Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Stripling Warriors on Parade, 2012
 


Stripling Warriors on Parade, 2012

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 13, 2012

Alma 56-57 records one of the Book of Mormon’s memorable stories: The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, Lamanites, had been so bloodthirsty that upon conversion to the gospel they covenanted never again to shed blood. Years later, their sons, who had not taken that covenant, went to war to defend their people and to protect their parents from breaking their oath. These 2,060 boys and young men, known in modern Mormondom as the “stripling warriors” or “sons of Helaman,” reflected the faith taught to them by their mothers, and God blessed their obedience and faithfulness by preserving their lives in battle.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, this is a story frequently alluded to in conference talks given by women, in recognition of the influence of righteous mothers on their children.

Like the stripling warriors in the Book of Mormon, our children can be motivated, blessed, and, most of all, protected by the faith and wise counsel of righteous mothers. – Virginia U. Jensen, October 1997

The image of the stripling warriors is called upon to illustrate other praiseworthy traits. Recent examples:

For youth, there is no substitute for seeing the gospel lived in our daily lives. The stripling warriors did not have to wonder what their parents believed. They said, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” Do our children know what we know? – Robert D. Hales, April 2010

You and I should strive to become like the stripling warriors described in the Book of Mormon, who did “perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them. … And they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually.” – David A. Bednar, October 2010

Individual recognition is rarely an indication of the value of our service. We do not know the names, for example, of any of the 2,000 sons of Helaman. As individuals, they are unnamed. As a group, however, their name will always be remembered for honesty, courage, and the willingness to serve. They accomplished together what none of them could have accomplished alone. – Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2008

The stripling warriors are about to enter the modern culture of Mormonism in a new way.

I’ve been hearing reports that the July celebration of one of the towns north of Salt Lake City will feature a new spectacle this year: 2,060 youths from age 12 [?] up to 25 [Clarification: The upper limit is reported, but the lower limit is unclear to me], drawn from the local community and from wards and stakes as far away as Idaho, will march in that town’s pre-Pioneer Day parade. The sponsor (a private individual, not a Church unit) has spent lavishly to manufacture swords, shields, and tunics (reportedly modest costumes, unlike the familiar Arnold Friberg depiction), to outfit this modern-day Lamanite army. [Clarification: The sponsor has had shield and sword manufactured for himself, and he will lead the marching boys, in the role of Helaman, I suppose; there's a question whether the youths themselves will be armed or only costumed.] The boys will be drilled on precision marching so as to present a neat, martial appearance. This is being presented to the young men as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and to their parents as “a life-changing experience.” Since these local celebrations often furnish floats and other entries in Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Day parade, the intent may be for the stripling warriors to march again on July 24 (this is my own assumption; I have not heard that such is indeed the plan).

Yikes.

No doubt this is being organized with the best of intentions. But have they really thought this through, in terms of the image this will present to the world, and the impressions it will make on the boys involved?

There is often a colossal disconnect between the visible, outward presentation of scripture and the invisible, inward meaning of events – that’s why the scriptures so often call to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. There may be no greater illustration of this disconnect than in the story of the stripling warriors:

Is there anything in the spectacle of a marching army that hints at the tender teachings of the boys’ mothers? Of the faith of young men who “doubted not” that the Lord would preserve them? That the young men remembered God, and kept sacred covenants, and were honest? Is there anything about this spectacle that hints at the fulfillment of the mothers’ faith and the boys’ trust?

The real lesson, the miracle of God’s preservation as a consequence of righteous faith, cannot be illustrated by orderly files on parade – that would be more adequately suggested by a horrific scene of hand-to-hand combat, with blades that slashed and pierced the flesh and brutally wounded every single one of the 2,060 young men, to the point where one in ten of them fainted from the loss of blood. It was only after the chaos and carnage of battle, after the boys were “taken from among the dead” and their wounds dressed, that the miraculous preservation of their lives was evident.

That isn’t a scene that any parade organizer would present to the public.

Instead, what image will be created by this spectacle? 2,060 young men is an incredible number to march in formation; 100 marching band members is a huge parade entry — imagine a group more than 20 times that size! These boys will be presented as an army – with ancient armor and weaponry, admittedly [clarification: whether or not the boys, or only their leader, will be armed is unclear], but marching in modern military formation, an unmistakable image of aggression and warlike organization. What in heaven’s name will that look like to outside observers, unaware of the scriptural context but saturated with the perception that Mormons have a goal of national or even world domination, that we surrender our own will to that of our leaders, marching in metaphorical lockstep without minds and wills of our own? Is there any doubt that unfriendly eyes will use footage of this spectacle to perpetuate, even deepen, that perception in this time of intense scrutiny and often hostile spin of Mormon motives?

And what of the “life-changing experience” for the participants? Is there any reasonable expectation that these boys will draw a lesson of faith and covenant-keeping and honoring of parents’ teachings from their participation in this event? Or will their “life-changing experience” be the emotional stirring of the martial spirit? There’s a reason, after all, why armies march in parades, why recruitment drives for so many wars in our history have invited young men to fall into line with uniformed soldiers who deliver them to the recruiter flush with enthusiasm and group spirit. There’s a reason why armies have moved to the beat of the drum, and why Sousa marches rather than Strauss waltzes are associated with military spectacle.

