This is a guest post by Huston.
In his remarks at the April 2015 General Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “The social science case for marriage and for families headed by a married man and woman is compelling.”
He’s not the first to draw support for this area of doctrine from the secular realm. Citing summaries of social science research to bolster statements about marriage and family has practically become de rigeur in talks by general authorities these days.
Below is a list of all such citations that I could find in General Conference in the last five years. This list doesn’t have every citation from a social science study—just the ones where the research was clearly meant to back up a doctrinal principle or recommended practice.
I don’t know of any other subject that’s regularly preached from the pulpit with peer-reviewed, academic references like this. Have there been sermons about tithing or chastity that increase their persuasive strength by quoting scientists, much less a spate of such sermons? Have church leaders settled controversial matters like priesthood ordination with appeals to secular social science? So why just the issue of marriage and family?
Here’s a theory: because this issue is so critical to the success of society, and to our success as a church, that our leaders feel inspired to defend it by every means reasonable. It’s so important that urging ourselves and our friends to consider our view as an article of faith may not be enough—we should be ready to make a difference in our homes and communities equipped with an array of information that should reach any open-minded acquaintance.
If I’ve missed any relevant citations, please note it in the comments.
1. April 2015: “Why Marriage, Why Family,” By Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Family-related idea or counsel: “The social science case for marriage and for families headed by a married man and woman is compelling.”
Social science cited in support: “Nicholas Eberstadt catalogs the worldwide declines in marriage and childbearing and the trends regarding fatherless homes and divorce and observes: ‘The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young. That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old.’ (See ‘The Global Flight from the Family,’ Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2015, wsj.com/articles/nicholas-eberstadt-the-global-flight-from-the-family-1424476179.)”
2. October 2013: “Decisions for Eternity,” By Elder Russell M. Nelson
Family-related idea or counsel: “In our day civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare, and prosperity of rising generations.”
Social science cited in support: “Dr. Patrick F. Fagan wrote: ‘The indispensable building block upon which the fortunes of the economy depends [is] the married-parent household—especially the child-rich family that worships weekly. … Every marriage creates a new household, an independent economic unit that generates income, spends, saves, and invests’ (‘The Family GDP: How Marriage and Fertility Drive the Economy,’ The Family in America, vol. 24, no. 2 [Spring 2010], 136).”
3. October 2013: “No Other Gods,” By Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Family-related idea or counsel: “Our knowledge of God’s plan for His children explains why we are distressed that more and more children are born outside of marriage—currently 41 percent of all births in the United States—and that the number of couples living together without marriage has increased dramatically in the past half century. Five decades ago, only a tiny percentage of first marriages were preceded by cohabitation. Now cohabitation precedes 60 percent of marriages. And this is increasingly accepted, especially among teenagers. Recent survey data found about 50 percent of teenagers stating that out-of-wedlock childbearing was a ‘worthwhile lifestyle.’”
Social science cited in support: “See The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America, 2012 (2012), 76… 101, 102.” [http://www.stateofourunions.org/]
4. October 2012: “Protect the Children,” By Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Family-related idea or counsel: “Parents or other caregivers or teachers or peers who demean, bully, or humiliate children or youth can inflict harm more permanent than physical injury. Making a child or youth feel worthless, unloved, or unwanted can inflict serious and long-lasting injury on his or her emotional well-being and development.”
Social science cited in support: “See Kim Painter, ‘Parents Can Inflict Deep Emotional Harm,’ USA Today, July 30, 2012, B8; Rachel Lowry, ‘Mental Abuse as Injurious as Other Forms of Child Abuse, Study Shows,’ Deseret News, Aug. 5, 2012, A3.”
Family-related idea or counsel: “Of utmost importance to the well-being of children is whether their parents were married, the nature and duration of the marriage, and, more broadly, the culture and expectations of marriage and child care where they live.”
Social science cited in support: “Two scholars of the family explain: ‘Throughout history, marriage has first and foremost been an institution for procreation and raising children. It has provided the cultural tie that seeks to connect the father to his children by binding him to the mother of his children. Yet in recent times, children have increasingly been pushed from center stage.’ W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt, eds., The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America (2011), 82.”
Family-related idea or counsel: “Children are the first victims of current laws permitting so-called “no-fault divorce.” From the standpoint of children, divorce is too easy.”
Social science cited in support: “Summarizing decades of social science research, a careful scholar concluded that ‘the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married.’ Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (2012), 158.”
Family-related idea or counsel: “A New York Times writer noted ‘the striking fact that even as traditional marriage has declined in the United States … the evidence has mounted for the institution’s importance to the well-being of children.’”
Social science cited in support: “Ross Douthat, ‘Gay Parents and the Marriage Debate,’ New York Times, June 11, 2012, http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/gay-parents-and-the-marriage-debate.” [This Op-Ed cites several studies from social science.]
Family-related idea or counsel: “Unmarried mothers have massive challenges, and the evidence is clear that their children are at a significant disadvantage when compared with children raised by married parents. Most of the children born to unmarried mothers—58 percent—were born to couples who were cohabitating. Whatever we may say about these couples’ forgoing marriage, studies show that their children suffer significant comparative disadvantages. For children, the relative stability of marriage matters.”
Social science cited in support: “See William J. Doherty and others, Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences (2002); W. Bradford Wilcox and others, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, 3rd ed. (2011).”
Family-related idea or counsel: “We should assume the same disadvantages for children raised by couples of the same gender. The social science literature is controversial and politically charged on the long-term effect of this on children, principally because, as a New York Times writer observed, ‘same-sex marriage is a social experiment, and like most experiments it will take time to understand its consequences.’”
Social science cited in support: “Douthat, ‘Gay Parents and the Marriage Debate.’ The latest and most thorough study finds significant disadvantages reported by young adults with a parent who had same-sex relationships prior to the child’s turning age 18 (see Mark Regnerus, ‘How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,’ Social Science Research, vol. 41 , 752–70).”
5. April 2012: “That the Lost May Be Found,” By Elder M. Russell Ballard
Family-related idea or counsel: “Equally worrisome is the ever-growing gap between the rich and poor and between those who strive to preserve family values and commitments and those who have given up on doing so. Statistically, those who have less education and consequently lower incomes are less likely to marry and to go to church and much more likely to be involved in crime and to have children outside of marriage. And these trends are also troubling in much of the rest of the world.”
Social science cited in support: “See W. Bradford Wilcox and others, ‘No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life among the White Working Class,’ available at www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/pdfs/Religion_WorkingPaper.pdf.” [Note: URL now defunct. Available here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315336/]