Kirby: Church counsel can be helpful or hurtful. Either way, it shouldn’t be the decider.

Robert Kirby

In the 1950s, my devout Latter-day Saint parents followed the exhortation of church leaders to marry young and immediately set about having as many children as possible.

This wasn’t necessarily bad advice, provided those heeding it were equipped for the task. My parents weren’t. But being earnest members, they gave it a good try. They married and had four children in less than four years.

As the eldest (and least expected), I was just over a year old before I had to make way for the next kid. By the time I was 3, there were four of us, or a family of six living on the income of what amounted to an Air Force corporal.

Being a kid with assorted issues and a lot of unsupervised time on my hands, I grew up emotionally feral. I’m not blaming anyone. That’s just the way it turned out.

Birth control was still on the agenda when my wife and I married in 1975. Lots of leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believed that any means to prevent the birth of a child was inspired by the Evil One.

As a recently returned missionary, I was still laboring under the notion that authority equated to authenticity. We were pregnant about 24 hours after an elders quorum lesson on the evils of birth control.

Having our plans and finances derailed by someone blow-holing about something that was, in fact, none of his business was, well, our fault. It was a valuable lesson in the necessity of making up our own minds.

One of the many problems associated with religious instruction or counsel is that it casts a wide net. “Every worthy young man on a mission” was the counsel/commandment back in the day.

It’s a nice thought, except that in a highly judgmental culture, it has a huge downside: In order to appear worthy, every young man should serve a mission. And many did — to their everlasting regret.

Today, the church still preaches the “privilege and responsibility” to marry and have children, as well as serving missions, but the authoritative tone has been dialed back to the level of encouragement rather than mandate.

My point here is that counsel — which I believe faith leaders are entitled to give — is not the same thing as a commandment.

“Thou shalt not murder” is a commandment, and a good one. Everyone benefits from compliance, even if it’s just a secular law.

Conversely, telling everyone that the womb is akin to a bus station bodes ill for a variety of reasons.

For one, not everyone can or should have children. Imagine the self-condemnation an infertile woman feels when told that it’s her gender’s primary responsibility to fetch new spirits into the world.

Or that homosexuality is considered a sin so vile that it amounts to apostasy, and the offspring of such unrighteous people are not worthy to be baptized.

It’s very tidy if you believe that every bit of church counsel applies to equally to everyone. But I’m naturally skeptical and therefore always a little nervous when, as Stanislaw Jerzy Lec once wrote, Eskimos try telling the Congolese how to cope with the heat.

I shouldn’t complain. The daughter we brought into the world because of that incident is beautiful, intelligent and a victim advocate for a police department. Even better, she makes her own decisions and takes absolutely no crap from her father or anyone else in doing so.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.