Elder Neil L. Andersen: When Life Doesn’t Look Like the Pictures #ldsconf

“We will continue to teach the Lord’s pattern for families, but now with millions of members, and the diversity we have in the children of the Church, we need to be even more thoughtful and sensitive. Our church culture and vernacular is at times unique. The primary children are not going to stop singing, ‘Families can be together forever,’ but when they sing ‘I’m so glad when daddy comes home,’ or ‘with father and mother leading the way,’ not all children will be singing about their own family”—Elder Neil L. Andersen

imgresYou know that whole thing about the Church being a hospital for the sick and not a museum of the Saints? It’s relevant here. Very relevant. In his Saturday afternoon talk, Elder Neil L. Andersen reminds us that a big part of running a hospital is that we have to be comfortable being around sick people.

But let’s get past the metaphor. The main point of Elder Andersen’s address is that we are charged, as Christians and as Latter-day Saints, to love and fellowship all kinds of different people with all kinds of different backgrounds—even when their backgrounds and lifestyles are incompatible with the ideals of the Church.  This is especially true when we consider the Church’s doctrines of the family. Millions of people in the world don’t live in the typical one-man-one-woman-lots-of-children model that the Church unambiguously proclaims as “the Lord’s pattern for families.”

But all of us fall down when it comes to embodying the Lord’s pattern of something. Most of us don’t do a good job of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Few of us stand as witnesses of Christ in all times and at all places. Nobody that I know is out of debt. The Church presents us with all kinds of ideals that we do not or cannot live up to. That is one of its functions. And even when we don’t live up to these ideals—which is pretty much all of the time—we are still welcomed by the Church. That is another one of its functions.

All we have to do is keep these functions straight. The Church has an important doctrinal responsibility to present spiritual and temporal ideals that we should try to live up to. As teachers, speakers, and servants in the Church, we have a responsibility to proclaim these doctrines. It would be a mistake to conclude that our duty to love all people required us to change our ideals—or to proclaim that all spiritual and temporal statuses are equal. That would be an abdication of our doctrinal responsibility.

But the Church also has an important pastoral responsibility to love, accept, and care for those who do not or cannot hit these targets in their own lives–a category that includes us all to one degree or another, and degrees don’t even matter. As servants of the Lord, we have a sacred responsibility to accept and include all of His children. It would be an equally grave mistake to conclude that ANY Church teaching should prevent us from extending our community to encompass any other human being. That would be an abdication of our pastoral responsibility.

At the heart of Elder Andersen’s remarks lies a simple assertion that cannot be repeated often enough: that our responsibility to proclaim true doctrine is not incompatible with our responsibility to love all people and invite them to be part of the Body of Christ. It just means that we have to acknowledge the difference between the divine perfection that we are all striving for and the messy human reality that we are all living with.

Whatever our human conditions, Elder Andersen reminds us, “our spiritual DNA is perfect, because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God.” It is this identity, and no other, that governs our relationships with each other in the Church and in the Kingdom of God.


  1. Why do we need to have the Primary sing “I’m So Glad When Daddy Comes Home”? It’s not doctrinal, unlike “Families Can Be…” If we know it’s hurting children to sing this song, why not quietly drop it?

  2. “a big part of running a hospital is that we have to be comfortable being around sick people.” Yes, this. I love this.

    I would add that we need to be comfortable self-identifying as sick, too. Picture-perfect families are a myth. All families are worth taking pictures of, but no picture is entirely perfect.

  3. This talk was so welcome, especially after the sturm und drang of the November policy change. Thank you, Elder Andersen. And thanks, too, Michael Austin. Nice write-up.

  4. The Church quietly disowned Johnny Lingo, why not other songs/stories?

  5. Thank you for this post! I very much enjoyed it. I have one concern.

    I think the challenge comes when the ideal to love one another is not met when the ideal of the LDS defined family cannot be attained by LGBT members in this life. If a straight couple divorce, they are not excommunicated. Yet if a gay couple marry, striving for an ideal but coming short (as we all do), they are to be excommunicated and any children they may have arent allowed to be baptized until 18. I fail to see how this is lovingly encouraging them to strive for the ideal – only telling them they don’t belong.

    While I completely agree that any church, and especially our church of the living Christ, must need define and preach the ideal, how we treat those who don’t reach that ideal as a matter of policy should not violate the second great commandment to love others as ourselves.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. True Blue says:

    I live in a time zone well ahead of SLC so it is fast Sunday here. I am hoping that someone actually tries to explain, or at least acknowledge the policy.
    I did not go to fast and testimony meeting because the Bishop has asked that I not say anything in a testimony that might upset a conservative member. Do I feel welcome?

  7. Cody, I think you’re confused. You seem to be saying that loving others means changing the ideals. I think the point of the talk and this post is that we can accept and love others even when they don’t meet the ideal.

  8. Awesome post, but quick correction: there is no “o” in Elder Andersen’s name. (Yes, I know I’m a stickler. Deal with it.) 😉

  9. Fixed. Thanks.

  10. True Blue says:

    I have just watched this talk and was amazed by the hiprocacy of all this talk of bringing the children and welcoming them, while excluding others(not mentioned) because of their parents sexuality. I do not understand, does the emperor have clothes?

  11. Something tells me, True Blue, that no explanation in the world (or out of this world) will help you understand.

  12. Last Lemming says:

    Even my mom, who worried that my protest to the Stake President in November would get me excommunicated, came away from this talk wondering about the inconsistency.

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