Mormon Familiolatry

In a recent conversation with several friends, I was unfortunate enough to hear the following accounts:

“My daughter has a friend she loves to play with. Her mom has been great about taking her if I’m traveling out of town or in childcare pinch, and I thought she and I were friends, too. My daughter wanted to play with her daughter recently, and I said ‘We’d really love to have her over here today–I feel like I’m always imposing on you.’ And she said, ‘Well, it’s nothing personal, but I don’t like to let my kids play in homes where the parents are divorced. I just don’t want them to feel that spirit.’

“Now, I’m not really offended–hurt, a little, and sad, but I think when we spend so much time talking about how awful divorce is, and how it’s caused by selfishness and bitterness and failure to be Christlike, it’s not particularly surprising that someone would think a divorced person must somehow poison the atmosphere.”

Optimistic and church-loving guy that I am, when I hear stories such as this, my knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them as rare and exceptional behavior, and apologize for the rude behavior of someone who clearly arrived at the train station a bit late. However, as the conversation progressed, my friend quickly clarified that this parent is, in every other way imaginable, completely wonderful and pleasant to be around, and

“…wouldn’t have said it if she realized it would hurt my feelings. I think somehow divorced people are expected to feel so bad about themselves that they find such ideas self-evident.”

Faced with the evidence that it wasn’t a monstrous ogre of a human being who made these comments, I feel the need to reevaluate whether my judgment of “rare and exceptional” behavior holds water. Regardless of the conclusion, the damage that this kind of attitude can do to our brothers and sisters in the pews around us warrants serious examination of ourselves: How often do we unconsciously think about and form expectations such as these about one another?

Two more anecdotes, from the same conversation:

“I was at a Relief Society activity ‘Park Day’ (1 morning a week the SAHMs all bring their tots to a park) a few years ago when I was new to my ward. One of the women was talking about how their family had attended her own mother’s wedding the past weekend. Evidently, her mom had divorced and was now remarrying. She explained that, prior to the event, she and her husband pulled all of their children aside to make a solemn joint statement that a) they disapproved of grandma divorcing and remarrying, and b) It might *look* like grandma is happy today and that people at her party are celebrating her decisions, but in fact, divorcing and remarrying are NOT things to celebrate.”

“We had the Elders over, and one Elder said he had never seen The Simpsons. The other Elder said they watched it is a family every week. The first Elder said, very casually, ‘Maybe that’s why your parents got divorced.'”

The purpose behind sharing these stories is not to encourage a communal rant about those who have done wrong to us, as cathartic as that might be. Rather, it is to ask some difficult questions of ourselves.

What causes us–as individuals and as a people/culture–to we engage in this behavior ourselves? When we see this sort of behavior, do we stand idly by and allow it to continue, or do we speak up? One explanation–though far from being an excuse–is found in a recent discussion here at BCC: Do we fear that we will “torpedo ourselves” if others incorrectly interpret a defense of the Big Bad Divorcee’s worthiness or competency in hosting children for an afternoon of cookies and video games as an assault on the value that temple marriage brings to the table? Or is it simply that we really only pay lip service to the idea that we’re all sinners, ignoring the deeply hidden and private flaws we all cherish in ourselves while smugly cataloging the visible, quantifiable, public flaws in our fellow saints?

Can’t we do better than this?


  1. “Optimistic and church-loving guy that I am, when I hear stories such as this, my knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them as rare and exceptional behavior, and apologize for the rude behavior of someone who clearly arrived at the train station a bit late.”

    I’m not sure that this information you received that they are wonderful in every other way should cause you to re-evaluate the idea that this is rare, and a person doesn’t have to be a monstrous ogre of a human being to still have wrong ideas and be occasionally thoughtless. Even good people can be completely wrong in certain ways.

    I would think that most people in the church would agree that these anecdotes are not the way that most people feel. The problem is that we think these ideas are more common than they really are because we don’t walk down the hall and overhear people saying things that are opposite to this, we only hear the ones (and I still think its rare) that feel this way.

  2. How weird. Not letting your kids play at friends’ houses whose parents are divorced? They must not be able to go to very many friends’ houses then.

  3. Perhaps it is possible to worry about the aforementioned matters a little too much.

  4. Oh, man. As someone who recently went through a divorce, I can bear witness that the number, volume, and intensity of comments like these is mind-boggling. *Most* people didn’t seem aware that what they were saying was hurtful, but some, sad to say, did.

  5. Oh, man. As someone who recently went through a divorce, I can bear witness that the number, volume, and intensity of comments like these is mind-boggling. *Most* people didn’t seem aware that what they were saying was hurtful, but some, sad to say, did.

    Oh yes, indeed. I’ve heard so many things like this its unreal. And I’m the the only divorced (not remarried) woman in my ward. It’s hard, and I spend a lot of time crying. Just last Sunday, in RS we were thanked by the presidency for “those mothers who dress their daughters modestly and with good examples from a young age”- and in walks my five year old daughter in a sundress to sit on her divorced mama’s lap. It wasn’t directed at me- but one can’t help but feel like an object lesson some Sundays.

  6. Josh B, that’s easy to say when you’re not the subject of such matters.

  7. I thought I’d heard some bad “offhand awful” comments before, but these are really sad. Luckily, I haven’t heard any of this variety myself.

  8. IME there’s a division between genders, too. Many of my kids’ mother’s RS sisters felt free to say hurtful things directly to her face, or in small group conversations. Rarely did anyone do that with me; instead, I either heard about them second-hand or heard them from leaders and teachers over the pulpit or lectern. There’s a difference between general comments that might possibly be aimed at me and specific comments aimed right at one person. The experience has been hard enough that my kids’ mother stopped attending our old ward and, after moving to a new ward, decided not to attend there.

