And who is my family?

“…the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”

-The Family: A Proclamation to the World, 1995

Given our history and evolution of doctrine around families and marriage, I think it’s fair to paraphrase a certain lawyer and ask: “And who is my family?”

Not sure if this is a firestorm question or too obvious to be interesting. By my understanding, it isn’t obvious at all.



  1. Family is about more than blood.

  2. Clark Goble says:

    It seems Mormon doctrine from fairly early on saw adoption as key to the conception of family. Right now temple work is about setting up traditional family links. But since many of those links will reject the gospel it seems sometime in the future adoption will be the main work of the temple.

  3. I’m way out of my depth here (hence the question)…but from what I can tell, Joseph’s doctrine involved a not-particularly familial God and the most expansive possible view of family. As our concept of familial connection to God grew stronger, our concept of family narrowed with the narrowing of the sealing ordinance.

  4. Deborah Christensen says:

    I’m on the side that this is obvious. The answer is everyone. I can’t see HF or JC giving me a pass on not helping someone just because they aren’t blood related. Of course if both my family and a stranger are in need…I don’t know. You do the best you can.

  5. I would think a decent lawyer, upon reading the rest of the Proclamation, could pretty much figure it out on his or her own.

  6. In the context of the Proclamation the definition is pretty straightforward at least as far as that document is concerned. Family = husband, wife, children.

    How often has it been stated that the Church exists to support the family? How often has it been declared as the basic unit of the Church?

  7. But what conclusions is a lawyer to draw when the Proclamation contradicts scripture? (“Who are my mother, my brothers?” “I come with a sword”, etc.) Jesus wasn’t exactly a big supporter of “traditional marriage”.

  8. Also, keep in mind that not only were Jesus’ parents not married, they never even lived together!

    Hardly a model family under the Proclamation…

  9. To Nepos’s point, are we to treat the Proc as revealed gospel? Do we think Jesus would answer the question differently than the Proc does?

  10. Nepos — what makes you think they weren’t married and didn’t live together? Maybe at the time of his birth they weren’t married, but you’d be hard pressed to argue they weren’t married sometime in or around the Savior’s birth. Or do you have some revelation that the other children born thereafter to Joseph and Mary were all illegitimate? Jesus was all about family in parables and teachings. You must be reading different scriptures than me.

  11. Assuming Jesus was God of the Old Testament, and the OT is all about patriarchy, I don’t think He would answer the question differently than the Proclamation does.

  12. IDIAT,
    I think Nepos does not mean Joseph when he talks of Jesus’ father.

  13. IDIAT–Joseph was his step-father, according to the scriptures.

    I’ve never been clear on the rationale for Jesus’ being the God of the Old Testament, but if he was, he certainly had a major change in perspective once he became human. I don’t think you can extrapolate what Jesus would teach on a subject based on the Old Testament, considering he freely changed or rejected parts of it.

  14. This is a question that we have had an answer for since the time of the dinosaurs:

  15. As for Jesus’ teachings on family, consider that he explicitly rejects his mother and brothers and says that he expects his followers to break with their families in order to follow him (and that this will, in fact, happen.)

    Preserving the Family was hardly a priority for Jesus–he expected his followers to give up everything, including their families, to follow him. Does he still expect this, in which case the Proclamation is secondary to following Christ, or has divine policy changed, and the Family is now of equal importance? An interesting question…

  16. Clark Goble says:

    Nepos, on what basis do you say Jesus parents weren’t married? While it doesn’t mention the marriage the fact they were engaged suggests at some point they did get married. We don’t know when of course. There’s a lot of reading into what’s fundamentally an argument from silence.

    Likewise while Jesus clearly saw some things as more important that marriage and family, I don’t think one can say he wasn’t a supporter of traditional marriage.

    Kyle, it seems to me the proclamation is largely a restatement of scripture. It has a prophetic stamp of course. I think trying to fit all scripture into a “dictated by God” or “philosophies of men” is a false dichotomy. The proclamation seems to have at least as much basis as anything Paul wrote for instance.

  17. Last Lemming says:

    Perhaps it is significant the the proclamation refers to “the family” instead of “families.” It makes it sound like there is only one. Like we’re all blood related and have a common ancestor or something.

  18. “I would think a decent lawyer, upon reading the rest of the Proclamation, could pretty much figure it out on his or her own.”
    No. I am. I have.
    It might be fair to say that a casual reader with preconceived notions could think they have figured it out on their own. But a careful lawyer, actually any careful reader, with scripture, history, cultural and technical connotations, source, purpose, and more all in mind, will find significant difficulty. The Proclamation is not simple.

  19. A nice idea, Last Lemming, except that “the Family” is a typical construction when discussing families, especially on the more conservative end of the political spectrum in the US. (Focus on the Family, the American Family Council, etc. etc.) I don’t see any reason to think that the Proclamation isn’t using this standard meaning, especially since the document is essentially a paean to the nuclear family.

  20. Last Lemming says:

    I know what the writers meant, but if future Church leaders want a way out of the rabbit hole, they have one handy.

  21. LL – Good point. And it definitely ties into ideas of universal adoption and the Church as the body of Christ.

  22. Owen Witesman says:

    You guys know where babies come from, right? ;)

  23. Owen – you joke, but that is a very serious and complicated question in Mormon theology!

    Also, it depends whether you are talking about Jesus or about everyone else.

  24. Tim Jones says:

    I’m just shocked by the number of people here who believe Joseph is the father of Jesus. Seriously, people…

  25. Tim Jones — I wasn’t even trying to be sneaky or anything, I thought my meaning was obvious. No disrespect to step parents, but in this case, it really, really matters who Jesus’ real Father is!