Some readers may consider me needlessly alarmist, but I see no upside to a spectacle like this, no matter how well-meaning its organizers, no matter how generous its sponsor. I see no possibility of the finer, gospel-centered lessons of the story being felt by marchers or perceived by observers.

Instead, I see only the certainty that the message of such an event will be the other use of the story that occasionally crops up in Mormon discourse:

In Alma 57 we read about the 2,060 sons of Helaman who fought valiantly in many wars, administering death to all who opposed them and the Church. – Ted E. Brewerton, April 1981

Is that the message the parents of these  marchers want their sons to internalize? Is that the message any of us wants broadcast to the world?



80 Comments »

  1. Wow.

    Another concern leaps to mind. Not only were the young men in the Book of Mormon obedient to — and trusting of — their mothers; they were also the product of war-loving parents who had repented and forsaken their warring nature. The stripling warriors grew, as you point out clearly, out of circumstances that are simply not present for this batch of 2060 marchers.

    Hmmm. Another reason to be grateful to live where I do, I suppose.

    Comment by Paul — March 13, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  2. I don’t consider you “needlessly alarmist.”

    I know my comments will probably get criticized, and I hope that my comments don’t stray too far from the OP.

    In general I personally have problems with things like this. IMHO, I think we encourage the youth to participate in these types of activities and consider them “life-changing experiences.” Does “life-changing” suggest testimony building? Years ago, I served as YM Pres. (It was back in the day when there was to be an explicit “Priesthood Purpose” associated with every activity.) I got a letter about an upcoming stake scout camp. It strongly encouraged us to make sure our YM were there–kind of the “life-changing experience” suggestion. It listed the activities that would take place–muzzle loading shooting, archery, hatchet throwing, canoing, and on and on. Then the Preisthood Purpose was stated: This will help prepare the young men for missions, marriage, fatherhood and leadership in the Church. I raised the question in PEC, these activities might be a lot of fun, but how does archery prepare a young man for a mission? How does hatchet throwing prepare a young man for fatherhood? (I don’t think everyone appreciated my questions :-( ) Things such as these scout camp activities, dressing like the 2,000 stripling warriors, or doing a “trek” might be fun, but, IMHO, let’s not oversell any of these as “life-changing.” Does the physical exertion of pulling a handcart around for a while or dressing up as a stripling warrior in a parade really equate to a testimony? Perhaps there are some youth who do contemplate the experience and make something of it. But I’m just hesitant to think that these are ways to gain a testimony.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 13, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  3. Sort of an irrelevant aside, but does anybody else in the entire English-speaking world ever use that word “stripling” anymore?

    And I’m with Steve–most of the circuses that we organize as “life-changing” events for the youth are as likely to change their lives as winning tonight’s basketball game. Most will be forgotten tomorrow and by next week we’ll forget that we had Tuesday this week.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 13, 2012 @ 8:47 am

  4. Note, please that I have added clarifications in three places: Young Men’s groups are being recruited for this event, although I don’t know for certain whether that extends as young as 12-year-olds or whether there is some other minimum age; and the sponsor is furnishing tunics or [modest] togas of some kind so that the boys and young men will present a uniform appearance, but whether or not they will be armed is unclear. The sponsor, however, has had sword and shield and perhaps other bits of armor made for himself, and he will march at the head of the column.

    If the “troops” are in fact unarmed, the militant imagery is lessened but not removed. And I really don’t know what to think of a man who casts himself in the role of a warrior leader and raises an army of 2,060 to march behind him down the streets of his city.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 13, 2012 @ 9:00 am

  5. This hits a sore point for me as I am a conscientious objector of youth conferences, EFY, Aaronic Priesthood camps and most pioneer treks. I support Scouting as the Aaronic Priesthood activity and don’t understand why we need to invent other life-changing events. There is enough character to learn in Scouting and opportunities in real service projects and temple work to build spiritual lives instead of creating symbolic events of questionable meaning. Activities are good for activities sake developing social skills and learning from good adult role models. Go climb a mountain because it’s there. Girls’ camp is fine too – I’ve been numerous times. Don’t just make stuff up to fill time and create false “life-changing” extravaganzas.

    Comment by Grant — March 13, 2012 @ 9:03 am

  6. Mark B: Can you have “Stripling” warriors who wear “Modest” tunics/togas? :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — March 13, 2012 @ 9:05 am

  7. Amen to the distaste for hyped-up youth activities. I’m interested to see how this spectacle plays out.

    Comment by HokieKate — March 13, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  8. A Mormon paramilitary organization? Really?

    If I saw an invitation like that, I’d feed it into the paper shredder in the clerk’s office.

    Comment by Researcher — March 13, 2012 @ 9:18 am

  9. Between the wife of Thomas B. Marsh and the strippings from the milking of the cow and the stripling warriors, I’m completely confused.

    It’s almost as bad as the guy who kept talking about “immorality and eternal life.”

