The Latter-day Saint Church News recently stated this:
The Church cannot be strong if a majority of its leaders and members come from weak families, said President Dallin H. Oaks on Aug. 24.
“Conversely, if most of the families in a ward or stake are strong, the ward or stake will also be strong,” he said. “The same is true of the Church.”
I understand where this sentiment is coming from—the building blocks of the kingdom must be built strongly. The building block of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is family, and to the Church, a strong family is defined as a father and mother righteously leading children in attending church and living the gospel.
I, technically, come from a “weak” family, according to this definition. I was raised by a single mom. My parents were divorced from the time I was very young.
Being a male, I was groomed for leadership positions throughout growing up in the Church. I was told “One day, you will be a bishop. One day, you will be a leader in this church.”
But I was also told that a complete family was one with a mother and a father. It wasn’t my family. My family was a weak family.
With the logic that Mr. Oaks lays out—the Church cannot be strong if a majority of its leaders and members come from weak families—where do I fit in? Because I come from a “weak” family, am I weakening the Church by participating as a member or in the leadership?
The answer to that question doesn’t completely matter for this exercise of thought. What matters is that I thought these questions. I thought it every time I was told “You’ll be a good leader” and then in the same chair, just on a different Sunday, I was taught that the proper family—the strong family—is one with a mother and a father. And then, I was taught that strong families are what make up a good Church and that I should strive to create a family with a mother, a father, and children—even though my own foundation is not of that “strong” family.
It’s a cyclical thought pattern that demeans my experience and what I have to contribute to the community. Is it Mr. Oaks’s fault that I’m thinking these things? Do I think that he feels that I wouldn’t be a valuable contribution to the membership and leadership of the Church? No, I can’t know for certain what Mr. Oaks believes or what he wants. But, what I do know is that his words do have ripple effects to them—ripple effects that if we don’t talk about them, then they’ll never be seen.
Teaching that a “strong” family is one that has a father and a mother at the front, and considering families that don’t have that as “weak,” is very detrimental to people who are on the weak side of this binary. It’s not fun, nor is it enjoyable, to attend a church where each Sunday you’re told your family situation is “special,” “not the norm,” and “weak.” It is definitely not an enjoyable situation to have your teenage mind turned to this one line—”Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”—to encompass your entire family experience when you ask the question “But what about my experience?” It’s rather harmful to a child’s psyche to consistently be told that his family doesn’t fit the perfect ideal that God has set up.
Please be careful how you teach the idea of family because each family—even the “strong” families—are unique and cannot be encompassed in a single document. Rather than proselytizing the ideal, celebrate unique situations and make your church surroundings a place that can nurture any type of family.