The Sneaky False God of ‘Family First’

by | Jul 1, 2022

Homemade painting of Starry Night

Part of A Happier Ward Series – (warmth of congregation)

First, this will push back on some rather darling, personal cultural teachings for a few people. If this is you – please read the quotes by Elder Oaks and Sister Beck more than once and contemplate them.

My painting resembles “A Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gough but is not the real thing. Sometimes we have cultural traditions and beliefs that circulate throughout our Church membership that resemble a gospel concept but aren’t the real thing. This article explores a popular interpretation of ‘family first.’

Is the concept of “family first” that you have been taught, the real thing?

Family First

In our church culture, we highly prize the family. Indeed, raising families is one of our most critical God-given duties.

Fair question: Can the “family first” principle be polluted or taken too far?

Yes, it happens whenever “family first” or “family time” breaks one of the first two commandments, “love God with all thy might, mind and heart” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” In that case, something fell out of balance and needs adjusting.

I may exaggerate here to illustrate a point, but consider this example: we might see one family that puts the interests and esteem of its clan above all others’ well-being and esteem. As long as it turns out okay for their family unit, they have God’s permission to disregard and blow up anyone else’s best interest. You will find no scriptural backing for such an idea. It’s the false god version of ‘family first’ that snuck in under the guise of truer principles.

Next fair question, just what is “family first” and “family-time” truly about? Elder Oaks and Sister Beck’s answers coming in a bit.

Taco Sunday ≠ Family First

Let me share a real-life, unusual example from a small town where I lived many years ago. One prominent head family forbid all others in the ward to hold any councils or church meetings after Church on Sunday, even essential ones, because for their family it was…Taco Sunday. You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. And since that tradition was all about family and important to their numerous extended family group, meetings could not take place on a Sunday.

Begs the Question

One might ask what happens if six other family clans claimed the rest of the days of the week for their significant family traditions? Do Church meetings stop altogether? Or what if Sunday is usually about the only common time for a lot of people to meet? The question is: which family tradition gets priority?

This example is a bit extreme, but we habitually see lesser versions of it and might not recognize what is happening. An evolved version of “family first,” different than what the Brethren meant – may slide in once in a while. Think about it, and see if any situations come up for you.

It goes something like this: if the classification “family” can be attached to the event or need – it justifies disrupting duties and commitments that might be better for the welfare of the larger community, including a neighbor, a friend, the ward, or the Church. The problem is we have many families to consider, and everyone belongs to God’s family. Who decides which family clan has an ultimate say in any specific opinion, idea, date, or time?

If we are not careful, the idea of “family first” can become over-worshipped and repeatedly create win-lose situations for others. It can even hobble a ward’s infrastructure so it does not function well.

Back to the Basics

It seems we kind of forgot we’re in the business of saving souls first and foremost (because that has eternal consequences), and the Church has a four-fold mission to fulfill, which is paramount:

  1. Proclaim the Gospel
  2. Perfect the Saints
  3. Redeem the Dead
  4. Care for the Poor and Needy

Sometimes, this four-fold mission gets pushed off the radar by this replacement god.

From time to time, we swing the church culture pendulum from one extreme to the other:

  • The “mega meeting, church-calling workaholics” who neglect family
  • Or clan self-absorption and excusing ourselves from loving/serving others and building God’s Kingdom in the name of family.

To be fair, such vacillating back and forth is a mortal thing. I’m not judging anyone because I’ve been on both sides myself. We’re forever trying to find and identify the happy medium—both as individuals and collectively together.

The Real Version of “Family First”

Now, just about every General Conference, the Brethren repeatedly remind us to be of more service in the Lord’s kingdom. They coach us to steady the two principles, both service in the Lord’s kingdom and the importance of family. For balance, we need to be somewhere between the two extremes. Here are some quotes to help with this idea:

“…We need to add to that the caution that if we make more family time available, parents have to take more responsibility in making sure that it doesn’t just increase sports, television viewing, individual athletic activities, or participation in many, very good community activities for children. We are not trying to hobble ourselves in competing with other activities [in other words, don’t diminish time at Church or the needs of your calling by filling the time with more secular activities]. We are trying to discipline the use of Church meetings and Church activities in favor of the family. And the family has got to fill that vacuum instead of inviting others in to fill it.” (Elder Oaks @ WWLT Feb 2008)

Fill it with what? (Please recall, we’re in the business of saving souls.)

“And when we speak of family first, we have to think of ideas like family prayer and family home evening and family scripture study and making time and seeing that these things happen which have eternal consequences in the spiritual growth of our children. That’s a manifestation of “family comes first.” (Elder Oaks @ WWLT Feb 2008)

“Family first” specifically refers to teaching the gospel to everyone in our home. That comes first above all things. The Brethren were not referring to taco traditions or outings or sports. While all of them are desirable and excellent family experiences and traditions – they don’t automatically outrank the work we are called to do in God’s vineyard. Often, if we are motivated, we can do both family and God’s Kingdom by adjusting the calendar a bit.

Big Question

As we search the scriptures, honor our temple vows, study true doctrine and look at the lives of Ancient and Early Saints – do we ever see recreational events prioritized over taking up the cross? Or playing the Good Samaritan – or donating means, talents, and time to building up the Kingdom of God?

We do not; there is no doctrinal teaching, scriptural accounts, temple vows, nor Church history to support the present-day, evolved, cultural version of ‘family first.’

Sister Beck Clarifies the Win-Win

I love how Sister Beck immediately followed up Elder Oaks’ comments at the same meeting.

“I remember the wonderful teaching of Elder Ballard when he taught us to be wise. “O be wise,” he said, “in choosing these things.” The teaching of sacrifice is important. Some of the beginning stirrings of my testimony, if I go back to when I first started to say, “This is a wonderful church,” were watching my parents serve and struggle in their callings and learn. That taught me some things. And I’ve been stretched and drawn to the Lord through my service. I would never want to say that it’s either family or service. It has to be a marriage and a unity of what we commit to the Lord to help build His kingdom and what we’ve committed to build a family. They go together. It’s not one or the other.” (Sister Beck @ WWLT Feb 2008)

Children learn tremendous goodness from watching their parents serve others and sacrifice time and talents for the Church.

In the same manner that we esteem our brother as ourselves, we also esteem other families like our family. We look for the greatest welfare for the most people involved whenever we can. We teach our children what Christ’s win-win for ALL of God’s family looks like.

One of the most essential spiritual qualities we can develop is to adjust our decision-making to create win-wins like the Savior – inside and outside the family.

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1 Comment

  1. Kris Pace

    Just this morning I wrote in my journal about a struggle between duty to God and loyalty to family. I believe some people naturally feel a stronger sense of loyalty and some a stronger sense of duty. It is a careful balance; but my strong sense of duty is born of the example of my ancestors who left their family homes, countries, and traditions to build Zion. I am the genetic and ideological product of a heritage of sacrifice and zeal for the gathering of Israel.


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