  9. I think the point is not so much how awful those particular anecdotes are, but that our discourse around divorce makes it possible for people to believe that they are being “righteous” by cultivating those beliefs. Somehow, our commitment to ideals and abstractions makes it possible for us to be blithely unaware of the real, human effects of our thoughts and words. It happens in other contexts, too–all kinds of “in groups” have rhetorical habits that blind them to their own mistaken ideas and actions. I suspect it’s that broader question Scott was getting at.

  10. observer fka eric s says:

    Every ward has a Brother and a Sister Tactless. It works like Uncle Eddie; if you don’t know who he/she is, it’s probably you. But beyond developing a social tact filter, what causes us to engage in this behavior? I think it is fear. A fearful perspective that if we were to sanction[1] behavior that is sinful, then the sinful behavior will somehow difuse itself sinisterly into our own family or personal lives.

    [1] Sanction is such a messed up word. To my knowledge, it is the only word in the English language where it is its own antonym.

  11. When I was dating my now-husband, my parents expressed the concern that his parents were divorced – I’m assuming b/c they were worried about the statistics; that children of divorced parents would be more likely to divorce. Ironically, my parents divorced 5 years after my husband and I married.

    I’ve found it hard to figure out how to talk to my children about divorce. There are so many nuances to and reasons for divorce and trying to boil it down to a child’s understanding is difficult. When my parents divorced and then each of them remarried, we talked to our kids pretty matter-of-factly, trying not to sound judgemental. “Grandma and Grandpa just didn’t want to be married anymore. They had a lot of problems and decided that they couldn’t work them out together and so they got divorced”. But then it was odd to hear my 5 year old talk about grandma and grandpa being divorced like it was no big deal. So we had to talk some about how very sad it was for me that my parents got divorced. It’s probably much easier to make a blanket statement; it makes you feel safe to know there’s always someone to blame and, of course, it wouldn’t be you b/c you would never make such poor choices. And so many of our church lessons are “If you do A, then B will follow. If B didn’t follow, then you must not have done A correctly.”

  12. observer fka eric s says:

    Wow. Please forgive me. I meant to qualify “behavior that is sinful” by typing “behavior that is seemingly sinful from one’s perspective[.]”

  13. New reader. Lifetime member in exile from Happy Valley in the midwest…

    My wife and I struggle to teach our young daughters tact. After explaining the ideal of temple marriage we struggled to explain why “Babushka” never married and why mama doesn’t have a dad she ever knew. In their minds everything is black and white and their questions about non-ideal situations can come at inopportune times.

    How can we teach the ideal while teaching a compassionate, tactful approach to complicated matters?

  14. @observer fka eric: I don’t think it’s fear – I think it’s familiarity.

    A lot of people feel relatively comfortable assuming that other members feel/think/act the same way they do because we do have the gospel in common. Church meetings are not the best place to call someone on their insensitive crap, so people get bolder in their proclamations. And so on.

  15. Mommie Dearest says:

    I vote for the second posit:
    “Or is it simply that we really only pay lip service to the idea that we’re all sinners, ignoring the deeply hidden and private flaws we all cherish in ourselves while smugly cataloging the visible, quantifiable, public flaws in our fellow saints?”

    I favor the memories of when I’ve been wounded by being on the receiving end of this behavior, but with a little retrospection I can think of people who’ve been treated this way by me. I think it’s rampant in human nature, and the whole church is badly infected by it.

    When I was younger I was faced with having to seriously consider divorce. As I went through the hellish process of trying to sort that out, one of the major reasons I found that weighed against it was the added stigma which would burden me and my children at church. It didn’t matter at all whether it was unjust or not, I knew I would have to run a gauntlet of critical opinion, and worse, my children would have as well.

    “How can we teach the ideal while teaching a compassionate, tactful approach to complicated matters?”

    I can’t offer a nice tidy formulaic checklist for this, but I guarantee that the solution to learning and teaching both of these things will be found in a thorough and repeated study of what the Lord did when faced with complicated matters. We neglect this at our peril. I neglect this at my peril.

  16. I would hope we could do better than this. It’s definitely the smug thing… and it is spreading and it is horrible.

    Tracy M – sundresses are perfectly modest for little girls! Don’t let them make you feel bad. I’m sure she looked adorable.

  17. I think stuff like this happens simply as part of spiritual development. If you use strict obedience as the foundation of righteousness upon which the more nuanced (Christlike) laws are based — which, in my opinion — is what the church and Book of Mormon seem to do — you’re going to look across the housing development and see a lot of bare foundations here and there. Given time and experience, I think many of those people will build. I certainly think my foundation has a lot more on it than it did 10 years ago. Looking back, I’ve uttered some pretty unenlightened things. Not the same category as the statements above, but possibly just as hurtful.

  18. observer fka eric s says:

    @14 – “A lot of people feel relatively comfortable assuming that other members feel/think/act the same way they do because we do have the gospel in common.”

    Indeed. So at best, this suggests that we’ve created a culture of a fearful, unaccepting perspective toward the sinful behavior of others, and we’re comfortable within that culture amongst ourselves. For example, you could substitute the word “gospel” for the words “perspective on sinful behavior” above. But I would hesitate to call this perception one that is alligned with the gospel. In fact, I tend to feel it is the opposite if one believes that the atonement applies to others’ sins (and not just his/her own).

  19. The fact that when we try to extrapolate broader, more abstract principles here the specific behavior in the anecdotes (being divorced) is described as sin or sinful speaks volumes…

  20. I always like to assume the best about people until they absolutely prove me wrong. This kind of ugly exchange is a result of stupidity, probably not (I hope) a well-thought-out “white supremacist” kind of villainy. God forbid a hard lesson here, but you know…… The really sad part of this is that the two parties in the first incident (I’m guessing) probably share so much that is good and this kind of just blows that out of the water. Too bad.

