My children frequently visit my former husband and his wife, who often tell them that high moral standards are outdated. In such circumstances, how can I teach my children the importance of being morally clean?
Response by , retired instructor, Department of Family Science, Ricks College.
Children are not born with a clear understanding of who they are. They develop their identity as they grow, based on their experiences and their interpretation of those experiences. As children interact with their parents, they learn to identify with them and come to feel that each parent is somehow a “part” of themselves. Both parents, regardless of character, play an important role in this process.
Therefore, we are right to be concerned about our children’s association with those who do not advocate high moral standards. But the way to deal with that concern is not to restrict the children’s association with their father or to attempt to discredit him in their eyes. Doing so may make the children feel, in a very real sense, that they, too, are being discredited.
For example, Ann (her name has been changed), whose parents were divorced, had lived mostly with her mother, who did not live Church standards. Ann felt discouraged when her father, an active Church member, spoke disparagingly of her mother. “I often wish that he would not speak of her that way, because I love her and think that he is also tearing me down,” Ann said. Though she is now in college, has a strong testimony, and is committed to living gospel standards, Ann’s identity is still not totally separate from that of her mother, and her father’s criticism of her mother still hurts and causes Ann to feel “caught in the middle.”
Instilling feelings of dislike toward a parent can interfere with a child’s spiritual and emotional development. One woman’s parents divorced when she was young, and the mother embittered the children toward their father, who was an alcoholic. Years later, after the girl grew up and married, her husband was killed in the Vietnam War, leaving her with two children. Within a few years she remarried and gave birth to a child with disabilities. She wondered why so much grief had come into her life and concluded—wrongfully, though that made little difference—that it was because she had hated her father. She could find no peace until she found him, asked his forgiveness, and offered to help him.
As we teach our children, we should remember that the commandment “honour thy father and thy mother” (see Ex. 20:12) is not predicated on the condition that the parents are righteous. When referring to a child’s father or mother who does not advocate or live by gospel standards, we should do so in a context that separates the parent from his or her behavior. Encouraging the children to love and respect such a parent is in their best interest. But at the same time, the children need to know—both by word and by example—the importance of and the rewards inherent in living gospel standards.
“But,” we may ask, “what if the child is being injured physically or morally by a wayward (or even evil) parent?” It is unfortunate that such ever happens, but still it would seem that teaching hate is not the best response. Such children need to be comforted and assured that they are not bad because of what has happened to them.
The problem of teaching children moral standards is not unique to divorced parents. Even in an intact marriage, one or both spouses may not believe in or live gospel standards. The way to teach children from such homes to live high moral standards is to help them understand that they are members of three great families—their present earthly family; their premortal heavenly family; and the family of Christ, which they enter by being “born again” into his family through the baptisms of the water and the Spirit.
Children need to understand their true identity as sons and daughters of God. They also need to understand the opportunities offered them as they bear the name of Christ. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it, “How can we truly understand who we are unless we know who we were and what we have the power to become? … How can one understand his tiny, individual plot without knowing, even a little, about Father’s grand, galactic plans?” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 35.)
Elder Charles Didier called such a sense of knowing who we are “spiritual security.” He said that “knowing who we really are prepares us to use that knowledge to face temptations, to resist them, and then to act righteously” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 27).
The most powerful resource we can have in teaching others is that of example coupled with love. Example can bear unquestionable witness to the value of high moral principles. A parent needs to let children know they are loved, and seek to build the best relationship possible with them—without discrediting the other parent. As the scriptures say, if we “train up a child in the way he should go … when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6; see also 2 Ne. 4:5).
There is no guarantee that children will ultimately choose to live gospel teachings even if all their family, friends, teachers, and neighbors set good examples and encourage them in righteousness. They have their agency and may choose not to live by what they have been taught. But if we teach our children correct principles and set a good example for them, chances are good that they will want to exercise that agency to choose that which is good and true.
Some people say it is best to leave alone materials that claim to “expose” the Church and its teachings. What counsel has been given on this? How do we respond when a friend comes to us with questions found in such materials?
Response by , instructor and executive assistant, Salt Lake University Institute of Religion.
When President Brigham Young was asked why the Church did not publish the truth regarding lies circulated about the Latter-day Saints, he replied, “We might do this if we owned all the papers published in Christendom” (Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1978, p. 352).
Today, as in President Young’s day, General Authorities usually do not comment on negative information about the Church. Their responsibility is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their primary work is to “bear testimony of the restoration of the gospel and that Jesus is the Christ” (Church News, 18 Dec. 1983, p. 2). They know, as the Lord revealed to Isaiah, that “no weapon formed against thee shall prosper” (Isa. 54:17).
However, when the occasion requires a response, Church leaders do answer specific critics and criticisms in order to set the record straight. Latter-day Saint doctrines and practices are not on trial. Gospel principles are God-given eternal truths that bless faithful members and the world at large. 1
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve likened the Church to a great organized caravan following an appointed course. “What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? … The caravan moves on” (Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 85).
The restored gospel centers on teachings that save, strengthen, uplift, inspire, and bind individuals and families. The Church discourages teachings contrary to such goals. Because of their great concern for the membership, Church leaders have given guidance concerning anti-LDS material and have cautioned against those things designed to destroy belief and cause pain and suffering.
President Ezra Taft Benson has advised against purchasing material derogatory to the Church; buying this material will only “help sustain their cause” (address to religious educators, 17 Sept. 1976). And Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy has warned against those who attempt to “sow doubts and to disturb the peace of true believers. … Avoid those who would tear down your faith. Faith-killers are to be shunned. The seeds which they plant in the minds and hearts of men grow like cancer and eat away the Spirit” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, pp. 67–68).
Such advice must not be interpreted to mean that the Church is against honest scholarship or has anything to fear or hide. Nor does the Church ban literature, but Latter-day Saints should be wise in choosing what to read.
This cautionary counsel should not be misconstrued to justify laziness on our part in seeking answers, or giving glib, superficial replies when someone sincerely wants to know the truth after being exposed to anti-LDS material. Church critics and enemies should not be permitted to make what Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve has sometimes called “uncontested slam dunks.”
The Church encourages gospel scholarship and the search for truth. “Fundamental to our theology is belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency (Ensign, Sept. 1985, p. 6).
Latter-day Saints should be sufficiently grounded in their testimonies and knowledge of Church doctrine and history that they can answer questions in a non-contentious and informative way. Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve has instructed Church members not to retaliate against attacks. “We encourage all our members to refuse to become anti-anti-Mormon,” he said (Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 63). Paul taught that coming to Christ requires “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
The First Presidency has encouraged Church members to convey their response to questions and criticism “in the form of a positive explanation of the doctrines and practices of the Church” (Church News, 18 Dec. 1983, p. 2). 2
Members should invite those with questions about Church doctrine and practices to read latter-day scriptures and to study the restored gospel, thus tasting the gospel fruit for themselves. Only then will they know “whether it be of God” (John 7:17). 3
When members lack answers, they should learn what Church leaders and reputable scholars have said and written. There is probably no charge against the Church that has not been adequately refuted by someone. When members can’t find answers on their own, they can turn to home and visiting teachers, quorum leaders, bishops, and stake presidents. If necessary, stake presidents can take questions to area presidencies or other authorities.
During a Church fireside commemorating the restoration of the priesthood, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve referred to the Jews’ undeviating course in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem following their return from captivity (Ensign, Aug. 1983, pp. 68–71). The prophet Nehemiah, who directed the work, would not be lured away by his enemies, telling them, “I am doing a great work, … : why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:3.)
In relating how Latter-day Saints should react to public ridicule of sacred temple and priesthood ordinances, Elder Packer said, “That is what we should do: Go about our work, strengthening the wards and the stakes, the quorums and the families and the individual members. We have a work to do. Why should it cease while we do battle with our enemies? … Do not be drawn away to respond to enemies” (Ensign, Aug. 1983, p. 69).
Those willing to take time to research anti-LDS claims can find answers. The Church is true and will continue to grow. Those who would reap great eternal rewards and joy must wisely use their time to study, ponder, love, and work so they can anchor their convictions in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his Church.
“We do not think it either wise or appropriate to react to all criticisms nor to challenge those responsible for them,” the First Presidency said in a letter to Church leaders. “Nor is it wise to enter into debates with them either individually or before audiences. “However, when opportunities arise to present our message which do not involve contention or debate, we suggest you take advantage of them.” The First Presidency said that these experiences provide “an opportunity to present the truth to those whose attention is thus directed toward us” (Church News, 18 Dec. 1983, p. 2).
Explanations, the First Presidency has suggested, could include mention of “the high standards expected of Church members in matters of morality and Christian conduct, the dedication and faithfulness of members in taking care of our own, and missionary work” (ibid.).
The First Presidency has said, “We have confidence that if you will respond with prayer, and in a spirit of humility, inspiration will attend you” (ibid.).