Comparing the evolution of two church policies: birth control and women working outside the home

For most of the years I lived with my parents, my mother and I didn’t make much headway in establishing a healthy relationship with each other. But, now that I’ve moved out of the house, and as far away from Utah as I possibly could while remaining in the same country, I have gradually come to the realization that I was a pretty much an ungrateful wretch from the age of ten on. My behavior contributed to a lot of bad feelings and family drama that sometimes made life miserable for all of us. I love you, Mom. Sorry I was so hard to get along with. I’m looking forward to being friends again.

Anyway, getting to know my mother and understand her better has made me realize just how different our lives have been. And has given me so much more appreciation for the sacrifices she made for my family.

My mother gave birth to most of her children in the 1970s, when birth control was a moral issue, and when Church leaders encouraged members to forgo material comforts and to draw upon their faith to bring as many children into the world as they could provide for. There was never a question whether my mother would work outside the home, even though she had graduated from BYU and was an experienced teacher. We made do on one income.

Thinking about my mother’s experiences highlights an issue I have struggled with, which is understanding how (and why) Church policies change over time. For example, Church leaders have gradually backed away from strong denunciations of birth control, and now emphasize that the decision to have children is a private one between a couple and God. They state that members should not judge each other on this matter.

Although my mother loves all of her seven children, I know she would have preferred to at least have had the option of spacing her children out more evenly (she gave birth to seven children in nine years). However, the teachings of the Church leaders influenced my mother (and father) to choose not to limit or prevent the number of children born into our family.

Now, using birth control is not even an issue for most people in the Church.

Similarly, Mormon women with children have been strongly encouraged not to work outside the home. This directive has not changed, although Church leaders continue to recognize that many women need to earn a paycheck to support their children. For example, Camilla Kimball in a May 1977 Ensign article stresses the importance of young women preparing themselves for a career as a mother, and a career as a wage earner in the event of singlehood.

The general expectation continues to be that women with children should not work outside the home. Sister Julie B. Beck, First Counselor in the Young Women’s General Presidency, gave an address in the Sunday morning session of the April 2004 General Conference in which she praised women who had earned advanced degrees, but who were cheerfully using their education to plan nightly dinners for their families. Elder Russell M. Nelson said a few months ago that married couples shouldn’t delay having children until they are financially stable. And, in case there is any question, the Proclamation on the Family clearly defines the primary role of a woman to bear and nurture her children.

On the other hand, Church leaders regularly encourage women to pursue an education. And in March, BYU President Cecil O Samuelson gave a wonderful talk encouraging women to explore their interests, particularly in the hard sciences, and publicly disagreed with Harvard President Larry Summers’ remarks speculating about the competence of women in these academic fields. Church leaders seem to be moving in the direction of emphasizing that women and men should have equal opportunity to explore their interests and become educated.

So, is the issue of women working and pursuing interests outside the home moving in the same direction as the birth control issue in the 1970s? As more women are pursuing educations, and as more part time and flexible work arrangements become available to allow women significant time with their families as well as time outside the home, should we be finding similar flexibility in our family relationships? Or is there a spiritual cost for both women and men each preparing for a career, so that a married couple may be more flexible in sharing responsibility for caring for their children? Should we be saying that whether or not a woman works outside the home is a private issue, and that members shouldn’t judge each other in these matters?

As an illustration, say you have a brilliant and talented sister, Jane, who has been accepted to the best medical school in the country, but is wondering whether she should pursue her education (and incur lots of debt). She and her husband want to have a family someday, but Jane also would like the option to work at least part time while her children are growing up. How would you help her decide what to do?

100 comments for “Comparing the evolution of two church policies: birth control and women working outside the home

  1. diogenes
    May 4, 2005 at 10:16 am

    My, couldn’t you think of anything controversial to blog about?

    While we’re at it, maybe we could also speculate about what the Church’s policies on abortion and gay marriage will look like 20 years from now. That should pretty much attract every possible type of flaming indigenous to T&S.

  2. May 4, 2005 at 10:27 am


    I’m not sure anything has really changed. I don’t see the difference you are trying to create. While the statement “between the couple & God” is a firewall built up to prevent member & family meddling…Elder Nelson’s talk exemplifies how Church counsel has remained consistently the same. 20 years ago, it was also between the couple & God, with the same counsel to not sacrifice children in order to get an education or gain more wealth. Other than a slight emphasis on the “between the couple & God,” to correct for cultural pressures…I don’t see any difference.

    Also, are you suggesting that their is a conflict between having children & getting an education? If so, I don’t see that either. Plenty of families have done both. Is it more difficult? Yes, but not impossible or close to it, requiring only a couple who plan to support each other, set the goals & go forward. I’m sure that someone will quickly point out that I’m male and couldn’t possibly understand. However, working with my wife, we’ve worked out a plan that allows her to still get her degree w/o putting off having children. Several of the permabloggers here can probably attest to their own personal experiences thus also.

  3. Mark Pickering
    May 4, 2005 at 10:29 am

    The Church’s policies, since the decision was made in 1890 to assimilate, lag behind those of the rest of the country by about 50 years. This is due to the fact that our leaders live in the world of 50 years ago. While sometimes this time lag is an advantage to members, at other times it is a disadvantage. Church teachings on women, work, and childbearing will continue to change as time goes on.

    Jane should make her decision not only prayerfully and in full consultation with her own conscience and her husband, but she should also consider the relevant social scientific literature about positive and negative effects on day care for children, careers on the stress of mothers, etc. Dogma does us all a disservice here.

  4. Kaimi
    May 4, 2005 at 10:32 am


    You’re male and therefore couldn’t possibly understand. (Feel better now?).

    I think Elisabeth is right that the previous position was a lot different from the present position. Church leaders taught, up until the 70’s or perhaps 80’s, that contraception, including between a married couple, was sinful. (From that cultural background sprang cultural reflections like Saturday’s Warrior). And that teaching is not present today.

  5. Elisabeth
    May 4, 2005 at 10:34 am

    Diogenes (and all the potential flamers)-

    I apologize if it sounds like I’m trying to be controversial here. This has been a very important issue for me in my life, and I’m hopeful that we can have a rational substantive discussion for those who are interested.


  6. May 4, 2005 at 10:36 am

    Ah…now if only the Lord would bless our Prophets with long lives as during the biblical days; then we wouldn’t have to worry about the Church being dragged away from the truth by the cultural chagnes that Mark mentions.

    Thanks kaimi! :)

    So, the cultural implication that birth contro is sinful is now gone. However, Church counsel to not delay marriage to get an education or wealth remains; as does counsel not to delay having children after marriage to get education or wealth. So…what has really changed? Couples now make the decision themselves rather than watching Saturday’s Warrior & being guilt tripped into not delaying to pursue education & wealth?

  7. Travis
    May 4, 2005 at 10:41 am

    Lyle – In connection with the birth control question, Church leaders explicitly said that LDS couples should try to have as many children as possible. Now President Hinckley teaches that the number of children is between the couple and the Lord. I have a hard time seeing how this is not a rather significant change.

  8. Mark Pickering
    May 4, 2005 at 10:42 am

    The Church’s policies, since the decision was made in 1890 to assimilate, lag behind those of the rest of the country by about 50 years. This is due to the fact that our leaders live in the world of 50 years ago. While sometimes this time lag is an advantage to members, at other times it is a disadvantage. Church teachings on women, work, and childbearing will continue to change as time goes on.

    Jane should make her decision not only prayerfully and in full consultation with her own conscience and her husband, but she should also consider the relevant social scientific literature about positive and negative effects on day care for children, careers on the stress of mothers, etc. Dogma does us all a disservice here.

  9. Elisabeth
    May 4, 2005 at 10:45 am

    Lyle –

    The real issue is that women are told they cannot work outside the home, but then they are also counseled to pursue an education and to explore their interests. What if their interests and education lead to women want to work outside the home? I see an unresolved tension in the counsel. We want to encourage women to pursue an education, but not at the expense of the family. But men are not told the same thing. Well, couldn’t the Church encourage husbands and wives to figure out how to care for their children and so that both the mother and the father have the opportunity to work outside the home, if that’s what they want to do?

    I’m not saying that women SHOULD work outside the home. My mother didn’t. I probably won’t when we’re able to have children, at least for a year or so. What concerns me, is that women are told that they should not want to work outside the home, and that they should find complete fulfillment in their families. While I think this is true for many women, it is not true for others. I think women should have choices and options, without feeling guilty about them (yeah, right), but I think we at least need more guidance from Church leaders about this. I would love to follow up with President Samuelson and ask a few GA’s what they think.

  10. a random John
    May 4, 2005 at 10:46 am

    My wife’s mother has a large number of friends that are divorced Mormon women. Many were left in pretty terrible financial shape. Others stayed in bad marriages because the knew they couldn’t support themselves, their lack of training making them a prisoner. I think this partly explains why my wife and her sisters have had education and self-sufficiency pounded into their heads from a young age. The common phrase I hear is, “Would you rather be 45 and working at the mall for minimum wage or have a real job?” I will happily admit that there are plenty of people who enjoy working at the mall. There are also those who would rather not.

    This has led to all her sisters getting graduate degrees. Now perhaps my wife has taken this idea to an extreme by becoming a doctor. I think I can safely say that the training for such a career isn’t exactly family friendly. It has meant long hours, moving across the country, and it has had some impact on my own career as well. We are within sight of the end though, and things look good there. She has a part-time job lined up that gives her enormous flexibility. If something ever happened to me she could easily support our family. I don’t see how that is a bad thing. Of course buying lots of insurance might accomplish the same thing, but in a very different way.

    Her career might also give me more job flexibility in the future. Don’t tell my boss! As things are now, her schedule has “forced” me to spend lots of time with my son, which isn’t something to regret.

    Now, should your sister “Jane” become a doctor? I have no idea. I wouldn’t ask a resident though. I would ask someone that has been practicing for a few years. Otherwise you might get a rather bitter perspective. Also, select a specialty carefully, some are very part-time friendly, others demand much more of your time. I can’t comment much on the debt aspect. We are both paying off undergrad loans, but med school was cheap enough that we could cover it from my income.

    As far as family planning goes, if my wife were a stay at home mother, we might have had our first child a year earlier, but I don’t think it will affect the total number of children we will have.

    Full disclosure time: It would have been very difficult for us to have had any children right now if it weren’t for the help we have received from ward members, many of whom are stay at home mothers. We are eternally grateful for our “ward family” that has really enabled things for us.