    The fear of somehow encouraging divorce by being inclusive and without judgement is a heritage we need to shed. Isn’t that the gospel of Christ? Few besides those who have gone through it can understand the special kind of pain that is propagated by divorce in nearly every case. If we did understand, we’d be putting our arms around them and making them one with the Saints as we can. I’m not making myself as clear as I might, I suppose.

  21. During a great Sunday School lesson the teacher, quite shockingly, told us that he frequently notices a lack of belief in the atonement of our savior Jesus Christ amongst members of the church. It was a pretty shocking statement and we all waited quite anxiously to hear his explanation. He went on to say that when we judge the sins of others, we fail to show faith and belief in the fact that Jesus Christ died for ALL OF OUR SINS and made us all clean. When we treat others as if they are ‘dirty’ or less than whole we are basically denying the atonement and the fact that through Jesus Christ they are whole. I have thought about that so many times since andhave realized it is so true. It isn’t easy to forgive others. It isn’t easy to refrain from judging others. But we certainly should show respect and love for our savior and the supreme sacrifice he made for ALL of us and make every effort to avoid behaviors that are contrary to it.

  22. I have never before posted here, although I peruse regularly. I am heartsick to read this. Seriously, is this what the Savior would think or say?

    I wouldn’t have the compassionate, thoughtful, best-friend-type husband I have if his mother hadn’t had tremendous courage in the 1960’s, in an extremely traditional and conservative community, to leave an abusive husband, baby in hand. This young mother taught my husband to be kind, stand up for the oppressed, work hard for yourself and care for everyone you meet, all at the same time. I love watching him in his role leading our ward as he supports everyone, including and especially those who’ve had to struggle with the decisions of a spouse or a child.

    Honestly, the children of single parents often have a special empathy for others AND they can know, through the example of Jesus Christ Himself, how to have a spirit of compassion in their homes other children may not develop for decades. I’m talking about that spirit in their homes created by and through the peace that only true love and empathy can bring.

    Goodness, I tell my children all the time they have what they have because of extremely brave parents and grandparents who fought for them, in spite of what abuse and hardships had taken place in their lives. I WANT them to feel that spirit of gratitude, love, compassion and kindness. I believe every mother in the Church wants that for their children, but most don’t understand where to look for it. I believe single parents, especially in the Church, are some of the most beautiful, brave and strong people in the whole world.

  23. @Brad: what you said, my brother. What you said.

  24. Shortly after my divorce, I moved back into my parent’s ward with my 2-year-old son. After less than a month in the ward, everyone “knew” the details of my divorce- despite the fact that my parents and I never discussed it with anyone. The “details” were laughingly inaccurate, and contradictory. However, I felt a strong desire not to correct these rumors, as (1) my private life is my business, and (2) my Ex lived in the same stake, although not (at the time) active.

    When I was asked to teach Seminary, a number of parents went directly to the Bishop, explaining that they could not be expected to send their children to be taught by a divorced person, especially one so depraved and sinful as I was. For the most part, the Bishop ignored them, and specifically called me in to express his support. However, there was one mother who absolutely refused to send her daughter to my class for four full years, and instead sent her to a Seminary in another Stake.

    About six months later, a divorced man moved into our ward, and, having the same experience as me, requested that the Bishop allow him to present a fireside on divorce- specifically, his divorce. He went into excruciating detail on his Ex’s affair with their ward’s Sunday School President, her excommunication, his feelings of betrayal, etc., etc. Once it was all out in the open, he was accepted whole-heartedly by the same members who had scorned me. Maybe people just want to hear the juicy gossip. However, I did not want to pay that price for mere acceptance.

  25. Dang. I thought this post was going to be about Mormons who worship their ancestors.

  26. “How can we teach the ideal while teaching a compassionate, tactful approach to complicated matters?”

    Teach love. Teach that our highest job is to love one another, and to love God, and to let all the rest fall by the wayside. If we are loving someone we don’t have time to judge them.

  27. I’m with E–I thought this was about those people who can’t open their mouths without telling you that they had a great-great-something or other who knew Joseph Smith in Nauvoo.

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think, after pretty much my whole life spent trying, that I’m very close to a place where I just don’t care. These kinds of comments are pathetic, but not at all hurtful, to me. They demonstrate such a shallowness of experience, reflection and understanding that, if anything, one pities the conditions of the existence that allows for them. And I mean that without the slightest bit of rancor. One wishes so much better for them.

  29. #26 Tracy M, I agree with you. My mother, in a well-intentioned gesture, did not go to her brother’s second wedding because she felt it stood on immoral grounds–he had had an affair on his wife and was marrying the lady he had cheated with. I believe she was teaching us a lesson, that adultery is wrong, but what she ultimately taught was to pass judgment on the choices of others.

    While I find the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner,” to be demeaning, I will use it as a platform to dig deeper. Rather than dwell on people’s “sins” or “faults,” why not love them for them? And is divorce really a sin? Considering there are so many complicated aspects to divorce, it is not the place of an outsider to condemn and/or “teach” their children a lesson about a person’s marital status. My husband comes from a divorced family and I have seen no impact on our relationship. In fact, we don’t think about it (except for during vacations because things get tricky). Our kids know both of their grandparents very well. We don’t plan on sitting them down for a “chat” about his parents decision to get a divorce. Yes it will come up, but we will discuss it with a matter of fact tone.

    To conclude this lengthy and rambling comment, I find your willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt highly commendable, Scott B. It is something I need to start actively doing again.

  30. I suspect there will always be people that are rude and judgmental. They’ll use the gospel to justify their behavior. It’s best to walk away from them and then try to forgive them….eventually.

