Church and Family

After a flurry of posts related to the new edition of the CHI (now titled Handbook 1 and Handbook 2), the Bloggernacle has fallen silent. (The Salt Lake Tribune has followed up with a helpful article.) One of the new features of Handbook 2 (“H2”) highlighted in the worldwide training broadcast is the three introductory chapters that provide a foundational and doctrinal context for the guidance given in the balance of the book. I am going to note a few statements given in the four pages of Chapter 1, “Families and the Church in God’s Plan,” with short comments following each statement. The bold titles are my own; all quotes are from H2.

1. The Family and Gender Essentialism. The family “is the most important unit in time and in eternity.” Families are “central to God’s plan.” “The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other.”

While many of the statements in H2 contain scriptural citations, these particular statements do not, perhaps because scriptural statements on the family are not as sweeping as those in H2. Consider Matt. 12:46-50, in which the mother and siblings of Jesus came to speak with him, but he responded by telling the crowd, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” So if we do the will of God, we’re all family. Even more suprising is that the seven-paragraph discussion headed “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” contained within Chapter 1 never mentions the family. It notes “the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and all the laws, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel” and it enumerates the familiar First Principles (faith, repentence, baptism, confirmation, and enduring to the end). It summarizes, “We will be judged according to our actions, the desires of our hearts, and the kind of people we have become.” So scriptures and discussion stressing individual judgment and salvation are planted right in the middle of the section arguing the centrality of the family in the plan of salvation.

The reference to the nature of male and female spirits is tough to place. I think that’s just a poetic or elliptical way of saying that the nature of men and women is such that they complete each other. That view seems to reflect the statements in the Proclamation that men are presiders and women are nurturers. There is, of course, a discussion to be had whether the gender roles assigned by the Proclamation (or established by social tradition) are rooted in the different nature of men and women (or even of male and female spirits), or whether the talk about the different nature of men and women is a reflection of the roles assigned by the Proclamation or by society.

2. Requirement or Blessing? “Eternal life” is defined as “exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.” “Exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom can be attainly only by those who have faithfully lived the gospel of Jesus Christ and are sealed as eternal companions.”

Both elements are required, it seems: (1) faithfully living the gospel of Jesus Christ; and (2) being sealed to an eternal companion. But it turns out that if you fulfill the first requirement, the second requirement is waived if not satisfied: “Faithful members whose circumstances do not allow them to receive the blessing of eternal marriage and parenthood in this life will receive all promised blessings in the eternities, provided they keep the covenants they have made with God.” So H2 actually describes eternal marriage as a blessing, not a requirement. The only requirement for exaltation is to faithfully live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Too Little Time. The final section of Chapter 1 contains some counsel regarding the tension between family responsibilities and church duties. “Church organizations and programs exist to bless individuals and familes and are not ends in themselves.” And this: “Church leaders need to be careful not to overwhelm families with too many Church responsibilities.”

It is nice to see this counsel expressed directly. This helps prevent some people from inadvertently treating programs (or, more likely, their favorite program) as ends in themselves and helps avoid overburdening those individuals or families who are so willing to serve that they end up getting burned out. It is *not* better to burn out than to fade away (aka enduring to the end). It is a pleasant surprise to see correlated official guidance come down on the side of families in the battle between home and church over the few weeknight and weekend hours that you’re not working or sleeping.

Conclusion. It is, of course, fun to talk about doctrine and speculate on the nature of male and female spirits (I’m guessing that even after a billion premortal years together, they still don’t understand each other). However, H2 is a handbook for administering the church, not for splitting doctrinal hairs. Consequently, the practical counsel noted in item 3 above — that programs are for people, not the other way around, and that families should not be overwhelmed — will likely be the statements in Chapter 1 that will make an actual improvement for Latter-day Saints by changing how things are done in some wards and stakes.

26 comments for “Church and Family

  1. It’s great that the church is specifically spelling these things out. A lot of people have very different ideas of how the church should be run.

