By Dr. Frederick M. Smith, President of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri
“As minister and general church office I hold marriage to be ordained of God, one of the sacraments of the church; the ceremony should be one of the most sacred and beautiful of church services, in which the seriousness as well as the beauty of forming a new family should be duly impressed upon the contracting parties and the witnesses of the ceremony.”
An address on the “Church of the Air” from radio station KMBC of Kansas City, over the Columbia Broadcasting System, at twelve o’clock Sunday, January 29, 1939.
The music on this program was furnished by the A Cappella Chorus of Graceland College, Lamoni, Iowa; directed by Miss Mabel Carlile of the college faculty.
President Frederick M. Smith, the speaker, is the grandson of the founder of the Latter Day Saint faith, Joseph Smith, who established the church in 1830.
Following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844, there was an interval in which various leaders sought power. The son of the founder, also named Joseph Smith, accepted the presidency of the Reorganized Church in 1860, and retained it until his death in 1914.
His son, Frederick M. Smith, became president of the church in 1915. He celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday on the twenty first of the month of this speech.
Greetings Radio Friends;
The times demand that there shall be some plain speaking concerning the church and its responsibility for preserving the sanctity of marriage as one of the its sacraments. That there has been a steady and far too rapid drift away from such ideal or standard cannot and will not be denied by anyone observant of and alert to the undermining the stability of the family as the unit of society, and the para passu decay of wholesome family life, without which such homes as the nation needs cannot be maintained. Only a false sense of security may be had by closing our eye to the ominous conditions far too prevalent.
Perhaps the strongest factor in the decay of modern home life is the attitude towards marriage. The general standard of the home life of the nation is of course indicated not by the highest type of home nor yet the lowest, but by the average home, that of the masses, or the common people. The two extremes exist, each exerting its influence, the one that of uplift, the other that of downpull. Like the one rotten apple in the barrel ultimately deleteriously affecting all the others, the lower type of home may be constantly threatening to all others. The higher type must be protected.
In this country in its formative period, and throughout much of its development, religion has played a prominent part. “In God We Trust,” was not a meaningless phrase mouthed for ulterior purposes. Religion played not a small part in maintaining the fine strong type of homes and home life in past years. Then the church was a more potent factor in giving direction to desirable social forces and placing obstacles before the undesirable ones. Then the pulpit was a much larger factor in molding public opinion and the men of the cloth, fearless and vigorous in denouncing error and erroneous movements gave needed support to the finer factors of home building and family life. But the pulpit, emasculated by fear of offending the powers that be, political or financial, is a greatly weakened factor in social trends, and the church thus loosens its grip on homes and home influences.
Our standards of marriage have most unfortunately lowered, and we play into the hands of those who for selfish or sinister motives would shatter public purity and moral standards. In my opinion, this whole group of problems surrounding marriage and resultant home life presents a definite task to the church, one which must be met by its ministers and officers, without displaying either fear or favor.
As a public man, I am first a man of the church and as such I am distinctly Christian in inclination, and a firm believer in the Bible. And I note that when the Almighty created the Garden of Eden as the beginning of man’s occupancy of the earth he placed therein one man and one woman, and assigned to them the task of multiplying and replenishing of the earth, and there was no indication that it was in any way a companionship of convenience. Adam and Eve were mated for life. So, also, when Noah was warned of and made preparations for the great cataclysm, he and his sons, following divine commandment, each took one wife into the Ark. And again the replenishment of the earth was on a monogamous basis, and the home life put on the basis of a permanent family.
And those of us, who believe in the coming to America of people from the old continent long before Columbus discovered this country, know that the colony was compromised of husbands and wives on the same basis.
Besides this, the great Founder of Christianity made positive and clear-cut statements and commandments on marriage. One man should have one wife and they twain should be one flesh. Marriage was of God’s appointment and in consonance with the biological truth that there is a parity of the sexes throughout the world, with very few exceptions, and those only brought about by local conditions at variance with the general.
As a further indication that marriage was for the earth and procreative in purpose as well as for companionship, Jesus averred that in heaven (next life) man was neither married (in state of wedlock) nor given in marriage. He also clearly set out that wedlock; a divine institution should be broken or dissolved for one cause only. With Him the family life must be stable, an institution on which society could rest securely.
What a far cry from these teachings to the practices and customs of today. I, of course do not here ignore or lose sight of those persons, though they perhaps are growing less in numbers, who have a wholesome and socially sound attitude towards the institution of matrimony, and who demonstrate in their lives the fine qualities of their ideals. But, alas, on every hand, and every day, there are seen evidences of the lowering of the standards, until the holiness of marriage and the sanctity of the marriage covenant are near lost to view. Marriages are capriciously formed and consummated as contracts of convenience serving selfish individual ends, with the common good or community weal at no time in view or very obscurely so. The sense of social responsibility in establishing the family, which is or should be the purpose of marriage, seems to have shriveled to near the vanishing point. Marriage vows recklessly taken by mere word of mouth rather than prompted by movements of the centers of emotion, are as recklessly broken with an expedition which matches the haste of forming the union.
