F is for the Family

Continuing to wind our way through the True to the Faith doctrinal booklet published by the Church in 2004 (earlier posts here), I settled on Family from the long list of F-words covered in the book. There’s nothing in the entry you haven’t heard before, as after a five-line introduction it simply repeats (in full) the Proclamation, described as an “inspired proclamation” that is now “the Church’s definitive statement on the family.”

I know better than to argue with the Family. I’m not even up for needling the Proclamation. So let’s ask a different question: Is there such a thing as too much emphasis on the family? If there is, we’re there. What’s the downside? Certainly those adults not married feel a little left out when Family is discussed, and those from nontraditional or failed families are probably a little sensitive when the Ideal Family is incessantly praised. At least there is some recognition that the Church needs to broaden its program beyond family-based counsel and activities, judging from talks and the like. “We’re all part of a family” is not the answer for most people, I imagine, but it’s a start.

Could the Family displace the Gospel? In some ways it already has. Granted, there was a Proclamation on the Christ that came out five years after the Proclamation on the Family, but you don’t hear about it much. At the Joseph Smith Memorial Building there’s a whole floor dedicated to preaching Family History to visitors and nonmembers. Family Home Evening. Family History. Family Councils. There’s even an offical Family Guidebook in case you need some pointers. It starts: “The family is the most important unit in time and eternity.”

Of course, for many of us it is the most important of our units. I saw a striking illustration of this when I was reading a revealing post by one of the B’nacle’s more notorious cynics this morning, and it turns out … he’s a family man. And a good one. Who can argue with that? Not me.

Comments

  1. In the New Testament, of course, Jesus makes famous statements that tend toward the implication that followers of Christ ought to care less about their families than about missionary work, charity, and so forth. So there’s at least a possible argument to be made that we ought to care less about families than about our other moral and religious obligations. Of course, this is one of the elements of the New Testament that I’m least comfortable with.

    If there is a practical (as opposed to theological) downside at all to the church’s family discourse, it’s probably just that “family” is imagined in relatively narrow terms. Single parents and other nontraditional families fall outside the discourse, but so also do extended families. So a more inclusive vision of what “family” means would probably be good, but I’m not exactly organizing protest marches about this right now or anything.

  2. “If there is a practical (as opposed to theological) downside at all to the church’s family discourse, it’s probably just that ‘family’ is imagined in relatively narrow terms. Single parents and other nontraditional families fall outside the discourse, but so also do extended families.”

    RT makes a good, oft-neglected point. Not in regards to nontraditional families; that receives plenty of attention, especially in light of perennial arguments between various “liberals” and “conservatives” over the Proclamation. But the point about “extended families” needs to be heard. Yes, the Ensign will carry articles about grandparents every once in a while, but basically, the “family” is idealized in single-generation, almost you might say “individualistic” terms. It’s the family–your little wonderful family–against the evils of the world! In a sense, the family sometimes seems to be treated as this isolated outpost, to be defended against all encroachments. Such a sovereign little unit is easy to fetishize. The reality, of course, is that every family is extended, part of a community and continuum, involving a web of history. Our emphasis on family history, reunions, genealogy and the temple ought to make that clear, ought to get people thinking more broadly and collectively about family, but in my experience at least, such thinking isn’t as common as it ought to be. Too many of us American saints, I think, sometimes allow the suburban model–every family in their own private castle–to subvert thinking in terms of larger units.

  3. My only concern with the culture of “The Family” is that it can become an abstraction: the family and attacks on it rather than particular dangers to my or your family. Numerous times I’ve heard people stand up in classes or meetings and decry the adversary’s attack on the family–in the form of gay marriage and kicking prayer out of schools, etc.–while their own individual family has all sorts of problems to which they seem oblivious, so focused is their righteous indignation on fighting the culture war in the streets rather than in their own homes.

  4. Confusing self-interest for altruism it is not surprising that the Proclamation would lead to these problems. Parenting is selfless in a metabolic sense. We have less when we take care of our children. In a genetic sense, however, parenting is a self-interested activity.

