Yesterday was testimony meeting (for some of you, fast and testimony meeting). By good fortune, I have never had much anxiety about the “ward crazies” who say such interesting things on open mic Sunday — by good fortune, the wards I have attended have not had this challenge. But I do see the standard mix of young children, probably three or four per testimony meeting, some who manage on their own, some who manage with parental prompts, some who require a word-for-word script whispered into their ear. It’s cute if it’s your own kid; it’s not a big deal if it’s someone else’s; it must be a bizarre experience for non-LDS visitors. Why do we do this?
Lest you think I am just having a get-off-my-lawn moment, let me remind you that official counsel discourages the bearing of testimonies by young children in testimony meeting. Here is part of a First Presidency Letter dated Feb. 14, 2013, posted at LDS.org (emphasis added):
Parents and teachers should help children learn what a testimony is and when it is appropriate for them to express it. It may be best to have younger children learn to share their testimonies at such times as family home evening or when giving talks in Primary until they are old enough to do so in fast and testimony meeting.
We encourage bishoprics to teach these important principles to priesthood and auxiliary leaders and to all ward members.
Here is from Handbook 2, section 11.8.3 (emphasis added):
Testimony meetings are discouraged in Primary. However, parents, Primary leaders, and teachers may provide other opportunities for testimony bearing. For example, children may share their testimonies when they give lessons in family home evening and when they give talks in sharing time. Such opportunities help children prepare to share their testimonies in fast and testimony meeting when they are old enough to do so without assistance from a parent, sibling, or other person.
It’s clear that official guidance strongly discourages having children bear “parent-assisted testimonies” at testimony meeting. Yet this happens all the time, and I have not seen any local leaders attempt to (even gently) discourage the practice. It is just one aspect of the more general infantilization of LDS Church culture: having LDS youth give prayers in sacrament meeting, singing Primary songs in sacrament meeting, Young Adult activities that seem more appropriate for tweens, sending missionaries out younger and younger.
The contrast between worship services at any other denomination and what one sees at an LDS service has grown sharper over the last two generations. Where other churches draw a clear distinction between adult services and those directed at children or youth, the LDS Church now seems to blend it all together, at least in practice (as noted above, official guidance does attempt to make sacrament meeting an adult meeting).
What do you think, reader? What is your experience at LDS testimony meetings? Is this an LDS problem, or does the rest of the world just not get it? Are we practicing a proper form of “let the little children come unto me” or have local leaders effectively subverted the counsel of senior LDS leaders by simply ignoring it?