  26. it really, really matters who Jesus’ real Father is

    Making the case against Nauvoo polyandry, are you?

  27. Nepos RE: Jesus’ parents never lived together? I think even Mary could sing the primary song “I lived in heaven a long time ago it is true. Lived there and loved there with people I know. So did you….” Apparantly they (Mary and God) did live together. ChristianKimball – Maybe you’re not as good an attorney as you think. Appellate courts prefer simplicity when reading briefs. Perhaps you and casual readers are over thinking the Proclamation. Primary age children seem to understand it just fine.

  28. [clears throat] OK so back to the OP…If Jesus were to say “the family is central to the plan” and you were to ask “who is my family?” what would he say?

  29. Kyle.

    Not (simply) the nuclear family. End of.

  30. Ryan Mullen says:

    Deborah, saying that everyone is family destroys the meaning of the word, or makes it synonymous with humankind generally. Our responsibility to care for and serve others doesn’t have to negate that family relationships are special.

  31. This seems like a subject about which menfolk will only make fools of themselves.

  32. A couple weeks ago, my father gave me a cuckoo clock that belonged to his grandmother. Since I didn’t know much about her (she was already dead when I was born) I asked him to tell me more about her. He grew up next door to her and spent a lot of time at her house. Among the many things he told me, he talked about how his grandfather left her when his mother was young and wasn’t a large part of their lives. Eventually she married again, though they divorced a few years later and this second husband died not long after that. At one point she had a male roommate (“I still don’t know what their relationship really was”) who helped my dad build chicken coops and pig pens in their backyard.
    My dad had specific memories and stories about each of these men, things they taught him, good and bad experiences with them, and during our conversation it occurred to me, if I were just looking at my “family” tree, I would know nothing about two of these three men who had a profound impact on my father.

  33. All humans are one family. Jesus only teaches (and commands) two “levels” of love: love of God, and love of everyone else. The Great Commandment doesn’t have “love of family” in between God and neighbor. Which isn’t an excuse to love one’s family less, but to love everyone else more.

    This isn’t an easy teaching, but then, Jesus didn’t have many easy teachings. “Be thou perfect”.

  34. Until the 20th Century family often, even usually, meant extended family. In much of the world, it still does. Family History Centers are largely about extended families. Those who question the importance of the self-sustaining, extended, and natural family need to consider what they would propose to replace it with. “Love of all mankind” is too general, and communes have a very mixed history.

    Jesus clearly expressed a special concern for and mission to the extended family called the House of Israel (e.g. Matt. 15:24) without excluding his mission to all mankind. Latter-day Saints, likewise, have concerns for all mankind, but we are rightly told of special responsibilities to our families (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:8). Everything should be done in order. Sometimes that means temporarily leaving your family. Young men and young women leave their families and postpone marriage in order to serve a mission. But on their return they are encouraged to marry and form families.

    Much of this discussion, as unfortunately seems typical of BCC, is designed to attack and weaken the Proclamation on the Family, to make it of none effect, and replace it with their own alternative tradition. Compare Matt. 15:3-6.

  35. Such an important post, Kyle. This is THE discussion to have at this juncture of Mormonism. Lived experience makes a complete mockery of the idea that family could be anything other than a very expansive view (see Darrow above). But we don’t even have to look at lived experience, we can just look to holy scripture. Are there any normal “traditional” (one man + one woman + their biological children) families in the Bible? It’s hard to think of more than a handful, and it doesn’t correlate with the righteousness of the individuals and families in question.

  36. Well, now that we know how to properly interpret the PoF let’s see if BCC is brave enough to display it on their site. Let’s see — where would be a good spot. Hmm. Oh yeah! Right beside “The Living Christ.”

  37. Jack, if it makes you feel better I’ve wallpapered my home with it. Because I’m brave.

  38. So you only have The Living Christ but NOT the family proclamation on your LDS blog? Guess you’re just not that committed to the grand cause, eh, comrade?!?

  39. The PoF was a response to the possibility of same-sex marriage becoming legal, starting in Hawaii in1993.

    I would say being part of a family–in my case–daughter, sister and especially mother has been an enlightening experience in trying to comprehend God’s unconditional love for us. The family experience has taught me many things. But ultimately I believe we are to view all of humanity as our brothers and sisters and learn to treat each other accordingly.

    As I’ve gotten older and found more questions than answers, I’ve become more uncertain as to what function and form our immediate and extended families will be in the hereafter.

  40. Steve, the fine print version doesn’t count. Now, go back and redo it in a larger font — no Swahili either.

  41. Kyle M – when Christ spoke of the second great commandment, the lawyer queried “And who is my brother?” do you really think the lawyer didn’t understand Christ’s broad implication? Sure, the Jews were taught to eschew outsiders and strangers, but I have a feeling the lawyer asked his follow up question sarcastically, not as an honest inquiry. I get the same feeling when members have to ask “and what is the family.” We know it means the basics – parents and children. But we also know it means extended family members, however they may be structured. However, We only seal parents together, and children to parents. We don’t seal siblings to one another, nor (except for some twist of adoption) grandparents to grandchildren, etc. The basic unit is parents and children, and for mortality purposes, easily goes along side extended members and units that have been fractured for whatever reason.

  42. IDIAT–that wasn’t always the case, though–Joseph Smith was sealing all sorts of people together. He clearly saw a world where unrelated people were sealed into a great adopted family.

    Perhaps he was wrong; or perhaps he was ahead of his time, and God withdrew the revelation until humanity was ready for it. Either way, Joseph Smith (and Jesus!) clearly had a much more expansive view of family than even “the extended family”.

