How is the family under attack?

By Joseph Peterson

I have a real and abiding question that I truly don’t know the answer to. What do religious leaders (not just Mormon) mean when they say “the family is under attack”?

Now for a bit of context.

I remember when I first I opened my mission call to the Netherlands, Amsterdam mission. Instantly everyone seemed to say, “oh, that place is Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s Sin City, it’s one of the most wicked (and Liberal! So….double wicked!) places on earth! You are going to have your work cut out for you, you brave missionary!”

So I arrive to the den of iniquity, aka The Netherlands, and what do I find? A tolerant society that believes everyone deserves a fair shot. Robust and often free medical care. Families who spend time together for five weeks of paid vacation every year! And if that wasn’t enough, families who also eat around the dinner table every night. Together. As a family. WHAT?? We don’t even do that in America, Ye Olde Land of Values, and here were the Dutch families in their modest row houses all across the country breaking bread together every evening like a damn Norman Rockwell painting.11081226_10152652564446218_1023386902473140101_n

Now there may be some things you remember about the reputation of the Dutch. In the Netherlands, weed is legal, so is prostitution. And gay marriage has been legal in the land of the tulips since 2001, being the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. And yet, those are the headlines, the attention getters, each with their own nuances and pros and cons, much like any policy in any government would.

But what goes on day in and day out in the Netherlands? I’ll tell you in one word: Family. Families who bike together, vacation together, eat together, and raise kids to be decent individuals who understand the value of living in a society where you care for people both in as well as beyond your own family. It’s a familial society where folks have the radical notion to live according to the dictates of their conscience, and afford other people the same luxury, even if it differs.

Since I was exposed to this kind of culture at such a young and impressionable age while a missionary, it’s stayed with me. And I ask: In such a society as supposedly devilishly foot loose and fancy free as the Netherlands, how, exactly, is “The Family” “Under Attack?” — Whose family? What kind of family? Under attack by whom? Really, I am wondering this sincerely, because I am not sure I’ve ever known what is meant by this popular euphemism, especially as espoused by my specific religious culture, and by the American Christian religious culture at large.

I mean, where’s the war? Sure, we’re tearing apart the families of soldiers and foreigners of far off places in the war on terror, and decimating thousands of specific families in our wake, but is that THE family? Where is the war against The Family?

Back to the Low Lands, I learned that the Dutch have two words for Family (Gezin and Familie). One to signify your own nuclear family, and the other to mean your broader extended family. I always liked that. The distinction is a celebration, seemingly because they place a lot of importance on family, that they have linguistically adapted to adding more nuance in their conversation on the family. In the Netherlands, they even design bikes for the family. Bikes which they use. Daily. To go to the market to cook dinner for…guess who? You got it.

In the constant fretting and wringing of hands about a very non-specific but imminent threat on the 1950s archetype of the American family, I guess I don’t really know what to divine from such admonitions. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family (Gezin AND Familie). It’s just that sometimes I wish we could learn to worry less about what is under attack, and more about who needs love. That, to me, is what family is all about.

31 replies »

  1. Well written! Born and raised in the Netherlands. Joined the LDS church there when I was 18. No one understood my choice, but they all supported me. They still don’t “get it” but the strong bonds have remained.

  2. I can think of a number of ways that the family is under attack in the USA. The family is under attack through /by:

    -Income inequality
    -Laws that make it difficult for minorities and the elderly to vote
    -laws that allow merchants the right to deny LGBT families services
    -Laws that allow employers to deny proper and complete insurance coverage based on “religious liberties”
    -no universal health care
    -no mandatory maternity/paternity leave after the birth of a baby
    -fracking is poisoning families water supply
    -oil pipelines and other industrial issue’s that endanger the water supply
    -the NRA and the right wing attack our families by blocking reasonable gun control laws
    -laws that undermine Unions and workers rights

    and that is just a start

    • – income inequality? Please pay my surgeon more than the trashman. All things equal, please pay my female surgeon the same as my male surgeon, sure.
      – Can you give an example? I haven’t heard this was an issue.
      – totally agree
      – private employers have the freedom, but can pay for it by not getting the best talent due to their practice. Check
      – again, probably should expand on this. Didn’t we pass Obamacare?
      – actually there are laws in place here.
      – that’s hilarious. Please give examples. Unindoctrinate yourself with some truth by watching FrackNation
      – pipelines? You mean the factually safest way to transport oil? Please check your facts
      – what would you propose, no guns?
      – unions?! You mean those things that were effective 30 years ago and have been keeping sir members back with unnecessary Union dues and curruption?

      Great start. I think your arguments lack substance. I give you a C- for effort.

      • Even the center right magazine Forbes publishes articles how income equality hurts our economy – I think its a real issue. As an investor myself – I think the absurd wages executives pay themselves is a drag on shareholder returns.

        On unions fwiw – yes you can cite examples of corrupt unions, but I can cite examples of corrupt management as well – overall in general I think both sides for most companies are honest/hardworking. Most unions are member run organizations that are regulated by the nlrb – if they are corrupt you can hold them accountable. The one I belong to is very transparent, democratic and worth every penny.

        On laws that undermine unions. I agree that people should be able to opt out of paying union dues, but they should also have to take management’s first contract offer and not reap the rewards of the union’s hard work – or be represented by the union in any way. As it stands – the way the law works in “right to work” states – the union has to represent you – even though you don’t pay for that representation. Its the very definition of welfare queen. As a hardworking conservative I think this trend is deplorable.

        Where I work fwiw – management’s first offer last year was essentially a raise freeze, increased health care premiums and a freeze on cost of living increase – roughly added together around 10-15% cut in pay. The fact that we reversed all of that was worth the .5% of my wages I pay towards dues.

  3. When we say “The Family is under attack,” we mean the standard, accepted definition of the family, with accompanying responsibilities, is being actively changed in society’s eyes, and we are suffering for it.

    Abortions, for instance, are all about an argument that children are too inconvenient, too costly, they require too much, and they aren’t worth it. “We should be able to have all the sex we want without having to worry about a baby coming along to spoil our fun.” That sort of thing.

    Some argue that children don’t need both parents, that men are useless as fathers, that women who are mothers are somehow worth less than women who are top executives. Some argue that the family unit is weak and worthless. Some say “family” is just an accident of genetics. Some say marriage and faithfulness are things of the past, worthless burdens that only limit us. Some say sex is just sex, just something fun to pass the time, and it doesn’t matter who you do it with, or how, or even if they consent to it.

    And so it goes. Unselfish love is derided, commitment is mocked, fidelity is insulted, and responsibility is evaded.

    I really never heard a thing about the Netherlands supposedly being a den of iniquity or whatnot. Though I do seem to recall such being rather standard way to tease an impending missionary, but I won’t pretend to know if that’s what they intended.

    Where some have found, in whatever capacity, blissful harmony between the ways of the world and ways of God, I say more power to them. Some believe that opposing something immoral on a personal level means they MUST make it illegal, and they unwittingly make the situation worse by trying to control it. Take prostitution, for example. As illegal as it is in the USA, it’s still a thriving business, and one which traps the prostitutes in their occupation, left to merciless, lawless hands, because if they go to the law, they’re arrested. They’re punished for being enslaved. There are movements working to change that, to give them a way out, but that’s how it is right now. If it were simply legal, as it is in the Netherlands, then the victims would have a way out. That tends to limit how brutal a pimp can be to their “merchandise.”

    If the Netherlands is truly at peace with gay marriage, then I imagine the law also protects religious liberty as well, or at least to the satisfaction of the people there. That’s just a general theory, of course, I have no idea how things really are there.

    I do know that if the Dutch people have families as strong as you believe, then I applaud them.

    Am I making any sense here?

      • May I ask for some clarification? What do you mean? Do you mean why have the document at all? Well, to paraphrase someone else about an entirely different document, “To put before humanity, the common sense of the matter, in terms so plain and simple as to command their assent.”

    • What I don’t fully understand is people that are pro-life when it comes to conception, but give them hardly any help what-so-ever after they are born. I can think of examples where conservative politicians were more than willing to spend millions of dollars of tax payer money to “protect life” (anti-abortion in their minds), but then vote down food stamp funding, laws to promote and pay for career training/education and laws to make it harder for single mothers to actually take care of their children under the guise of “working for welfare”. Or another example that is in the nations spotlight: the fight against equal access to health care (which we still don’t have under ACA). All of these things are anti-family and they do nothing to promote the family.

      Having worked in schools in a rural school district (predominantly white former lumber/fishing community in Oregon) I was always a bit surprised at the amount of poverty, people living in metal shacks with barely any electricity/water, kids who I knew that the only meal they got was the lunch at school, kids who didn’t have a jacket – etc etc. I could have taken photo’s where you’d have a hard time guessing if it was a 3rd world country or not.

      I think that is what the author is suggesting – pro-family doesn’t just begin at marriage or conception – in fact most of it is long after that and we as a country largely give only lip service to.

  4. Amen. Especially to the last paragraph in your post. I dislike the nebulous fear-spreading that goes on when Mormons talk about families and how “the world is getting more wicked.” Spread the love, not the fear.

    ps–I visited Amsterdam 2 years ago and was amazed at all the family bikes. Those women carting around 3-4-5 children at a time are tough!

