SALT LAKE CITY — Drawing significant information from a wide variety of scholars and researchers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today published a commentary called "Homage to the Home: Why Society Needs Strong Families," in which it suggests that not only is the health of the family at risk in the modern world, but also "the prosperity and future of society."
“The institutions of family and marriage are wearing down,” the commentary said, citing social statistics indicating the decline of marriage rates, the escalation of divorce rates, the upsurge in the number of people choosing to cohabitate rather than marry and the increase in the numbers of children being born outside marriage.
"Given the current trajectory the future looks pretty bleak for many American children," the commentary continued.
The piece stated that each family and marriage matters to the health of the larger society.
That the LDS Church Public Affairs Department would publish a commentary on the Newsroom website is not unusual. During the past six years more than 40 such commentaries have been published, with subjects ranging from polygamy to civility to religious freedom. According to LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones, the process is collaborative, and includes input from a number of different writers and researchers within the department guided by LDS general authorities.
“It’s a regular thing we do to generate conversations on important topic issues,” Jones said.
And right now, few topics are more important than the family.
“The state of the American family, these are things that concern church leaders,” Jones said.
Which is not to say that this is exclusively an LDS concern.
“The LDS church is not the only segment of society that is concerned with the deterioration of the family structure,” Jones continued. “It is a widespread concern. There is an enormous amount of data to reflect that.”
Some of that data comes from Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development and currently a fellow at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Kotkin’s research is cited in the commentary, as well as his statement that “in the coming decades, success will accrue to those cultures that preserve the family’s place.”
Calling the LDS commentary “very reasonable,” Kotkin said Monday night that the preservation of the family “is the civilizational issue of our time.”
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a sectarian issue,” he said. “You could be an atheist and agree with most of what’s in that (LDS) statement.
“This isn’t a moral issue,” Kotkin continued. “This is a societal issue. That’s what I liked about the LDS commentary. It’s looking at it as a civilizational issue.”
And that issue, said Kotkin, an internationally recognized expert on global, economic, political and social trends, is simple: “Is the family at the center of society, or is it not? If you take the family out of the societal equation you begin to get all kinds of dysfunction. We’re already seeing it. I don’t see how civilization as we know it will continue if we continue in the direction we are going. We are headed into a very dangerous place.”
The work of Dr. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, is also noted in the commentary. He told the Deseret News the church’s statement is “indicative of the basic principle that, on average, strong families make for a strong society.”
“Marriage is not a Christian thing, it’s not a Mormon thing, it’s not a Jewish thing, it’s a human thing,” Wilcox said. “It lends purpose and stability to the adults and to the kids who come from those relationships. It is a fundamental building block that societies tend to cultivate.”
Wilcox’s research focuses on the ways that marriage, parenthood and cohabitation influence the quality and stability of family life in the United States and around the world. He is particularly concerned with the number of children being raised outside of marriage.
“While there are many kids from single-parent households who do great, the statistical averages suggest these kids are more likely to suffer from things like depression, delinquency and poverty,” he said. “This could pose real problems socially and economically down the road" as the schism between America’s haves and have-nots deepens.
“Kids who are from college educated, more affluent homes are more likely to be reared by two married parents, so they are doubly advantaged by both material and familial circumstances,” Wilcox said. “Meanwhile, the kids who are from single-parent homes are doubly disadvantaged with both economic inequality and growing familial inequality. Long-term, these trends tend to create a two-tiered society in ways that make us aliens to one another.”
Such cultural alienation, the LDS commentary concludes, “is much more than a numerical exercise; it’s about the lives and hopes of real people.”
“These societal drifts need not be our destiny,” the statement says. “yet, as (New York Times columnist Ross Douthat) recently noted, such pervasive trends ‘can only be reversed by the slow accumulation of individual choices, which is how all social and cultural recoveries are ultimately made.’”