    Comment by Mark B. — March 13, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  10. I really doubt this will go through as the Aaronic Priesthood used to have week-long trainings here in Northern Utah dubbed “Sons of Helaman” and were asked to change it.

    Comment by EmJen — March 13, 2012 @ 10:21 am

  11. Onward Christian soldiers…

    Comment by The Other Clark — March 13, 2012 @ 11:32 am

  12. Some will certainly see in it an effort to help the Romney campaign, as well.

    Having had a son go through the old “Sons of Helaman” camps some 20 years ago, it seemed life changing at the time. Not not so much now, after he left church activity over a number of issues that bothered him.

    I do think that things like this are often well intended, but not always well thought out as to how they look from the outside. I’ll admit my first reaction was in the neighborhood of “kind of cool.” Considering the sheer scale of the numbers, it smacks a bit of being a spectacle for spectacle’s sake, though.

    Comment by kevinf — March 13, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  13. I agree with your post, Ardis. You are not being alarmist, you are being reasonable.

    Comment by Todd — March 13, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

  14. Yeah, I don’t really see an up-side to this spectacle. Thanks for your explanation. You made me consider again what that Book of Mormon story really means.

    Comment by David Y. — March 13, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

  15. How about if 2060 boys in Utah volunteer to do a really messy, distasteful, and even dangerous job so their parents wouldn’t have to do it?

    Comment by Carol — March 13, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

  16. That’s filial devotion, always a good thing, but lacking some of the element of helping their parents keep sacred covenants the way the young Ammonites did. And in either case, I don’t think the boys would/should be marching to win the acclaim of onlookers.

    (In case it isn’t clear, let me state explicitly that I think I understand the good intentions behind this project. I only question whether the likely outcome, especially in public perception, has been carefully considered.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 13, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

  17. Now this is totally, wholly, probably woefully off topic.

    In years past I had it in my mind that the hosting fees for this site were due sometime around the time of Ardis’s birthday (am I remembering that correctly?) and I’ve suggested previously that perhaps her readers could help “pitch in” five or ten dollars to help with the hosting fees for everyone’s favorite single-author Mormon history blog.

    Ardis’s birthday has come and gone and I missed that cue, but it looks like the “donate” button that J. added to the sidebar a few years ago is still there.

    Comment by Researcher — March 13, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

  18. I couldn’t think of a way for them to help their parents keep a covenant. But in any case it shouldn’t be published and photographed. Just experienced.

    Comment by Carol — March 13, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

  19. In my opinion, the church has suffered enough negative press lately. I can only imagine what the world’s reaction would be to this many young men in military attire and marching together–shades of Hitler’s youth army?

    Comment by Maurine Ward — March 13, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

  20. When I read your description of this exercise, the image that came to mind was of various wealthy Italian renaissance art patrons who paid for religious paintings to hang in their local cathedral, illustrating a biblical scene which showed the patron (sometimes their family members also) in attendance as an observer. The inclusion of the patron was pure self-promotion, sort of like the advertising of its day.
    The young men being recruited to march are serving as props in this conceptual art piece, which may very well be an unintended flop due to the way it will be perceived by viewers. It sounds like a sunday school visual aid run amok x 1000. Not very well thought through.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — March 13, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

  21. The sponsor is going to lead them as the figure of Helaman? That, in and of itself, good intentions or not, is cause enough for alarm.

    Isolation breeds absurdity, unfortunately.

    Comment by Ray — March 13, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

  22. That’s not at all off topic Researcher! I’m so glad you reminded me about that important donate button!

    But getting back to the topic at hand, this sort of thing fascinates and disturbs me in terms of how it shapes LDS culture and its relation to the past. I’m quite interested in the various kinds of historical iconography that circulate through pageants and memorials—in fact that is yet another topic I hope to write on at some point. I think they are important not just as general symbols but as pedagogical moments for those involved, as Ardis points out.

    I can think of many instances of formal and informal play from my own childhood which connected to Utah/Mormon heritage and taught me lessons that still resonate: lessons particular to LDS tenets, but also applicable to being a member of the larger human community as well.

    Comment by Mina — March 14, 2012 @ 5:14 am

  23. If this scenario can’t be quietly quashed before it unfolds completely, I hope the insightful “captain” leads the 2,060 youth off the parade route to a day-long service project, which I believe is one of the major focuses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Priesthood. I’m not sure how the parade safari fulfills any of the “Duty to God” requirements.

    Comment by J.B. — March 14, 2012 @ 8:56 am

  24. After a days reflection, and as a resident of Davis County, let me just say that I would think it pretty difficult to find 2,060 young men around here who would be willing to do this. I’ve had trouble getting 5 guys at Stake basketball so our Teachers quorum doesn’t forfeit. They like roadshows and other spectacles even less.

    And I’m going to make my contribution (modest as it may be) to Ardis’s blog.

    Comment by Grant — March 14, 2012 @ 10:03 am

  25. “There is often a colossal disconnect between the visible, outward presentation of scripture and the invisible, inward meaning of events – that’s why the scriptures so often call to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.”

