How to Defend Against the Attack on the Family

The Stripling Warriors Defend the Family

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Summarizing Saturday’s first session of General Conference would be fairly simple: “Defend the Family.”

But how?

Some LDS bloggers responded that they didn’t believe that there is an attack on the family. Carolynn ni Lochlainn wrote, “Overall, I find the meeting extremely paranoid. EVERYONE IS ATTACKING THE FAMILY! No, they’re not. Most people don’t care a crumb about your family,” which was followed by a line of commenters writing simply “I agree.”

In her defense details are rarely spoken about over the pulpit. And white, educated, economically secure families have high marriage rates, low divorce rates, and plenty of family time.

The Lord is interested in the attacks on all families.

They’re doing well. So it’s easy to see how these commenters can be blinded by their class and racial privilege. But just because their families are fine, doesn’t mean everyone’s are.

The Lord and His representatives are interested in the attacks on all families. And those attacks are plentiful. President Bonnie Oscarson called on everyone to defend the family. Below are 25 attacks on the family, along with specific suggestions on how you can rise to President Oscarson’s challenge.

Importance of Marriage is Waning

attack on the family starts with an attack on marriage, two wedding bands
Our attitudes about marriage reflect the importance of family.

At the heart of family is marriage, and as we look around us marriage is no longer being held up as the same kind of ideal. Evidence is all around.


Cohabitation rates in the United States are higher than they have ever been, spiking up during the recent economic downturn. And it is clear that cohabitation is not the answer.

Attitudes about cohabitation are bred from not knowing the facts.

who cohabitate are more likely to divorce if they get married; domestic violence rates are higher for cohabitating couples than married ones; and those who cohabitate are 5X more likely to cheat on their partner than those who are married.

How can I help?

  • Educate others. Millennials (those born after 1980) cohabitate more than any previous generation. And many regard it as the ideal situation. Attitudes about cohabitation are bred from not knowing the facts. Even those who have rejected moral reasons, should still know that the cohabitation will hurt their family in the long run.


Divorce is an necessary tool to protect families from being mired in abuse without recourse. But it should also be as rare as possible. Marriage rates in the U.S. continue to go down, while divorce rates remain high. And many countries around the world either offer no divorce (Philippines) or divorce only with the husband’s permission (Israel).

How can I help?

  • Help start a community marriage policy. These policies have helped reduce divorce by as much as 79% in the cities where they’ve been started. This is an interfaith effort to help better prepare individuals for marriage. This step-by-step guide for starting a policy in your hometown can help you.
  • Speak out about the Philippines proposed divorce legalization law. Encourage your representatives to pressure the Filipino government to make this obvious option available for their citizens.

Diminished Spousal Privilege

Historically courts have treated spouses like they are “one flesh,” essentially extending constitutional protections against being forced to testify against yourself to your spouse. But those rights are under attack. While some changes like allowing a spouse to testify if they choose, make sense, other proposed changes would require spouses to testify against each other if they’re accused of the same crime!

This attitude reflects a society that no longer recognizes the importance of marriage.

How can I help?

  • See if your state is proposing a law changing spousal privilege at the National Conference of State Legislatures database, and if they are write to your state legislature. Most local legislators don’t get many calls or letters from constituents, so your voice could make a big difference.

The Marriage Penalty

The marriage penalty was a major political talking point during the 1980s, and was eliminated in some places. But marriage penalties still exists particularly for the most poor in the United States. Marriage can often cut government benefits, and since it’s the poor whose families are struggling the most, this is a major problem. The Tax Policy Center has an article on the Widespread Prevalence of Marriage Penalties.

How can I help?

Devaluation of Women

Woman and Girls Prepare to go to Conference
Latter-day revelation teaches that parents should be equal partners, but many cultural forces don’t value women equally.

Around the world, and in the United States, many organizations devalue women. Since women are critical in the functioning of families, these attitudes and policies hurt entire families.

The Boys will be Boys Attitude

Even religious leaders fall prey to an attitude that we should expect men to mistreat women, and that women should simply accommodate this behavior.

Perhaps you remember this time when Pat Robertson excused infidelity by saying “He’s a man” and telling the wife what she needed to fix!

How can I help?

  • Hold the men and women in your life to the same standards. If we excuse men as naturally wanting to destroy family life, they will do just that. As Latter-day Saints, we understand we should all be capable of overcoming the natural man.
  • Participate in organizations that seek to define masculinity for its positive attributes while fighting violence. Men Stopping Violence is a great place to start.

Hold the men and women in your life to the same standards

Domestic Violence

More than 38 million women have been physically or sexually abused by their partner. And if it takes you three minutes to read this article, 60 women will be abused during that time. There is nothing that attacks the family more literally than the abuse of women.

How can I help?

Diminishing the Sacredness of Sex

Couple talking in bed
Taking the sacredness out of sex, lessens the importance of Marriage

A sexual union is the sacred center of marital relationships, but many want to make sex seem common and cheap. Devaluing sexual intimacy inevitably devalues the family where that intimacy plays such a crucial role.


Much has been said about the terrible effects of pornography. And you need to check out the amazingly informative site Fight the New Drug, if you haven’t yet. Sadly there is still too

A sexual union is the sacred center of marital relationships

much misinformation that calls pornography healthy for marriage. Pornography harms families particularly because it leads to objectification, essentially ruining the emotional benefits of intimacy.

How can I help?


Prostitution takes all the spirituality out of sex and makes it nothing more than a commodity to be traded. Reducing prostitution and punishing those who seek it out can send a strong message about the sacredness of sexuality.

How can I help?

The Media

Rates of sexual activity on TV continues to rise, and while data on how sex is portrayed is hard to come by, it’s clear to anyone paying attention that the media’s treatment of sex is becoming more and more coarse. This sexualization can have very negative effects. Studies have shows a direct correlation between those who watch TV programs with more sexual content and teen pregnancy rates.

How can I help?

  • Consider joining the Parents Television Council, and help them advocate for more appropriate prime time programming.
  • Look to your own homes, and don’t be afraid to turn off inappropriate programming. And make sure to talk to children about what they see on TV.

The Rise of the Individual

attack on the family by individualism
When we focus too much on the individual we lose sight that family is the most important thing.

More and more often, as a society we look strictly at the well being of the individual rather than the family unit as a whole. This individual first attitude has a real effect on our families. When we strive to do what’s best for each individual, we stop important parts of family life like self-sacrifice, that could improve the family unit as a whole.

Social Atomism

Social atomism is a theory that says the individual is the basic unit of society. This directly contradicts the words of the prophet that decree the family as the basic unit of society. But atomism goes back as far as John Locke, and is an ingrained part of American society.

How can I help?

  • Look for examples of family structures outside of the United States. Many Asian cultures traditionally hold family in higher regard, and until recently were not as influenced by social atomism.
  • As often as you can treat your family as a complete unit, by doing things together. Even when you are apart, talk about your behavior as something you are doing for your family.

Parallel Play

This individual first attitude has a real effect on our families

Parallel play refers to children who play close to each other, but aren’t yet capable of interacting with each other. But today, people are noticing that parallel play is a great way to describe how families interact. Have you ever had everyone in your home watching TV at the same time, but all watching different programs on different devices? This separation makes us feel more like individuals, but hurts our family units.

How can I help?

  • Start doing activities together. Do chores together, rather than doing two different chores at the same time. Or find a program that everyone can agree on to watch together, and then talk about it during commercials.
  • Talk to a stranger. We often bring parallel play patterns into our home from outside. Have you ever gone to a cafe and noticed everyone in their own bubble. Start to break down these barriers by being friendly, and see how it affects your behavior at home.

Time with Children

One of the most obvious examples of the negative effects of individuation has to do with how much time children and parents spend together. It’s impossible to talk about it without thinking of the old church PSAs “Family: Isn’t it about time.” But today fathers spend less than 15 minutes a day in direct interaction with their teenage children! But the benefits of spending time with children include: increased academic success, more influence over peer groups, and fewer behavioral problems.

How can I help?

  • Start by spending more time with your children. Cut out an extracurricular activity, or unnecessary hours at work, and be together. Parents should also help each other with responsibilities so that they can each have free time with their children.
  • Prioritize family time for others. If you find yourself in a position of leadership, whether as a supervisor at work, or as a church leader, make sure that those who work with you understand that their first priority should be to their family, and make accommodations as necessary.

Children Are Less Valued

Portrait of married couple and their four young children
As we defend the family, the importance of children cannot be overstated.

The family unit is designed to help children. So when we as a society stop recognizing the importance of children, the importance of family to nurture those children goes down as well.

Number of Children Going Down

Today in the US there are 2.01 children born per family. This is barely at replacement level. In many European countries, there are fewer children being born than required to maintain their current populations. In some of these countries declining population is a major crisis. Yet commentators continue to list off the many reasons you shouldn’t have kids!

How can I help?

  • The Church is clear that the number of children you have is an individual decision. But recognize the many blessings that children bring, that not all hard things should be avoided, and the need for all of Heavenly Father’s children to have physical bodies. And consider revising up your plans.
  • Some of the primary reasons people cite for not having children is the stress of keeping those children in line. If you contribute to the culture that constantly complains about parents who don’t keep their children up to your standards, stop it, and begin offering to help instead.

Children forced into Work

More than 5 million children are in forced labor worldwide, and more than 200 million children work in exploitative situations for low pay because of their family circumstances. If you want to know how your choices result in forced child labor you can take this survey on your slavery footprint.

How can I help?

  • The best way to reduce child labor is to put pressure on companies to stop using it. Write a note to companies in the fields with the most child labor about how you feel. Or consider boycotting these 10 American companies that continue to benefit from exploitative child labor.
  • One of the biggest causes of child labor is when families cannot support them. Consider providing a micro loan for families in impoverished countries. These loans provide the

    Kids can definitely be annoying, but focusing on the negative creates a culture that doesn’t value children

    capital boost they need to start their own businesses and begin providing for themselves.

Negative Attitudes Toward Children

While this may pale in comparison to child labor, a part of the problem is the negative attitude we have about children. A couple years ago when many restaurants began banning children, an avalanche of bickering came about in support of the policy. People couldn’t stop complaining about how annoying kids are. Now kids can definitely be annoying, but focusing on the negative creates a culture that doesn’t value children.

How can I help?

  • If you’re a parent, stop complaining about kids all the time. It is often times parents that begin this negative culture. As the hymn goes, “Count your blessings” and help those around notice the great parts about having kids that they may not notice.
  • If you don’t have children, recognize that children are necessary part of the world, and as such shouldn’t be banished to their homes.

Children Don’t Have the Necessary Support

Inconsistency affects children
Keeping parents away from children is a pernicious attack on the family

The Family Proclamation is clear that children deserve a father and mother to love and support them. In some instances this simply can’t be accomplished. But understanding the importance of children, this should be the goal as often as possible.

Children Born Out of Wedlock 

Children deserve a father and mother to love and support them

Today more than 50 percent of children born to women under thirty are born out of wedlock. And as a recent Huffington Post headline announced these children “Aren’t OK.” These children are twice as likely to drop out of school, one and a half times more likely to be out of school and work through their early twenties, and more likely to have their own children out of wedlock.

How can I help?

  • Be clear with your children about your own sexual values and attitudes. Talk about these early, often, and specifically. These two points have found to be the most effective way for parents to help their own children avoid teen pregnancy.
  • Support teen pregnancy prevention programs. State sponsored programs, especially those that help low-income students one on one, have been shown to be very effective in reducing teen pregnancy. If your state does not currently have a program, advocate to get one started.
  • Support the Association Solidarite Feminine. They operate in Morocco, where the stigma against single mothers is especially strong. While we should work to end single parent families, we must also work to support those that do exist. This organization teaches single mothers work skills, provides shelter, and helps them reclaim their dignity.

Absent Fathers

1 in 3 children in the US live in homes without their father. Children who have their fathers succeed more across the board. They perform better in school, make more money in their lives, and have fewer behavioral problems.

How can I help?


I’m not suggesting that you must be a pacifist in order to support families. But as we weigh our support for armed conflicts, we should consider not only the effect it will have on American military families, but also families in those countries where conflicts take place. The Washington Post estimates that there have been more than 6 million civilian casualties as a result of US military action post-WWII.

How can I help?

Parents are Away from their Children

Child Left Alone
When we say there’s an “Attack on the Family” we might as well say Family Time is under attack.

The amount of time that parents spend with their children is actually going up in the United States. But it’s just as important that parents have the time to spend with their kids, and can do so without being stressed. Unfortunately many factors work to keep parents and children away from each other.

Time at Work

Americans work more hours per week than any other country in the world, nearly 50 per week, and we take less vacation time. Americans work 260 more hours each year than their British counterparts, or a month and a half more work time, every year. This extra work means less time with children. 2,000,000 children who live with both parents are “latch-key kids” meaning they come home to an empty house.

Many factors work to keep parents and children away from each other

How can I help?

Paid Parental Leave in the United States

The United States is one of only two countries that does not provide paid time off for parents of new children. And the US provides the shortest amount of maternity leave paid or unpaid of any developed country. That means that parents, particularly those that can’t afford to go long times without income, simply can’t spend time much time with their newborn children. And this affects the ability of women to provide for themselves the rest of their lives.

How can I help?


Stick figures move through assembly line
One importance of family is that it treats us as more than just economic cogs. We should keep it that way.

Families are the most important thing because they help us recognize our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual worth. But there are many factors at play that want to reduce us to only our economic worth. It’s important that those forces are kept in their proper place within our society. 

Families are the most important thing because they help us recognize our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual worth.

Patriarchal Expectations of Men

Studies have shown that cultural expectations often pin men into one-dimensional roles: to make money. This strips men of their importance in providing for and protecting their families, the things they do when they are actually with their families. Men in fact spend almost half as much time with their children as women do. Nearly one in five men work extremely long work hours, more than double that of women. How can fathers protect their children, when they’re rarely with them?

How can I help?

  • Search for ways in your own family to reduce your reliance on money, and look for ways to share more equally across the board, so that children can benefit from both of their parents.
  • Treat men like parents. If you need to talk about a child, don’t automatically ask for the mother. Don’t ask men to “babysit” their own kids for a Relief Society activity.


When we let work take over our culture, it can have very negative effects. Look at Japan, where devotion to work has risen, especially among the younger generation, and birth rates have tumbled to the crisis point. And those who are looking for the companionship of family, are forced into the position where some men are even marrying their pillows.

Economists have found that the productivity of American workers has gone up 400% since 1950, but Americans continue to spend more time at work. Americans could maintain a standard of living equal to 1975, while only working 23 hours a week, and thus devoting much more time to family activities.

How can I help?

  • Get out of the rat race. Recognize that you don’t need to have everything, and find ways to organize your work life in ways that value your family
  • While production has risen 400% since 1950 real wages have only gone up about 50%, which means families aren’t reaping the benefits.  Mind the Gap, a Catholic organization, works to remedy that problem. Check out their website for ways you can help.


Family businesses can be a way for families to be together and work as one to provide for themselves. But unfortunately small family businesses suffer from the unfair competition of megacorporations.

How can I help?

  • Patronize local and family businesses as often as you can.
  • Laws often unfairly help the largest businesses, because of the outsized influence they have over politicians. The Sunlight foundation works to keep government accountable and transparent. They are currently trying to pass a law that would make it easier to prosecute lobbyists that break bribery laws. But the law is stuck in the subcommittee. Reach out to Representative Trent Franks, the chairman, and encourage him to help get the law passed.


I think it is evident to anyone paying attention that many cultural, political, and corporate factors are attacking the family. Obviously every person won’t be interested in advocating for everyone of these causes, or even agree on them. But we should each find something we do feel passionate about, and rise up to President Oscarson’s challenge to defend the family.

Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor for Public Square Magazine and contributor to Third Hour. He loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas.