For the Strength of Youth: Why I Don’t Feel Super Happy When the Church Makes a Good Change

The cover of the new For the Strength of Youth pamphlet

In General Conference earlier this month, the church introduced a new version of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. Overall, this new version is a massive improvement over the previous one: gone are the gendered and specific modesty requirements, the arbitrary prohibitions on tattoos or piercings, and much of the shaming language. It’s not perfect: it still contains anti-LGBTQ rhetoric (“Feeling same-sex attraction is not a sin,” but don’t act on it and God loves you, basically), and while I find the church’s position on this to be incredibly harmful, it’s still a huge improvement from the now two-versions-removed 1990 FSY booklet I grew up with where gay relationships were placed on the same level as incest. (Yes, incest: “The Lord specifically forbids certain behaviors, including…sex perversion (such as homosexuality, rape, and incest)”. It also deployed words like “abomination” and “unnatural,” and I’m suddenly understanding why it took me until my late twenties to realize Queer folks are, y’know, regular people deserving of love just like me. Anyway.) From a big-picture, look-how-far-we’ve-come perspective, this new edition is a win.

So why, for so many of us, does it not feel like a win?

Any time there is a progressive change in the church, those of us who have been advocating for such changes can sometimes have surprisingly complicated feelings when they finally occur. It can feel validating–hooray, someone else noticed this thing and agreed it needs to be changed!–but it can also feel like gaslighting or erasure when the church doesn’t acknowledge that the original thing was wrong and doesn’t apologize for the harm the original thing caused and immediately pretends that the original thing never existed at all. And suddenly, according to many of our fellow congregants who vigorously defended the original thing but are now very excited about the new change, any pain we continue to feel due to the original thing is no longer valid because the thing no longer exists, thus negating any previous potential harm (nevermind the fact that any harm we experienced before the change was never actually valid to them in the first place because the original thing was obviously how the prophet/Jesus wanted it, so criticism meant we had no testimony). 

When the hearken covenant in the temple was changed a couple years ago and women were no longer required to covenant to hearken to their husbands or promised the “blessing” of becoming queens and priestesses to their husbands while their husbands got to become kings and priests directly to God, I felt happy that no other woman would be completely blindsided by the glaring inequity of the male vs. female covenants like I was. But even though they changed the covenant, which was a good thing, they told people not to talk about it and they buried the same inequity into the new verbiage: men are still to become kings and priests to God, but women are now to become queens and priestesses “in the new and everlasting covenant,” i.e. in marriage, i.e. to their husbands. The language is a little less starkly upsetting now, but it’s still pretty much the same in function. Husbands still take their wives through the veil before marriage acting as their husband-God. And now, gender roles are explicitly stated in the new sealing covenant. I find all of this to be extremely upsetting. So while I’m glad for the improvements, I’m still so angry that millions of women–those who had to covenant to obey their husbands pre-1990, those who had to covenant to hearken to their husbands pre-2019, and those who still notice and feel the inequities today–have had to try to reconcile their understanding of a loving God with the male-centric, man-favoring God in the temple. 

When, three and a half years after it leaked in 2015, the church rescinded its draconian policy which prohibited the blessing or baptism of children with a gay parent and labeled members in a same-sex marriage as apostates, there was celebration but also sadness and anger. The church did not apologize. The church did not acknowledge that the policy was wrong (glaringly, obviously wrong) or even that it was a mistake. The church did not take ownership of the harm it caused, even though people literally died because of their policy. Those of us who advocated for this change were relieved but furious it was ever needed in the first place.

When people, or, indeed, the church itself, celebrate the church-created good coming from a change of policy or doctrine but ignore the church-created bad resulting from whatever the previous doctrine or policy was, it doesn’t feel like a victory. Often, the things that finally force change are a critical mass of collateral damage and social pressure resulting from bad press. The problems that changes solve have been of the church’s own making. It is hard to applaud an organization for righting its own wrongs when there is no repentance, no restitution, no renunciation, no remorse.

How did you feel when you learned of the changes in the new For the Strength of Youth pamphlet? What were your experiences with FSY as a young person, and how did it shape your adolescence and adulthood? We’d like to collect your responses to the one you grew up with and the one just released and share them in our new series, #MyFSY. Please send essay-length submissions (typically between 600-1400 words), along with your preferred author name/moniker, a brief bio, and a public domain (or your own) picture to morewomenplease at gmail dot com. Shorter responses (fewer than 400 words or so) are also welcome and will be bundled and published with other brief submissions; for these, please just include an author name/moniker. Please send your submissions by November 30, 2022.

ElleK is a foodie, gardener, and writer. Women’s issues in the church are not a pebble in her shoe; they are a boulder on her chest.


  1. Well, much earlier than the “Strength of Youth Manual” was the rescinding of the priesthood ban on the “Negro.” Sadly, I had been turning myself inside out trying to defend that practice to my associates, and now, all of a sudden, it didn’t exist anymore. Well…whew! That was great. I guess. The same thing happened, even earlier, with polygamy. Hmmm…God must have changed “his” mind. I guess…Hmmm….
    How many times does this have to happen before people realize that God has nothing to do with these proclamations? And why do we insist on wrapping our brains around these “doctrines of men?”

  2. The feelings for me were the same. First gratitude – prayers of thank you God, thank you Jesus. Then pissed. Really pissed that we had to go through it and that it took so long.

  3. Well, I got to have the lovely 1965 version, which suggested girls should not wear pants except to participate in sports and not to go out in public with your hair in rollers (curlers, only the size of tin cans to straighten and give body to long hair.) It also took the stand that homosexual feelings were terrible sinful. The list of modesty rules for girls was long, and if I remember nothing at all was said about the boys running around the church building in nothing but basketball short shorts.

    I can’t say that any damage came directly from the pamphlet, because those standards were also enforced by schools. But that was probably that church culture ruled the schools too. And then there was my mother. She was stricter about “cover up so you don’t look so fat” because I was voluptuous, rather than supper skinny like the popular super model who went by “Twiggy” and she was twiggy, very. So, the body shaming was everywhere and probably worse than today, because after WWII, skirts got down to mid calf, and so as the style got shorter in the 60s, the WWII adults were having absolute fits, about skirt lengths that were in style in the 1920s. Most of the adults had grown up with knee length skirts, but that length was absolute porn when it came back.

    And the church’s attitude is like a parent who was emotionally abusive when you were a kid, but now that you are an adult and object to that kind of treatment, so they stopped. But then they are angry at you because you say the way you were treated as a kid hurt. They think the way they treat you now, should be retroactively applied to your developmental years. So, how they treated you growing up doesn’t exist. And if you are not fine, then it is all your fault for being an over sensitive cry baby. But, see that that that they deny your feelings and call you an over sensitive cry baby is *still* emotional abuse.

    I just pay no attention to the church’s emotional abuse. I recognize it for what it is, an emotional abusive and shaming institution.

  4. When I heard Elder Uchtdorf’s opening remarks for his talk Saturday morning, “In preparing for this message today, I have felt strong promptings to address the young women and young men”, I was curious what his strong promptings might be. I perked up my ears as he snagged my attention. As I continued to listen to his words, I was disappointed that he would start his talk with those words and then proceed to present the REAL reason he was there…to present to the members of the church the new FSY pamphlet. Is THAT why he “felt strong promptings to address the young women and young men” and if so, WHERE did those strong promptings come from? From God, or from the First Presidency? And the real kicker….speaking about Jesus Christ and presumably FOR Him, “He would want you to see yourself the way He sees you.”
    And then the punchline…”To help you find the Way and to help you make Christ’s doctrine the guiding influence in your life, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has prepared a new resource, a revised version of For the Strength of Youth.” Key words here: “Christ’s doctrine” and “a new resource”. I won’t go on and on I think I’ve made my point(s).

  5. I remember being handed copies of the FSOY constantly as a youth in the ‘90s, all of which I promptly threw in the garbage. I was even an obedient, timid, eager-to-please kid and a voracious reader, but I was never even tempted to crack open the dang thing once.

    And here’s the thing: by the Church’s standards, I turned out fine—RM, BYU grad, temple married, tithe-paying, stake calling, all that nonsense. But that all happened in spite of, not because, the FSOY, which again I never read.

    So here’s the question: if the FSOY is, at best, utterly irrelevant towards keeping one active, and at worse (as documented here and elsewhere) actively damaging to one’s mental and spiritual health, then why bother keeping it around at all? What an utter waste of church resources, Uchtdorf’s talents, and everyone’s time.

  6. The thing that bugs me the most is all of the members commenting on this incredible “revelation” and how grateful they are that the First Presidency is so inspired!!! Ummmm, I was inspired 10 years ago to stop teaching out of that pamphlet to both the YW I served as well as my own daughters. This was not “inspiration”- this was years of women, YW and mental health professionals telling the male leadership how damaging the messages are, often at the dismay and judgement of other church members. This was the “disobedient” women in the church saying ENOUGH and the First Presidency trying to do damage control. It makes me so angry.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Click to subscribe for new post alerts.

Click to subscribe to our magazine, in circulation since 1974.

Related Posts

When I’m 64.

When I am 64, I won’t be losing my hair. At least I don’t think I will. Last month I received a diagnosis of breast cancer...

Guest Post: Does it matter who holds the priesthood?

By Ziff In the past few years, the Church’s approach to explaining its ban on women holding the priesthood has been to play up the...

Best of Exponent 2013

We are looking forward to a great 2014, when the Exponent II magazine turns 40 years old! You can always read past issues of...

Anxiety in Speaking in Sacrament Meeting

Years ago, in preparing for a Young Women “Values” themed sacrament meeting, I mentioned to a member of the Young Women presidency that I...
submit guest post
Submit a Guest Blog Post
subscribe to our magazine
Subscribe to Our Magazine
Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :