Part V – Golden Program Sickness
Welcome to our party! We are on an expedition to slay the dragon of church culture. If you want to see the beginning of our journey, please feel free to take the trek through Part I: The Dragon of Church Culture; Part II: Of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Men, and Wizards; Part III: Of Turning Mountain Trolls of Jargon to Stone, or Part IV: Of the Calling of Wizard. And now, on with the quest!
In early 2020, during the country-wide COVID-19 quarantine, we came to understand exactly what the words “home-centered, church-supported” actually meant. It was during this time, that a friend of mine, who lived in a different ward, called and we were talking on the phone about a lot of things, just shooting the breeze and discussing a book I was trying to write. Then, she told me something rather upsetting. Her daughter, who was nearing 18, didn’t like the YW’s activities being held over Zoom. She told her daughter that she didn’t have to go to the Zoom activities. However, then a few people in her ward became concerned, because they felt that if her daughter didn’t go to the Zoom activities that she was becoming “inactive” and they feared for her spiritual progression. My friend reassured them that her daughter had a great relationship with the Savior, and not to worry. But they continued to worry, and to judge.
These well-meaning fellow Christians were unhappy because they couldn’t measure this young women’s righteousness. They couldn’t see if she was spiritually on the right track. That was out of their range, because it fell under the home-centered jurisdiction. They judged unrighteously, and acted in unChristlike ways, because they were using the YW’s program and its structure as a way to measure the righteousness of this young woman. They didn’t see the YW activities over Zoom as a “support” to the gospel instruction in the home. They saw it as a necessity for personal righteousness. Thus, they had “golden program sickness”. They had misconstrued the program’s point.
However, it wasn’t the quarantine that caused the golden program sickness. No, this spiritual ailment has been ailing many of us for countless years. The quarantine simply exacerbated the fever. And, even though the quarantine is over, activities are still only a “support” to the instruction in the home; they are not a sign of a teenager’s righteousness or unrighteousness.
When I was younger, I had a sister who didn’t want to go to activities. My parents were okay with that. So, they encouraged her to find other activities that would build her talents and capacities and help her grow. I have a son who isn’t a huge fan of social activities. So, we don’t make him go. Sometimes, if it’s something he’s interested in, he’ll go. For a while, he had a job that helped him work on those social skills along with other important development. Later, the job became a hindrance to his education. So, like my parents did with my sister, we encouraged him to ponder on his own, to pray and think, and to come up with some things he wanted to improve upon and learn for himself. He chose to work on drawing and to take up martial arts, something his dad does. Now, they go together and it is building him and strengthening their friendship and relationship, also. Both of these help my son to build self-confidence and to become more Christlike. In both of these cases, the home-centered focus did a better job seeking inspiration and providing what these teenagers needed to grow in their relationship with Christ and to build themselves.
Remember, if you can, that in The Hobbit, the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, who when he resumed his rightful place and title as “king under the mountain” fell quickly to the same gold sickness that had ruined his grandfather and which had brought Smaug, the cultural dragon, to the mountain gold hoard to begin with. Everything with Thorin became “about the gold and the king’s jewel”. Relationships stopped mattering. He treated everyone with suspicion and jealousy with regard to the treasure and the jewel. He judged incorrectly through the negatively-colored perspective of his “gold sickness”. He was convinced that everyone was against him, that they were no longer loyal to him, and that their plan was to betray him. Thorin got fixated on the treasure and what it meant for him.
Golden Program Sickness is similar to judging people as “inactive” or “active”, those terrible troll-ish words! …which we learned about in Part III: Turning Mountain Trolls of Jargon to Stone. Golden Program Sickness is taking a wonderful program that is intended to “support” the efforts of gospel study and devotion in the home and making it the primary measure of teenage righteousness. Are the programs inspired of God and helpful? Absolutely. If a teenager doesn’t always want to participate, does this mean they are cast off forever from the Lord and are on a sinful track? Absolutely not. Yet, with a hoard of golden coins of “attendance”, “participation”, and achievement in these programs, the cultural dragon does not want us to cease our offerings. He would rather we use cultural, unChristlike fear tactics and peer pressure to make people feel guilty for not offering their coins—coins we can count and measure.
The enemy, Satan, who does not always support the dragon’s exact aims, is still happy for the dragon to culturally spell us. This is because the enemy, Satan, is happy for us to either offer the coins in a pharisaical way—without becoming godlier, of course—or for us to get offended and abandon the gospel altogether, which is what happens when people isolate or judge us by our program participation. Both ways serve his destructive and miserable ends. If people are judging unrighteously and persecuting others so that they will serve the cultural dragon, then Satan wins. If people judge unrighteously and drive people not only away from the dragon, but away from the church and its necessary gospel ordinances and covenants, Satan also wins. The cultural dragon is its own monster, but it still serves the aims of the enemy. He would have us be golden-program sick, or to abandon the fight for godliness altogether.
With all that we understand, in these modern times, about different personalities, cognitive capacities, introversion and extroversion, faith-journeys, family differences, etc., you think we’d be able to understand that programs support individual and family efforts to become like Christ, but that we can’t expect a program to fit every shape and size of person out there. Programs are a help, a support. But not everyone wants the same amount of support, or thrives in such achievement or entertainment or socially-focused environments.
I’ve never been very big on social activities through the church at all. I’m an introvert. I don’t need people to come and visit me to strengthen my testimony, or so that I feel like I fit in at church. I don’t need to feel like I fit in, and often I just don’t. It’s nice to fit in, of course. Sometimes I do feel like I fit in, but that it is not a major player in my personal relationship with God. And, I’m okay with that. Others, however, do need that feeling of fitting in, and I’m okay with that too. I think activities should be held for those personality types, and I do try to support the ones that I mentally and emotionally can. But if I don’t go to many ward or Relief Society activities it’s not because I’m struggling with my testimony and it’s not that I’m mad at anyone. It’s because I take care of my own relationship between God and me, I focus on my family, and I don’t need every church program that is offered to support those efforts. I don’t depend on the programs. I do need some, and I do use them, when I need them. Other people need the extra support, and depend upon it because of where they are in their own personal and family spiritual progression. Which is great! Some need a little support, but not all of it. That is also great! Because that’s what the programs are supposed to do—to support us as much as we need.
As with those who don’t always make it to church, when youth (or adults) don’t feel inclined to participate in supportive church programs, our question should be about us, not them. We should think, “I should get to know this young woman (or young man or person) better,” rather than, “Well, he’s on the path to destruction, for sure”, or “Why doesn’t he ever come?”, we should think, “I wonder, knowing her like I do, how I can help her come closer to Christ in her way, instead of my way.” Or, perhaps, even better, we might think, “If this person doesn’t love the programs, I need to find a way to be their friend and minister to them outside of these programs”.
The new Children and Youth Programs are designed not for us to turn out achieving, certificate, and pin-bearing teens with the assumption that those achievements will also put a golden guarantee on their relationship with Christ. The most recently revealed programs are designed so that our children and teens can pray and seek personal guidance, from God, in how they can grow closer to Him by setting goals they choose. It’s a home-centered, personal-relationship-with-God centered plan. It is designed so that younger Latter-day Saints learn to depend on personal revelation sooner, instead of years after they’ve graduated all the supportive programs and still find that they don’t know how they “hear Him”. While we still hold onto some pieces of the old constructs, for now, and it’s still important to try to hold activities and aid our youth, it is no longer church-centered. It is family-centered and individual-centered. That means, my dear friends, that these young people’s personal righteousness and relationship with God is not in our control—not that it ever truly was, but we felt like it was, like we could control their righteousness and comfort ourselves by their patches and medallions that we had saved them. No, their relationship with God is theirs to measure. They get to take responsibility for that relationship sooner than we are culturally used to, which we find unsettling. But it’s okay.
I’ve heard the cry of many, “But what about those who don’t have supportive parents or family? They’re going to fail in this new program.” My answer: there is no failure, because it’s merely a support. They can’t fail, they can only choose to not use the supportive program as much as we’d like. So, statements like that are a symptom of fear. The program isn’t the gospel. The gospel can function perfectly well without it. These teens can still pray and read the scriptures and seek God’s help to learn and grow without the program. Look, God’s got this. God revealed this program specifically for this time in history. Do we really think He doesn’t know what He’s doing? He knows these individuals who don’t have the home-centered support we’d like them to have. He knows that through ministering, and seeking personal revelation as those called to aid them, He can support them through what we can do, without the program. Isn’t that interesting? He is asking them to get personal revelation to learn and grow spiritually AND He is asking us to minister using personal revelation—not to depend upon the program to measure, or label these youth.He’s trying to tell us that we can’t measure these things. They are taught and directed by the Holy Spirit. We need to be directed in supporting them just with or without the program as must as they need to be developing the capacity for personal direction for themselves.
So, it’s not just a change for the youth, it’s a change for us adults, too! We can leave Egypt and go directly into the promised land if we don’t stand around murmuring and complaining because we don’t understand things and want to keep things like they were back in Egypt. Or, we can murmur and complain and try to hold onto the way things have been done in the past until God decides He can’t move forward until we’ve wandered around for 40 years, died, and until only those youth that He’s training up, right now, are left. It means that we need to do things different than simply inviting youth to program events. It may be taking them for an ice cream on a weekly basis, and having a genuine conversation that only lasts 15 minutes instead of pressuring them repeatedly to attend the set 50-90 minutes on a set night of the week. It may be giving them rides on a moment’s notice, when they take us up on that half-hearted offer we issued. It may be many other things. It doesn’t always have to be served by the program. In fact, that’s what God is trying to get us away from. He’s trying to help us become godly, not just to act godly. The new youth program can also be served by ministering on our part. Then, when what we can do comes to an end, God’s got the rest. We need not fear. Golden programs have never saved anyone. Only God can save. The programs can only support what is already taking place for those who want, and need, that support.
So, why do we sometimes think this way? Why has our culture developed to become so judgmental about program participation and achievement? More importantly, why do we believe that achievement in these programs equals a person who will never stray? Why do we take so much comfort in necklaces, tie pins, and full-completion certificates? Shouldn’t our comfort and confidence come from the reassurance and guidance of the Holy Ghost?
Well, it is in the nature of pharisees to micromanage the spiritual education and progression of others. Pharisees want predictability. They want tangible, visual evidence that they are on the right track. They want to relax and “be done” because they’ve checked off all the boxes. They want other’s paths to Christ to look like theirs so that they can understand it, and evaluate it. They want everyone’s path to Christ to look like the one our culture says is the “best way”. But, as we’ve talked about in the previous parts of this multi-part podcast, it is the cultural dragon who leads us to focus on cultural constructs and counting golden coins instead of the doctrine and gospel of Christ, and on true ministering. The dragon, and the true mastermind, Satan, don’t want us to become godly. They just want us to offer golden coins and to incorrectly judge others by their outward spiritual riches. Thus, if that’s what we find ourselves doing, we are being deceived by the enemy, himself.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the doctrine of Christ: which is to come unto Christ, to repent, and to be baptized (2 Nephi 31, all verses). In verse 9-10, of 2 Nephi 31, it says: [God] showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them. It is His example we should follow, and none other. And he said unto the children of men: “Follow thou me”. Jesus didn’t submit to the pharisees oral law and programs. He talked often about how the pharisees preached good things, but then didn’t actually do what they preached. In Matthew 23:3 Jesus said: “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not”. Jesus was referring to the pharisees reading the scriptures and preaching faith, repentance, mercy, goodness, etc. They preached following the Holy Spirit. Yet, they did not actually exhibit these godly characteristics. They would preach the gospel and then adhere to their own oral traditions. Programs, rules, and achievements were their downfall, and they omitted faith, charity, mercy, and meekness when they persecuted and judged others for not participating in them. They missed Christ when He was right in front of them.
The doctrine, and gospel, of Jesus Christ is also not only baptism, but to get on the covenant path and try to become godly (ibid.). In 2 Nephi 31:12 it reads: “He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.” That is the gospel! Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently warned: “In the coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost” (Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives, General Conference, April 2018). That is how we measure our own spiritual progression—our capacity, willingness, and understanding of how to receive the Holy Ghost, of knowing how we “hear Him” in our lives. That is how we know where we stand in our relationship with God.