    By contrast, in the Sermon of the Mount the savior teaches that we are no better than the heathens if we only love our own. The standard for the Lord’s people is to love their enemies (Matthew 7, Leviticus 3).

    If we had stuck to the words of the Savior then we would have been spared the entanglement in hateful and vain struggles against vulnerable minorities under the banner of family values.

    The familiy values agenda is a selfish agenda. Its fruits reflect that.

  5. Hellmut, I disagree. On the face of it, communism and socialism sound good, but look at the fruits of that.

    Strong healthy families creates strong healthy societies. Not perfect ones.

    Living here in the heart of Mormon country, in the good old USA, I am of the luckiest people in the world. I’m grateful, not inclined to take anything for granted, and not unmindful of our faults and warts. Nowhere else I’d rather be.

  6. Otto,
    Amen. Whether or not Adam and Steve who live next door to me are “married” or not, isn’t going to make much of a difference as to whether I have a happy, loving family or not.

  7. This confusion on family has led to something I call family worship. Meaning some Saints put their family before their God. This may in the long run stunt the individual’s personal spiritual eternal growth. How is that? In the OT the the very first commandment of the Ten is:

    Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:

    (Exodus 20:3&5) Then in the NT the Lord Jesus Christ said the following:

    While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

    (Matthew 12:46-50)
    There is something in the gospel called the tests of Abraham. If you follow his life and his encounters with God you will see that the Lord tried his faith and tested his worship in a way which seemed to contradict the gospel. However, in the end Abraham chose God over his family and received all of us as an eternal reward. Remember all is not as it appears to be for a purpose. This life is a maze, a puzzle and a scavenger hunt which we must figure out with a little help from our friends. The tests keep coming and they don’t seem fair, but like it or not you are it to win it. You might want to watch the movie

    The Game

    starring Michael Douglas to better understand what I’m talking about.

  8. This confusion on family has led to something I call family worship. Meaning some Saints put their family before their God. This may in the long run stunt the individual’s personal spiritual eternal growth. How is that? In the OT the the very first commandment of the Ten is:

    Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:

    (Exodus 20:3&5) Then in the NT the Lord Jesus Christ said the following:

    While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

    (Matthew 12:46-50)
    There is something in the gospel called the tests of Abraham. If you follow his life and his encounters with God you will see that the Lord tried his faith and tested his worship in a way which seemed to contradict the gospel. However, in the end Abraham chose God over his family and received all of us as an eternal reward. Remember all is not as it appears to be for a purpose. This life is a maze, a puzzle and a scavenger hunt which we must figure out with a little help from our friends. The tests keep coming and they don’t seem fair, but like it or not you are it to win it. You might want to watch the movie

    The Game

    starring Michael Douglas to better understand what I’m talking about.

  9. Anna, I am a little confused why you are bringing up communism. Altruism is about the gospel. Surely, one can have charity, the true love of Christ, without being a communist.

    It is true that child welfare in Utah is superior compared to the rest of the United States. That is commendable but not that difficult. According to the Nobel Price winning economist Amartya Sen, even the southern Indian state of Kerala has lower child mortality than the United States.

    There are a number of societies, especially in northern Europe and east Asia that have lower child and infant mortality, less teenage pregnancy, less violence against children, lower youth crime rates, less child poverty and better education systems than Mormon communities.

    People everywhere love and nurture their children. Parents experience this love as sublime. But it is the natural product of genetic self-interest.

    One is not special in the eyes of God for taking care of one’s own children. Christians need to do more than love the carriers of their genes.

  10. Hellmut, I didn’t have time to really study out the posts. I thought you were referring to the Proclamation and the emphasis on family. Other Communist governments de-emphasize and pretend to focus on the individual. I thought you were denying (I can’t find the right word, happens a lot) the validity of the Proclamation based on that.

    And I find the emphasis on family desirable and correct. I also think the Proclamation speaks in generalities, and there is room for exceptions. I wouldn’t condemn, for instance, a gay couple lovingly raising a child. I don’t understand homosexuality, but I leave it with God. I assume, ideally, a mother and father, in a healthy home is for the best.

