Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dallin Oaks on Social Trends

Total Fertility Rate


At General Conference in October 2013 Dallin Oaks gave what many regard as a controversial talk due to his restatement of the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on gay marriage.  The Church views homosexual sex as sin like any other sexual act outside the bonds of marriage.  This position closes the door to “God approved” sexual fulfillment of same sex attraction and defines much of the conflict between the traditional Christian and secularist view on sexuality.  Traditional Christians believe that joy is the result of individuals subordinating personal desires to God by obeying His commandments whereas secularists believe that joy is the product of self-expression.  Conflicting visions strain friendly discussion.1 

The current political focus on gay marriage obscures the conflict of these visions in other areas of human behavior.  Elder Oaks provides a short list of common goals that might represent the secularists’ vision of human expression which include: career aspirations, material possessions, recreational pursuits, power, prominence, and prestige.  While none of these goals is necessarily bad ore contrary to traditional Christian values, he asks

Are we serving priorities or gods ahead of the God we profess to worship? Have we forgotten to follow the Savior who taught that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments? (see John 14:15). If so, our priorities have been turned upside down by the spiritual apathy and undisciplined appetites so common in our day.

Oaks lists social trends as evidence supporting his position.  Birth rates are below replacement or falling in the Western world that is traditionally Christian and has provided both the manpower and resources Mormon missionary work in the past.  The world map pictures the total fertility rate by country.  The United States is a hair below replacement.  Any country with a darker red is or will soon be experiencing a population decline absent immigration. 

It is good that women are more free to pursue careers than in the past, but without the belief that they have a responsibility to “be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28) evidence suggests that world population will decline and perhaps Western social institutions as well. 

Marriage is declining as an institution. 

In America, the percentage of young adults ages 18 to 29 who are married fell from 59 percent in 1960 to 20 percent by 2010.  The median age for first marriage is now at its highest level in history: 26 for women and almost 29 for men.

The consequence of declining support of marriage is the growth of socially inferior substitutes.

Our knowledge of God’s plan for His children explains why we are distressed that more and more children are born outside of marriage—currently 41 percent of all births in the United States—and that the number of couples living together without marriage has increased dramatically in the past half century. Five decades ago, only a tiny percentage of first marriages were preceded by cohabitation. Now cohabitation precedes 60 percent of marriages.  And this is increasingly accepted, especially among teenagers. Recent survey data found about 50 percent of teenagers stating that out-of-wedlock childbearing was a “worthwhile lifestyle.

Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing are socially inferior because the relationships between men and women are less stable even when they result in marriage and the children of these unions are less likely to be raised in homes with both parents.  Children born to cohabitating parents or single mothers experience more economic and social turbulence than those living with both biological parents. 

Oaks’ comments are meant to invite all to participation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not to condemn. 

In the midst of these concerning trends, we are also conscious that God’s plan is for all of His children and that God loves all of His children, everywhere.  The first chapter of the Book of Mormon declares that God’s “power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth” (1 Nephi 1:14). A later chapter declares that “he hath given [his salvation] free for all men” and that “all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden” (2 Nephi 26:27–28).

I am reminded of Nephi’s statement is 2 Nephi 26:33.

for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

1.  As I see the debate about gay marriage, there is overlap between traditional Christians and secularists.  Some traditional Christians believe that sexuality is central to individual happiness and that God would not construct people with same sex attraction if fulfillment could not be achieved through marriage.  They conclude that traditional heterosexual marriage is a Christian church policy subject to change. 

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