LDS family values

by G

George Q Cannon and other LDS leaders in Prison
George Q Cannon and other LDS leaders in Prison

I’ve had several conversations with individuals who continue to attend the LDS church, even though they may have serious doubts about the theological/doctrinal claims, because they like the church’s emphasis on family.

For me, it is the church’s particular emphasis and teachings on family that first cracked open my nice comfortable safe belief in the church.

To be specific;

I find The Church’s focus on gender rolls, and the spiritual mandate to marry and have children extraordinarily damaging to individuals who do not fit so nice and neatly within that lifestyle.  To be single or childless in the LDS community carries an enormous stigma, either pity for a failing that will only be rectified in the hereafter, or condemnation for a choice that will have eternal consequences.  In a similar vein, the church, ignoring it’s own history with unconventional and controversial marriage practices (note attached photo), continues to foster prejudice against the homosexual community, a community in which family units of spouses and children are a major part.

Even for those who fit nicely within the heterosexual nuclear family model, I find the three hour church bloc (with it’s multiple meetings before and after) stressful on families with young children, likewise the church’s practice of extending labor intensive callings to parents with young children a harmful tendency that particularly adds to the duress of the wives/mothers in the family. Here I’m remembering a conversation with a ward member  who counted it as a mark of his faithfulness that he rarely had an evening that he could spend at home with his wife and kids (four young children). This remark of his was concerning a “less active” member who had turned down a calling so as to spend evenings home with his family (that unenlightened man).

Particularly damaging is the teaching spread around (especially amongst the singles) that any two people can be compatible in marriage as long as they have a firm testimony of the Gospel. This rhetoric is stultifying (intentionally I’m sure) to any sort of spiritual questing/questioning as partners risks being legally and financially tied to someone with whom the only things they have in common are a bunch of children and a hefty mortgage. (Likewise, referencing Caroline’s excellent post, I think the imperative to not put off childbearing is an intentional step to lock couples into a situation in which it is harder and harder to get out of. Especially considering how many very very young kids at LDS collages get married within months or even weeks of knowing each other.)

Granted, there is much about the culture and teachings that encourage strong family bonds and togetherness and provides a valuable community, but these things are not at all particular to the LDS Church.

What is more common is Church membership throwing a wrench into family relationships; here I am thinking of  a friend whose in-laws cut them out of the family will when she and her husband left the church.  And of the High Counsel man who spoke this past Mother’s Day about how his mother threatened to kill herself if he got married in the temple.  (However, his testimony was so strong he married in the temple anyways and mom had to be put on round the clock suicide watch for a week or so.  Yah, that was a lovely Mother’s Day talk.)

What all this really brings to mind is what I have heard over and over again from the pulpit:  This Church is not just another nice church where you hear helpful teachings.  You belong to The Church because you believe it is the only true one.

And chances are, it may damage your family relationships.

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29 Responses

  1. Angie says:

    I agree with you: an individual should attend a church if he or she believes in that church’s doctrines. Otherwise, there are plenty of civic organizations that supply a sense of community, a focus on family togetherness, and a chance to learn valuable skills.

    However, I do not agree with your interpretation of the examples you list of the LDS church harming the family. Almost without exception, the situations you describe are of people harming their families be ause of selfishness. This “me first” attitude is described in a book called “Generation Me.”. I highly recommend it – but I’ll warn you, it is very uncomfortable and humbling to read about how self-centered we really are.

    And the scripture you reference in Matthew is beautiful, when it is considered with Matthew 6:33. God bless.

  2. Kew says:

    I LOVE the picture. Thanks. I wonder what it would be like for me right now if I hadn’t been taught since I was 3 that the LDS church was the only true church. I don’t know. I definately could not see myself converting to the church right now, so I think I just stay because that is the simplest, easiest choice. But I am not afraid of saying “no” when asked to do something that I really don’t want to do. Like be a ward missionary. 🙂

  3. Angie says:

    For example: a Church member who feels either pity or condemnation for a single or childless person is not living the spiritual mandate to have charity; a Church member or unit who mistreats someone because of his/her sexuality is also not practicing charity; the over-worked father who judges another’s decision to turn down a calling is probably using pride to salve his own guilt and exhaustion; etc., etc., etc. These examples are much more personal and complex than to categorize them as evidence that the Church may damage family relationships. We all make so many mistakes at each others’ expense as we travel through our lives. That’s why I so whole-heartedly agree with your original point. It is the DOCTRINES of a church that are the reason to join and belong. And that is another topic altogether, in my opinion.

    And the teaching that almost any two people can be compatible in marriage is probably more true than we want to admit (again, I recommend “Generation Me”).

  4. Craig says:

    I really disagree with you Angie. I think G’s examples are right on target.

    I fail to see how a person who doesn’t fit into traditional gender roles is being selfish, or how selfishness comes into play when a person leaves the church and then is persecuted, maligned, and mistreated by their family (well there it’s the family being selfish and caring more about their own ideology than the person who deserves their love and support regardless of philosophical differences).

    The problem with decrying selfishness is that in order to be emotionally healthy, well-adjusted adults, we need a measure of selfishness and strong individuality. We can’t be in a good relationship with another person if we don’t look after our own needs first, and aren’t able to have strong beliefs and ideas of our own which aren’t subsumed by an authoritarian system.

    I think there is next to no truth in the concept that any two person can be compatible in a marriage. It’s absolutely meaningless drivel that is taught by the church which has no basis in reality. It demeans individuals and implants ridiculous expectations about relationships and intimacy. The church really needs to stop advancing its agenda in the face of mountains of contradictory evidence, science and reality. They will can never win that fight, no matter how hard they may try.

    It’s really too bad that when someone legitimately criticises the church and points out areas where improvement are sorely needed, someone inevitably tries to shift the blame to individuals. The reality is that the institution of the LdS church is flawed, has problems, and needs fixing. It’s anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, pro-republican/exterme conservative rhetoric, and continued emphasis of extremely unrealistic gender roles, unrealistic relationships, and damaging and false views about sexuality have great need to be criticised loudly and often. The problematic behaviour of individuals in the church cannot be separated from the environment where they are indoctrinated with those ideas. The effect is not there without the cause, and that cause is not individual selfishness, but rather institutionalised bias and incorrect information (doctrines) about relationships, sexuality, individuality, and gender roles.

  5. Alisa says:

    I confess to having some of these thoughts myself, G. My experience attending several other churches is that Christ-centered family values are not unique to the LDS faith. Their whole approach to supporting families is strong. At the local UCC branch, there’s not only daycare during church, but a full preschool and kindergarten during the week focusing on education and good New Testament principles. Social activities after church and during the week are family friendly.

    One of my biggest criticisms of something that’s not very family focused is sacrament meeting. This didn’t come to my attention until a few months ago when my bishop was at the pulpit and spent a minute yelling at a young mother seated only a few pews back who had an inattentive toddler. (I realize this was an isolated incident, and I’ve never before seen someone yell at a mother for not controlling her child in sacrament meeting over the pulpit. A rare occurance indeed.) My husband and I hadn’t noticed a thing until the awkward chastisement ensued. I couldn’t believe it. What was the bishop doing to engage that child during his talk, or to make sitting through that meeting in silence paletable for all the kids in attendance?

    The UCC and Lutheran branches in my town both have “children’s chat,” a feature during the main worship service that contains an intimate discussion of that week’s principle with the children at their level. The adults seem to love it too because the kid’s answers are hilarious and sometimes insightful. The music and slideshow presentations, as well as a bookshelf of quiet toys and games, helps keep children happy and occupied if they attend the main worship service with their parents. And while I don’t feel comfortable with public offerings, they involve the kids by having them hold the offering baskets. It just looks like a great way to experience the main “sacrament meeting” as a kid.

    The UCC in particular supports gay families and single-parent families very well, and is careful not to exclude certain types of families that are out of the mainstream, frequently sponsoring groups to campain for protection of all types of families. Because they are a congregational church, people pretty much have a say in how they get to serve the church because, as the volunteer committee chairperson told me, being sucked into a church assignment that’s not a good fit so frequently leads to burnout.