  31. I think, after pretty much my whole life spent trying, that I’m very close to a place where I just don’t care. These kinds of comments are pathetic, but not at all hurtful, to me. They demonstrate such a shallowness of experience, reflection and understanding that, if anything, one pities the conditions of the existence that allows for them. And I mean that without the slightest bit of rancor. One wishes so much better for them.

    I care less than I ever have about such comments for myself, but my children are another matter entirely.

  32. I don’t think divorce is always a sin, but sometimes it is, and it’s always a tragedy. I think it’s ok to acknowledge that in our conversations, especially with our children–it’s a terrifying, world-shattering thing for kids, and I think it’s ok to let kids know how much you don’t want that for them, how much you want to protect them from it. I think it’s ok for the church to teach that divorce is terrible, because it is. But somehow, we grownups have to get over our own fear, that makes us need the “juicy details” so we can explain it to ourselves in a way that lets us think we’re safe, the fear that comes up with simple formulas like “the root cause of divorce is selfishness”–smugness almost always grows from fear, not confidence.

  33. I guess im pretty lucky that when my parents divorced I was too young to have noticed any bizarre or judgmental treatment. But my heart does go out to those who had to go through both a divorce and the aftermath while trying to find their way in such a family centric church.

  34. Thomas Parkin says:

    Yeah, ZD Eve. Maybe it becomes another instance of how much do you shelter them from the ugliness of the adult world. I’d like to hear views on how one might protect and / or inform one’s children in this situation.

    I may have a lot to say about it later, too … but right now I’m headed to Seattle to watch my daughter’s band. :)

  35. A few years ago we lived in a neighborhood where most of the children my child played with had divorced parents. I know from experience that when children see divorce, no matter how it is explained to them, it causes anxiety about what might happen to their family. I agree with Kristine that it is ok to acknowledge that divorce it tragic, and we shouldn’t hesitate to reassure our children about our own commitment to them and to our spouses. If we act like divorce is just another option, our children may fear that we will just wake up one day and decide to do it.

  36. Since no outsider can ever know the detailed dynamics of any divorce, I find it appalling that anyone would judge another’s situation. Also, I am 60 years old, have been an active member of the Church all my life, and I have never ever heard divorce referred to as a sin. I also know no one who has gone through a divorce who did it lightly and without great pain and emotion. Obviously, I have had some different experiences than some other people.

  37. mommie dearest,

    I favor the memories of when I’ve been wounded by being on the receiving end of this behavior, but with a little retrospection I can think of people who’ve been treated this way by me…I can’t offer a nice tidy formulaic checklist for this, but I guarantee that the solution to learning and teaching both of these things will be found in a thorough and repeated study of what the Lord did when faced with complicated matters.We neglect this at our peril. I neglect this at my peril.

    THIS this the conversation I was hoping to have.

  38. That is to say, less about the times we have been treated poorly, and more about the ways we have been guilty of mistreatment, and how we came to recognize what we were doing.

  39. how we came to recognize what we were doing
    I can still very vividly remember the time where I realized I should really just shut my mouth. I had an acquaintance who I knew was dealing with infertility. One day she made an off-hand comment that referenced it, and I was all geared up to give her some advice. I literally had my mouth open to say something and the thought popped in my head, “what on earth makes you think you know more about it than she does?”
    I attribute that thought to the Holy Ghost. I’m not going to say I’ve been perfect at not hurting anyone’s feelings since then, but I’ve learned to ask myself that type of question more often before speaking. I think I’m a better person for it.

  40. I’ve only really experienced two divorces (and the fallout) close up. The first was my mother’s divorce before she met my dad. She and her first husband were pressured to marry each other by their families, and the final nail in that coffin was when my grandmother gave the poor guy a long list of things he had to do to be a better husband. He and mom continued to be friends. If there was any sin there, it was on the part of my grandmother.

    The second was my brother’s divorce. After years of being a great and loving mom, his wife decided she was tired of being married and tired of being a mommy and left. In hindsight, we all should have seen it coming. She was so caught up in the idea of trying to save the world that she neglected and then lost her family. I am still surprised how one person can at the same time be so loving and so selfish, Three of their four boys made it okay, but fifteen years later the son who took it hardest still is emotionally stunted. I love her but don’t trust her at all because she is such a flake.

  41. Steve Evans says:

    Nicely put, Starfoxy.

  42. …more about the ways we have been guilty of mistreatment, and how we came to recognize what we were doing.

    Guilty here as well, without a doubt. There are times I can still feel the sting of shame over something that exited my mouth. Now I think it’s a combination of more life experience, being knocked over many times, and the recollection of that sting of shame for when I did misspeak that causes me to try and err on the side of compassion rather than sticking my foot in my mouth. Although, I’m sure I still do that too.

  43. Really excellent comment, Starfoxy.

  44. Glass Ceiling says:


    Not sure if anyone else said this, but the word “cleave” is also it’s own antonym. How do those happen etymologically?

  45. how we came to recognize what we were doing

    To the extent that a naive application of the law of the harvest to the challenges of others is the culprit, experiencing the complexities of life yourself can be a useful reality check.

  46. Peter–that needs to be cross-stitched and framed!

  47. My parents separated when I was very young – and at a time when divorce was not available in Ireland. The legal divorce came many years later and when a referrendum was held to decide on the possibility of divorce here in Ireland I voted eagerly and without hestitation. Divorce is necessary in some cases — just look at comments Elder Oaks made after returning from the philippines (where divorce is still illegal).

    The truth is that divorces take place for diverse reasons – and some end up being a blessing (despite the difficult consequences).

    These hurtful comments are part of bearing another’s burdens and are surely less sinful than some of the obvious things that cause some divorces. Hence, we need to be compassionate to these people just as surely as we need to be compassionate to the victims of divorce.