    Too true. It reminds me of the time in Primary sharing time the kids were acting out scripture scenes. The teacher demanded a child act out cutting off Laban’s head. The child was stunned, but she kept insisting. It was horribly uncomfortable. No spirit there.

    Comment by M Miles — May 22, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  26. Yeah, well, maybe the idiot whose depraved idea this parade is — and which is, according to today’s Deseret News article, in fact going to come to be — can stage a reenactment of the abduction of the Lamanite women, or the Old Testament rape of Dinah, or maybe the final slaughter in the Book of Mormon, or any of another myriad of scriptural stories that are not meant to lead to emulation!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 22, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

  27. To be frank, I’d put you in the needlessly alarmist category, at least for this post. I mean, ‘depraved’? Sounds a bit extreme. I have some very good friends who are reenactors and my impression is that their hobby is at least one remove from pedophilia, if not more.

    When I was that age, I could have gone for this, but only if I got a sword and other military kit. Precision marching by itself doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time, or life-changing or anything else. Still, if some folks like it, God bless ‘em, it takes all kinds.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 22, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  28. Here is an additional description of the event:

    …the young men will not dress in loin cloths but will be dressed in tunics with a waistband, a wristband and a headband. All of the young men will carry a staff or spear, and they will march in time, so the staff will hit the pavement every fourth step, she said.

    There are also now published pictures of the man playing Helaman in full costume.

    I am not sure about any good intentions behind this. Seems to me more like someone has a fantasy of being Helaman the warrior in a parade and has the money to do it.

    I am also a bit disappointed this Helaman happens to be a Stake President…

    Comment by Manuel — May 22, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

  29. I’m not surprised we disagree, Adam — you’re looking at this solely from the inside, just a bunch of fun-loving Young Men on a larger-than-normal lark. I have the ability, though, to step outside my parochial insularity and see things as they appear to non-Mormons. It’s why I’m so good at translating Mormonish to English for my client work.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 22, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

  30. “Is there any doubt that unfriendly eyes will use footage (reporting) of this spectacle to perpetuate…”

    Nope, no doubt at all.

    Comment by Farmington — May 22, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

  31. My best guess is that the planner is a Democrat and knows that images of this will haunt the heck out of Romney through the campaign season. :)

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — May 22, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  32. If only it could be limited to one man and that the rest of us wouldn’t have to live under its shadow …

    Here’s what one Bountiful stake’s newsletter recently included:

    G. Handcart Parade: Sons of Helaman: The Bountiful Handcart Parade (Friday, 20 July) will make world history when 2060 (or more) toga clad, stick stomping, unisonlike marching YM between 12 and 29 will march 10 abreast down the Main street of Bountiful, showing to the world (actual serious media coverage of this event) what the power of the love of their mothers and their testimony of the gospel can achieve!

    Bro. Keller of the 9th ward is the stake coordinator. There will be a practice (we believe) march on 30 June and another time in July.

    Keep your 20 July calendar alive for this very significant memorable event.

    They actually think that “serious media coverage” of this travesty is a GOOD thing.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 22, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  33. Its not necessarily the case that everyone who disagrees with you on this is stupid and parochial and just generally less mentally formed than you. Me, sure, but not everyone.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 22, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  34. I don’t necessarily disagree with your criticisms of this event. But every time I hear someone decrying this or that strange or bizarre element of Mormon culture that supposedly turns off the Gentiles, I think back to to Jody Bottum’s article “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”:

    “The arcanery of decorations on albs and chasubles, the processions of Holy Water blessings, the grottos with their precarious rows of fire-hazard candles flickering away in little red cups, the colored seams and peculiar buttons that identified monsignors, the wimpled school sisters, the tiny Spanish grandmothers muttering prayers in their black mantillas, the First Communion girls wrapped up in white like prepubescent brides, the mumbled Irish prejudices, the loud Italian festivals, the Holy Door indulgences, the pocket guides to Thomistic philosophy, the Knights of Columbus with their cocked hats and comic-opera swords, the tinny mission bells, the melismatic chapel choirs—none of this was the Church, some of it actually obscured the Church, and the decision to clear out the mess was not unintelligent or uninformed or unintended.

    “It was merely insane. An entire culture nested in the crossbeams and crannies, the nooks and corners, of the Catholic Church. And it wasn’t until the swallows had been chased away that anyone seemed to realize how much the Church itself needed them, darting around the chapels and flitting through the cathedrals. They provided beauty, and eccentricity, and life. What they did, really, was provide Catholicism to the Catholic Church in America, and none of the multimedia Masses and liturgical extravaganzas in the years since—none of the decoy nests and artificial puddles—has managed to call them home. All the mission bells will ring, / The chapel choir will sing, / When the swallows come back to Capistrano.”

    This is what I think Adam means when he says “it takes all kinds.” Obviously there are some things that are just beyond the pale. But I apply a pretty strong presumption to just let the Mormons be Mormons, and I would probably apply that here.