  2. Even more suprising is that the seven-paragraph discussion headed “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” contained within Chapter 1 never mentions the family.

    Not surprising at all. In two consecutive conference talks, Elder Nelson tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to introduce a catch phrase to help people understand why. Here’s his second attempt from the October 2008 conference: “While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter.”

    Mormons tend to think of the Gospel as encompassing everything that is true, and some GAs have used the term that way. But the scriptures generally and the temple ceremony in particular do not–they, like the Handbook, use it to refer to the principles and ordinances that lead to individual salvation. The family (of which there will only be one after all the sealing work is done) kicks in when we turn to the concept of exaltation.

    So H2 actually describes eternal marriage as a blessing, not a requirement.

    I think you’ve drawn a false dichotomy between requirements and blessings. My understanding is that those who have no opportunity in this life to marry will have the opportunity in the next life (a blessing), but they still have to avail themselves of the opportunity (a requirement for exaltation). The requirement does not go away; it is simply displaced in time.

  3. #2 LL — On your latter point, I think you have it just right.

    In the OP final point — I suspect that there will be little change in programs, but perhaps families will feel more freedom to decline to participate from time to time. Of course this is not new — I vaguely remember a general conference talk years ago when one of the brethren (was it Elder Faust??) suggested he would not participate in certain ward activities because they took away too much family time.

  4. The only requirement for exaltation is to faithfully live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Your conclusion in Point 2 is unwarranted. The wording of H2 does not suggest that anyone will not need to be sealed to an eternal companion in the future, or that exaltation can be obtained as a solitary individual. The opportunity to make covenants is a blessing in itself; if the blessing of an eternal sealing cannot occur in mortal life, it, like all other temple covenants, is available in the next life. Nothing in this paragraph excuses anyone from making those covenants at some point, even if that point comes after mortality.

    In any case, trying to wrench complex doctrine out of what is basically a how-to administrative guide is unwarranted.

  5. Since much of the handbook contents push more and more decisions about local administration to local leaders, I expect that there will be continued disagreement over “how things should be run”.

  6. I’m confused. How does the point about marrying in the next life (or having marriage be waived) synch up with Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-19? Specifically, in v. 16, it says when they are out of this life, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.

  7. #7 Ginger — those verses seem to refer to those who marry in this life, and had the option of a temple sealing, but did not choose it. That would exclude those who had no opportunity to be sealed in this life (such as those who died with no knowledge of the church or those in the church who had no opportunity to marry), consistent with the passage quoted in #2 of the OP.

  8. 9: Opportunity would be consistent with the section of the handbook quoted in the OP: “Faithful members whose circumstances do not allow them to receive the blessing of eternal marriage and parenthood in this life will receive all promised blessings in the eternities, provided they keep the covenants they have made with God.” If one’s circumstances did not allow him or her to receive the blessing of eternal marriage in this life, I would equate that with his or her not having the opportunity for the same.

  9. Paul:

    That’s still a bunch of nonsense. Without providing content to the term “opportunity” Dave’s original statements seem to stand.

  10. For your explanations to make any sense you need to define “opportunity”.

    That’s a trap I’m not going to fall into. But I am willing to make three (admittedly speculative) assertions about the afterlife that should help clarify my position:

    1. Everyone will mature to marriagable age;
    2. Any physical characteristics that deter marriage in this life will be corrected;
    3. The pool of potential mates will be vast, information about them will be readily accessible, and interaction with them will be easy.

    Of course, a Moonie-style arranged match would also be consistent with the handbook quote, but that’s not how I see it happening.

  11. #11 — I don’t get your question. I’m not trying to be difficult. But if your question is: “What does it mean not to have the opportunity to receive the blessings of eternal marriage in this life?”, I think I’ve answered that. If your question is, “What does it mean to have the opportunity for those blessings in the next life?”, I think LL has taken a stab at that.

    In the end, the one who will judge whether we’ve had the opportunity and not taken advantage of it will be the Lord, certainly not me. And therefore, I assume that people who make decisions about who and where to marry who also make that choice prayerfully will be consistent with His will and judgement. (I assume Book 1 still states clearly that questions of whom to marry rest solely with the individual.)

