[very rough draft]
The first time a believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hears a former member suggest that the LDS Church may actually contribute to the division of families, they are likely to view the statement as completely nonsensical. That’s because the LDS Church consistently and strongly emphasizes the family and its importance across all its activities and messaging. A few of many exmamples:
- the Family Proclamation is repeatedly emphasized and it states: “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. etc, etc.” The document has been used to protect (or attempt to protect) the concept of the traditional family in rather dramatic fashion in the past view decades (e.g., BYU professor Richard Wilkins at the Istanbul conference).
- Family is constantly emphasized in LDS discourse (e.g., see “family” in bottom left of this word cloud for October 2020 general conference). It’s roughly as large as the word “gospel” and larger than words like “pray” and “covenants”.
- The Church sets aside one night a week for Family Home Evening where families do activities and learn together.
- The Church runs such nonprofits as “FamilySearch” and “LDS Family Services” and runs many Family History Centers.
- The Church teaches that “The Lord has designated the family to be the basic unit of the Church and of society” and “The ultimate purpose of every teaching, every activity in the Church is that parents and their children are happy at home, sealed in an eternal marriage, and linked to their generations”
- The Utah state song (written by a member and adopted by majority Utah politicians) prominently features the line “Utah! With its focus on family”
- Utah develops its immigration policy based on an enshrinement of the family in the Utah Compact on Immigration.
The Church and its members, I think, view themselves as maybe the world’s greatest champions of the family!!
With all of this emphasis on and dedication to the family, how could anyone view the LDS Church as a source of division in families?
To be clear, in a family where all the family members are active LDS members who enjoy their membership, it’s safe to say that division isn’t likely to occur. As discussed above, the LDS program focuses on families and the LDS Church encourages and facilitates many kinds of behaviors that promote family togetherness.
But when a family member leaves the LDS Church, significant family division often occurs.
Division is not necessarily inevitable
Why would a family member leaving the Church be a problem, in the first place? Why can’t the family just keep being a very happy family? Why can’t this be viewed as the family growing stronger because they are gaining some new perspectives? For instance, when a family member leaves to serve in the military or start a new career or move to a new city, this is not usually viewed as destroying or dividing the family. So, why is it such a problem for an LDS family when someone leaves the LDS Church?
Division may be promoted by totalism
Totalism is when a single entity or ideology wields absolute control over a group, so totalistic groups are those with some tendency towards totalism (i.e., manifesting a strong, singular purpose or ideology). The LDS Church is at least somewhat totalistic. While this tendency provides some major benefits to adherents (e.g., a strong sense of purpose and family like relationships) it also tends to view the world in binaries:
- member vs. non-member
- good vs. evil
- God vs. Satan (along with the philosophies of men)
- the Church vs. “the world” (aka “babylon”)
- happiness vs. misery (or counterfeit happiness)
A statement by Satan in the LDS temple ceremony illustrates this all-or-nothing view:
If they do not walk up to every covenant they make at these altars in this temple this day, they will be in my power!
Policy and procedure
Participation (or even witnessing) certain key life events are divided based on active membership (either active or holding a current Temple Recommend.
- Only active members holding the priesthood may participate in holding the baby for its baby blessing.
- Only active members are allowed to participate in the baptism or confirmation ceremony (e.g., as witnesses or in the circle).
- Only active priesthood holders are invited to participate in ordination to the priesthood or setting apart to specific callings.
- An LDS temple wedding ceremony may only be witnessed by those holding an LDS temple recommend (i.e., they are active, tithe-paying members).1
- The Church Handbook implies that only endowed members are meant to dress deceased endowed members for burial (non-members are not typically invited for this event, for example).
- LDS theology has been set up so that the only way to guarantee eternal togetherness is if everyone is doing the program (a prominent LDS family in my area had the family motto “no empty chairs” and this was meant to imply everyone in the Gospel and in the Celestial Kingdom together). When someone is not doing the program this is likely to generate some friction/concern/anxiety and depending on how that’s handled it can be very damaging.
- A major theme of Christianity from the beginning (emphasized to varying extents) is the idea of prioritizing belief over people (even family).
- John taught that if a person believed in a different doctrinal version of Jesus Christ (i.e., the gnostic doctrine) that they should not say “hi” to them or invite them into your house. 2 John 1: 7-11
- Jesus Christ discouraged a disciple from burying his father with the statement “let the dead bury their dead”. This teaching is used by many believers to prioritize Church and religion over family and non-believers.
- “Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ (Luke 9:61–62)
- Luke 14:26 - “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
- Members who leave the LDS Church are generally viewed in LDS literature in the worst possible light. For instance, relationships may become imbalanced if/when members view another family member as:
- a “prodigal son” (which implies that they are wasting their spiritual inheritance and maybe even spiritually living with pigs)
- now part of “the world” or “babylon” (implying that they simply want to “eat, drink, and be merry” and/or that they are opposed to the Church on some level)
- “faith-killers”, “false-prophets”, or “false-teachers” if the family member shares information that undermines LDS truth-claims in some part.
Also, there just aren’t a lot of great examples of how to deal with differing beliefs in the LDS Church. So, when these differences in belief happen, people don’t handle them very well (because they have bad scripts to work from, I think, not because members or non-members are bad people).
[flesh this out]
- [Russell Nelson and destroying his parents alcohol]
- [Renlund specifically discussing how to deal with non-members and alcohol]
- [Oaks discussing how to deal with LGBT family and Matthew Gong’s story]
- [also discuss the nuances with shunning]
- Members are taught to avoid literature that is critical of the Church, so when former members post things to try and justify their position, they are often unfriended and blocked, bringing further isolation.
- Members are very invested in the gospel program and taught on some level that “the world” is “babylon” and too much interest in it is dangerous. Since non-member family live literally 100% of their life in “the world” then there ends up being more incongruence of interests, even if everyone is trying to be as amicable as possible.
- “Never love your wives one hair’s breadth further than they adorn the Gospel.”
- Are members breaking promises when they leave the LDS Church?
- Families, Eternity, & Collateral Damage
- LDS Indoctrination and Retentive Socialization
- Journey To Become One Family’s Journey ( 2013) (7:33: “I think about the success of my kids and if ran into someone 30 years from today and they say to me, how are your kids doing? If my son has a temple recommend and is a worthy Melchizedek priesthood holder then I will say that my son is doing fantastic. If, on the other hand, my children are wealthy beyond measure and famous, but they are not worthy of a temple recommend, I will say ‘my children are struggling’”.)
Wouldn’t everyone staying LDS solve the problem?
Why don’t the children/family just stay in the Church!? Can the Church be blamed for the problem when it could alternatively be said that the problem is generated by those who leave?2
People leaving the Church is part of family life
It is simply the case that one or more children are likely to leave the LDS Church based on the statistics—roughly 25% of the silent generation, 28% of Boomers, 37% of gen-Xers, and 54% of millenials were not retained. Regardless of what should happen, this is what does happen, and it occurs frequently.
If a common occurrence is that a person will leave the LDS faith, then how the family responds to or handles that situation is part of the behaviors that prevent or promote family division. Assuming that most people who leave the LDS Church still want to retain family relationships at least on some level (which seems a reasonable assumption), then this occurence is simply part of the vicissitudes experienced by many families.
An analogy can help illustrate: a car which in all other respects is safe but has no anti-lock-braking system may be viewed as unsafe even if the frequency/need for the anti-lock-braking system is rare. And suggesting that a person always drive in such a manner that the anti-lock-braking system is never needed can be viewed as unrealistic since we know that situations where it is needed sometimes arise, even with the most careful driving.
Generalization suggests that this idea is dictatorial and goes too far
Just as strongly as members feel that the LDS Church is “true” and that it is a major source of that which is good, former members often feel unconvinced that LDS truth-claims stand up to scrutiny and they see or have lived experience with cases where the LDS Church caused some significant harm.
Since former members are also part of the family unit, then a former member might also suggest that if all active members were to leave the LDS institution, then any family division would be resolved. From a former member perspective, this request is equally as valid, but both seem unrealistic (even nonsensical) to those who are firmly committed to their religious/non-religious position.
A “family” is in some part composed of individual perspectives, so a solution which unilaterally imposes that a member leaving the Church is the problem for family togetherness isn’t really “a family” solution but a dictatorial one. And if the roles were reversed religious individuals would balk at the over-reach of solution in reverse: A family of non-religious people arguing that family divisiveness should be rectified by religious family members abandoning their religious faith seems like it goes too far.
originally posted here
for a civil wedding separate from a temple wedding in the U.S. However, it is still common for active members to only have a single LDS ceremony and forego the civil ceremony. In addition, a civil wedding ceremony has frequently been depicted as frivolous and un-meaningful in comparison to the temple ceremony, so the civil ceremony may feel like a mock ceremony of far less significance. For instance, in the LDS produced video The Forever Marriage, a non-member father mentions other kinds of wedding ceremonies and the daughter replies “it wouldn’t mean anything. A man has to have received Priesthood authority from God in order for the wedding ceremony to be valid after death.” While the video is attempting to demonstrate the great significance of an LDS ceremony, the view of the significance of other ceremonies is clearly communicated (i.e., it “wouldn’t mean anything.”)
The Church recently changed their policy to allow ↩
An example of this attitude (that the strain on family relationships is derived from a person leaving and fixed by reconciliation with the Church) can be seen in this conversation between a former LGBT member and their brother: “Although you may not see it, it will destroy our family if you seek to engage other members of the family with [any anti-church literature]. The strain on the family is not you being LGBT. If you can repair your relationship with church, then you will find everyone will embrace you. …” ↩