This year (2020) I was invited to share my thoughts in Sunstone's "Why I Stay" plenary session for their co...
Family is at the center of Mormon theology. This is an aspect of our faith that I love. Human relationship and the power to heal and extend those relationships is at the heart of my faith and testimony. And family relationships are some of the most powerful relationships we have.
There are many forces in this world that help or harm families. Having and preserving happy and healthy family relationships is difficult and sometimes we can be our own worst enemies — no external forces necessary. In this effort, it can be important to identify dangers that can threaten the goals people have as a family or that would prevent society from supporting those goals.
However, there is sometimes an unhelpful reduction of threats to the family that I think causes us to miss a broader picture. Often the discussion is only ever tied to the topic of sex. While sexuality is an important part of spousal relationships in family and sexuality can negatively impact family, I think the overemphasis of sex in addressing strengthening families can cause us to miss out on the many, many things that make a family healthy or can destroy families.
In my personal experience, I’ve seen first-hand families broken apart or damaged by immigration laws, drugs, poverty, and yes infidelity and pornography. We so often talk about only the latter that we miss out on the affects these former forces have. And this is especially important as these former items align strongly with Christ’s explicit call for his disciples to reach out to the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46). In fact, Christ seems to be saying here that much of our evaluation as Christians will hinge on how we respond to these ills and that we cannot excuse ourselves from them — requiring our repenting of our sins. Christ took responsibility for evil even though He did not cause it. Can we see how we can take action and reach out to others even though (and especially when) we are not responsible for the evil we see? Do we see how our sins (individual or collective) harm families?
Families are eternal; immigrant abuse and exploitation is not.
Families are eternal; causes of drug abuse are not.
Families are eternal; poverty, hunger, and homelessness are not.
Families are eternal; neglecting our youth is not.
Families are eternal; lack of medical care is not.
Families are eternal; abuse of women and girls is not.
Families are eternal; ostracizing LGBTQ people is not.
Families are eternal; failing to reach out to orphans is not.
Families are eternal; our sins are not.
Now, I’m not saying that Mormonism doesn’t do anything with these. We most certainly do. And I’m not saying that things like sexuality or pornography can’t harm families — they certainly can. What I am saying is that I’d like to see our shared narrative expand and for us to make the explicit connection between how these broader, Christian mandates tie directly back to strengthening families. That we have powerful and divine doctrine from Christ which we can use with authority to address the sins which lead to things like poverty, immigrant abuse, drug abuse, hunger, homelessness, untreated illness, and imprisonment.
In Mormonism, we have “The Family Proclamation”. Can we see how these issues directly threaten families? Is this document used to provoke us to action in addressing these ills? If so, how? If not, why? If “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), as quoted in that document, how are we to support children caught up in these destructive forces? And when children do not have the gift of being “[reared]… in love and righteousness”, how are we to respond? Can we reach out as members of the human family and as God’s children as we see how doing so comes directly from the mandate to strengthen families? And do we see the “entitlement” children have to families as a mandate to address these situations by creating healthy family environments in whatever way we can?
Rather than a long essay on how these broader goals strengthen families, I’ve collected a series of documentary videos showing how these things have affected real families or the people who lack families. Many are advocating organizations and causes addressing these ills and I encourage you to look into those efforts. Do we see how addressing these tragedies strengthens families? And do we see how forging familial relationships towards others who may not have the blessing of family can be a balm of healing?
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
(warning, some of these videos are disturbing and may not be appropriate to view for young children)
Note: Unlike the other videos featured here, this one above is dramatized. But it by no means exaggerates the realities many foster children face.