  11. Colleen
    May 4, 2005 at 11:01 am

    There’s a Cal Grondahl cartoon, circa 1987, that shows a Molly-Mormonish young woman at a BYU podium saying: “I’ve come to this school to study nuclear physics…Not to get a job but to teach nuclear physics to my children in the home.” Back then we could poke fun at the idea of women getting degreed only to spend their prime years diaper changing and nose wiping. I doubt everyone was laughing — I sure wasn’t. However, over that time employers have learned to bend to the demands of female workers, and now options like part-time work, flex time, job shares, buying vacation time, etc. are increasingly helping dual-working parents. As LDS mothers take advantage of these opportunities, how can church leaders not notice that often it works pretty well for moms to take a job and husbands to share the load at home? I feel a lot less tension now than I did as a working mom 17 years ago and four kids later.

  12. Elisabeth
    May 4, 2005 at 11:09 am

    As an aside, here is a great quote from Brigham Young about women working outside the home:

    “Another thing I will say with regard to our trading: Our Female Relief Societies are doing immense good now, but they can take hold and do all the trading for these wards just as well as to keep a big loafer to do it.

    It is always disgusting to me to see a big, fat, lubberly fellow handing out calicoes and measuring ribbon; I would rather see the ladies do it. The ladies can learn to keep books as well as the men; we have some few, already, who are just as good accountants as any of our bretheren.

    Why not teach more to keep books and sell goods, and let them do this business, and let the men go raising sheep, wheat or cattle, or go and do something or other to beautify the earth and help make it like the Garden of Eden instead of spending their time in a lazy, loafing manner..”

    From “Building the City of God: Community & Cooperation Among the Mormons” by Leonard Arrington, Feramorz Fox, & Dean May (pages 98-9).

  13. Tim
    May 4, 2005 at 11:22 am

    Speaking to Elisabeth’s actual question (is the same thing happening with women working that happened with birth control), I think it’s possible. But I think it’s very difficult to make predictions and I think there’s a danger in trying to go out “ahead of the curve” so to speak. Sometimes church policies and practices do change, but sometimes they don’t. I can easily see a scenario where the prophet and the 12 acknowledge that there is some flexibility in terms of how child care responsibilities are shared, but stay firm on the counsel that a mother should have primary child care responsibility and if she works it should be on a limited basis.

    I think this is a situation where a focus on the actual standard is less helpful than a focus on the rationale or the underlying principles. For example, I think the principle underlying the standard answer that women should not work outside the home is that the work of raising children is of infinitely greater value (i.e., eternal value) than pretty much any career choice that a woman could make. When we really appreciate the importance of loving, teaching, and protecting our children, most of the questions about how much the mother works outside the home get answered. (I should add that, in my view, this is just as important for men as it is for women. I think that there is a huge danger that men will allow professional—or even church—responsibilities to take a higher priority than the full participation in the raising of children).

    I think focusing on the importance of raising children really helps to clarify the situation. I think Jane should seriously consider medical school. However, I think she should consider the cost in terms of time commitment and debt that school will be. Also, I think she should be realistic about what kind of medical practice she’ll be able to have if she wants to be serious about raising a family. There are trade offs that all of us have to deal with. Really focusing on the family in all but the most exceptional circumstances will result in less time and energy to excel in a professional setting.

  14. Ana
    May 4, 2005 at 11:24 am

    The potential cost to a woman having a career comes when opportunities for the woman and her husband conflict. For now, it’s relatively easy for me to work, even as a mother of two, and that’s a good thing, because it’s a financial necessity. The relative ease comes about because my husband has a flexible schedule as a grad student. It’s okay if he works 7 to 3, picks up the kids, stays on daddy duty for a few hours, and then spends the evenings on his laptop. I get the kids off to school, work 8:30 to 5:30, then come home and take over until bedtime.

    When he finishes his degree, though, conflict could easily arise between us. Imagine that two years from now I’ve received a promotion (not unlikely given the rapid growth occurring in my workplace). At the same time, my husband lands a professor job in a place where there’s not an opportunity for me. How do we decide whose career takes precedence? To me, the church guidance on my role as a mom offers an easy solution.

    I think the counsel on working outside the home is headed more toward “pray and make your own decision.” It has to be; surviving on one income is all well and good in Utah or other places with a reasonable cost of living — we did it for five years in Salt Lake — but in California we have found it well nigh impossible. Correction: nigh impossible on an entry-level income, absolutely impossible on a Ph.D. student stipend, which is really about half an income. On 1.5 incomes, we can get by pretty well and will even be able to save for our next adoption now that we have climbed out of the debt we incurred during the year we were trying to make it on one.

    Sometimes I think women’s choices about work and money and family-building seem a lot like Eve’s choices in the garden. We are given several commandments and pieces of counsel. Sometimes they come into conflict. We have to try to take the long view and then do the best we can. I’ve tried to do that. For now I believe I’m making appropriate choices.

    Fellow Church members have been very supportive of my choice to work right now. It’s not a choice I took lightly. I can only hope and trust that all the other moms choosing it are being serious about it, too. No one can determine that but them.

  15. Elisabeth
    May 4, 2005 at 11:24 am

    Colleen – that’s a great point. In fact, Julie in Austin’s book review of LDS statistics show that LDS women are 3% more likely than the national average to work part time (see quote below).

    I wonder if the Church will recognize that flexible work options have made working outside the home more feasible, or whether there are other reasons for not exploring these alternative arrangements.

    From Julie in Austin’s post:

    (1) LDS women are 8% less likely than the national average to be working full time. They are actually 3% more likely than the national average to work part time. (Another study cited in the book found them 10% less likely to work full time and 2% more likely to work part time.) In other words, all of that emphasis on mothers in the home has resulted in a behavior change affecting less than 1 in 10 women. I find this surprising.

  16. Mark Martin
    May 4, 2005 at 11:26 am

    I recall a 1988 or 1989 fireside broadcase talk by President Benson asking mothers to “come home,” which stirred up controversial murmurings around campus. It seems we’ve forgotten that his emphasis was to “be at the crossroads” for your children, when they come home from school, etc. As Colleen indicates (#11), it may be more possible for parents to do that now, with the mother doing some work away from the house.

    I would hope that Melissa will pipe up, with Elisabeth opening up the perfect lead!

  17. DavidH
    May 4, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Apart from helping women prepare for unexpected eventualities that might lead to raising and providing for a family on her own, a college education appears to have the effect of lowering the likelihood of her marriage’s ending in divorce. The NYTimes reported a week or so ago:

    “As the overall divorce rates shot up from the early 1960’s through the late 1970’s, Dr. Martin found, the divorce rate for women with college degrees and those without moved in lockstep, with graduates consistently having about one-third to one-fourth the divorce rate of nongraduates.

    “But since 1980, the two groups have taken diverging paths. Women without undergraduate degrees have remained at about the same rate, their risk of divorce or separation within the first 10 years of marriage hovering at around 35 percent. But for college graduates, the divorce rate in the first 10 years of marriage has plummeted to just over 16 percent of those married between 1990 and 1994 from 27 percent of those married between 1975 and 1979.

    “About 60 percent of all marriages that eventually end in divorce do so within the first 10 years, researchers say. If that continues to hold true, the divorce rate for college graduates who married between 1990 and 1994 would end up at only about 25 percent, compared to well over 50 percent for those without a four-year college degree.” HEALTH & FITNESS | April 19, 2005, Tuesday, Divorce Rate: It’s Not as High as You Think,
    By DAN HURLEY (NYT). [Unfortunately the full article is now stored in the paid archive of the Times.]

  18. Rosalynde Welch
    May 4, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Of course, David, I’m sure that during the same period the MARRIAGE rate for educated women has plummeted, as well.

  19. May 4, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    I think that trying to anticipate possible future changes in church policy is a vain exercise in lack-of-faith. The only reason I can see to engage in such is in search of justification for disobeying current instructions because one can make a reasonable sounding argument that the policy will change in the future.

    We often quote 1 Nephi 3:7 in the church. However, when the Lord asks us to do something through our prophets, just as the Lord asked Nephi to do something through his, do we really believe that the Lord will prepare a way for us to accomplish that which he commands?

    If we have been asked to not put off marriage or children, and if women have been asked to stay at home to nurture their children full time, then we should obey with the same faith that Nephi exhibits, believing that the Lord will provide a way.

    Now, the Holy Spirit may authorize an individual couple to act differently. But too many want to wait to have children until they feel prompted by the Spirit to start. This is wrong. The Lord has already given his general instruction through the prophets and we should expect to follow that instruction in faith unless the Spirit indicates otherwise. We don’t wait to obey until the Spirit says we should. We should expect to obey unless the Spirit authorizes and exception. Exceptions, like Nephi’s authorization to kill Laban, should be infrequent and unusual.

    I’m sure that like Martin Harris and the lost manuscript, we can pester the Lord with our desire to put off children, or work outside the home enough that the Lord will authorize it. That doesn’t mean that it is right.

    If church policy in this matter changes in the future it could just as easily be because disobedience to the prophet has already created an environment in which the ideal is no longer possible and not necessarily because the instructions were wrong to begin with.

    Amelia Tyagi, co-author of The Two Income Trap explained in aninterview:

    More and more families today are sending both parents into the workforce — t’s become the norm, it’s what we now expect. The overwhelming majority of us do it because we think it will make our families more secure. But that’s not how things have worked out. By the end of this decade, one in seven families with children will go bankrupt. Having a child is now the single best predictor of bankruptcy, and this holds true even for families with two incomes.

    So we looked at the data for two-income families today earning an average income. What we found was that, while those families certainly make more money than a one-income family did a generation ago, by the time they pay for the basics — an average home, a health insurance policy, a second car to get Mom to work, child care, and taxes — that family actually has less money left over at the end of the month to show for it. We tend to assume with two incomes you’re doubly secure. But if you count on every penny of both of those incomes, which most families today do, then you’re in big trouble if either income goes away. And obviously, if you have two people in the workforce, you have double the chance that someone will get laid off, or double the chance that someone could get too sick to work. When that happens, two-income families really get into trouble, and that’s how a lot of families quickly go bankrupt.