  43. Tim Jones says:

    First claims that Joseph was the father of Jesus, and now that Christ responded to a question about “who is my brother?”

    Perhaps the church needs to step aside from the whole Defend the Family thing to focus on the most basic parts of the New Testament. Like the divinity of Jesus and and his response to “who is my neighbor.”

  44. Tim Jones – whatever happened to artistic license?

  45. Clearly, Joseph Smith did not value the nuclear family since he married a number of women who were already married. The Church must recognize that since all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, are children of God, we are all brothers and sisters and, therefore, treat one another as such.

  46. John, did JS marry those women or was he sealed to them? The lack of offspring suggests he was repurposing the ordinance for something other than marriage as we understand it.

  47. If we are supposed to call each other “brother” and “sister” my guess “The Family” is much bigger than immediate parents and children.

  48. Interesting point, Moss. I hadn’t thought about that.

  49. Isn’t it interesting that with our doctrine and work in the temple, we know that all children of God will have the opportunity to be joined and sealed to one great family? Of course, there is something to be said of immediate need of those closest to us, but recognizing that every person is also our sibling as a child of God is imo a basic tenet of Christianity.

  50. Rob Osborn says:

    Traditional families are best for everything whenever possible. That starts with a loving husband and loving wife who are committed to Christ and each other and would sacral ice everything for each other. The covenants we make in the temple are for time and all eternity. Those covenants are built upon the couple being together. This is how God’s work and glory continue on earth and in eternity. The husband and wife thus constitute the means whereby God’s work continues. This is why it is paramount that we uphold marriage between man and woman and actively work to ensure its safety and protection benefits in society. SSM is an evil counterfeit that not only mocks God but undermines God’s work and glory.

  51. Rob Osborn–this post has nothing to do with SSM, why do you bring it up?

    This post is about a strange disconnect between the way the Proclamation on The Family uses the word “family” and the way other people, such as Joseph Smith and Jesus, thought about families. This is not to say that the Proclamation is wrong, just that it requires some serious thought before canonizing it.

    I would go so far as to say that adopting the Proclamation’s view of “family” (over Jesus’ version) would be a far more radical change to Christianity than anything Joseph Smith ever did.

  52. Clark Goble says:

    Nepos, I’m not sure you can discuss how broad it is to be conceived without addressing SSM since the proclamation, in part is in opposition to SSM. (I think anyone seeing the actions of the last 15 years can’t help but note that this is a big focus) We can debate how long that focus might last and how it has changed over the last 15 years. I think the Church is in many ways trying to have its cake and eat it too – they are struggle to do what I’m not sure can be done from a non-Mormon perspective.

    I also think that people are not sufficiently noting the difference between an ideal and what is seen as the best a person can do. One might valorize in contemporary culture a nuclear family while also thinking many people ought be divorced. There’s no contradiction there if we distinguish between an ideal and the best that people in a certain circumstance might obtain at a given time. The standard theology, however much it might bother those not in the ideal situation here and now, is that the ideal will be a live option sometime in the future (often in the next life). So I think, for example, people in adopted relationships or single parent families are to be praised. Indeed, as I said near the top, I think adoption ends up being a pretty key theological notion in Mormonism even if not mentioned in the proclamation.

    So to see such a big divide between the proclamation and what you vaguely keep calling “Jesus’ version” needs to be unpacked. I confess I just don’t see it unless you think Jesus taught celibacy. (Which I just don’t think there’s evidence for, although I understand those who read it back into the text) I think Matthew 19:4-6 certainly pushes for a nuclear family. The “hard saying” of Jesus is usually taken to be his opposition to divorce. Yet I think that could easily be read first as an ideal and second as still allowing divorce with the vague notion of adultery. While it’s normally read just in terms of sex I think it can be expanded to include abuse.

    Now again, people read 19:10-12 as praising celibacy against marriage, but I’m not sure that can be reconciled with the earlier part where Jesus follows traditional Jewish teaching. That is the question is whether 10 refers to celibacy or completely faithfulness in marriage.

  53. Rob Osborn says:

    So, are you suggesting that Jesus believed in adultery, fornication, etc? All the Proclamation states is the principle truths about the role of the father and mother and their duties in the family. Not sure where you are getting some “radical” anti-Christian belief when discussing the family. Are you active LDS?

  54. Sacral ice = #1 Mormon cocktail

  55. Nope, I’m an eternal investigator. And I really am curious how you reconcile the Proclamation with the teachings of Jesus, who publicly disavows his own mother (“who are my mother and brothers?”) and calls upon his followers to love everyone equally. Does the Proclamation supersede that? Is is okay to love one’s family more than the beggar downtown, or is that (as Jesus would have it) a failure of Christian duty?

    This isn’t meant as a ‘gotcha’, I actually want to know.

  56. Clark Goble says:

    Nepos, I think you’re going to have to make explicit the contradiction because I really don’t see it.

  57. Martin James says:

    My understanding of LDS teachings are that they are not a subset of Christianity but that Christianity as usually understood is a subset/and or corruption of LDS theology. LDS theology does not see itself as part of the historical interpretation of Christianity but a restoration of timeless teachings that were not fully recorded in the bible. Most people who aren’t LDS think in a different historical way. Mormons used to be more plainspoken about these differences but in our hypersensitive culture this is hard to do without appearing condescending so many mormons including myself would see radical differences from Christianity as see by those outside of Mormon teaching as a feature not a bug but younger mormons are not typically as comfortable with that besides every mormon has their own theology as this blog shows so you will never get a definitive answer because one doesn’t exist even though everyone will disagree about whether that is true or not also.
    Sexual fidelity to an opposite gender spouse is typically very high on the Mormon list of commandments as is multiplying and replenishing the Earth. If these aren’t high on your list then you aren’t going to understand Mormons easily. Yes, loving others is a commandment but having a spouse is seen as sacred and meaningful in a way different from other religions.

