We kill because we care

I want to begin this post with an acknowledgment. Everyone described in the following is, to my best knowledge, acting from good intent and in a manner that they feel will best lead themselves and the other parties involved back to God. That said, there is a minor disaster afoot in my ward.

There are two sisters in my ward. Both have been primarily home-schooled, but moreso in the hippy, liberal, critical-thinking model than in the “protect my baby from evolution and modern birth control” model. They are both fairly hip, independent young women. They are in their middle years in the Young Women’s program. Neither wishes to go to Girls’ Camp this year. They both seem to find the strict scheduling and schmaltzy Spirit-baiting irritating. If they want to go camping, they want to camp, not be force-marched to “voluntary” testimony meetings. Both girls have (as far as I can tell) strong testimonies of the gospel. They read the scriptures regularly, go to the temple when they can, are active in service and Young Women’s activities, and love the gospel. They enjoyed Girls’ Camp when they attended last year. They made friends, sang songs, and so forth. They just don’t want to do it this year.

Their Young Women’s leaders and compatriots have entered full-on-freak-out mode. One of the girls has not had a perfect attendance record at Young Womens (although she does regularly attend the other meetings). It gets to be a little too much for her. As a result, she sometimes leaves church early (maybe once a month or so). This, along with her quasi-public decision to not attend Girls’ Camp, has resulted in the Young Women’s leadership singling her out with praise and arranging with her classmates to come over after church with large cards (covered in candy bars) begging her to come back.

I’m going to describe five incidents in this scenario to give you some idea of what is going on:

1. One Sunday, during a class that she skipped, the Young Women’s leadership decided to invite her back to church. They had her best friend call her on a cel phone. This daughter, seeing her friend’s name on the call waiting, took the call. The friend then put her on speakerphone and all the girls in the class begged her to come back (this to a girl who comes more often than not).

2. On another occasion, she attended a Young Women’s activity. One of the leaders commented on how pretty she had dressed that night and said she looked like a supermodel. For the rest of the night, that leader and, eventually, the other girls referred to her as “supermodel”. This was on a night when this girl had not done anything particularly special with her looks.

3. At Young Women’s the other night, the activity was making hats for Girls’ Camp. The girls were told that only those girls who were going to camp could participate, because there was not enough material. However, material had been set aside before the activity began, including two piles that had the names of these two girls. Nonetheless, they were told they could not make hats.

4. At another recent activity, they gave out bells to practice a song that the Young Women were singing. Every girl in the chorus was given a bell, except one of these two girls (the other had chosen to not attend). This was quickly corrected, but it was still interpreted as a message.

5. Finally, one particular member of the Young Women’s leadership appears to be behind most of these tactics. She is actually a longtime friend of the family and knows these girls well. She was (indirectly) spoken to and asked to please lay off because she was not helping these girls. Afterword, she, first, came over to the house with a plate of cookies for one of the girls, saying, “You used your free agency to stay home, so I can use mine to come over,” and, second, she approached the other girl at church, beginning, “I know that you would like me not to bother you so much about this…,” and then proceeding to give the girl a guilt trip over not going, implying that other girls would lose their testimony if she did not attend.

As I said, all parties involved are trying to do the right thing. The girls want to continue to approach God on their own terms. The mother (heretofore unmentioned) wants her girls to enjoy Young Womens. The leader wants the girls to have the spiritual-uplifting, testimony-strengthening experience that she is sure camp will be. They worry about these girls because of the unorthodox nature of their upbringing and the apparently blasé attitude toward attendance that has been expressed.

Further, I think this is all magnified by our all being in Utah County, Utah. With so very little missionary work obviously available, work with the less-active is all the outreach and missionary experience the area provides. In our less-than-perfectly attending girl, the leaders and the other girls see a project, a means to perfect themselves in service to another. That this other doesn’t particularly want their service is, for the time being, beside the point.

The mother, in particular, is torn by all this. She loved Girls Camp growing up and has been an active participant in the recent past. She wants her girls to go and have fun. At the same time, she wants to respect their decision to approach God and the church in their own terms, with their own testimonies. She wants them to fit in at church and have friends. But the behavior of the leadership is over the top, causing her to question whether she trusts them with her girls.

Now that I have written all that, I am not sure what the point is. I heard about the goings on and wanted to bringing it to your attention, but I don’t really know why. Maybe I am just moved by a story wherein everyone is acting in good faith, trying to do the right thing, and yet they are all affecting each other negatively. I’d like to imagine a way out of this where everyone remains friends, but I don’t see it at the moment. And these are good people.


  1. Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone! Seriously, the mother needs to step in a little more to protect her daughter from this nonsense. I’m all for bringing the Spirit into the lives of youth and helping them see how the Church works to keep people happy and near God, but the leaders don’t sound like they’re doing it.

  2. I would probably have been classified as one of the sisters growing up. I got my Eagle, went to a Jamboree, did some high adventure, and promptly “dropped out” of Scouts, attending YM only when a non-scout activity was going on. I only attended youth conference the summers before my senior year and after graduation (eschewing the first three years because they interfered with two-a-day summer practices for my high school team). I was also fairly negative about attending BYU (until I got a scholarship offer I couldn’t resist).

    The bishop called me to be the first assistant to the bishop in the priest’s quorum, because he thought I was going inactive. Another leader accused me of not supporting the youth because I had a track meet at the same time as a campout.

    Forget the fact I had perfect attendance in early morning seminary, was in Church every Sunday administering over the sacrament, and was generally worthy and willing to volunteer for whatever non-scouting stuff came up.