Faithlessness to the connubial covenant has become so common as to be considered by some to be the rule rather than the exception. All of this is attested as being not a figment of fancy in mind of some lugubrious misanthrope, but a stern reality, by the rapid growth of the divorce evil, so rapid a growth that the ratio of divorces to marriages has steadily increased until today out of every four marriages it is strongly probable that one or more divorces will ensue. These figures reveal a miasmic incubus rising from the swamp of iniquity and which forms a distinct menace to the stability of our social order, and the nadir of this threat to social solidarity that has not yet been reached. It is not an isolated evil in our midst but is an outgrowth or concomitant of the general decay of morals, the revolt against constituted authority, and the breakdown of official rectitude. Our newspapers are so filled with salacious and sordid stories of infidelity in highly placed (?) individuals, records of divorces and divorce proceedings, accounts of the doings, two-, three-, four- or even five-ply divorcees among the worldly movie men, that the companions who patiently plod the path of life together, faithful to the end, or “till death do them part” are quite obscured or entirely lost to view.
The newspapers with their so-called news scent trained to catch the odor of the scandalous, have been more than a minor factor in developing an unwholesome attitude towards marriage.
As a result of that set out in the foregoing, along with the lowering of home life standards goes the socially dangerous lowered birth rate springing from the obvious desire to escape parental responsibilities and seek individual ease and comfort. The real and deep-running joys of parenthood are foregone for the more fugacious pleasures of temporary personal comfort. And homes broken by the increasing instability of the family augment the problems of juvenile delinquency arising from lessened discipline.
Before the youth of the country is constantly held the demoralizing effect of the movies which, quite as prone to present the scandalous and salacious as is the newspaper, depict upon the screen the pernicious home life many of the producers seem to think is representative of American life, a picture of “home life” (God save the mark) which represents the glamorous stage beauties and amorous men lounging in luxurious surroundings constantly using cigarettes and tobacco, babbling wine and drinking liquors, seeking and finding, as surcease from their ennui, thrills from illicit and home destroying social concourse through broken vows and faithlessness.
And what is the church doing about such movie standards? Not much! But at least one church, the Catholic, has given example of what might be done. And the churches can or could, by uniting their efforts, do much more. The pulpits could unitedly thunder against the vile presentations of the movies, and would, were it to free itself from fear and boldly erect a united demand for clean movies. But the move so well started by the Catholics was not well followed up.
The religious envisagement of marriage and family life under present conditions cannot be taught in our schools, and home teaching of religion has greatly deteriorated in recent years. The task, then, it seems to me, is put squarely up to the church to teach the youth the higher standards of marriage, wedlock and family life. Such teaching to be effective must have a strong religious content. Appeal must be made to the youth to develop and maintain a sense of responsibility to the group. Marriage rightly based on love, has a large emotional content, and the emotional factors of religion must be brought to bear on the youth in such teaching. Bold classroom facts and figures, with coldly scientific presentation of social truths and aspects may and should play a part in teaching youth marriage and its problems, but altruism, the real dynamic of proper social order, springs from the soul, though it yields to directional control through reason.
And our youth will make proper approach to marriage and home life when all the social and scientific factors are caught up in an emotional content reaching deep into the soul, not only of the individual but into the soul of the group or community. And so to supply this great need of teaching the youth of marriage and home life becomes the great concern and task of the church. Will the need be met by the church and men of the church?
The church and its ministers should stand for church weddings with dignified and beautiful settings and the youth taught and encouraged towards the deliberate and religious selection of mates. And the ministers of all denominations should unite in their determination to refuse to officiate in ceremonies for the unfit, as well as determinedly discouraging those divorced on improper grounds from remarrying.
The minister who sees only his fee in performing a wedding ceremony and does not concern himself about the worthiness of fitness of the contracting parties for wedlock and family life prostitutes his profession, and those ministers do worse who permit their offices or studies to become a “marrying parson’s” holdout, to which persons can race from the divorce court, or rush to consummate hasty marriages after short acquaintance.
As minister and general church office I hold marriage to be ordained of God, one of the sacraments of the church, and that the ceremony should be one of the most sacred and beautiful of church services in which the seriousness as well as the beauty of forming a new family should be duly impressed upon the contracting parties and the witnesses of the ceremony.
I shall continue my efforts to preserve the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage, and in these efforts I have the hearty and full support of our organization.
To the youth of our church, in fact to all our members, I make earnest plea for them to join us of the ministry in earnest efforts to state and find the solutions for the problems which confront us in efforts to raise the standard of home life to that of the ideal home in Zion, where the will of God shall prevail. Saints, “Zion the Beautiful” beckons us on.