Monday, December 9, 2013

God Is Not More Important than Wife and Kids

I read recently (and hear fairly often) the statement that our priorities should be:

1) God;
2) Family;
3) Church;
4) Community ("others")

I believe if you separate God from family (and even from "others"), you’ve missed the heart of the Gospel. The account in the Gospels that is used to justify that separation (Mark 10:28-30) is misinterpreted badly – taking something that was said to disciples / apostles called on specific “missions” and extrapolating it to everyone.  That passage says:

28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,
30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

I believe it is critical to read this passage in context - not reading more into it than is there. 

Peter was married.  We know this, because Jesus healed his mother-in-law.  (Matthew 8:14)  We don't know from the record, but it is likely that he and his wife had children.  It is likely the same was true of the other disciples who traveled with Jesus.  Therefore, it is correct for Peter to say, "Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee." 
However, it is a HUGE stretch - an erroneous assumption, imo - to think that they literally left their wives and children for good - that they "divorced them", per se.  That runs counter to everything else that Jesus taught - and that was taught after his death by those apostles.  It is much more likely that they left them to serve a mission, if we translate it into our modern terminology - and that Jesus was assuring them that if such a decision led to their family divorcing or disowning them they would be compensated richly for their sacrifice. 

Finally, as I've said in others posts, Adam had a choice in the Garden of Eden: Leave God to stay with his wife, or leave his wife to stay with God.  He chose his wife over God, trusting in faith that, by so doing and truly becoming one with her, he would not be leaving God at all.  I believe that is one of the primary messages of the Garden narrative, and I think we devalue our theology when we devalue marriage by placing God above it

My priorities are:

1) My wife and kids;
2) Others.

God is the constant that runs through and binds all of my priorities, not a separate priority in and of itself. 

There’s a lot more I could say about that, but I believe the idea that God is more important than wife and kids is a pernicious misconception that is tied to the Protestant, apostate idea that our highest divine hope is purely individual.  That ought not be taught among us.


Firebyrd said...

Thank you so much for this, Ray. I've felt guilty at times because my husband and children have always felt like my first priority over everything else. You've given me a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

Timely! I just read this passage this morning and, being the wife of a bishop and BYU professor, I was wondering about the context and meaning of it. How can families be first if God is first...and he is more organized and demanding than family?

Papa D said...

I'm glad I could provide some measure of comfort, Firebyrd. It's ironic that the Church teaches, clearly and explicitly, that the family is the fundamental unit of society (not the ward, branch or Church itself) - and that we talk so much about being family-friendly, but, when it comes down to the trenches we feel so obligated sometimes to neglect family for the ward, branch or Church.

Stacey, to follow-up on what I just said to Firebyrd, Boyd K. Packer said in a world-wide training session to local leaders that they need to remember that the Church is meant to serve families not that families are meant to staff the Church. I think God is more demanding of our hearts and attempts to become like God, but, as our own advertising slogan says, when it comes to our families, "It's about time."

"No success can compensate for failure in the home" means exactly that - even if that "success" is God- or Church-related.

Thus, I can't place my allegiance to God in a separate box and neglect my family (or even risk doing so) in what I believe to be a misguided attempt to follow Him. I believe following God can't be done except with my family at my side, if I have a family. Our goal is not individual salvation; it is spousal exaltation, with our posterity enjoying that same blessing, joined with all others in such a community. If God's eternal objective is more than me individually, mine must be also.

I hope that makes sense - and helps somehow in balancing such a difficult load.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ray, I feel like your insight was inspired today. BYU is so demanding, and add that to bishop drinking from two fire hoses at once. These experiences have forced us to examine our values and perspectives. It is tough but it is all right. It is especially fun to have insights like yours to draw from. I appreciate your blog.

Anonymous said...

I think you're taking the priority list a bit out of context. The First Great Commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind and strength. You make it sound as if you must "neglect" your family in order to do that, and that simply isn't the case at all. Suppose you married a woman, and then you later wanted to join the church. But wife says to you: Choose either the church or me. If you get baptized, I will file for a divorce. What to do? Or, suppose you an LDS couple, and one of them wants to resign his/her membership, and basically demands the other spouse follow suit. Again, what to do? Family and children do usually come first. But each of us have to work out our own salvation, and though it would usually involve our spouse and child, there may come a day when you must choose.

Papa D said...

Anonymous, I am taking the priority list exactly as it has been said to me on multiple occasions in the past. I literally have heard it used to neglect family in favor of prioritizing religion.

Next, I have never said and will never say that someone must neglect spouse or kids in order to love God fully. In fact, I am saying exactly the opposite. I love my family fully only when I love God fully, and I believe it is when those two are "divorced" from each other that the central issues arise (speaking generally).

In the cases you mention, I love my wife with all my heart and leave it to her to do whatever she will do. After all, in the situations you describe, she is the one laying down the ultimatum. I do NOT divorce her in those situations, nor do I violate my conscience. I simply love her and allow her to exercise her agency in whatever way she chooses - no different than if she does not make such an ultimatum. In other words, I love and serve both her AND God; I don't choose one or the other. If she decides to choose one or the other, she has that right - but I love choose both.

For cases where I do support divorce (and the principle of divorce), see my post titled "When Divorce Is the Best Option", but I believe way too many people make exceptions when none need be made.

Papa D said...

Also, just to say it, I believe nobody, and I mean nobody, ever should divorce someone simply because that person's faith changes. If the faith changes in a way that irreparably damages the relationship in an objective way (and there are extreme examples of that), then I believe divorce is justified - but I believe simple religious difference is not a valid reason to break up a marriage, especially if the spouse whose faith changes is willing to love and support the other spouse.

Thomas Parkin said...

As a man married for many years to a militantly atheist / pagan who made my religion poison, I wouldn't take what you've written here as a principle. Should one's family disable one's ultimately individual project to follow Jesus and become like him, then it is the family that has to go. 'If man love father or mother more than me, he is not worthy of me?'; 'Who is my mother and brothers?' etc.

As for what circumstances justify divorce, the guiding principle should be to keep our noses out of other people's business. In so far as their business is thrust upon us, as in the case of a bishop, the guiding principles should be humility, forbearance and charity.

Thomas Parkin said...

Not that I divorced over religion. I would have endured that. But boy I would understand someone who did. What ended it finally was her(his) desire to change sex, and the fact that she didn't speak to me for a year.

Papa D said...

I have no disagreement whatsoever with that, Thomas - none. There are always cases that go against any general concept, and, as you say, the final decision must be in the hands of the person in the unique situation.

Papa D said...

As I said in my previous comment, "If the faith changes in a way that irreparably damages the relationship in an objective way" . . . and what you described certainly fits that general description.

Anonymous said...

God first. But God wants us to take care of our families. So after being a child of God I'm a wife, mom and daughter.
To me it means I wouldn't commit a sin just to make my husband happy. To me it means that I would be a good wife even if I felt angry at my husband.
God first definitely. Don't think that means I will ever neglect my family. Maybe because I'm a woman it doesn't ever come up in church. I don't have the responsibility to go on a mission or priesthood responsibilities.
My husband would actually put me before God. I don't agree with that. I would rather him put God first.
As a typical mom for many years, it can seem like there is too much to do to obey commandments and take care of my family. My motto of putting God first (the essential part of the gospel) means that I simply ask him to help me prioritize each day and then I just try not to stress about the rest. My best friend has a controlling husband. You can bet her husband thinks she should put him first. In fact, she can't do simple nice things for others because he wants to control her and thinks she should spend no energy on anything other than him and the kids. Messed up.

Papa D said...

Messed up, indeed. Controlling is not prioritizing highly. It is exactly the opposite - prioritizing lastly and putting self first.

SilverRain said...

Ray, you are apparently very lucky (and yes, I say LUCKY) to have not really been faced with the decision of following God's will or your spouse's.

I have, and I chose God. It wasn't without pain, but neither choice was for me at that point.

I think I get what you're trying to say, and I agree with it. But I do want to point out that this: "If the faith changes in a way that irreparably damages the relationship in an objective way..." is simply ridiculous. There is no such thing as "irreparably damaging the relationship in an objective way."

Relationships are, by definition, subjective. If two people marry by making eternal covenants, and one spouse reneges on those covenants, it is entirely and solely up to the other person to counsel with God to decide whether or not the breach of covenant on their side releases them from obligation to the marriage.

Civilly speaking, there need be no reason to divorce. Eternally speaking, the marriage was made on eternal principles that have now been abandoned by one of the parties. While I agree with you that marriages undoubtedly end for superficial reasons, there is no way anyone outside of that marriage and line of authority from God has any ability to judge. No. Way.

SilverRain said...

And let me reiterate: I think I get what you're trying to say, and I agree. I just think there are some problems with the way you've chosen to phrase it that could be very damaging to people who have been forced to choose between their God and their family.

Papa D said...

"Relationships are, by definition, subjective. If two people marry by making eternal covenants, and one spouse reneges on those covenants, it is entirely and solely up to the other person to counsel with God to decide whether or not the breach of covenant on their side releases them from obligation to the marriage."

I agree.

"there is no way anyone outside of that marriage and line of authority from God has any ability to judge. No. Way."

I agree, completely. I know wording things like this is incredibly difficult to do in a way that isn't going to misunderstood by some people, and I know there will be people who read this and not understand (or misunderstand) what I'm saying, but I still believe it is important, as the initial default, not to denigrate spouse and children by setting up a ranking system that allows neglect to be justified - or that allows divorce, for example, for something like a simple change of faith.

Papa D said...

To clarify, when I said "that allows" I was NOT talking about forbidding anything. "Allows" was a bad choice of wording. I should have said something like "a default setting that leads someone, without serious thought or contemplation, to justify neglect or divorce . . ."

Christy said...

There was a wonderful article in the Ensign many years ago that I have applied in my life many times. It was actually a question and answer. The question was how can we honor our parents when we are trying to live righteously and they are not? The answer essentially was that we honor our parents BY living righteously (even if they don't see it that way). You said that you don't think you can follow God without your family by your side, and is has been my experience that I cannot love and support my family without God by my side.

My point is that I cannot see loving God and loving your family as two separate things. As in the concept of faith vs. works, how can one exist without the other?

SilverRain said...

Thank you, Ray.

But changes in faith are never simple. Not when a relationship has been built on that faith. Changing the faith can't help but change the relationship. It completely undermines trust.

Papa D said...

"But changes in faith are never simple."

I agree, but I believe not all changes in faith are important enough that the default for all changes should be divorce or even threats of divorce - and I know of WAY too many cases where the first words expressed by someone to a spouse who has expressed doubts were, essentially, "If you don't believe like you used to believe, I don't know if I can stay with you." I'm saying that I believe a default position that equates all faith issues as equal and worthy of divorce (or even the consideration of divorce) as an acceptable option is wrong.

"Not when a relationship has been built on that faith."

I know this is not what you meant, but just to be clear in this sort of forum for others who might read this thread, if a relationship is built solely (or even primarily) on a specific set of doctrinal beliefs that are more important than love, compassion, charity, sacrifice, etc, it is not the type of relationship I want. Some faith changes absolutely are more critical and damaging than others, which means some are less critical and damaging. I believe God does not want couples and families broken apart when love, compassion, charity, sacrifice, etc. still are part of the relationship from BOTH spouses - and I emphasize BOTH intentionally.

"Changing the faith can't help but change the relationship."

I agree, but I also believe faith needs to change over time. Static faith is dead faith, in my opinion, so learning to accept changing faith is part of a healthy, evolving, progressing, empowering relationship. My faith is very different now, in regard to specific details, than it was when I married my wife - and so is hers. The core has remained the same (a belief in an eternal union, relative to marriage), but lots of details have changed.

"It completely undermines trust."

It can, depending on the people and the details that change. Sometimes, trust can return; sometimes, it can't. I agree with "undermine"; I think we both agree that it it doesn't and shouldn't "destroy" trust in all cases.

If marriages can survive adultery (and some can't and shouldn't, I know), marriages can survive a change in faith (and some can't and shouldn't, I know).

Bottom line for me: What I'm saying takes a paradigm shift for lots of members - but I think it takes a shift that matches more closely our overall theology. If we truly value and accept our temple theology and the idea that even people who appear to us to be complete reprobates might be exalted because they might have lived the best they knew how, and if we believe that our drunken grandfather ought to be sealed to our grandmother (who loved him) because there is a chance they might be together in the next life, and if we believe non-members can love each other so much that they "seal" themselves to each other in practical terms and will be sealed eternally as a result when their temple work is done - then I struggle with anything that denies that same kind of grace to our own members, especially those who try and are good people but struggle with some element of faith.

I know it can be brutally hard emotionally (and culturally), but I simply believe that the sealing power is strong enough to cover two people who truly strive to become one - so my default setting is to trust God and what I see in our theology and not place Him before my wife, speaking generally and not conclusively in all situations.

Anonymous said...

This is an incredible post and I particularly love your reading of the temple covenant. It resonates with me.
My faith has certainly changed over the thirty years of my marriage, from 24/7 observance and attendance at every possible activity, prioritising church service even over a child sick unto death in hospital and garnering a letter of praise from a presiding authority for doing so. How bitterly I regret that! My children have much with which to reproach me. I know it never felt right in my heart, but it was all the information I had at the time.
I know many who have divorced over these issues, so I welcome an open discussion.Thank God our marriage pulled through, I think because our hearts were right towards each other, and ultimately they were in the right place.
My point is that we have had to negotiate this in our relationship, and re-negotiate. We have continued to support each other in our questioning and efforts to act with integrity.
We've now come to the conclusion that we sacrificed the best years of our family life on the altar of somebody or other's pet project at the time, leaving us with precious little to build upon with our children when they questioned all the more active than thou every minute programmed life that others would have us lead. They rejected that, and have a hard time separating out the gospel from it all. Now we are left working on that, we have to embody Christ-like ideals of forgiveness and forbearance as there is no longer any other format. I wish my kids had seen me serve with my neighbours in community projects where they could have served side by side with us, instead our lives were consumed by endless meetings which we were guilted into attending. I know I sound angry, and I am. If I had my time again, I would spend it differently.
I understand what you are saying, and I hope to do better.