Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On Section 121 and Children

You may be familiar with the key (and oft-quoted) verses from Doctrine and Covenants 121:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death
(v. 41-44).

The question came up in the comments section of another blog about whether these principles apply to children. The questioner wondered if it's ok for parents to be strict with their children, and to allow these principles to govern adult-adult relationships, as if those two things were separate.

My answer on that blog and here is that the most important relationships I have are in my own family. And the most likely place for me to abuse my power and influence is in my family. As a result, these principles are most important within the family.

Frankly, the "because I'm your father and I said so" reason for following my decrees hasn't ever worked well with my kids. My own parents did not play that card with me, and it took me surprisingly long to learn not to play it with my kids.

My own father taught me in word and deed from the time he joined the church that I should not respect him because he holds the priesthood or because he is my father. He taught me that I should respect him because he is worthy of my respect: he was loving, hard working, full of integrity, kind, and fair. Generally he spoke to me calmly (I was the youngest in my family, and it's likely that I benefited from my father's experience with my older siblings). There were few (if any) ultimatums.

That said, my father was not permissive. He had high expectations for us, and he communicated those expectations. He and my mother imposed consequences when I ran afoul of family rules. But I never questioned my parents' love for me. And looking back, I can see that they exercised restraint in their response to some of my youthful mistakes. Their corrections, which came with the clarity of a sharp photograph, not the harshness of an acid (to paraphrase Theodore M. Burton), were gentle but clear. And I was well aware of my parents' love for me because they told me and because they showed me in many ways.

If we believe that our families will last after this life, then we have all the more motivation to operate in a way that attracts our family members to us. A good friend pointed out the final verse of Section 121; when we operate according to the principles outlined above, then:

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever (v. 46).

This friend pointed out that our dominion as parents is our family. And having our family – our children – flow to us without compulsory means is a wonderful image, and is my goal.


  1. Good thoughts on the family.

    Thanks for commenting on my BCC post.

  2. Thanks, Ronan, and thanks for reading. Love your stuff over at BCC.

  3. Awesome post.

    And, I think everything you've said on my blog has been 100% right. Honestly, I'm becoming increasingly disgusted with people who refuse to practice what they preach. Most of my friends/family (especially those in UT, for whatever reason) agree with me that we should have a separate system of civil unions for everybody; leave marriage out if it, and let individual churches decide. But, uniformly, everyone I know who's pro-"traditional" marriage has impressed me with their maturity, compassion, and interest in actually discussing the issue. It's really increased my respect for them as people, and my respect for the issue as a whole. I always go back to what Jesus said, about "by their fruits shall ye know them", and I see that the "fruits" of my religious friends' arguments are a lot tastier.