    Comment by MC — May 22, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

  35. Adam, neither is it true that I said or implied anything of the sort. Viewing a matter as an insider without awareness of how it looks to outsiders *is* parochial — but being parochial says nothing about stupidity or lesser mental formation (any more than, by the way, the word “depravity” is limited to pedophilia). Stop trying to pick a fight.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 22, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

  36. Julie M. Smith FTW.

    So the guy leading this (the one dressed in a re-creation Roman soldier uniform?) is a stake president? That’s…a thing.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — May 22, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

  37. Fair enough. I revise and extend my remarks to say that not everybody who disagrees with you is parochially insular.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 22, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

  38. Adam, you’re the one who asked to be allowed to comment at Keepa. If you’re not willing to play nice, you can go back in the penalty box, for keeps.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 22, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

  39. I feel blessed that this would never fly in most of Mormondom.

    Comment by queuno — May 22, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

  40. They should take that show on the road march it somewhere else. I’m thinking the South Side of Chicago. That would be brave and it would be LIFE CHANGING for those Bountiful boys. Or the Castro District. That would be life altering too.

    Comment by oudenos — May 23, 2012 @ 7:10 am

  41. One of the comments to the article says that it’s been done before, but with the boys dressed as missionaries. That would be better.

    Comment by Carol — May 23, 2012 @ 8:12 am

  42. Yeah, but that would mean the organizer wouldn’t get to dress up in his Helaman Caesar costume. [/snark]

    I could support that. That many missionaries as “God’s Army” would be impressive to Mormon viewers, and if it gave a sense of “this is what I want to be a part of” to the marching boys it could be beneficial. I suppose some unfriendly eyes could still twist it into something creepy, but it would be a whole lot easier to explain and defend.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 23, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  43. I don’t think you are being too alarmist. It is one thing to have 2060+ youth in costume marching in a parade. It is another thing to explain it as a tribute to motherhood.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — May 23, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  44. Tribute to motherhood? That’s really scary. I’m taking my son to the MTC on that same day. Now it seems that’s the day “missionary mom” becomes “terrorist mom”.

    Comment by Carol — May 23, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  45. Not a fan of the idea; I’m curious how much play it will get, though, on a national level. I just hope that, if it happens, I never hear of it again (and especially not on the Daily Show or Colbert Report!).

    Comment by Sam Brunson — May 23, 2012 @ 9:54 am

  46. I’m troubled that nobody has commented about that immodestly short skirt “Helaman” is wearing.

    It just goes to show how far our standards of modesty have slipped in this permissive age.

    To say nothing of the discomfort I feel in the presence of cross-dressers everywhere. It’s almost enough to make me swear off the Deseret News altogether.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 23, 2012 @ 10:02 am

  47. It’s okay, Mark, really it is — his shoulders are covered, after all. Can’t help you with the cross-dressing discomfort, though, although I sympathize after my distress at having seen Capt. Picard in his DRESS uniform in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 23, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  48. Don’t look now, but the comments on the Deseret News article suggest that some folks are, like, totally stoked [,dude!] for this parade.

    Also, in the DN article the SP posing in his get-up looks like the kind of person who angled to get the Joseph Smith or King Noah role in the Hill Cumorah pageant and then shamelessly hammed it up for days on end.

    Finally, nothing says blooded warrior bad*** like Birkenstock sandals.

    Comment by oudenos — May 23, 2012 @ 10:54 am

  49. Nothing has bolstered my faith in the wisdom, prudence and good sense of my fellow Latter-Day Saints, than reading the comments to this post.

    No life has ever been changed by pageantry. Pageantry incites wars, and political movements, and ethnic violence. Lives are changed by daily acts: Prayer. Being kind to others. Studying the scriptures. Performing quiet acts of service.

    The trouble with that stuff is that it doesn’t ever afford you the chance to dress in a tasteful tunic and brandish a sword.

    Comment by Cort — May 23, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  50. Here on the eastern side of the United States, if people want to dress up in military gear, they join a local group and do Civil War or Revolutionary War reenactments, or they dress up as Benjamin Franklin or Betsy Ross and lead tours, or volunteer at local Washington-slept-here county museums. There isn’t much of that sort of thing in Utah to take care of the need of certain types of people to dress up, which might explain it breaking out in this kind of an event.

    I guess since I’m used to going places like Washington Crossing and watching the re-enactors fire cannons at New Jersey (a rather harmless pursuit), I can’t make myself get too bent out of shape about this, and I don’t imagine that media types, who are probably also used to events of this sort, would get too bent out of shape about it, either, unless they wanted to make some sort of political point. But I could be wrong. : )

    Comment by Amy T — May 23, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

  51. Look, I’d playing dress-up is the only truly reliable means of gaining an understanding of a subject, then the only people on earth who truly understand the Atonement are those Filipino guys who nail themselves to crosses every Good Friday.

    All of it – Trek, The Hill Cumorah Pageant, stripling warrior fandangos — is dangerous, and destructive, because it replaces the difficult business of cultivating faith with pointless sacrifice and empty spectacle. It is a colossal waste of time.

