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No Other Success Can Compensate for Failure in the Home. -David O. McKay
"It isn't easy being 26 and single in Happy Valley," wrote a young woman living in the Provo-Orem area in Utah. "One is considered an old maid at that point and I was getting awfully nervous about having potentially missed my prince charming!" She went on to tell how she met her future husband in a dance class at Brigham Young University. "The first time we danced together in class we had a blast and hit it off really well." The two considered dancing together in a competition and "ended up being partners for eternity." Since then there have been two college degrees and two children with more of both in the future. "Until then we will stay here and enjoy our cute house and all the time we get to be together as a family!" This brief biography, taken from a ward newsletter designed to introduce the family to the congregation, tells much about Latter-day Saint marriage. Although apparently confessional, the column is really a triumphant account of marital success. Beginning with the anxiety women feel as they grow "older"-middle twenties, in Mormon culture-without marrying, the vignette moves toward blossoming romance and proceeds toward marriage in an LDS temple, not just for a lifetime but forever. Families, the goal of all temple work, are important in this society. Marriage and parenthood, carrying on the eternal family chain, are thought to be essential for spiritual growth and sanctification. Church leaders would like to see all members secure in happy families, intensifying the pressure to marry. Young men and women alike feel like failures if they are not married by their late twenties.
When Steve Young was still single at thirty-four, he said he felt his great-great-great-grandfather Brigham Young was telling him to find a girl. "Do you wanna talk about the pressure I feel? Brigham Young once said, . . . that anyone over 27 years of age that's not married is a menace to society. So here 's my grandfather telling me to get with it. You don't think that I feel the pressure? I guarantee it." When Mormons do settle on an "eternal companion," they feel exhilaration. Marriage puts them on the road to happiness, stability, children, and future exaltation.
In many respects, the family, not the individual, is the unit of society in Mormon culture. Latter-day Saints see life after death as a continuation of life on earth. Those who have married in the temples will continue their families in the great hereafter. To create families worthy of maintaining, leaders promote loyalty and fidelity. Unlike the Abrahamic line, which produced descendants like unto the sands on the seashore but with a considerable amount of intra-family stress, the ideal contemporary LDS family is stable, happy, and fulfilled. Mormons aim toward a nuclear family of parents and children, with a stay-at-home mother, not unlike the traditional nineteenth-century family. They strive toward this ideal, as do many others in the greater culture, but in fact a large proportion of Mormon households fall short of this goal. Mormons are much like other American families, though there are some notable, if subtle, differences. In this chapter, three family styles will be considered: the ideal family, as seen in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the actual LDS family, as seen in statistical studies and in the comments of real people; and the "shadow family," the remains of the polygamous lifestyle abruptly discontinued a century ago.
The Church issued the proclamation on the family in 1995. Speaking to Church members as well as to the world, written in the solemn tones of Old Testament prophets, the proclamation lays out the ideal family style and warns against other options. Missing are the sentimental tones of the usual Mormon teachings about home; this is serious business. President Gordon B. Hinckley read the Proclamation aloud as part of his talk at a General Relief Society meeting on September 23, 1995. Speaking against family disintegration, same-sex marriage, and abortion, declaring gender to be an eternal characteristic, the policy is more conservative than anything found in the Scriptures. The document restates the desirability of eternal marriage, the equality of partners, and the need for loyalty and faithfulness.
This document and its emphasis on the stability of family life have led the Church into politics. The finances and the energies of Church members have been mobilized to fight the Equal Rights Amendment and same-sex marriages, to lobby the United Nations for family-friendly policies, and to fund various legislative battles. Some might question whether the Church, with its historical defense of polygamy against the law of the land, is the best champion of the nuclear family. That criticism highlights the importance of continuing revelation. The Church is able to free itself of historical precedent if change is revealed to the Prophet. The Church now backs conservative family values. Moreover, the principles in the recent statement reformulate values underlying Mormon family life even under polygamy.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
All human beings-male and female-are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.