    I’m coming back to Ardis’ point by now: trying to parse doctrine out of the “how to” manual is straining just a bit. But the principle as I’ve been taught is this: Exaltation in the highest degree in the Celestial Kingdom requires living a Christlike life AND the sealing ordinance. If one cannot enjoy the blessings of that ordinance in this life, one will be able to do so in the next.

    I’ve assumed that to mean what LL described in #2 above, but I suppose I could be wrong.

    There’s a second point to be made: if the OP is to suggest that exaltation somewhere else in the Celestial Kingdom is possible without the sealing ordinance, I suppose that may also be true based on what the OP quotes. Frankly I haven’t given that much thought.

  12. I think the point of the original post was not that you can be exalted without being sealed, but that sealing will eventually be the inevitable result (blessing) of living a Christlike life, so it’s redundant to include it as an additional step.

  13. Thanks for the comments, everyone. My reading of the marriage requirement for exaltation follows the form of the argument, not any particular vote for or against marriage. If a requirement does not serve to exclude anyone from participating (in exaltation), then it is not really a requirement. It’s the substance, not the label, that tells us what is really going on.

    Perhaps it would be clearer if we added an additional non-requirement that doesn’t carry the emotional baggage of eternal marriage. How about a requirement that you need to be wearing a new pair of shoes to enter the highest level of the celestial kingdom upon resurrection? Those who have carefully planned or who have helpful relatives and are lucky enough to be interred with a new pair of shoes are in; others will have to settle for a used-shoe or no-shoe kingdom. That seems a little unfair, but fortunately there is a broad exception to the requirement: Faithful members whose circumstances do not allow them to be buried with a new pair of shoes in this life will receive one in the next life, provided they keep the covenants they have made with God. So despite all the ad hoc arguments one has heard (under this hypothetical scenario) at Institute or Sunday School about how important it is to enter the kingdom of God with shoes clean and pure, no one who has otherwise lived in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ will be excluded because of their footwear.

  14. but that sealing will eventually be the inevitable result (blessing) of living a Christlike life

    First, if Christ wasn’t married himself, that statement is just wrong. I personally believe he was, but there is plenty of room to believe otherwise.

    And it is presumptuous to assume that the result is inevitable. To take Dave’s analogy one step further, even if there are new shoes waiting for you at the gates of the highest degree of the CK, some people might just decide their old (but spotlessly clean) ones are too comfortable to trade it.

  15. LL 16 He was a God before he was married anyway wasn’t he, so is it a requirement for Godhood? But then he was a God before he was mortal.

    Dave 15. Been thinking about this recently and thing we will all be naked there. no shoes reqd.

    As for the opprtunity question I have a daughter who is now too old to be a YSA who has never been asked out on a date, is endowed, is reasonably attractive, but not very feminine, she is a bomb technician for our federal police (like FBI). We have come to accept that if she marries in this life it will be a bonus.

    Perhaps if she had a less threatening job, was more cheer leaderish etc she might be more attractive to LDS males. Whose responsibility is it?

    Another comment on the CHI. My wife is Visiting teaching Leader and now all VT assignments have to be approved by Bishop – didn’t need to be before. Thought there was to be less work for Bishop. There are changes nearly every week with people moving in and out of our ward, and the Bishop can take months to approve things…could be a problem.

  16. 15: Still trying to sort out your logic.

    I have been consistently taught (by visting GA’s at stake conferences) that there are five “saving” ordinances: Baptism, Confirmation, Priesthood Ordination (for men), Endowment, Sealing.

    Frame the discussion how you like, but it seems that’s pretty standard teaching in the church.

    That there is a plan for those who do not enjoy those blessings in this life does not negate the need for us to participate in those ordinances at some time in our eternal sojourn.

  17. Dave, regarding your #3, Too Little Time. BKP has given more than one eloquent talk about this, other authorities have mentioned it in general conference, but as long as change is expected to somehow magically appear among the lowest ranks of the church I have no expectation that including this boilerplate in the CHI will change anything.