    My advice to the mother is — keep at it. Act as a firewall to the leaders. She needs to get in the way of the leaders’ tactics. The leader may use her agency to come by, but no one has to let her in the door.

    The leader needs to be told more directly to back off, preferably by the bishop. If she doesn’t get the message, release her. Just like basketball teams can’t fire all the players, you can’t release the young women.

    My advice to the daughters is to exercise patience with their leaders, and humor them once in awhile.

  3. (This entire post makes me even more anxious about my daughter turning 12 next year.)

  4. Further, I think this is all magnified by our all being in Utah County, Utah.

    I missed this on the first read. Oh dear. I seriously wonder if my cousins are the two sisters.

  5. I am an 80s-era alumna of the Utah County YW scene who went to Girl’s Camp once and hated it. My three younger sisters were crazy for camp, but it just didn’t take with me. I’ll have to trust you that this leader is acting out of love and good faith, because it sounds a little creepy to me. I don’t recall anybody going ballistic that I didn’t go to camp–until I read this post, I didn’t appropriately value my leaders’ mellow, live-and-let-live response. I know that if teen me (yes, a frightening thought) had fielded a barrage of candy bar cards and “free agency” cookie deliveries, punctuated by bell and hat exclusions, that my reluctance to attend camp may have become a reluctance to attend church. I agree that the parents need to run interference before the exuberant leader creates the very “lost sheep” she envisions.

  6. queuno,
    I don’t think they are related to you, but if you are really worried, I will confirm some identities via email. hpsoandsos at gmail dot com.

    the yw leader has been approached indirectly. I suggested that, since that didn’t work, she needed to be told “Back off!” in no uncertain terms. The mother is reluctant, however, because this is a long-term friend. It could make things more difficult for all involved.

  7. I concur that this loving YW leader is doing a good job of potentially driving the sisters away. I was on the receiving end once of some sort of “fellowshipping” by an elderly sister missionary once which mystified me because I was active in church! I occasionally missed a Sunday because I was a new mom with 2 babies and my husband’s a non-member, so rarely I literally couldn’t make it. The more cookies that were brought to me (always the “pop-in” – never a phone call first), the more annoyed I got (even though they were really good cookies.

    Some people need space, not smothering, even it’s smothering by chocolate.

  8. The leaders are trying to help the lame to see and the blind to walk. Somebody needs to make them understand that they need to offer what the girls need, not what the leaders want to offer. (Haven’t we all been victims of service projects before?) These sisters sound remarkably patient for having continued to attend YW at all.

  9. I am hugely conflicted on this. I have my youngest son who was not a hugely ambitious boy scout, and definitely moves to a different drummer. Health issues and doubts combined to keep him from a mission. He needs someone, somewhere, besides his parents to take an interest in him, get him to the singles ward, to activities, and assure him that the gospel is for him, too.

    But this situation with the two sisters is way over the top. Missing one meeting a month does not make you inactive, and the comment

    “You used your free agency to stay home, so I can use mine to come over,”

    is so out of line as to defy Euclidean geometry. Deliberately excluding someone from an activity to try and “inspire’ them to choose to go to camp is wrong. I understand that preparations for girls camp might require some of these activities, but a truly sensitive leader is more likely to call and say either that the activity is centered around girls camp as a warning, or make another activity available.

    Where’s the middle ground on all of this?

  10. Am I to understand I could get free cookies delivered to my home if I skipped church once in a while? Get thee behind me.

  11. The true question, though, is are they good cookies? Because both my wife and I can both make pretty darn good cookies; I’m not going to stay home from Church unless I can get the best.

  12. Alas, all my snarky rejoinders regarding extorting sweets from the YW died on my lips as I came to understand the bizarreness of the situation. Truly, turning cookies and candy bars into something to be dreaded is a perversion of all that is good and holy!

  13. One other note. I have spoken to many inactives, some who have returned, some who have not, some on their way out. They all agree that they immediately can tell when they become a “project”, or are on somebody’s “list” at church, and it generally is not helpful. Sincerity goes a long way, because often there is not very much of it to go around.

  14. Latter-day Guy says:

    Pepper spray. Arm both the girls and instruct them to use it with impunity.

    Seriously, the mother needs to tell the YW leader, “We appreciate what you’re trying to do. We think you’re great, but you need to back right the hell off. It’s only Girl’s Camp; young women have managed to survive without it for a long time. It’s a nice program, but it is not integral to the gospel.”

  15. Researcher says:

    We had a ward activity the other day and the only dessert worth eating was the one we brought. I’m not generally too picky about sugar and chocolate in any form but I found out that yes, it is possible to mess up a boxed brownie mix. Moral: don’t use the tempt-them-back-to-church-with-sugar tactic unless you can actually bake.

  16. John,
    I agree that the bizarreness of this particular situation militates against snark. On the other hand, seriously, as Jacob J points out, if the cookies are any good (or if the girls were attention-starved), making them projects creates a perverse set of incentives (Go inactive! Then we’ll pay attention to you and bring you cookies and call you on the phone!).

    That’s not to say that the girls in question are attention-starved or hungry. Still, what if someone else in the YWs is?

  17. Brandon says:

    The leader’s behavior seems very passive-aggressive to me. If I were the parent of the girls I’d tell her to back off and make sure she knew that she wasn’t welcome in my home as long as she continued to behave in such an unacceptable manner.

    To say that you’re using your free agency to show up unannounced and “guilt” someone into going to church is to misunderstand the principle of free agency altogether. Sounds like my current stake president who has made it a practice to say “you will come to the very boring and utterly useless priesthood meeting,” rather than “you’re invited to come to the very boring and utterly useless priesthood meeting.” Jesus was an “inviter” not an “enforcer.”

    Okay. I’m off my soapbox now.

  18. We do weird things to “faltering” or “less-active” people. My husband once joked in the church foyer that my extended absence was because I “had decided to give inactivity a try”. This was overheard by a member of the RS presidency. In truth, I was horribly sick with a pregnancy.

    My VT were switched THAT WEEK to members of the RS Presidency who then asked if it would be okay if they brought a message. Upon running into the bishop at the store he let me know how sad he felt it was that I had missed the Primary Program. Indeed. I had been heart broken. I was treated special for a few months. When I wasn’t sick I returned to church. The great thing is, not one person ever ASKED if I was struggling or needed anything. I had plenty of friends in the ward, but no one in leadership bothered to find out what, if anything, was going on.

    Why don’t we just ask people? Or treat them like normal people? If you care about them enough to be concerned you should care enough to ask honest questions and accept their honest answers.

    That YW leader is crazy with a capital freak. I don’t doubt she’s well meaning, but she’s got to step off yo!

  19. I should note that I use a wide variety of tactics, including and not limited to bribery, threats, punishments, persuasion, physical intimidation, songs, sonnets, promises, empty promises, empty threats, and emotional abuse, in order to get my 7 year old to agree to go to church and sit still every week. So I am not above manipulation in the name of church attendance. I’m just not sure it can be productively applied to people aged into the double-digits.

  20. schmaltzy Spirit-baiting

    Too true!

    Put me down with Brandon on the passive-aggressive leadership style.

  21. My wife is running girls camp again this year in our ward. A couple of girls are not going for a variety of reasons. My wife is doing nothing about it.

    I think my wife is acting normally and this leader as described is over-reacting.

  22. --I am I-- says:

    “Yea, and truly thou shalt deliver cookies unto them who have gone astray, and unto them that shall reject the Camp for Young Women, shalt thou exclude from the ritual of Making Bells and the ritual of Making Hats, saith the Angel.” –Book of Modern Wisdom 3433:8934

    Naw, I’m not feeling the Spiritual confirmation on that one. Sorry. Is that wrong?

    Seriously, I’m one protective father when it comes to my four boys. If I ever have a daughter (if), nobody had better mess with her, cause they’ll be getting flak from everyone in the family.

    Let’s just say this: if it were my boys, and it were a long time friend of mine that were doing this, I’d take them aside and say this, “Look, friend, I love you, and I know you care about my child, but they really need some space. We’ve talked about it, and while I might prefer them to go to camp, we’ve made a deal that is satisfactory to me, and I’d appreciate it as a friend if you would just leave it alone. Is that okay?” At that point I’d extract a promise. If they wouldn’t own up to a flat out voluntary promise, it would come down to this: “Look, I don’t want to do this, because we’ve been friends for a very long time, but when it comes to choosing between my child and my friends, my family must come first. I believe that what I’m doing is right for my family. If you can’t leave my child alone about this, we’ll have to take it up with the Bishop.”

    I would then follow through with that. I might, if I was feeling kindly to the Bishop (so generally yes), run such a course past him first, but not necessarily. (My current Bishop, yes, my last Bishop, not so much :D).

    It’s like this–as a matter of gospel we have an obligation to protect our family first. Especially when it comes to their spiritual welfare. That means that occasionally we have to abandon friends in order to do that. It also means that sometimes we have to make our children mad WHEN THEY ARE WRONG! Such as when two teen age girls got in a fight over a guy in a previous ward. The one girl keyed the other’s car (why a teen age girl needs a car as a matter of policy is a mystery to me) because the other had asked her pseudo boyfriend out. Fists flew, and vandalism and rumors and well.

    Lawsuits by parents ensued and eventually one of the families switched to a different ward, returning only when the other family moved out. It would have simpler if the parents of both girls had simply told them to stop being stupid and to apologize and work off the cost of the repair bill together (which is what I would have done)! Stupid gits (all of them at the time).

  23. John C., you’ve stacked the deck on this one.

  24. I can appreciate the YW leader’s efforts to try to get the girls to go. She’s just going about it all wrong. Why not find out what it is the girls don’t like about camp and then fix it? Or at least try to accomodate them somehow?

    I know my teenagers’ first response to any planned activity is no. (At least my boys.) But when we force them to go they end up enjoying it. If these girls have gone before and didn’t like it, I’d think it’d be a good idea to ask them to be in charge of some of the planning for it.

    I’d be willing to bet money my daughter wouldn’t be going this year if she hadn’t ended up being a junior counselor this year.

  25. The mother is reluctant, however, because this is a long-term friend. It could make things more difficult for all involved.

    I totally agree that the mother needs to step in. When I was a teen, my grandma (my mom’s mom) used to drive me crazy. Eventually, my mom told my grandma to back off. When I found out, I was shocked and felt guilty about causing conflict between my mom and my grandma. My mom said, “You are my daughter and I am your mother. As your mother, you come first and I need to make sure that you get what’s best for you.”

    She’s right. A mother’s job is to protect her child, especially from adults who are making her child’s life more stressful than it needs to be. Her daughter is more important than a long-term friendship. I also believe that I now have a great relationship with my grandma because of my mom’s actions.