    I believe as Starfoxy stated that the Holy Ghost attempts to educate us in our personal reactions so that we are more thoughtful and less inappropriately intrusive — but I am also aware that some things Jesus Christ said hurt people. Even Peter was ‘grieved’ about something he said (John 21).

    Best to err on the side of compassion… at least on these tough things.

  48. The current almost compulsive fear within Mormondom of anything associated with divorce is a little ironic, given that historically, divorce laws were more liberal in Utah than the rest of the country.

  49. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 44, the two antonym senses of cleave are actually different words that developed into homographs. In other words, “cleave” is not a single word with opposite meanings, but OE cleofan “separate” and OE clifian “adhere” both evolved into the same English spelling, “cleave.”

  50. Thanks, Kristine. You’ve given me an idea for an Etsy store!

  51. Great post!

    I also vote for the second option. I think most of us don’t honestly believe the mote and beam parable really applies to us (even as I’m writing this I recognize that I don’t really believe it in my own situation). As has been said, I ignore the parable at my own peril.

    As awful as it all is, however, I can’t toss out too much disdain as I think it’s human nature. Rose-colored glasses we don as we look in the mirror is part of what allows us to function, keep going, and wake up happy. You wanna see what happens when you take off the rose-colored glasses? take a look at a person suffering from chronic depression! Not to generalize too much, but some depressed people I know are some of the most caring, compassionate, unassuming, sensitive, and kind people I’ve ever met. They believe the beam and mote parable all too much!!

    For me, I have no doubt I am guilty of saying some horrible things to people particularly in my high school years growing up in Utah. I was a self-righteous prick to be sure! Now, as I have come to be repulsed by people like the former me, I have to be continually vigilant that I don’t come full circle with a new, slightly different colored beam in my eye!

  52. I got yelled at via email just this morning by my ex-husband for twisted versions of what I have had to tell my daughter when she asks me questions about inappropriate behavior she has observed in her dad. This includes everything from feeding her only junk food to sleeping with his girlfriend before they were married, to trying to convince her that what she saw the night he left never really happened.

    Standing up for myself towards third-party adults who don’t understand divorce is barely a blip on my radar.

  53. My question is this: When you discover that you are at fault of a thoughtless and hurtful comment (and sometimes this may not be revealed for months) what can be done to atone for your judgmental thoughtlessness? We have all made the rogue comment that comes back to haunt us. What next?

  54. StillConfused says:

    I find it so interesting when people view divorce as a sin. Like somehow people are supposed to stay in an unhappy situation because EVERYONE ELSE doesn’t want their little worlds disrupted. If someone is in a crappy job where they aren’t treated the way they want, no one expects them to stay in such a crappy situation (actually there probably are creeps who do). You spend more time with a spouse than you do with a boss.

    My personal experience with divorce is that everyone is better off. I know there are those who point to nasty divorces. To them, I say, if you think that divorce is nasty, imagine what it would have been like if they stayed together!!

    On the other hand, I have seen people stay in marriages “for the sake of the kids” or some other statement. And I see how much everyone suffers. The kids are raised in an unloving environment and have a twisted view of what love is. They in turn have trouble making good relationship decisions.

  55. As a divorced male in the church, let me assure all the never-been-divorced that comments like these happen EVERY time I interact with church members. Two weeks ago I was kneeling at the alter in the temple while the sealer interrogated me about my missing wife in front of everyone and taught me that it is not good for man to be alone and that I can’t enjoy the blessings of eternity without an eternal companion. Thank goodness he told me! 4 years of being a single father and I never knew it wasn’t good to be alone!

    We have ward activities for “couples”. A stake parenting class for “married couples”. I have been uninvited from being a witness couple in the temple because they preferred to have a married couple. I could write pages of experiences.

    Go back and read the Ensign article from June on being single in the church. No mention of how married people could help singles feel welcome…the focus was on what singles needed to do differently to fit into a married church and how we need to develop thicker skin. Sadly, the attitude is that the only problem with singles in the church is the singles.

    Please just accept the fact that while you may not be aware of this, this discrimination is a regular part of the Mormon culture. Please please please don’t say you don’t believe it is more than just one or two insenstive people. While these anecdotes may not be the way people “feel”, they are definitely the way they act.

  56. Scott, the title of the post implies that Mormon Familiolatry is itself part of the problem. I understand “familiolatry” as used in the title to mean the elevation of the neo-Victorian nuclear family (and concept of marriage) to nearly worshipped status that has occurred in Twentieth-Century Mormonism (as contrasted to the pre-1890 polygamy era). Is that correct?

    Do you happen to know whether divorce was discussed in such terms in the 1950s and earlier or whether this “catholicization” of divorce has occurred primarily since our discourse in the Church has become so dominated by the culture wars in the 1960s and onward? Wasn’t the Church historically relatively open to divorce as a necessary and even desirable solution in some marriages?

    In any case, to me the title implies that it is precisely this “familiolatry” that leads to our members to feel comfortable saying such shocking things in such a casual way. Would you agree?

    If so, then perhaps a concerted effort redirecting our focus on the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the core of our religion and worship is what will best help us to stop feeling justified in making such comments about other people’s family situations.

  57. Stillconfused, the Savior himself indicated that divorce was sin. We can talk about how literally he meant that and place it in context and all that, but I don’t think you can simply dismiss the concept. In any negative human interaction, we can be both guilty of sin and the victim of sin simultaneously, and it’s really risky for outside observers to allocate the proportions of each to those involved. I also think that like Jephthah, we can make vows that seem like a good idea at the time that I don’t think the Lord requires us to follow through on. These are all complexities that also figure in to divorce, but I don’t think we should accept the words as the Savior’s and minimize them. It’s like when I read a comment some posts back about how the church fetishizes pornography and should realize that it’s no worse that not doing one’s hometeaching. Oh really? The Savior was very direct regarding looking upon a woman to lust after her, but not so direct about hometeaching.