    Comment by Cort — May 23, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

  52. I can’t go nearly that far, Cort; reenactment is an ingrained, ancient way of putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes to gain insider understanding. Baptism, the sacrament, aspects of the temple ritual are such reenactments. Other bits of playacting — a Nativity pageant, little kids decorating red wagons with canvas tops and marching around the parking lot — are helpful in teaching and absolutely not harmful. I’d put the Hill Cumorah and similar pageants in the grown-up division of the same category. I don’t even mind handcart treks (when they’re well managed and when some of the worst elements of exaggeration are trimmed). Reenactments of the Revolution, or Civil War, or Mountain Man Rendezvous, or Society for Creative Anachronism — for the most part (when they don’t provide excuses for a week-long drinking binge and orgy, or the occasional feeding of an individual’s sadistic, authoritarian tendencies) I think are great — not harmful.

    I wouldn’t even especially mind the Stripling Warrior march so much, if it weren’t for the way every twitch of a Mormon eyebrow is being analyzed and interpreted by pundits around the world at the moment. I don’t like the visual this creates — it takes little imagination to foresee an out-of-context use of film clips as justification for classifying Mormonism a cult in certain parts of the world, as well as the ridicule it will engender: If footage of the “toga clad, stick stomping, unisonlike marching YM” doesn’t show up as B-roll behind Bill Maher and Lawrence O’Donnell and any number of Bible-thumpin’ Christian broadcasters, then such spokesmen are stupider than they look.

    But it’s going to happen, apparently. I’ve expressed my unhappiness over that here, and there’s nothing more I can do but cringe and hope for the best. I’m certainly not going to go the route of condemning all Mormon-themed playacting.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 23, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

  53. The early Passion plays were as much about anti-Semitism as harkening to Old Jerusalem. That’s the problem with the play acting stuff: some one is always pushing an agenda.

    I agree completely with your point about sacred ordinances being a means of refocusing ourselves through ritual; the difference between something life- affirming, like baptism or the Endowment, and something odious, like Trek, is that the former uses the act to force us to make hard assessments about ourselves (am I truly worthy? Do I earnestly seek the Savior?) while the latter is designed to reinforce what wonderful,, superior beings we are.

    A few years ago, the Houston Chronicle did a story on how area church kids were spending Spring Break. A Baptist group was going to build houses in a poor neighborhood. Another group was heading to New Orleans, for a week of Katrina cleanup. Another group was taking medical supplies to Central America. The Mormon kids were dressing in homespun and calico, and heading to East Texas for a week of playing pioneer.

    It was, to paraphrase Jedidiah Grant, a stink in my nostrils.

    Comment by Cort — May 23, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

  54. Actually, all would be forgiven if they’d fire a few cannonballs at New Jersey. I realize it would take, as they say, a heckuva cannon to fire a shell that far, but, as Amy T suggests, what harm can come from firing cannons at New Jersey?

    Comment by Mark B. — May 23, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

  55. I’m not too keen on the idea that we all have to tone it down while Brother Romney has his moment.

    Comment by John Mansfield — May 25, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  56. I would vote for an actual baseball mitt before I’d vote for Brother Romney. His needs, goals and agendas hav nothing to do with my objections. It’s an imbecilic activity. It’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of money. It trivialIzes an important, particularly rich passage of The Book of Mormon. It begs the question: What fresh Hells await us? For someplace, a stake High Council is saying, “We’ve got to top that!”

    Somewhere, someone is (rightly) complaining that this activity completely ignores Young Women, and a well meaning but benighted Proesthood leader is suggesting an honor guard of 24 fair maidens (certified virgins), who will perform tasteful dances, in the Lamanite style.

    Comment by Cort — May 25, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  57. Okay, Cort, I’m going to ask you please to step away from the keyboard. I think we understand your point of view now. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 25, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

  58. With pleasure. Sorry to be the electronic equivalent of the crazy-eyed Testimony bearer who makes everyone take a sudden, intense interest in studying the hymnbook…

    Comment by Cort — May 25, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

  59. Ha! You have one of those in your ward, too??

    (You’ve expressed your opinion very well, Cort, and I certainly don’t mind that it’s even a little stronger than my own. I just want to keep the field open for someone to completely disagree with us both, without expecting that he’ll be jumped on for saying this is the greatest idea since birthday cake.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 25, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  60. I have to express a couple of thoughts. When I try to visualize how this would go down here in Redmond, WA, during Derby Days (our local equivalent of Handcart Days, and at about the same time) is that first, such an overt religious display would not be allowed. And if it was, it would draw a lot of confused stares, serve as fodder for any number of evangelical sermons about our cult status, and a mix of cringing and teary testimony bearing in the local wards. It does not sound good to me.

    However, as the father of a son who is struggling with many things, both physical and spiritual, if he decided he wanted to do this as an honor to his mother, I’d feel a whole lot different, I suspect. So I totally understand the ambivalent feelings and mixed emotions around this event.

    This reminds me of a comment by a good friend, back in the 80’s when I still lived in Utah about Utah’s quest to get the winter Olympics. It seemed that everyone was expressing what a great missionary tool the Olympics would be, shattering all the stereotypes about Mormons and Utah. My friend said “No, it will confirm all the stereotypes about the church and Utah.” In retrospect, I believe he was mostly right. I’ll be watching the Daily Show and Colbert Report for coverage of this rather strange event. Good motives don’t always lead to good outcomes, I fear.

