Student Development Services director addresses emerging faith questions in young adults

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Steve Smith, director of Student Development Services, speaks to students and faculty in the lecture hall of the Karl G. Maeser building. He advised audience members on how to help individuals who have questions of faith. (Dallin Wilks)

Student Development Services Director Steve Smith spoke in a lecture on Thursday about the emerging faith questions of today’s young adults.

The presentation was titled, “To Whom Shall We Go? Emerging Adult Faith Questions and The Church: Why and What Can We Do”. Smith drew upon his more than 30 years of counseling experience, part of that as director of BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services.

“Many individuals — our family, our friends — are making decisions that they want to disaffiliate [from the Church] for one reason or another, and they’re making those decisions at BYU too,” Smith said.

According to Smith, individuals can often be classified as “emerging adults,” those ages 18 to 25. Emerging adults — originally classified by Jeffrey Arnett — are at an age of identity explorations, instability, possibilities and feeling in between. His lecture directly addressed individuals who are currently in this stage of life.

Several statistics showed that today’s young adults are less religiously affiliated than previous generations. Smith said 36% of people today classify themselves as religious “nones,” meaning they are atheist, agnostic or not affiliated with organized religion. He presented additional statistics showing that 46% to 64% of young adults choose to disaffiliate themselves from their church.

Students and faculty listen and take notes during Steve Smith’s presentation about young adults and their emerging faith questions. (Dallin Wilks)

So why are these emerging adults deciding to leave their faith behind? Smith said it is often because of their more progressive social views which have been caused by growing up in a more diverse world. He also mentioned that they are questioning more than previous generations, creating more diverse affiliations, finding easier access to like-minded individuals, experiencing more mental health issues and accessing more information online. All these things cause young adults to ask difficult questions regarding their faith.

The presentation then took a turn to talk about how people can help those who are experiencing doubts. Smith encouraged people to suspend their assumptions, frame the situation and individual in a positive light, listen and practice peace.

Smith stressed the importance of engaging with those who have questions about their faith. He also encouraged audience members to engage with individuals who fight for social justice, specifically for those of the LGBTQ+ community. “Engaging has been a great blessing for me and my understanding and my heart,” he said.

Especially when it comes to those whose questions revolve around gender identity and sexual orientation, Smith said to never say “either, or.” He argued that compromise between such issues and faith can be made and people should not make it seem otherwise.

To close, Smith expressed love for all individuals experiencing doubts, whatever their decision may be in the end. “Individuals may choose to go, but they’re still my brothers and sisters, they’re still people I love deeply. I am going to stick with them in that journey. That’s the most important thing I can do.”

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