We are writing today from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a remarkable melting pot and combination of cultures and faiths. It reminds us of how important it is for religions to understand each other, and that each religion be able to accurately explain its teachings, particularly to children.
We worry that, in an effort to respect church teachings about the sanctity of marriage, some parents who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be inadvertently encouraging prejudice in their children. Conversely, other Mormon parents, in trying to teach tolerance, may be unintentionally undermining their children’s faith in the church and its teachings.
It’s a narrow line to walk, and many LDS parents are asking: How do we help adolescents understand and appreciate what we believe about marriage and about same-sex marriage while at the same time teaching them of God’s universal love and of the importance of respecting everyone? How do we give kids the kind of clarity that will allow them to avoid judging others and at the same time not cause them to negatively judge their own religious culture?
We suggest a direct and candid approach.
First, make sure your children know that you know — and that the church teaches — that Heavenly Father loves all of his children equally and totally. Explain that, like every family, only much more so, God’s family is filled with diversity and that this world is beautiful partly because of how many different cultures and races and faiths it contains.
Just as they should respect all races and religions, they should avoid judging anyone for their beliefs or lack of belief, gender, race, sexual preference or personal characteristics. This can be underscored by making a conscious effort to expose children to diversity (see our column from March 12).
On the flip side, parents should teach children that their family should likewise expect respect from others despite differences in belief and doctrine — and that if they do not, it is more their problem.
Then discuss together two unique beliefs that Latter-day Saints have that impact views about what marriage is and what it is not:
1. Mormons believe in a premortal life — the only Christian church with such a doctrine — which suggests that we were children within the family of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, meant to come into mortality and try to do their will and follow their example.
2. Mormons believe that families can continue to be together and intact in the next world, where we can become spiritual mothers and fathers in God’s eternal kingdom.
In the context of these two beliefs, gender is important, and marriage — particularly “temple marriage,” which Latter-day Saints believe is for “time and all eternity” — must be defined as a union between a man and a woman because that is the way God defines it.
Mormons' faith influences what they understand marriage to be and teaches them that all of God’s children will, in time or beyond time, have both the opportunity and the propensity for a marriage patterned after God’s example.
Parents can strive to help their children feel strongly that all faiths, including their own, deserve respect and tolerance; and that it is possible — even natural — to look for the good in everyone and to have differences of belief while still respecting and appreciating one another.