A Response: “Disciples and the Defense of Marriage”

Love Makes a FamilyIn the August Ensign, we find an article called “Disciples and the Defense of Marriage” by Elder Russell Nelson, an apostle.

The message of this article feels familiar: if we consider ourselves Disciples of Christ, then we will obey. God’s will is for men and women to be in monogamous, heterosexual (traditional) marriages – and in addition to being in these relationships, we should defend them.

In delivering this message, Elder Nelson uses strong, definitive words like “the most”, “cannot yield”, “warn”, “stern judgment”. And sets up several binaries like “love means obedience”.

Elder Nelson is straightforward in his approach, rather than nuanced. To me the topics of discipleship and marriage are complex, and I would like to add some further ideas to consider.

Being Christian

Elder Nelson says, “The day is gone when you can be a quiet and comfortable Christians” and continues, “Disciples of the Lord are defenders of traditional marriage.”

I recognize that the focus of this article is on defending marriage, but there are obviously more things for disciples to defend than traditional marriage – such as the poor, the trafficked, and children.

This binary also begs the question: are we Christians and disciples if we choose not to defend traditional marriage? Do we still love the Lord if we choose to show it in other ways, like comforting the distressed or encouraging the voices of women?


Because I am single, the language in this article feels exclusionary for me. When speaking of how one might feel when reflecting on life, Nelson says our thoughts should be first of our performance as “good husbands and fathers or a good wives and mothers”- and second: as good people.

The most important thing in my life is not being a good wife or mother, because I am neither. It seems to me that the language could be more open to include those who do not fit primary categories – people like divorcees, single parents, and me.

Elder Nelson also says, “The greatest guardians for all virtues are marriage and family. This is particularly the case with the virtues of chastity and fidelity both of which are required to create enduring and fully rewarding marriage partnership and family relationships.”

As a single woman, I do consider myself a guardian of these virtues and it is a personal sacrifice. Again, perhaps language could be more open to include other guardians.


Children come into families in many ways. In my experience, raising children is a complex business and requires many people – to aid, protect, and help raise them. I believe children deserve to be loved, cared for, freed from abuse and neglect. Many types of families can create this for children.

Elder Nelson’s comments on children are more narrow. “It takes a man and a woman to bring a child into the world.” and “Children deserve a chance to grow up with both a mom and a dad.” It seems to me that there is beauty and complexity missing from this view.


Elder Nelson talks about the possibility of being persecuted for defending the traditional family and quotes 3 Nephi 12:10: “Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Persecution, Nelson infers, will follow righteousness, but we will be blessed for staying true to God’s command.

Perhaps those who defend their beliefs around traditional marriage are persecuted, but I’m unsure if persecution is reliable yard stick. Many people are persecuted, for a variety of reasons. Jewish people have suffered horrific persecution; homosexuals have been and are persecuted; suffragettes were persecuted; and interracial couples were and are persecuted.

Loving Everyone

Near the end of the article, Elder Nelson states, “Proclaim your love for all human beings, with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

This seems in contradiction to an earlier section where he quotes the Apostle Paul: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affections, trucebreakers, false accusers, despisers of those that are good.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Elder Nelson does not encourage us to love the people who fall into these categories (as we all do), but “from such turn away”.
How do we show our love to others? How do we defend traditional marriage and love those who do not participate in traditional marriage? How do we love the single woman, the gay man, the divorced father, the unwed mother?

I believe these are important questions to consider as we strive to be disciples.







Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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34 Responses

  1. Rob Osborn says:

    Elder Nelson had a particular thought in mind and we should look at it that way. Defense of marriage and discipleship go hand in hand. We need to stand together with our prophets and uphold them. Too many blog posts recently questioning the prophets on this marriage issue. We are thus seeing who is and who is not a true disciple.

    • e says:

      Rob, that sounds unkind, considering this thoughtful post is written by a woman who already feels she is being excluded from the kind of discipleship Elder Nelson described in his article. I would like to believe based on my study of the New Testament that Christ would not be so exclusionary and exclusive but would instead invite all to come into him and follow his ways of kindness, love, and peace. We should remember that we are taught in the scriptures to not judge each other.

