Mindful his audience of some 9,000 young adult Latter-day Saints in Logan, Utah, are counted among the generation labeled “Gen Z,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cautioned against traps of reasoning claiming their peers.
Citing several Gen Z generalizations drawn from major surveys, Elder Christofferson called on his listeners to forgo moral relativism and instead stay true to discerning and following truth. Cautioning against the extremes in seeking success, he encouraged finding balance in self-reliance and service.
He and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, spoke at an Aug. 29 Logan Utah Institute devotional, held at The Spectrum on the Utah State University campus. The devotional fell on the eve before the start of fall semester classes.
“I am persuaded that you represent the best of Gen Z,” the Apostle said. “Your life holds great promise. I know that if you stay close to the Savior, that promise will be realized, despite pandemics, despite the turmoil in the world, despite the divisiveness in our society, despite personal hardships or even tragedies. You are precious in the Lord’s eyes.”
He quoted Christ’s reassurance, found in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
And he added: “With Him, you will also overcome and triumph.”
A perfect brightness of hope
Acknowledging the current social ills, political strife, lingering pandemic, economic trends and ridicule of religion, Sister Christofferson said it is easy to worry about one’s future in a world seemingly turned upside down.
“Some of us are affected by this in our own lives and in the lives of those around us,” she said. “It would be easy to shut the door on the bad and hunker down for your own survival.”
However, the key is to look at the world with a perspective beyond what the natural man can see and be mindful that prophets have seen the latter days and rejoiced, she added. “Not just the early days when the gospel was first restored, but our day, too. Yes, it has challenges, but it also has great possibilities. We need to have hope in that.”
She related experiences of Nephi of the Book of Mormon, early Church leader William Clayton and President Gordon B. Hinckley as examples of having hope, perspective and optimism despite hardships and trials.
“May we, too, grow in our understanding of the great blessings and promises the Lord has given us. And may we understand that His plan for us is for our own good and for our growth. May we reach out and share these truths with others, and may we follow Him to the best of our ability. In so doing, I testify that we can have a ‘perfect brightness of hope’ (2 Ne. 31:20).”
Moral relativism vs. truth
In cautioning against the first Gen Z generalization, Elder Christofferson said moral relativism denies the reality of objective or absolute moral truths, with an individual determining for oneself what is truth or what is right.
“You may not agree with another’s perception, but no one is allowed to challenge it. You students of the Bible and Book of Mormon will recognize in these concepts echoes of Nehor and other false prophets. I trust that you are among the strong and confident minority of Gen Z who reject moral relativism and its implications.”
He underscored the belief in truth as following the Lord’s definition: “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24).
“We believe that all truth of whatever kind — be it moral, spiritual, physical, or natural — comprises one great whole and cannot be inconsistent with itself. And so, whatever its origin or however discerned, we seek after and accept truth,” he said.
In one’s own learning and searching, the gospel of Jesus Christ and things of the Spirit will be crucial, he added, referencing the Savior’s counsel that “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).
His final comments about discerning and following truth came with a plea: “Make your interactions with your Heavenly Father and the Savior — through unhurried prayer and studying and pondering Their word — part of your every day. Deepen your discipleship day by day as you pursue your college career day by day.”
And he recommended regular Institute classes: “Not only will what you learn there bless you, but the spiritual affirmation you find there will enrich every other aspect of your college career.”
Success, discipleship and service
Elder Christofferson acknowledged a second common perception regarding Gen Z: “See if you agree: You are driven to succeed. Is that true?”
He highlighted a recent study that ambition is a key generational attribute shared among today’s young adults and teens. Many see success not just as mere aspiration but rather a key source of identity.
That drive for success can create a dichotomy between anxiety and empowerment, the study showed. Those who are anxious always or usually feel afraid to fail, anxious about important decisions and uncertain about the future. Meanwhile, those who are empowered usually feel able to accomplish goals, satisfied with life choices, prepared for everyday life, optimistic about the future and deeply cared by others.
The ambition or drive to succeed can lead to both positive and negative outcomes, Elder Christofferson said. “Certainly, it can be empowering and lead to wonderful rewards and contributions to your happiness and that of those you love and even society at large. It is natural that success would become part of one’s sense of self, but it is easy to see that if taken to the extreme, that could overwhelm marriage, family, service to others and even Christian discipleship.”
He cautioned against the extremes of being overburdened by one’s own expectations for success and accomplishments, as well as the perceived expectations of other — which can lead to anxiety, perfectionism or depression.
How can one strive to reap the positive outcomes and avoid the negative in life? “From my own experience, I would say it is quite clear: keep the two great commandments, and in the priority order given — ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Matthew 22:37–39).”
He added: “Loving and following Jesus Christ will give purpose, equilibrium and meaning to your life. It will center you in service.
Elder Christofferson underscored the Church’s emphasis on self-reliance — taking personal responsibility for one’s own welfare and striving for the temporal and spiritual well-being of family members, including extended family.
As important and worthy a principle as self-reliance is, it is not an end in itself but rather a means to a higher end, he added. An “unfortunate ethic” developed over past generations has resulted in an excessive emphasis on individual autonomy, and it derives from an absence of faith and a conviction that this life is all there is to one’s existence.
“It is the opposite of a life of service,” Elder Christofferson warned. “With this paradigm, many conclude that each individual must focus on his or her own happiness and fulfillment: get all the pleasure out of life that you can, and don’t make sacrifices for others — your one big concern is you. I plead with you, do not fall into that trap.”
Elder Christofferson closed his remarks with a blessing.
“As one of His Apostles, I bless you that you may find happiness and peace in Him in this season of your life, that you will have answer to your prayers, that the scriptures will open to you and that the Spirit will fill your mind with truth. I bless you with protection from the adversary as you seek it, and ultimately with the joy that only God can give.”