In the hospital, a physical therapist came to help me. She had recently moved to Salt Lake City and mentioned she was surprised by how many children there are. I quipped, “Yes, we believe in children.” She quipped back, “And I see here on your chart that you gave birth eight times.” I told her that “birthing” is the easy part, over in less than a day and that “mothering” is what I get to do every day for the rest of my life. “I’m thirty-six,” she said. “Initially, my husband and I chose not to have children, but now we are thinking we might want one so we could have a couple of grandchildren.” She asked, “Did you have all those children so you could have a lot of grandchildren?”

Her question perplexed me. “I don’t think I understand your question,” I said. “Well,” she said a little perturbed that she had to explain herself, “My friend always complains that being a parent is hard. She said she hopes having grandchildren will make it worth it.” I cautiously began to share the blessing of being a mother. She listened attentively as though she had never heard my perspective before. Wide is the chasm between the world’s view of marriage and children and The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

Like with other momentous events in life, I remember exactly where I was on September 23, 1995—listening to the Proclamation being read for the first time. But it is only in retrospect that it became a momentous event. At the time, it seemed routine. President Hinckley was speaking to the Relief Society as part of general conference. His tone was congenial. He said to the assembled women from around the world: “Each of you is a daughter of God. Reflect on all the wondrous meaning of that one paramount fact…. What marvelous potential lies within you.”

His tone grew subdued. He spoke to young women about the “bitter… fruits of casting aside standards of virtue.” He reminded mothers that they had “no more compelling responsibility.” He spoke to single mothers with compassion, understanding, and advice. To grandmothers and great-grandmothers, he said: “Tremendous has been your experience…. You can be as an anchor in a world of shifting values.”

Then he became serious and deliberate: “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. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history. I now take the opportunity of reading to you this proclamation.”

At every point President Hinckley made, I thought, “Doesn’t everyone already know that? What am I missing? Why is that worthy of a proclamation?” Within just a few years, however, the world began to change, and I recognized that President Hinckley, a prophet on a watch tower, had issued a clear voice of warning. It’s striking to compare the Proclamation with the changes in society in the last twenty-seven years.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World begins with a statement on marriage:

“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God….”

As the Proclamation was read in 1995, same-sex marriage was not legal in the United States. Gradually, state after state legalized it: 2003 Massachusetts; 2008 Connecticut; 2009 Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire; 2010 Washington D.C.; 2011 New York, 2013 Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota. “In 2015, same-sex marriage became the law in all 50 states due to a ruling from the Supreme Court [Obergefell v. Hodges] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_law_in_the_United_States_by_state).

Gender:

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God…. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

In 1995, could anyone imagine that a Google search in 2022 would bring up a list of seventy-two genders besides male and female (https://www.medicinenet.com/what_are_the_72_other_genders/article.htm)?

God’s plan:

In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life.

This paragraph hinges on a person’s belief in God. In 2017, Pew’s American Trends Panel surveyed 4,729 adults. The first question was “Do you believe in God?” Eighty percent of respondents answered “yes.” However, “subsequent questions revealed that just 56 percent believe in the divine being described in the Bible” (https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/trust/archive/fall-2018/when-you-say-you-believe-in-god-what-do-you-mean).

Multiply and Replenish:

“The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”

According to the New York Times, “All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore. Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks…. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time”” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/22/world/global-population-shrinking.html?smid=em-share).

Marriage Before Children:

We further declare 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.

“Today 70 percent of women aged 30 to 34 have cohabited with a male partner, and two-thirds of new marriages take place between couples who have already lived together for an average of 31 months” (https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/09/unmarried-partners-more-diverse-than-20-years-ago.html). “A growing proportion of children are born to cohabiting parents, increasing from 6 percent in the early 1980s to about one quarter today. At least one-quarter of children will spend some of their childhood living with a cohabiting stepparent.” “In recent decades… cohabitation has become a central part of the family landscape in the United States—so much so that by age 12, 40 percent of American children will have spent at least part of their lives in a cohabiting household…. The most common cohabiting arrangement is a biological mother and a male partner” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4768758).

Life Is Sacred

We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

Abortion violates the sanctity of life. There have been 63,459,781 abortions since 1973 (https://nrlc.org/uploads/factsheets/FS01AbortionintheUS.pdf).

