I’ve posted previously about the need for us to be mindful with our language. Last month I cited a specific example — family of one — that represents less than effective thinking about singles in the Church. This week I return to the same theme with a different variation.
I harp on the need to watch our language because language reveals the way that we think. And if we think in less effective ways, then the worlds we create in our interactions with one another will also be less effective. Such is the case with the phrase family ward.
I vote that we remove this phrase from our vocabulary. That’s right. Let’s put this phrase on the next bus, train, ship, or plane out of town — whichever leaves first — and expunge it from our lives forever.
Building Zion means including everyone
What’s so bad about using family ward? It’s really quite simple. By labeling a ward as a family ward, we announce that one must have a family in order to belong with that unit in the sense of identifying with that unit. That’s the way labels work; they identify what constitutes the grouping.
This is part of the reason why many singles feel out of place in these wards. Trying to feel that you belong to a group identified with something you don’t have is very difficult. It runs against the grain of how language naturally works. That can’t be anything but difficult.
Many singles struggle with the identity difficulties presented with this label. Some even separate themselves from the safety of their wards and stakes. How do you build Zion when you don’t include everyone?
The Brethren seem to have some sensitivity to this idea. The General Handbook of Instructions does not use the phrase family ward. Instead, there you find the phrases conventional ward and traditional ward. I applaud the Brethren for their attempt.
At the same time, with no intent to demean or belittle, I would suggest that these phrases don’t go far enough. What have wards in the Church conventionally been? What have they traditionally been? They have been centered around families. While a step in the right direction, these nominatives simply don’t adequately address the questions of identity inherent in their use as labels.
Moving towards inclusiveness
You’re probably wondering what I would suggest that we use instead. And I’m going to tell you. I believe we should use the term general membership ward.
This phrase didn’t originate with me. I first heard it while conversing about singles issues with a stake presidency counselor in Seattle. And I’ve loved it ever since.
General membership ward responds perfectly to the struggles in identity that phrases like family ward present. People naturally think that people with families belong in family wards. It’s just the natural train of thought. Likewise, anyone from the general membership of the Church can feel that he or she belongs in general membership wards.
In comparison, the words general membership is a mouthful when compared with the word family. But I see that as a great thing. Intentionally going the extra mile to use those extra syllables communicates a desire to bring everyone together and help everyone to feel included.
Promoting the family
I know that some people will encounter this and think that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. They might also argue that we should be promoting the family. Using family ward appears to do just that.
How do you create a true unity of the faith without attention to language? Helping people to feel included doesn’t put things out of perspective. Rather, it puts them very much into perspective.
And just because I’m single doesn’t mean I don’t support the family. Just because I want to be sensitive to others so that they feel encouraged to progress to the same heavenly home we are all trying to reach doesn’t mean I don’t support the family.
Using the phrase general membership ward to describe our congregations does not in any way diminish the family. In fact, it provides us more opportunity to support it. Supporting the family as an institution must include the creation of new families. And how will you help singles to do that if they are not present to receive your ministering?
It’s no small matter to want to belong and to identify with a given group. That’s something that every human being naturally wants. And it’s something that we can work to satisfy for the singles in our midst by paying more attention to our language.
Let’s all stop using family ward and start using general membership ward. Zion can’t be built unless we do it together. Let’s all come together so that we can build Zion together.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and since 2018 I've been producing a weekly Internet radio show and podcast to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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