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Do Mormons worship the family?

"Mormons need to stop acting as if family is the only way to God," says guest blogger Mette Harrison. And if we're going to defend the family, we need to defend *all* kinds of families.

Mette Ivie Harrison
Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

A woman in my ward growing up gave a lesson one Sunday about how Mormons needed to repent because we tended to worship the family more than God.

She argued that when we talked about what was right to do on Sunday, we shouldn’t think about “family activities” at all. We should do things that showed our love of, and awe in, God. To her, that meant reading scriptures and praying a lot, with a possible side dish of watching church videos or having doctrinal discussions.

I have thought since then about what she said, and wonder if it’s true that Mormons worship the family.

  • Mormons believe that in order to get into the highest level of celestial kingdom, we must be married.
  • We believe that we will continue to have children into the eternities.
  • We are sealed together in family units, though what that will mean when we get to heaven and our children have their own family units sealed to them, I don’t really understand.
  • And in recent General Conference talks, there has certainly been a heavy emphasis on supporting “real” families (whatever those are) from attacks on all sides.

So on some level, this woman was right. Mormons do worship the family. That is, we regard the family as an order of heaven. Mormons talk about the family home as a kind of temple, and we will dedicate our family homes with actual prayer and a ritual blessing to protect it from evil spirits, bad influences, and (some even believe), floods or other natural disasters. We sometimes make people who do not have families attending church with them feel like they don’t belong. We talk less about individual salvation and more about how to make sure that there are no “empty chairs” in the temple. Instead of preaching free will for our descendants, we talk about how to make sure they always “choose the right,” hoping to cut off their options rather than expanding them.

I love my husband and children. I love the doctrine that tells me that in some way I will always be connected to them (though I can’t imagine that not being true, after having shared lives for so long). I love Family Home Evenings (after an initial struggle) and I know that my kids love them, too, because they are upset if we miss a week. I love our family talks on the couch, and snuggles on a now-too-small king-size bed. I love getting together as a family to do service, to compete in races, and to eat. I believe that being a parent has taught me a lot about life, eternity, and God.

But Mormons need to stop acting as if family is the only way to God. Being a parent isn’t the only way to learn the lessons that I’ve learned and value in my own development as a person. Family relationships are not the only important kinds of relationships. Many people have families that aren’t part of the church, or they don’t have families of their own. None of these people should be made to feel that Mormonism is not for them, that they are less a part of God’s family, or that the lessons in church on Sunday don’t speak to them.

As a people, we need to be mindful of what we say to single people, divorced people, and those in difficult family situations. Talking about eternal families to those who have been touched by sexual abuse is problematic at best. The “Families are Forever” theme in Primary can sound to some like a punishment rather than a blessing and to others like a mockery they have no control over. Do we want people to marry at any cost, no matter what the circumstances? Surely not. And when less than “perfect,” nuclear families exist, we need to work harder at inclusion. Yes, having another father offer to take boys on a scout trip or a father/son outing is one way this is done well. Having priesthood holders visit the homes of single women or women married outside the church is another way.

But we can do better and we can do more. We need to think more carefully about class and race issues surrounding the family unit. Instead of pressing the “eternal families” mantra, perhaps we can work harder to talk about wage inequality, childcare issues, and healthcare for all.

Our idea of the “family” needs to be more inclusive. When we talk about defending the family, we need to defend families of all kinds. We need to be less condescending to women and men who have not married or who do not have children. We can be more open to learning from them and their life lessons. We can call them to a wider variety of positions.

And we can remember that we don’t actually worship the family, despite appearances. It is just one (very good) way to feel God’s love and to find our way back to Him.

Mette Harrison is the bestselling author of The Bishop’s Wife and other novels. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post.