    But governments that de-emphasize the families, do not succeed. Although, doesn’t Israel do that?

    Off to Wal-Mart. I had to check in :)

  11. Hellmut,

    I am concerned with your categorization of family as self-interested. I find it hard to believe that any of the “virtues” contain no element of self-interest. I don’t therefore understand why self-interest would cheapen family love.

    I am also concerned with definitions of selfishness that generally include a parent’s love for a child or vice versa (although I suppose exceptions could be made). Such definitions would tend to make the term “selfishness” meaningless.

    Of course, we should do more (I don’t believe that anyone has ever said we shouldn’t and the Brethren are quite actively saying we should). I don’t really understand how your reading should be taken.

  12. I think that it is easy to forget how culturally-bound the definition of ‘family’ is. The discussion so far uses the word ‘family’ in fairly narrow terms defined by suburban American ideals (and promoted within greater Church discourse). Contrast Chinese concepts of the ideal family unit with the American suburban model (or frontier America in the 1830s with Utah in the 1870s!).

    I’m not trying to devalue the two-parent nuclear family, but I think that we have much to gain by valuing alternatives to the mainstream. For example, I think we could learn a lot from African-American families with strong matriarchs, or the vital role which grandparents play in many traditional East-Asian families. Id like to think that this wouldn’t be too tough, given Mormonism’s historical experimentation with family alternatives (which makes the above examples seem pretty conservative) and the unique emphasis (among Christians) on ancestral family ties.

  13. Wow,

    Just checked in. Am I to believe my lyin eyes? The LDS focus on the nuclear family is misplaced?

    Do I attend a different church then y’all?

  14. I think a major way in which so much emphasis on the traditional nuclear family can be negetive is in the emphasis on behaviors that are listed as the ideal. A mother is nurturing, and always at home and always emotionally and physically available for her family. A Father is the breadwinner, and works hard to provide a steady income etc. Any behavior that even seems to not reflect those ideals, i.e. a father who is in some unstable line of work like a freelance writer, or a mother who takes night classes in criminal justice, or automotive mechanics, is seen as unsavory. And any unsavory behavior borders on sin, and should be discouraged, and looked down on.
    We forget that the qualities desireable in a family aren’t the result of a single pattern of behavior. I have a friend whose loving mother rode around the state once a month on a Harley with all of her friends. My friend had a wonderful family that taught her the gospel of Jesus Christ. But her mother’s unorthodoxy was a point of embarrassment for her, where it shouldn’t have been.

  15. I think I see Hellmut’s point. It seems to be along the same lines as what Jesus said here: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?”

    If the focus on one’s own children is so all-consuming that one has no time or energy to reach out to the children of God in the larger sense, then something important is lost. Some people don’t have families who care for them properly; who will care for them if no one regularly and lovingly reaches deeply into their lives…stretching far beyond the boundaries of their own little family in the process? People are hardwired to care for their offspring; and that’s a good thing. But it’s not the only thing. If you only love and serve those whom you’re hardwired to love and serve, what reward have ye?

  16. Beijing,
    Christ wasn’t saying what the publicans did was bad. I agree that taking care of one’s own family is probably among the bare minimums that we owe humanity and yet quite a few people don’t even manage that. Technically, it is for this purpose that the church involves itself in home-teaching, visiting teaching, MIA and so forth (I know these may not be effective in every case, but it is at least part of the reason they exist). Nor does the church limit itself to only helping church members, as tsunami and Katrina victims might point out.

    The problem is that parenting is self-sacrifice. People who refuse to give up some of themselves and some of their dreams are bad parents. It is as selfless as any other act of human kindness, perhaps moreso than some. Saying otherwise renders “selfishness” meaningless. Describe to me exactly how a mother, risking her own life to produce a child, is engaged in a selfish act. Please tell me that what she is thinking about in labor is how the child will take care of her in her old age. It would be ridiculous to argue this sort of thing, yet it is the logical conclusion of Hellmut’s argument.

    For that matter, the same evolutionary psychologists who argue for the hardwiring of family love argue for the genetic hardwiring of all altruism. How that would make altruism toward non-kin more moral than altruism toward kin escapes me. If it is only our genes in either case, there is nothing commendable in either act.

    For the most part, it seems to me that Hellmut is arguing that it is immoral for you to donate your car to kidney research because cancer causes so many more deaths a year. Thank you but I will spend my limited time and resources where I think they will be the most help.

  17. I think there is a problem with focusing on the family too much. We only have three hours a week to preach to each other. When that ends up being an endless rehash of “how to have a perfect family” we don’t have time to talk about Christ. I think you minimize the exclusion felt by people in non-family situations. I pretty much quit one ward because they never talked about anything BUT family. Talk about Christ twice for every one time family gets mentioned. It would revolutionize Mormon meetings.

  18. Fratello Giovanni says:

    In about a month, the Church will hold a worldwide leadership satelite broadcast. Those who are invited have been told that the primary topic wll be the proclamation on the family, and that we are all to study it beforehand.

    Let me say that I have no arguments with anything in that document. But I’m not one of those LDS who feels incomplete unless I have it prominently displayed in my home so that I can worshuip it like some kind of icon. And in the ten years between when I returned from my mission and I married in the temple, that document was used as a weapeon against me many, many times by Church peers and, yes, leaders, simply to take me to task for being single. (And while marriage was never something I didn’t want, the verbal abuse, especially toward the end, got downright cruel.)

    Two years ago at a similar broadcast, President James E. Faust made it clear (I was 31 and single then) that I wasn’t to feel welcome in the Church because of my status. Here are a couple of select quotes:

    “The first event in establishing a family is to get married! The reluctance for some to marry seems to be increasing worldwide. . . . The major factors contributing to this decline are young people delaying marriage, increases in the proportion of adult population who have neaver married, and an increase in cohabitation.”

    Maybe President Faust didn’t understand that some of us wanted to get it right the first time, seeing so much divorce among our peers and their parents. That’s the bad news, not people marrying later. Most of the divorced women I met online, no matter how long their marriage happened to last, married at age 18 or 19.

    And here’s another gem: “More and more young people view marriage ‘as a couples relationship, designedto fulfill the emotional needs of adults, rather than an institution for bringing up children.’ The puropse of such ‘soul-mate relationship[s] may [well] weaken marriage as an instituion for rearing children.'”

    And what about all those selfish parents who got divorced because they cared about themselves more than their children? I found my soul mate. I recongnize that not everyone will, but that bond has been our anchor. I hope it continues to be so.

  19. Fratello Giovanni says:

    Not to beat a dead horse here, but while the sort of thing President Faust said at that meeting (which you didn’t find in the write-up in the Church News) gets repeated all-too-often among members, it doesn’t seem to jive with other things he’s said, or that you do find others saying in the Church News or Ensign.

    I never planned to stay single my whole life. Marriage was never something I didn’t want. But too many members (and leaders) assumed, particularly when I was in my mid-to-late 20s, that because I happened to be single at the time that there must be something wrong with me.

  20. Fratello Giovanni,
    Possibly some of what people see with being wrong about being single in the mid to late 20’s is the goal mentality. I read a post at mormon discussion the other day where she described the difference between a goal, and the act of getting married. A goal is something that you can put a timeline on, you can take concrete steps towards it, and it is completely within your control. When we refer to having marriage as a goal, we imply that we can treat it as a goal. We can’t treat it as a goal. Meeting a person that we could be happy with is largely out of our control. All one can do is make ourselves desireable and available. If you’re doing that then you’re doing your best and no one has any right to judge you. My sister is in a situation not unlike the one you were in, and I keep trying to tell my mom to lay off of her. I blame the goal mentality, and I agree that it is *really* annoying and inappropriate.

  21. I, too, was on the “menace” side of 25 when I married, and got the same grief for marrying “so old.” Since the age difference between me and Mrs CS is eight years, I just tell people that I was waiting for her to grow up so I could marry her. She tells people she was doing the same thing.

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