Tag Archives: marriage

Mormons dating heathens

I listen to a podcast called Catholic Stuff You Should Know (because I am a closet Catholic wannabe), and at the end of the podcast during their email section, a Catholic dating a Jewish girl asked, “Am I allowed to date outside the faith?”

I perked up to listen. Inter-religious dating and marriage is such a touchy subject in the LDS Church, so I wanted to hear the Catholic perspective. The answer they gave shocked me.

Absolutely, they said, absolutely you are allowed to date outside of the faith. You need to understand that God put this girl in your life for a reason, and you need to explore that reason, one of the hosts said. The other, about to become a priest in a few days, also said that they should seek out activities they can do together; for example, one cultural crossroad is reading the Old Testament together. Try to pray together to the best of your ability. Because Catholics see Jesus as a fulfillment of Judaism, there’s a lot of history and commonality together, so you should take advantage of the opportunity to explore Judaism and learn more about your own faith at the same time.

Of course, it’s all not unicorns and rainbows. They also told the young couple to really talk seriously about marriage and what they would do if they did tie the knot. What religion would they raise their future children in? Are they okay with the other not attending religious services with them? Understand, they warned, that there will eventually be divisive cultural issues between the two of you that you will have to work through if you want to be with this woman, but it can be done, if you work hard.

And lest you think these are a bunch of liberal hippy Catholics (they’re not), immediately, they root their advice in scripture. The first thing you need to do, one of them said, is read the story of Ruth.

This, I admit, shocked me quite a bit. Mormons are incredibly insular, and dating is no exception. We warn against dating outside of the faith, and that if you get married outside of the temple, woe, woe, woe be unto you! You will probably get boils and your husband will probably get leprosy, and don’t be surprised if your kids turn against you and try to raise up an army to overthrow your kingdom or something. Seriously, some of those warnings can be that dire.

Catholics want Catholics to marry each other, and they want Catholics to get married under the Catholic tradition, of course. Marriage for Catholics, just like for us, is an essential sacrament. On top of that, they don’t believe in second chances after this world, like we do with the spirit world. So why the liberal attitude?

If any religion were to be open to inter-religious dating, you would think it would be ours. We believe that one can receive essential sacraments after this life (that’s what half of the temple is all about). We believe that we believe in anything that is good, lovely, virtuous, or praiseworthy, even if it’s outside of the faith. So why are we so terrified of our kids dating outside of the faith?

I can think of two reasons.

The first reason, we can’t really help right now. We’re a small demographic. We just are. There are only 12 million of us in the world, in a world of 5 billion people. We literally make up 0.24% of the world. That’s not a lot. Because of this, we’re constantly in self-preservation mode — if we let too many of our numbers get diluted, we stand a good chance of disappearing forever.

The second one is a little more disappointing. We’re incredibly, totally, wholly insecure about our religion and beliefs. We don’t really believe in its power.

I had an experience on my mission that changed my life forever. I was talking to a colleague of mine about how I was afraid to talk to people about my faith because they might tear it apart. It’s a legitimate concern every missionary has, an existential terror we carry with us every time we knock on a door. He thought for a minute and asked, “Do you really believe that this can help people in their lives?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Then why are you scared?” he asked. “Truth is truth and beats lies and falsehood. Truth has the unique ability to stand on its own. If you really, honestly believe that it is true, then what are you really afraid of? If you really, honestly believe that it is true, then who can prove you wrong?”

I want to say that after this advice, any anxiety disappeared and I went on my merry way. Of course, not true. But it did make me think about why I was on a mission and what my role as a missionary was. Did I come out here because I was expected to, or do I really think the gospel can improve someone’s life?

I don’t think we really believe in what we say we believe in. We’re constantly afraid people will think we are weird — probably because we understand that we really are weird. We’re constantly afraid people will think we’re a cult — probably because at some fundamental level we feel like one sometimes. We’re constantly afraid people will think our church services are boring — probably because we are bored ourselves. We’re constantly afraid people will reject our gospel — probably because we reject it ourselves every day on a minute level that builds over time. I’m not saying we should be closed minded and cocky; that will definitely make less people join the Church. But do we really believe in what we believe in?

It’s the same reason why parents are terrified of letting their kids make decisions. They don’t really trust their children. I know that my parents trust me in some areas because they give me independence and leeway; but when it comes to areas in my life they don’t trust me in, they will open the sluices and unsolicited advice comes gushing out. I know that I will do that to my children, too, because it’s human nature.

Let’s take it back home to dating. We’re constantly talking about how strong our youth are. We talk about how our youth stand for right and morality, how they are so brave and honest and strong. We talk about how valiant they are. But when you look at the litany of rules and regulations we plaster our youth with, do we really believe in them?

