What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
In an October 1995 General Relief Society meeting, President Gordon B. Hinckley rose to the podium to deliver his remarks to the assembled women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This address proved to be historic, standing out from prior and succeeding ones because this was when The Family: A Proclamation to the World was delivered.
Prior to reading this proclamation, President Hinckley explained its purpose:
With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history.
The proclamation was then read for the first time, offering the world a concise, bold, and unapologetic declaration of the principles and beliefs relative to marriage and family that God wishes his children to embrace. There is much worth pondering and implementing in the proclamation, and those of any faith (or no faith) would benefit from considering its counsel.
After listing a number of family-related doctrines, the proclamation concludes with the following:
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
Naturally, this open invitation has produced a wide variety of interpretations. Which kinds of measures, exactly, are designed to strengthen the family? How does one even strengthen a family? And are these measures specific to government only, or are they more societal in nature?
Though many Latter-day Saints have differing thoughts on these questions, a sort of consensus has emerged since 1995 in light of the Church’s involvement in legal battles relating to same-sex marriage. This interpretation suggests that a government-sanctioned definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman is one such “measure” referred to by the proclamation—and perhaps one of singular importance above other possible measures. Thus, as the argument goes, if one is to abide by the proclamation’s doctrines one must also fight to ensure that the government honor and enforce this marital definition.
Assuming that the “measures” being referred to by the proclamation are government-oriented, I believe that narrowing their focus to a battle over defining marriage is problematic, for there are many other government programs and policies already implemented which attack and weaken the family. In light of these very real threats to the family, worrying about semantics seems silly.
So what am I talking about?
Consider the case of Sweden—a striking example of how socialism affects the family unit. Sky-high taxes, massive social welfare spending, entitlements galore, a criminalization of homeschooling, and a variety of institutional programs to get kids into state care and mothers into the workforce combine to create a society in which the state is an intimate provider, partner, and caretaker from cradle to grave.
My wife lived in Sweden while serving a mission for the LDS Church. During that time she encountered one family—one—where the mother stayed home to focus on raising the children and creating a warm, loving home. The uniqueness of this encounter suggests how successful the institutional efforts have become in Sweden to pull mothers away from the home, collect the children into the care of the state throughout the day, and break apart the natural ties between parents and children.
Considering the status of the family in such a socialist state helps us understand why the conventional interpretation of the proclamation’s concluding paragraph—that promoting measures to strengthen the family means fighting same-sex marriage—is horribly short-sighted.
And by no means is this nation exempt. Sweden may be further down the socialist path than the United States of America, but this government has pedaled us rapidly in the same direction in past decades. It may be instructive, then, to consider a few programs and policies in this country which have a similar effect.
The war on drugs is an easy example of policies which hurt the family. This nation’s prisons are chock-full of non-violent “drug offenders”—people placed in a cage for consuming, selling, or possessing a substance prohibited by the state. Tearing fathers away from their wives and children leads to an increase in welfare dependence and a rise in child delinquency. And the war on drugs doesn’t just target the men; there are now over eight times as many women incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails as there were in 1980. As noted by a recent study on the impact of drug laws on families and women specifically, between 1986 and 1999, the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug related offenses increased by 888%.
On January 4, 2008, police officers in Lima, Ohio, executed a SWAT raid to arrest Anthony Terry for allegedly dealing drugs. The drug warriors opened fire after entering the home, killing Terry’s unarmed girlfriend and mother of six, Tarika Wilson, and wounding her fourteen-month-old son, who was in her arms. The former SWAT commander for the police department stated on record, in commenting on the incident, that “it’s not unusual for children to be inside homes raided by police officers.” In far too many cases, innocent children, spouses, relatives, or visitors have been arrested, injured, or in many cases killed while police officers were waging their war on drugs. These examples are not isolated incidents but frequent occurrences as part of the “war.” One estimate suggests that these types of raids occur around 40,000 times per year in America—over 100 times per day.
Whether causing psychological trauma in a raid, locking up the family’s breadwinner in a cage, or killing one or more members of the family, the war on drugs is a war on the family. Promoting measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family should therefore include significantly scaling back, if not altogether eliminating, this frontal assault on families nationwide.
The so-called war on poverty produces, unsurprisingly, a similar result. Social welfare programs provided by government break apart family cohesion, suppress fertility rates, encourage bearing children out of wedlock, incentivize fatherlessness, and promote multi-generational dependency upon the state rather than among members of the family unit.
In the words of John Goodman, president of the National Center for Political Analysis, “The USA’s welfare system is a disaster. It is creating poverty, not destroying it. It subsidizes divorce, unwed teenage pregnancy, the abandonment of elderly parents by their children, and the wholesale dissolution of the family. The reason? We pay people to be poor.”
There are hundreds of other government programs and policies which likewise undermine the strength and solidarity of the family unit. The Federal Reserve’s artificial manipulation of the economy causes untold economic hardship, adding stress and strain to fragile family ties. The makeup of families are altered, and fornication encouraged, through a legal system which condones the termination of the lives of unwanted, unborn children. High taxation and onerous regulations on small businesses leads both parents into the workforce in pursuit of a decent standard of living, leaving the children in the care of state institutions or other non-family persons. Subsidies and bailouts to certain businesses and industries put many people out of business, and often raise everybody else’s prices along the way, leading to a diminished standard of living, dependence on government, and further financial strain on working families.
But for all these pseudo wars against drugs, poverty, and other societal problems, it cannot be emphasized enough that the worst attack by government on the family is war itself.
Prematurely sending soldiers to their unnecessary death, starving hundreds of thousands of innocent people through sanctions, incarcerating innocent people without due process thus preventing them from supporting their family, and shooting at and bombing innocent people all combine to produce one of the most blatant and tangible effects of government undermining the strength of families. Promoting measures to maintain the family implies promoting measures which maintain not just the theoretical conception of the family, but actual families—and not breaking them up through suffering, separation, and death. To maintain and strengthen the family, then, we must oppose war and promote peace.
All that being said, it’s important to note that the proclamation does not narrow its call for “promoting measures” to government measures. In other words, encouraging devotion to the doctrines of marriage and family is not and should not be limited to legislation. We believe in persuading others to embrace the gospel, but do not believe in imposing our tenets upon others at the gunpoint of government. Similarly, the standards contained in the proclamation merit our consideration and support, but it does not therefore follow that we should support laws that mandate that men and women marry, have kids, and nurture them. The proclamation’s ideals should be encouraged, not enforced.
This means that media campaigns, individual advocacy, educational programs, events, and other marketing initiatives should be explored to encourage these ideals. We should not be so unimaginative as to interpret the proclamation’s call for “measures” only to mean government measures, let alone only fighting same-sex marriage at the ballot box and in the courts. To the extent that Latter-day Saints continue to embrace this narrow conclusion regarding the proclamation’s call to arms, then we will lose the fight to defend the family.
The state is intervening in family affairs from multiple angles and with a variety of weapons. Fighting same-sex marriage through government as a way of fulfilling the proclamation’s invitation is like attempting to ward off this multi-faceted attack with a single shield pointed in one direction. It’s time we Mormons develop a better strategy for countering the state’s offensive attacks against our families.