Over at my other blog, a reader posted the following question:
On a related LDS family matter, many of us have been confronted by Mormon missionaries with a message, or even a free DVD, of “Families are Forever.” A sincere, respectful question: isn’t this motto a solution in search of a problem? That is, what Christian believes there is separation or division among the blessed in heaven? Of course, Jesus himself teaches in extremely plain and simple terms, and Christian history has always held, that there is no marriage in heaven as we know marriage. But, shared Christian belief realizes that the communion among believers in heaven results in a bond significantly greater in love than what we perceive in our knowledge of marriage. That bond is a consequence of the everlasting worship and praising of God. Why wouldn’t God be the focus of any discussion involving the word “forever”?
Here’s what I answered:
As far as the “families are forever” motto, it is often communicated as a fairly bland traditional family values message to which few people would take exception. (Indeed, that’s part of its purpose: in addition to the overt message about the importance of families, there’s the public-relations message that Mormons are not strange, we share much in common with mainstream family culture, etc.) Mormons seem to have internalized and institutionalized the traditional family values message to a greater extent than other groups, however: compared to national averages, Mormons have less pre-marital sex, marry more and younger, divorce less (among temple-married Mormons, at least), have more children, and subscribe to more traditional gender roles. (One sociologist called these the “Four Cs” of Mormon family life: chastity, conjugality, child-rearing, and chauvinism.)
As you’re aware, of course, there’s a much deeper theological basis to the “families are forever” theme. In Mormon teaching, marriage (and parenthood, which is entailed in marriage) is the primordial social institution, and the only social institution that will persist in the hereafter. Because of its inherent capacity for procreative “enlargement,” marriage is central to the Mormon vision of eternal life and exaltation. It’s not that exaltation is necessary to qualify for eternal marriage, however, rather that eternal marriage is necessary for exaltation (although that marriage does not always occur during mortality). In that sense, Mormons understand the teaching that families are forever to reinforce—not compete with—the glory of God’s majesty.