  5. Please spread love, but let’s also be honest about the family. The family, defined as a mother, father (genetically, biologically I should add) has been the norm for ooh, the last thousands of years? Only in the last 50 years have our secular friends decided to change it. All things being equal, children do best when raised by their biological parents. The war, my dear Joseph, is a moral war. Assuming that you are a practicing Mormon, is it hard to see how a secular world which has disregard for God (or denies him completely) would struggle to define what is good and bad? If there is no source of absolute truth, then truth is relative. If there is no God, then all I have are my opinions. If I opine that a same-sex couple can raise a child as well as a traditional heterosexual couple can, then it’s true. Better yet, I will use studies to prove that it’s true! Both sides of the aisle will argue and provide proof that their studies and facts support their predetermined conclusions. They will find secular and social arguments to persuade in their favor.

    If you have a testimony of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in the LDS Church, then it’s up to you to determine why He says what He says through his modern leaders. What you won’t find is the answer to your questions by consulting secular sources. Leftism has been the most dominant religion in the last 100 years. The secular will push, shove, and instigate their beliefs into every crevice of truth that God has revealed. Turn to the source of righteousness both in print and revelation. Spread the love, but please don’t perpetuate the counterfeits that doom the traditional family. Love those who differ with you, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree.

    Tolerance has to go both ways. I’m happy to pay taxes so that same-sex couples have the same benefits and support as a marriage does. No issues here, but I’d ask that those who differ with the idea of a traditional family or with religious practice also show respect and love for views that differ with theirs.

    • Umm19, you are making a huge, unwarranted leap of logic here.

      You’re assuming that morals come from God. If that is the case, then it follows that a society with little regard for God would struggle to define morality.

      But many of us do not accept your premise. To secular society, it is obvious that morality does not come from God, or the Bible, or religion. It comes from something else entirely, something that stays intact even when we reject these outdated ideas.

      It’s like the value of money. We used to think currency derived its value from gold. We believed that if we went off the gold standard all our money would become worthless.

      But we did go off the gold standard, and our money retained its value. How? Because it never derived its value from gold in the first place. That was just an illusion. Or a symbol, if you will, of where money actually does derive its value. Something not as easy to see or even understand, but no less real.

      So it is with morality. Many of us have gone off the “God” standard and discovered that our moral compass has remained intact, just as strong as before. That’s because it never originated with God in the first place. God was always just a symbol for wherever it is that morality really comes from.

      • Question: does morality occur naturally?
        Observation: all non-sapient creatures have no morality, only instinct.
        Conclusion: morality requires intelligence.
        Question: where can morality come from, if it requires intelligence?
        Observation: humans are flawed creatures.
        Conclusion: morality must come from a being greater than humans, a perfect, intelligent being.
        Question: what is this being, if not God?
        Observation: men who do not worship God can still have morality.
        Conclusion: men who do not worship God are still influenced by God and his followers. They were not raised by wolves, after all.

        • -You cannot claim to know whether non-sapient creatures have morality, as you are not one of them and do not know their true intentions.
          -The observation that humans are flawed (relative to a “perfect being greater than humans” does not mean that humans are not intelligent. And with this argument, one could say that God is flawed, relative to a more perfect being greater than God.
          -You literally pulled your second conclusion out of thin air.
          -There are plenty of examples of moral beings who have no notion of God or his followers.
          I’m not trying to bash your beliefs, and I’m not implying that God doesn’t exist. I’m just a fan of proper arguments and cohesive logic.

        • Yes, actually, I can claim to know whether or not non-sapient creatures have morality, because they are non-sapient. You DO know what sapience is, right?
          If morality is true, then it is absolute. If it is absolute, then human disagreements, including this argument about morality, come from our flaws. If morality is true, and it requires intelligence, then there must be an intelligent being out there which is not flawed. Aka, God.
          Ok, let me see if I have this straight… you are not trying to bash my beliefs, not implying God does not exists, while saying God is an outdated, irrelevant notion?
          Are you sure “logic” is what you are a fan of?

        • Wait, sorry, I got a bit mixed up there, you weren’t the one to mention “God” being an outdated irrelevant notion.
          My apologies.
          My bad.

  6. You can’t ask this question of Mormons and expect a satisfying or well-thought-out answer. Because, no matter what they say, their answers will betray them as an uber-conservative people that are too afraid to let go of their bigoted and naive beliefs. They are too comfortable in their backward theology to be open to any outside ideas.

  7. I do not know anyone who wants to return to a 1950s-style model of the family. That was all about Father Knows Best, whereas LDS have been preaching Equal Partnership in marriage at least since the 1970s under President Kimball.

    Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam has a well-researched new book out entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Some thoughtful and sobering stuff there about how too many families are in trouble.

    In my life, I have faced an uphill battle and so much prejudice against mothers. Especially moms who have more than one kid, who take time off from the workforce, for a season, or who want to work part-time. I note that the average number of children per woman in the Netherlands is fewer than 2. But what about an LDS woman who feels that she needs to bring a certain number of spirits to earth, and the number of spirits is more than socially acceptable?

