For those struggling with questions about the Church’s emphasis on marriage, and the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman, a thoughtful talk from the recent General Conference might be of help. “Why Marriage, Why Family” by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles begins with a spiritual insight from a great man of another Christian faith:
Above the Great West Door of the renowned Westminster Abbey in London, England, stand the statues of 10 Christian martyrs of the 20th century. Included among them is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German theologian born in 1906. Bonhoeffer became a vocal critic of the Nazi dictatorship and its
treatment of Jews and others. He was imprisoned for his active
opposition and finally executed in a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was a
prolific writer, and some of his best-known pieces are letters that
sympathetic guards helped him smuggle out of prison, later published as Letters and Papers from Prison.
One of those letters was to his niece before her wedding. It included these
significant insights: “Marriage is more than your love for each other….
In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage
you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to
come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your
love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you
are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind.
Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than
something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown,
and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage,
and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the
sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from
above, from God.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (1953), 42–43.]
I like that expression: “love comes from you, but marriage from
above, from God.” Marriage is not just about us. It is about our responsibilities to others and before God. It is “a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind.” Elder Christofferson goes on to explain why that it is the case. He reviews the work of God and the Plan of Salvation, in which a critical aspect is our role in raising and nurturing children that other sons and daughters of God might also be able to participate in God’s plan for us that includes this brief mortal phase where we receive the miraculous gift of physical bodies accompanied by, in many cases, the ability to bear and raise children.
Christofferson explains the divine responsibilities that comes with such gifts:
built on the marriage of a man and woman supplies the best setting for
God’s plan to thrive—the setting for the birth of children, who come in
purity and innocence from God, and the environment for the learning and
preparation they will need for a successful mortal life and eternal life
in the world to come. A critical mass of families built on such
marriages is vital for societies to survive and flourish. That is why
communities and nations generally have encouraged and protected marriage
and the family as privileged institutions. It has never been just about
the love and happiness of adults.
The social science case for marriage and for families headed by a married man and woman is compelling.19
And so “we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon
individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient
and modern prophets.”20
But our claims for the role of marriage and family rest not on social
science but on the truth that they are God’s creation. It is He who in
the beginning created Adam and Eve in His image, male and female, and
joined them as husband and wife to become “one flesh” and to multiply
and replenish the earth.21
Each individual carries the divine image, but it is in the matrimonial
union of male and female as one that we attain perhaps the most complete
meaning of our having been made in the image of God—male and female.
Neither we nor any other mortal can alter this divine order of
matrimony. It is not a human invention. Such marriage is indeed “from
above, from God” and is as much a part of the plan of happiness as the
Fall and the Atonement.
I also appreciate Elder Christofferson’s recognition of the many exceptions among us who are not experiencing the blessings of being in a happy marriage with the opportunity to raise children:
declare the fundamental truths relative to marriage and family is not
to overlook or diminish the sacrifices and successes of those for whom
the ideal is not a present reality. Some of you are denied the blessing
of marriage for reasons including a lack of viable prospects, same-sex
attraction, physical or mental impairments, or simply a fear of failure
that, for the moment at least, overshadows faith. Or you may have
married, but that marriage ended, and you are left to manage alone what
two together can barely sustain. Some of you who are married cannot bear
children despite overwhelming desires and pleading prayers.
so, everyone has gifts; everyone has talents; everyone can contribute
to the unfolding of the divine plan in each generation. Much that is
good, much that is essential—even sometimes all that is necessary for
now—can be achieved in less than ideal circumstances. So many of you are
doing your very best. And when you who bear the heaviest burdens of
mortality stand up in defense of God’s plan to exalt His children, we
are all ready to march. With confidence we testify that the Atonement of
Jesus Christ has anticipated and, in the end, will compensate all
deprivation and loss for those who turn to Him. No one is predestined to
receive less than all that the Father has for His children.
Marriage is a blessing, but also a great challenge. It can test us and try us as it rarely turns out to be all that we hope. For some, it is a blessing never experienced in this life, testing us through its absence or unavailability. But whatever the burdens we face, if we turn to God and rely on the power of the Atonement, the full blessings of God will become available to us, with all the joy and endless potential that He offers. Here in mortality and afterwards, marriage matters. It is not just for our benefit and enjoyment. It is a divine post with great responsibility. May we cherish it and protect it in a world that is increasingly hostile toward one of the great elements of God’s plans and one of the roots of human society and civilization.