Over dinner earlier this year, my grandson told his family about the learning activity, or social engineering endeavor, he was participating in during his junior high school social studies class. They were studying families and were assigned various family roles. He was married, and he and his wife were parents to six children. Laughter and good-natured joking ensued.
He went on to mention that one of his friends was assigned the role of lifetime roommate to someone of the same sex. They were in process of purchasing a home, raising children and making a life together. My daughter’s “what?” led my grandson to pull back a bit and she let the subject drop. In a phone call to me, she mulled over how to deal with the situation and best explain to her son Heavenly Father’s eternal doctrine on family life.
She settled on reading and discussing "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" for family home evening. It is timeless, pertinent and historically enlightening.
The proclamation was first shared by President Gordon B. Hinckley on Sept. 23, 1995, at the General Relief Society Meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I recall at the time recognizing its significance: a proclamation to the world, signed by each member of the First Presidency. As such, it held prodigious weight in articulating the Savior and his church’s position on the family. I also recall it raised few eyebrows and generated no firestorms in wider society because, in many respects, it reflected then current American societal beliefs.
It still stands as a sterling example of God’s omniscience and how, through modern-day prophets, seers and revelators, God anticipates and prepares us for the future — in this instance for its confusions and turmoil. Prescient also because, by today’s societal standards — a mere 21 years after its issuance — the proclamation’s teachings are distinctly divergent from prevailing views on family and marriage.
Nevertheless, it is the Lord’s timeless standard and provides stunning insights into the theories, principles and doctrine behind his teachings.
In a world drowning in moral relativism, it is important that individuals both in and outside the LDS Church understand the “reasons why” — the truths upon which the proclamation is founded. The Lord has counseled, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand. ” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:78).
The proclamation (the complete text is online at lds.org/topics/family-proclamation) begins by solemnly declaring, “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children.” It describes “all human beings — male and female” being created in God’s image, loved by him, and adds this critical truth, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Before we came into this life, while here and after we depart, gender remains a constant.
The proclamation gives meaning, purpose and understanding to life on Earth. We are here to “gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize (our) divine destiny as heirs of eternal life,” it states. Further, “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave.”
How exquisite to know that loving, companionate relationships can continue beyond mortality.
We are reminded, “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. 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.” Additionally, “We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.”
The Lord also emphasizes the critical role of parents and best practices for happy, successful family life: “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other. 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. 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. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of 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.”
While espousing gender equality, the proclamation also designates gender specific duties: “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. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. 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.”
Rather than constraining women or men, the proclamation notes certain innate gendered characteristics within a broad range of personal freedoms consistent with the wise use of individual agency.
Anticipating mankind’s capacity to act inhumanely we are warned “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.”
How prophetic in light of the tragedies and horrors we observe as families and communities disintegrate.
The proclamation enjoins “responsible citizens” and government leaders to promote “measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
While the world drifts from its moorings, how grateful we should be for earthly prophets, for the Savior’s ongoing concern and interest in the happiness and welfare of his children, and for the expression of his unconditional love found in his giving us "The Family: A Proclamation to the World."