LDS youth -- valiant, charitable, wonderful, strong, capable -- and ready to bolt and run away from the Church at a moment's notice. (Image via Church News)

These guys who run Catholic Stuff You Should Know are self-assured that Catholicism can enrich anyone’s life and will bring peace and happiness to those who follow its precepts. To them, they have no real reason to think that their Catholic inquirer will feel compelled to follow after his girlfriend’s “competing” faith; Catholicism already provides everything he needs. Why would he need more? Date outside the Church if you run into people you happen to fall in love with, they say. Be a good influence on others and allow others to be a good influence on you. No need to be reckless, they warn, but at the same time, there is no need to lock yourself up like a monk, ironic since between the two of us, they’re the ones with monks, and we’re the ones with strong youth and young adults we don’t really believe in.

This leads me to wonder sometimes. Are all of these rules and regulations really there to protect us and hedge up the law, or could they be symptoms of an overall dissatisfaction with our spirituality and a way to keep people firmly inside the tent so they can’t wander or run away? Do we really believe the gospel is powerful enough that anyone who encounters it should obviously see its power, or are we worried that we might be proven wrong someday by another system of thought that might provide more fulfillment than we  can?

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under life stories, parenting, religion

Celibacy, agency, and monasticism

“Celibacy is undertaken voluntarily as part of the monastic vocation; but an unsought celibacy is the lot of many people, something they would never have thought of as their vocation, though it now seems required by their fidelity to Christ. Many of the separated or divorced who believe their former marriage to have been valid, the spouses of the seriously ill, the people who hoped to marry but somehow never found the right person — all these may be driven to find God in a painful aloneness….

“Fasting, celibacy, night vigils: all traditional monastic disciplines that have their counterpart in the lives of many for whom the experience was neither freely chosen nor laden with obvious spiritual significance. Within the unthinkably close union of us all in Christ’s body, there must be a communion of life and grace here, and in some cases perhaps a hope and encouragement, when those who struggle can use the monastic parallel as a sign to help them find God in their own situation.”

– Maria Boulding OSB, “Living the Rule in Solitude,” The Benedictine Handbook

I recently picked up The Benedictine Handbook, published by Liturgical Press. Ever since learning about St. Benedict and his famous Rule, I was keen on getting my grubby little hands on a copy. So, when The Benedictine Handbook showed up at the local Half-Price bookstore, which included a translation of The Rule for actual Benedictine monks, as well as a slew of commentary and a collection of the prayers and lectios used, I purchased it without a second thought.

Monastic life has always held a fascination to me. If I was not Mormon and married, most likely I would have become a monk by the end of my years. During my high school years, I fantasized about running away to a Buddhist monastery (and for a while, seriously contemplated my escape from this earthly world). Mormonism as a whole rejects the idea of monasticism (though it’s arguable that missionary service is a type of Mormon monastic service), mostly I feel on the grounds of celibacy. Mormonism is a very earthy, mortal religion, celebrating not only what is to come, but what has already come to pass and what continues to come to pass today. We celebrate mortal families as a type of the immortal family of God, and we teach that marriage is essential to exaltation and living in the presence of God. Families and marriage are Big Deals in Mormonism, and this is part of the strong draw it has on many people.

Still, while celibacy is not required for, say, clergy, because of our strong belief in a strict law of chastity, many Mormons can and do end up in a form of involuntary celibacy. As Maria Boulding suggests, they enter into this celibacy because “it now seems required by their fidelity to Christ.” Unfortunately, because of how our religion is set up, this celibacy often comes without much support. Aside from the more apparent “single” situation that many adults in the Church find themselves in, Boulding suggests also those who have chronically or terminally ill spouses, or the divorced and widowed. These, too, need support, but often, both members and church programs come up empty-handed and clueless on how to help them. What compounds this type of celibacy, as opposed to that celibate vow freely entered in by those of monastic orders, “the experience was neither freely chosen nor laden with obvious spiritual significance.” Celibacy can act as a type of fast, a communion and sacrifice with God. But involuntary celibacy often is seen as a heavy burden that one must carry, possibly for the rest of their lives, and many see it as unfair and wholly unwarranted. Worse, in some cases (perhaps even in many cases), other members may often view this unwanted celibacy as “their fault in the first place.”

Here, Boulding suggests that monastic life can act as “a communion of life and grace here, and in some cases perhaps a hope and encouragement, when those who struggle can use the monastic parallel as a sign to help them find God in their own situation.” This is not to say that all of our members who find themselves in celibate lives should run off to a monastery. However, while reading about monastic life from various primary sources, I can see how some of the activities and principles those who participate in the monastic life live can help heal that rift between God and child, and even consecrate that sacrifice to God as a gift and grow ever stronger and closer because of it.