  58. Martin James says:

    Also, to be an investigator in LDS terms is to pray for a confirmation of one’s understanding. I suggest reading the proclamation, reading the new testament and asking God if the two are compatible divine messages. You’ll get your answer. if the answer is yes, well welcome aboard. If it is no, one LDS answer is ‘well, we all makes our bets and we takes our chances now don’t we.”

  59. having a spouse is seen as sacred and meaningful in a way different from other religions

    Are you sure about that? This sounds like a caricature of other religions’ beliefs. I think we’d better follow our own demands on that and go to the source for information on what other religions believe. We cry foul when they don’t do that for us and instead offer up simplistic, unflattering caricatures of our beliefs.

  60. Martin James says:

    John F.,
    I meant it fairly literally that it is seen as different. The same would go for baptism in that Mormons would not accept baptism by any other faith as Mormon baptism nor would another traditions marriage count as an eternal marriage. My point is that you can’t understand Mormonism as a species of something else and understand it the way Mormons do. An anthropologist, for example, that doesn’t understand a cultures ethnocentrism doesn’t understand it the way the people in the culture do. It doesn’t help anyone understand Mormonism to pretend it is not ethnocentric in its ordinances in an exclusive way. But like I said everything about Mormonism is contested but as for me and my comments if it is not the “one true church” it is a pose not the RILL DILL Mormonism.

  61. Martin James says:

    Besides Jesus wasn’t even Mormon yet when he said that stuff in the bible.

  62. Tim Jones says:

    “Also, to be an investigator in LDS terms is to pray for a confirmation of one’s understanding. I suggest reading the proclamation, reading the new testament and asking God if the two are compatible divine messages. You’ll get your answer. if the answer is yes, well welcome aboard.”

    Please, please don’t use the answers your receive after praying about the Proclamation as your litmus test to whether or not you should join the LDS church. There are so many other things that are much more important and fundamental to our faith.

  63. Yes — specifically, you should pray about whether “these things” (with reference to The Book of Mormon’s message about the Atonement of Jesus Christ) are not true.

  64. Martin James says:

    Likewise don’t let not joining the church keep you from heeding the warnings and teachings in the proclamation. It is exceedingly unusual for our church for such a proclamation to be made and those that believe in our prophets believe it to be true and important for everyone.

  65. Rob Osborn says:

    I am curious how I am supposed to love everyone equally. Let me explain-
    I roughly have around 500 neighbors who live within a coupke blocjs of me. How is it possible to make dinner for each of them every night, read a bedtime story to all of them, kiss each of them goodnight, wake them up in the morning, make breakfast for them, help them get ready for school, express other acts of kindness, etc?
    Jesus taught us to love others as ourselves want to be loved. He taught us to take care of each other and serve others, especially those in our stewardship. That by doing that we are truly only in the service of God. So, what Jesus is really teaching us is that if we truly love him we will serve and love those around us and in our stewardship. The Proclamation doesnt teach anything contrary to Christ. Its principles are founded upon biblical teachings of our duties and stewardship that God has appointed to each one of us.
    Are you suggesting I abandon my wife and children and go worship in the chapel? What if everyone were to do that? The bottom line is this-

    Christ commanded us to love one another. We love one another through serving them. Our first duty in serving others is our immediate families and it is our duty to teach our children and families how to act and serve others. Why are you so against family?

  66. Rob, I’m not sure why you think I’m against the family? Quite the contrary! I believe that all Christians (and, indeed, all humanity) are, or at least ought to be, one family. Cain asked “am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus was God’s answer: yes, you are, and all the children of God are brothers! My vision of family is far more expansive than yours, and it saddens me to see it limited to just immediate blood relatives. Especially since I don’t think Joseph Smith shared such a limited view.

    Martin James– “Jesus wasn’t a Mormon yet”? What a curious statement. Please explain?

  67. Nepos, Rob Osborne was obviously not limiting family to immediate relatives, he was describing the decision process of who to serve when, an obvious universal conundrum which we all have to face and decide ourselves.
    Something many learn in positions of caretaking is that we must first tend to those who rely on us most: the most helpless. Babies comes to mind, the elderly and unwell do too. Our immediate family members also tend to need our particular care because we know them and they know us, a relationship which provides common ground where understanding of needs and nurturing can progress and flourish. This pretty much works as we observe every relationship circle. The closer the circle, the more influence and obligation, or vice versa.
    The risk we take when we make decisions is that of neglecting those helps which only we can give at a particular moment, the resulting being a long-term deficiency in someone’s life. Do I go to the community meeting or do I go on that run with my son? It’s not easy.

  68. Rob Osborn says:

    Perhaps you are not aware that in our church we believe all of humanity are our brothers and sisters. At church we speak to each other by first addressing them “brother” or “sister”, such as “brother Smith, how are you today”.
    Not sure what you have against us but you dont even know us.

  69. FWIW, I think there is legitimate discussion to be had about some of these nuances that you’re dismissing (Rob and Martin). For one, I don’t see any requirement to put the Family Proc on par with revelation and scripture. It’s neither (at least not yet). And I believe putting the nuclear family on a pedestal IS a departure from some core historical Christian and even Mormon tenets. Hence the OP. Let’s chat about it!

    Discussions about people’s membership or activity level or whether they’re qualified to be in this discussion aren’t really appropriate, so let’s knock that stuff off and have a nice conversation instead, yeah?

