In this series, we’re looking at the reasons people first start looking into Mormonism. By the time they are ready to be baptized they have deeper reasons, including a testimony, but initially, they normally begin searching for a church to join because their lives are lacking something they feel a church might be able to provide. In this article, we’re discussing how Mormon beliefs about family appeal to many searchers. The Mormon family has a unique focus.
“In the Church, our belief in the overriding importance of families is rooted in restored doctrine. We know of the sanctity of families in both directions of our eternal existence. We know that before this life we lived with our Heavenly Father as part of His family, and we know that family relationships can endure beyond death.
If we live and act upon this knowledge, we will attract the world to us. Parents who place a high priority on their families will gravitate to the Church because it offers the family structure, values, doctrine, and eternal perspective that they seek and cannot find elsewhere.” (M. Russell Ballard, “What Matters Most Is What Lasts Longest,” October 1, 2005).
It should be noted that although Elder Ballard points out we will draw people to us for this reason, it is not the reason Mormons work on strengthening the Mormon family. It is simply one special blessing the Mormons can offer those who come to the Church.
Mormons are well-known for their family-oriented Mormon beliefs. They believe families can outlast mortal life, existing throughout eternity. Because Mormons believe God ordained families to be a key element of His gospel and because they believe that God does not approve of divorce except in certain serious situations, they do not believe God will force people to get divorced when they die or begin their heavenly life trying desperately to fall out of love with the very family God commanded them to love. Mormons believe we take ourselves to Heaven-meaning that what we become during our mortal lives is who we will be in Heaven, so we take with us our hearts and minds. For Mormon families, family is forever.
Most people, even if they claim not to believe it, find they do believe it and know it instinctively when someone they love dies. God places the knowledge in their hearts at that time. “I’ll see my baby again in Heaven.” “At least Mother and Father are together again.” “I can feel my husband’s presence watching over me since his death.”
For this reason, the Mormon church has developed many programs to helps strengthen families and to prepare them for eternity. Outsiders have long been fascinated by these programs and some, like the innovative Mormon Family Home Evening program that began in 1915, are being adopted by other religions as well.
Family Home Evening is one night a week, Monday if possible, that a Mormon family will set aside to spend just with their families. They pray, sing, read scriptures, have a lesson on a gospel principle, enjoy treats and play games. In an era where families are increasingly busy and going in different directions, this ensures that at least one night a week, everyone slows down, stays home, turns off the television and computer, and focuses on becoming a forever family.
This special evening gives parents an opportunity to share their values with their children and for children to learn important skills, since each job in the evening is rotated among the family members, with very young children partnering with a parent or older sibling. Even a kindergartener might have an opportunity to teach a lesson, lead the music, or conduct the meeting. Learning these kinds of skills prepare them for future church service and for leadership in the community.
In addition to the Monday Night tradition, the Mormon family will also hold daily family prayers and scripture studies. They attend church services as a family—even babies are included in the regular church service.
Church services and classes often focus on strengthening families. Parents learn how to improve their skills as mothers and fathers. Men learn that they are as important to the well-being of their children as is the mother. Visitors to a Mormon church might notice men teaching with babies in their arms, changing diapers, or soothing a crier in the foyer.
Optional classes are offered that teach parenting skills to those who want to improve their home lives. These classes, offered to both men and women, combine spiritual and practical assistance for creating a tranquil and well-run home.
Teens and children also learn, in their own classes, how to contribute to the well-being of their homelife. They are taught to honor their parents, treat siblings kindly, help with the many aspects of running a home, and to better understand the dynamics of successful family life. On a given Sunday, a toddler might be in the nursery learning how to help his parents. A first grader might be learning why obedience to parents matter. A teenage girl may be discussing with her class how to bring unity into her home. At the same time, her teenage brother might be learning the story of the Biblical Esther in preparation for being taught the importance of women’s roles in the family and church. Each family member would be learning lessons that are critical to know and appropriate for their own lives.
Because Mormonism offers strong support, a young parent or spouse can always find compassionate support for their efforts to strengthen their families. A mother struggling to know how to get her children to behave in church can invite a more experienced mother to sit with her and mentor appropriate discipline. A father struggling to balance work and home can turn to his older home teacher (a man assigned to visit the family monthly to deliver a spiritual message and to provide assistance as needed) for advice and role modeling.
The strong support the Church offers the Mormon family is often a powerful motivator for people to take a closer look at the Mormon religion. Whether they are looking for ways to strengthen their own families or for a church that supports their belief in the sacredness of family life, it is often this aspect that appeals to people who are not Mormon. Some who never really gave thought to the importance of family, but came for other reasons, understand for the first time their importance in their own families and are strengthened.
Next, we will look at a few of the unique doctrines many people find appealing and even unexpectedly familiar to them.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.