When I heard President Gordon B. Hinckley read the Proclamation on the Family in 1995, I thought that it was stating the obvious. I wondered why he would issue a “proclamation to the world” that affirmed what everyone already believed. Since that time, I have learned much from studying the history behind the issuing of this proclamation. It can be easily accessed here.
When Church leadership expressed a need for a proclamation on the family, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “It was a surprise to some who thought the doctrinal truths about marriage and the family were well understood without restatement.” (General Conference, October 2017, “The Plan and the Proclamation”) Nevertheless, the Quorum of the Twelve felt confirmation and spent the next year identifying subjects to be discussed. He said, “Prayerfully, we continually pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration on what we should say and how we should say it. We all learned ‘line upon line, precept upon precept,’ as the Lord has promised.” He referred to this as a “revelatory process.” (Ibid.)
Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, shared his experience:
One day in 1994, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spent a day in their council room in the Salt Lake Temple discussing issues surrounding the family. They considered everything from the increasingly ubiquitous nature of pornography to potential anti-family legislation of various kinds. This was not a new discussion, but that day the entire agenda revolved around this one vital topic.
The Twelve reviewed both doctrine and policies, considering those things that could not be changed—doctrine—and those things that possibly could be—policies. They discussed issues they saw coming, including an intensified societal push for gay marriage and transgender rights. ‘But that was not the end of what we saw,’ Elder Nelson explained. ‘We could see the efforts of various communities to do away with all standards and limitations on sexual activity. We saw the confusion of genders. We could see it all coming.’
This extended discussion, along with others over a period of time, led to the conclusion that the Twelve should prepare a document, perhaps even a proclamation, outlining the Church’s stand on the family to present to the First Presidency for consideration.” (Sheri Dew in Insights from a Prophet’s Life: Russell M. Nelson (2019), 208)
Elder M. Russell Ballard said: “In the midst of all that was stirring on this subject in the world, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles could see the importance of declaring to the world the revealed, true role of the family in the eternal plan of God. We worked together through the divinely inspired council system . . . to craft a proclamation that would make the Lord’s position on the family so clear that it could not be misunderstood.” (Emphasis added. Accessed from https://thefamilyproclamation.org/the-history/)
Quorum President Boyd K. Packer shared this insight:
“The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve issued a proclamation on the family. I can tell you how that came about. They had a world conference on the family sponsored by the United Nations in Beijing, China. We sent representatives. It was not pleasant what they heard. They called another one in Cairo. Some of our people were there. I read the proceedings of that. The word marriage was not mentioned. It was at a conference on the family, but marriage was not even mentioned. It was then they announced that they were going to have such a conference here in Salt Lake City. Some of us made the recommendation: “They are coming here. We had better proclaim our position.” He later added, “The hope is that Latter-day Saints will recognize the transcendent importance of the family.” (Ibid.)
The First Presidency made final changes in the document and President Hinckley presented the proclamation in the women’s meeting of September 23, 1995. I have often wondered why he chose this meeting in which to announce this significant declaration. I feel it sent a powerful message about the centrality of women in the eternal plan of salvation.
He introduced the proclamation with these words: “With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn.”
Just as Noah warned the people about the flood before it started raining, President Hinckley warned the world to prepare themselves for Satan’s attack on the family. This is essentially an attack on the Plan of Salvation itself. After years of hearing this plan preached from the pulpit and in classes, the ideas that marriage between a man and a woman was ordained of God, that gender is eternal, and that families were the order of heaven was widely accepted. At the time, these ideas were also generally accepted by the world at large. Who knew that things would change so drastically over the next decades?
Sister Bonnie Oscarson, former Young Women General President, commented 20 years later: “Little did we realize then how very desperately we would need these basic declarations in today’s world as the criteria by which we could judge each new wind of worldly dogma coming at us from the media, the Internet, scholars, TV and films, and even legislators. The proclamation on the family has become our benchmark for judging the philosophies of the world, and I testify that the principles set forth within this statement are as true today as they were when they were given to us by a prophet of God nearly 20 years ago” (Bonnie L. Oscarson, “Defenders of the Family Proclamation,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 14–15).
The Proclamation on the Family is jam-packed with doctrine. Elder Oaks summarizes it this way:
The family proclamation begins by declaring “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” It also affirms that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” It further declares “that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
The proclamation affirms the continuing duty of husband and wife to multiply and replenish the earth and their “solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children”: “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” It solemnly warns against the abuse of spouse or offspring, and it affirms that “happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Finally, it calls for the promotion of official “measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” (Dallin H. Oaks, General Conference, October 2017, “The Plan and the Proclamation”)
Julie B. Beck, former General Relief Society President, has taught us much about the importance of the family in the Lord’s plan. She has spoken about the need for the rising generation to be taught the doctrine of the family.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a theology of the family that is based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan that Adam and Eve be sealed and form an eternal family.
The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Adam and Eve were family leaders who chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for them to have sons and daughters.
The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness, also called the plan of salvation, was a plan created for families. The rising generation need to understand that the main pillars of our theology are centered in the family.
When we speak of qualifying for the blessings of eternal life, we mean qualifying for the blessings of eternal families.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was written to reinforce that the family is central to the Creator’s plan. Without the family, there is no plan; there is no reason for mortal life.
(From a broadcast address given to seminary and institute of religion teachers on August 4, 2009.)