  58. john f., sometime ago there was an article in Dialogue by Dennis Prager, a Jewish writer and broadcaster, who suggested that the beautiful parts of any religion can also become a curse, especially if they are allowed to be a form of idol worship. In light of this, I agree wholeheartedly that we have incorrectly valorised a particular conception of family but I would not want to de-emphasise family entirely. Rather I think we need to recognise the way we have objectified a particular familial structure as the ideal without enough concern for theological and ritual principles which undergird our view of family-centric salvation. My modest suggestions then are these: first we need to shift our rhetorical ideal from family structure to the principles of interaction; and in so doing recognise that both God’s blessings and the Christian values are potentially present in every form of family. Second, I think we need to restructure our rituals by allowing single parents of all varieties to be sealed to their children and in so doing we need to adequately clarify the ‘sealed’ status of children and parents in all of these types of family. These changes would allow us to see God’s blessings in all these relationships because they are formally bestowed in ritual form without ambiguity.

  59. Scott B, where do you live? I can’t imagine something like this happening either in or outside of church in our northern Chicago suburb. I’m pretty sure we get the same gospel on Sundays, but honestly, nobody’s kids would play with anyone else’s here if they tried to follow a policy like that. My kindergartner’s best friend’s mom is a divorced, remarried atheist, and a wonderful, warm, loving mother, and as far as I can tell, this is pretty standard among our friends at church (whose kids all go to different schools). How much of this is church culture, do you think, and how much of it is regional or local culture?

  60. I, having divorced, having been the one to CHOOSE divorce, am grateful for the teachings on the importance of an eternal family.

    Just because some people are insensitive and ignorant, doesn’t mean the teachings are wrong or should be changed. Sure, I’m sad that I don’t have a husband who will live up to his covenants. Sure, when it is discussed, I mourn my loss. Sure, when people say insensitive things it hurts. But that doesn’t mean I think that people should stop talking about how important keeping covenants and eternal families are to our happiness.

    I don’t think the primary goal of Church or doctrine should be avoiding emotional pain.

  61. My understanding is that Scott’s three anecdotes, from three different friends, range from coast to coast and the midwest as well.

  62. observer fka eric s says:

    45 PeterLLC = magesterial.

    Divorce isn’t the only context of akwardness that occurs within the narrow cinderblock hallways. What about ominous statements re marriage directed towards young 20 somethings who are not married yet, or backhanded comments re the amount of children a young couple *should* have (usually from a person who has 6+ kids). My impression of the post wasn’t so much that it is focused on divorce so much as unknowlingly dropping inappropriate judgmental bombs on each other.

    Like Chris @55’s experience with a heavy-handed and paternalistic admonishment in the temple that it is not good that man be alone. It would have beem hard for me not to have responded by saying, “Oh, no $h[T? Wow, thank’s for the tip.”

    At the end of the day, in reflecting on this more and how I respond to this stuff, I think I am at the place not far from Thomas Parkin @28. But my response to and perception of this cultural characteristic of ours has evolved to the point of jest. Whether it’s helpful or not, I simply chuckle to myself when I hear this stuff. I’ve learned to laugh at my culture’s quirks, just as I have learned to laugh at my own oddities and shortcomings. It takes a sense of humor to be LDS.

  63. @Chris, #55, your comment broke my heart. Thank you for being willing to share. Having grown up in the church in a ‘broken home’ (I HATE that term and heard it more times that I can count) I like to think of myself as sensitive to these issues. Still, I’ve never been divorced myself, never had to be the parent in the single parent home I lived in. Hearing the experiences of yourself and others helps me see how I might have been unintentionally insensitive in the past. Thank you.

    I agree with jmb275 about the rose-colored glasses. We all need to be able to function. We also need to be able to take the glasses off every once in a while or to at least we aware that we are wearing them. It’s when we think our rose-colored view is ‘the truth’ or ‘reality’ that we are ripe for causing the hurt we’re talking about.

    @Aaron, #58, Amen! Children should be allowed to be sealed to their parents. The end.

    Now, to answer the question, how I have recognized (and hopefully still do) what I was doing: enough of my own judgements came to bite me in the butt that I finally opened my eyes and realized I should stop being so hard on people. Over and over, especially as a missionary, I found myself doing things that I had previously criticized or said I would never do. It happened enough times that I loosened up my judgmental stance. I choose to believe that most people are doing the very best they can with what they’ve got; it’s not for me to say that they’re wrong or that their best isn’t good enough. (And good enough for who? Me? Themselves? God? I’ll let Him make that call.) I think I’ve also come to realize that making and sharing those kinds of judgements doesn’t do anyone any good. No good comes of it, so I should just stop.

    I also did some serious thinking about agency. That we have the freedom to choose, to be agents of change, is key to the plan of salvation. It doesn’t only apply when we choose the ‘right.’ The 11th article of faith says that we allow all people the privilege of worshipping how, where, and what they may. In the same vein, I think we should respect the rights of all people to choose, to weigh out their options and make their own choices. Those choices should be respected, whether they be choices about marriage, divorce, children, religion, profession, or anything else. I’m not you. I don’t know what it’s like to be you. I don’t have to live your life or live with the consequences of your decisions. So I trust that you will make decisions for your life that you think are best. I would expect the same respect and support for my decisions and my ability to make them.

    A few years ago I had a conversation with my Great Uncle Al that was life changing. At almost 90 years old he’s active, healthy, happy, and sharp as a tack. My husband asked him what his secret was. He said, with a twinkle in his eye, that he has a bourbon every day. Then knowing that wouldn’t work for us, he shared his life philosophy with us: ‘I love you for who you are and not for who I think you should be.’ He said if that one doesn’t work, this one will: ‘You have the right to be exactly who you are, no matter how much it pisses me off.’ Everyone needs an Uncle Al.

