Question: Does Mormonism devalue those who are not married or who do not have children?

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Question: Does Mormonism devalue those who are not married or who do not have children?

Of course, it is not possible for every LDS person to find someone suitable to marry

Some charge that the LDS Church devalues those who are not married or who do not have children.

A significant portion of adult Church members are single people. Their challenges and lifestyles are somewhat different than those of married members but Church leaders make ongoing efforts to acknowledge and respond to the needs of single members. Living as a single person is challenging both inside and outside the Church. It is not a difficulty limited to the LDS context. Within the Church, the promise that no eternal blessings will be withheld from worthy members simply because of their marital status is repeated over and over again. Church leaders have denounced mistreatments of single members and continue to call members of all marital statuses to positions of trust.

Ideals and Realities

LDS teachings – like those of most every other belief system and culture throughout the history of the human family – regard formal, conjugal marriage relationships as vital social ideals. Among LDS people, marriage is not only a social ideal but a spiritual one. According to the scriptures, marriage is a requirement for the greatest blessings to which we can aspire. D&C 131:2

Of course, it is not possible for every LDS person to find someone suitable to marry. Due to death or divorce or other kinds of separation it’s not always possible for LDS people to stay married. This means many of us are single. In 2007, First Presidency member, James E. Faust, reported that one third of the adult membership of the Church was single.[1] This is a substantial proportion but it’s still a minority. The fact is single LDS people live in a faith community comprised mostly of married couples. Naturally, such an environment can be challenging.

Some may feel life as a single person is less than ideal. But an ideal is “a conception of something in its absolute perfection.”[2] Married members of the Church don’t achieve perfection in their marriages during their lifetimes. Their lives are different from singles', but they too are also less than ideal. As the apostle Paul taught, all of us have “come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 None of us—no matter what our marital status—is living an ideal life. In this we are all alike.

The time will come when the Lord bless all of His Father’s children with every blessing He can, including eternal marriages for people who lived their lives single

Speaking to single members, Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley said:

I…remind you that there are those who are married whose lives are extremely unhappy and that you who are single and experience much of deep and consuming worry are not alone in your feelings. [3]

Fortunately, the time will come when Christ shall “wipe away all the tears” Revelation 21:4 and bless all of his Father’s children with every blessing He can, including eternal marriages for people who lived their lives single.

Feelings of social awkwardness and marginalization are not limited to single people living in the LDS context

In popular Western culture, there’s a fairly steady stream of books, articles, and all kinds of other media produced about the difficulties of single life. People of all beliefs, not just LDS people, struggle to find a comfortable place in the world as singles. It is a widespread problem—one that was not created by the Church and one that cannot be escaped by avoiding the Church.

Statements of Church Leaders

The challenges of single members are not unknown and unaddressed by Church leaders. President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer, speaking of singlehood and childlessness among Church members, said:

These are temporary states. In the eternal scheme of things—not always in mortality—righteous yearning and longing will be fulfilled.[4]

Living as a single LDS person is more common for women than it is among men. In recognition of this, much of the counsel and consolation extended by Church leaders to single people is addressed specifically to women. This counsel includes assurances that members don’t have to settle for inappropriate marriage partners just to satisfy what may seem like little more than a formality. Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

You good sisters, who are single and alone, do not fear that blessings are going to be withheld from you. You are not under any obligation or necessity of accepting some proposal that comes to you which is distasteful for fear you will come under condemnation. If in your hearts you feel the gospel is true and would under proper conditions receive these ordinances and sealing blessings in the temple of the Lord, and that is your faith and your hope and your desire, and that does not come to you now, the Lord will make it up, and you shall be blessed, for no blessing shall be withheld.[5]

Comments like these have become de rigueur when Church leaders teach about marriage and families. Efforts are constantly made to acknowledge and address the circumstances of adult members of the Church who are not married.

Among these circumstances is the reality that there is no monolithic LDS single person. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of his distaste for the generic label “single”:

Though you are so diverse in your backgrounds, we have put a badge on you as if you were all alike. That badge reads S-I-N-G-L-E-S. I do not like that. I do not like to categorize people. We are all individuals living together, hopefully with respect for one another, notwithstanding some of our personal situations…when all is said and done, we should not be classified as married or single but as members of the Church, each worthy of the same attention, the same care, the same opportunities to be of service.[6]

In the same address, President Hinckley condemned the thoughtless mistreatment of single members within LDS congregations, calling it “a tragedy” and “a betrayal.”

Single People Serving in the Gospel

The New Testament contains the story of Anna, a woman called a “prophetess” who served in the temple at the time Jesus was born. By the time Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple, Anna had been a widow for almost all of her long adult life. She was a single woman who was blessed for her faith and service with the privilege of recognizing and greeting the Lord. She had much to offer her community even though she had lived without a husband for eighty-four years. Luke 2:36-38

In the modern Church, single women also play important roles as leaders, teachers, and exemplars. One of the most storied women of the early days of the restored Church is Mary Fielding Smith, widow of Hyrum Smith, who crossed the plains from Nauvoo to Utah as a single mother. Emmeline B. Wells, the fifth General President of the Relief Society, was abandoned by her first husband.[7] Clearly, her status as a divorcee did not prevent her from holding a prominent leadership position.

More recently, counselors in the Relief Society General Presidency have included Barbara Thompson and Sheri L. Dew, neither of whom has ever been married. Upon being called, Sheri L. Dew introduced herself saying:

If there’s any message in the fact that a never-married woman has been called to the Relief Society general presidency it is that all women, regardless of their status or situation, are welcomed, loved, and valued…The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. We are all significant parts of the whole. I never think of myself as single; I think of myself as Sheri, a member of the Lord’s Church.[8]

Along with singleness there often comes childlessness

Along with singleness there often comes childlessness. Since most members of the LDS Church have children, single members who do not may feel doubly marginalized (though childlessness can be a struggle for married members too).

Fortunately, motherhood is not merely a demographic in Church. It is a spiritual gift that is not necessarily tied to reproductive success.

In 2001, Sheri Dew, taught,

While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord's language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve "the mother of all living" -- and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born.[9]


Notes

  1. James E. Faust, "Welcoming Every Single One," Ensign (Aug 2007).
  2. Dictionary.com', s.v. "ideal" (accessed 17 July 2012).
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, "A Conversation With Single Adults," Ensign (Nov 1997).
  4. Boyd K. Packer, "And a Little Child Shall Lead Them," Ensign (May 2012).
  5. Joseph Fielding Smith, Elijah the Prophet and His Mission (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1957), 51.
  6. Gordon B. Hinckley, "A Conversation With Single Adults," Ensign (Nov 1997).
  7. Julie Wardell, “Heroes and Heroines: Emmeline B. Wells.” Friend, Feb 1985.
  8. “News of the Church,” Ensign, May 1997.
  9. Sheri L. Dew, "Are We Not All Mothers?," Ensign (Nov. 2001), 96 (emphasis in original).