  70. Clark Goble says:

    Kyle not to belabor the point but different scriptures are treated differently too. Jesus statements in the gospels, for instance, are treated quite differently from say narratives in 1 Kings.

    That said, I’m not sure what you mean by a nuclear family as an ideal is a departure. Could you expand? Everyone keeps saying this but no one seems to want to cash out what they mean by it.

  71. Anonymous for this one says:

    I have always struggled to interpret the proclamation. Both as a lawyer and an active member. I believe that it is inspired, but it is still difficult.

    My wife and I can’t have children. I go to meetings where I am issued the assignment to teach from the proclamation. And this is always hard.

    I appreciate the interpretation that the family, in some sense, means something more than mom, dad, and kids. But, reading the text, I am not sure that is what was intended. Here is what gives me trouble:

    “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”

    So the question I have is…what are my wife and I?

    Are we a family? An “extended family” that should “lend support” to traditional families? Or are we an “individual adaptation?”

    So I think the question of where the proclamation leaves infertile couples, single members, widows and widowers, and gay members is very real. Especially when each whom may be honoring temple covenants in every way. I have yet to hear an answer that isn’t trite.

    I say all of this as an active member of the church, in a leadership position, who sustains the prophet.

  72. Clark: not to sound like a broken clock, but in the New Testament Jesus never says anything positive about the nuclear family. Instead, he explicitly denies it–when his mother and brother come to see him, he turns them away, saying that his followers are his mother and his brothers. He also predicts that his teachings will divide families, and he is fine with that (“I come with a sword”.) Heck, he even tells someone that they should leave their father unburied and follow Jesus instead (“leave the dead to the dead.”) How do you reconcile these teachings with the Proclamation, which places such a heavy emphasis on the nuclear family?

    Again, not a trick question, there are plenty of reasonable answers. “Later revelation trumps scripture”, “Jesus was misquoted”, “we follow the living prophet”, etc. etc. But I haven’t seen any of those answers; instead, some people (not OP!) don’t seem to be aware of the contradiction at all, which is odd. This is basic Christianity here.

    Rob–I have nothing against the Church. I am confused about the Proclamation. Are you aware that the form of address you mention supports my position, not yours? If all members of the Church are “brothers” and “sisters”, then what is the point of the Proclamation?

  73. Oh, another explanation would be that Jesus was only talking about his own time on earth (like his comment to Judas about the anointing oil), and that he would expect people to go back to supporting their families after his ascension.

    I’m not sure I agree with that position, but it is one way to reconcile the Proclamation with what Jesus said in the NT.

  74. Clark Goble says:

    Nepos, you’re just wrong as my earlier reference in Matt 15 shows. Even if you take the end of that as advocating celibacy you can’t miss that it promotes a positive view of the nuclear family as well.

    That Jesus also taught that there were things more important that would divide families is largely irrelevant. Even the most ardent supporter of the Proclamation would agree that other things are more important as a practical matter.

  75. Clark, I’ll see you Matt 19 and raise you Matt 22. (sorry, that’s mean, I know Mormons interpret that passage…differently.)

    As to your second paragraph, i’m afraid you still don’t grasp the problem–Jesus said to love everyone equally, the Proclamation* puts the nuclear family on a higher level than everyone who isn’t family. Which is fine, if that’s what Mormons truly believe–but it is a major change to the core of Christianity.

    *Seems to put the family on a higher level, anyway. If it doesn’t, then whats the point? “Love your family”? No duh, does that really require a proclamation?

  76. Or, if, as someone suggested above, the Proclamation was primarily about same sex marriage, why didn’t they just say so? I’m actually sympathetic to the problem that homosexuality poses to the Church–the LDS faith, to a greater degree than any other branch of Christianity, is founded on a male-female dyad, and fitting homosexuality into that theology would require an enormous amount of work. It could be done, but I can see why the Church leaders wouldn’t undertake such a thing without clear divine revelation.

    BUT…the Church could stand to be more straightforward about it. Just say, look, gays don’t fit into our theology, so barring divine revelation, no gay marriage. Boom, done. Instead, they issue the Proclamation, which brings up all sorts of issues (gender essentialism, Mother in Heaven, etc.) that they didn’t even need to bring up, if the only goal was to address gay marriage.

  77. Clark Goble says:

    Again, I don’t see the contradictions. Mormons say to love everyone equally as well. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t marry nor that we don’t have special responsibilities in marriage. You have to make explicit the logical grounds for what you see as a contradiction and you’ve just not done that.

    With Matt 22 Mormons simply note that the account gives a verb. Thus we take it as evidence marriage must be in this life. In any case the passage far from saying marriage is bad presupposes it for this life.

  78. So, Clark, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that the married people have special responsibilities to each other (and their children), but that these responsibilities do not represent or require a greater love for each other than that held for people that one isn’t married to? That married people carry out these special responsibilities simply out of a sense of obligation, and not because they have an extra special love for each other?

    That’s an interesting argument, a very traditional view of marriage as a set of duties and obligations rather than a love match. Do you think your view is common among Mormons? That marriage doesn’t require its partners to love each other more than they love other people?

  79. Clark Goble says:

    Nepos, I think most think there are also different kinds of love. The love I have for my wife is clearly different in kind from the love I have for my children which is different from the love I have with God. My sense is that your position assumes there is only one sense of love.

    Again, I’m fine with however you read the passages. I’m just trying to get you to be explicit about your assumptions and how you read these passages. My sense is that when you say the Proclamation contradicts Jesus all you really are saying is “I don’t share your presuppositions you bring to the text.”