    It used to be that a stay-at-home parent was a sort of safety net — she (and it was usually a “she”) not only took care of the children, but she was there if anyone got sick. Or if Grandma broke a hip, she could step in and provide care without costing the family financially. But today, with both parents in the workforce 100 percent of the time, there’s just no way to care for somebody on the side — either somebody has to take time off work or somebody has to pay someone to provide that care. In either it represents a big financial blow, and families just don’t have the flexibility to deal with it anymore.

    Of course, the notion that mothers are all going to run pell-mell back to the hearth and turn back the clock to 1950 is absurd. But that aside, a big part of the two-income trap is that families have basically bid up the cost of living. Housing is a big example. A generation ago, an average family could buy an average home on one income. Today you can’t do that in three-quarters of American cities. We all know that housing prices are going up, but what most people don’t realize is that this has become a family problem. Housing prices are rising twice as fast for families with kids.

    A lot of that has to do with public schools. As confidence in the public schools has dwindled, people are bidding up the prices on homes in those school districts with good reputations; so for a typical family, the only way to afford one of those homes is to send mom to work. Average mortgage expenses have gone 70 times faster than the average father’s income, and the only way families are keeping up is by bringing in two incomes.

    Of course that’s where you see the trap. If families were simply sending Mom into the workforce and using that money to build their savings, or to have more fun, or to go on more vacations, you wouldn’t see the same kind of financial trap. If Mom or Dad got laid off, heck, they’d stop going on vacation. But that’s not the case. If mom gets laid off now you can’t say, “Well, we’ll just stop paying the mortgage for awhile.” One of the things we’ve heard over and over after our book was released was mothers stepping forward and saying: “You’re telling my story. You know, maybe I prefer to work and maybe I don’t, but I tell you I have no choice financially. The only way we’re getting health insurance and the only way I’m sending my kids to a decent school is for me to work and work some more.”

    If people had just obeyed the instructions of our prophets we might have avoided this situation.

  20. May 4, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    > In connection with the birth control question, Church leaders explicitly said that LDS couples should try to have as many children
    > as possible. Now President Hinckley teaches that the number of children is between the couple and the Lord. I have a hard time
    > seeing how this is not a rather significant change.

    The explanation is, of course, obvious: the guff is almost empty.

  21. May 4, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    Elisabeth: If the _real_ issue you want to explore is how to, and/or whether to, get rid of the cultural/religous stigmatism attached to mothers working outside of the home…then I think you run into a real conflict. That is, re: birth control, it seems like a Church-wide “hands off” approach is applauded; while re: women working outside the home, you/others (?) are advocating the Church actively step in & say it is ok. Or just asking for the same statement “that whether a mother works outside the home is between the couple and God”? If the latter, the difference seems nominal to me, other than it would benefit those that want to work outside the home, but “feel” that they shouldn’t. If the Church adopted a more “permissive” stance, then perhaps these “feelings” would go away. And then again…maybe it is the individual’s conscience already telling them, based on doctrine and consistent unchanging counsel to put the family first which informs their choice.

    sum: the issue is already one between the couple & God. A married couple can choose either to put their children first or…have other priorities…or try to do both. Then again…maybe this marks me as a quasi-liberal/conservative Mormon in the discussion re: authority hierarchies going on over at Dave’s blog.

  22. SpeakingUp
    May 4, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    “Jane, who has been accepted to the best medical school in the country, but is wondering whether she should pursue her education (and incur lots of debt). She and her husband want to have a family someday, but Jane also would like the option to work at least part time while her children are growing up. How would you help her decide what to do?”

    From an economist point of view: Susan should stay home. However, my response below will be worded to apply to many different educational situations. The medical field, being heavily regulated (and overburdened) by the government has some exceptions to the rules.

    First of all, going to college and spending a fortune to get an education is unnecessary if getting an education is truly the goal. Going to college is good for a piece of paper that says you’ve completed a program that has been certified by a 3rd party accrediting agency. The piece of paper is only good when the person is trying to become employed by someone else and the employer uses that paper as a criteria for the job position being posted. If Susan wants to work in medicine in the U.S., she needs that piece of paper more than other women considering other fields. Also, please do not discount the ability to form your own businesses. Small business opportunities abound with the giant beaucracies / inefficiencies that large corporations are burdened with.

    Secondly, never forget the time-value of money and your own mortality. Does going into heavy debt now, give you a high enough income later to justify it? This can be calculated. First consider if you could take the student loan you were taken and invest it in the stock market NOW what would your return be on average? Now consider that you have to go through several more years of school, residency, etc, in order to work PART TIME (in Susan’s situation) later. Add up this income until desired retirement and compare to the stock investment using historical averages. I think you’ll see – ITS A BAD DECISION to go into the gross amount of debt to go to medical school for such little return compared to what you could had made if you had invested that money. I haven’t even touched the way the body breaks down as it gets older making having and raising kids more difficult physically while she may postpone getting pregnant to focus on her studies. And if she thinks that having a baby while going through the heavy demands of medical school is an option, she should consider the significant percentage of women who quit medical school after giving birth and finding how difficult it really is.

    Lastly, the medical profession is heavily regulated by government with periodic attempts to socialize the whole medical industry. Do you know what happens when government socializes medicine??? Salaries DROP. There is heavy pressure on government to further regulate the spiraling costs of health care. Her return on investment is jeopardized by uncertainty that government may soon decide how much she can get paid. Not a good industry to go into at the moment.

  23. Eve
    May 4, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    Does silence on a topic mean change? I think if you aksed President Hinckley and the other general authorites, they would say that women should, if at all possible, stay at home with their children. I also suspect that they would say artificial birth control should be avoided.

  24. Brett
    May 4, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    What I think is kind of funny is that while the Church leaders teach that women should not work outside of the home, most of the General Relief Society presidencies have had members that have had carreers along with their husbands. Talk about mixed messages.

  25. Seth Rogers
    May 4, 2005 at 12:46 pm

    I don’t have much to add to the questions of the advisability of birth control or work at the expense of family. I think those issues are pretty individualized.

    However, this whole conversation got me thinking of a quote from Joseph Smith:

    “A religion that lacks the authority to require the sacrifice of all things has not the power to save a single soul.”

    I also came across a statement to the effect that a necessary requirement for invoking the Atonement in your life is a conviction that the direction of your life is generally in accordance with God’s will. While there may be sins or deficiencies, a man or woman must feel deep-down that their efforts are acceptable to God.

    I drew my own conclusion that without this conviction, one cannot invoke Christ’s Atonement with confidence.

    So where does the confidence come from?

    Certainly repentance is a crucial, if not primary, element. Then I thought of Joseph Smith’s comment and realized that the law of sacrifice is also a crucial requirement for successfully invoking the Atonement for salvation.

    Without the sacrifice of ALL things, you cannot invoke the Atonement with the requisite confidence.

    This is why I always worry when we talk about making our church less demanding and more user friendly. I’m not criticizing any viewpoint in particular.

    But ask yourself: If we don’t feel like we’re really giving up anything for the Lord, how can we feel comfortable asking for His Atonement?

  26. will
    May 4, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    Eve, I disagree that church leaders would say that birth control should be avoided. Surely they’re aware that contraceptive usage is common among the saints. Why aren’t they calling us to repentance?

  27. Mark Martin
    May 4, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    “Does silence on a topic mean change?” (#23)

    Good question, Eve. I doubt that the silence on planting gardens makes it any less beneficial to grow one, complete with the benefits of working and talking alongside one’s children. I think if we asked President Hinckley, he’d also be in favor of well-kept yards and fences. (But I haven’t heard this counsel since President Kimball in the 1970s.)

  28. will
    May 4, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    Eve and Mark, do either of you have a theory on why church leaders no longer publicly condemn contraception?

  29. Travis
    May 4, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    In re Jonathan’s comments –

    “I think that trying to anticipate possible future changes in church policy is a vain exercise in lack-of-faith. The only reason I can see to engage in such is in search of justification for disobeying current instructions because one can make a reasonable sounding argument that the policy will change in the future.”

    – J, this is a less than charitable characterization of the question. I actually agree that this can easily degenerate into a vain exercise showing a lack of faith if we are not careful. However, honest people who have testimonies, who want to live according to God’s will, do have questions about these issues. (I count myself in that bunch). I believe it is possible to have a faithful, sincere discussion about just what the Lord does want us to do. Trying to clearly identify and understand the teachings of the living prophets isn’t saying you won’t obey them. In fact, I believe it is evidence of a sincere desire to follow the teachings of the prophets–otherwise, the question wouldn’t be asked and the person would just go do what they want.

    “We often quote 1 Nephi 3:7 in the church. However, when the Lord asks us to do something through our prophets, just as the Lord asked Nephi to do something through his, do we really believe that the Lord will prepare a way for us to accomplish that which he commands? If we have been asked to not put off marriage or children, and if women have been asked to stay at home to nurture their children full time, then we should obey with the same faith that Nephi exhibits, believing that the Lord will provide a way.”

    – J, you are assuming that “what the Lord commands” is clear. The whole question here is “what is the Lord’s will for us?” Unfortunately, sifting through the counsel from modern prophets is not always a simple exercise. Sometimes you can’t just take a clear statement from Church Leader X on a certain date and say “It’s clear! Just do what he says!” because Church Leader Y said something differently on a different date. It takes a lot of thinking, a lot of research, and a lot of prayer to come to a good resolution on things like this. In my view, the discussion in this post can be a good part of this process. Once a person comes to a resolution on what the Lord’s will is, then I have strong confidence that the Lord will prepare a way for me to get the job done. However, I think it’s clear that before I can join Nephi in his declaration of faith, I have to have reached a conclusion as to where the Lord wants me to go.

  30. N Miller
    May 4, 2005 at 1:20 pm

    Brett, name them and their profession. Aside from Sheri Dew, I do not know what the others have done. Also, what do you know about their family life? How many children do they have? How old were they when they started a career? I know many mothers, mine and my wife’s included, who stayed home at the expense of a career, but as the children grew up and started to leave the home, the role of mother changes and a career becomes desirable to feel as needed as they were when raising the children. There additional questions that need to be asked, most importantly, what hand did heaven play in them having to work?

    Additionally, I would agree with Eve. Do dead Prophets take their words with them to the grave? Today’s council goes right along with the prophets of years ago. There has been no change in “policy”, rather additional information and insight. However, with more information, the more it shows that we cannot follow the Lord in what he expects of us.

    President Ezra Taft Benson explained that “usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but he expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and his prophets, and then prayerfully act—without having to be commanded ‘in all things.’ This attitude prepares men for godhood. . . .
    “Sometimes the Lord hopefully waits on his children to act on their own, and when they do not, they lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let them suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail. Usually, I fear, the more he has to spell it out, the smaller is our reward.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1965, pp. 121–22.)