    I actually think the LDS faith does a good job with nursery and primary (although I wish activity days would really equal the coolness of cub scouting). Of course the block could be shorter — for all our sakes — but I’ll never have a happier calling than when I got to lead music time for the nursery kids.

  6. Jana says:

    Hey, talk about family values–I’m related to one of those guys in the stripes. 🙂

    There are many many ways in which the church builds strong families. But it’s amazing to me that as I’ve seen “behind the facade” of many of those families that seemed to be the most “successful” to me as I was growing up, that there were huge problems-just like in the non-LDS families that I knew.

    Of course all families are complicated. But by creating such rigid boundaries around who’s _really_ a part of an LDS family, it does seem to me that the church can as easily cleave a family as bind it together.

  7. mb says:

    You wrote:

    “What all this really brings to mind is what I have heard over and over again from the pulpit: This Church is not just another nice church where you hear helpful teachings. You belong to The Church because you believe it is the only true one.”

    Before someone responds to that, could you say what you mean by “the only true one”. That means so many different things to so many different people that it would be helpful if you explained what you mean by that phrase in this paragraph. Just so people don’t get derailed.

    Thanks.

  8. M Barron says:

    15 years ago shortly after I was baptised into the LDS Church in UK I was told I would not be united with my 13 year old son in heaven as I was single. However, my ex-husband and his 2nd wife would because they were married, even though they chose to end my marriage without discussion. I agree with everything Craig has said, and by the way left the church immediately.

  9. Alisa says:

    I just have to say that this picture is awesome. They have striped vests and bowties. If you’re going to be jailed for polygamy, at least go in style.

  10. mr.mraynes says:

    Oh, G. You have hit the nail on the head here. I often think about how the Church pays a lot of lip service to a lot of issues (family values, gender equality, service, charity) but then fails miserably to back it up in the policy/doctrine/action front. The frustrating thing is that these things should be strengths for the Church!

    Your picture points out the major stumbling block for the Church: its polygamous past (not to mention present). Sooner or later, our leadership must answer the polygamy question clearly one way or the other. We cannot continue to pretend its a non-issue.

    And a three-hour meeting schedule is simply a laughably bad idea. Yet we keep doing it. Why? I really think some in the Church must think it keeps us more spiritual. Yeah, right.

  11. Angie says:

    Craig, you said

    “I fail to see how a person who doesn’t fit into traditional gender roles is being selfish, or how selfishness comes into play when a person leaves the church and then is persecuted, maligned, and mistreated by their family”

    Let me try to clarify what I was saying, since I was actually trying to say the opposite of how you interpreted me. My point is that when a church member mistreats someone who does not fit the traditional gender role, then that mistreatment is the result of selfishness and a lack of charity. For example, if an individual leaves the LDS church and his or her LDS family disowns him or her, then that family is being selfish and uncharitable.

    And I stand by my comment about most people being compatible for marriage, because the daily reality of marriage is a series of active choices to not be annoyed, to act in a kind and patient way, to be loyal, to consider the other person’s needs and feelings. If two people are doing these things for each other, then the marriage will be happy, to a certain degree. And all the compatibility and chemistry in the world can be destroyed by a lack of kindness, patience, loyalty, and conscious effort.

  12. Angie says:

    “The reality is that the institution of the LdS church is flawed, has problems, and needs fixing. It’s anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, pro-republican/exterme conservative rhetoric, and continued emphasis of extremely unrealistic gender roles, unrealistic relationships, and damaging and false views about sexuality have great need to be criticised loudly and often.”

    This comment confuses me, because it sounds like a comment from someone who already doesn’t believe in, support, or even like the LDS church. I would expect a comment like this from someone who was not a member of the church. In fact, an opinion like this would be a very good reason to not ever consider joining the LDS church. OF COURSE non-members do not agree with LDS doctrine, policies, or practices. That’s why they don’t join the church! And that is a stance with integrity.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental, just a statement of fact. If I felt that an institution was “anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-intellectual” and espoused “damaging and false views about sexuality”, then I would absolutely steer clear of it. But my understanding of Mormon doctrine (not Mormon people, culture, or experience) does not lead me to these conclusions. I understand Mormon doctrine and beliefs to be pro-woman, pro-intellect, and pro-healthy sexuality. In my daily life, my intellectual pursuits, my relationships with people, and my goals for the future, I am guided by core Mormon doctrines. If I looked to Mormon people for guidance, I would be often mislead. But I look to Jesus for guidance. Everybody else is just a fellow-traveler, no better informed than I, relatively speaking.

  13. Craig says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I still disagree on your other point though.

    Yes, it is obvious that a successful marriage needs kindness, patience, loyalty, and conscious effort, but no matter how kind and patient and loyal a person is, the chances are they’re not going to be compatible sexually or romantically with the vast majority of people, and feelings of sexual and romantic desire (chemistry) cannot be forced or chosen – they mostly just are. And I think that is what is lacking from the idea that any two people if they’re “christlike” can be in a good marriage. They may well be able to be good friends, but marriage is far more complicated than that.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding you again, but my understanding of that teaching is that any two people, if they live the “gospel” are compatible to be married. To me that’s absolutely preposterously ridiculous- assuming of course that marriage should consist of more than just kindness, patience and loyalty (which is something I assume).

    Two people being romantically and sexually compatible is quite rare, and the expectation that it ought to be possible with just about anyone is dangerous and destructive.

  14. Craig says:

    Well I am not (any longer) a member of the LdS church, but I really don’t see how that’s relevant to the conversation at hand. I do have many friends and acquaintances who are, many of whom who are active, and who have the same beliefs about the inherent flaws and problems in the institution, and are full of integrity. Many don’t see it as an either/or proposition (either you believe in Mormonism or you don’t – either you’re a member or you’re not) but rather they believe and/or identify with certain parts of the doctrine and/or culture, but see other areas which need modifying, changing, improvement, or outright revision and expulsion.

    It is folly to say that anyone who sees serious flaws in the church or who criticises it can’t possibly be a member or believe in certain parts of the doctrines. No one person believes in every doctrine of the church because there are competing and contradictory doctrines and teachings at work. What is “core doctrine” to one person isn’t to another, what is seen as “core doctrine” in 2009 is different from “core doctrine” in 1959, 1909, and 1859. What “looking to Jesus” gets you is vastly different from what it gets many other people, and many people “look to Jesus” and find much homophobic, sexist, racist ammunition. The fact of religion is (as you alluded to) its complete subjectivity and consequential inability to be objective about reality, which is why you may feel fulfilled and why many others don’t, and why their criticism is valid even though you may not perceive a problem.

    It is nice that you seem happy and content with your experience in Mormonism. Many, many others are not and have excellent reasons and experiences to back up their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

  15. Angie says:

    “It is nice that you seem happy and content with your experience in Mormonism.”

    My husband would laugh to hear this. No, I am not happy and content with my experience with Mormonism. If I didn’t believe in the doctrines, I would run as fast as I could to join the nearest Christian mega-church. 🙂

    I agree with so much of what you are saying. My dad, who is agnostic, and I have discussions about some of these same issues. For example, it’s a little mind-boggling how two people can sit in the same church service; one will find justification for racism, while the other will find justification for tolerance. So much of it is subjective.

    But I do ultimately see religion as “either-or”. If I didn’t believe in temples, Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, or the Book of Mormon, then I would not attend the Mormon church. And I would absolutely not bring my children there regularly, because I would essentially be teaching them something that I didn’t believe. What would be the use of that?

    But I can see how conflict could arise. If someone believed that the Book of Mormon was scripture, but didn’t believe that the temple rituals had any efficacy, then that would make it tough.

  16. Angie says:

    Craig, although we don’t personally know each other, and this is a strange kind of “conversation”, I do want to clarify something I wrote earlier.

    You are right that your own affiliation with the LDS church is irrelevant to the discussion. I was in no way wondering about your personal religious faith, just musing about the fact that it seems obvious to me that someone (not you, specifically) who didn’t believe in the Mormon church would not have positive opinions about Mormon beliefs or practices.