I’ve met singles who are bitter, and singles who have learned to work around this unexpected life development. Those who learn to accept and transform the trial into a blessing often incorporate some of the ideas in monastic life — deep contemplation and self-examination, honesty to self and others, simplicity in life, selfless service to others, a deep understanding and love for the scriptures, consistent prayer, and so forth. I am no expert in monastic life and I offer no real concrete suggestions at this time (nor am I really qualified to do so). But Joseph Smith once said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” While we as a religion may reject the idea of life-long monastic living, certainly the principles found therein can be used to fortify those areas in which we lack. And certainly, as members, we could all show a little charity to those who have found themselves in such a vow of celibacy, and do all we can to bring them fully into the body of Christ. In a church with a doctrine so intrinsically focused on traditional nuclear family life, we continue to offend and drive away many of God’s children through our well-meaning, but unintentionally wounding, attitudes towards celibacy, family life, and agency.

One should ponder from time to time if there is at least some value in monastic tradition, as it is just one more way to bring another subset of people into the shepherd’s flock, rather than turning away others because of a single-minded, narrow world view, which is most tragic when those who feel rejected have come into life circumstances through no fault of their own.

2 Comments

Filed under religion

Gay marriage and polygamy

So, apparently Canada may be considering the legalization of polygamy. Not that they will embrace polygamy overnight any time soon, but apparently the debate is in the courts. And yes, it’s about Mormons. Well, a branch of Mormons living in Bountiful, British Columbia (I had no idea there was more than one Bountiful in this world). This, I think we can agree, is heavily influenced by the debates about gay marriage. After all, if gays can get married because marriage isn’t just between a man and a woman, then certainly marriage could be between a man and a woman and woman and a woman?

The irony in all of this should not be ignored. Us Mormons have gained infamy (deserved or not) in the recent, highly publicized Prop 8 debacle, and now the passage of that which we most loathe could finally bring legitimacy to a marriage system the U.S. government forced us to abandon over 100 years ago because it perverted traditional marriage.

Now, the Church has largely abandoned polygamy, and though in the beginning the Church and American society saw each other as inherently incompatible, we’ve become friends. However, polygamy continues to exert influence on our culture today. I know many women wary, wondering if they’ll have to live it someday (and dreading it). I’ve heard other women callously told that if their husband falls away, it’s okay because they will have a more righteous husband in the next life, most likely as a sister-wife. And while I’ll not go into much detail, our temple liturgy continues to heavily bear the stamp of polygamy and the doctrinal justifications formulated to support it.

So if this legalization spreads from our brothers and sisters up north, will polygamy make a comeback? Will we return to an era of polygamy while our FLDS brothers and sisters grumble about how polygamy is “popular” again and how they were into polygamy before it was cool? Will we finally confront our polygamous roots, rejecting it entirely when the opportunity is presented once again to embrace it? Or will we just cough awkwardly and relegate it into the dusty taboo box to be swept under the bed, like Heavenly Mother and peep stones?

9 Comments

Filed under post

Why I liked Victoria in The Corpse Bride

This blog post is spoilerific concerning Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride. Just so you know. If you haven’t seen it yet and are planning on watching it in the future, turn away. Read this instead.

{-}

This last weekend for Halloween, a bunch of us watched Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, which I will admit, is a decent movie. In the end, my friend Kim (great and honorable supplier of movies galore) mentioned, “The one big flaw about this movie is that they never give a reason to care about Victoria.”

At the moment I strongly disagreed with the idea that Victoria is a flat character, but I couldn’t put into words why. After thinking about it for a couple of days, here is my reason why Victoria was actually one of my most favorite characters in the movie.

The accusation made was that Victoria is flat, and there is never given a good reason why Victor should marry Victoria instead of Emily, the Corpse Bride, aside from the cliche Love At First Sight and the fact that their names match, which tends to negate the major internal conflict in the story.

However, I highly disagree. In the beginning, we are introduced to a quiet, demure girl, raised by what we can only infer as awful, oppressive parents. She’s curious of love, but her parents tell her that love does not matter in marriage. She is curious of music and the piano, but her mother tells her that a lady indulges in no such things for they are too passionate. When she meets Victor for the first time, she meets him as he plays the piano. Victoria, unquestioning Victoria, experiences passion and ecstasy through music for the first time, and is forever, indeliably changed.

Despite the fact that Victor cannot memorize his vows and clumsily sets her mother on fire (and is just awkward all around), Victoria falls in love with Victor. he loves him because he is everything that her world up until that point is not – he is clumsy, he is imperfect, he is passionate, he is idealistic, he is accepting of who Victoria is and not what he wishes she would or should be. Victor is her key to a much bigger world than the monotone, grey landscape she currently inhabits.

Her character, I would argue, undergoes the most change. Her speaking lines are few, but they only lend more emphasis to when she does speak her mind. When she discovers that Victor has accidently, comically married the Corpse Bride, the change in her character manifests. She uses her quilt (which could be used a symbol of her Victorian opporessive society) to climb out of her house. In the process, this quilt rips on the way down, demonstrating how this single act represents herself tearing the fabric that ties her to her past. She uses the remnant as a shield and goes looking for him during a rainstorm. She resists her re-capture and confinement with all the strength she can muster, but is swept away by the powerful societal forces that lock her in her room and subsequently force her to marry someone else for economic reasons.

The entire marriage to Barkis marks a massive change in Victoria’s character. She is no longer demure or quiet as per her Victorian upbringing. She is quite literally dead on the inside. All of her actions reveal that some part of her has died. Separated from the inspiration of the passion within her, Victor, she has given up on life. She refuses to return back to her old life; she retreats and walls herself up rather than give into the societal pressures around her. She speaks no words; she refuses to interact with the world which so cruelly rejected her humanity.

In the end when Barkis reveals his master plan in marrying Victoria and discovers his horrible mistake, Victoria regains her life and slings a barb at him, a theme repeated throughout the movie: “Did things not go according to your plan, Lord Barkis? Well, perhaps in disappointment, we are perfectly matched.” And with that, she elegantly walks out on her sham of a husband. How refreshing that this time around, the heroine simply walked out on her own free will and strength, rather than wait around for Victor to rescue her.

In the end, Victor chooses Victoria, and appropriately so. Though the Corpse Bride hails from an ironically more animated world and appears to show more passion for life than Victoria (through the scene where Victor and her play the piano and Emily’s enthusiasm causes her to temporarily fall apart on him, literally), the Corpse Bride remains wholly unchanged by Victor. When Victor rejects her, it’s not the pain of Victor’s unrequited love that pains her, but what he represents – a rejection from those who live, which led to her untimely, tragic death. She does not need Victor, nor does he need her; her infatuatiation with him is not in Victor the person, but Victor the ideal, namely, the ideal of a happy marriage.

In the end, Emily chooses to guide Victor to Victoria rather than herself because Emily understands that the source of her heartache is not because Victor initially rejected her, but the fact that fate cruelly snatched away what she felt would be a happily for ever ending. It is Victoria whom Victor truly loves, and vice versa. Both reawakened the original passion for uniting through marriage and love; Emily played second fiddle to Victor’s emotions, and she knew it. She stood as a replacement for Victor’s original lost love, and no marriage should ever be based upon an attempt to regain that which was lost through meaningless substitutes, which both Victor and Emily attempted to do with their planned – but timely averted – wedding. Victoria is the real deal, the girl who turned a reluctant, passionate, creative, bumbling bachelor into a man willing to commit his heart to a woman who loves him for who he is, not for what he represents.

Of course, this is all in a super short film made probably to recapture the glory, magic, and success of the Nightmare Before Christmas, which negates the lesson that Emily and Victor learn in the Corpse Bride. Irony!

5 Comments

Filed under wordsmithing

An Apology and a Clarification

My friend Kimberly called after I wrote the most recent post about why I think singles wards are really, really, really bad ideas, and she said, “The only criticism I can give you is this: You can be sarcastic, and you can be angry, and you can write about important issues, but you can’t do all three at once.” Wise words.

I realize that my sarcasm hurt people badly. I apologize. I, myself, after talking to a friend into the late-night about his struggles with the church, also smarted in the morning. Couple that with only two hours of sleep and the vindictive rage of a young, immature up-start, and, well, you get the picture. My words came across poorly to a lot of people, and I wish to apologize. To those I hurt who equated my criticisms of the singles ward structure with those within the structure itself, I sincerely, deeply apologize. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A very huge misunderstanding arose especially when I called singles wards “spiritually deficient.” I want to clarify my words about exactly what I meant (and at this point, most of you will probably stop reading).

My basic thesis for why singles wards are spiritually sub-optimal is thusly: Singles wards provide no specific, extra benefit to young single adults. Not only can family wards provide everything a singles ward can, but it can provide more.

1. Relationships

When I suggested folding singles wards into family wards, many people became concerned that the ability to create relationships with other singles would suffer. I do not believe this to be true for several reasons. Firstly, unless the demographic of singles is incredibly scarce, there will be multiple singles within a ward’s boundaries. You will see other singles within the ward. Secondly, relationships do not form simply within church – we have many venues for singles to meet, such as singles activities (across ward, stake, and multi-stake areas), Institute, and the Internet (social media is quickly changing how we hang out and form friendships). There will be plenty of opportunities to meet other single Mormons in the area and form lasting relationships.

What if you really are the only single Mormon in the entire stake? Maybe even the area? If this is the case, even a singles ward probably could not help you, and you will most likely have just attended the family ward anyway. In fact, there are many areas within the world where this is true – the church does not have enough single people in the area to create a functional ecclesiastical branch, and these people can and do experience rich, fulfilling religious lives within the context of the family ward. However, I would venture that most singles in North America (at least) will not fall into this extreme, and thus, will be able to meet, congregate, and serve each other within the context of a family ward and outside church activities.

2. Singles wards have limited opportunities to serve (quantitatively)

I remember that in the singles wards I attended, we joked that callings were often made up just so that the singles had something to do. I attended large singles wards and that was certainly the case. Family wards, however, suffer from this problem less. My wife and I attended a ward of 700 people, and though a ward that size came with other problems, keeping people occupied with callings was easy without having to resort to “making up” callings like the girl who passes out the Ensign to all the apartments every month (a real calling my wife had – that she shared with someone).

Consider the auxiliary functions present in the family ward:

– The bishopric
– High priests group
– Elders quorum
– Relief Society
– Young Mens (which includes the deacon, teacher, and priest quorums)
– Young Womens (which includes the Beehives, Mia Maids, and Laurels – do they still call it those names?)
– Primary
– Sunday School

And this is not considering some of the extra callings present in a healthy family ward, such as ward librarian and so forth. Each of these auxiliary branches of the church require members to fulfill the various roles. Each section needs a presidency, advisors, teachers, and in the case of the adult auxiliaries, coordinators to help with home and visiting teaching. Running a ward on volunteer service is a lot of work! Obviously, branches function differently, and some wards (because of the area they live in) have weaker organizations and stronger organizations, but for the most part, all family wards have each of these auxiliary organizations running in some form, and those organizations need people to work within them.

Contrast this with the organizations involved in  a singles ward:

– Bishopric
– Elders Quorum
– Relief Society
– Sunday School

As you can see, the opportunities to serve are limited. Yes, several larger singles wards contain multiple elders quorums and relief societies, but notably missing are callings that young single adults can reasonably participate in, such as:

– Young mens presidency (president, two counselors, secretary), priests quorum advisor, teachers quorum advisor, deacons quorum advisor, priests quorum teacher, teachers quorum teacher, deacons quorum teacher, and if you live in North America, at least one Scoutmaster.

– Young womens presidency (president, two counselors, secretary), Laurels advisor, Mia Maids advisor, Beehives advisor, Laurels teacher, Mia Maids teacher, Beehives teacher, in some cases, callings to help run Mutual (or whatever they’re calling it these days)

– Primary presidency (president, two counselors, secretary), Primary teachers across all age groups, in some cases, callings to help organize Primary activities outside the church

Thus, in a ward of 700 people, many people were committed to serving the youth and children of the ward. These, as you can imagine, are enriching, rewarding callings that challenge and provide opportunities for growth. In a singles ward, you are missing out. Reiterations of elders quorums and relief societies do not provide as many opportunities to serve, and they do not provide the wide spectrum of service available in the other auxiliary organizations.

In other words, if you attend a singles ward, chances are, your calling will not be very fulfilling. I was lucky to have mostly meaningful callings; many of my friends and my wife were not so fortunate.

3. Singles wards have limited opportunities to serve (qualitatively)

Inherent in the lack of opportunities to serve because of various missing demographics (i.e., everyone else) is the lack of opportunity to enjoy the wisdom and learning experiences of those in different age groups. The various wards I grew up in were great in this regard – I had many older people take me under their wing; they helped raised me, taught me many lessons that I will not forget, and continued to have an interest in me. While I had good relations with the bishop, at any time if I wanted an adult, older perspective, I could go to any of my older mentors and ask for advice. This does not ring true in a singles ward.

Aside from just older perspectives, younger perspectives and the opportunity to be good role models to the rising generation are also notably missing. Callings in helping the youth to grow can help you remember what it was like to be a youth and enrich your perspective. Most of the people I know who served in young men and young women leadership capacities enjoyed their callings, and even those who hated them mostly agreed they gained growth and experience.

However, a member of a singles ward misses these opportunities in crucial moments of their lives. I remember that as a teenager, the 20-somethings were cool – when they talked, I listened. I wanted to be like them, and they understood that. They gave me advice and perspective when older people were not necessarily “cool” in my book and it helped me out a lot. Later, as a 20-something reintegrating into a family ward, I realize that I did not have any of these “role model” opportunities. I feel awkward around them, and it’s taken me time to remember how to act around those younger than me. Not only do we deprive young single adults of wonderful growth opportunities as role models, our youth also suffer from the lack of associating with them.

This all has the life-changing potential to combine into an incredible environment of love and support. My brother growing up alienated himself from the Church. He decided he did not believe in the doctrines or teachings and vowed he would have nothing to do with it. My parents were pained, and they did not know what to do. Luckily for them, my brother had very close, deep relationships with some of the older men in the ward. These men persisted in keeping him within the ward family loop, even when he did not necessarily want to himself. They had discussions with him late into the night, sometimes giving up three or four hours of their time to answer questions. On the other side of the spectrum, my brother had made friends with some of the younger teenagers in the ward. He saw how they looked up to him for advice, that they attempted to emulate him. Despite his straying from the Church, he knew that if he did anything morally reprehensible, it would devastate them. He saw how they looked forward to the future with hope, and wondered why. All of this combined to molding him for the better, and because of these fruitful relationships and experiences across a wide spectrum of circumstances, he learned for himself what he felt to be true and re-entered the Church culture and left on a mission for South Korea.

I am convinced that had he decided to leave the Church in his 20-somethings instead, a similar environment of love and support could not be provided. Certainly, his single peers would try desperately to re-activate him, but they all have limited perspectives. They do not have the perspectives of the brethren in my family’s ward who, with patience and love, helped my brother navigate the stormy moments in his life.  It is not a lack of desire or righteousness that prevents them from helping someone like my brother; it is lack of experience, something you cannot rush. Some suggested to me that the singles ward is inspiration from God, and thus we should accept it. Well, I think our geographical ward structure is divinely inspired – it has the amazing capability to tap into the lives, experiences, and wisdom of many different people. Why do we need to modify it for young single adults, especially when our modifications cut them off from the very blessings geographical wards provide?

It is no secret among the leaders of the Church that we struggle in retaining our young single adults. I humbly suggest that the singles ward, and the way it is structured, erects unnecessary barriers for young single adults to tap into the incredible goodness Mormon culture has to offer when they need it the most.

4. Singles wards create unnecessary and painful division simply by their existence

What happens when we create singles wards and student married wards? We emphasize that they are somehow different from the rest of us. If they weren’t, then why would we put them in separate wards?

The truth of the matter is, they are different, but so is everyone else in the family ward. A 12 year old deacon’s needs are vastly different from a 35 year old mother with four children, whose needs are vastly different from a 65 year old man who recently lost his wife. Yet all of them can find fulfillment in serving each other in a family ward. Why are single and married student couple needs any different?

The life cycle of a Mormon, then, is thus:

– A Mormon is born into the Church, goes to Primary, and then the young adult programs, and along the way picks up valuable friendships and mentors

– A Mormon turns 18. He or she may leave home for school. Regardless, they are shuffled into a singles ward. Their religious experience is solely centered on those like him or her. There are no older mentors, no younger youth to goof around with. The perspectives of everyone around them are similar and limited. Sure, some people may have different individual circumstances, like the loss of a loved one, or maybe parents who’ve divorced, but a 20-something year old’s perspective, 30-something year old’s perspective, a 40-something year old’s perspective, and a 60-something year old’s perspective is vastly different (unless you want to challenge that statement, and if you do, good luck). These are all notably missing.

– A Mormon now has two choices. They can get married, in which they then either re-integrate into a family ward or go to a student married ward until they have children or graduate, which then they re-integrate into a family ward, or they can not get married for whatever reasons, and then re-enter a family ward at age 30, where many will unconsciously look at them as a failure because they didn’t get married despite being surrounded by single Mormons for 12 years (this unconscious judgment is built into the very structure and purpose of a singles ward).

– For the Mormon who gets married, they lost about roughly anywhere from two to eleven years in the family ward. That’s two to eleven years of hanging out with and serving teenagers and children and getting wisdom and love and direction from older people. The only way to avoid this is to get married right away at 18, which most North American Mormons I know (not to mention almost all the experts) discourage.

– For the Mormon who doesn’t get married, that’s 12 years lost in the singles ward. When they return to the family ward they return as a failure. They return as someone to be pitied. No one knows exactly how to treat them because they haven’t spent any time around people of similar life circumstances. This can be an incredibly demoralizing and lonely experience.

Consider instead this alternative. As a young single adult moves away to find his or her own way, he or she is integrated into just another family ward. The stability of the family ward will most likely encourage the young single adult’s life to be stable as well. He or she makes friends and relationships. He or she picks up a significant other. In the end, they’re married, and all of those around them rejoice. They welcome in the new couple, already familiar at least with one of the previously single people, and treating them like people, they help them adjust to the new married life.

Or consider this alternative. A young single adult moves away to find his or her own way. Perhaps it is in the stars that that particular young single adult will not get married in this lifetime. Let’s say that person reaches age 30. Instead of experiencing the walk of shame back into a family ward, head hung low, wondering how he or she went wrong, the ward just continues to treat the person as the person they knew. Sure, there will be older members who may cluck their tongues, or perhaps try to hook them up with relatives or people they know, but for the most part, that 30 year old will have relationships with people who will support the young single adult in his or her endeavors. There is no traumatic shift from the life he or she knew for 12 years into a life that does not know what to do with that person.

My concern is especially for those who do not get married in this lifetime. While it may be easier to go to a singles ward instead of a family ward, know that your time is running out – at age 30, you will be integrated into a family ward, end of story. This is of great consternation for me. The very purpose of a singles ward is to promote young people getting married within the faith. This puts an unhealthy emphasis on marriage (I feel) and unhealthy pressure on young single adults. And if that young single adult does not marry, they are branded a failure of the system because they failed to reach the singles ward’s objective – to get this person married off to another Mormon by 30. I would rather young single adults labor in a family ward and gain all of the benefits while erasing some of the stigma by not treating young single adults differently than any supposed benefit of helping people get married through the singles ward system. It’s a gamble, and a heavy price to pay if you buck the trend, which is unfortunate and supremely unnecessary.

I could go on (oh, how I could go on) but I feel this is more than enough of an illustration of how singles wards do not serve the needs of young single adults. You can still have good experiences, but there is always the potential of having better experiences. I understand, as my friend Adam politely pointed out, that in some places, integrating singles wards with family wards would be impossible. Notable example: BYU. If that’s the case, though, just chalk up the singles ward as another strange BYU phenomena that people can choose or choose not to participate in (like ice block sledding or tunnel singing or devotionals). There is no need to force every young single adult in the world to labor in the Lord’s Kingdom under sub-optimal conditions. Take any benefit from the singles ward you’ve been in and say out loud, “X benefit does not exist in a family ward.” If you find one of these sentences is true, let me know. I would truly like to know.

Leave a comment

Filed under religion

The poetry of small spaces

For a while, the wife and I shared a twin bed. We’re both small people, but even then we couldn’t fit on the twin bed unless we cuddled. Because of this, I have a fond memory of twin beds, mostly because even if you were totally mad at each other, you had to cuddle and somehow, cuddling makes things a little better.

However, my wife doesn’t like beds because they take up a lot of space. I don’t mind sleeping on our futon on the floor (in fact, I do enjoy it quite a bit), but with beds like these, I think even my wife wouldn’t object to build one or two of them. Poetry creates artificial constraints in how one communicates an idea; because of this, creativity flourishes within the constraints. Sometimes, figuring out how to live in a small space feels like interior design poetry. Large, cavernous homes make me feel oddly isolated and alone. In contrast, it’s comforting that while I’m writing, she’s only six feet away, knitting. At least for us, sharing a twin bed or sharing a small room brings us closer together, no matter how we might have felt before.

And if we need some of our own space, there’s always the bathroom.

2 Comments

Filed under life stories

Oh Say, What Is Truth?: Marriage and Childbearing

I’m taking a sociology and philosophy course right now in school. I had several people in my church give misgivings about taking philosophy – apparently, the discipline can shake your testimony and turn you into an atheistic, flaming liberal. However, I’ve found my philosophy class to be incredibly enriching to my religious beliefs and hopefully can continue to pursue learning about such an interesting and varied field. Sociology, however, rocks my testimony to its core. I have since then come terms to the constant assailing on what I used to think as fundamental truths – in this time of uncertainty, this I know – God is real, and somehow, Jesus performed some sort of miracle that has cleansing, healing power. All the rest – all of the commentary, the folklore, the myths, the pithy sayings, the unchallenged assertions – is burned away like dross. In this way, I feel my testimony is now stronger than ever. I live in an environment of uncertainty, but of two simple truths, I now know more than ever. I need not base my belief on faith-promoting rumors but on truth.

However, my social mores have been attacked once more by the cold, unflinching discipline of scientific inquiry and statistics. This time, it concerns the family. My wife has never been too keen on having children any time soon. In our marriage, it has always been me that brings up the prospect of children or how we should raise them or when we should start considering child raising. And I attended some of the most liberal sexual education courses in high school ever. I saw a video of a head crowning during a birth. I learned how to put condoms on bananas. We even tried to see how many hands we could fit into a stretched condom (answer: A lot). We had these baby dolls to carry around that would cry if you did anything wrong, and then wouldn’t shut up until you rectified this (it revealed a surprising number of our classmates as potential child absuers. Scary). None of this has ever deterred me from abstinence until marriage or the desire to have babies.

But then I took sociology. Forget sex ed classes. Teach kids sociology and they will be scared straight.

Concerning the effect of children on marriage:

“Many in the U.S. grow up embracing the notion that having children brings one closer to one’s spouse and helps hold a marriage together. Actually, the data shows otherwise, in that, at least for the wife, the fewer the children the happier the marriage (Ross and Van Willigen 1996). The aforementioned researchers found that, ‘…children increased anger more for mothers than fathers and each additional child in the household increased the level of anger. Two major types of stressors included economic strains and the strains associated with childcare.'”

“Not only is it true that the fewer the number of children, the greater the level of marital happiness, all else equal, it is also the case that the less involved with children the couple is, the greater the level of marital happiness. The nature and degree of such involvement changes predictably over the life course – and along with it, marital satisfaction. Keller (2000) and others have charted how marital satisfaction starts off high (before the birth of children), takes a dip when children are born, reaches a marital low during the children’s teenage years, then rises back to a high level once the grown children have left the household. Non-parents and empty-nesters, he notes, enjoys the highest level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning divorce laws:

“..the more lenient the divorce laws, the higher a country’s over all level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning women working out of the home:

“Although some pundits have noted a correlation between women’s participation in paid employment and a higher divorce rate, researchers examining the actual dynamics within marriages find that the more equally shared the housework, over all, the happier the marriage (Hochschild and Machung 1989). And as may not be surprising, at least up to a point, wives working in paid employment hold greater leverage for negotiating an equitable sharing between themselves and their husbands on the chores front. So in a roundabout way, women’s greater paid labor participation has actually enhanced, rather than detracted from the over all rate of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning the effect of gay people parenting:

“Although there has been much consternation over potential harm to children raised in gay families, Golombok (2003) and colleagues, as well as Lambart (2005), find children raised by gay parents to be as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as their peers from heterosexual couple households. Actually, when difference between hetero- and homosexual parenting practices are found, the gay parents’ practices tend to be superior. Johnson and O’Connor (2002) found gay parents to be more responsive to their children and more child-oriented. Some critics worry children raised by gay parents will, themselves, somehow be forced into growing up gay. Bailey et all (1995), however, found 90% of sons of gay or bisexual men self-identified as heterosexual. And Golombok and Tasker (1996) found the large majority of female children raised by lesbians self-identified as heterosexual by their young adult years.”

And for the politically conservative:

“Another key reason for the trends of increased childlessness, delayed childbearing and the bearing of fewer children is policy decisions by American voters. With the ‘smaller government is better’ ethos that prevails in the present-day U.S., childbearing is, for all but the wealthiest or poorest, an act of financial self-destruction. What few provisions there are in the way of medical care and childcare are erratic at best and whether fine or poor quality, markedly expensive…

“With the lack of governmental provisions for health care and childcare, the U.S. is one of the most (financially) punitive nations on earth in which to raise a child.”

Now, I do not post these statistics to drag everyone around me down to hell. Quite the contrary. We must admit as a Church that divorce is a problem. Child abuse – verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually – is a problem. Keeping young people in the Church as they leave homes, get married, and contemplate families of their own is a problem. Truth, we are taught, are things as they really are, and we need to examine our social problems within the Church and the larger society in general as they really are, and not simply hide behind pithy sayings, comforting platitudes, or useless, folksy sayings. And I don’t want people trying to counter this information with circumstantial “well I know some families are happy and so this information must be untrue.” If you wish to counter these statistics, I implore you to dig up studies of your own – peer reviewed and accepted by the discipline’s community. I am not concerned with comfort when seeking truth or trying to convince myself out of a pickle. Realizing truth – things as they really are – can help us face the roots of these social evils and eradicate them, rather than treating symptoms haphazardly while never striving to understand the real reasons. To do less than that would be to fulfill Marx’s scathing indictment against religion as an opiate of the masses.

When we have widespread problems amongst society as an aggregate, there are serious structural problems that cause and perpetuate this problem. In the political, social, and economical environment we live in, how prudent is it to teach young married couples to have children right away? Can we truly condemn gay people as a whole as abominable, when they turn out to be better parents than us? Is this no different than Jacob’s Nephite society, who widely considered the Lamanites inferior when the Lamanite culture actually treated their families better? What cultural factors are contributing to high divorce rates, high rates of unhappiness within marriage, and why has child or spousal abuse not been stamped out within our population? And most importantly, which of these cultural mores we hold as sacrosanct concerning the family are rooted in gospel doctrine and theology and which are rooted within unchallenged, misguided, or ignorant cultural ideals or misinterpreted religious thought?

All quotes taken from Sociology: A Critical and Contemporary Perspective by Scott Lukas, MaryKriss Mcilwaine, Sue Dowden, and Chien Huang.

8 Comments

Filed under life stories, religion