Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Conference Teaching on the Family

At the beginning of the opening talk of the first session of General Conference, Boyd K. Packer recounted a mission experience involving a young family who had just experienced the death of an infant. Their grief over the loss of their child had been exacerbated when they were told by their pastor, a Roman Catholic priest, that because their child had died unbaptized, it was going to hell.

What interested me most about this narrative, however, was Elder Packer's evaluation of the role played by the priest in this heart-breaking situation. He did not condemn the man, but concluded rather that this was "the best he had to offer" given his limited knowledge of the plan of salvation.

Human hearts naturally recoil from the thought that God could condemn an innocent baby to hell. And human hearts also naturally recoil from the seeming cruelty of a priest reaffirming such a doctrine to grieving parents. Even without modern-day revelation that contradicts such a teaching, thinking people reject such a doctrine as incompatible with the justice and mercy of a loving God.

Similarly, human hearts recoil from the Church's present day teachings about homosexuality. Those who know gay people and love them, those who have observed us and our relationships and our families up close, recoil from the seeming cruelty of telling us that all families but ours can be sealed and united in love for eternity, of telling us that our only hope for eternity is to "remain separately and singly" (D&C 132:17) for our entire lives, without the joys and comforts and sustaining strength of intimate love and companionship. Even without modern-day revelation to contradict such a teaching, thinking people reject such a doctrine as incompatible with the justice and mercy of a loving God.

I can't condemn the Church for what it has taught and done on this score. Church leaders are acting according to their best lights. This is "the best they have to offer" gay people and our families in our current state of knowledge of the plan of salvation.


Nevertheless, I find myself strengthened, uplifted and edified by Church teaching on the family. I have applied it to my own family, and have experienced a more profound, pure and joyful family life as a result.

Church teachings about the family emphasize that the family is both the primary means to exaltation, and the end of exaltation. Without a loving spouse to support us and sustain us through life, life and faith become much more difficult. Relationships with spouse and children teach us about the nature of divine love. Problem-solving in the family helps us hone the tools we need to solve problems in every aspect of our lives, as our family relationships teach us patience, kindness, selflessness, long-suffering and hope. And familial love that is purified through the trials and tribulations of mortality is the pattern of the divine love that will exalt us in eternity. I've found that all of these principles apply to my relationship with my husband and our son, no less than they apply to any temple-sealed heterosexual family.

The Spirit reassures me that the love between me and my husband will be crowned in eternity, even if we don't understand how that can be possible in our current state of knowledge of the plan of salvation. The Spirit says: Hang in there. Stay true, loving, and faithful to your spouse, and don't be discouraged. All will work out in the end. So I found myself deeply comforted by the teachings that were carried to my heart by the Spirit over the past weekend:

From Boyd K. Packer: The first responsibility of couples is to one another, then to their children. The bond between spouses is the primary bond in the family. "Family time is sacred time, and should be protected and respected."

From David S. Baxter, of the Quorum of the Seventy: Single parents will receive compensatory blessings to help them as they work to care for their children. There are no second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Those who are not single parents should look into their hearts, to discern what more we can do to support single-parent families without judgment.

From Henry B. Eyring: Love your spouse, and put your spouse's interests before your own. Enlist the entire family to love each other. Lead your family "in the Lord's way," when discipline is needed. (He clarified that the "Lord's way" is spelled out in D&C 121, through persuasion and love rather than through compulsion.) Salvation is a "family affair."

From Russell M. Nelson: The family is the most important social unit, in time and in eternity. [Family is important to us here and now, not just in some promised, unspecified eternal future beyond death!!] He spoke -- and this point I related to very personally and poignantly -- of how the "deepest longings of the human soul" are related to "the natural yearning for endless association with beloved members of one's family."

I can't imagine eternity holding any joy for me, without Göran there to share it with me.

From President Thomas S. Monson: Discern what is important and what is trivial, and focus on what is most important. Family, friends and the Gospel are what is most important!

From M. Russell Ballard: There is no genuine happiness separate and apart from the home. The greatest threats to the family are growing materialism, secularism, and the gap between rich and poor. The most important cause of our lifetime is our families. Put everything you do outside the home in subjection to what you do in the home. (Just as Elder Packer emphasized,) marriage comes first, then family. No career can bring as much fulfillment as rearing a family. [I couldn't help but feel this applies as much to men as to women, though he seemed to be directing his comment to women.] "The Church is the scaffolding with which we build eternal families." [In other words, the Church must never detract from our families, but is intended to help us nourish and build our families!]