  31. Mark Martin
    May 4, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    Will (#28),

    I should have clarified in #27 that while I think Eve’s question is a good one to ask for any topic, I don’t think the brethren have been silent regarding birth control. As has been indicated by others, they do teach us the principle that we should unselfishly welcome children into our homes and families, and not delay for educational or financial reasons. As to specifics, I think President Hinckley has used words like “As to numbers and spacing, I leave that matter between the couple and the Lord.”

    Hence, while I like Eve’s question, I committed the offense of “changing the subject” as though there had been no allowance for birth control methods. Sorry.

  32. Julie in Austin
    May 4, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    Ana wrote, “Sometimes I think women’s choices about work and money and family-building seem a lot like Eve’s choices in the garden. We are given several commandments and pieces of counsel. Sometimes they come into conflict. We have to try to take the long view and then do the best we can.”

    Wow, that’s profound. Thank you.


    The book I just reviewed (and an anecdotal comment from an OB/GYN servicing the BYU community) suggests that 80% of LDS women use the pill or similar. I cannot imagine the brethren are unaware of this (even if unaware of concrete numbers, they can look around any ward and realize that the majority of women are spacing kids 2-3 years apart, which does not happen naturally to *most* women).

    Also, consider (link, please?) Pres. Hinckley talking about the young mother, a nurse, who treated him once. He praised her, talking about how she could work as little or as much as shae wanted to. (Can you imagine Pres. Benson saying this?) I think that that sentiment (training=options to work according to your family’s needs) is the wave of the future in the Church. And I couldn’t support it more.

    One thing that bothers me is the “but women *have* to work” line. As someone who full-time mothered for three years while our family income was under 15K/year (because my husband was in school and we were living mostly off of savings from *my* previous job), don’t talk to me about *have* to work. I generally hear this line from people with cell phones, cable, and children in gymnastics lessons. At the same time, I see other families sacrifice a *lot* so their children can be parented by . . . their parents. I think, of course, that there are situations where women really do *have* to work, and I would estimate them to be about 5% of the women claiming they *have* to. (/stepping off of soapbox in time, hopefully, to duck tomatoes/)

    I periodically find myself struggling with the change from ‘birth control is evil’ (anyone have that Prs. McKay quote handy?) to ‘pray about it.’ I don’t quite know how to resolve it. I, somedays, can accept the notion that the women born to that era were called to have large families, while most women born today are not called to it, but have different challenges (how many of those 12-kid LDS housewives of the 50s had to worry about internet porn?). I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on the shift.

  33. Katie
    May 5, 2005 at 11:19 am

    Julie, for what it is worth here is a theory I have been formulating on the shift from the counsel to have big families and the condemnation of birth control, to the current allowance of birth control and the advice to counsel with the Lord on the number of children:

    There are a limited number of spirits in the preexistence. The earth has been around for a long time and billions have made their way to earth. Anciently and right up through this century not only did church leaders encourage bringing many children into the world, in general the worldwide culture also felt this way. I believe Heavenly Father put this in the hearts of people of early times and when the church was restored, He put it in the hearts of its leaders. He wanted to get as many spirit children down to earth as possible. But now it has shifted. Why? Some would say it is because the world is becoming more secular and selfish. But is it not possible that God has also put this urge into the hearts of people in these times? We trumpet the goodness of big families, but why were they seen as better than small families? Because they helped bring more spirits down to earth to gain bodies. But what would God do when the spirits started to run low? Would he not taper the number of children coming into the world? Wouldn’t he have to start rationing them out at a certain point? Therefore, I am not convinced that the move to smaller families is demonic, rather it is Heavenly Father’s hand in family planning.

  34. Sue
    May 5, 2005 at 11:29 am

    Regarding birth control: My mother also had most of her children in the seventies. She had nine, not because she wanted nine, or was emotionally/financially/physically prepared to handle nine – but because she felt a spiritual obligation to have as many as God wanted to send her. She was and is a deeply religious and spiritual woman. Unfortunately, she was not equipped to handle that many children. She was miserable. We were miserable. She was emotionally worn out, tired all the time, and mentally exhausted. She did not feel that she had the right to say – no more. Now that most (not all) of her children are grown, she has little to no interest in us. She has no interest in her grandchildren. She did her duty, and now, just wants to be by herself. She was a SAHM, she did everything the church asked her to do, and it turned out very badly indeed. I am so grateful that the church has changed it’s tune on this policy, and recognized that different people and couples have different parenting abilities and resources. If only they had been so wise back in the seventies.

    Regarding working outside the home: I agree with Elisabeth about the inherent tension in encouraging women to get an education, but then encouraging them not to use their education, except as it applies to enhancing their role as wife/mother. I think it’s a rather cruel trick. Learn, grow, stretch yourself – and then stuff it in a box until your kids are out of the house.

  35. May 5, 2005 at 11:38 am

    It seems to me that the environment in the western world is simply different today than it was even in the 1950’s. Thus it may well be that the Lord and the brethren are keeping that in mind.

  36. Elisabeth
    May 5, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Regarding birth control, I’m currently reading Jeffrey Sachs’ book, The End of Poverty. It’s an excellent book so far, and I’m very much enjoying reading about his amazing experiences while advising countries all over the world in how to improve economic conditions and increase prosperity. It’s fascinating.

    I don’t know much about Sachs other than this book, and I can imagine he is a controversial figure with his own agenda, but he has mentioned a few times about how when women are given more choices and control over their lives, including opportunities to work in the labor force, they choose to have fewer children. He gives an example of a group of educated women in Dhaka, Bangladesh stating that they would like to have children, but no more than two.

    I think this phenomenon has been fairly well borne out in wealthy countries in the Western hemisphere, where population rates are barely at or even below replacement level.

    Anyway, as I have been reading this book, I have thought it strange that the Church would stop encouraging its members to have large families, especially families who can easily provide for five or six children, who are having “only” two or three children. Why shouldn’t we be bringing more children into the world, now that we are more materially blessed? And if educated Mormon women aren’t bearing as many children as in the past, what should they do with all the “extra” time they would have spent raising their “extra” children? If the Church isn’t placing such a high priority on having large families anymore, why shouldn’t women now be encouraged to use their education outside the home?

  37. May 5, 2005 at 11:55 am

    I would recomend Justin’s excellent history of Churches teachings regarding family planning.

  38. Elisabeth
    May 5, 2005 at 12:10 pm


    Thanks for your comment. Your mother’s situation sounds a lot like my mother’s. My mother was so stressed out and overburdened caring for six children (my younger brother died as an infant) in a foreign country where she knew no one, that she missed out on many of the joys of having a family in the first place. Luckily, she’s had time to recuperate now that all of her children are grown up, and is enjoying her grandson immensely. It’s bittersweet to watch my mother with him, she’s so patient and loving – so different from the harried and exhausted mother I remember growing up.

  39. Greg Call
    May 5, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    I would recommend also Melissa Proctor’s article entitled “Bodies, Babies, and Birth Control” in the Fall 2003 issue of Dialogue (vol. 36). Unfortunately, it’s not in the U of U online archive yet.

  40. Matt Evans
    May 5, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    Elisabeth, the birth rates of nearly every western country are below the replacement rate (2.1 births per woman).

    Regarding the silence of the prophets, in about 1999 at a special meeting in the priesthood room of the Salt Lake temple, President Hinckley said that the percentage of American women with children who worked outside the home was 75%, and he’d been disappointed to learn from church researchers that the percentage of American Mormon women with children who worked outside the home was also 75%. He lamented, “It’s as though we had never said a thing,” clearly suggesting that, had Mormons been heeding the counsel of him and other church leaders, the percentage would be lower for Mormons. More interesting was that he didn’t clarify, simply assuming that his audience knew what he was talking about.

  41. Mark Simmons
    May 5, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    Katie (comment #33),

    Your notion that family sizes are becoming smaller due to a decreased number of spirits coming to earth reflects an America-centric paradigm. When you look at the birthrates worldwide, someone could be inclined to interpret that God has decided that it would be better for his spirit children to be born into Islamic families, because there certainly is no slow down in that part of the world, where a majority of people marry in their late teens or very early 20s (those who don’t get married at this young age have a greater propensity to become disgruntled and want seek for meaning vis a vis terrorism). Due to an unprecedented drop in birth rates in western Europe and the US & Canada (traditionally Christian footholds) spurred by economic drivers (ever-rising “standard” of living below which we cast the label of poverty if a family lives below it), Islam is quickly rooting out Christianity as the dominant world religion. Muslims take great pride in their posterity, while it has become more common for Americans to take great pride in their wealth – at the expense of welcoming more children into their home.

    One might also think “Maybe the birth rate is being reduced because the end of the world is coming and God doesn’t want more of his children to be born in wicked times.” However, in Noah’s time, they were still “marrying and giving in marriage”.

    There is still a Millennium era in which conditions will never have been better to raise families in righteousness. I’m guessing family sizes will take off when that era is in full sway.

    Finally, any conjecture on a quota system for spirit children negates the biological fact that when there is a conception, there will naturally be a birth. Be on the lookout for “soulless babies”!

  42. Brett McKay
    May 5, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    N. Miller-
    I know Kathy Hughes has had a career in Provo public schools for 14 years. She was even asistant superantendant for awhile.

  43. John H
    May 5, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    Although touched on briefly, we’ve also missed the point that most Church leaders have spent the majority of their lives away from home. I don’t say that as a criticism – it’s simply true. I don’t think they have a realistic sense of some of the difficulties that face mothers.

    One example: We lovingly tell the story of President Hinckley preparing to go on a trip the next day on Church business. Sister Hinckley asks if she’s coming along on this trip. President Hinckley impatiently responds “Can’t we decide that tomorrow?” After we all have a good chuckle, can’t we stop and look at how naive and unfair that response is to Sister Hinckley – a mother trying to manage a household and her children? How many parents out there want less than a few hours to find a babysitter for their kids for a few days and make sure everything else is squared away for their home? We pay a lot of lipservice to motherhood in the Church, but I think we do very little in practical ways to lighten their burden.

    I’d only add, suggesting that Church leaders’ positions on birth control, women working, or a myriad of other issues hasn’t changed can only rely on the most tortured of interpretations. It’s a bit like saying our teachings about modesty haven’t changed. Sure we still preach modesty, but what’s acceptable today is radically different than what was acceptable at the turn of the 20th century.

