Speakers come from the general (worldwide) leadership of the Church. They’re assigned to speak some weeks or months ahead of time, but they are not given topics. They are expected to prayerfully ask for guidance on what to say. So there are a variety of topics every time. But sometimes there seems to arise a common theme.
Last year I noted that the speakers were concerned with freedom of religion and told us to have courage.
The Church has always (all my life, in my memory, but also the Church’s entire history) valued strong families. This conference marriage and family seemed to me the overriding theme.
Conference is comprised of four main sessions of two hours each: two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Plus there is a session Saturday evening for men, age twelve and up. And Conference also includes a session for women the Saturday previous. So I’m about to share a few of the family theme highlights from the whole conference, starting with the women’s session.
|Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson|
Bonnie Oscarson is the Young Women General President (for youth ages 12-18). She spoke of defending the Family Proclamation. It’s a 600-word document, written twenty years ago, laying out the Church’s beliefs relating to marriage and family. It’s prophetic. I may spend a full post sometime sharing that. But, this is just to let you know what Sister Oscarson is referring to.
She begins with a story from 1850 Italy, where a young woman stood up bravely against an angry mob. That is the picture of courage she is hoping we can see in ourselves. She says,
Sisters, few of us will ever have to face an angry mob, but there is a war going on in this world in which our most cherished and basic doctrines are under attack. I am speaking specifically of the doctrine of the family. The sanctity of the home and the essential purposes of the family are being questioned, criticized, and assaulted on every front….
We need to boldly defend the Lord’s revealed doctrines describing marriage, families, the divine roles of men and women, and the importance of homes as sacred places—even when the world is shouting in our ears that these principles are outdated, limiting, or no longer relevant.
The entire women’s session was dedicated to proclaiming the importance of marriage and family.
During the Saturday morning session, the final speaker was Elder L. Tom Perry, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church (and the oldest; he’s 92). He was one of those who attended the Vatican Colloquium on Marriage last November (which I wrote about here). Leaders from many religions and groups came together in agreement on the importance of marriage and family. He quoted Pope Francis from that colloquium:
|Elder L. Tom Perry|
We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. … It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.[i]
Elder Perry was pleased that a Muslim speaker quoted verbatim two paragraphs from our Church’s Proclamation on the Family. He said, “It was marvelous to be in meetings with worldwide presenters as they universally addressed their feelings of the importance of marriage between a man and a woman.” And he went on to emphasize that the Church’s teachings on family include an eternal perspective. More is at stake than the best life here on earth; family bonds continue beyond death:
We also believe that strong traditional families are not only the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy, and a stable culture of values—but that they are also the basic units of eternity and of the kingdom and government of God.
We believe that the organization and government of heaven will be built around families and extended families.
It is because of our belief that marriages and families are eternal that we, as a church, want to be a leader and a participant in worldwide movements to strengthen them.
|Elder D. Todd Christopherson|
During the Saturday afternoon session, Elder D. Todd Christopherson (also one of the Twelve) spoke on “Why Marriage, Why Family.” He shared a quote from a favorite piece from the martyred Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a letter sent from prison to his niece who was getting married:
Marriage is more than your love for each other. … In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God.[ii]
For people who believe in God, marriage is what God says it is. It can’t be anything else. I often write of social science support for marriage[iii], which is true. But I’m open to those truths because I am aware of God’s plan. Elder Christopherson brings that into perspective:
The social science case for marriage and for families headed by a married man and woman is compelling.[iv] And so “we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”[v] But our claims for the role of marriage and family rest not on social science but on the truth that they are God’s creation. It is He who in the beginning created Adam and Eve in His image, male and female, and joined them as husband and wife to become “one flesh” and to multiply and replenish the earth. Each individual carries the divine image, but it is in the matrimonial union of male and female as one that we attain perhaps the most complete meaning of our having been made in the image of God—male and female. Neither we nor any other mortal can alter this divine order of matrimony. It is not a human invention. Such marriage is indeed “from above, from God” and is as much a part of the plan of happiness as the Fall and the Atonement.
|Elder Joseph W. Sitati|
In the Sunday afternoon session, one of the speakers was Elder Joseph W. Sitati, of the Seventy (the quorums of 70are traveling ministers from around the world, as was Stephen in the New Testament; Elder Sitati is from Kenya). He spoke on the continued relevance of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. With that commandment in mind, he said, “Marriage between a man and a woman is the institution that God ordained for the fulfillment of the charge to multiply. A same-gender relationship does not multiply.”
Please note that this is coming from a well-educated but meek and loving man. He is not saying we must hate homosexuals; he is simply saying that God’s plan of happiness applies to us all. The commandments are for our happiness.
In the Sunday afternoon session, Elder Robert D. Hales, of the Twelve, spoke on protecting religious freedom. He said,
As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom. We already know that Satan does not want this freedom to be ours. He attempted to destroy moral agency in heaven, and now on earth he is fiercely undermining, opposing, and spreading confusion about religious freedom.
|Elder Robert D. Hales|
He listed four religious freedoms we should be concerned with: 1) freedom to believe; 2) freedom to share our beliefs with others; 3) freedom to form a religious organization; and 4) freedom to live our faith. And he added, “As disciples of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility to work together with like-minded believers, to raise our voices for what is right.”
A couple of weeks before General Conference, Utah passed a religious freedom and anti-discrimination law—with the support of the Church[vi]. Both religious freedom and anti-discrimination in employment and housing are the law; but they both needed reasserting. This might be an example for other states to follow. Working together, the Church was able to assert the need for respect for our beliefs, while calmly reassuring that we respect the rights of all others.
We need to stand strong. We need to have courage. Regardless of what courts rule, or media informs us is the majority opinion. We must stand with God, for the sake of civilization, and our posterity, and our souls. But that includes loving, calm, understanding discourse. Getting that from the other side is the miracle—a testament to the Church’s dedication to God and loving all His children.
[i] Pope Francis, address at Humanum: An International Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman, Nov. 17, 2014, http://humanum.it/en/videos/; see also http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-francis-address-at-opening-of-colloquium-on-complementarity-of-man-and-woman.
[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (1953), 42–43.
[iv] Elder Perry’s transcript offers this footnote: People may be loyal to one another in nonmarital relationships, and children can be born and raised, sometimes quite successfully, in other than a married two-parent family environment. But on average and in the majority of cases, evidence of the social benefits of marriage and of the comparatively superior outcomes for children in families headed by a married man and woman is extensive. On the other hand, the social and economic costs of what one commentator calls “the global flight from the family,” weigh increasingly on society. Nicholas Eberstadt catalogs the worldwide declines in marriage and childbearing and the trends regarding fatherless homes and divorce and observes: “The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young. That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old.” (See “The Global Flight from the Family,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2015, wsj.com/articles/nicholas-eberstadt-the-global-flight-from-the-family-1424476179.)