  80. Clark Goble says:

    To be even more explicit, to say the Proclamation contradicts Jesus you have to explain why certain readings are privileged. I certainly don’t deny in the least that these passages can be read in a variety of ways. I think I was explicit in that regarding the Matthew passage I quote noting how some read it as promoting celibacy. However the question isn’t whether the text could be read in those ways but why it is irrational or at least difficult to read it these other ways.

    After all if there is a supportable and plausible way of reading the texts that is compatible with the Proclamation it’s pretty difficult to say there is a contradiction.

    Again it’s fine to read things different from how Mormons do. However you’re making a stronger claim than that. If your criticisms just reduce to “I prefer a different reading” then that’s fine, but you’ve rather emasculated your criticisms.

  81. At this point, I’m not making a criticism, though to be fair the question I’m asking could lead to a criticism.

    My question is this:
    Jesus says to love everyone equally (i.e. the Great commandment)
    The Proclamation (could be read as) elevating love among family above love for non-family.

    There are two possibilities here:
    1. the Proclamation does not elevate love for family above love for others.
    2. the Proclamation elevates love of family above others, and that’s fine, because Mormons believe in ongoing revelation / fallible scripture / Jesus wasn’t always quoted accurately.

    Would you say #1 or #2 is correct? And do you think most Mormons share your opinion?

  82. I think #1 is correct, to be honest. Other things are perhaps problematic about our narrative surrounding the Family Proclamation, but I really don’t think that this counts. I don’t see the Proclamation directing love of nuclear family above love of others.

  83. Clark Goble says:

    Nepos, I agree with John. I don’t think you’ll find any Mormon to argue the proclamation entails loving the family more than God, for instance.

  84. Martin James says:

    You are making “love” do a lot of work here. The point is that family relationships are different from other relationships. Take fidelity in sexual relations. Do you think that means loving someone less to not have sex with them? I think most mormons would think it odd that specific relationships and duties such as to family, friends, ward, etc. conflict with the commandment to love everyone.

  85. The Proclamation is a complicated document and lends itself to multiple interpretations, some of them reinforcing preconceptions. I do not pretend to know what it really means. john f.’s “I don’t see the Proclamation directing love of nuclear family above love of others” is in my mind a reasonable statement and I’m more inclined to agree than disagree. However, I believe that others believe that the Proclamation sets “happiness in family life” as the highest and best good, and from there the primacy of nuclear family easily follows.

  86. john f., Clark, Christiankimball, thank you for your insights.

    The only reason I even bring it up is that I could see, theoretically, the Proclamation being used to enforce boundaries on the body of Christ–if the nuclear family is the best family, what about other families? Gay families, of course, have already been excluded from the Church, but that wasn’t via the Proclamation. But other families–single parents, grandparents raising their grandchildren, other combinations–could easily be made to feel less loved, by the Church if not by God, by statements such as the Proclamation.

    I am relieved that Mormons don’t take the Proclamation as setting a boundary, but rather, an example. I do wish it had taken a more expansive definition of the word “family”, but that’s a quibble.

  87. Rob Osborn says:

    Again I ask- should I abandon my wife and children to go forever worship God in some other place? Also, do you think I have some responsibility with my wife and children?

  88. Rob, If God commands it, yes, of course. Your responsibility to God overrides all others. [Now, you may fail at obeying God’s commands–all of us do, except Jesus–but that doesn’t mean its okay. “Be thou perfect, as He is perfect.”]

    Really, this is basic Christianity here…maybe Mormonism isn’t as close to mainline Christianity as I thought.

  89. Martin James says:

    You should ask people here how the new and everlasting covenant of marriage relates to your view of core christianity. You can’t understand the proclamation and the issue you are raising without understanding the role of covenants in mormon belief. What you are doing strikes me as like trying to translate between two different languages in cases where an institution is different in the different cultures. To speak the language like a native you have to forget the old language. You just can’t “understand” the mormon beliefs and at the same time try to get logical consistency with your view of core Christianity. So when people here try to explain Mormon practices in terms of core Christianity, it doesn’t sound to me the way it does the way mormons talk about it in everyday terms. A simple example is that mormons discuss the after life with familial relationships continuing in a way that makes those relationships differentiated from relationships with everyone else.
    I tried to say this in a humorous way about jesus not even being mormon yet in the bible and what I meant was just that mormon teachings and practices change our understanding of jesus in a way that people only looking at the bible wouldn’t see from that perspective. In literary terms later words can change the meaning of prior words.
    Also, in addition to making “love” do a lot of work, you are making “equally” do a lot of work. I don’t recall a lot of scriptures that make equality of love seem more important than just loving at all.

  90. Martin James says:

    The whole beginning of Mormonism is the revelation to Joseph Smith that mainline Christianity had lost its way so much that a new church was needed. The paradox is that outsiders view Mormonism as a Christian sect and Mormons view mainline Christianity as a splinter version of the larger truth – roughly that mainline Christianity is a part of Mormonism. As people here have said, they can look very similar, but I don’t outsiders get the differences without first viewing it as something completely different.

