I think that we Mormons help people transitioning from Fowler’s stage 2 to Fowler’s stage 3 remarkably well. I think saying we are in the top 5 or 10% here would not be exaggerating. For those who are not familiar with Fowler’s stages I’ll give a brief summary of stages 2, 3, and the transition in between, followed by why we as Mormons do so well.
Fowler calls stage 2 the “Mythic literal” stage of faith development. If you want to see stage 2 in action, go to Primary. Persons stage 2 learn the stories of a faith community and learn the morals of that faith community. They are developing a narrative of what it means to be a member of that faith community, but they have not yet integrated this narrative into their identity. Children and very young teenagers tend to inhabit stage two.
Stage 3 is called the “Synthetic-Conventional” stage. This stage usually happens during the teenage years. A person in stage 3 has successfully integrated their faith into their identity. They have developed a more or less consistent ideology of what their faith means. Faith is no longer a narrative, but a world view which gives meaning to not only the life of faith but to family life, work life etc. They have learned to conform to the social structures of their faith community. Finally authority figures are recognized and located in traditional authority roles.
Transitioning from stage 2 to 3 involves personal maturation to the point where one can have a personal relationship with the religious environment. It also involves resolution of minor clashes that lead to a reflection on what the faith community means.
Mormons navigate these stages very well in my opinion. A combination of pedagogy, social structures, and our unique epistemology work together to make sure that a large percentage of youth navigate these stages well.
- We ignore the messiness of texts This was the observation of the original post at By Common Consent, and it was deemed negative. However, this is very positive for people in these stages. By ignoring messiness you emphasize the unity and consistency of the message. If you are developing a consistent ideology then nothing could be better.
- Jumping from texts to quotes from General Authorities One of the complaints in Midgely’s original article is that Millet and McConkie used the Book of Mormon as a jumping off point to quote General Authorities. Again this diverts from the messiness of the text and emphasizes unity of doctrine, hence aiding in developing a consistent ideology. Also, it reinforces traditional authority roles, which is essential for stage 3 development.
- Contemporizing texts There is a strong tendency in Mormon pedagogy to “liken all scriptures unto us” (1 Ne 19:23). This aids in integrating faith into identity. Also, likening the scriptures in practice usually means that one thinks of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as Mormons, just like us, except that they spoke a different language and did not wear white shirts and ties. This helps in developing a consistent ideology, the ideology is universal and is shared by people thousands of years ago.
- Sacrament meeting participation Starting at age 12 Mormon youth are expected to be full contributing members in Sacrament meetings by giving talks and sharing testimony. I don’t know of other churches that expect youth to directly participate in the main worship services. They might fill ancillary or assisting roles (such as altar boy), but not be the star of the show. Male youth are expected to be in charge of a sacred ordinance (sacrament). By integrating youth directly into the social structures of sacrament meeting they learn the ins and outs by direct participation
- Youth leadership Again at age 12 pretty much every youth is given some leadership position with the same titles as those adults have (President, 1st counselor etc.). They are acclimatized to how the church is run in a very direct manner. This of course aids in conforming to social structures
- Temple attendance Youth are expected to attend the temple, much like adults are. This aids in learning Mormon social structures and ideology in a very hands on manner.
- Personal Revelation Our epistemology of personal revelation is not unique, other churches want people to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But we are unique in that this is the only valid way to knowledge in the Mormon church. In essence we say that faith HAS to be integrated into your identity at a personal level. This is exactly what you need to do in Stage 3.
- Praying about the big 4 As Mormons we are expected to get a personal testimony that 1) Jesus is your savior and redeemer, 2) That Joseph Smith was a prophet, 3) That the Book of Mormon is true and that 4) The current leadership is authorized to lead the church through priesthood power. By doing this you integrate faith, consistent ideology, social structures, and authority roles into your identity. This aids in integrating and congealing all of the hallmarks of stage 3 development.
In short I think we do a magnificent job navigating stages 2 and 3. It is something we should be proud of.