Our Private Kingdom: Toward Righteous Government in the Home


Roger: Rebecca and I realize more each day the tremendous responsibility that is ours to govern our family in righteousness. Although we know the Lord gives us no commandments we cannot fulfill, we often feel overwhelmed at the authority and influence we exert in the lives of our children. How critical it is to our children and to our own salvation that we handle that authority and influence in a proper way!

Both Rebecca and I were raised in loving homes with parents who maintained high moral standards. But neither of us had the experience of living with small children in the home. Rebecca was an only child and I was the youngest of four, all three of my sisters being considerably older than I. As we now find ourselves faced with the challenges of raising our five small children, we feel a need for wisdom beyond our own.

We have so much to learn. Each day brings new opportunities and new problems to solve. But we have gained a testimony that the Lord is the source of all correct principles of government. And we have discovered that his principles are eternal and true and will work in any governing situation, whether it be in a family, a Church stewardship, the business world, or the nation. People, whether they are our fellow citizens, our business associates, or our children, are literally our brothers and sisters; and we are discovering the Lord has revealed much concerning effective relationships among his children.

Rebecca: As a mother, I sometimes feel tempted to justify putting my Church work ahead of spending quality time with my children. On occasion, I think it is good for children to sacrifice so that a family member can give service in the kingdom. But I have found that as I am more organized in my home and in my Church callings, such sacrifice becomes the exception rather than the rule. As I strive to be really close to my children, to love them and to spend effective teaching time with them, I learn principles of dealing with people in the Lord’s way, which helps me be even more effective in my Church work.

I believe thoughtful people throughout the ages have recognized the fact that there are true principles that work in any governing situation. The ancient philosopher Socrates observed that “over whatever a man may preside, he will if he knows what he needs, and is able to provide it, be a good president, whether he have the direction of a chorus, a family, a city, or an army. … Do not, therefore, … despise men skillful in managing a household; for the conduct of private affairs differs from that of public concerns only in magnitude.” (Xenophon, Memorabilia, and Oeconomicus, E. C. Marchant, trans., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Leob Classical Lib. ed., pp. 186–87.)

Too, the Lord emphasized the many-faceted value of a man who governs his household well when he singled out Abraham to fill the critical role in man’s history as the father of nations with the simple but potent qualification: “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” (Gen. 18:19.)

If we take advantage of the opportunity the Lord has given us to learn these true principles in the working laboratory of the home, I feel we will be able to magnify any governing stewardship and prepare ourselves to live and govern with our Heavenly Father in eternal worlds.

Roger: There is another important result of applying true principles of government in the home.

When the Lord originally established government on the earth, all people were clearly members of the family of God, and their government was patriarchal in nature. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explains:

“With the placing of man on the earth, the Lord began by patterning earthly government after that which is heavenly. A perfect theocratic, patriarchal system was set up with Adam at the head. This system prevailed in large measure among righteous men from Adam to the establishment of Israel in her promised land, when the people prevailed upon the Lord to let them be ruled by kings as were the apostate gentile nations.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Bookcraft, 1966, p. 559.)

Governments of today differ greatly from that perfect system set up by the Lord. And unfortunately, it seems to us, our homes have often tended to reflect the governmental forms we have been exposed to. Thus, we see in many individual family units the elements of dictatorship or anarchy, majority rule without truth, or complete lack of structured government. Children raised in these families have little chance of maturing with a true understanding of such fundamental concepts as respect for law, citizens’ rights, and individual responsibility.

As we practice the Lord’s principles of government in the home, we build responsible citizens who can influence government on a larger scale and lay the foundation for a return to the heavenly government referred to by Elder McConkie.

If there is righteousness in the heart
There will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character
There will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home
There will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation
There will be peace in the world.

(Chinese proverb)

The Wise Man Built His House upon the Rock

Rebecca: I have always been impressed with the parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built on sand. When the storms and rains came, the home that was established on solid rock was the one that remained. (See Matt. 7:24–27.)

I like to think of true, revealed principles as the rock upon which our homes should be built. If we pattern our government in the home after that of the Lord, the storms of life cannot destroy what we and the Lord have built.

