Defining the Family

MinifigFamily01If you were asked in a church setting to define the family, how would you respond?

Probably you’d go to the Proclamation on the Family. It implies that the family is a husband and wife with children.

But in the 2016 Elder’s Quorum/Relief Society President curriculum, President Howard W. Hunter defines it a bit more broadly:

“In seeking after the welfare of individuals and families, it is important to remember that the basic unit of the Church is the family. However, in focusing on the family, we should remember that in the world in which we live families are not restricted to the traditional grouping of father, mother, and children. Families in the Church today also consist of [husbands and wives] without children, single parents with children, and single individuals living alone. … Each of these families must receive priesthood watch care. Often those which may need the most careful watch care are those families of the non-traditional structure. Caring and committed home teachers are needed in each home. None should be neglected.”

See https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-howard-w-hunter/chapter-17-preserve-and-protect-the-family?lang=eng

I did find it interesting that the compilers of the manual chose to alter his quote, which is found here: The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1997), 144.

“In seeking after the welfare of individuals and families, it is important to remember that the basic unit of the Church is the family. However, in focusing on the family, we should remember that in the world in which we live families are not restricted to the traditional grouping of father, mother, and children. Families in the Church today also consist of couples without children, single parents with children, and single individuals living alone or with roommates. Each of these families must receive priesthood watch care. Often those which may need the most careful watch care are those families of the non-traditional structure. Caring and committed home teachers are needed in each home. None should be neglected.”

Bolding mine.

Regardless, I find this reminder remarkable. I imagine it fits within in the Proclamation on the Family’s line of “Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation” of the definition of family.

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. Ancient wisdom

  2. Why would the quote be altered to remove the reference to roommates? In just about every big-city singles ward, the overwhelming majority of members live with roommates. Not everyone gets married at 22 (or 19) while a sophomore at BYU.

  3. Perhaps this better suited is for another post, but the easiest way to defend The Family is to add an upvote at RottenTomatoes. Due to persecution from satan, The Family currently sits at just 29% support. Pathetic. Make your voice heard people: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_family_2013/

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting catch. Presumably “couples” and roommates” were edited out to avoid any possibility of a reference (presumably unintended) to same-sex relationships.

    Even this definiition of the family is pretty limited. What about extended families, which are often so predominant in other cultures?

  5. senalishia says:

    In my experience with the Church, “Often those which may need the most careful watch care are those families of the non-traditional structure” can quite easily fall into a less holy paradigm where the ‘traditional’ families in the ward are seen as the ‘backbone’ of the ward and always the net givers of care, non-traditional families are always the net receivers of care, and wards argue about how many apartment complexes they have to include in their boundaries.

  6. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    I was taught that we ae saved individually and not in groups.

  7. It’s obvious that “family” is a sensitive word, where the use and meaning is context dependent. For the purpose of a Priesthood/Relief Society manual in the context of “seeking after welfare”, this would probably be better rendered as “households”. I wouldn’t view this as any part of the marriage discussion, same-sex or otherwise, nor part of any single vs married discussion or men vs women, but just about who gets attention in welfare and home teaching and visiting teaching.
    The interesting questions (to me) in the “seeking after welfare” household discussion, are the roommate question and the extended family question. I’ve always thought that unrelated roommates deserved to be treated as separate ‘households’ even though they lived in the same space. And that ‘related roommates’ (self-defined, with a wide variety of legal and biological relatedness included) would usually choose to and best be respected as a single household. I’ve not had much occasion to think about the (not uncommon) situation of older parents living in the same house as his/her/their married-with-children children. I’m inclined to think the older parent(s) deserve respect as a separate ‘family’, but there’s a strong pull to treat the entire household as one family.

  8. I think it’s important to note he’s talking about families “…in the world in which we live…” I think the temple ordinances tend to define how family might be in the next world. We seal husbands and wives, children to parents. We don’t seal siblings to siblings, son in laws to mother in laws, and so forth. Yet, when it’s all said and done, everyone will have a connection.

  9. MikeInWeHo says:

    I agree with Kevin. It’s pretty clear to me that the edits were made to make clear that gay families are not welcome. How sad.

  10. MDearest says:

    Only the most clueless (or willfully blind) can miss the intent behind the edits. Because of our idolatrous worship of (our perception of) the ideal family, in order to be a believer that fully participates in this “doctrine,” one must violate both the first and second great commandment given to us by Christ. I want to follow Christ, but when I go to church to find that path, I get this instead. I’m tired of doing these evil gymnastics.

  11. eponymous says:

    It’s amazing how we are so willing to see the worst in the editors who compiled this article without giving them the benefit of the doubt. Why is it that one of the messages of holy envy – seeing others in their best light rather than their worst – is so often lost in action when considering those of our own faith. You do not know why they edited the quote and there are multiple potential reasons why they did. Why not practice what is preached so often in this forum when directed towards those of our own faith? Or does familiarity so easily breed contempt?

  12. Eponymous, what are some other plausible explanations? Just curious.

  13. Family? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.

    I know what you think it means, sonny. To me, it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know?

    Family? It’s just a word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t care.

  14. “You do not know why they edited the quote and there are multiple potential reasons why they did.”

    Eponymous, like Steve, I am curious what other potential reasons you have in mind. I cannot think of other plausible ones.

  15. Everyone’s curious about reasons. I’m curious why the author would bother to look at a PH/RS manual 4 months before it’s being used, go to Lesson 17, read thee paragraph in question, look at footnote 7, dig up the original source, and point out the editorial changes. Everyone’s looking for a hidden agenda. What’s hers?

  16. IDIAT, destroying the family, obvs.

  17. This smacks of conspiracy theory, as though there’s a big omniscient presence in SLC stamping out any presence of alternate families. My alternate theory, which seems much more likely (to me, of course), is a mid-level editor looking at the PH/RS lesson, seeing words that could be controversial and simply saying ‘I know the issue but this is not the time or place for the discussion; if I gloss a couple of words I can make the simple point that’s relevant for this lesson and avoid controversy for now; let the political discussion of family happen elsewhere”. You may or not agree with the editorial decision, but it doesn’t have to be understood as a declarative one. Much more likely it’s an avoidance decision.

  18. Christian, bingo.

  19. Avoidance editing. I like that. I imagine that happened a lot in the President Ezra Taft Benson manual. This is a good example. From his 1988 talk: “You mothers who are especially charged with the righteous rearing of the youth of Zion, are you not putting God first when you honor your divine calling by not leaving the homefront to follow the ways of the world? Our mothers put God first when they fill their highest mission within the walls of their own homes.”

    Current manual reads: “You mothers, who are especially charged with the righteous rearing of the youth of Zion, are you not putting God first when you honor your divine calling? … Our mothers put God first when they fill their highest mission within the walls of their own homes.”

    That nicely avoids some of the fraught discussion. The first disparages women working outside the home, the edited version allows the space for it.

    This post also discusses the complexity of editing manuals and I probably should have linked it in the OP.

  20. Removing and rephrasing to eliminate any possibility of interpreting the statement as approving of gay relationships was the first thing that crossed my mind. It may not have been done because the editors assumed most Mormons would misunderstand, but to remove any chance of providing “ammo” to others. At the very least, the church has made some baffling choices/statements in the last few years based solely on a hypersensitivity around gay issues, and pointing that out in conjunction with the manual is far from conspiratorial.

  21. eponymous says:

    Steve, avoiding controversy was one thought. Recognizing hypersensitivity and the potential for heated discussions in a class that is intended to bring milk to the least and not necessarily meat to the most advanced is one way of looking at this. Focusing the discussion on the ideal – which we know many here disparage – is another reason for making the change. Opening the possibility for the discussion to lean toward how husbands should support their wives and wives their husbands in strengthening the family might be another. Additionally highlighting how the ideal is not what many of these families have and making an obvious contrast perhaps more directly hammers the message home to dense priesthood holders who might otherwise get caught up in debates over whether Pres Hunter was talking about gay households rather than focusing on their duty to more closely support families outside the ideal.

    I can come up with a few more if you like.

  22. I’m truly baffled how a single person living with roommates is not “the ideal.” Aren’t older people always criticizing Millennials for not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and leaving the nest and going to the big city and living The Dream?

    Has anyone looked at rental rates recently? Yeah, I live with a flatmate. (One of us is in a long-term relationship, one never dates at all.) This affects your nuclear family not at all.

  23. The most common objection to covenant marriages comes from those who view such measures as undue government intrusion into family matters. The counter argument is that states increasingly have viewed divorce as a legitimate matter of public concern because of its extensive costs and the havoc it causes to primary and extended social and economic relationships.