Parental Responsibilities

Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations to love and care for each other and their children. Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children…. Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.”

Physical needs are more apparent than spiritual needs, but “regardless of one’s religion, spiritual needs are human and undeniable…. Nurturing of spirituality in children is a basic ingredient for moral development…. Every human being, especially a child or young person, will have a full quality of life only when spirituality in all its aspects is nurtured and affirmed. Neglect of children’s’ sense of truth, justice or mystery may leave them expressing their terrors and pain in ways that harm society such as violence towards others and themselves…. Children who are raised with a robust and well-developed spiritual life are happier, more optimistic, more thriving, more flexible, and better equipped to deal with life’s ordinary (and even extraordinary) traumas than those who are not.” (https://gnrc.net/en/blog/3659-children-s-spirituality-the-role-of-parents).

Two Parents:

The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. 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.

“The family is ordained of God” expands the earlier statement: “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” Ordained means “confer holy orders on.” Divorce undoes that ordination, ending marriage and dividing families. In 1914 the U.S. divorce rate was one percent. In 1981, it was 53%. In 2021, it was 50%, 41% for first marriages. In my opinion, the reason there are fewer divorces is because more couples are living together without the benefit of marriage. However, the United States divorce stats are much better than some other nations: Spain is 63%; the Czech Republic is 66%; Hungary 67%; Portugal 68%; and in Belgium 72% of marriages ending in divorce. https://thecitizen.com/2021/11/03/divorce-in-america).

Family Happiness

Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.

Happy family life, under the umbrella of the gospel of Jesus Christ, includes the nine principles listed in the Proclamation. Unhappy families result when, for example, an authoritarian parent rules the household; when there is a lack of problem-solving skills to maintain respect during conflict; when an austere home environment silences opinions; when anger and fear are evidenced by “negative forms of communication such as yelling, criticizing or sulking; [and when] use of physical punishment, such as smacking or hitting, [is] the main form of discipline” (https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/happy-families).

Fathers

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.5 million children, more than 1 in 4, live without a father in the home” (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018.) At present, many of society’s greatest problems with children and teens result from no father in the home: four times greater risk of poverty, more likely to have behavior problems, two times greater risk of infant mortality, more likely to commit crime, more likely to go to prison, seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen, more likely to face abuse and neglect, more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, two times more likely to suffer obesity, and two times more likely to drop out of school (https://135704.fs1.hubspotusercontentna1.net/hubfs/135704/2022%20Strengths%20Based%20Infographics/NFIFatherAbsenceInfoGraphic.pdf).

Mothers

“Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”  

“Most of us no longer know about the nurturing mother. Few of us had one, and rarely do we meet anyone who is one. Her role in human history does not appear in the history books we read in school…. Our need for her, if unmet, does not go away as we mature. She remains as a ‘longing’ which we can no longer identify, because we have repressed our need for nurturing. We may try, as many do today, to satisfy the emptiness inside us by attaching to possessions and wealth and by compulsive, self-relating addictions to food, alcohol, drugs, our bodies, unloving sex, and our separate egos. But these dependencies always fail because they reinforce our feeling of separateness in the world”

(https://www.naturalchild.org/articles/james_kimmel/nurturing_mother.html).

Equal Partners 

In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

“Help” is a key word. When parents “help one another as equal partners” they share household tasks and work as a team to make jobs go faster. Working together can be fun and bonding. However, the Proclamation uses the word “obligated,” meaning that family life is not always fun. Sickness, accident, disability, and death change the balance. New divisions of labor require love to compensate hopefully for the short term, but some situations last and last. Whatever the situation and for however long, children benefit when both fathers and mothers are actively involved in their lives” (https://foreverfamilies.byu.edu/equal-partnership-in-marriage).

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. 

We who listened to President Hinckley read the proclamation in 1995 have watched the gulf between the tree of life and the great and spacious building widened. We have observed more and more casualties falling into the filthy river. We recognize the Proclamation is a call to action to believe in family—mothers, fathers, children. We believe in prophets, watchmen on the tower, who teach, remind, counsel, and warn. Whether on September 23, 1995, today, or any day in the future, the proclamation is a call to action: 

“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”