Friday, July 24, 2009

Family Values

[a revised version of this post is at the exponent.]

I've had several conversations with individuals who continue to attend the LDS church, even though they may have serious doubts about the theological/doctrinal claims, because they like the church's emphasis on family.

It finally clicked for me (yeah, took me a while) that it was the church's particular emphasis and teachings on family that first cracked open my nice comfortable safe belief in the church.

To be specific;

I think the church's focus on gender rolls and the spiritual mandate to marry and have children are extraordinarily damaging to individuals who do not fit so nice and neatly within that lifestyle. Those who are single or childless are treated with tremendous pity, except if they are single or childless by choice, then they are the recipients of condemnation. Likewise, the church, ignoring it's own history with unconventional and controversial marriage practices, continues to promote homophobia as a way of propping up their "family values" claims (also trying to earn a place at the table of the Religious Right).

Even for those who fit nicely within the heterosexual nuclear family model, I find the church's practice of extending labor intensive callings to parents with young children a harmful tendency that particularly adds to the stress of the wives/mothers in the family. I'm remembering a conversation with a ward member who counted it as a mark of his faithfulness that he rarely had an evening that he could spend at home with his wife and kids. This remark of his was concerning a "less active" member who had stated his desire to spend evenings home with his family (selfish unenlightened man).

Particularly damaging is the teaching spread around (especially amongst the singles) that any two people can be compatible in marriage as long as they have a firm testimony of the Gospel. This rhetoric is stultifying (intentionally I'm sure) to any sort of spiritual questing/questioning as partners risks being legally and financially tied to someone with whom the only things they have in common are a bunch of children and a hefty mortgage. (Likewise, I think the imperative to not put off childbearing is an intentional step to lock couples into a situation in which it is harder and harder to get out of. Especially considering how many very very young kids at LDS collages get married within months or even weeks of knowing each other.)

And that's just the stuff off the top of my head at this moment.

So, yeah. I think the church's record on Family Values suck.

Granted, there is much about the culture and teachings that encourage strong family bonds and togetherness, but these things are not at all particular to the Church. (of course, neither is a lot of the aforementioned damaging stuff.)

Now, having said all that, if individuals (thinking here particularly of the ones I have had conversations with) find participating in the church is a good thing for their family, more power to them. And I wish them well. There are a lot worse things you could do.

(I'll do a more family-positive post later, one about how my DH and I got down on our hands and knees together to scrub each tile in our kitchen floor by hand. Whoa, that was fun!)


Lessie said...

Great post, G. The points you've outlined in your post are the things that still get me upset when I think about the church. I've gone into my own diatribes on the subject with you in private. So I won't take up the comment space, but thanks for voicing these concerns.

amelia said...

this really rings true for me, G. especially the part about how damaging the church's family and marriage rhetoric is to people who don't fit into the norm. i struggle with that more than i would like. i really wish that somehow we could get away from prescribing behaviors and roles and actions to teaching correct principles and letting people govern themselves (wow what a radical concept that is). getting married is not a principle; it's an action. having children is not a principle; it's an action. kindness and love and compassion are principles. and i think that if people govern their lives based on these principles they'll make wise choices, when the opportunity arises, about the actions they take.

adamf said...

Ah, where to start. First, I agree with a lot of your points.

I wonder where the balance is between teaching something on one hand, but not making people feel forced to fit their square into a round hole, so to speak.

"any two people can be compatible in marriage as long as they have a firm testimony of the Gospel"
I disagree with this in ALL kinds of ways. First, this false notion of "compatibility" - what does it mean even? What couples have in common (if that is part of it) is actually not that important. Safe emotional connection is WAY more important. Secondly, how does having any kind of conviction/testimony to the church or gospel or anything else for that matter really help when both partners are caught up in all kinds of negative cycles and issues that they both contribute to, certainly not because they are "unfaithful" to any gospel, or are lacking a testimony. If people would start actually living the gospel in their families, there really would be a lot less selfishness, a lot more willingness to share underlying feelings, and a LOT more refusals to spend all this time away from their families in the evenings. Boundaries people!

If I'm ever in a leadership position (don't know if I will be now I've been in Sunstone twice, lol), all the meetings will be done standing up, in 10-15 minutes.

All the extra church stuff is, imho, supposed to be for those who don't get enough support at home, not to take everything away from those who do.

And I'm glad I could do a lot worse! ;)

Lessie said...

Adam, I'm just curious if you use Emotionally Focused Therapy? Some of the things you're talking about sound similar to what my ex-husband and I used when we were going to marriage counseling.

adamf said...

Ha! Yeah, I started learning EFT in January. My wife and I also had about 15 sessions that started November of last year and and just finished (we're moving, or else we would have probably done 4-5 more). It has been quite intense, but we are really glad we took the plunge to do it. I know there is no magic pill for marriages, but if I think EFT is one of the best approaches, if done by someone who knows what they're doing.

Lessie said...

Hehe. In all fairness, our counselor was fantastic. Obviously there were a lot more issues that went into my decision to leave than just that the therapy was bad. I actually learned a lot about relationships in general from EFT, and I try to use the principles in the way I deal with my kids, friends, etc. and even in the way I deal with my ex. Not that I don't still lose it sometimes, or get accusatory with people, but I'm usually able to identify a source now and also be more open minded about what may have caused their blow-up as well.

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galendara (G) said...

thanks guys for your comments, sorry I haven't responded sooner (life gets that way)

I'm actually planning on posting a version of this over at the exponent so I appreciate your input.

(and that version won't have any snarky comment's about how "you could do worse", /wink wink at adamf :)

adamf said...

Lol - the snarky comments keep me awake. :)

Lessie - I'm glad it was a good experience. Now that I'm in the field I always love when the therapist was competent, and cringe when they are awful. I am glad there were things that helped beyond your former relationship.

galendara (G) said...
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galendara (G) said...

update, a revision of this post is now at the exponent

The Misanthropic Mormon said...

yep. i don't like the theology and i don't like the ostensible family values.