  44. May 5, 2005 at 12:32 pm
  45. May 5, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    Re: Julie’s request for links (#32):

    Couldn’t find Pres. McKay saying “birth control is evil,” but here’s one similar–
    “The Church speaks out boldly against the common evil of this day–the deliberate limiting of families by birth control. It teaches, rather, the sacred obligation resting upon husband and wife to bring children into the world.” (A. Theodore Tuttle, in Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 131–32; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1969, 108)

    Story about Pres. Hinckley talking to the nurse–“How Can I Become the Woman of Whom I Dream?” President Hinckley, April 2001 general Young Women meeting. (Great talk, by the way.)

  46. May 5, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    Guess I’m a slower draw than I thought.

  47. Janey
    May 5, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    A 2004 issue of Foreign Policy had two articles that reflected very different perspectives on educating women and birth rates.

    One article praised the progress women’s rights has made in third world countries, noting that women were allowed more education, and more control over their reproductive lives. The result is that women were choosing more education and less children (on average). The author praised smaller families as proof that women were more respected and more in control.

    The second article was about the global population bust. It mentioned falling birthrates as a factor that will contribute to falling standards of living and shrinking economies. It lamented the fact that birth rates are falling especially far in developed nations such as Europe and North America.

    Both articles agreed on the underlying facts: more education for women equals fewer children. But the authors didn’t agree on whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

    The same thing will continue to happen in the Mormon Church. The more educated the women are, the fewer children they will have (on average). Mormon leaders want educated women; they also want lots of children born. Maybe if the Mormons learn to solve this dilemma, the world could borrow our ideas. I’m not holding my breath, though.

  48. Mark Martin
    May 5, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    Here’s a no-longer-current teaching by J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency in October 1949 General Conference:

    “As to sex in marriage, the necessary treatise on that for Latter-day Saints can be written in two sentences: Remember the prime purpose of sex desire is to beget children. Sex gratification must be had at that hazard.” (CR 1949, Oct:194-95)

    Thanks to W. John Welch for posting the full quote at

  49. Elisabeth
    May 5, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    Regarding birth control is evil, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

    “Those who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world…are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they.”

    And in 1969 the First Presidency wrote:

    “We seriously should regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity.

    Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by.

    However, we feel that men must be considerate of their wives who bear the greater responsibility not only of bearing children, but of caring for them through childhood. To this end the mother’s health and strength should be conserved and the husband’s consideration for his wife is his first duty, and self control a dominant factor in all their relationships.

    It is our further feeling that married couples should seek inspiration and wisdom from the Lord that they may exercise discretion in solving their marital problems, and that they may be permitted to rear their children in
    accordance with the teachings of the gospel.”

  50. May 5, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    I wasn’t going to get into this discussion…but oh well, here I am. Can’t help myself. Just thought I’d point out that from what I’ve read, I agree with those who say Church leaders have not dramatically changed their stance–and I’d say that’s because the stance was never that horribly austere to begin with, at least not in a sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God type of way.

    I’m oversimplifying a little, because some of that early counsel can seem a little terrifying, especially considering the obviously widespread use of birth control in LDS marriages. But if there has to be a yes or no answer, then sure, Church leaders would counsel/instruct not to delay having children, and maybe back in the day the emphasis was more on not limiting the number of children, etc. But even in that case, it’s not like deliberately having only 3 kids–or no kids–as opposed to 6 or more ever kept somebody from, say, holding a calling or attending the temple. (Except maybe in some of those weird wards I read about periodically on this blog.)

    I’m not saying Church leaders don’t counsel against limiting, delaying, etc.–just that, obviously, for the most part the rule rather than the exception is sent over the pulpit (although in some cases “the rule” sounds a little scary, a la President Tuttle’s quote, comment #45). “Exceptions” are decided between spouses and the Lord. (Don’t get all crazy on me, I’m talking about birth control, not tithing or fidelity or one of those “real” commandments.)

    And I don’t know why Church leaders haven’t touched on birth control specifically in the past few years, but (exclusive of the thought that perhaps it isn’t such a big deal after all) maybe they figure their words are better spent on more dangerous and immediate matters, e.g., pornography. As a few have mentioned, “it is not meet that [He] should command in all things.” I like this quote from President Kimball, in which he qualifies what could have been a harsher statement without the added adjectives:

    “Another erosion of the family is unwarranted and selfish birth control.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 6; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 5)

  51. Mimi
    May 5, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    I too wonder about the “silence” around issues like working mothers and contraception. If in choosing to work, mothers who could otherwise stay home are sinning, why aren’t we hearing it more clearly over the pulplit? Matt (#40) mentioned a lament about working mothers by Pres Hinckley in a special meeting in the SLC temple. Yet, this information is inaccessible to virtually all members of the church. Instead, we receive the comments from Pres Hinckley already alluded to about “becoming the woman of whom you dream” which includes in his example being a mother, serving in the church, and holding a job (part time) as a nurse. I was serving in the YW at the time and remember feeling so shocked and yet relieved. It is possible to want to work, to work, and to still be a righteous woman in the church.

    I have been thinking about the proclamation and the intent of the statement that it is a mother’s primary role to nurture. Is this admonition primarily because women have stayed home more and been more involved in raising children in the past, making it more practical for them to continue? And if fathers and mothers were able to share equally in parenting and raising children fit for Zion, then there would be no problem with shared nurturing and shared providing? In other words, it’s the outcome of the children that is the focus rather than on the different roles of mother and father. If that’s the case, then I can see that church policy might change as more flex hours and job sharing arrangements become available and are sought by families. Alternatively, is there something about men and women’s essences, determined only by gender, that makes their roles immutable and unchanging? In this case, church policy is unlikely to change. These are all questions I’ve been struggling with.

  52. Mimi
    May 5, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    And in response to Seth’s quotation from Joseph Smith on sacrifice. Whenever anyone starts talking about parenting and sacrifice, I always get a little (or a lot, depending on the day) steamed. Motherhood in its current “ideal form” requires so much more sacrifice than fatherhood.

  53. N Miller
    May 5, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    In response to Travis #29 first few comments, I would say, “To some it is given by the spirit of faith…”. Some people respond simply by faith. They know that the Lord will provide a way for those who follow his commands. Will it be the way we want it to happen? Of course not, I don’t think Nephi would have ever thought that by saying that the Lord will provide a way meant that he would have to kill Laban. What about Adam building an altar. Did he know why? No, he simply did.

    However, some of us are not given the spirit of faith. We must find it by trying. Read Alma 32 if you need a step-by-step directions on how to obtain a perfect knowledge of what the prophets ask of us.

    Last, do we need to question the council of prophets? If we have a testimony that the prophet is the Lords anointed, do we need to question the council given? Or do we lack a testimony in that basic and important truth?

  54. Ana
    May 5, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    I don’t think there’s silence about working mothers. I have not heard a recent talk about work and motherhood that did not include the caveat, stating that sometimes it is necessary for mothers to work outside the home. I live in that loophole, so to speak. I feel really grateful that there is understanding and sympathy among the leaders of the Church for that necessity. I loved the talk by President Hinckley that gave the example of the mother who was a nurse.

    Julie, you made my day by saying you thought my comment was profound. Thanks for the kind words!

  55. Julie in Austin
    May 5, 2005 at 2:01 pm


    Interestingly, what you say about education and number of children does *not* hold true for Mormon women according to the book I reviewed a few days ago. In fact, the more educated a Mormon woman is, the more children she will have. (Of course, I think my generation is topping out at 4-6 kids, not 8-12, as the previous generation.)

    N Miller–

    You are perilously close to violating our rules; we do not allow commenters to question the testimony of others. Assume that our readers have a tesimony of basic gospel truths and make your argument from there.

  56. May 5, 2005 at 2:28 pm

    I find it interesting that people seem to be interpreting the phrase “the decision is between you and the Lord” to mean “the decision is yours…do whatever you want”. Isn’t it possible the Lord’s counsel (if requested) might usually be right along the lines of what the Church leaders were saying in the beginning?

    What if the ‘change’ (if any) is simply an appeal to a higher authority–now saying in essence:

    “Okay, Church members, we know you LOVE finding exceptions, gray areas, and rationalizations to every pronouncement we make. So…you win. We’ll soften the black-and-white rhetoric of our statements–since we know there are exceptions out there to every hard-and-fast rule (even though, by definition, the exceptions don’t apply to 95% of the cases). However, we’re not letting you off the hook to do anything you want–now you have to plead your case before the higher authority. If you think our guidance doesn’t apply to you in your situation, take it to the Lord and if He tells you you’re an exception and you can and should (1) work outside the home, (2) use birth control, (3) wait to have children, (4) have fewer children (etc) then so be it. He’s the boss. Only make sure you’re really seeking to do the Lord’s will, and not just looking for an excuse to justify your own desires…”

  57. Scott
    May 5, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    There are many reasons women in the Church work outside the home. One is simple economic driven by the migration of women in general, to the workforce in the middle 60’s.

    As wrong as it was then, and now, when women began competing with men for the same jobs, the laws governing capitalism came into play and wages went down for both men and women and it became very difficult, if not impossible for families to survive economically without both spouses working. Inflating real estate prices added dramatically to the mix and general inflation and easily accessable credit hammered the final nail in the coffin.

    The attitudes of the Brethren have changed because of this societal shift. They understand there are times when mothers are forced to work outside the home. They also understand the terrible toll absentee parents has taken on society in general. Thus the counsel has softened to allow those mothers who must work outside the home, to do so without unnecessary guilt.

    My problem lies with those men in the Church who see no problem with their wives working outside the home when it is unnecessary and even encourage it while at the same time, are unwilling to be the stay-at-home parent.

    This drives home ever more pointedly, Elder Packer’s comment that the early pioneer Mormons were willing to sacrifice their things to save their children while many modern Mormons are willing to sacrifice their children to save their things.


  58. Rosalynde Welch
    May 5, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Scott, the mechanism you describe–women flooding the workplace and driving down wages–is a much-beloved tenet of anti-feminists. But the drop in real wages that has occurred is at least as much–if not more–an effect of the shift from a manufacturing- to a service-based economy in the US.

  59. May 5, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    Re: Kevin #56


    This is similar to what I was alluding to in the Martin Harris comparison I made previously.