    • T says:

      I’m with you Rob. Writing an article to dispute and question an apostles’ viewpoints is dangerous ground.
      Thr main thing I would like to point out is, that he did not contradict himself at the end. We need not condone sin in order to love a person. I’m not saying it’s an easy balance to achieve, but it can be done.
      Also, if the prophet has made it clear that traditional marriage is the Lord’s way, then why would you not defend it? Please think on it- if marriage between a man and a women is the one and ONLY way God approves of, then why would you fight against it? The prophet is God’s mouthpiece.

      • Suzette says:

        We are all learning to hear and understand the voice of God – us and prophets – and we don’t always get it right. I’m trying to learn and understand – like we all are. I pray, I listen, I try to bring my heart and mind and inspiration into alignment. Following the prophet is part of that equation, but it’s not all of the equation (for me).

      • EFH says:

        Please keep in mind Rob and T that this is just an article. There are hundreds of articles written by general authorities a century ago (on topics such as birth control for example ) who are not quoted anymore and whose ideas are not relevant anymore. Elder Uchdorf acknowledged this in a talk in our last GC. So opinions change and as a church we need to be very careful when using strong language because that only creates division and hurt.

        People have the right to disagree with general authorities and their opinions on political matters – especially when using definitions such as ” a good disciple defends marriage”. Peter even betrayed Jesus by denying him and still maintained his status as a disciple.

        People have the right to express their opinions even when they are wrong. We are not sheep, no body is.

    • Suzette says:


      You seem to imply that “not questioning” prophets is the way to be a disciple. And perhaps we’ll disagree on that point. God to speaks to all of us. I support the prophets by reading their words, thinking about them, and asking questions … creating discussion. And seeking further revelation.


      • Rob Osborn says:

        It’s the manner in which we question that worries me with all of these blogs. I too was there at one point. I came to find that we may have disagreements on various doctrines but it is still paramount that we show solidarity on crucial topics like marriage. I personally do not see any wiggle room on the topic of marriage as it pertains to our doctrine. We must stand firm in the position of where we stand on marriage. That is outlined in the Proclamation. If we do not agree with the Proclamation then we are not really disciples of Christ because we do not align with Christ.

      • Suzette says:


        I think you are right about the wiggle room when it comes to marriage. The apostles have made it pretty clear how they feel about it and how they interpret God’s feelings on. So, I guess, we can agree or disagree with what they have outlined. And seek revelation about whether it is right and true.

        The proclamation is an interesting document in Mormon theology. It is not a revelation, nor is it canonized. Yet, it was signed by the Q15 and is quoted often from the pulpit.


  2. Ken says:

    Exponent: not your best work. None of the arguments here are relevant to the topic of the article. Example: yes, you can be persecuted for more than just defending marriage. But that wasn’t Elder Nelsons point.
    Yes, children can be loved in a variety of circumstances, no one contests that. But being raised by a mother and father is actually the BEST way.
    I’m sorry this particular article seemed to exclude many groups of people, but again, that was not the point of the piece. Perhaps you should consider how you could better spend your time, as questioning every aspect of an apostles article is maybe not the best use.

    • Suzette says:

      Ken: Thanks for your thoughts; feedback is always appreciated.

      We obviously disagree with some of the finer points – and the way we spend out time. I personally think that discussion and questions – are the way we learn and grown. And be better disciples.


    • Ziff says:

      I think this article is nicely in line with the Exponent’s usual excellent work. I’m also surprised at your condescending attitude: who are you to advise Suzette how to use her time? I for one think this was a *great* use. It’s unfortunate that Elder Nelson’s anti-gay-marriage gospel hobby is getting so much air time, and I’m happy to see someone responding to it so thoughtfully.

      • Ken says:

        You are right; my comment was condescending and I apologize to Suzette. I let my emotions get the best of me. I can’t say I enjoyed this piece but I’m sorry I didn’t just state the facts of my opinion and leave it at that.

  3. Jessica says:

    Great points and thoughtfully made. I appreciate you bringing these to light. As a child of divorced parents, I found similar messages to be hurtful and exclusionary.

  4. Emily U says:

    I’d like to engage Suzette’s questions:

    “How do we show our love to others? How do we defend traditional marriage and love those who do not participate in traditional marriage? How do we love the single woman, the gay man, the divorced father, the unwed mother?”

    If contemplating these things constitutes not sustaining Elder Nelson, then I think the definition of sustaining is absurdly narrow.

    So about her questions – I think we show our love to others one person at a time. We keep our circle of friends wide, we get to know our neighbors, we care about their problems and their joys, and we don’t judge them. We serve them as best as we can, and we pray for them.

    The word “defend” is reactionary. I don’t think it belongs in the same sentence as marriage. I think people should engage in the kind of marriage they believe in. If we insist on the word “defend,” then I think we defend traditional marriage by entering into a traditional marriage or holding the hope that dating will lead to such a marriage.

    And I don’t have short answers to who we love all the marginalized persons in the Church, but I think as disciples of Christ this questions must be forefront in our minds every day. One way I would like to do this is to tone down the rhetoric on marriage and family and focus instead on the aspects of the gospel that we all have in common.

  5. Chris says:

    For me, this post is simply another viewpoint to consider. What concerns me about some of the comments though is this false idea that the prophet has said the final word on this issue. As we all know, our church and our doctrine has continued to evolve.

  6. Caroline says:

    Suzette, these are important questions to raise. Like you, I think we (including our leaders) are all searching for greater light, knowledge, and sensitivity. And posts like this are exactly what our leaders need to read to better discern how they might minister to their people. I find Elder Nelson’s rhetoric which excludes single/divorced people particularly problematic. While I understand Elder Nelson was trying to emphasize the importance of being good mothers/wives and fathers/husbands (roles that a significant percentage of LDS people do not inhabit), it’s unfortunate that he placed those roles over being good people, which is open to every human. This prioritizing serves to virtually erase people who don’t fit into these categories. I so appreciate you pointing out these issues — they need to be discussed. We must do better as a Christian community.

  7. Patty says:

    Sacrament Meeting and Relief Society were relentless repetitions of the Proclamation with emphasis on the parts that I find the most unpleasant: traditional male/female roles, traditional marriage. I feel that we are identifying ourselves with fundamentalist Christians. I have worked with some fundamentalists who called their fellow workers Sodomites. My sister works with fundamentalist Russian teens whose families reward them for insulting and bullying gay fellow students. I know we claim to be kind and tolerant but it’s always the last point made in the weakest or least specific way. When I said to my bishop that I feel like we’re identified with Westboro Baptist Church, he said that individual members have to demonstrate love to all. Why? We should do a better job as a church of disassociating ourselves from those extreme homophobic groups. I have a hard time seeing how any gay people manage to stay in the church. The real test for me is that you should ask yourself “What would I do if I had a child who came out as gay or lesbian?” I have a hard time coming up with a satisfactory answer. And fundamentalists hate us.

  8. dri says:

    Suzette, exceptionally great post. I am always amazed at the compassion and thoughtfulness you take as you approach difficult topics, and doctrines…even in the face of binary opposition. Know of my love and support.

  9. Heather says:

    S-I will always vote to keep you on the island. Although I my situation reflects the Mormon “ideal,” I’m a hetero married SAHM, I am pained at the narrowness of that circle. It breaks me heart to see the “ideal” then transformed into the one & only path because let’s be real, most of the youth I teach will not attain it for a variety of reasons. Are they less? Is happiness beyond their reach? I love when we focus on Christ as the way because all of us, male/female, gay/straight, married/single etc. can equally have access to his grace.

