All mortal beings are children of Heavenly Parents, and Heavenly Father has made it clear that He loves His daughters as well as His sons. Yet, women and girls all over the world are treated with disrespect and abuse simply because they are female. Even in this great republic known as the United States of America, women were treated as second class citizens for nearly 200 years because they were not allowed to have wealth, own property, or vote. I am grateful to my sisters who lived more than one hundred years ago who protested, marched, and fought for women to have the same rights as men.
Yet, there are still men who use and abuse women physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I know that some women use and abuse also, but the vast majority is male. This is absolutely wrong because men are supposed to be the protectors of women as plainly expressed in a special document and women are to be treated as equals – not better or worse.
At the General Relief Society Meeting held on September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah, President Gordon B. Hinckley honored the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he read an extended statement made by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The new document is known as “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and is often referred to as the “Proclamation on the Family” or simply “Proclamation.” I will use the latter title whenever I refer to it in this essay.
I remember when the Proclamation was first presented. I was a little awed and surprised because the information in the document was well known to me and to most members of the Church of Jesus Christ. The doctrine and principles contained within the Proclamation have been taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since its beginning in April 1830. The coming years opened my eyes to the purposes for presenting the doctrines and principles in a single document and giving it to “the world.” Many people in the world did not know the teachings of God on marriage and the family and needed to hear the doctrine and principles before the extensive attacks on them became so open and widespread.
More than twenty years have passed since the Proclamation was presented to the world, and it has been discussed and analyzed many times in talks and lessons on marriage and the family within the Church of Jesus Christ. Yet, there are still men – and women – who do not abide by it. There are still too many women and children who are used and abused.
The Proclamation begins with a clear statement 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 declares that all men and women “are created in the image of God” and “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents” with “a divine nature and destiny.” It says that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” These important principles are contained within the first two paragraphs of the Proclamation, and a firm understanding of them saves a lot of grief and heartache for many people. Yet, the Prophets and Apostles did not stop there.
The Proclamation includes information about God’s plan of happiness that “enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave” and states that these relationships are made possible through “Sacred ordinances and covenants made available in holy temples.” In other words, our loving Heavenly Father desires that we return to His presence and that our marriages and family relationships last throughout eternity.
Another important principle contained in the Proclamation is about the “sacred powers of procreation” that should be exercised only within a legal and lawful marriage between a man and his wife. Connected with this principle is the affirmation of “the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.” A large part of the Proclamation discusses the “solemn responsibility” of husband and wife “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. Husbands and wives – mothers and fathers – will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
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. 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. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners….
The Proclamation concludes with a warning to “individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities” and that these individuals “will one day stand accountable before God.” The Proclamation warns that “the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” It also calls upon “responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere” to do all in their powers “to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
With this understanding the Prophets and Apostles continue to urge members and non-members alike to protect and preserve marriage and family unit. According to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, any husband [or wife] who treats their spouse in a demeaning, degrading, or disrespectful way by either word or action disqualifies him [or her] from being a husband [or wife].
Love is a fragile thing, and some elements in life can try to break it. Much damage can be done if we are not in tender hands, caring hands. To give ourselves totally to another person, as we do in marriage, is the most trusting step we take in any human relationship. It is a real act of faith – faith all of us must be willing to exercise. If we do it right, we end up sharing everything – all our hopes, all our fears, all our dreams, all our weaknesses, and all our joys – with another person….
To impair or impede [your spouse] in any way for [your] gain or vanity or emotional mastery over her should disqualify [you] on the spot to be her husband. Indeed, it should consign [your] miserable soul to eternal incarceration in that large and spacious building Lehi says is the prison of those who live by “vain imaginations” and the “pride of the world” (1 Nephi 11:36, 12:18). No wonder that building is at the opposite end of the field from the tree of life representing the love of God! In all that Christ was, He was not ever envious or inflated, never consumed with His own needs. He did not once, not ever, seek His own advantage at the expense of someone else. He delighted in the happiness of others, the happiness He could bring them. He was forever kind.
In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.
Members of the First Presidency have taught that “any form of physical or mental abuse to any woman is not worthy of any priesthood holder” and that no “man who holds the priesthood of God [should] abuse his wife in any way, [or] demean or injure or take undue advantage of [any] woman” – and that includes friends, dates, sweethearts, and fiancées, to say nothing of wives (James E. Faust, “The Highest Place of Honor,” Ensign, May 1988, 37, and Gordon B. Hinckley, “Reach Out in Love and Kindness,” Ensign, November 1982, 77).
The words of the Proclamation as well as other counsel from Prophets and Apostles tell us that husbands and wives are to treat each other with love, respect, and honor. They also say that we will stand accountable before God for neglect or abuse of any kind of our spouses or children. Marriage is a sacred responsibility and blessing and should be protected and preserved for the benefit of posterity.