  60. Rosalynde Welch
    May 5, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Elisabeth, this is an interesting comparison, and it certainly suggests itself: both issues, contraception and working mothers, are part of the bundle of changes in family practices that have been produced by a coalition of social forces (prominent but certainly not alone among them feminism) over the past decades. There’s been a marked softening of the rhetoric on both issues by church leaders in recent years–though, interestingly, contraception has receded more fully. Neither issue has receded according to the time-schedule one might expect, though: prohibitions against both seemed to remain high throughout the years of greatest societal upheaval, the seventies and early eighties, but they haven’t followed the generational trajectory one might expect, either, which wouldn’t come due until Elder Bednar is in the prophetic position.

    It’s worth noting that, while I certainly agree that prophetic counsel has changed markedly on these issues over time, not all socially-sensitive teachings have evolved in the same way: prophetic prohibitions against pre-marital sex, for example, perhaps the most pervasive of the bundle of social changes I mention above, don’t seem to have shifted at all, and I sincerely doubt that they ever will (thank goodness!). So not all teachings evolve with time, although many do.

    I wonder whether the different treatment of contraception and working mothers by the prophets has to do with their dual roles as spokesmen to individual Saints and spokesmen to society. It seems to me that contraception and working mothers have different cost/benefit profiles according to whether we’re looking at individuals or societies. Contraception, for instance, has real and clear benefits for individual women, and no costs that I can think of (I consider the delaying of pregnancy beyond the limits of fertility to be a problem of the working mother, rather than of contraception per se). While I can attest to the fact that one can pursue formal education while having children, I certainly could not have done so without delaying pregnancy initially (for about two years) or without spacing my children (by about 2 1/2 years)–and it would be profoundly unfair to suggest to women that they should be able to continue their educations without artificially managing fertility in some way. But contraception has had profoundly equivocal effects on society generally: I think the separation of marriage and fertility was the first and precipitating step in the quite astonishing rearrangement of family practices we’ve witnessed, and while many responses to the drop in birthrates have bordered on the hysterical (pun intended), that drop is nevertheless a real phenomenon that will have real consequences.

    On the other hand, the working mother lifestyle seems to exact very high personal costs from individual women (with the exception of highly privileged middle and upper class women who pursue careers for personal fulfillment), with relatively slim net benefits in many cases. But there are real societal benefits to having women in the workplace, including (one hopes) the implementation of family-friendly policies that will benefit working mothers and fathers.

    Perhaps, then, the prophets’ counsel on family matters has been primarily directed toward individuals rather than toward society at large, allowing those practices that yield significant personal benefits and discouraging those that incur high personal costs.

  61. Mimi
    May 5, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Scott, Can you provide a reference for the Elder Packer quotation you cite?

  62. May 5, 2005 at 2:51 pm


    Do you have a theory as to what to do when the Prophet/a GA doesn’t re-tell you to obey the commandments every decade? every year? every month? When does it stop?

    Mimi: I like your comment re: the focus is on the best interests of the child. For me, that conceptualization makes it much easier to accept that the role of the woman _could_ change in ways that would differ from previous prophetic statements.

  63. Travis
    May 5, 2005 at 2:59 pm

    N Miller (#53) –
    A couple of points:

    First, I love the passage of scripture you cite about the “spirit of faith” and think it is very appropriate to raise in this setting. However, you miss the point of my comment. Faith doesn’t come into play until you know what the Lord’s will really is. I would love to know the why for all the commandments I have to obey, but I am willing to obey every one of them–having faith that the Lord will make a way for it to be possible–so long as I am clear on what the commandments really are. Nephi and Adam did what they did because they were sure the Lord wanted them to do it. In both cases, they knew the “what”, they just didnt’ know the “why”. We need to be willing to live our lives according to prophetic counsel even when we don’t know the “why”, but we can’t obey unless we first understand what we are supposed to do.

    Second, you ask if we need to question the counsel of the prophets and ask whether we have a testimony of their prophetic calling. I believe we should question the counsel of the prophets _because_ we have a testimony that they are the Lord’s anointed. We should never refuse to listen to or obey their inspired counsel, but we should be careful to determine that their counsel is inspired and that we understand what their counsel really means for us.

    Third, to reiterate what I said before, discussions like this can be a very positive, faithful way to try do determine what the Lord’s will is for us. (And your cite to Alma 32 is perfect in support of this). There is certainly a danger that we will focus on grey areas or ambiguities–basically to argue something is confusing when it actually is very clear–as a way to excuse ourselves from obeying commandments that we don’t like. But at the end of the day, the burden is on each of us individually to make sure that we question only when we sincerely feel there is confusion and that we obey when we are reasonably clear on what the Lord wants us to do. None of us can judge how well or how poorly someone else is doing with this struggle. Only God can make the call on that one.

  64. Frank McIntyre
    May 5, 2005 at 3:04 pm


    It’s all “costs and benefits” with you literature people.

    By the way, I have not read all of this thread, so I really can’t comment on most of it, but the decline in real wages during the 1980’s is actually a really difficult puzzle, not easily resolved by appeals to either women entering the work force or the changes in the manufacturing sector. Not that those could not have played an important role, but that I have never seen any one answer that was very compelling for explaining more than half of the drop in low-skill wages.

  65. Rosalynde Welch
    May 5, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    See, Frank, you’re having a net positive effect on me. Now if I can just get you to start talking about power structures.

    Point happily taken on the decline in real wages; you’d be the one to speak more intelligently to that issue. I just don’t want women to take all the blame for yet another social ill.

  66. N Miller
    May 5, 2005 at 3:31 pm


    Point well taken. I seem to have missed your point and I appreciate your follow up. I too need to understand what the lord wants me to do, then I can go do it. Essentially, that is what life is about, trying to understand Gods will for us and then acting upon those answers. Sometimes we get caught up with trying to justify our own desires when, like you stated, they are often clear directions from the Lord. Nephi had to be told three times to kill Laban; was it clear to him what was to be done the first time the spirit whispered to him? Yes, did he want to do it? No, because it seemed to go against everything that he thought was right. It took two additional times for the spirit to whisper to him to act upon what he was told to do. I often wonder if I do the same. Do I often try to justify my actions even though I know what is right? Unfortunately yes. My fear is that what is clear direction from the Lord (for why would the Lord not be clear to those who want and desire to know), I muffle up in my head because I am not in tune to his desires.

  67. gst
    May 5, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    Eve (#23), and others have made references to Church teachings and attitudes about “artificial” birth control. What does the artificiality have to do with anything? Do Mormons take a Catholic view that the artificiality of the method is (at least part) of the sin? I thought our birth control teaching, whatever it is or was, was strictly results-based: it’s bad because it yields fewer children, which would put “natural” and “artificial” birth control on the same footing. Or do we just prefer onanism (in the original sense) because it’s less effective?

  68. Elisabeth
    May 5, 2005 at 4:26 pm

    Wow – thanks for all your comments. I have learned so much reading through them, and I very much appreciate the sincerity of the responses in the discussion.

    This was a very difficult post for me to write, because it draws so deeply on my personal family experience. As I thought about my borderline dysfunctional family life, I wondered whether people reading this post might judge my mother for losing her temper too frequently, for not being as kind as she should have been, for letting her exhaustion show in the piles of unwashed dishes and laundry, and for generally making many mistakes while raising her six children.

    If my mother had only been more righteous, if she had only hearkened to the counsel of the Lord more intently and diligently, if she hadn’t spent so much time playing her violin – seemingly her sole source of joy in her life – our family would have been so much happier. If only my mother had been a better person, maybe our family would even have been able to avoid some of the tragedies we experienced together.

    I judged and blamed my mother for this, too.

    But, in recent years, I’ve learned my mother has a pure heart. A pure heart of gold. I know this now, even though I spent years resenting her and hating her for all the love she was not able to give to us. I never considered that her heart was breaking, too, as she watched helplessly as her unruly and rambunctious children made wrong choices, and as she felt constantly inadequate to respond to the continual emergencies endemic to raising children – such as my five year old sister crashing through the glass screen door and almost severing her arm, or my 11 year old brother being picked up for shoplifting one afternoon with his friends.

    So my mother shut down her pure heart and clung to dogma to shield herself from the daily pain and frustrations of parenting six high-spirited children. If she just did her duty, if she just concentrated on following the law to the letter, and had as many children as she could bear, perhaps the Lord would forgive her failings with her current children.

    I know our Church leaders know that the inspired policies and statements they issue have real effects on the lives of faithful members. I know that my mother and father should have been more attuned to the realities of their family life as they welcomed so many children into their home. But I have struggled to feel comfortable submitting to a patriarchy which, I feel, did my mother a great disservice. I love my mother; she is a flawed human being. She tried her best. Did everything she could. She did everything that her husband and the Church leaders told her to do, but it was not enough, and she came up short in one of the most important duties of a parent – showing love to her children. And my brothers and sisters suffered very much because of this.

    Luckily, time heals all (most) wounds. My family is closer than ever before. My brother has a beautiful baby boy who has brought much joy to my family, and has shown us that children can be a wonderful blessing after all!! And my mother is here with me visiting for Mothers’ Day. I’m looking forward to spending it with her.

  69. JKS
    May 5, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Wow, where was your mom in the seventies? Birth control was NOT against church policy. It was the same as now. Don’t put off your family. Have as many children as you and your husband can raise. Its between you and the Lord.

    And by the way, plenty of families with 6 or 7 children use birth control in between kids. Many mothers of large families prayerfully decide to have lots of children, but have the knowledge of how to prevent pregnancy until they are ready to try for the next and prevent pregnancy after a certain age when they are done having babies.

  70. Ashley Crandell
    May 5, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    N. Miller (#66) said: “for why would the Lord not be clear to those who want and desire to know”

    This was my question as my husband and I prayed about when–and whether–to have a third child, after two difficult pregnancies (resulting in two wonderful and exuberant children, one of whom has ADHD). It became clear to us during months of talking with each other and the Lord that this decision was ours to make. I didn’t feel that the Lord *wanted* us to have another child, and I certainly didn’t get a spiritual impression not to, either. I did get a feeling that the Lord had confidence in me, whatever my decision. (We did have a third child.) In looking for guidance during this time, I came across this, which your comment reminded me of:

    Brigham Young, “Discourses of Brigham Young”, pg. 43. (J of D 3:205)

    If I ask him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, he is bound to honor that transaction, and he will do so to all intents and purposes.

    Thoughts? I wonder how often this really happens that people get no answer, or how often they can be honest enough to accept that that’s what is happening. I’ve often heard of people praying until they receive an answer, or testifying that an answer came years later, but in cases like mine, I didn’t feel I had the choice to wait for years for an answer.

  71. lyle
    May 5, 2005 at 7:08 pm

    Hm…now that would be a tough choice.

    100% certainty of x% increase in family dysfunctionality


    100% certainty of 1 or more less children in the family than their would be if doctrine/social encouragement were different.

  72. claire
    May 5, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    gst #67, I was wondering the same thing. Several LDS women I’ve known have proudly proclaimed that they never used ‘birth control’; but most women, especially as they get older (although I think girls should be taught this as soon as they menstruate) learn how to prevent (most) pregnancies and space pregnancies without artificial means if they have to. I’m no advocate of the pill (had a bad experience with it myself) but I fail to see where the superior attitude of non-hormonal, non-barrier methods of BC comes from.

  73. Tim
    May 5, 2005 at 8:09 pm

    JKS #69 – – Did you not read the comments/quotes above at #45, #48, and #49? It sounds to me like Elisabeth’s mom was listening to General Conference during the ’70s. You can’t say with a straight face that the Church’s policy/teachings on this were the same in the 50s/60s/70s as it is today. I think one of Elisabeth’s main points is that her Mother didn’t feel like she could use birth control to space the children out–even if she did want to have that large a familiy. Now families feel comfortable doing this and it is clearly allowed under current teachings. But this was certainly not the case under the teachings of the 60s and 70s.

  74. B
    May 5, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    Elisabeth wrote above: “(1) LDS women are 8% less likely than the national average to be working full time. They are actually 3% more likely than the national average to work part time. (Another study cited in the book found them 10% less likely to work full time and 2% more likely to work part time.) In other words, all of that emphasis on mothers in the home has resulted in a behavior change affecting less than 1 in 10 women. I find this surprising.”
    My guess is that even fewer than 1 in 10 are changing their full-time/part-time choice because of the teaching, because some would prefer to change their LDS/non-LDS status at least in part because of the teaching.

    For example, imagine career-oriented female investigators either without children or with grown children. Imagine them poking their heads into Relief Society, seeing no one who lives like they do, hearing no lip service paid to their choices, and choosing to leave (whether before or shortly after baptism). Imagine young girls growing up in the church who don’t believe that motherhood is the highest and most valued use for their own personal lives, who choose to leave. They’re not included in the stats on LDS women.

    As for LDS women, are not many of them already inclined to want to place motherhood first? Isn’t that part of the reason they choose to become or remain LDS, rather than the other way around (choosing to work part-time or not at all because one is LDS)?

  75. Mike
    May 5, 2005 at 8:33 pm

    Well, whether or not prophetic counsel on birth control has change- there has certainly been a change in policy. Does any one know the change in wording in the Church handbook of instructions? I seem to remember a previous discussion here about the addition to the handbook that sexual relations within marriage are not solely for procreation- along with removing the counsel explicitly against birth control.

  76. May 5, 2005 at 8:47 pm

    Rosalynde (#60): You mention that prophetic counsel against contraception and working outside the home have both receded to different degrees, but that counsel against pre-marital sex has not. Later you say, I think the separation of marriage and fertility was the first and precipitating step in the quite astonishing rearrangement of family practices we’ve witnessed…

    You’re right, but don’t quite get to the root. The truly radical (root) change, whose continuing consequences cannot be underestimated, is not so much the separation of marriage from fertility as the separation of sexuality in general from fertility. A naturalistic argument might say that the traditional institutions of marriage and family roles arose as a means of controlling the societal consequences of fertility, and that the “astonishing rearrangements” society now tolerates—women in the workplace, acceptance of living together unmarried, acceptance of premarital sex—simply follow naturally from the severence of the link between sexuality and fertility, which limits the social costs. If this argument is correct, the prophets’ cherry-picking allowance for some consequences but not others will seem increasingly unjustifiable to the world (and the youth in the Church). Has the revelatory and intellectual basis for the “cherry-picking” been adequately formulated and articulated, or is tradition being followed rather blindly?

  77. May 5, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    Unlike most of my friends growing up, my mother chose to work outside of the home–not out of neccessity. Worse, my mother worked nights which meant that as the oldest of five children I spent most of my youth (starting at age 10) as a third parent to my siblings, as my father spent most of his spare time working on projects in the garage. My father was a successful engineer, my mother worked in a fabric store. She was a very outgoing person and enjoyed the social interaction. I can say that I’ve met more people like myself whose families have suffered spiritually and emotionally by not having at least one full-time parent than people who suffered from having a stay-at-home mom. I could play the blame-game into previous generations forever. The real question to ponder is, in twenty years, will my children feel that they were loved and given all of the spiritual and emotional support they needed? As a former career girl turned stay-at-home-mom, I feel that unless I had a nanny (which would fly in the face of needing to work) my children would lack in some ways if I were to work outside the home. Its a tough job, but I believe that I am an eternal being, and that this life is not the only opportunity I have to further my education. I do believe however, that raising wonderful loved children in this day and age, with all of my talents and intelligence (even though I do get bored/frustrated/emotional/etc) is a wonderful and worthwhile calling that I feel priveleged to have.

  78. gary
    May 5, 2005 at 9:36 pm

    Rosalynde (#60) and Christian (#76): Although it is true that prophetic counsel against premarital sex has not receded, I think that the church’s disciplinary practices have become more tolerant. Although it is still clearly considered to be a sin, the church does not treat those who engage in such practices as harshly as it once did and the way that we talk about both the sin itself and the sinners has moderated.

  79. lyle
    May 5, 2005 at 10:13 pm

    Gary: Which church are you in? the LDS Church of BYU/Provo? While my evidence is anecdotal…I’ve heard/seen plenty of examples where folks are still disfellowshipped and/or excommunicated for breaking the law of chastity.

  80. ukann
    May 5, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    As a church member who had her children (4) in the 70’s in England, I can confirm the influence of the church leaders re birth control was felt just as keenly over here, at least in my stake. My first child was extremely difficult to raise and wore me out completely but I felt pressure to keep going and had my four children in 7 years, (used some birth control in between) then decided enough was enough – I was nearing a nervous breakdown. However what was difficult for me was to justify still attending church – why should I? I had been very clearly taught by the prophets that my fate was sealed, I was never going to get into the celestial kingdom. Yet I loved the gospel, and my life was miserable – of course I loved the children, received joy from them, but still found it difficult. I was also a stay at home mum – didn’t go out to work until eldest child was 17 – and boy were we poor, especially for the first few years. We couldn’t afford the phone, no car, home-made clothing, making every penny stretch. (Should add as well, I had 2 children when my husband was called as Bishop, and 4 by the time he was released – fortunately by then we were able to afford a car and phone). I taught my children well, remained active and faithful. Took them to church every week, loved them, worked with them, encouraged and supported them through seminary, etc. and as they all went away to college they all became inactive, though they are brilliant kids and we all still have a very close and loving relationship. My daughter has since returned to activity. So being a stay at home mum doesn’t automatically guarantee anything.

    It’s so different now. My daughter is now pregnant with my first grandchild, and she is planning on working part-time when baby comes. I know I should be counselling her not to, but I don’t want her to go through the poverty and pain that I did. The one phrase that I love the Prophet for is “just do the best you can”. And everyone’s best is different.

    My own philosophy now is that qualification for the celestial kingdom is more about how we treat our fellow men (inasumuch as ye did unto the least of one of these, ye did it unto me). I know Heavenly Father loves me, and He knows I did my best.

  81. Dan Richards
    May 5, 2005 at 11:01 pm

    Our leaders have led the way in reducing family size. While I clearly don’t know about their use of contraception, the current apostles exhibit an interesting division: the average number of children for the six senior members of the quorum is 7.3, but for the six junior members it is 3.8. The First Presidency–4.3. The average for the 15 men we recognize as prophets, seers, and revelators is 5.3.

    Hinckley 5
    Monson 3
    Faust 5

    Packer 10
    Perry 3
    Nelson 10
    Oaks 6
    Ballard 7
    Wirthlin 8
    Scott 7
    Hales 2
    Holland 3
    Eyring 6
    Uchtdorf 2
    Bednar 3

    Well, having now done some research, I think maybe the leaders’ family sizes aren’t shrinking after all. Here are the average number of children for the First Presidency + Quorum of the Twelve at ten year intervals.

    1925 6.9
    1935 6.9
    1945 5.5
    1955 5.3
    1965 4.9
    1075 5.1
    1985 5.1
    1995 5.3
    2005 5.3

    Average for post-polygamy church presidents: 4.9

  82. Jim F
    May 5, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    Lyle: Of course there are examples of people who are disfellowshipped or excommunicated for breaking the law of chastity. But I’ve served in bishoprics and high councils several times (and not only in Provo) and, from what I’ve seen, Gary is right. A bishop or stake president is nowadays not likely to excommunicate or disfellowship a young person who has been unchaste unless the person is seriously unrepentant or refuses to stop. That is especially true for someone who has not been through the temple and, to a lesser degree, also true of those who’ve been through the temple but not yet married. (How much of a real change that is, I cannot say. Perhaps it has often been like this.) My evidence is no less anecdotal than yours, but given the difference in our ages, I bet it covers a lot more data points.

  83. JKS
    May 5, 2005 at 11:39 pm

    President Spencer W. Kimball taught: (from the link on #48)

    “Sex is for procreation and expression of love. …… There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality in itself, for by that means men and women join in a process of creation and in an expression of love.”
    We know of no directive from the Lord that proper sex experience between husbands and wives need be limited totally to the procreation effort, but we find much evidence from Adam until now that no provision was ever made by the Lord for indiscriminate sex.

    Childbearing should not be delayed for convenience.;;;. I know of no scriptures or authorities which authorize young wives to delay their families or to go to work to put their husbands through college. ;;. Too many young people set their minds, determining they will not marry or have children until they are more secure, until the military service period is over; until the college degree is secured; until the occupation is more well-defined; until the debts are paid; or until it is more convenient. They have forgotten that the first commandment is to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28.) And so brides continue their employment and husbands encourage it, and contraceptives are used to prevent conception. But the excuses are many, mostly weak. The wife is not robust; the family budget will not feed extra mouths; or the expense of the doctor, hospital, and other incidentals is too great; it will disturb social life; it would prevent two salaries; and so abnormal living prevents the birth of children. The Church cannot approve nor condone the measures which so greatly limit the family….How do you think that the Lord looks upon those who use the contraceptives because in their selfish life it is not the convenient moment to bear children? How do you feel the Lord looks upon those who would trade flesh-and-blood children for pianos or television or furniture or an automobile, and is this not actually the case when people will buy these luxuries and yet cannot afford to have their children? How do you think the Lord feels about women who forego the pleasures and glories of motherhood that they might retain their figures, that their social life might not be affected, that they might avoid the deprivations, pains, and agonies of childbearing and berthing?

    And then the quote from #49
    However, we feel that men must be considerate of their wives who bear the greater responsibility not only of bearing children, but of caring for them through childhood. To this end the mother’s health and strength should be conserved and the husband’s consideration for his wife is his first duty, and self control a dominant factor in all their relationships.

    For my parents, I guess the health of mother was considered important. Having a child every 10 months was considered not healthy. Emotional health was also considered. In Pres. Kimball’s list of excuses, the theme is selfishness. I don’t get the feeling that, even in the 70s, using birth control FOR ANY REASON was wrong. The REASON for its use was under scrutiny. The church, however, didn’t want to list all the OK reasons. So they listed a bunch of not OK reasons.

  84. gary
    May 5, 2005 at 11:40 pm

    Lyle: Nope, not Provo or anywhere close. My experience is similar to Jim’s. I am a little surprised that you were surprised by my comment.

  85. UKAnn
    May 6, 2005 at 3:11 am

    Re disfellowshipping/excommunication for breaking law of chastity – I am sure that a letter came out from the First Presidency some years ago to Bishops/Stake Presidents that discouraged automatic d/e for this – to take a kinder and more understanding approach to the truly repentant. Please don’t quote me on the actual words because the foregoing is how I remember the ‘tone’. I think Jim just about has it summed up more accurately than me (I?). The present wording in the GHI is “Leniency may be appropriate for young members who are involved in a moral transgression if they forsake the sin and manifest sincere repentance. However young members who persist in immoral conduct may require formal disciplinary action”.

  86. Tina
    May 6, 2005 at 9:17 am

    According to Elder Washburn in April 1995’s General Conference, birth control when the parents are healthy is contrary to the temple covenants.

    He says,

    “Thus we see that in marriage, a husband and wife enter into an order of the priesthood called the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. This covenant includes a willingness to have children and to teach them the gospel. Many problems of the world today are brought about when parents do not accept the responsibilities of this covenant. It is contradictory to this covenant to prevent the birth of children if the parents are in good health.

    Thirty-five years ago when I first started practicing medicine, it was a rare thing for a married woman to seek advice about how she could keep from having babies. When I finished practicing medicine, it was a rare thing, except for some faithful Latter-day Saint women, for a married woman to want to have more than one or two children, and some did not want any children. We in the Church must not be caught up in the false doctrines of the world that would cause us to break sacred temple covenants.”

    Also, along with what UKAnn says, most bishops these days of singles wards don’t discipline those who have “moral” problems. This is not just for young singles, either, including divorced people. My former Singles Ward bishop said it’s too hard for single adults to keep the Law of chastity so he just tells them to do the best they can and take it up with the Lord.

  87. Julie in Austin
    May 6, 2005 at 10:46 am

    I can’t speak of the ‘selfish’ women that Pres. Kimball was talking about, but my sense is that my generation is (1) limiting births–I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t use bc (well, OK, I have Catholic friends, but all my LDS friends use bc) and I know very, very few that want more than 3-4 and (2) not for selfish (i.e., having to do with the self) reasons primarily but rather from a gut-wrenching fear that they won’t be able to meet the spiritual and emotional needs (and, secondarily, the financial needs) of a large brood. My sense is that *if* the GAs want to encourage my generation to have more children, they need to address this issue of meeting children’s spiritual and emotional needs. Oddly, it has just occured to me that all of the ‘my angel mother is only reason I’m not a serial killer’ rhetoric may encourage women to have smaller families for fear of not having enough energy to mold all of those would-be serial killers.

  88. Seth Rogers
    May 6, 2005 at 10:55 am

    RE: Mimi (Post #52)

    I don’t dispute your appraisal of gender inequalities. However, your comment didn’t really address my point.

    My point was that everyone in the church is required to sacrifice everything.

    The point isn’t that women should be required to sacrifice less. But that men should be required to sacrifice more.

    Your point seems to be that because the men are currently getting off easy, the women should be allowed to as well. This mentality (if I am fairly portraying your opinion) embodies for me everything that went wrong with the feminist movement. The feminist movement had a great opportunity to raise the gender discourse in America. Instead, it precipitated a mad rush to the lowest common denominator.

    Men are selfish, lazy, egotistical pigs. Women should enjoy the same privilege!

    Sorry. Missed the boat entirely.

  89. Eve
    May 6, 2005 at 11:57 am

    Shouldn’t couples also take into account the father’s health (physical, emotional, and spiritual) in determining the size of their family. A close friend of mine grew up in a home of seven children. Her father suffers from severe clinical depression and did throughout her childhood. I have often wondered (and felt guilty at this thought) whether my friend’s dad would have been better able to function with a smaller family.
    I used to always be encouraged yet troubled by the parable of the talents. It correctly assumes some of us are only capable to manage smaller stewardships. That reasoning comforted me because of its proportionate equity, but the rewards process always gave me pause. I understood why and agreed that the slothful servant should lose his inheritance. But I stumbled when I considered the 2-talent servant, who purportedly did the best he could with what he was given. Why is his reward not equal to the 5-talent servant’s reward?
    Perhaps wrongly, and probably because I am a woman, I would apply this analogy to childbearing. I come from a family of six kids. My mother is a saint, and now that I have two children of my own, I can say that with conviction. But I will never have six children. I can’t. And, yes, my life will be easier in certain (all?) ways than my mother’s. Is my reward potential also diminished?
    The last marathon I ran was brutal. I threw up at the top of one of the long hills but made it across the line in a respectable but novice time of 4:36. If I trained all my life, I don’t think I could run a marathon much faster. Sure, I could shave off 30 – 45 minutes, but my body is just not equipped to run 26.2 miles in much less than 4 hours.
    When I finished, the only rewards I received were a t-shirt, some goodie bags, and a finisher’s medal. I didn’t expect or deserve more. I could not rightly claim the cash prizes or the trophies. Nor could I rightly stand on the winner’s podium and pose for pictures. And that did not bother me. I was overjoyed that I had finished the race; I did not quit. I could mingle with the others who made it through, and that reward was sufficient.

  90. Elisabeth
    May 6, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    Eve –

    I loved your story about finishing your last marathon. Congratulations!! I think your point is such a good one – some people are able to run five minute miles for 26.2 miles, and some people never will be capable of this – even if they train with the Kenyans.

    It’s my understanding that since Heavenly Father and Jesus both know our individual strengths and weaknesses, the “reward” we receive after this life will be uniquely tailored to our individual efforts and circumstances.

    Back to your marathon story – after I ran the NYC marathon last year, my sister-in-law (who had driven up from D.C. to cheer me on), noticed my finishers medal and said matter-of-factly, “Oh, so they give EVERYONE a medal”. Kinda took the wind out of my sails a bit, but we all had a good laugh over that one.

  91. Mimi
    May 6, 2005 at 1:50 pm


    Because I didn’t elaborate in my comment, I didn’t fully explain what my position was. However, it was not as you presumed.

    I do not think mothers should get off more easily in terms of their sacrifice as to what is required to raise children. However, I do feel that fathers do not often recieve the same kind of counsel/”motivational” stories of sacrifice that mothers do. Instead of wanting mothers to have to make fewer sacrifices, I would like to hear from the pulpit about how fathers also have to make sacrifices in their parenting roles. Both mother and father, parenting together, both making sacrifices (hard ones when necessary on the part of both) to raise children.

  92. Eve
    May 6, 2005 at 2:41 pm


    Yeah, those who have never tried will never know. I think marathons are like a well-proven mortal existence — hard, seemingly forever but in reality short, unpredictable, demanding, and rewarding. Many never try, many who try don’t complete, but the joy for those who cross the line is great.

  93. Aaron B. Cox
    May 6, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    Jonathan Max Wilson, comment #19. Just so!

  94. Seth Rogers
    May 6, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks for clarifying that Mimi. I’d second your remarks.

  95. will
    May 6, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    Lyle (Stamps), with regards to your question in #62, my theory is that silence from the church for more than a decade indicates that the issue is no longer a matter of official church policy or doctrine. There may be some exceptions to this, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

  96. Seth Rogers
    May 6, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    Why do we simply assume that the only way a woman can be “educated” is to go pay exhorbitant amounts of money, spend four or more years learning to do well on exams, and finally end up “clothed in the robes of a false priesthood” like the rest of the shallow, degree-wielding nitwits running our society?

  97. Elisabeth
    May 6, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    Hi, Seth-

    That’s a great question! Who knows. I think it’s all a bit silly when it comes right down to it. We’d probably all be better off with more real world education than spending four years (or more) taking multiple choice tests and chasing after grades.

    Lately, I’ve been feeling a great deal more respect for the people who dump our trash and sweep our streets (not to mention fix our a/c and plumbing when they break), than I do for my fellow lawyers, politicians and other layabouts.

    But, back to your question – would you interpret the “education” that Church leaders are encouraging women to pursue to be formal education resulting in degree or certificate? Or what?

  98. Seth Rogers
    May 6, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    I think we can only expect so much from our church leaders. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask them to articulate an alternative secular learning curriculum for the membership.

    I think they dodge the question by refraining from defining “education.” I don’t blame them. Even if church membership was limited to the US, it wouldn’t be very advisable to start putting moral approval on some educational models at the expense of others.

    Of course, I’m at the end of my last semester in law school right now and looking at a Bar Exam in July, so my cynicism level with “the establishment” is at an all-time high. I should calm down a bit in about 6 months hopefully.

  99. Tim
    May 11, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    Can’t stand the thought of this post being stuck at 99 . . .

    So, here’s my question at the end of the day: do we really get anywhere with discussions like these? Did we find “the answer”? Did anyone feel like they gained any insights on the issues? Did we come away with any more wisdom? Or are these even the reasons why we have these discussions? Does a discussion like this ever change how we think or act?

    And, what about dearest Jane? How, oh how, will poor Jane find her way? ;)

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