  26. At least half of the kids in my family were not regular church attenders at some point during the teenage years. The ones that faired the best (by which I mean had good relationships with leaders) are the ones who were left alone for the most part. We lived in Utah and had active parents etc, so it was extremely odd when my sister’s YW class showed up with a Book of Mormon with their testimonies in it to win her back. They invited her to read it. We did have about 20 copies in our house, so misplaced was the sentiment. When they left she threw it across the room and it fell to to floor after hitting the wall. She started crying.
    Maybe the leaders mean well, but maybe they don’t. I think sometimes the culture is such that people gain great satisfaction and a kind of self-appreciation knowing (or thinking) they are the reason someone has been reactivated. How many stories do we here glorifying HT, VT and youth leaders who were relentless and therefore so and so is active now? Maybe this sister is set on being that person.
    On a side note, YW camp is really given way too much importance if that is the issue. The girls are right, it’s more like EFY (ok–I’ve never been to EFY, so maybe I’m wrong)–it is definitely not anything like camping.

  27. Steve, you are right. I’ve only heard the mother and the two girls side of this. I can’t speak for what is motivating the YW leaders. These events may not have been as horrific or as sensationalistic as I have described (although I am accurately giving the description I received from the mother).

  28. BTD Greg says:

    There’s a simple (but costly) solution to this problem: move.

  29. In an effort to humanize the YW leader a little more, I present you with the following story from my life:

    My father is not a member and not particularly interested in becoming a member. One year, he decided that he was going to read the Book of Mormon. We all pestered him about how it was going, was he feeling anything, had it changed the way he felt about anything, and so forth. Eventually, he got sick of all the questions and expectations and stopped reading, saying he wouldn’t start again. To me, I was guilty of the same thing the YW leader is guilty of now. So, although I don’t like her methods, I am sympathetic to her plight. These girls are, to some degree, her charge. She doesn’t want to fail them.

  30. John C.-
    I think you just hit the crux of the problem. What does it mean that they are her charge? What does it mean if family members are our charge?
    We can lead and invite, but badgering doesn’t much work. What is our job if someone is under our stewardship?
    Clearly, the YW leader thinks this entails getting the girls to camp. Obviously commenters on this thread don’t see it that way (myself included). I think it’s always difficult to understand the boundaries of our stewardships, and relationships with loved ones we want to have strong testimonies.

  31. Having been a YW President fairly recently, let me say that I can sympathize with the leader as well as with the girls.

    We need to respect people of all ages, including or maybe especially teenagers, and if the girls do not want to attend they certainly should not be manipulated in to changing their minds.

    On the other hand, I have seen too many attractive, popular YW who come from good, supportive families decide that they don’t want to go to camp or participate in other various activities because they think they are above that sort of thing. One YW even said, during a Sunday meeting, that she just didn’t get along with “those girls, you know, the ones who don’t look like us or like to do the things we do.” That attitude is very hurtful to girls who don’t have the same advantages in their upbringing. I had one YW who invited the other girls to her 16th birthday party, her high school graduation party and her JC graduation party and only one, the same one each time, showed up. Sometimes we need to do things because we should not just because we want to do them.

  32. #8:
    The leaders are trying to help the lame to see and the blind to walk. Somebody needs to make them understand that they need to offer what the girls need, not what the leaders want to offer.

    Ardis is SO right about this. In my last ward, we had a young lady attending Sunday meetings on a regular basis, while she took the missionary discussions. The brother assigned to teach Sunday school for her age was a rather well-known individual who has published many books intended to teach LDS members how to do missionary work. In his eager zeal, he continually called special attention to the girl in his classes, and made many comments about “WHEN you are baptized….” She complained to the other youth about the behavior, but of course this wasn’t the way to accomplish any change. She finally was so uncomfortable that she ended her invovlement with the missionaries and LDS meetings. The instructor clearly meant well, but he simply had no sensitivity at all toward what this young lady’s actual needs.

  33. Mark IV says:

    This is a good post, John, because it illustrates how difficult it is to actually help somebody. Just wanting to isn’t enough. And am I the only one cynical enough to believe that there is a little gratification of pride going on on the leader’s part? I often know exactly what ought to be done with somebody, and the fact that I have been wrong so often in the past doesn’t prevent me from moving ahead with my righteous zeal. It really is harder than it looks to actually be helpful.

    One of my favorite parts of Gordon B. Hinckley’s biography was when the YW leader called the Hinckley home to express her concern about one of the daughters who wasn’t attending mutual. GBH answered the phone, and explained to the concerned party that his daughter was involved with activities at school which conflicted with mutual time. The YW leader persisted, suggesting that the daughter was making the wrong choices. Pres. Hinckley answered by saying that the choices were nonetheless his daughter’s to make, politely thanked the leader for her concern, and terminated the call.

  34. Mark IV says:

    Just another obsevation.

    This is shaping up as a classic people vs. program question. In my opinion, the leader is overvaluing the program of YW camp. Sure, it can be a good thing, but it certainly isn’t a necessary thing, as the majority of active LDS girls and women around the world who have never attended campcan attest.

  35. One of my favorite parts of Gordon B. Hinckley’s biography was when the YW leader called the Hinckley home to express her concern about one of the daughters who wasn’t attending mutual. GBH answered the phone, and explained to the concerned party that his daughter was involved with activities at school which conflicted with mutual time. The YW leader persisted, suggesting that the daughter was making the wrong choices. Pres. Hinckley answered by saying that the choices were nonetheless his daughter’s to make, politely thanked the leader for her concern, and terminated the call.

    John, put this quote on a pretty piece of scrapbook paper, laminate it, put a magnet on the back, and give it to the young women leader.

  36. To paraphrase Jesus’s words about the Sabbath:

    Girls aren’t made for Girls Camp; Girls Camp is made for girls.

    If we miss that distinction, we can do lots on inadvertent, well-intentioned harm.

  37. Oh, Utah Valley. I’ve been around it too long. The YW leaders are inappropriate because they aren’t listening to what is really going on. They are not responding to these young women as real individuals, but as characters in some kind of drama. I’d guess they see themselves as the heroines of an Ensign warm/fuzzy vignette that will end with the wayward girls embracing camp and everyone singing Kumbaya.

    If the parents of these girls support them in not going, they need to firmly tell the YW organization “we are OK if our daughters don’t go.” That really is a decision young women can make on their own. The parents then need to gently, kindly, and firmly tell the YW leaders “you are offending us and acting inappropriately”. And then it’s up to the girls to do their best to be active and share their testimonies, although in an environment like that it’s going to be a challenge.

    Maybe the Hinckley story (#33) would help. That’s a gem. Make a copy of it and deliver it with a plate of cookies to the YW leader.

  38. sister blah 2 says:

    Just telling the YW leader to BACK OFF seems like a great plan, but sounds like the mom is reluctant.

    What about the Aikido approach? Take the YW leader’s energy and redirect. Maybe you could say that the daughter wants to go but is concerned she can’t get all her chores done. Maybe you could get some free housecleaning and mowed lawns and car waxings out of it.

  39. JC, you may want to guest post this kind of information with details changed to protect the privacy of the involved parties. The girls, the mother, and the leader may not want their travails to be made public.

    Sounds like the RS president or similar authority figure might be able to modulate the tone of the leader in this case.

  40. As someone who has been a project (twice!), I can say there s nothing more annoying than being on the receiving end of this added transparent concern for my soul.

    a year or so after my wife and I married, we decided to take a break. We didn’t have a calling, and were growing tired of being asked by all the elderly people in the ward when we would start having children. So we took a break. After about three weeks, the EQ President showed up to try and talk us back to church. We told him we didn’t have any concerns, we just felt like spending more time together and didn’t feel like we belonged in this ward that skewed about thirty years older than us. Soon we were getting visits from everyone, asking about our testimonies, dropping by treats, offering to help in our yard, etc.

    After about 6 months we came back, feeling our break was over and we needed to work on our souls once more. Of course all these people paying attention to us forgot us once more except to inquire about when we’d start making babies. No more offers for service and no more cookies. Ugh, at least pretend you liked us as much as you did when we were inactive.

    The second time was just recently. My wife and I had been teaching primary for a couple of years, and someone must have decided we’d gone inactive because we weren’t attending EQ and RS. Almost overnight we were getting visits from the EQ Presidency (“we’re just trying to meet everyone that isn’t attending church”), the RS (We’ve missed you so much, I’d love to have you sit next to me at RS next Sunday”) and our Home Teachers who usually came to see us once every four or five months, but for some reason now dropped by twice in a month. Again, HT and VT were dropping off cookies with nice notes and well wishes and hopes that we’d return to our meetings soon.

    Finally I asked my HT if we’d become a project, and he sheepishly admitted there were concerns because we’d been such a strong family and then dissapeared off the face of the Earth. I reminded him we’d been in Primary for years, including teaching his daughter for the past 6 months.

    He probably used his Blackberry to let everyone know were were still active as he left our porch, because the treats and visits were over. Also over were the invites to sit next to people in RS and the fake offers of friendship that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. How strange that these VT that wanted to be my wife’s buddies suddenly weren’t interested in a lunch date anymore. How strange that my HT no longer had time to advise me on finishing a basement like he had a week earlier.

    Ugh, just writing this post makes me feel like taking a break again.

  41. Oooh, sister blah 2. That idea is awesomely twisted. (In a good way. :) )

  42. sister blah 2 says:

    Aw, thanks Kaimi. Few greater compliments are there than “awesomely twisted (in a good way).”

  43. When I lost my faith, I was still attending sacrament meeting, but that was it. No SS, no RS, and no extra meetings. I skipped all general and stake conferences. On more than one occasion, when a particularly bad talk was underway, I left in the middle of the meeting. At the time I was seriously depressed, to the point where I frequently (daily?) considered the merits of suicide. I just could never figure out a way to do it that wouldn’t mess up my kids, though I was fairly certain that it would my husband would be better off if I was dead, because then he could marry someone else.

    Nobody cared. Not a call, not a visit. No questions. No cookies.

    In the church, we have these big stories about less-active members who are brought back into the fruits of the Gospel by the diligent and loving YW Leader / Visiting Teacher / Home Teacher / RS President / whoever. Because nothing even remotely like that happened to me, I took it really personally – like other people rate that kind of attention, but not me. (We clinically depressed people are not known for our rational thinking.)

    Given either extreme, John, I think the girls in your story are getter the better of the two choices. Obviously it would be best if the leader in question approached them as individuals, validated their concerns, and tried to use gentle persuasion to get them to see what they have to OFFER to the activity. But if the choice is overkill attention or ignoring them, I think overkill is a better choice.

  44. It occurs to me, reading my story, that the level of concern may be an inverse ratio to the actual needs of the person. I was in scary bad shape, so nobody bothered me. They didn’t know what they’d be getting in to. The two young women are in good shape, so they’re getting the full court press. Nothing scary about them.

  45. John: (#29)

    Well, he’ll have to go back and read it once he’s run out of other books, right? I mean, Chamblin’s only has so many …

  46. Ann (#44)

    That is a very good point. I know that between work and a calling and small children and a wife who takes care of them all day and needs a break when I get home, I am guilty of this myself. I can afford to do small things to encourage people, but I shy away from signing up to help people who need a lot of time and attention. I could do better.

    But there is also the fact that there is a lot more risk associated with doing the wrong thing. As this post makes abundantly clear, just because you have good intentions does not mean you will not end up doing more harm than good. With a person in your situation (very depressed and daily considering suicide) I would definitely be scared of making things worse unintentionally. After all, making something worse in that situation can be catastrophic and I am no professional when it comes to dealing with such a situation. I think some of the fear is warranted, even though that seems horrible to say. Maybe this second point is what you had in mind, in which case, I agree with you.

  47. Julie M. Smith says:

    Whatever else happens here, this is a good teaching moment for these girls. Mom needs to emphasize that sometimes people in the Church are going to act in deeply weird ways and that we need to learn to deal with it.

  48. My kid became a project when he was in middle school and didn’t want to go to scout camp. The main problem was the other kids in the troop, and so when they all decided to fellowship him at school, etc, he was really humiliated. YW leader really needs to get a clue in how to relate to other people.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    amen Julie.

  50. John C.,

    Continuing on a theme I started on in another place, I’m not sure what the point is either. Why bring this to the attention of the internet? I’m as up for kooky Mormon stories as the next guy, but this seems half a step removed from garden variety gossip to me.

  51. My daughter is going through a similar situation. Every time someone calls to say they missed her or asks about why she’s not the 100-percenter she once was, we tell them we’re holding out for the plate of cookies. Then we tell them the truth: she’s got some sleep difficulties that are messing with her circadian rhythms and we’re working on it. So far the YW leaders have not gone overboard trying to reclaim her.

    When I was in the Young Women’s, we had a girl who just didn’t like YW. She was fantastic in every way and we liked her very much. So we just kept letting her know what was happening. When we had a sign language project that intrigued her, she joined us. Otherwise, no.

    She’s all grown up now, happy, healthy and having hit the hallmarks of an active LDS woman. Conversely, several of the girls who showed up all the time are now far, far away from the church. What’s that disclosure they use when you buy stocks? Past performance is no guarantee of future results?

  52. Kevin Barney says:

    A somewhat analogous situation is when ward members make a project of a nonmember spouse. A couple of times I’ve seen the member spouse announce to the ward, say in SS, that they are not to pressure their spouse. And doing that has worked. I suppose if you don’t do it everyone is assuming that you really want people to somehow drag the spouse into the Church, and they’re going to try. But if you make it clear that he or she is off-limits, wardsters will respect that.

    This mother needs to have a chat with the YW leaders and perform a similar intervention.

    If these shadows remain unchanged, I predict that these girls will become inactive sooner rather than later.

  53. We walk a fine line, and we fall too often.

    Essentially, what Julie said in #47 – and support for giving the Hinckley quote to the YW leaders.

  54. Amen, Julie.

  55. Jacob, that is a good (and charitable!) perspective on my point. The other piece is that some people are just vast sucking black holes of need who take and take and take. When you’re faced with someone who is apparently having problems (as opposed to just exercising their free agency to eat other people’s cookies) you run the risk of not only doing some harm, but also of getting stuck in a difficult and unpleasant situation.

  56. Where’s the bishop in all this? Surely he should be at least aware of this situation going on, to some degree. What’s his story? Or is he a part of the same mentality as the YW leaders?

  57. While I back everything in the above; I am handling my daughter’s car pool this week, which is six boys in middle school. If any of you, for any reason, for any moral need, by any force or act of violence, wish to steal them away for the week, you have my permission.

  58. Mark IV says:


    I think I have a solution to the problem you outlined in # 43. It’s pretty easy if you just follow these steps:

    1. Make a pan of shrimp artichoke pasta.
    2. Call Mark.

    I will be ecstatic to listen to anything you want to talk about for as long as you want to talk about it.

  59. Thomas Parkin says:

    This thread has been really good for me. I’m in charge of keeping a rather extensive list right now. This has been a great reminder that we should do a lot more asking what people _want_ and need from us, instead of making assumptions, and projecting ourselves in manipulative ways. And what isn’t done from a position of a desire to be a true and lasting friend … we should perhaps ask ourselves if it should be done at all.

    jjohnson, I wonder if you would mind if I forwarded a portion of your post on to our Ward Council?

    It reminds me of this paragraph from our Ward Mission Plan:

    “… We do not make friends only in order that they join the church. Instead, a true friend is a faithful friend regardless of circumstance … . In time, through experience and love, friendships can become “stronger than the cords of death.” ”


  60. My mother recently called my RS President to “suggest” that I be included in a ward service project. This information came to me via the RS grapevine and had gone through at least six people that I know of so far. I know that my mother’s intentions were good, she is worried about my salvation. I’ve been inactive for over 20 years and she is getting desperate. However, her good intentions backfired. The resentment (and humiliation) I feel is great, both for my mother’s interferance and the gossip that goes on in my ward.

    Respect the decisions made by others.

  61. My wife has gone through stretches where she doesn’t feel like going to RS. Sometimes there have been medical reasons, like the flowers they put in the room, but often it’s just pure frustration. Like when they make an effort to call her and invite her to attend lunch that week with the sisters, but only if she gets a babysitter first.

    That’s just wrong.

  62. Mark’s formula in 58 is a good one, but he’s leaving out one important step:

    1 1/2. Call Kaimi.


  63. Mathew,
    Ultimately, I am bringing it up as a cautionary tale (to myself and others) about the dangers of overzealotry, pride, and good intentions. Also, I wanted to offer a kind of apologia for the over-bearing among us, who have good intentions but are sometimes not able to correctly apply them. The whole thing saddens me because all of these people are good, but it isn’t working out the way it should.

    Regarding the bishop, I have no idea regarding his involvement or lack thereof. I really do live in a very good ward and, as far as I can tell, the bishop does a lot of delegation and the auxiliaries are pretty autonomous, which I think is generally a good thing. I don’t personally see a good reason to involve the bishop at this point, but that ain’t my call.

    I had an acquaintance once who was the victim of a sexual assault. All my friends, who knew her better, wanted to go over to her hospital room and visit and they wanted me to come. I felt that, as I had never been close before, deciding that the time to insert myself in her life was after a major trauma would be just tacky. I have regretted that decision every since. I think that, while people don’t need us to be pushy, sometimes they do need someone to be willing to be there. I am sorry that your ward members were like me, although I, like Mark, am a sucker for seafood pasta.

  64. #59 – Thomas, you just said what I try to say whenever the discussion turns to “what can we do for ______________?” My response always is, “Have you asked _____________ what s/he wants done – and if you have asked, have you honored the answer?”

    I have the same problem with efforts to reach out to an inactive YM or YW whose father and/or mother is an inactive member or not a member. Far too often, nobody thinks to ask the parents, simply because of their membership status. The primary responsibility for that young (wo)man still lies with the parents, regardless of their membership status. The first step should be to ask the YM or YW; the next step should be to ask the parent(s); the next step should be to do what is requested, including “leave me alone”, assuming it’s not actively contrary to a commandment of God.

  65. I’m much better now. :)

    Does the expression “damned if they do and damned if they don’t” ring a bell? I was really, really angry at the time. If I HAD become a “project,” I probably would have been mad about that. “Why don’t they just leave me alone!” Distorted thinking, after all.

    If you’re going to err on how you approach people, better to do so on the side of attention and concern, I think.

    I hearby extend an invitation to any bloggernaclers who find themselves in Southeast Louisiana to join Left Field, the Kid and I for some form of Shrimp Pasta. All I ask is a day’s notice so I can make sure the bathroom is clean. Mark, Kaimi, and John C. all know how to reach me.

  66. Ray, the one problem is, within a family, that it becomes VERY difficult to maintain some relationships without offending. Case in point – my sister-in-law has banned the family from discussing “church” with her husband (who is not a member). It’s very difficult to discuss one’s life and goings-on when you can’t bring up one of the core activities of your life.

    (The truly funny thing is that BIL is pretty darn cool about it. He actually goes to Sacrament Meeting and then to the nursery, but we can’t talk about it officially. At least not when she’s around. The active-member SIL has more of a complex with her husband’s non-membership and what she thinks we’ll say to him, than the BIL actually has.)

  67. Mommie Dearest says:

    Wow, I haven’t read all the comments on a post for a long time. I guess this one resonates. On so many levels.

    I think the immediate issue in the original post is rather lightweight and gossipish. Sounds like the YW leaders are insensitive and maybe even a little immature. It can be a learning experience for the two young women, their mother, and maybe even the YW leader(s), regardless of the outcome.

  68. If this is a repeat, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t show up on my computer.
    Isn’t the Church wonderful? I had a friend who’s bishop told the ward council that, “We will not allow ANY youth to fail….” She asked him in open meeting if that was the Savior’s or Satan’s plan…. that didn’t go over too well at the time. But the bishop eventually (about a year later) admitted to her, that what she had said had really troubled him, and that he finally wanted her to know, that he thought she was correct.

    Statistics show that we lose most of the youth we lose, between 14 and 16. Part of that is the tremendous pressures that the kids are going through, part of it is how anchored or not they are in their faith, and part of it is the programs that we have for them. Not all kids like scouting, not all kids like elements of the girls program. As a working adult, my wife doesn’t think that Relief Society offers her much….

    We should be more concerned about principles, not programs. Joseph Smith said, “I teach them correct principles….”

  69. I was kicked out of girls camp when I was 15. I questioned the authority of one of my leaders and she didn’t like that I was bringing a “bad spirit” to camp. My mother handled it like a champ, she came and picked me up, asked what happened, I told her my side of the story, and that was the end of it. I was subsequently tagged a troubled YW and the full court press was put into full motion. Again, my mother made sure I was permitted the room I needed to work through my own decisions and always supported me – NOT the PROGRAM. In the current situation, I think the leaders have overstepped their bounds!!! It’s time mom stepped in and told the YW leaders to back off.

  70. My gripe with Girls Camp is that the bishopric, the stake presidency, the elders quorum presidency, heck, basically any warm bodied male member of the ward, would move insurmountable objects for the “privilege” of going up to Girls Camp, and for 10 years as Scoutmaster, I couldn’t get ONE priesthood leader to come to Scout Camp for one evening to inject a little spirituality into the program. If Girl’s Camp is SO spiritual, and that spirituality is SO desirable, Why wouldn’t it be so for the boys as well? The boys got the message real clear that they weren’t as important.

  71. #70 On the reverse of that, my 12 year old daughter is an active type who would rather go rafting, swimming, and hiking than crossstitch, bake cookies, and scrapbook. She feels, and I agree, that it isn’t fair that the boys get to do all the fun stuff.

  72. annahannah says:


    I am hugely conflicted on this. I have my youngest son who was not a hugely ambitious boy scout, and definitely moves to a different drummer. Health issues and doubts combined to keep him from a mission. He needs someone, somewhere, besides his parents to take an interest in him, get him to the singles ward, to activities, and assure him that the gospel is for him, too


    Boy, does this resonate. My son is out of YM, and out of the view of anyone. His friends went off to college and he didn’t. He is still a priest even though he attends regularly and pays tithing etc.

    And my daughter…once I picked her up from camp and the camp leader from our ward yelled at me, “Why do you make her come if she doesn’t want to be here?!”

  73. If Girl’s Camp is SO spiritual, and that spirituality is SO desirable, Why wouldn’t it be so for the boys as well?

    Maybe they’re trying to make up for shafting the girls between the ages of 8-12, activity-wise.

  74. nesquik405 says:

    This entire thread has been hugely amusing.

    1) Girls’ camp is not the gospel; and

    2) To those of you who have been projects (or should have been), I’m figuring out that genuine friendship within the church is rilly, rilly rare. We’re good at a certain kind of goodwill, or at doing our duty. But generally, in most wards I’ve been in, we don’t know each other very well, nor do we want to.

  75. What disturbs me most about this post is what commenter #18 pointed out: this is the dictionary definition of passive aggressive behavior. To so elaborately and extravagantly try to win the girls over to increased church activity, and then punish and exclude them from full participation when they do come, is unloving. Cookie therapy notwithstanding.

    It also seems like the YW leader is more concerned about forcing the girls into a program that may or may not fit their needs than she is in actually learning what those needs are, and tweaking the program to accommodate that (within reason of course).

    To comment #52: I have done that with good effect. I think it helps if Church members with “non-member” (how I hate that term) spouses speak very candidly and clearly about the spouses being off limits to evangelization if that is the family’s desire. My husband often comes to Church with me and is very supportive, so it’s natural that people look at what a wonderful guy he is and think he’s going to be their golden contact. We have had to be pretty direct with home teachers and the like.

  76. “The boys got the message real clear that they weren’t as important.”

    I’m sorry, but I can’t stop laughing. I’m not disagreeing with your specific case, but that is the exact opposite of what I normally read in the Bloggernacle.

  77. It dawned on me, talking to a friend last night about a similar incident in my ward, that part of the disconnect is a different expectation of commitment. The leader “expects” that all of the girls will have the same values and “commitment” that she has and believes is necessary. The girls may every bit as committed, but don’t see perfect attendance and girls camp as important.

    It comes down to the leader having a better understanding of what the girls need and believe is important.

  78. Jana (#75), excellent advice. Thanks for stopping by!

  79. …although I think you were totally wrong about the Children of Men movie.

  80. snow white says:

    This is why I hated YW. And I don’t think it’s a Utah thing, as I live way outside of the Jello belt. It seemed like a certain kind of woman was in charge, and they usually didn’t understand my type of person at all. I was bookish and not at all social, though I was very mature gospel-wise. Most of my leaders seemed to be the fun-loving social types, and they tended to view my lack of sociality as a reason to make me a special project even though I felt they should be focussing their efforts on the girls who were experimenting with drugs or sex but still participated cheerfully in all the lame activities. I also had a real problem with the reward system to the extent that I completed all my projects and then didn’t turn in my paperwork to get the little medallion. I liked camp in general, but I had a real problem with some of the hypocrasy there, especially my last year. I know that sounds really snooty, but it’s the way I see it. To start out with, the camp director’s daughter and some of the other girls were really awful and no one ever did anything about it. They broke the dress code and talked about smoking and what they were doing with their boyfriends, and I begrudgingly accepted that these behaviors were tolerated by the leades. However, when they launched a systematic campaign of cruel teasing against some of the other girls, I absolutely felt compelled to complain. I don’t think bullying or teasing have any part in the gospel, and it absolutely galled me to hear those same cruel girls blubbering their crocodile “testimonies” of what a spritual experience it was being at camp. I refused to participate. I’m sorry, but I didn’t feel the Spirit to testify that day, brothers and sisters. And so, of course, I was looked at as the bad one, the outsider who refused to join. I’m not bitter, really :) I just look at it as a learning experience in case I’m ever called to YW.

  81. I had 5 sister; I have 4 daughters; I have worked in elementary education and elderly care – two industries dominated by women. I loved each of those experiences. I thank God I cannot be called as a YW Pres.

  82. OBVIOUSLY missing is “The Spirit”. Also Love. People like people who like them…not irriate them with stupid games and phony gestures. Believing in a person is greater than Chocolate! I have spent my life putting up with dumb crafts, skits, people who say dumb things and often feel talked to death. I go to church because I love my savior and Heavenly Father, to support others and the church, and to glean the Spirit. I am BLESSED by it all. As for what a crazy YWs leader does, nope!, don’t need that, because she doesn’t really LOVE the girl as much as the calling. She should try listening to her instead of trying to convert her to the gospel of camp or YW. The girl may actually have a better testimony than that ..one of Jesus as the Christ.

  83. To Noray:

    As has been stated before, a lot of times, the youth that skip out on an activity here and there are the die-hard seminary- and church-goers. Not all those who skip out on movie night or camp think they are above that thing, it just might not be possible with AP classes, the track team, Seminary Council, babysitting, you name it. It’s about priorities.

    My personal favorite was the badgering to get me to go on Pioneer Trek the summer I was 17. One *small* detail–I moved away a couple weeks after graduation to start full-time classes at BYU. Never mind I had tests, a job, and was in *college* — “you really should go on Trek this summer!”

  84. Portia: I think this is what I needed confirmed. Thank you for responding.

  85. snow white (#80) – I hope you *do* get called into YW someday. Non-“type” leaders are definitely needed, and your empathy will serve you well and bless the girls in your stewardship. Yay for staying strong even through some tough peer experiences. I’ve been there too.