  64. john f (56),
    Yes, I think that you’ve correctly captured the meaning of the term–which was not coined by me, of course (if Kristine wants to correct you, then I welcome it, but I think you’ve got it right.).

  65. Aaron R. says so beautifully:

    Second, I think we need to restructure our rituals by allowing single parents of all varieties to be sealed to their children and in so doing we need to adequately clarify the ‘sealed’ status of children and parents in all of these types of family. These changes would allow us to see God’s blessings in all these relationships because they are formally bestowed in ritual form without ambiguity.


    This particular problem has caused so much pain for me and my children. How does one answer the questions of 5, 7 and 9 year olds, when week after week they hear lessons in primary on the eternal family, temple marriage, the proclamation, and sing songs about forever families, ad infinitum…? Even my bishop, when pressed by a teary me, had no adequate response, except the trope about it all working out after we die. That’s very comforting to three children, let me assure you.

  66. DowneyDouble says:

    Sorry not to add to the direction you wanted for the thread, Scott, but I have to say this. Such outrageous statements regarding divorce and the feelings behind them are pathetic and shallow in understanding (Thomas @28), and they are not as rare as some of you seem to think. Like Chris @55, I had many such experiences during the 4 years I was divorced. But, as many of you suggested, I was usually able to roll with them and not get offended. However, such feelings and actions are not without basis. They may stem from what was and is more difficult for me to accept—the institutionalization by the Church of the lesser status of divorcees.

    We are all familiar with what Matthew 5:32 (3 Ne. 12:32) has to say about divorce, and likely have heard statements similar to this from David O. McKay:

    “Christ’s ideal pertaining to marriage is the unbroken home, and conditions that cause divorce are violations of his divine teachings. Except in cases of infidelity or other extreme conditions, the Church frowns upon divorce.”

    Another thing I often heard were the acceptable “As” of divorce set forth by “some general authority,” viz., Adultery, Addiction, Abandonment, Abuse (anyone know where to find this?). The follow-up assumption is that divorce is the result of such heinous sins.

    But, here is what really gets me. Did you know a male, temple-divorcee cannot teach seminary? Cannot teach institute? Cannot serve in most temple positions? Cannot (with rare exceptions) serve as a bishop or in other “lofty” callings? Has to get permission from no less than the First Presidency to subsequently be married again in the temple? Etc., etc.

    Well, call me Hester. I guess I’ll still be wearing my scarlet “D” when I am “appointed [an] angel[], which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.” D&C 132:16 (See also D&C 131:4).

  67. #45: “experiencing the complexities of life yourself can be a useful reality check”


    My mother used to blithely say that she was fortunate that all her children had married in the temple until one left the church and then divorced a year later. Only then did she realize how stinging her remark might have been. She had never intended it as an indictment or judgement on anyone else, but her experience taught her (and, vicariously, me, too) a new sensitivity.

    My wife has long observed in her Relief Society that the frequency of comments is inversely proportional to the age of the commenter. Those with more “real” experience say less and less.

    As for myself, I’ve learned over time to say less, too. To stop trying to sort out another’s motives for whatever situation they may be in. And instead to assume the best. And I can only hope that my improving behavior makes up for stupid things I’ve said before.

  68. observer fka eric s says:

    @66 downeydouble – i have a close friend who is about 40 and single. he is not the least bit interested in getting married. when he sincerely let’s another member know that he is happily single (usually after an underhanded reference to his single status), he happily says back, “I’m perfectly content with being a ministering angel.” From the times I’ve been privy to this exchange, the other person has just sat there in shock and awe at such a statement. Pretty interesting to watch.

  69. I don’t think most of you understand the doctrine the way I do.

  70. Would you care to elaborate, SilverRain? How is it that we are understanding the doctrine differently? (I’m genuinely interested, not being argumentative.)

  71. “…., when week after week they hear lessons in primary [or Sacrament, Sunday School] on the eternal family, temple marriage, the proclamation, and sing songs about forever families, ad infinitum…?”

    Imagine being gay like me and eduring this stuff ad nauseum. Then add to that the drivel that gays are out to “destroy the family”, the family is “under attack”, etc. etc. Sheesh!!

  72. Neal, one of the positive outcomes of my whole divorce process is that I have gained a great deal of empathy for gay Saints and the unique difficulties they face– for exactly the reason you state. I suppose that every cloud has a silver lining, or something to that effect.

  73. #63 (Becca) – I love your Uncle Al!

    #66 (DowneyDouble) – Abuse, huh? Interesting how words work: Well, she thought he was and he said he wasn’t. She made up the whole thing, and she thought he was probably right, therefor she had no real grounds for divorce – but she divorced him anyway because to stay married to him was worse than hell to her. The problem was, nearly everyone they knew thought she should have divorced him long ago. (Their own opinions, she did not influence them one way or another.)

    I was a very judgmental teenager (I was raised mostly in Salt Lake City), but as I experienced life, I became less and less judgmental. I think all we can really do is recognize that the Atonement even covers people who unknowingly put their feet in their mouths. Most likely, life will teach them the lessons they need. (#67 Paul noted this.) Visit that lady (the “my kid can’t come to your house” lady) in fifteen or twenty years. Quite possibly, she or one of her children will have been divorced, or her eyes opened in some other “fun” way. Life does that to us.

    I was raised without a father pretty much from day one, though the divorced was finalized later. I guess I had a thicker skin than I thought, because I didn’t notice nasty comments. I did know that we were “outcasts” in a town we lived in when I was little, and I knew that it was from a combination of no father and poor. In Salt Lake, I don’t recall ever being tormented for those two things. When Fathers’ Day came around and we made a cute little gift in Sunday School or Primary (yeah, I’m old – we had both when I was a kid) for our fathers, I would happily make the gift. Later, I would give it to my mother, happily saying, “Happy Father’s Day, Mom.” To me, it was a great joke even though I ached horribly to have a father who largely acted as if I didn’t exist (I saw him twice, old enough to remember anything).

