Sunday, January 26, 2014

Brigham Young on Family Prayer

The following letter, dated 10 March 1841 from Liverpool, was originally printed as "Family Prayer", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 1/11 (March 1841): 286-287.
Dear Brother, - I have felt anxious to address a few lines to you on the subject of family prayer, (and shall feel obliged by your inserting the same in your next Star) for the purpose of imparting instruction to the brethren in general.  Having travelled through many branches of the church in England, I have found it to be a general custom among the brethren I visited, that when any of the travelling elders are present, they wait for the elder to go forward in family prayer instead of attending to that duty themselves; that is not right, and I would say to them that it would be better for them to understand their duty on this subject. 
My dear brethren, remember that the Lord holds all of us responsible for our conduct here.  He held our father Adam responsible for his conduct; but no more than he does us, in proportion to the station we hold. - The kings of the earth will have to give account to God for their conduct in a kingly capacity.  Kings are heads of nations, governors are heads of provinces, so are fathers or husbands governors of their own houses, and should act accordingly.  Heads of families should always take charge of family worship, and call their family together at a seasonable hour, and not wait for every person to get through with all they may have to say or do.  If it were my prerogative to adopt a plan for family prayer it would be the following: - Call your family or household together every morning and evening previous to coming to the table, and bow before the Lord to offer up your thanksgivings for his mercies and providential care of you.  Let the head of the family dictate, I mean the man, not the woman.  If an elder should happen to be present, the head of the house can call upon him if he chooses so to do, and not wait for a stranger to take the lead at such times - by so doing we shall obtain the favor of our heavenly Father, and it will have a tendency of teaching our children to walk in the way they should go, - which may God grant for Christ's sake, Amen.
Some questions for reflection and discussion:
  1. Brigham Young's main concern is with households where the (male) head of household de facto outsources responsibility for initiative in family prayer to any visiting elders who might be present.  Brigham Young disagrees with this practice.  What factors might have led to this practice arising?  Does Brigham address any of those factors in this letter?
  2. Brigham Young articulates a particular notion of hierarchy, which I might summarize:  In any social sphere, there is always a God-appointed 'head' who governs it and should direct its affairs.  Thus, in the social sphere of a nation, the God-appointed head is a king (or president?).  In the social sphere of a province, the God-appointed head is a governor.  In the social sphere of a household unit, the God-appointed head is typically a man acting as head of the family.  What are the implications of this sort of view of headship in general?  How does it play out in a democratic society?  What implications are there for issues of unwise rulers - see Mosiah 29:18-24?  
  3. Brigham Young's notion of headship is bound up in notions of responsibility.  The implication appears to be that every figure in authority is answerable to God for the direction given in governing that sphere.  Does this provide sufficient balance to Brigham's notion of headship as authority to govern?
  4. Brigham Young stresses that, by "head of the family", he means "the man, not the woman".  Why did Brigham Young add this qualification?  What objections might Brigham have had to the notion of a woman taking initiative in leading family prayer?  What are modern Latter-day Saints to think of Brigham Young's implied view of men and women?
  5. Brigham Young is careful not to say that the male head of household must offer the prayer, but rather that the head of household, as the authority figure, reserves the right to willfully delegate the offering of the prayer.  What is the distinction here?  Why is there a significance to the man displaying authority by choosing who prays, and no necessity that the man therefore always himself prays?  
  6. Brigham Young describes an ideal situation in which the whole family gathers for family prayer at least twice per day, prior to a morning meal and an evening meal; and the contents of these prayers are described in terms of thanksgiving.  What mealtime prayer practices likely influenced Brigham Young's thinking?  How does family prayer function in Latter-day Saint family life today?  How does family prayer function in mainstream Christian family life today?

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