I was disturbed as I read the Visiting Teaching Message for the month of March. It is titled “Uphold, Nourish, and Protect the Family,” and begins with the question, “Why must I defend the doctrine of the family?”
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102).
Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president: “As a disciple of Jesus Christ, every woman in this Church is given the responsibility for upholding, nurturing, and protecting families. Women have distinct assignments given to them from before the foundation of the world. And as a covenant-keeping Latter-day Saint woman, you know that raising your voice in defense of the doctrine of the family is critical to the strength of families the world over” (“What Latter-day Saint Women Do Best: Stand Strong and Immovable,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2007, 110).
As far as I can see, setting our modern Latter-day Saint conception of a family (a patriarchal unit of one man and one woman and their biological or adopted children, including traditional and limited roles for each) into a “doctrine” began with the Proclamation on the Family in late 1995. By 1996, a talk by Mormon Apostle Robert D. Hales, “The Eternal Family,” identified the “doctrine of the family” as an eternal principle. In this talk, Hales contrasts the LDS conception of the family with Satan’s major effort to “destroy the sanctity of the family, demean the importance of the role of men and women, encourage moral uncleanliness and violations of the sacred law of chastity, and to discourage parents from placing the bearing and rearing of children as one of their highest priorities.” Thus, for the past 13 years, Latter-day Saints have been encouraged to view other definitions of “family” as pernicious and threatening to their efforts to live their religion.
This struggle has reached the point where the majority of Mormons are unable to view with equanimity the choices of others to define the word “family” differently than themselves. I have seen the following questions posed to such LDS members:
- Why is the church so threatened by the lifestyles of others?
- Why the need to force views and personal morals on others through the laws of the land?
- How are individuals who make different choices about the makeup of their families harming or infringing on the rights of anyone?
- Didn’t the Church and its members object (for the same reasons) when under fire for practicing polygamy a century ago?
Unfortunately, members have great difficulty even considering such questions, having been persuaded that our “doctrine of the family” is the only true position, and that acknowledgment of others would stand in the way of our eternal salvation. This most recent visiting teaching message is a further step in advancing a paradigm that the LDS “doctrine of the family” is at war with and under attack by competing definitions of the family, spawned by Satan. In near military terms, the message demands:
How Can I Defend the Family?
D&C 88:119: “Establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “I call upon members of the Church and on committed parents, grandparents, and extended family members everywhere to hold fast to [the family] proclamation, to make it a banner not unlike General Moroni’s ‘title of liberty,’ and to commit ourselves to live by its precepts. . . .
“In today’s world, where Satan’s aggression against the family is so prevalent, parents must do all they can to fortify and defend their families. But their efforts may not be enough. Our most basic institution of family desperately needs help and support from the extended family and the public institutions that surround us” (“What Matters Most Is What Lasts Longest,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2005, 42-43).
Elder Robert S. Wood of the Seventy: “For too many, responsibility seems to end with hand-wringing and exclamations of dismay. Yet talk without action accomplishes little. We need to be vigorously engaged in the world. If our schools are inadequate or destructive of moral values, we must work with fellow members of the community to bring about change. If our neighborhoods are unsafe or unhealthy, we must join with the civic-minded to devise solutions. If our cities and towns are polluted, not only with noxious gases but soul-destroying addictions and smut, we must labor to find legitimate ways to eliminate such filth. . . . We have the responsibility to be a blessing to others, to our nation, to the world” (“On the Responsible Self,” Ensign, Mar. 2002, 30-31).
I would like to revisit the question posed in the Visiting Teaching message, “Why must I defend the doctrine of the family?” Why should we couch this question in adversarial terms? Does the “doctrine of the family” place in jeopardy those LDS families who have chosen to define their familial roles a bit differently than the average?
In the quotation above, General Relief Society President Julie Beck is telling me, “as a covenant-keeping Latter-day Saint woman, you know that raising your voice in defense of the doctrine of the family is critical to the strength of families the world over.” I am a temple-attending, and, I believe, a covenant-keeping LDS woman, however, I know no such thing. I see the strength of families the world over to lie in unconditional love, the forming of strong bonds, acceptance and support of difficult realities and choices. Most families I know do their best to live in accordance with strong moral principles, though these may differ widely. I know strong families made up of two males, I know strong families with the husband as primary child caregiver, I know strong polygamous families. I would like to raise my voice in defense of them all.