    What I’m trying to say, is that it goes both ways: We should look at ourselves to see if we are being judgmental about ANYthing, and change if necessary. And, if we are on the receiving end of the stick, we should accept that people are people, and that they will continue being people no matter what we think about it (Uncle Al comes to mind). We work on ourselves; we pray for ourselves and others.

    Church lessons on “the family” can hurt. Special meetings on “families can be forever” are ones wherein I usually leave, wish I could, or don’t show up. Still, I am perfectly happy knowing I am sealed to my mother and her side of the family – and I like my paternal relatives just fine.

  74. I’ve been on the other side of the comments for many reasons over the years, for not being a good girl, not fitting the “happy family” mold because our child was dead, being a divorced mother, having the high priest husband go inactive, and now being the ward widow with two teenage girls. I’ve taught my girls empathy but I’ve also taught them to disregard the comments of others. If Brother/Sister Pious is judging others, which Christ was pretty clear about, or just not being accepting or loving, they aren’t being an example of a Christian so we sure as heck aren’t going to worry about anything they have to say. And to me, professing to be a Christian and acting so blatantly un-Christlike supersedes Anything the other person is doing. I believe that most people truly do the best they can and they’ll grow with our love and support, not negativity. I’ve found over the years that most people who make these comments have no idea what “life” is really about. I’ve listened to some and thought, “Wait until you have your own personal tragedy and see if you still think the same way”, because everyone does at some point. I imagine the proper way to handle it is, like mentioned above, with love. Unfortunately, I’m not that Christ-like yet and inherited the Stick Up for the Little Guy gene, so I tend rely on public humiliation. It stops the comments immediately but probably doesn’t do much for unity.

  75. StillConfused says:

    The interesting thing is when you look at the families of the people who make the most judgmental statements. Look at how the children treat the parents. Look at how the spouses treat each other. I will gladly take my life over their’s any day!!

  76. Another thing I often heard were the acceptable “As” of divorce set forth by “some general authority,” viz., Adultery, Addiction, Abandonment, Abuse (anyone know where to find this?).

    I believe the “acceptable A’s” were set forth by Dr. Laura, who is neither Mormon nor male and therefore can’t be a general authority, so who cares what she says?

  77. observer fka eric s says:

    @76 I don’t know about you. But my WordPress results always show “Dr. Laura general authority.”

  78. Steve Evans says:

    I don’t think most of you understand the doctrine the way I do.

  79. it had to be said. (why, oh why is there no like button)

  80. I think there are acceptable B’s C’s and D’s of divorce too:

    Bank robbing
    Cat fancying
    Dirty dancing…

    I could go on.

  81. Of course I would not want my child to play with a child of a divorced parent. When Jesus met a woman who was known to have committed adultery, I think he condemed her, didn’t he? Or did I get that story wrong?
    Jesus, and all of his true followers have told us to love our neighbor. We must teach our children to do that also.

  82. Observer fka eric s says:

    Cooincidentaly, pages 42 – 44 of the September 2011 Friend disscuss children and divorce.

  83. And very sweetly, at that. Thanks for pointing it out, Observer.

  84. Sharee Hughes says:

    I have been divorced for 40 years and have never thought of it as a sin. My ex-husband was controling and emotionally abusive, and if I had stayed in the marriage, I would have had a nervous breakdown. It was only after fasting and earnest prayer that I finally asked for the divorce. I have never regretted my decision, nor have I ever been ostracized at church for it. I never had children so didn’t have to explain to them about it. Perhaps that was fortunate, although I regret not having had children (I never remarried). There is at least one other divorced woman in my ward and she is also very much accepted. But then, I live in the best ward in the church. There are many reasons for divorce and it is not up to us to judge.

  85. anon from Phnom says:

    What I don’t get is how psychopathic, arrogant, mysogynistic but married guys can be a Bishop, Stake president, Mission President yet a divorced guy couldn’t be any of those things.

  86. I second the desire for a “like” button on this site.

  87. I can remember thinking as a young man before and after I joined the Church (14, some 40+ years ago) that Mormon families were the closest thing to perfection, that parents never argued nor fought like mine and that family life in Mormon homes was one where children were not only taught correct principles but allowed to exercise their agency to live (or not live) those principles, i.e., teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves (at the proper age, of course).

    That view began to fade when I walked into a kitchen during a Mutual activity where one of the Bishop’s counsels and his wife were having a very heated argument. In the years since then, it has for the most part vanished. I too have seen (and at times been party to) the shallow judgmental comments members can and do make about their brothers and sisters whether it be about divorce, children going astray, same sex attraction or other topics (take your pick, we members seem to be able to turn even mole hills into a mountain when it comes to others, e.g., beards, tattoos, R rated movies, real Coca Cola or diet, reading too much fiction versus not enough books about Church History (a topic for another day), ad nauseum).

    It appears the reality of being in a group that views itself as “strange and peculiar” , as us against the world, of living in the “Final Days” (yes, I know, Latter Days but it seems more and more that Christ’s return is just around the corner to many) leads us within the group to believe we must not only watch over each other but take each other to task when we believe another has departed from the path. We ignore the fact we are not appointed judges in Israel but rather believe we are doing good even when the tools of “helping” the “lost sheep” which we use are gossip and shunning (maybe not to the extent other groups shun but just as effective).

    And therein lies the rub. We spend so much time in such actions we have forgotten the cataracts blurring our own vision and that by engaging in such actions, we turn the commandment “love one another” on its head and into something not only far different but far from what Christ taught.