  91. Rob Osborn says:

    Anonymous for this one,
    Yes, you and your wife are a family. You may not have your own children yet but in the next life it probably will happen. You are still the one who presides in your home and primarily responsible for the safety of yourself and your wife. As extended families go, you still show forth fatherly traits in watching over others. Your wife too, extends her nurturing love towards others and helps with others. The Proclamation, along with a lot of other LDS teachings focus on the traditional family because it is the principle foundation in the majority of families across the world amongst many faiths. I suppose the Proclamation could have included specific wording in regards towards couples who cannot have children in this life but what would it say besides what we already know? The Proclamation covers the basic fundamental beliefs of our religion in regards to raising a family. Almost entirely, the problems in our society are because the principles taught or “proclaimed” in the Proclamation are being discarded, forgotten or forsaken, for a more “worldly” approach where the family is redefined, marriage is redefined, morals are redefined, and gender roles and gender identity is redefined. Because of this we have an ever increasing society that suffers from increased crime, increased sexual diseases, increased laziness, hatred, increased divorce rates, increased broken families, lower schooling scores, lower dress standards, increased immorality etc…
    In fact, our entire freedoms rest upon whether or not we are going to uphold traditional family (marriage between man and woman legally) or if we are just going to cave in and let the world define marriage, gender, and family.

  92. Clark Goble says:

    Christian (12:11) “However, I believe that others believe that the Proclamation sets “happiness in family life” as the highest and best good, and from there the primacy of nuclear family easily follows.”

    But you need to unpack that further. One could (and I do) think that a family is the highest good while think that in this life that it always isn’t. That is we think that it is precisely through a family we learn to love everyone purely and that it is that structure that lets us be most godly.

    Of course one might then unpack what we mean by “best good.” Is it good in itself or best good because of what it enables?

    The idea that a nuclear family is somehow good in and of itself and that the structure is just the end in and of itself seems wrong and I’m skeptical hardly any Mormon holds to that.

    Nepos (12:19) As I’ve noted in several responses saying something is the ideal is not to say things that don’t match up are bad. In my charity I am far from having perfect charity but it’d be ridiculous to say my charity is bad.

    Nepos (12:38) I don’t think you’ll find Mormons disagreeing with what God commands. The question is more about what God would command. I think Mormons would agree that in this life we may be asked to leave our family. Indeed it’s not hard to find examples from within Mormonism. That doesn’t mean that a nuclear family isn’t an ideal.

  93. Clark, sorry it took me so long to respond, and that I’m doing it so briefly. High-level, I’d argue that Jesus and Joseph put forth an expansive, radical view of family. Jesus did so by saying virtually nothing on the subject except that God was his Father, and by having no wife/kids that we know of, only a handful of close friends and associates. Joseph did it by enacting policies to link everyone together that undermined the actual nuclear families in his community. It’s ironic that we were expansivist in our definition when it was unpopular, and now we’re narrow in our definition when it’s increasingly unpopular. As with race, the one-family-in-Zion ideal could have set us up to be at the forefront of cultural trends, but instead we’re digging in on the newer-to-us, traditional-to-everyone-else doctrine instead of the old-to-us, more-relevant-to-the-modern-world doctrine.

    Of course, Joseph’s expansive family doctrine clearly brings a truckload of baggage with it. I guess I just want to have my cake and eat it too.

    More thoughts when I’m not at work, perhaps. And thanks for the discussion.

  94. Rob Osborn says:

    Not sure how to meet somewhere in the middle with ya. On one hand you disagree with the LDS beliefs on family but yet on the other you speak as if family is important. I am left confused. Generally speaking, every Christian religion, including our own, places a high degree of value on keeping the traditional family and traditional marriage intact. In fact, faiths have come together to form groups like the FRC (family research council) to promote beliefs in regads to family. I tell you what, go to that website and find something there that you think is non-christian and then maybe we can find where we can agree upon.

  95. Clark (12:53)–I agree with everything you say here!

    I wasn’t making the argument that you seem to think I’m making–I was just responding to Rob Osborn’s rather odd question.

    Martin James–I see what you’re saying, which is why I am asking Mormons what they believe!

    My apologies for any confusion, its difficult to hold conversations with several people at once.

  96. Kyle M, thank you, your thoughts express what I was trying to get at. Though, apparently, many of the people in the thread disagree with you. Or perhaps I was just unclear.

    Rob–please see Kyle M.’s post, it may help you to understand where I was coming from.

  97. Clark (12:53pm): We will never get to the end of what the other, the hypothetical Mormon, believes. I certainly can’t prove anything. But let me refer you to “Families Can Be Together Forever”, number 188 in the Children’s Songbook (and a dozen more). I’m sure you will dispute the source, and I would never cite the Children’s Songbook for doctrine, but as a guide to what people walk around thinking, the things they learned in Primary make a difference.

  98. Clark Goble says:

    Christian could you unpack that a bit for me? I don’t see anything in “Families Can Be Together Forever” that addressed the issues I raised.

    Just to be clear I’m raising something like the euthyphro dilemma only shifted to the question of families. Do we want a family because it is good or is it good because it is a family?

    In other words, if families are the highest good why are they the highest good? One could well say that a family is one aspect of the properties of a divine exalted being. But do we seek it for its own sake or because it is a property of divinity? And if it is a property of divinity why is it a property of divinity? It’s really the same question as does God love because it is good or is it good because God does it?

  99. Clark Goble says:

    To add this gets into the very question of the highest goods. Personally I don’t find the very discussion of “highest good” helpful. But if we’re going to raise it then it’s worth asking whether all divine properties are simultaneously the highest good because the higher good is what God is. And if God has essentially a family then that must be a highest good along with all other divine attributes.

  100. Clark, you’re making a different point, a different argument, about whether family is in fact a highest good, or what we could possibly mean by that statement. It’s fine, but I am not prepared to nor have the time to engage, and I probably agree anyway. That is, the phrase “family is the highest good” has no stable meaning, will not withstand investigation, and if we’re going to parse it seriously we will probably have to go in the direction of code or label for some kind of exalted state of being in the presence of God or of taking on attributes of divinity.

