Brother Brad Wilcox: Making Principled Choices


As a young sixth-grade teacher, I always started the year by asking students to write five rules for the classroom, five for the library, five for the lunchroom, and five for the playground. The students obediently wrote their lists and handed them in.

Then I tossed the lists bluntly in the trash and said, “Now that I know you know the rules, let’s talk about a principle: we’re here to learn and teach. Anything that gets in the way of that is against the rules. »

Elder Bradley R. Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Over the next few weeks, when students did something inappropriate, I would ask, “Does this help you learn?” Does it help me to teach? What must change? Soon these sixth graders began learning to govern themselves based on a principle rather than a list of rules.

With the announcement of the new For the Strength of Youth guide at general conference in October 2022, some are wondering how best to help youth make the same transition. How can we help young people make good, principled choices? I recently met three professors of religious education at Brigham Young University and asked their advice.

Gaye StrathearnAssociate Dean, said, “The principles are eternal, but the application of these principles may change over time and from family to family depending on church and individual circumstances. Exodus 31:13–16 teaches the principle that the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between God and his people. In Jesus’ time, the Jews were trying to keep the Sabbath holy, but their situation had changed from the time the order was given to Moses. For example, the Israelites were given specific instructions not to collect manna on the Sabbath. In Jesus’ time, however, there had been no manna for over a millennium. Therefore, the Jews looked for other ways to enforce this Sabbath commandment. When I was a teenager I learned to understand the principle of the Sabbath day. My father was not a member of the Church. Each year, his fishing club organized his Christmas barbecue on Sunday. It was the only time Dad asked us as a family to do something with him on a Sunday. Initially I didn’t want to go because in my mind it was breaking the Sabbath. But while I was studying Exodus 31:13–16 and learned about the covenant aspect of the Sabbath, I concluded that my covenant with God also included establishing an important relationship with my father.


Youth in the Herriman Utah Pioneer Stake hold copies of the new guide, “For the Strength of Youth: A Guide for Making Choices.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Tyler Griffon, another associate dean, replied, “Counseling together. We see a pattern in the Church in which those who have [priesthood] Keys often tell members the “what” and let us discuss the “how” together. The stake president who has the keys can say, ‘Let’s plan a great youth conference focused on results X, Y, and Z.’ Then the stake youth council, including the stake Young Women and Young Men presidencies, begins to work out the details of how to achieve inspired results. Conferencing is ultimately better because the adult and adolescent counsel each other together. As families use the new “For the Strength of Youth” guide (the what), we will have more success if parents and children take the time to discuss the how together.

Anthony sweatshirt, associate professor of Church history and doctrine, said, “Principles help us make choices in advance. One of the greatest blessings of making principled choices is that our choices need not be influenced too much by external peer pressure or the internal pressure of our moods. The emotional feelings may vary, but the principles remain consistent. CS Lewis once defined faith as “holding on to things your reason has accepted, despite your changing moods” (see “Mere Christianity,” 140-141). Sometimes we are not in the mood to read the scriptures, serve others, or attend Church meetings. Since we make these decisions ahead of time, we just follow what we decided earlier and are almost always glad we did. This perspective is what makes alliances so important. Covenants guide our future behavior. We make covenants today to guard against tempted versions of ourselves tomorrow. We make and renew covenants when we think most clearly. A covenant relationship with God and Christ enables us to move forward even when it is not easy, popular, or practical. Many of our eternal covenants are based on enduring eternal principles, and the Revised For the Strength of Youth guide explains many of these principles that guide God’s covenant children.


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