Mormon Beliefs And Practices
One of the distinctive aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the centrality of marriage and the family in its theological doctrine. The church teaches that all humankind are brother and sister—literally spiritual offspring of heavenly parents—and that life on earth ideally follows this heavenly pre-earth pattern. One of the church's primary purposes is to teach family ideals and preserve traditional family relationships through gospel ordinances, including eternal marriage. "The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. . . . Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ" (The Family 1995, p.102).
Eternal marriage. Most prominent among Mormon family-centered beliefs is the conviction that the family unit can be eternal. Eternal marriage is necessary to fulfill one's highest spiritual potential as a son or daughter of God. To achieve this goal, couples must have their wedding performed in a Latter-day Saint temple (or have their marriage solemnized in a temple, if they were previously married elsewhere). In temples, authorized temple workers join couples in matrimony "for time and all eternity" rather than "till death do us part." This highest of all temple rites, temple sealing, symbolizes that the husband and wife become bound to each other in a union that even death cannot dissolve. If couples remain true to their spiritual covenants, they are promised that their marriage can last throughout eternity.
Those who never married during their lives or who never had their marriage solemnized in a temple may still have an eternal marriage. Although Jesus taught that individuals do not marry in the next life, the Mormon doctrine holds that he has provided a way for the living to do this work vicariously for the deceased. The Church is known for its vast genealogical resources that help Latter-day Saint members identify ancestors for whom essential ordinances (like baptism or the temple sealing) were never performed. Members stand as temple proxies for those who did not receive the ordinances during life. This work for the dead is a critical aspect of salvation: "For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation . . ." (Doctrine and Covenants 128:15). The Mormon belief is that God provides opportunities for all of his children, alive and deceased, to receive these essential ordinances.
Premarital preparation. Latter-day Saint youth are encouraged to prepare for future temple sealing. They are counseled to avoid dating before the age of sixteen. They are taught to reserve sex for marriage because premarital and extramarital sex is a violation of the sacred use of one's sexuality. Latter-day Saint youth have lower rates of premarital sex than do their peers who are not Latter-day Saints (Heaton, Goodman, and Holman 1994). LDS youth are also cautioned against activities that may negatively affect their desire and spiritual worthiness to serve as missionaries when they reach young adulthood.
For a period of eighteen to twenty-four months, young men and women in their late teens and early twenties postpone their personal interests (including dating) to devote their time entirely to gospel teaching. The experience of missionary service can be life-altering, giving young people a more solid foundation upon which to build a successful marriage and family (Parry 1994). Allen W. Litchfield, Darwin L. Thomas, and Bing Dao Li (1997) found that private religious behavior, rather than public practice, is the best predictor of future religious plans. LDS missions were found to facilitate internalization of religious values.
Gender roles and parenthood. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that gender roles of men and women are distinct but equal. Fathers preside as the providers and protectors of their families. Mothers are the primary caregivers to nurture children with love, sensitivity, and spirituality. Men are taught that their highest calling is their role as a father. Fathers bless, heal, comfort, and guide their family members. Likewise, nothing in a woman's life is to take higher priority than family responsibilities.
Though separate, male and female gender roles complement one another. Spouses are encouraged to help one another as equals. Similarly, raising children is a sacred stewardship, a privilege that draws couples nearer to God and brings life's greatest blessings and responsibilities. The church does not give specific direction to couples about the number and spacing of children, including contraceptive use in family planning. The church also does not teach that sexual intimacy in marriage is only for procreation. Couples are taught that they should welcome children into their family circle. As a result, the Latter-day Saints are known as a childbearing people, with higher fertility rates than couples who are not Latter-day Saints (Heaton 1986). In cross-national comparisons on fertility, Tim B. Heaton (1989) found that although pronatalism is a persistent theme in Mormonism, "the expression of that theme is different in each country" (p. 410).
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