There’s occasionally discussion of a conundrum in gospel teaching. None of us is perfect, yet we’re all teaching one another the gospel so that we can do as the Savior commanded us, and become perfect. As a result, much of what we teach is, as a good friend of mine says, “aspirational.”
You know how this goes: you teach a lesson on missionary work knowing full well that you’re a bit of a slug in that department, or you teach about family relations and all you can remember is the disagreement you and your lovely spouse had over something insignificant that morning.
There’s an extended concern some people raise, namely that we teach a standard that is unachievable, and we therefore put ourselves in the impossible position of always trying, but never attaining it. In so doing we become discouraged (at least) or disaffected (at worst). None of those responses seem consistent with the Savior’s injunction that His yolk is easy and His burden is light.
How does The Family: A Proclamation to the World cope with that conundrum?
First, the standards are established in the Proclamation:
1. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of GodIs the bar too high? Who could feel left out or uncomfortable by these mileposts? Well, there are probably some:
2. The family is central to the Creator’s plan for us and is ordained of God
3. We are all created in the image of God, and each of us is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents
4. We all worshiped God in the pre-mortal existence and accepted the present plan of salvation
5. Temple covenants allow family relationships to extend beyond the grave
6. The powers of procreation, consistent with God’s command to Adam & Eve, are to be used within a marriage between a husband and wife
7. Husbands & wives should love each other and care for their children, rearing them in love and righteousness, providing for their physical & spiritual needs, teaching them to love & serve one another and to be obedient to the laws of God and man
8. Children are entitled to be born to parents who are married and to be reared by parents who honor their marital vows and are completely faithful to one another
9. Happiness is most likely when families live within the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, organizing their families accordingly
10. Those who violate covenants or fail to fulfill family responsibilities will stand accountable before God, and the disintegration of families will bring consequences to individuals, communities and nations
1. Unmarried adults. Although the proclamation never says it’s evil not to be married, it’s pretty clear that those who are not married are missing out on something that’s “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”What’s the remedy? Does the Proclamation provide any solace or help? Yes, of course it does.
2. Married couples without children. Whether by choice or for some other reason, childless couples may feel left out of the blessings of family life.
3. Single parents and their children. Whether these parents had their children out of wedlock, or are single because of divorce or death of a spouse, they are single. Their children are (perhaps) not enjoying “birth within the bounds of matrimony” or being “reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” They do not have both a father who presides and a mother who nurtures.
4. Covenant breakers. There’s pretty harsh language for those who break marital covenants, abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities.
1. Like so many gospel truths, those presented in The Family: A Proclamation to the World appear as opportunities for us. If we find ourselves in families, here is how we can maximize the joy of that circumstance. The Proclamation itself is not a commandment to marry, nor is it a commandment to have children; it is a description of how we can have the best marriages and families we can. Further, it teaches that all of us, married or not, are children of loving heavenly parents, and that blessings accrue to us for that reason alone. The language of the Proclamation says to me, “If you are married, then…” and “If you are a parent, then…”The Proclamation itself allows for exceptions and teaches clearly that we will not all measure up all the time to the standards of the proclamation. Does that diminish the ideal? No, of course not. Does it change my aspiration to work to have one of those “successful marriages and families”? No, of course not. Does it give me license to teach the ideal and turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the concerns of those who are not living the ideal? No, of course not.
2. The Proclamation itself recognizes that we are not perfect. In the list of qualities that contribute to the most successful families are these: “faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Number three and four on that list make clear that the Lord acknowledges (as if He needed to) that we are not perfect. (Of course His real acknowledgement of that fact is far more significant since he gave His own life that we might live and return home to our Father in Heaven.) The fact is that every marriage and every family is made up of imperfect people who (sometimes, at least) are trying to do the best they can.
3. The Proclamation recognizes a family’s need to personalize the application of the Proclamation. As it discusses the best chance for happy families, it reminds us: “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” It’s not inconceivable to me that one family might choose to have mom work and dad stay home with the kids because of their individual circumstances, for instance. In another family (in many families today), both parents may need to work, and then they’ll have to sort out how to nurture and provide. Families with only one parent in the home (for whatever the reason) will have to sort out how to carry the whole load of parenting. (Elder Baxter’s words from this past conference still ring in my ears.) It would seem that in some geographic areas, exceptions are the rule, and the Proclamation makes clear that that’s ok.
4. Even the covenant breakers will be accountable to God. Covenant breakers do exist, and God knows that. And He will deal with them. It is not up to me to judge someone else. I cannot judge a single dad, wondering what failed in his marriage to put him where he is. I cannot judge a teenage mom and wonder why she made the choices she did. All I can do is follow the admonition of the Proclamation and teach by my example respect, love and compassion. I’m not suggesting that covenant breakers get a pass. They will pay appropriately for their transgressions. But unless I’m in law enforcement, the aggrieved party or the bishop, it won’t be my decision or my concern how that happens.
One might argue, if families are “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” that the stakes are so high that we should only teach the ideal with rigor, letting the chips fall where they may. But in my view that would be wrong (and inconsistent with the example of the brethren and the Proclamation itself). Indeed, if families are central to that plan (and I believe they are), we should do all we can to lift up the hands that hang down, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and to work so that all families of every stripe realize as many blessings taught in the Proclamation as possible. We are among the responsible citizens called upon by the Proclamation to “promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
Let us work to promote families in which parents can nurture their children, as well as provide for and protect them. Let us teach one another to practice faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love and compassion – within our families and from one family to the next. Let us accept the standards as aspirational blessings that we seek and take steps to realize those blessings as far as we can, relying that the Lord will recognize our efforts and can make us whole where we fall short.