    Comment by kevinf — May 25, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

  61. My first bit of squeamish angst about this event came when I saw a picture of the man who will play Helaman standing in a pose, sword drawn shown in profile. His armor looked like that of a Greek Hoplite from Athens or Sparta or a Roman general. I am pretty certain there is no chance at all that Helaman’s armor would have looked like that. Grand spectacles are risky things in that they play against every other persons preconceptions. I recall the movie “The Book of Mormon” and how awful it was to sit in the theater completely underwhelmed and hearing the titters coming from the audience. From what I have seen so far, I for one wish this wasn’t going to happen.

    Comment by Wendell — May 25, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

  62. Yet another example of something embarrassing done in Utah by the blissfully sheltered which we non-Utah Mormons will have to explain to our friends and colleagues.

    Plain embarrassing.

    Comment by Jacob F — May 26, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

  63. Are we not reading a little more into this than need be? Is this not just a simple re-enactment of an event recorded in the Book of Mormon that the Mormon pioneers believed to be true? This isn’t much different than parade entrants dressing up as 1800s pioneers, which might seem silly to some too. These 2000 warriors are described as righteous young men doing as their mothers taught them. Would you prefer that they organize a fleet of 2000 future “pretend” car bombers? Let ‘em have their fun and everyone get off your soapboxes.

    Comment by Greg Chapman — May 27, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

  64. Readers, Greg Chapman’s general incoherence speaks for itself. Please do not respond to the snarkier elements of his remarks, but let them stand as a monument unto themselves.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 27, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

  65. Why not include the court of wicked king noah, the evil high priests, the carrying off of the fair maidens…the mind boggles at the thought of all the possible spiritual life changing events.

    Probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in Utah and parts of Idaho.

    Unless we cross dress young women and young men as the evil priests and the fair maidens, then we might have something that the locals would start thinking about.

    Is this really happening? Reminds me of the movie “The “Music Man” where the mayor’s wife and friends are preparing for the ever popular early 1900’s tableux “One grecian urn….” To quote charlie broqwn…”good grief”

    Comment by Oak — May 28, 2012 @ 9:21 am

  66. I wish y’all would try not to take the lazy, stereotypical route of making this a “Utah Mormon” vs “Normal Mormon” thing. It isn’t.

    Yes, it’s occurring in Utah, and yes, it could hardly occur anywhere else — not because Mormons in Utah are some weird brand of eccentric idiot, but because few other places have the concentration of Mormons to pull off something like this.

    BUT many of those commenting on this thread, including me, including the disgusted parent who first brought this planned parade to my attention, are Utah Mormons. We don’t endorse this — we have explained our reasons for dismay. Our Utah residence hardly blinds us to the problems or makes us part of the ignorant herd some paint Utah Mormons as being.

    And I have no doubt that there are many Mormons in other places, the friends and stake members of people here who are so smug about identifying this as a symptom of Utah Mormonism, who read the Deseret News report with approval and wished that their sons could be part of such a fine exhibit of … whatever it is.

    Don’t use this as an excuse to rag on Utah Mormons as if we were one of a kind, inferior to you who know what “real life” is like.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 28, 2012 @ 9:46 am

  67. Yay, Ardis! I’ve lived extensive periods in and out of Utah and I was born in Oregon to a family with Utah Pioneer roots. Mormon Crazy has no geographical limitation. And that’s not to say all Mormons are crazy either – just the ones that dress up like a Roman Helaman and march down the street – or start up self-awareness encounter groups – or get baptized for Elvis – or preach the Lost Tribes are in the hollow earth – or (I’d just better stop before I make the list).

    Comment by Grant — May 28, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  68. The army of Helaman was composed of the children of a group of outsiders, Lamanites, who had once been the enemies of the Nephites and were then welcomed into their lands, but still lived apart from them. If this guy from Bountiful went down to West Valley City and got 2000 of the Lamanite descendants from the Spanish-speaking and Tongan stakes, then I would definitely come and see them march.

    Comment by FoxyJ — May 28, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

  69. I’d probably be inclined to reject the value of pageants, treks, and such on the same sound theoretical grounds as others here, were it not that the empirical evidence suggests such orchestrated events can, in fact, be life-changing.

    I cringe to admit it, because I have since developed a much greater intolerance for Mormon kitsch, but … my own conversion began with Saturday’s Warrior. Yeah, I know. The thought makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Now.

    My conversion process reached its culmination during a summer Scouting High Adventure camp. I note that even some of the more hard-core anti-life-changing-event commenters here hesitate to include Scouting in their list of nostril-stinking useless exercises, which is well, since the evidence for its value (when done right) is considerable.

    I have seen lasting influence for good on my own children and their peers from the Trek experience. Such events can become a touchstone in a young person’s life. We might prefer they choose a different touchstone, but we should probably acknowledge that some fraction of the spiritual experiences youngsters report having on Trek are genuine.

    Finally, one ought not to reject pageants, treks, reenactments, et al. merely because lots of ordinary, non-intellectual people like them.