As the prophet Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the future governments of the world, represented through a beastly image, he indicated that they would be built of clay, brass, and other weak materials. But the kingdom of God was represented as hewn out of solid rock, having strength not only to crush the imperfect materials of worldly design but to fill the earth. (See Dan. 2:26–45.)

Roger and I like to consider certain fundamental issues as the foundation of any government. The degree to which we resolve these issues in accordance with true principles determines the strength and durability of that foundation.

We feel some of the building blocks of that foundation are:

1. The Nature of Man. Fundamental to the exercise of righteous government is a basic understanding of the true nature of man. When those who govern fail to recognize people as potentially independent, capable, self-governing individuals, they tend to implement mounting controls, restrictions, and dole programs that destroy initiative and foster dependency.

Roger and I find that when we focus our attention on the eternal potential of our children, we treat them differently. We enjoy taking the time to teach them new skills and thrill with them as they learn to do more things on their own. We give them home responsibilities as quickly as they are able to handle them and make them feel that they are important, contributing members of the family. I have made a job board which has been a helpful tool. The children can see what their jobs are each day, and they soon learn to do them voluntarily. Other enjoyable activities are postponed until a child has successfully accounted for his assigned responsibility.

We feel if we rear our children in a home that teaches self-sufficiency and the dignity of man, they will never allow themselves to become parasites of a “welfare state” but will be part of a responsible generation that renews its inheritance of freedom.

Roger: 2. Conflict Resolution. Conflict among people is inevitable. Each of us has different talents, characteristics, and ideas. I’ve learned in business that government must allow for these differences and for their resolution when necessary.

Since I have become more sensitive to this principle, I have noticed that the walls of an executive board room resound with the same verbal struggles I witness in the playroom: selfishness, greed, lack of concern for others and their needs override the issue at hand. In national government, citizens often resort to destruction of property, smear campaigns, character assassination, and even physical violence to “solve” their conflicts with others.

In dealing with our children, Rebecca and I have found it helpful to teach them to differentiate between matters of personal conflict and defense of truth. When one child is offended or angry with another, we encourage him to follow the counsel given in the Doctrine and Covenants: “And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.” (D&C 42:88.) We also urge them to sacrifice whenever possible and to “turn the other cheek” in conflicts concerning personal preference.

Children should be encouraged to work out their own problems, but we have found it is a mistake to assume that they automatically know how to do it. We have to teach, carefully and thoroughly, each principle involved. Then, after working through the problem with them a few times and then requiring them to work it out, we begin to hear our own words repeated. Only if independent reconciliation is impossible do we provide a “court of appeals.” Of course we need to remind them, “Now you work it out the Lord’s way—remember?” Our children need reminding just as the Lord reminds us.

In conflicts involving a moral issue, we teach our children to be valiant in defense of truth. Helping our children determine the nature of the conflict gives them the first step toward effective resolution. We feel that these principles form a strong set of conflict-resolution tools that may be applied from the playroom to the halls of Congress.

Rebecca: 3. Accountability. When a person is given any responsibility (or stewardship) he becomes accountable for his results. The Lord has said:

“It is wisdom in me; therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship;

“That every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him.” (D&C 104:11–12.)

Roger and I are learning that a harmonious relationship between a husband and wife depends a great deal on a proper understanding of their individual accountability. The ultimate goal of man and woman is, of course, to become one, as Christ and the Father are one. This means having the same values, the same goals, the same policies, and exercising their power and influence in the same way for the same purposes. Becoming one in this way takes time and experience, and there will undoubtedly be many times in a marriage when husband and wife will disagree on child discipline, management of finances, or the priority of family projects.

But the Lord has clearly defined lines of accountability and if man and woman will recognize and abide by these divine directives, they will find peace in their hearts and harmony in their homes. As a woman I am held accountable for my own personal righteousness, but I am also responsible for counseling Roger with wisdom, love, and enthusiasm, and for following his priesthood leadership once a decision is made. Roger is held accountable for listening to my counsel and for making the final decision in family matters. Since I’ve come to understand what I’m really accountable for, I have a great desire to be a wise and enthusiastic counselor and to express my ideas freely. I am also more ready to follow Roger completely when a decision is reached, even if it differs from the one I might have made.

Roger: Since I have become more educated in my own accountability as a father and can make decisions for my family without threat or fear of emotional competition or retaliation, I discover very quickly the results of my actions. I know Rebecca will follow, so I am more anxious to make the right decisions.

Rebecca: We have found it extremely important to give our children an opportunity to account for the way they handle their stewardships. When we give them a job, we try to make sure they understand the consequences if it is not completed on time, as well as the benefits when it is. Taking a moment to “have an inspection” frequently gives us the opportunity to comment and reward for a job well done.

Our four-year-old can understand that when the table isn’t set for lunch, Sesame Street can’t be turned on that afternoon. When it is done—which is most of the time—it’s great for him to know what a help he is.

Building on a foundation of accountability fosters honesty, integrity, and real accomplishment in any government, since those who have been given trust and responsibility know they will have to answer for what they do with it.

Roger: 4. Leadership Style. There are probably about as many styles of leadership in the world today as there are leaders, and as many kinds of parents as there are parents. But, despite personality differences, the leader-servant style of leadership exemplified by the Lord sets the standard in any governing situation.

“Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:26–27.)

Even as he washed the disciples’ feet in the upper room, Christ set the divine example of the leader-servant. A person called to govern others is called to serve them. I learned this idea when presiding as a bishop and when supervising in business. I am just beginning to learn how powerfully this can be applied at home.

I am sure service does not mean catering to every whim of a child. It should always be based on the individual’s actual needs, not his wants or my own needs. Often, real service to a child is to stand back and let him attempt something on his own, even though he cries for help. In order to truly serve I must become more aware of the real needs of each of my children in the eternal perspective. Three things help me to do this: first, I must take the time to talk with the Lord about each of my children; second, I must take time to read what the Lord has already said in the scriptures concerning their needs; and third, I must take time to talk with each of my children individually.

“Zion,” the Pure in Heart

We believe that if we learn to govern our homes on the solid rock of revealed truth, they will become the building blocks for the even greater foundation of Zion. Children will be instructed in basic values of Christlike living, which will enable them to qualify as the “pure in heart” who will see God.

Rebecca: Some of the early Saints who were given the charge to build Zion failed to do so because they tried to establish the outer form of Zion without first having the concepts in their hearts and homes. The Lord said of them:

“Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness.” (D&C 68:31.)

The perfect form of government—that of the Lord—will not endure in the lives of men and women who reject its basic tenets of industry, self-government, honesty, integrity, and virtue. As parents we must govern our families in righteousness and prepare ourselves and our children to build these principles in man’s government, bringing man to God’s government. This will bring to fruition the Zion that will welcome the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth again.

Roger: We are only beginning, but we have now tasted enough to know where the answers lie. We hope as Latter-day Saints we can help each other to follow the Savior’s example that we may one day be worthy of Zion.

“When we conclude to make a Zion we will make it, and this work commences in the heart of each person. When the father of a family wishes to make a Zion in his own house, he must take the lead in this good work, which it is impossible for him to do unless he himself possesses the spirit of Zion. Before he can produce the work of sanctification in his family, he must sanctify himself, and by this means God can help him to sanctify his family.

“There is not one thing wanting in all the works of God’s hands to make a Zion upon the earth when the people conclude to make it. We can make a Zion of God on earth at our pleasure, upon the same principle that we can raise a field of wheat, or build and inhabit. There has been no time when the material has not been here from which to produce corn, wheat, etc., and by the judicious management and arrangement of this ever-existing material a Zion of God can always be built on the earth.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book Co., 1925, pp. 181–82.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Parry Merkley

[illustration] The things a father learns from loving and teaching his children will help in all his other stewardships.

[illustration] Self-government: Mother doesn’t have to nag about chores when a bulletin board lists the children’s jobs.

[illustration] Conflict resolution: Children should work out their own disputes, but they need to be taught how.

[illustration] Accountability: “Inspecting” a child’s stewardship increases his sense of responsibility and of pride.

[illustration] Source of help: We must take the time to talk with the Lord about each of our children.

A. Roger Merrill is currently on leave as assistant director of the Church Personnel Department, working on a special project. He is a high councilor in the Taylorsville Utah West Stake. Sister Rebecca Merrill, a homemaker, is Relief Society president in the Taylorsville Twenty-fourth Ward.