There is a distinction I often hear people make between pragmatic and monastic doctrines and practices. I was introduced to the distinction by a frequent commenter on this site, and I have seen it elsewhere since.
Pragmatic doctrines and practices are those that we think we ought to believe and enact in civil affairs and community traditions, as well as our private worship. Example: most of us would see honesty as a pragmatic doctrine. Our government, community traditions, and civil affairs should be guided and informed by basic principles of honesty. We think this holds true regardless of the religious persuasion of all participants. We are genuinely bothered when our neighbors lie or deceive others, regardless of religious differences. This makes honesty a pragmatic doctrine.
Monastic doctrines and practices are those that we personally believe and adhere to, but make no pretension of holding others to. Some of us see the Word of Wisdom as a monastic doctrine. While society generally sees social drinking, coffee, tea, etc., as acceptable behaviors, we don’t. But few Latter-day Saints today would ever insist that community traditions mold themselves to these values — we see living the Word of Wisdom as a private decision based on personal and unique religious beliefs. We hardly raise an eyebrow when we see our neighbor drinking coffee on their front porch. This makes the Word of Wisdom (or, at lest, parts of it) a monastic doctrine. “Live and let live” is the de facto motto of monastic religious practices. We choose our own way, and can sincerely believe in it, but we aren’t bothered when the traditions of the community we live in differ from our beliefs.
I think many people are wanting to make our doctrines and practices on the family, marriage, and sexuality entirely monastic rather than pragmatic affairs — things that we are committed to living, but we don’t begrudge anyone else for living differently (just as we don’t really care if our neighbors drink coffee or tea). This might work for some things, like coffee, but the truth is some other practices and doctrines just cannot endure becoming entirely monastic without losing some elements of those practices. Some practices and doctrines require a sturdy traditions in the broader community at large to support them.
I believe that meticulous Sabbath worship, for example, requires more than just a monastic belief — it requires the participation of and support of entire communities (even those beyond our religious borders). Once upon a time, this was the standard state of affairs. Businesses would readily allow their employees to remain home and worship on the Sabbath, acknowledging that unless their business was an essential service, the religious beliefs and practices of their employees should be honored and cultivated. While they recognized that not everyone shared those beliefs, they were willing to accommodate them. (Now, it is true that many places of employment offer a weekday work schedule, but many, if not most, places of lower-income employment do not.) Public servants would be meticulous to schedule event and celebrations around the Sabbath, acknowledging that swathes of community members wished to prioritized Sabbath observance. Robust, sturdy community traditions, in this way, scaffolded Sabbath worship and allowed people the freedom to worship as they pleased.
Why are these community traditions necessary? Because otherwise, we simply can’t always live the Sabbath without great sacrifice and alienating our community. But we’ve monastitized (new word!) Sabbath Worship to the realm of private belief, and have dismantled the civic and community traditions that supported the practice. Try telling your average boss today that you just won’t work on Sunday, and he’ll often just fire you and hire someone else who does. Important community events (such as sports games, high school graduation ceremonies, holiday celebrations) are routinely held on the Sabbath. We’ve given Sabbath worship over to the monastic domain, and we’ve lost the ability to live it completely without, at times, alienating our community and removing ourselves from certain public practices.
Now, I’m not advocating that Sabbath observance be encoded into law. I personally believe that businesses should be free to offer services on Sunday without legal reprisal. I’m talking about robust community traditions, where business owners and public servants readily respect the religious practice and accommodate it. I’m talking about those who disagree with the tradition respecting and honoring the wishes of those who do agree, recognizing that being part of a community means participating in its traditions (or, at least, allowing people to). Now, here’s the important part: <i>in order for this to happen</i>, a large part of the community must acknowledge the practice of observing the Sabbath day as a worthy endeavor. If, for example, 85% of the community doesn’t observe the Sabbath day, and thinks the other 15% are religious bigots for wishing to observe the Sabbath day, we are going to see some conflict, and those who observe the Sabbath day are going to do so at the cost of alienating their neighbors and community.
So it is concerning when the majority of the community begins to lose respect for a religious practice, because it does threaten the ability of others to live that practice and still maintain a strong public voice in the community. This is why I think that Sabbath observance should be a pragmatic doctrine — by which I mean that we should invite all of our friends, neighbors, and community leaders to acknowledge and respect the practice, even if they do not hold the religious viewpoint we do. By making it a purely monastic doctrine, by allowing the community at large to ignore and disrespect the practice, we have less wiggle room to practice it without social reprisal.
Doctrines on the Family
I believe — and I think it is clear that the LDS Church believes — that the sanctity of the family can be and should be a pragmatic doctrine, rather than a monastic doctrine. We want people of all religious persuasions to acknowledge the sanctity of the family — or, least, acknowledge that a large swathe of the community believes in the sanctity of the family. We want the community at large to recognize that children are entitled to a mother and a father, and because legal traditions are informed by and inform community tradition and belief, the Church has supported encoding the sanctity of the family into our legal and civic traditions. We want the majority of the community to believe these doctrines, because that is what will help preserve space to practice them freely.
Why? I think this is because by allowing our beliefs in the sanctity of the family to slip into the solely monastic realm — occupying the same space that coffee and Sabbath worship currently occupy — we will lose the ability to publicly express and practice those doctrines. Just as it is much more difficult to keep the Sabbath day without alienating the community and suffering social reprisal, we will find it difficult to practice and preach the doctrines of the family without experience the same. We have seen this already — adoption clinics have lost funding because they believed that children should have a father and a mother. Photographers and florists and bakers have been fined for not celebrating same-sex marriages using their art and craft. Those who believe in the Proclamation on the Family have been forced from their employment for those beliefs (e.g., Orson Scott Card). We see already a steady string of reprisals through social, community, legal, and civic mechanisms against those who believe and practice the doctrines on the family.
By “monastitizing” the doctrine of the family, we are losing the space to live and express those doctrines freely. And, I believe, the only way to preserve that space is to either (1) persuade a majority of community members to believe as we do on these issues, and by so doing preserve a robust community tradition, even if members of the community differ religiously, or (2) encode specific protections into law that accommodate our religious preferences on these regards. And as long as we fail at #1, no matter how much we succeed #2, we will always be at risk. So we simply cannot give up the public fight to preserve the family, as some would wish us to. These are doctrines that we are going to advertise as applicable to citizens of all religious persuasions. We should never conclude, as we have done with coffee, that this is merely something that we believe, but that no one else should ever feel obligated to believe unless they are members of our Church. (I’m not saying coffee should be a pragmatic doctrine, just that the doctrines on the family are different and cannot endure becoming a purely monastic affair.)