From Larry Y. Wilson of the Quorum of the Seventy: In raising their children, parents must remember that any time we try to compel -- even if we are seeking to compel righteous behavior! -- we are acting unrighteously. We cannot force our children to do the right thing. Compulsion builds resentment. Constant criticism or the withholding of approval or love is contrary to the Lord's way of raising children. Compulsion will cripple our children morally, incite them to rebellion, and cause a loss of trust in God's love.

I couldn't help but wonder about the ways in which religious people are trying to "compel" righteousness or to withhold love or approval by passing laws and amendments to ban same-sex marriage. Are they behaving in a manner that will inspire people to want to come to the Church and seek God's love there?


There was an offhand, generalized comment or two about the ominous forces in "the world" that are trying to undermine the family. I couldn't help but wonder if some Church members listening to these comments might assume them to be referring to the efforts of gay families to fend off legislative attacks on our families, or to secure legal recognition and legal protections that will strengthen our families. Of course, extending the legal protections of marriage to gay and lesbian couples won't take anything away from or undermine heterosexual couples, and does not constitute an "attack" on the family in any sense of that word. I was grateful that, in the one instance where a General Authority (M. Russell Ballard) spelled out precisely what in "the world" is threatening families, he enumerated things that are a threat to all our families, gay and straight: materialism, loss of faith, and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Though D. Todd Christofferson's talk about "how our doctrine is established" did not speak directly to the challenges related to homosexuality and gay families, I couldn't help but wonder, as he discussed, by way of example, the manner in which the Church received revelation and doctrine about the place of the Gentiles in the plan of salvation. I was particularly moved by his quotation of Peter, speaking to the Council of Jerusalem, when he reminded the gathered leadership of the Church that, in pouring out his Spirit, "God put no difference between us (Jewish saints) and them (Gentiles)." He continued: "Why put a yoke on them which neither we nor they are able to bear?" Why indeed? No heterosexual Saint would willingly accept the yoke of life-long celibacy that the Church currently imposes on its gay Saints. I am praying for the time when the leaders of the Church will seek understanding and revelation about the situation of our Heavenly Father's gay children with the same urgency that Peter sought understanding and revelation about the status of Gentiles in his day.

In the meantime, the talk that hit closest to home for me, in relation to my family, was the talk I first mentioned by Boyd K. Packer. His talk reaffirmed the fundamental goodness of the basic human yearning for love. And I was deeply comforted by his reassurance that "in the eternal scheme of things, all righteous yearnings will be fulfilled."


Duck said...

I really enjoyed the conference sessions this past weekend. I also love the posts you have written thus far about conference and the things you have learned and felt.

As a side note: when I lived in Europe, while working for the Department of Defense, Elder Baxter was the Bishop in our neighboring ward. I met him on several occasions. He has a wonderful sense of humor, has a beautiful singing voice, is a good soul and loves the Savior. I am glad to see that he has survived his bout with brain cancer. And, I surely do love his Scottish brogue- it used to be much more pronounced. ;)

Happy night, John. Love and respect, always.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is simply amazing. I felt like I was reading my own Conference notes when I read this post! (Although I hadn't been nearly as thorough as you have been.) Would it be alright to you if I linked to this from my blog?

J G-W said...

Hey Duck! Thanks! Wow, cool story about Elder Baxter. One of the cool, amazing things about the Church is that it is a lay led organization, which means that those who are recruited as general authorities are people we know from our wards and stakes. A sister in my ward spent some time in Germany, and when President Uchtdorf read the list of new seventies who have just been called, she recognized one of them as someone she and her family had known personally.

Jonathan! Thanks! Absolutely, link to my blog from yours. It's on the Internet, which means anyone can link to it if they want!

I checked out your blog, and it looks really cool... I hope you don't mind if I've signed up as a "follower"!

Beck said...

I am always touched by the positive and uplifting applicable insights you receive from the Brethren where others see the opposite.

I was also touched by conference, especially a sub-theme of "grace" that seldom was addressed so directly. Particularly, was Elder Holland's talk where it hit me that our circumstances, needs, desires are all different, yet his grace is for ALL, including those who come ready to stand and work even at the eleventh hour, not because they weren't willing or ready at the beginning of the day, but were still there waiting at the end of the day... the thoughts of patient homosexuals, waiting at the last hour of the day, ready and willing to serve, receive ALL that the master has in the end...

J G-W said...

Thanks, Beck. Elder Holland's talk touched me in the same way. I'm actually working on another post about some of the other talks at conference. I think you are right -- this session there was a lot about grace, patience, faith, perseverance, and love that was really incredibly inspiring to me!

Anonymous said...

You know of course, that knowing these reviews are coming, I'm less likely to listen or later read conference talks! Law of unintended consequences at work here.

J G-W said...

Santorio: Ha! ha! Was it really that good? There's a lot of juicy stuff in these talks that I left out, though...!