  10. Ziff says:

    Great post, Suzette. I particularly like your concluding point and questions. It feels to me like Elder Nelson has figured out that it comes across badly to just out-and-out say that LGBT people are evil and that it’s our duty to hate them, so he tacks on these comments like the one you cite at the end where he says, “but don’t hate anyone.” But this type of tack-on comment does no good when the bulk of his article is talking about how straight relationships are the only real kind, putting LGBT people down over and over.

  11. Moss says:

    Great post, Suzette.

    The Savior himself taught Mary and Martha that discipleship was more important than gender roles.

  12. Lily2 says:

    I’m sorry, I have to chuckle every time we, as Mormons, talk about “traditional marriage”. You mean like the kind Brigham Young taught?

  13. Hillary says:

    I think it’s also important to consider the fact that apostles may have differing focuses or interpretations of certain aspects of doctrine. Elder Nelson has a very specific viewpoint on marriage that I would posit is much narrower an unforgiving than perhaps what other apostles promulgate. In prior talks, he categorizes marriages outside of the temple as “bargain basement” or something to that effect, and those who marry outside the temple as those who have rejected a gift from Christ and therefore rejected Christ. Pretty harsh words, no? It is also, apparently his personal opinion that we must defend traditional marriage in order to be disciples of Christ. Don’t even get me started on words like “defend” and “traditional”, which are themselves both fraught with emotion while at the same time ambiguous. As someone who is married outside the temple, childless, and an adoring sister to a gay man, his words frequently hurt me.

    I personally believe Elder Nelson’s interpretation of marriage is dated, unduly harsh, and narrow-minded. Fortunately, I also believe Elder Nelson is a flawed, but well-meaning individual trying to fulfill what I imagine he feels is his duty. So I can forgive him for his harsh words, I can believe his words to be false or at least unnecessarily restrictive, and I can view his intentions as charitably as possible. I think this makes me a better disciple than I would otherwise be, not a worse one.

  14. senile old fart says:

    The Ensign article is red meat for the base. It does not reach out lovingly to those whose families don’t match the ideal. Any family relationship that is not ideal is anathema. To me, it is a mass of confusion.

  15. Rob Osborn says:

    I dont see why so many get offended by the doctrine of marriage between man and woman. It sounds a lot like Isaiah 5:20-
    20 ¶Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

    • Suzette says:

      Which is the darkness? And which is the light?

      Hard questions. Harder answers. The church is growing and learning and searching. As are we all.

  16. Rebecca says:

    Hi Suzette,

    Ah, all this marriage stuff makes me tired – even though I am a strong believer in dual-gender marriage and family. (I prefer the term “dual-gender marriage” to “traditional marriage” – even though it does sound kinda stuffy.) I wish we could have more balance in the Church—continuing to teach the doctrine but emphasizing that many (such as myself) do not fit this pattern and are every bit as valuable and needed as married members. “All are alike unto God.”

    I wanted to respond to one paragraph. You mention that “beauty and complexity” are missing from the view that, as Elder Nelson says, “It takes a man and a woman to bring a child into the world” and “Children deserve a chance to grow up with both a mom and a dad.”

    Despite many who wish that it were not so—nature indeed requires both a man and a woman in order to conceive a child. There are no exceptions to this rule. And it is generally best for children to be raised by the man and woman who created them, provided their parents are united in a low-conflict marriage. Biology matters—that’s why so many same-sex parents decide that one of them will be biologically related to the child they create, rather than immediately turning to adoption. It’s why so many people who were adopted (regardless of the sexual orientation of their parents) try to find their biological parents when they get older.

    I’m a big believer in adoption, but that’s because it generally occurs in response to an already existing loss—the loss of one or both parents. I admire loving gay couples and singles who adopt children who would otherwise languish in foster care.

    Unlike adoption, donor-conception deliberately creates a child to be raised without one or both biological parents. This puts a parent’s desire for a child before the need of a child to be connected to both parents. The parents decide that a biological connection to one parent is sufficient. The child is expected to adjust to that loss, in order to accommodate the desire of the parent.

    These certainly are complicated subjects.

    • Hillary says:

      Hi Rebecca,

      I’m wondering if you have sources, studies, etc. to back up the assertion that “it is generally best for children to be raised by the man and the woman who created them”? I’m also wondering if you’ve ever found yourself in the unenviable situation of struggling with infertility and trying to figure out the best way to build your family, if at all.

      As someone who is currently in the midst of that struggle, let me tell you that there are no easy answers. Adoption is not a simple solution, a cure-all, or a magical band-aid that heals the pains and losses associated with unintended pregnancy, loss of parents, or infertility. It’s also not some badge of honor. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and heart-wrenching. That’s why it’s so tiring to constantly hear “why don’t you just adopt?” If perhaps you’ve been in this situation, maybe you can empathize. There are also countless articles explaining why comments like these are both uninformed and hurtful, and do a better job of it than I ever could.

      I do think your characterization of the pursuit of donor eggs, sperm, or embryos as “selfish” to be unfair. You’re judging the motives of parents when you may not have considered the agony, self-reflection, time, and money they’ve expended before making their choices. Are you aware of the relative costs of, say, adoption versus donor sperm insemination? Those struggling with infertility, especially while trying to participate in a church that glorifies families, motherhood, and childbearing, need compassion and empathy. They don’t need unsolicited advice or uninformed judgment.

      As Suzette said, there is beauty and complexity in a multitude of family structures, so why as a church do we only focus on one?

      • Rob Osborn says:

        Its because when traditional family structure gets broke down because of worldy immoral choices, thats when we as a people, as families, as communities, and as nations become most vulnerable to sin, unhappiness, loss of freedom, etc. The livelihood of our society requires that there are enough stable families centered on strong marriages between man and woman. This doesnt mean we place adoption, artificial insemination, etc, as unimportant. We have a rapidly increasing divorce rate and children born out of wedlock rate and its causing a lot of problems in society as a whole.

      • Suzette says:

        Thinks definitely do get heart wrenching. I can appreciate that. Thanks for sharing your experiences. They add a lot t o the conversation.

      • Rebecca says:


        I actually have no family. Since I have never married and am in my 40s, and because of my beliefs, parenthood is not an option for me. So believe me when I say I understand the anguish of not being able to bring children into the world. I’ve wanted to be a mother of a large family ever since I was a child, and I would have been a damn good mother too. I’ve experienced the grief, anger, heartbreak, and all the other emotions of having this unfulfilled desire, as well as being a member of a Church that practically deifies the family.

        But my heartbreak does not trump my principles, which are based not only on LDS doctrine but on years of studying family issues, working with people from various family structures in the mental health field, and seeing cultural issues play out in front of me. My opinions are not based on uninformed emotions but come after years of studying and pondering on these issues. They come at great cost to me personally.

        I used to work in the adoption field, and consequently got to know many adoptive parents and birth parents. I saw the difficulty they faced and the complexity of the adoption decision—which is why I absolutely agree with you; adoption is not an easy answer or magic solution. There are no easy answers to the problem of infertility or childlessness. As I said, while I admire people who choose adoption, including singles, it is not the solution for me.

        The word “selfish” to characterize parents who choose donor conception is your word, not mine. (I admittedly haven’t given much thought to using donor embryos.) Yes, I did say that parents who donor eggs or sperm are placing their desires before the needs of their children. But I recognize that these choices are not simple, and that most parents mean well. They are acting on their God-given desires to be parents. They know they could provide a loving home for a child. The word “selfish” slaps a broad label on their decisions that overly simplifies a complex decision. But yes, I do believe they are prioritizing their own desires and that this is not in the best interests of children.

        While I support the Church’s doctrine on the family, I believe there is much, much improvement to be done in the Church’s rhetoric on families.

        As for relevant research, here are a couple examples:



    • Suzette says:


      Thanks for your comment … even if the marriage topic makes you tired.

      I’m not sure that I could say which environment is the best for raising children. I only have stories, but no data on this.

      If you do have good sources, I’d be truly interested.

      Thanks for your well thought comment and your courage to post.

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  1. August 23, 2015

    […] A Response: “Disciples and the Defense of Marriage” […]

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