In the last two weeks of the Doctrine and Covenant study, the Come Follow Me curriculum covers the most recent officially published proclamations, The Family – A Proclamation to the World published in 1995 and The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles published in 2000. Family and Christ are fundamental to the gospel. Christianity encourages its adherence toward better lives, providing guides, but then enables that adherence through the sanctifying power that comes when a Christian yields to Christ’s grace. We don’t live as individuals. So much of who we are is shaped by the community we live in. We think of individual responsibilities for sins, but the evidence points more clearly to societal culpability. Similarly, it’s through our associations, especially our familial associations where salvation comes. We need to strive to live up to standards, but in that striving we need to yield to Christ’s grace. This generosity and magical goodness is most profoundly felt and expressed during this Christmas season.
The Family Proclamation
Among progressive parts of the church, this proclamation has taken a lot of heat given the way it’s been filtered through the cultural war lens. It was at least partially written through that lens in response to an attempt to change the law in Hawaii to legalize gay marriage, one of the first attempts to do so. The proclamation describes the importance of traditional marriage, the eternal nature of gender and the traditional nature of gender roles in marriage. The proclamation emphasizes the need for children to be reared in loving nuclear family, to parents who sacrifice and willingly populate the earth with their progeny. Needless to say, those within the LGBTQ community, those who are single or from troubled or complicated family situations, and those who care about people in these situations, have very understandable reasons to struggle with the proclamation as it is written. And those people include all of us. Right now, half of the church membership is single, and all marriages and families have complications and struggles. For those who can’t or won’t read it, I won’t press the issue, but for the rest of us, there are beautifully important principles that can and should be elevated within our public discourse.
Through the Perspective of Children
Christianity is fundamentally about placing people into covenant to love and service to others. For a Christian, entering into the marriage sacrament is yet just another call to service – to love and care for a spouse and for most who do, to ultimately help bring into the world, the next generation of human life. According to the proclamation, marriage and families is “God’s planned destiny for children”. Christianity is a religion concerned about life beyond this life, but it’s also fundamentally concerned about this life. We hope for a better world in the there-after but we’re called into making this world as good as possible in a way that will sustain and progress long after we depart it. How we raise children is a fundamental part of that.
A few years ago, Diane Rehm interviewed Penelope Leach about her book on the impact divorce has on children. No matter how old the children are when divorce happens, they will feel the effects. What we do effects others and we should hold ourselves responsible for the negative impact our choices and behaviors have.
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.From the Family Proclamation
Every child deserves to have connection to loving, stable caregivers. We need to do more as a society to ensure every child has that opportunity no matter the exact circumstances that brought that child to this world. Too often, but inevitably, biological parents cannot fulfill the obligations of parenthood. Thankfully, many good-hearted people step in to fill in these gaps, through adoption and other essential social services.
But losing this connection to one’s biology leaves gaps.
What I would say, though, is that even if a child is better off being raised in a one parent home, as this child clearly is, it’s still important that that child be allowed to know about the other parent. We all seem to need to know where we came from, and if you look at the — look on the internet, the adopted children desperately looking for news of their own backgrounds. The same is equally true of children of divorce.MS. PENELOPE LEACH
I’m not an expert on divorce or adoption, I do feel the joys, yearnings and desires for the well being of my own biological children. I see myself in them. I worry for them in many of the same ways I worry for myself. Fiction is filled with stories about the struggles children have with missing, abusive, or otherwise severely flawed children. A past This American Life episode describes a crazy true-story case where a baby was accidentally switched at birth and the trauma both children felt feeling like neither fit in with the family they were raised in. Barbara Kingsolver similarly dives into the difficulties and complexities adoption imposes in her book, Pigs In Heaven, describing a women’s adoption of a Cherokee daughter.
Relying on the nuclear family, however, to do all of the lifting is problematic and fragile. To this point, David Brooks wrote an important essay recently about how much give up by removing the infrastructural support that used to be provided by an involved extended family, saying
If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.David Brooks
The well-being of children, then, is not just the responsibility of parents. Extended family, church and society all should help shoulder the enormous burden of raising children.
Christmas is fundamentally a family celebration. At the heart of it is a Jesus’ birth. A new life, a young mother, a worldly celebration. I think every birth should have that celebration, that promise, that support, that hope.
The Baby Bust
We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.From the Proclamation
The family proclamation is concerned with humanity’s eternal destiny. What becomes of us after we die has traditionally been church’s predominant concern. But we also care about the thriving sustainability of human life on this earth as well. We must strive for a growing, thriving existence for humankind on this earth right now. As such, we need to bear, raise and nurture the next generation. A shrinking number of us have children which will put pressure on society going forward. This baby bust has been a concern for Ross Douthat among many, many others.
Many young adults are delaying marriage and child-rearing not because they want to but because they feel a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty in an economic system that increasingly puts all the pressure and burden on them.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of societyThe Family Proclamation
If we want stronger, larger families, our policies should be designed to ease this burden, providing necessary financial support, more consistently good schools, and more equitable access to college.
A Multitude of Individual Adaptations
Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed. Extended families should lend support when needed.From the Proclamation
There are broad and important principles in the proclamation but individual circumstances are messy and complicated. We understand the general principles but we can’t use them as weapons to beat ourselves or others. Not everyone will get married. Not ever married couple will have children. Some of this will be by choice, for many others, by circumstance. No life looks the same. Within each experience we have an opportunity, an obligation and grace. Extended family, friends, and neighbors can all lend a hand to provide the support for others. Church congregations can also fill in as a sort of unofficial family. In my faith, we lovingly refer to our wards as a type of family. I think this is right and important.
Life is Precious
We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.From the Proclamation
But it’s not just about having children, we must recognize the inherent worth of human life, every single human life. Parents have the primary obligation, but all of us should care for, nuture, and reach out to every single human soul to the best we can.
Grace Needs to Infuse all of This
I think it’s an interesting time of the year to be doing a deep dive into the Family Proclamation. Christmas has always been fundamentally a family holiday for me. I grew up in family poverty and dysfunction but I had older sisters who worked hard to provide the magic that is so much a part of my childhood memory. But not just my older sisters, members of my church congregation at times provided extra gifts to ensure Christmas magic had a slightly more bit of equity. There was also an over-arching infrastructure that provided this magic freely to as many who would pay attention. School, church and neighborhood programs and parties. Extra gifts sent out to those in need. Neighbors who spent time to light up their houses, widespread holiday music. The whole season is magical and unifying.
I can’t think of a better example of this than the Christmas truce in 1914.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.
Interestingly, the Christ story itself is an example of an individual adaption to this nuclear family. Mary was single, though betrothed, pregnant and poor. Her people were marginalized and subjugated. Joseph, famously encouraged by an angel, chose to marry her despite a pregnancy that wasn’t his. Jesus life was lived in the shadows and on the margins. Defending, sustaining and nurturing those well on the outside of what was considered proper.
I think this is the message, we strive to live good lives, but we are vulnerable. We’re less vulnerable with support. Christ’s grace flows through the supporting networks we build up.
I love this message that was smuggled into the move Home Alone.