    And now, if any readers are still with me, let me acknowledge the truth of much of the other side of the argument. Saturday’s Warrior is, to say the least, not an ideal instrument of conversion. It has some wonderful things to teach about the perils of peer pressure and the value of families and reaching out to the lost sheep. Unfortunately, it also teaches some doctrine that has been all but pronounced false by the Brethren. (It also has a lot of cheesy 70s music, but perhaps that mattered less back in the actual 70s.) In my case, Saturday’s Warrior was useful at getting me started on conversion, but it was reading the Book of Mormon that cemented my testimony, as should be the case.

    Even potentially good activities can be done badly, and frequently are. The comments here seem to reflect first-hand experience with badly executed activities. But even home teaching and visiting teaching can be done badly, as I know from personal experience. I have had more than one person I was assigned to visit invite me to get my seven-foot asthmatic a– off his doorstep, and I think it would probably be a mistake to automatically assume that the problem is with the visitee.

    And some activities strike me as next to impossible to do well. My own favorite loathed memory was of being put through the dreadful “plane-flight-to-Eternity” activity by my ward’s AP-YW, as it was called at the time. (I imagine I just gave away my approximate age.)

    On this Heleman marching activity: My initial gut reaction is that the activity is really lame. My second reaction is somewhat like Adam’s: Lame as it is, it is probably harmless. Inadequately dressed youngsters carrying fake swords and shields in an age of AK-47s, Kevlar, and predator drones do not exactly project shock and awe, you know what I mean? I think you’d have to be uncommonly stupid to mistake them for a militia, not that uncommon stupidity is as uncommon as one might wish. Nor do I think we need to be walking on eggs just because of Mitt Romney. I’d imagine a walking tour of Nancy Pelosi’s district on a warm spring day would be quite a bit more scandalous, except I don’t need to imagine, though I’m not going to post the link to the pictures here.

    I agree with the multiple commenters who interpret this as a publicity stunt, in which the organizer has quite inappropriately tried to enlist local Church leaders, who I hope have not forgotten how to show someone the door. He’s looking for a cast of angels to celebrate his apotheosis. No good can come from such a thing.

    Comment by Vader — June 27, 2012 @ 8:49 am

  70. I think I know who P—T is now.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2012 @ 8:56 am

  71. It looks like we have a little more info now: http://www.handcartdays.org/events/sons-of-helaman/

    Today’s the rehersal. Meanwhile, click the first PDF (Purpose of the Sons of Helaman March) and you’ll see that someone, at least, is taking this way too seriously.

    Comment by John Taber — July 14, 2012 @ 9:28 am

  72. Oh. My. Goodness. Thanks, John.

    Further deponent saith not.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 14, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  73. Just back from the Bountiful Handcart Days Parade. Saw the Striplings. They were actually quite impressive and we knew a couple of them. We were at the end of the parade and the Striplings were a little tired. There was one guy who did seem to be enjoying it an awful lot – and that was the guy dressed like a Roman General at the front. So, if my family did the math correctly, it was 99.95% pretty cool and impressive. Only .05% was a little disturbing – that one Roman guy. But I bet he has material for years of firesides.

    Comment by Grant — July 20, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

  74. Oh, there were a few more having fun. There were a few full-time missionaries at the end. They were probably having fun because they got to wear shorts under their Stripling tunics.

    Comment by Grant — July 20, 2012 @ 8:27 pm

  75. Remind me of the awesomeness when footage starts showing up as B roll behind Bill Maher and Lawrence O’Donnell and other unfriendlies.

    Until then, I’m glad it was enjoyable.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 20, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

  76. I can see how the boys would feel a sense of unity and excitment. hopefully they might even consider how Helaman’s army felt and what it would be like to be so obedient.

    i like efy and trek and camp. I have great memories from those experiences, but My conversion is based on reading the scriptures and praying. Some of my camp and trek experiences inspired me to read more.

    i can also see how others would take the gathering army look. we just see our darling children and the young men we know all marching together…others see an army.

    Stake president helaman I don’t fully understand…

    Comment by Britt — July 22, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

  77. As I looked at the pictures with them in shorts and tennis shoes, with their gunny sacks on, I wasn’t quite as worried. It would be hard to make them look threatening. I hope.

    Comment by Carol — July 22, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

  78. Pictures here:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865559394/2000-Stripling-Warriors-march-down-Main-Street-in-Bountiful.html

    That wasn’t so bad, was it?

    Comment by MC — July 23, 2012 @ 11:24 am

  79. Heh, heh — gotta admit that still pictures (I haven’t seen any films of anybody actually marching in formation with coordinated striking of spears) look completely cheesy and non-threatening — and non-life-changing — what with their sneakers and shorts and t-shirts and mini-skirted tunics and all.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 23, 2012 @ 11:39 am

  80. Kenter, your comment will not be posted. I’m just not in the mood today to flatter the ego of a complete stranger who feels entitled to berate us for negativity in the most self-righteous and passive-aggressive terms imaginable. Go away until you learn to follow your own advice.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 9, 2012 @ 9:08 am

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