The Church of Married Latter-Day Saints
The Church of
Jesus Christ of Married Latter-Day Saints
I grew up in a big Mormon family. I have dozens of cousins and we’d get together weekly for Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house. My siblings and cousins loved to plan big, group dates and play match maker. It was pretty explicit that being single was not ok. I cringe now at the comments made by myself and others to one of our oldest cousins that since he had reached the ripe old age of 25 without marrying, he was now a “menace to society.”1
Unfortunately it wasn’t until many years later that I began to examine our cultural obsession with marriage and how this harms individuals and the church as a whole.
Earlier this week, Trudy wrote a fantastic post with tips on what not to say to singles. She points out that these are not far-fetched anomalies, but phrases that she has heard some variation of many times. Regrettably I have said some of those things myself or sat quietly while people speculated why so and so was possibly not married.
After his mission, my youngest brother headed to BYU and a year later came out to our family as gay. In addition to many the challenges of navigating the church as gay, it was difficult for him to be constantly barraged with questions at church about his dating life, not wanting to explain every time that the church wasn’t actually ok with him dating men.
I don’t think people usually mean harm, but the fact is, these questions, comments and obsession with everyone’s marital status are harmful. It is worth examining the language we use when we talk to single members and how we can cultivate belonging for all. Ramona recently blogged, “To be constantly told and to be constantly bullied, and reminded of my singleness continues the dangerous narrative that something must be wrong with me.”
Our human tendency is to try and relate to others, but we don’t always do it well. We don’t need to be the same as the person for them to feel heard and valued. Our communication should be about connection, not equalizing the conversation. Trudy’s advice on what to say to single members is worth repeating: “What’s going on in your life? Have you read any good books/seen any good movies/started any fun hobbies lately? Basically anything you would say to a friend of any marital status. We’re people and we want to be talked to like people.” In particular with the LGBTQ+ population, take time to learn some of the terminology and use their preferred pronouns. It can go a long way to help someone feel like they belong.
I think it is also worth examining our cultural assumptions both large and small that underpin our commentary. For example, that true happiness is only found in marriage, or the idea of Heavenly Mother tied to Heavenly Father. Maybe she is single, divorced or never married by choice. Can we start by saying we don’t know?
I think we need to examine what the doctrine really is (or explicitly isn’t), not as an apologetic way to dismiss the concerns of single members, but to open space for expanded views of what heaven could look like. Individually it is important to change how we speak, but we must also address systemic issues that afford higher status to married members.
I imagine that even more than a love of gossip, friends and parents are concerned about singles because of the emphasis the church places on marriage, teaching that a person must be married to obtain exaltation. And yet there are so many situations we really don’t have the answers to and are told by leaders not to worry about, because God will figure it out.2
When I was younger my dad would love to keep the missionaries on their toes with doctrinal questions, such as, “does a person have to be baptized to go to the Celestial Kingdom?” Their answer was, “Of course!” And he would follow up, “but what about children who died before eight or those who are mentally disabled?”
Could we in fact say the same about exaltation and marriage? That it is possible there are situations where singles can be exalted? Can we at least say we don’t know, but we believe in a loving God, with whom all things are possible? This would be more inclusive of queer members, instead of assuming that God will “fix” people when they get to heaven and they will no longer be gay. (There is no official church stance on this that I am aware of, but I have heard from many, many members the damaging speculation that being gay is a trial of life like anything else and that people will be “restored” to a perfect – heterosexual – state in the afterlife.)
One of my dad’s favorite scriptures was Moses 1:39
For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality of man and the eternal life of a few.
And then he would add, Eternal life is exaltation, “and remember remember, that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;”3
I believe in a God that cares deeply for all of their children and hopes that we will care for each other too- cultivating wards and communities where all feel truly welcomed and valued.
And we talk of marriage, we rejoice in marriage, we preach of marriage, we prophesy of marriage, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.4
What if we move away from talking about marriage so we can talk more about Christ?
1. This has been falsely attributed to Brigham Young, but regardless, is a real phrase in Mormon culture to demean single members.
3. Doctrine and Covenants 3:3
4. 2 Nephi 25:26