The Family Proclamation clearly declares that the family is the center of the Plan of Salvation because the entire plan is about us creating eternal families. Elder Russell M. Nelson declared, “In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” (”Salvation and Exaltation,” General Conference, April 2008)
President Ezra Taft Benson declared that “exaltation is eternal fatherhood and eternal motherhood.” (‘To the Elect Women of the Kingdom of God,’ Nauvoo Illinois Relief Society Dedication, 30 June 1978)” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 548). He also said, “As revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the glorious concept of home and the enduring family relationship lies at the very basis of our happiness here and hereafter.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 491–92.) Elder Nelson added: “Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is ‘central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’ The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another. Throughout the world, the family is increasingly under attack. If families fail, many of our political, economic, and social systems will also fail. And if families fail, their glorious eternal potential cannot be realized.” (”Salvation and Exaltation,” General Conference, April 2008)
On the tenth anniversary of the issuing of the proclamation in the October 2005 General Conference, Elder M. Russel Ballard said the “prophetic document” was ahead of its time in defending traditional family values. Its clear and simple language stands in contrast to society’s confusion and convoluted definition of family. He added, “It was then and is now a clarion call to protect and strengthen families and a stern warning in a world where declining values and misplaced priorities threaten to destroy society by undermining its basic unit.”
President Dallin H. Oaks in his 2019 October Conference address said,
In his talk to young adults, President Nelson taught, “Abiding by God’s laws will keep you safe as you progress toward eventual exaltation—that is, to become like God, with the exalted life and divine potential of our Heavenly Parents. That is the destiny we desire for all we love. Because of that love, we cannot let our love supersede the commandments and the plan and work of God, which we know will bring those we love their greatest happiness.” (“Two Great Commandments,” General Conference, October 2019, with reference to Russell M. Nelson, “The Love and Laws of God.”)
The tension between the ideal and the real exists not only outside the Church, but within it as well. Stressing the ideal, without causing some to feel discouraged for not measuring up, requires inspired teaching. Bradley R. Wilcox, Second Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency, said, “God’s message is that worthiness is not flawlessness. Worthiness is being honest and trying.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong said, “To be worthy does not mean to be perfect” (“Always Remember Him,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2016, 109).
Addressing the students at Brigham Young University, President Cecil O. Samuelson explained: “One can be fully worthy in [the] gospel sense and yet still be growing while dealing with personal imperfections. … Worthiness is vital, but it is not the same as perfection” (“Be Ye Therefore Perfect” [Brigham Young University devotional, Sept. 6, 2011], 1, 5, speeches.byu.edu).
None of us live in perfect family situations, but we can learn and grow wherever we happen to be. Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, has said:
The reality is that a majority of Church members do not live in perfect family situations. I’m not sure anyone lives in that perfect ideal family. So why keep the emphasis? Because family is our destiny, and we are on this earth to learn the skills of strong family relationships, no matter what our own situation is. …
… The Lord sees you. … If you trust your life to Him, His hand will guide you every step of the way until you are happy and at peace with all the desires of your heart. (Sister Sharon Eubank, “A Letter to a Single Sister,” Ensign, Oct. 2019, 40, 41, bold added.)
Sometimes there is tension between obeying the first great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” Matthew 22:37) and living the second, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). If we love God, we will keep his commandments. (John 14:15) In his address “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” President Dallin H. Oaks encouraged us to always keep the second great commandment. . . It is difficult because we must live among those who do not share our beliefs and values and covenant obligations. . . The gospel has many teachings about keeping the commandments while living among people with different beliefs and practices. The teachings about contention are central. . . We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. . . We should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation. (See Dallin H. Oaks, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 25–28)
He further taught that “we must never persecute those who do not share our beliefs and commitments. Regretfully, some persons facing these issues continue to feel marginalized and rejected by some members and leaders in our families, wards, and stakes. We must all strive to be kinder and more civil.” (See Dallin H. Oaks, “Two Great Commandments,” General Conference, October 2019.)
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve declared: “The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree.” (“Response to the Supreme Court Decision Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage in the United States,” enclosure to First Presidency letter, June 29, 2015.)
One of the great blessings of eternal life is qualifying for the blessings of eternal families. We can be blessed by family on both sides of the veil. Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy said this:
“When I say families, I don’t [just] mean our modern concept of Mom, Dad, and children. I use the term the way the Lord uses it, as a synonym for kindred or multigenerational families, because everyone has a family. Our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children centers on this kind of family—with children who draw strength from ancestors many generations back and parents who seek to bless their posterity for generations to come.” (“Gathering, Healing, and Sealing Families,” given at the RootsTech Family History Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 14, 2015.)
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” contains eternal principles that provide guidance as we endeavor to reach our divine potential. The scriptures contain many exhortations not to be “of the world” and to “forsake the world” (D&C 53:2). President Thomas S. Monson summarized these teachings: “We must be vigilant in a world which has moved so far from that which is spiritual. It is essential that we reject anything that does not conform to our standards, refusing in the process to surrender that which we desire most: eternal life in the kingdom of God.” (“Stand in Holy Places,” October General Conference, 2011.) What a great blessing to have this divinely inspired document to aid us as “the moral fiber of society continues to disintegrate before our very eyes,” using President Monson’s words from this address.
May we gain strength from the Lord’s promise in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” May we take comfort from
Psalm 68:6. “God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains.” This is such a beautiful promise. God does break the bonds of death and hell. Not only that, but he sets the solitary in families. That is a beautiful concept. To anyone who has felt cut off from family, he is reforging bonds, even as he is breaking others. No wonder it is Heavenly Parents who have established this plan of redemption and of happiness, and of eternal family. They want all of their children to return home. (This idea was taught by Jared Halvorson, “Unshaken,” Doctrine and Covenants 137-138)