    If the brethren are truly concerned about this, and I think they should be, they must lead by example. If President Monson announced that stake priesthood meetings or stake leadership meetings were being eliminated or that the high council would only meet every other week from now on or that ward conferences would now just be a Sunday when the stake presidency meets with a ward in all of its meetings the members would know they are serious.

    This is on my mind today because mission creep, with its increased demands on members, is alive and well in my stake despite the new CHI. For many years we organized youth temple trips for baptisms as a ward. As a ward we determined when to go and how often to do it. A few years ago the stake determined that they would start assigning wards to go on specific days and these usually were on Friday nights or Saturdays. Now they have decided, in the spirit of local correlation I guess, that we should combine stake temple night and youth baptisms. Our temple night is Thursday, they want the youth in the baptistry by 4:30 pm. Try to get anywhere on LA freeways at 4:30 pm, let alone driving to West LA. This means that my 15 year old son left home this morning for early morning seminary at 5:45 am. He will go directly from school to the temple and won’t return home until around 8:30 pm tonight. Then he gets to sit down and do his homework before he goes to bed to get enough sleep in order to get up again tomorrow morning for seminary.

    “Church leaders need to be careful not to overwhelm families with too many Church responsibilities.” Really? How is my son’s schedule today fitting in to that?

  18. KLC, amazing! (I would wonder how this works anyway — who babysits when the youth are at the temple and their parents are, too???) Seems like someone in a council either didn’t ask the right questions or didn’t listen to the answers.

    Of course, #3 above give you the out to say, “Too much for my family, sorry; we’ll go on our own…”

  19. Paul, you’re right, it creates more problems than it solves. And I would readily pull the CHI trump card but my wife is the YW president who is pulling her hair out trying to arrange everything. And of course they launch a pre-emptive guilt strike by announcing the assignment and then saying, “We know this will be a challenge but we also know that you, your child and your family will be blessed by serving in the temple…” Like I said, if the brethren really are serious about this the leadership and change needs to come from the top.

  20. Fair points. I know in our small temple the baptismal appointments are assigned by the temple a year in advance, reserving the coveted Saturday slots for wards far from the temple and giving the mid-week ones to those of us who are within an hour’s drive. I can imagine it’s only more complicated in a larger temple district with more members to serve (and more traffic headaches to cope with).

  21. Dave,
    marriage is just a little bit more of a commitment than is putting on a pair of shoes. It’s fair to treat your new-shoes requirement as a practical nullity if new shoes are provided to all, since putting on new shoes doesn’t entail much of anything. Marriage, on the other hand, entails quite a lot.
    Also, its a bit odd to debate whether marriage is a requirement for the blessings of exaltation. Its like debating whether being in the US military is a requirement for the blessing of being in the American armed forces.

  22. KLC,

    our ward has contemplated joining ward temple night and our ward youth temple trip, on the theory that we’d get better attendance at both that way. In the end, we just decided to reduce them from bimonthly to quarterly and so far that has served.

    I’m all for the push to eliminate meetings and, shoot, even callings. Does their even need to be a stake YM and YW presidency, for example? Call a stake youth conference director and call it good. I would caution, however, that we not assume that one completely booked day is ipso facto proof of overscheduling. Laboring in the vineyard is labor. There is not, and should not be, a way around that.

  23. Adam, you’re right about some stake callings and you’re right about your caution. I used that as an example because under the old regime where our local ward was tasked with this activity the ward council would have heard an earful from more than one parent if they had tried to schedule baptisms this way. It seems more and more common in my ward and stake to receive ever increasing and ever more detailed marching orders from higher up in the hierarchy instead of letting them happen on the local level.

  24. LL,

    Yes, it could be wrong, and it could be presumptuous to assume that marriage is the inevitable result of faithful gospel living.

    My point was not that that statement is correct, but that the point of the original post was that that is how the doctrinal teachings in the new handbook lay it out.

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