    But I was making a simple observation or suggestion (which I cannot prove) that if you polled 100 LDS people on the question whether “happiness in family life” is the highest good, you would get a material number of “yes” answers. And they wouldn’t quibble about the meaning of ‘highest good.’ And they would say yes because they think they were taught that in Primary.

  101. “Generally speaking, every Christian religion, including our own, places a high degree of value on keeping the traditional family and traditional marriage intact.”

    Not true. Quite a few Christian churches sanction same-sex marriage:

  102. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that this debate about an inclusive vs. exclusive definition of family is symptomatic of a larger issue with Mormonism: the Church attempts to be both a “big tent religion” and a “small tent religion”–at the same time.

    The Church spends a great deal of time and resources on recruitment, sending missionaries virtually everywhere. Yet at the same time, the Church also spends a great deal of time and resources on establishing boundaries around the church, boundaries that set aside different groups as “outsiders”. And I don’t just mean the obvious outsiders–blacks until 1978, gays, polygamists–but other groups that aren’t as obvious but which nevertheless don’t fit the Church’s image of what its members should be, and therefore don’t fit easily into the Church–single adults, vocal feminists, men who don’t like to wear white shirts…

    Take myself, for example. As a 40 year old unmarried man (not gay, just no desire to get married), I have no real place within the Church. Even the Church’s version of the afterlife only promises me a second rate Heaven, should I make it there. Because I don’t have a family of my own, a wife and (at least) 2.5 kids, I can’t ever truly be part of the Mormon “family”.

    This isn’t a criticism, incidentally–every Church has the right to set its own boundaries. But the Mormon focus on families, and one type of family in particular, does have a tendency to leave a lot of people out.

  103. Clark Goble says:

    Christian, I think it’s somewhat significant to the point you were making. I think most, if not all, Mormons would say happiness is the goal and thus the good. The question is then how are we happy and the answer is within a family. So I agree with that – and maybe it’s too nuanced a distinction I’m making and most people wouldn’t make it. But I do think it’s an important one.

    Nepos, by and large I think you’re right. The issue of people that don’t want to get married is I think a big deal for Mormons. We tend to focus more on people who do want to get married but for whatever reason don’t or can’t. However there really are a lot of people in this other situation. The typical Mormon response is that they’d be happier in a family, but I often wonder if that is true for all people here and now. I suspect it’s not. I don’t think Mormons have thought much about the implications of that.

  104. John Mansfield says:

    Interesting how what was once an extremely democratic concept (families) can come to be viewed as elitist and exclusionary. Over the decades I heard plenty of preaching like Boyd Packer’s approving story of the girl tossing a rock in front of Brigham Young’s carriage because he wasn’t any better than her own grandpa, stories about poorer, unnotable people doing exactly the right thing that really matters because they were taking care of their families. It was a very flattening concept, but now it’s supposedly an idea church people use to marginalize others and aggrandize themselves.

  105. Clark Goble says:

    John, I think the changing demographic of marriage is the biggest most radical change of the last decade. In some ways I think it’s a bigger change than what went on in the late 60’s or immediately after WWII. We’re in a period of rapid social change again. I don’t think we can even say what the long term effects of this social change will be.

    That Pew poll I linked to notes that less than half of people now do not see it better if marriage and children are a goal.

  106. To respond to John Mansfield and Clark, I don’t think that there are large groups of people actively opposing or mocking the nuclear family. I certainly don’t–though that path isn’t for me, I have no problem with people who do choose the husband-wife-2.5 kids route.

    The reason that Mormons take some grief over “family” is because there seems to be some sense among Mormons that those whose families don’t fit the narrow definition of the Proclamation are somehow inferior. And I’m not talking about SSM, here–I’m talking about single parent families, or families where grandparents raise grandchildren, or families made up of friends unrelated by blood…those are all legitimate families, by the standards of larger society, yet one gets that sense that Mormons look down on them as flawed. Naturally, this causes some resentment, especially since the nuclear family enshrined in the Proclamation is a relatively new construct anyway (families used to be much larger, sprawling, unruly things.)

    Again, not to say that the Proclamation is bad–certainly Mormons are well within their rights to define marriage as they see fit. Its some of the attitudes associated with this definition that can cause the problems.

  107. Clark Goble says:

    I don’t think John was saying people were opposing or mocking. I certainly was. I was just noting a large demographic change, the origins of which are somewhat complex. The place of family in the mind of America has shifted, as that Pew poll shows. That means that in terms of interest and importance Mormonism is increasingly out of step with America whereas once it was called “super-American” in terms of the values supported.

  108. Clark Goble says:

    Sorry, “I certainly wasn’t

  109. Martin James says:

    I agree with you more than most here, but I wold add is that one purpose of the church is to get you into the tent where you can get married and have kids and make the tent bigger. It makes people uncomfortable to state it bluntly and no one wants people to be left out because they are single and childless, but marriage and kids is the point. Evolution and the LDS religion are united on that one.

  110. Clark–sorry, that part was to John. I agree with your point that the Church’s version of the ideal marriage is no longer as closely aligned with that of general American society as it once was. I just don’t think that non-Mormons (and less traditional Mormons) necessarily see that as an issue–the issue is how the Mormon Church, as an institution, deals with families that don’t meet the ideal. [And I should stress that it is an institutional problem, not an individual one–I’m not accusing individual members of being jerks to people in less traditional family situations. In my experience Mormons are far too polite for that!]

    Martin–“Go forth and multiply!” True enough.

  111. Clark Goble says:

    I definitely think that is what we are struggling with more than anything else. As I said, there has been a very rapid social change and the Church hasn’t figured out how to adapt well with it yet IMO. On the other hand give it time. Further I think all Christian sects are struggling with this in different ways.

%d bloggers like this: