This week’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly featured MaryAnn McKibban Dana, a Presbyterian minister and mother of three young children. A few years ago, Rev. McKibban Dana, like many working mothers, felt great pressure from the demands of her job and her family. She needed a day of rest from work and other busyness to spend time with her family. Obviously, Sunday is not a day of rest for a pastor, so she and her husband designated Saturday as their Sabbath—a day when they turn off the television, computer, and cell phones, avoid shopping, and spend time restoring themselves.
Their Sabbath is not overtly religious. Family activities include taking their children on nature walks in a nearby state park, playing games, and cooking together. She and her husband renew themselves by doing things they and their children enjoy.
I couldn’t help comparing this family’s Sabbath with Mormon Family Home Evenings—a program consistently emphasized by the Church for the past half century. Constant admonishments from Church leaders for parents to hold FHE, comments from friends, and our own experience on Monday evenings cause me to believe the program has been less than successful. The problem with Mormon FHE is the formal structure outlined: Father presiding, opening song, opening prayer, discussion of family matters, lesson, closing prayer, refreshments. After spending three hours in meetings on Sunday, do Mormon families need another Church meeting on Monday evenings?
Mormons place great emphasis on formal instruction. Besides the three-hour block on Sunday, they send high school students to daily seminary classes, schedule semi-annual general conferences with four two- hour sessions, semi-annual two-hour Priesthood and Relief Society conferences, semi-annual two-hour stake conferences—usually with extra sessions for youth and for adults, and quarterly stake priesthood meetings.
If all this formal instruction were effective, it seems unlikely the Church would be experiencing a retention problem, or second apostasy as Elder Marlin K. Jensen termed it. Mormon parents are admonished to teach their children the gospel, and teaching for Mormons involves one person presenting information while others sit with arms folded—and ideally, mouths shut.
Values are most often transmitted by actions rather than words. When our oldest son entered high school, we often spent Monday evenings at the city library where he and his 7th grade sister did homework research (this was in the age before home computers) and the younger kids selected new books. Why don’t Church leaders encourage Mormon parents to simply turn off the TV, computer, and phones on Monday evenings and interact in whatever ways are meaningful to their family?