On Being Single In a "Families Are Forever" Church

 

Recently during a session of the Sunstone Symposium panelists talked about Boyd Packer's recent address to Regional Representatives. As I listened to the panelists talk about Elder Packer's words, a feeling of sadness came over me. Elder Packer was calling for a reduction in programs because too many church programs had been designed to meet the needs of individual members that should be met by the family, not the church. (The family is, after all, the one enduring eternal institution, founded by God himself.)

It took me awhile to discover the source of my sadness, but eventually I realized just what was bothering me.  As I listened to the words of the panelists, a picture began forming in my mind. It was a picture of a big, beautiful New England farmhouse -- the kind with a big porch wrapped all the way around it, like so many I had seen while on my mission. The house represented the Mormon church, the home I grew up in. It was a wonderful home, one I have known well and loved.

There had always been a room for me in this house, and I knew every nook and cranny of it well. I had slid down the banister and played dress-up with the clothes in the attic. I had done my chores and gone on all the family vacations. I helped with the cooking and tended the babies. I made ornaments for the Christmas tree and planted the flowers that grow in the yard. I tried to follow the family rules, and throughout the years I always believed myself to be a fully active and participating member of this household in every way that mattered to me at the time. I loved being a part of this home.

But then something happened. One day I came home to discover that my room was gone. Just gone. It had simply vanished. At first I was confused and bewildered. Then as the realization that my room was really gone finally began to sink in I felt betrayed, and deeply hurt.

The elders in the family explained to me that there was a nice wooden shed out back behind the house, and my things had been moved out there. That's where I was supposed to live now. "Please understand," I am told, "that this move in no way affects your status as a loved and valued member of this family. (The shed is, after all, still on the family property.) We still think of you as one of our own, and hope you'll stay as involved in things around the house as you've always been. We love having you around, so stop by the house and visit any time. Really."

 

And I am given to understand that even though it might be painful living by myself out back after all those years in the house, if I just hang in there for the rest of my life, and keep coming over to do my chores regularly, then God will fix it so that in the next life I can qualify to come back and live in the house again. Of that I can rest assured.

 

One would think that some adjustment could be made to give me back my room in the house. After all, I'd lived there my entire life, and been a good family member. If it had been up to me, I would have marched right back in and rebuilt my room myself if I had to. But I don't have that kind of say in what goes on in the house. I am one, single female. My pleas for change fall on deaf ears. I am powerless to effect a change in the structure of the house as it has been decreed by the elders.

And the problem lies within the very framework of the house, in the theology that built the walls and floors and ceilings and doors. It is a theology which proclaims that the highest gospel ordinances on earth, as well as the highest heaven, are categorically unavailable to single people. The most that is available for single people is the wooden shed out back, where the ministering angels live. The only way to renovate this house so that there would still be rooms for single people would be to tear the walls down and rebuild, and that's not going to happen.

As a single adult in the Mormon church, it has been my experience that just as the belief that there will be polygamy in the next life diminishes a woman's experience of her own value in this life, so the belief that single people can not enter the celestial kingdom affects my experience as a single person in this life, and not in happy ways.

 

It's good that the church is supportive of families, but I wish it were equally supportive of single people. I'm sick of being told, "But you shouldn't be bothered by this. If you remain worthy in this life, Heavenly Father will make it up to you in the next life by giving you a family of your own there." That's like being told, "Don't feel bad that you only have half a life. If you just remain faithful and accept your second class status graciously for now, God will fix it so that in the next life you'll have a whole life like everybody else." That makes me angry. I don't consider my life to be half a life, and I'm tired of trying to be in a church whose theology does. The two central institutions in Mormonism are the priesthood and the family. And the church teaches that it is "God's special plan" for men to have priesthood and women to have motherhood. So where is the place in that special plan for single women? (I know, I know, those damn ministering angel sheds out back, where we'll get to spend eternity waiting on the married people.) But what else can be expected from a church that teaches that marriage is a prerequisite for heaven?

For me, it feels as though what in theory was supposed to be the Family of God has instead turned out to be God's special collection of nuclear families. Without your own nuclear family, you can't have full membership in the Family of God. I don't believe it has to be this way. In my own mind, I have rewritten the verse of scripture in 2 Nephi 26:33 to read, "And he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile, married and single. All are alike unto God." Unfortunately, I don't believe Mormon theology will ever see it this way.

 

August, 1990