One of the most cliché phrases in sports is “defense wins championships.” However, there is great truth to it, which is why it became so verbally repetitive in the first place. It doesn’t just apply to sports, though. It can also be applied to the gospel of Jesus Christ, specifically the doctrine of the family. Defending our families can lead to the greatest championship of all—eternal life with our Heavenly Parents. Our families can become celestial through the merits, mercy, and grace of our Savior Jesus Christ.
A motivating source of inspiration for me comes from Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson’s talk, “Defenders of the Family Proclamation” in the women’s session of the April 2015 general conference when she issued this challenge: “During this 20th anniversary year of the family proclamation, I would like to issue a challenge for all of us as women of the Church to be defenders of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. . . . We need to boldly defend the Lord’s revealed doctrines describing marriage, families, the divine roles of men and women, and the importance of homes as sacred places—even when the world is shouting in our ears that these principles are outdated, limiting, or no longer relevant. Everyone, no matter what their marital circumstance or number of children, can be defenders of the Lord’s plan described in the family proclamation. If it is the Lord’s plan, it should also be our plan!”
The question then arises: If our families are so integral to becoming like Christ and how we become exalted, how can we defend the fundamental unit of society while minimizing the offense we give to those who believe differently than we do?
1. Understand the truth.
We cannot defend our beliefs regarding what God has taught about the family unless we are grounded in the scriptures and words of latter-day prophets. The Family: A Proclamation to the World is the most recent and concise location that unequivocally declares the place of the family in our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. There are many ways to study this inspired document. One suggestion would be to cross-reference the Family Proclamation to the scriptures and general conference talks with footnotes at the bottom—much like our standard works. This can be an excellent way to learn for ourselves the truths that have been shared by a number of seers and revelators. Another way you can help your children defend the doctrine of the family is by reading with them. There are several books designed specifically to teach children this principle, including the new Defenders of the Family. Talk about some examples of defending the family, including sharing your testimony with others, helping others choose the right, protecting the special family home evening time you have together, and becoming great friends with our extended family.
2. Teach the truth with love.
With a firm understanding about the doctrine of the family, you can give practical ideas of how family members can defend what they believe. Older children may benefit from watching this video the Church released in June about defending our beliefs. Do not be afraid of teaching the ideal. Sure, we are all flawed and imperfect, but having faith in a Savior who provides us with the gift of mercy and repentance gives us the chance to achieve the ideal. His grace is sufficient for our insufficiencies. No matter how staggering our inadequacies, we can become celestial beings because of and through His atoning sacrifice.
Family dynamics, especially in scriptures, cannot be overlooked. Each of the standard works begins with a family unit. The Old Testament introduces us to Adam and Eve and their many children. The Book of Mormon begins with father Lehi and mother Sariah and their children, of varying degrees of faithfulness. The New Testament starts with Mary and Jesus’ step-father Joseph. Even the Doctrine and Covenants cannot get very far before Joseph is married to Emma. Each of these families had their unique challenges and struggles. Yet their rendezvous with the divine provide us with numerous examples of how to connect with heaven. For instance, because they had a sometimes dysfunctional family, Lehi and Sariah gathered their children together often to teach and remind all of them about faith, love, and the commandments of God. When Mary and Joseph were worried because they couldn’t find 12-year-old Jesus, they had an opportunity to receive precious, gentle instruction and understanding about His purpose when they found Him at the temple. And Emma and Joseph faced persecution and danger to travel to the hill Cumorah before being taught by Moroni and receiving the gold plates. It is often because of our family’s difficulties that we are given opportunities to teach, learn from, and love each other.
► You may also like: Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families
3. Use kindness as you defend the family.
It is not always what you say but how you say it that matters. In a religious setting, if I am callous in the way that I approach a question from a student, my response—even if the answer is doctrinally sound—the tone can become a real stumbling block to a young learner. So validate questions from your children or others, especially about the family. Why does God have a standard of chastity for His children? What happens with our eternal family if my parents’ divorce? Why would the Church create a policy that appears harsh towards children of families that are different? Questions such as these are valuable and deserve answers. Often the way you answer the question can have just as much power as the truth behind the principle or practice.
In our families, we can help each other in our quest to acquire spiritual knowledge for ourselves by acting in faith, examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective, and seeking further understanding through divinely appointed sources. Questions couched against this backdrop can lead to asking and answering questions together in an atmosphere of faith and hope. This will also be a familiar format to your children, as it is part of the new Doctrinal Mastery program in the Seminaries and Institutes of religion. (You can learn more about it here.)
Throughout the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members have needed to defend their beliefs. We defend the honor of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the veracity of the Book of Mormon as a sacred book of scripture. We will still have to continue to do so today. However, as we march further into the 21st century, Sister Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society General President taught, “This generation will be called upon to defend the doctrine of the family as never before. If they don’t know it, they can’t defend it.” As parents, we need to have an ongoing conversation with our children about what God has revealed about the family and how we can defend those cherished beliefs. Then our Heavenly Parents can bestow upon us the ultimate championship - eternal life with our families in the celestial kingdom.
Lead image from Getty Images.
Need some extra resources for teaching your children about the doctrine of the family? Check out Benjamin Hyrum White’s new children’s book Defenders of the Family.
A note from the author: “While reading Defenders of the Family to my kids, I asked them questions about what we believe with regards to the family. They were quick to understand what we believe about the family because of the brightly colored illustrations. I was fascinated with superheroes and comic books as a kid. I was always impressed with the good guys; those who would stand up for what is right even when it was difficult to do. That is why Defenders of the Family has a graphic novel feel. I wanted to convey the truth in a way that would appeal to young readers who are bombarded with such a broad array of ideas about religion and the family. Jay Fontano did an amazing job of capturing the superhero feel with bright and bold illustrations.” More from the author can be found at www.benjaminhyrumwhite.com.