    But even that is complex, just as you said. There are many actively-participating Mormons who disagree with things that happen within the church. I cling to the scriptures and the words of the prophet in General Conference. Anything else I hear I take with a grain of salt.

    So maybe that brings me full circle. G’s original post is about her “grain of salt”. She hears things at church, and looks around at the reality of the church members’ lives. It rarely adds up, as she said in her original post. That is hard to reconcile. I’ve wrestled with these same kinds of questions.

  17. Angie says:

    And while we’re exploring the nuance of every aspect of God, religion, and humanity, let me muse about the “marriage compatibility” topic:

    Yes, sexual and romantic chemistry is necessary to a happy marriage. And, yes, this is something that just “happens”; we don’t choose who we are initially attracted to.

    But we absolutely choose who we STAY attracted to. Every relationship is going to experience a waxing and waning of sexual attraction, if the relationship lasts long enough. Those are the times when kindness, patience, and loyalty keep the marriage together.

  18. Craig says:

    Angie, I appreciate the dialogue. It’s been interesting talking with you.

    And regarding your last statement, “Every relationship is going to experience a waxing and waning of sexual attraction, if the relationship lasts long enough. Those are the times when kindness, patience, and loyalty keep the marriage together.”

    That’s something I certainly can agree with.

    For myself, I’m an atheist, so see the church organisation and motives in a more cynical (and I believe realistic) way than I did when I was a member. I certainly understand the feeling of believing the doctrines and despite other seeming contradictions or questions, staying in the church just for that reason. Since leaving the church I have found out that people stay in the church for an infinite number of reasons. And I believe that open criticism and dialogue is the only way to make sure that any organisation, even one that purports to be led by god, is healthy and non-abusive. Any organisation or person who can’t accept criticism has real problems. That’s my main view of religion in general and Mormonism specifically. If it wants to be taken seriously, then it needs to stop trying to squelch dissent and own up to its imperfections.

  19. Mellina says:

    I just finished watching Fiddler on the Roof. It’s surprising how much of the examples mentioned here are perpetuated by tradition rather than doctrine.

  20. Craig says:

    Whether tradition or doctrine, they often end up being the same thing.

  21. Merinmel says:

    re: Angie “G’s original post is about her “grain of salt”. She hears things at church, and looks around at the reality of the church members’ lives. It rarely adds up, as she said in her original post. That is hard to reconcile.”

    I have been thinking recently, about the reason it is hard to reconcile these incongruities. The question I have arrived at is: Are the culture and traditions that surrounds the church the result of the doctrine, as it is taught? In other words, are the lives of the Latter-Day Saints the fruits which the doctrine of the LDS Church produces? If another church bears better fruits (as seen by the lives led by it’s members), then is that perhaps due to the differences in doctrine?

  22. G says:

    thanks, everyone for taking the time to comment!

    and for taking the post with a bit of salt… I certainly put lots of pepper in it.

    briefly;

    Angie and Craig LOVED reading your dialogue, thanks both of you. (that’s what I love about blogging)

    my thoughts on compatibility within marriage is that things have changed quite a bit from the time when most marriages were arranged or of convenience. With the current societal emphasis on romantic chemistry, merely being a good person isn’t enough to hold most marriages together.

    Alisa, yeah, it has been visiting the worship services of other faiths that has thrown the particular (long and hard on kids) way our church services are run into stark contrast. (and that bishop… ick!)

    Jana- “I’m related to one of those guys in the stripes.” well that explains a lot! 🙂

    mb, sorry if my awkward phrasing was a distraction. I was merely repeating the sentiment I hear with great frequency from the pulpit regarding the Church being the only true one and the only way to get to heaven.

    mr.mraynes, precisely! I think there is something about being “busy” with lots of church meetings that provides a tantalizing but false sense of spirituality. (so very anxiously engaged… etc)

    Melinda, the problem with the tradition/doctrine divide is that the two are so closely intertwined you can’t really cut them apart. ie; I believe the harmful model of gender rolls taught in the temple endowment is definitely a false tradition of the fathers. But the temple endowment is considered our most important doctrine.
    Also it is contested that members who get overwhelmed by all that the church demands just don’t understand the doctrine. But I view the high rates of anti-depression drugs used in Utah as proof that there is a serious failing within the organization, not a few misguided individuals. Is that tradition or doctrine? It doesn’t matter. It’s real, it’s pervasive and it needs some major working on.

  23. G says:

    Merinmel- yes, very much my thoughts. It brings to mind another thing I frequently hear over the podium, about how we should be the most happy, have the strongest families etc etc because of the truth that we have.

    (what was it Pres Beck said about lds women should be the best homemakers in the world?)

    that’s a lot of pressure. and a lot of cognitive dissonance when reality proves differently.

  24. Kaylana says:

    And then there is the proclamation on the family that hangs in almost every active mormon home (including mine) how women should be the stay at home moms, it’s the ideal and men the breadwinners and only women to work outside the home if it’s a need for basic necessities.

    So that becomes a huge pressure on those who want to have a career and be a mom that there’s something wrong or unfaithful about them if they desire anything else but this ideal. It’s just too much sometimes!

  25. waldo says:

    Interesting. I just stumbled upon this blog. Honestly, (and, yes, how naive), I don’t know anyone who voices their objections, their angst and confusion over this religion. I certainly never have. And have certainly never felt permitted to. Nor did I ever think it wise or appropriate. I mostly just thought it would mess things up. Of course, I’m a bit tired of living like this.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly warrants membership in this church. We either believe it or we don’t. Or we take what we like, accept what we can and reject what’s problematic. What’s right?

    A cousin of mine was relaying to me the story of a ‘young, wayfaring, girl’ who, unsettled by the church, began to live in a way that led her farther and farther from the church. “But, I mean, who doesn’t have their doubts?” the cousin said. “Everyone does? But you don’t act on them. It’s the good that you concentrate on.” My cousin has a point. One that I agree with at times. But I’ve heard this sentiment voiced too often lately and I’m finding it more and more irritating. If everyone has these doubts, are more people dissatisfied than I think? And if so, will changes be made? Can they be made? Or is it simply time to acquiesce to say to myself “Concentrate harder” or “Let it go” or “This never will fit”.

    I agree it’s folly to say anyone who criticizes shouldn’t be a member. It’s not black and white. If I declared I did not want to be a member of the LDS church, indeed, if I declared I no longer wanted to attend Relief Society Meeting, I would cause quite a stir in both my own family and my extended family. I’m not sure it would be worth it. Because they’re more important to me than whether I am a member or I’m not.

    But how much doubt can there be? How much faith/ belief is necessary to be a part of this thing, this religion?

    I know there’s no answer for me here. And in a lovely and good religion the individual would decide absolutely. St. Augustine took his time, right?

    I’m sorry this isn’t totally related to the article. But I’ve found a place where I can think, learn, and assess and I’m very happy for that so thank you.

  26. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you G for this post! I am sorry I wasn’t able to participate in the discussion last week. I do believe you hit the nail on the head in terms of issue with current practices in the Church. You really have to believe most things to be comfortable (which I also am not).

    Thank you for the picture as well. I really agree with Mr. Mraynes comment that the church has to address the issue. It affects our perception of the family, chastity, feminism, etc. that cause such big debates on sites like these.

  27. anon says:

    Sounds more like the actions of someone who attends church, not the church itself. There is a very big difference. I think we need to be careful to seperate the two. In the end it really doesnt matter what someone else believes or does in the “church’s name”, only what we believe and do.

  28. Craig says:

    There is a very big difference.

    Again, I don’t think there is.

    What makes you think there is a meaningful difference? How does a person separate out what is officially “doctrinal” and what is “the teachings of men”? How can anyone really tell the difference?

  29. sumant says:

    This post has really captured my attention, it’s quite informative too. What really caught my fascination is that the post has been really done in an interesting manner, something i was really looking for. Thank you very much.

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