Gold sickness is to focus on the programs that support our journey as the solution, as the saving grace, instead of focusing on the journey to Christ with the programs as some useful equipment to have with us in our backpack. I can’t help but quote the live-action Cinderella here. “Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done”. Remember, the cultural dragon thrives on jargon, titles and callings, extra rules and labels, and most especially tradition (Can’t you hear the song from Fiddler on the Roof, “Tradition! Tradition!”). The dragon craves tradition and pride. The dragon loves things that we do without thinking, that we stop thinking about. He likes things that we take for granted are okay because they were okay last time, or ten years ago, or fifty years ago. He doesn’t want us to seek consistent personal revelation. The dragon loves actions that we do just to check off a list without that action actually helping us become more like God. The dragon loves the frills, gems, and jewels that we throw in with our golden, cultural actions. These are frills that we delight in and that in and of themselves aren’t evil, and “can’t be criticized as being wrong, but taken together, so occupy our time that we do not do those things that are absolutely essential…” (Elder Richard G. Scott, BYU Education Week, 19 Aug 1997, taken from Week of Aug 30 1997 Church News p.5)
Sometime ago, I served in a YW’s presidency. If you’ve been following along, you can see that God has put me in the YW’s many times. In this particular time of service in that calling, we constantly, in our activity planning, came upon the issue of tradition. There were some activities and special events that were on the calendar every year because that’s what had always been done, and they had been done in a very specific and set way. We were often met with annoyed resistance if we suggested something different, or even a minor change to a traditional activity. The youth programs had some golden traditions that cast a sickness over some minds. Things were expected to be a certain way because “that was what had always been done”. These traditional activities glittered and sparkled and shone. People had stopped wondering if these activities and events were what “should be done”. They wanted to fulfill cultural expectations and keep things comfortable and shiny, to meet the upcoming youth’s expectations. They wanted those jewels for display far more than wanting to rethink things, and to seek inspiration. It had been a good idea years ago, but no one any longer took the time to wonder if it was still the best idea.
I want to note here, that I have a testimony that God works with culture. It takes time to break traditions and replace them with the gospel. God rarely does it all at once, but He does do it, frequently. Little-by-little He gives us opportunities to shake off traditions and gold sickness and inject in their place unique, revelation-guided improvement. However, we are not to let these new inspirations become stagnant traditions either. Remember, it is consistent guidance by the Holy Ghost. Thus, we must constantly seek new revelation so that it becomes a pattern, a living-breathing thing, so that we never close ourselves off to God guiding us in our own journey and in our efforts to support the godly journey of others.
Let me give you an example. I used to save all my old lessons and talks with the intent that if I ever got asked to teach or speak on those topics again, I could just whip out my old version and reuse it. However, I found that each time the same topic of lesson or talk was given to me, that I would forget I had these old files until after I had prepared yet again. Then, when I would compare them, I would see that I had been inspired to approach the same topic in a totally different way, and for very good reasons. Usually, the way I was inspired to approach the topic led me to learn something new and to become a little better. Sometimes, the inspiration I received led me to barely touch on the topic I was given at all. It was only a beginning that the Spirit used to instruct me on where to go and what to ponder. I still save my old files. But I refer to them only when inspired by the Spirit. Every time I speak and teach, I am a different person than I was the last time. Every time I speak and teach, the people that I am in front of are different than before, even if they are mostly all the same people. To simply reuse an old talk deprives all of us of the opportunity for the Spirit to inspire us all with what we need now—because it’s different than what we needed last time.
The dragon of church culture’s greatest power is tradition—the way things have always been done are so comfortable! Tradition, however, if not closely monitored and frequently re-evaluated under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can bring on a sort of gold sickness that makes us begin to see others in a defensive and judgmental light, just like our dwarven king, Thorin Oakenshield. We want to hold on to our ways and not have to seek new inspiration and guidance, to rule differently. We don’t want to let go of the stuff that makes us feel we have a right to rule. We feel offended when people want to change things, or suggest a different way than the way it’s always been done. We think people who don’t want to do things in the traditional way are wayward and disloyal to God, not realizing that we may be the ones who are disloyal. We want people to do things our way because in our mind it’s the right way—the way it’s always been done. But this is a dangerous thing that can lead us to place tradition before personal revelation, and maintaining Christlike relationships. Shake off the gold sickness! Let go of tradition and seek new revelation!
This is the end of my five-part series on slaying the dragon of church culture. I hope you have enjoyed this adventure. I hope you have found personal inspiration and guidance for your own life. If you didn’t start at the beginning, I invite you to head back to Part I and catch the whole series. It builds on each other with each podcast building from the foundation of the one before it.
The entire series can be found in PDF form on the downloads page, https://thedoctrinelady.blog/downloads
If you’ve been with me from the beginning, then you know that I haven’t covered every religious cultural issue that exists. There are many. I have, however, detailed the false doctrines of the enemy which underlay all incorrect, cultural traditions. They all lead to pride, self-deprecations, unhealthy perfectionism, unrighteous judgment, unChristlike treatment of others, superiority complexes, inferiority complexes, etc.
If anything in these podcasts has changed your life, or deeply resonated with you, I invite you to share it with others. We may have finished the first few legs of our quest to slay the cultural dragon, but others have yet to begin. We may have, by our own discoveries, begun to weaken his power, but we have a long way to go yet, before the true enemy of our souls has been vanquished, and a Zion culture established.
Thank you for joining me on the quest! I hope to see you on my next adventure.