photos of friends they caught undressed in the high school shower, using a cell phone. Other kids are posting their own pics, etc.

    Girls are now attracting guys by kissing each other, thinking it will attract the cool guys to them. When “I kissed a girl” is a hit song, and it isn’t about a guy doing it, we can see there is a problem with all kinds of moral issues.

    So, while I think Rebecca has a point, I think she’s taking it further than it really needs to be, given the seriousness of the day we live in.

  71. This post should be required reading. Thank you, Rebecca.

  72. Matt W No. 66

    Last night, feeling repentant for my (and the entire YW presidency in my ward) attitude, I went back and read Dalton’s talk. If I forced myself beyond chaste, faith, and integrity, I got “temple worthy.” Important yes, but a necessary addition to the theme and construct of the program, maybe not.

    For those of you not familiar with the YW theme, after it lists all 7 or 8 values, it goes on to list 4 things we will be prepared to do if we accept and act upon the values. And what is the last of those? Dumroll please…. “receive the ordinances of the temple.” Although arguably that is redundant with the “make and keep sacred covenants” part earlier in the list.

  73. 72 – the temple mention is “second to last” … that is what I get for writing a post while feeding the 14 month old breakfast.

  74. Bruce, sorry, I misunderstood your point.

  75. Summary of the comments:

    Apologists: Don’t knock virtue — it’s all encompassing, means more than just chastity/abstinence, and is very important to teach our girls. It’s great.

    Naysayers: If it’s all encompassing, then it’s superfluous as a “value” — like adding “being a good person” or “righteousness” as a value. If it’s not really all encompassing (and therefore not superfluous), then it’s clearly, in its more focused, non-redundant sense a stand-in for sexual purity. Not great.

  76. I felt quite a bit like RebeccaJ when I first heard the news. I found it redundant and problematic, and then my bishop asked me to speak in sacrament on the topic – and I was forced to really do the research, which at this point is only a list of about eight conference talks.

    Now I’m on board. I think the overarching point will be temple attendance and keeping the standards in the for the strength of youth pamphlet, which the other values did address, but only occasionally, or implicitly. I think this will be a value that is explicit in spelling out the behavior that takes you to the temple.

    I also think that RebeccaJ was close to the point of the value when she was discussing the Janice Kapp Perry song. The values do build on one another, and when you have a character full of integrity, then you become a person of Virtue. See? Still building.

    Although I do have to say that the big disappointment in all this to me has been the roll out. If they had waited to make the announcement until they actually had some materials available to support it, I don’t think so many of us would have a problem with it. Instead we’re all left casting about blindly and imposing our own fear/prejudices/pet projects on this value.

  77. I graduated YW long before the value and colors stuff began; I’ve got about 15 months before my daughter gets into it, and I have never had a YW calling ever (Primary, including Cub Scouts, now that’s the place for me).

    I find the discussion interesting. But if I were a teacher in YW, and I were given this new value, I would be kinda tickled (after getting past the initial eyeroll thought of virtue = chastity … I tend to see the bad before the good) to have an excuse to build a lesson/curriculum/youth training on Proverbs’ description of a Virtuous Woman. There’s a lot of ground to cover in that scripture passage, not the least of which encourages education, financial management and market participation, and female empowerment. So, I think its a good addition, overall.

  78. Utah Transplant says:

    This entire comment board makes me crazy. Most of the posts should have been examined before posted. Then you would not have embarrassed yourself. I agree with some of the posts, but the rest–what are you thinking????

    Those of you who do not like the new value, I remind you that this was decided by our PROPHET. Not just some random member of the church, but President Thomas S. Monson. If you raised your hand in General Conference in April 2008 to sustain the new prophet, you are now back-sliding. We all need to quit complaining about the little things, and just exercise faith.

    As for the color choice, when refined gold is PURE.

  79. LOL, Utah Transplant. L. O. L.

  80. Eric Russell says:

    when refined gold is PURE

    That’s exactly what I try to explain to people when they question me about my grillz.

  81. When Sis. Dalton and her new RS Presidency climbed Ensign Peak, they took a “Gold” shawl and tied it to a walking stick, thus creating a standard to represent “A Return to Virtue.” The gold color for the new YW value may have come from the shawl. Although, they may have deliberately chosen gold for the purity symbolism as well. But, since Sis. Dalton cited Brigham Young’s historic hike up Ensign peak, where the Brethren may have tied a yellow bandana to a walking stick–the gold shawl could just have been the closest thing her YW presidency had to a yellow bandana.

    Unfortunately, there did need to be a better roll out on the new value. Our stake is scratching its head over how to inspire girls to do a 10 hour project on Virtue. When interpreted as chastity–this becomes problematic. But, if interpreted as all things that help us to become more Christlike (there are many good vitues to pursue in life)–it becomes more reasonable and doable.

    wb

  82. One other thought regarding the Latin root of virtue: The entire Dec 27, 2008 Church News is dedicated to the topic of “Virtue,” the new YW value. On the back page there is an article called “Be Virtuous” that discusses Latin origins of the word. I’m sure the Church News was reviewed by someone from the top before publication–and I would never call the Apostles and Prophet geezers.

    The same article also talks about other Biblical meanings of virtue: goodness, the power to heal, and “the virtue of the word of God.” (Alma 31:5)

    Something to think about.
    wb

  83. If you raised your hand in General Conference in April 2008 to sustain the new prophet…

    Any time you have a desire to begin a sentence this way, think again.

  84. #77 Coffinberry–THANK YOU!

    I have an almost 16 year old daughter. She was very put off by the addition of a new value. She has been plodding along in the Personal Progress program and to have another value/projects/goals, etc. thrust upon her at this point in the game was frustrating. Her comment was that she didn’t even know why they added this value as it is redundant. I agree that if the value had been rolled out with more fanfare, perhaps at the YW general broadcast, it would have generated more enthusiasm among the girls and leaders.

    I really appreciated Coffinberry’s approach and think it may help our family’s situation if I work that up into some sort of FHE lesson.

    #78–Are you kidding or serious?

  85. Virtue here is a euphemism for chastity, but in the YW program, I predict it will become a synonym for modest dress.
    Gah! When I have daughters, I will let them wear whatever they want…..

  86. After reading the press release, it sounds like virtue is actually a code word for masturbation?

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