    I have built a career as a part-time project coordinator which allows me time to do family stuff as well, but it is a constant struggle to keep the part-time schedule. People ridicule it (“So you have to be home to watch Dr. Phil?”) and I found that in my entire university system, there are only a handful of us who have a part-time professional appointment.

    My employer also will not include volunteer work when making a hire. So you can raise $40,000 for a charity, put on well-run events, edit an e-newsletter for a community group using the same software that you would be using in the paid job, but you are ineligible. This can be a roadblock to parents who are hoping to return to employment after a season at home. (Private industry is not so stupid–many tech firms value former homemakers as effective project managers who have learned to balance and triage various demands.

    I was also surprised/horrified at the advice given to college students at the State U some of my daughters attended, where I served on the Family Advisory Council. At an orientation session, a speaker from college Advisement pointed out that liberal arts grads make more money than nurses….this is true, for full-time employment and depending on how many years on the job. But nursing offers great opportunities for part-time employment, even working from home (such as a triage nurse for an insurance company, taking phone calls after hours and helping people decide whether to go to ER.) Some of us suggested out that one factor people may want to consider is whether a career would be compatible with having a family. The advisers were insistent that nobody is going to take time off for family in the future, everyone will be employed full-time and that is the only kind of career for which they prepare students. And yet choosing a career with some room for flex may actually be the best thing for a family.

    I could go on…..That may not add up to an “attack” but I do not find my part of the U.S. to be particularly supportive of families.

    • It’s amazing how different our experiences can be from one another. I never felt attacked when I was a stay-at-home mother. Now that I teach full-time, I feel it. I feel it in my social circles. I feel it in my church callings. Still, I know I have made the right choice so I must choose to not let the voices of others make me feel like less of a mother.

  8. People complaining on here that “people view the stay at home mom as valueless”, so the response to that is go in the complete opposite direction and say women HAVE to be mothers? Mormons will never learn to live and let live. Just because something works for you (because 15 old men in Salt Lake said it HAS to work for you or you’ll never see your family members after this life) doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

    • I think you may be misinterpreting something. It’s not “women HAVE to be stay-at-home mothers” (which is what you are really meaning), it’s that the world devalues parenting at all, for both fathers and mothers. We’re not saying things HAVE to be such-and-such a way, we’re not forcing our women to stay at home and twiddle their thumbs, we’re saying that nothing is more important than being a parent.

  9. Thanks. This is a great piece. IMO, “The Family Is Under Attack!” is simply fearmongering meant to rally the base. Actually, marriage and family are stronger now in the USA than at any other time. Divorce rates are down. And why? Gender equality, women in the work place, birth control, and co-habitation prior to marriage. In other words, pretty much the opposite of the pristine Mormon conception of “family.” It’s not complicated. It’s all about love, equality and tolerance.


    “Never let me fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

  10. Great article! Often when people say the family is being attacked, they mean traditional families are under attack. Well…I love my traditional family, but I know very well that some of my dearest friends and family members who do not live in traditional families are dealing with a ridiculous backlash. They’re amazing, loving, wonderful families! I wish people would stop with the fear-mongering. Heavenly Father loves all families!

  11. Great article. The truth is the traditional family isn’t “under attack” at all. As you’ve observed in the Netherlands, the families of secular countries are quite strong and in tact generally speaking. I live in New Zealand, where same sex marriage has been legal since 1993, and this is one of the happiest and healthiest populations on earth. Family unity is a big thing here, and family “holiday” time (vacation time) is honored and highly respected. The fear mongering rhetoric in the church is getting intense, and it’s unfortunate, because we are living in an amazing day and age where we enjoy so many rights, privileges, access to information, education, and healthcare that our ancestors just 100 years ago did not have. Secular countries have figured it out. Love and respect everyone and amazing things will continue to happen.

  12. Can I just mention the fact that Netherlands is far below replacement rate with their births. They basically have an imploding population. How is that NOT an attack on the family? All Satan had to do was “lull them down into carnal security” to get them to basically refuse to let more spirits come to the earth. You can scream “overpopulation” all you want, as well, and all I’m going to hear is “I’ve been fooled by him too!” Humans are a perfectly normal and healthy species to the planet. Yes, the most wicked, but it isn’t our numbers that is the problem- its the level of wickedness. This is no reason to redefine marriage like the Dutch. We’re not hurting anyone by holding to the traditional definition. As I recall, gay couples are allowed to birth and adopt children, as well as engage in contracts with each other that may or may not pertain to their romantic relationships. As Ryan Anderson points out- why should a lesbian couple be given special status just for the sake of tax law or other flawed policies over two sisters that live with each other? The policies that gay couples should really be campaigning to change aren’t centered around marriage.

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