We can strengthen our families, communities, and nations by following the principles outlined in the Proclamation on the Family. This proclamation contains prophetic counsel on the duties and responsibilities of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers as well as the principles upon which strong families are built.
Twenty years ago this month President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) presented the Proclamation on the Family to the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was in attendance at the meeting and felt the solemnity of the occasion. I did not, however, know the background of this great occasion.
Three months earlier a newspaper reporter asked President Hinckley about his greatest concern as he turned 85 on June 23, 1995. President Hinckley replied, “I am concerned about family life in the Church. We have wonderful people, but we have too many whose families are falling apart. It is a matter of serious concern. I think it is my most serious concern” (emphasis added).
President Hinckley spoke about parenthood, saying there is no greater challenge or no greater opportunity. “It is a God-given calling … And it’s worth every effort that one can put into it to make it successful. There is no greater work.”
President Hinckley continued, “There is too much of worldliness in our homes. There is too much of selfishness. We need to get back to the basics of respect one for another, concern one for another, love and appreciation one for another, and working and worshipping together and living together as families who love the Lord and look to Him for light and strength and comfort.
“I just want to see our people walk in the light of the Lord. That is where they will find their happiness; that’s where they will find their progress; that’s where they will find their prosperity, in walking the paths that the Lord has laid out for us. Happiness and peace lie in living the gospel.”
The Prophet of the Lord was experiencing some very powerful concerns for the families of the Church and the world. Elder Bruce C. Hafen, who served as a member of the Seventy from 1996 to 2010, gave this observation: “It was no coincidence that this solemn declaration was issued precisely when the Lord’s prophet felt that, of all the subjects on his mind, unstable family life in the Church was his greatest concern….
“The proclamation was not merely a collection of pro-family platitudes. It was a serious prophetic warning about a major international problem. And now, 20 years later, the problem is getting worse, which shows just how prophetic the 1995 warning was.”
Still feeling concern about the family in 2003, President Hinckley spoke at a year-long series “Bridges to the Future: American History and Values in Light of September 11th.” “In my judgement the greatest challenge facing this nation is the problem of the family, brought on by misguided parents and resulting in misguided children.” He said that strengthening the home is of paramount importance in building bridges to the future. He also put the bulk of the responsibility on “the man and woman who are responsible for the children. And to put it bluntly, too many of them are cop-outs.”
President Hinckley also spoke about divorce, pornography, and drug use as well as the Church’s family home evening program. He said that as we work to strengthen the family, “America will be strong not only in her arms and military affairs, she will be invincible in her moral values and in the integrity of her people.
“I urge each of you to work at it, to become involved, to reach out to lift those who stand in need of help. We will not entirely solve the problem, but we can reduce it.”
Elder Hafen discussed the effects on marriage and children that have taken place since 1965: (1) The divorce rate has more than doubled, (2) The number of unmarried couples has increased by about 15 times, (3) More than half of all first marriages end in divorce; 60 percent of second marriages do also; (4) 40 percent of births in the U.S. are to unmarried parents compared to 5 percent in 1960; (5) Four times as many children live in single-parent families; (6) More than half of marriages today follow cohabitation.
“Nonetheless, the children of divorced or unwed parents have about three times as many serious behavioral, emotional, and developmental problems as children in two-parent families. By every measure of child well-being, these children are far worse off. And when children are dysfunctional, society becomes dysfunctional.” He then listed some examples of that dysfunction: (1) Juvenile crime has increased sixfold; (2) Child neglect and all forms of child abuse have quintupled; (3) Psychological disorders among children have all worsened, from drug abuse to eating disorders; depression among children has increased 1,000 percent; (4) domestic violence against women has increased, and poverty has shifted increasingly to children.
Continuing, Elder Hafen stated, “How serious are these problems? As President Hinckley said in 1995, these issues were his `most serious concern.’ And the trends that troubled him then are now measurably worse. As a Time magazine writer put it:
“`There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers’ financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation’s underclass….
“`The poor [have uncoupled] parenthood from marriage, and the financially secure [blast] apart their [own] unions if [they] aren’t having fun anymore.’”
Elder Hafen reminded his readers of the cure promised by the Old Testament prophet Elijah to the modern day prophet Joseph Smith in 1836: “Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi – testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
“To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—“ (Doctrine and Covenants 110:14-15; see also Joseph Smith – History 1:39 and Malachi 4-6).
Brother Hafen asked, “Are we already living in the time of the curse? Perhaps. Today’s children (and therefore society – the earth)
are indeed being `wasted’ (devalued, made useless, rendered desolate) by each issue discussed here.
“The doctrine is clear – and is substantiated by years of research. We don’t need to return to the family laws of yesteryear, but if we could just care more about our children and their future, people would marry before becoming parents. They would sacrifice more, much more, to stay married. Children would be raised, whenever possible, by their biological parents. Ideally, there would be no elective abortions or unwed births. Of course, some exceptions are needed – some divorces are justified, and adoption is often heaven-sent. Yet in principle, the 1995 proclamation on the family says it perfectly: `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.’ ….
“Building a good marriage is not easy. It is not supposed to be easy. But when a confused culture confuses us about what marriage means, we may give up on each other and ourselves much too soon. Yet the gospel’s eternal perspective, as taught in the scriptures and the temple, can help us transcend the modern marital chaos until our marriages are the most satisfying, sanctifying—even if also the most demanding—experiences of our lives.”
Twenty years ago the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued the Proclamation on the Family to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to the world. They saw in prophetic vision the need to strengthen the family and issued their warning. Millions of people listened and followed their counsel; those people have strengthened their marriages and their families as well as their communities and nations.