Abide #25: The Family: A Proclamation to the World

  • In October 1995 at the General Relief Society meeting of LDS General Conference, then President Gordon B. Hinckley presented “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It was the 5th of 6 proclamations–we now have 7. the most recent being the Proclamation on the Restoration in 2020. Church communications come in a variety of modes. Official Declarations as we talked about on out last podcast, are faced inwardly and dictate a significant shift in church doctrine or policy. They are then accepted by the body of the church by the law of common consent. The first proclamation in 1841 was given to the Saints scattered abroad–but in contrast since then proclamations have been generally oriented outwards toward the rest of the world. 

    President Hinckley considered the proclamation a “reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family.” While not canonized as scripture, the proclamation holds an important place in Latter-day Saint thought, practice, and belief. 

  • Janiece Johnson: In October 1995 at the General Relief Society meeting of the Latter-Day Saint General Conference, then President Gordan B Hinkley presented “The Family: a Proclamation to the World”. It was the fifth of six proclamations. We now have seven– the most recent being the proclamation on the restoration in 2020. Church communications come in a variety of modes: official declarations as we talked about in our lost podcast are faced inwardly and dictate a significant shift in church doctrine or policy; they are then accepted by the body of the church by the law of common consent. The first proclamation in 1841 was given to the saints scattered abroad. But in contrast, since then proclamations have been generally oriented outward toward the rest of the world. President Hinkley considered the proclamation a reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family. While not canonized as scripture, the Proclamation holds an important place in Latter-Day Saint thought, practice and belief.

    My name is Janiece Johnson. I’m a Willes Center Research Associate at the Institute and I’m here with Joseph Stuart, Public Communications Specialist at the Maxwell Institute. We will be discussing each week’s block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Come, Follow Me curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson, but rather to hit on a few key themes from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-Day Saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and engage in the world of religious ideas.

    Janiece Johnson: Hi Joey!

    Joseph Stuart: Hey Janiece! How are you?

    Johnson: I am well. We’re winding things up.

    Stuart: Yeah it’s been a great six months being able to go through the doctrine and covenants and the Come, Follow Me curriculum. Today we are talking about the newest document that is included in the Come, Follow Me curriculum, “The Family: a Proclamation to the World”. And something that I find interesting is that it’s called a proclamation whereas Official Declarations 1 and 2 are called declarations. Have you ever run across any explanation for why things are called declarations or proclamations?

    Johnson: Well, as I talked about in the introductions, I think that the difference between whether something is oriented outwards or it’s oriented inwards. Both the two official declarations we have, have both become scripture. They have been canonized, they are included in the cannon now. And they also represent significant shifts in doctrine or policy. I think that for that reason those things have been included in scripture. As President Hinkley considered “The Family: a Proclamation” a reaffirmation of things that were already integral to how Latter-Day Saints think about the world.

    Stuart: We saw that in our discussion of section 138 as well that President Smith receives a revelation, but there’s relatively little new information. Relatively little that hadn’t been taught previously in regards to the spirit world. Now when President Hinkley delivered the news of the family proclamation and read it across the pulpit at the General Relief Society meeting of the church, he said that he and other church leaders have felt the need to “warn and forewarn.” And referring back to what he had said before reading the proclamation in the church’s desire to help those who were in need, or who were in turmoil. And delivering that in 1995, I think was really prophetic in many ways to think of ways that we relate to each other on a social level. For instance, this predates social media, this predates message boards. This predates different ways that we have to connect with other people and it’s interesting for me to think about how family can be defined in different ways, by different people.

    Johnson: I appreciate that the Come, Follow Me manual says, “The Family: a Proclamation to the World is clearly about families, but it is equally about God’s plan of salvation.” I believe that if we are not reading the whole thing then we’re missing really important elements. Things that are very important for our well-being as children of God. All human beings are created in the image of God.

    Stuart: That’s something that I find great joy in. I’m sorry if I’ve shared this story on the podcast before, but when I was at the University of Virginia, I had a professor who assigned the class to write something they admired about one of the religions that we had learned about that semester. And Mormonism, specially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was one of the religions we had addressed. And as I was reading these papers, I will always remember reading the paper of this one student who said, “I’ve been listening to the Latter-Day Saint hymn ‘I am a Child of God’ and I can’t stop crying.” I think about that because I’ve known that since I was a kid. It’s something that I sing with my own kids in the van on our whole two-block commute to get to church in Utah County. That “I am a Child of God” is foundational to our understanding, not only to relate to our Heavenly Parents, but also to how we could relate to each other.

    Johnson: We are all beloved children of Heavenly Parents. That is the most central element of our identity. And it should affect how we treat one another. If everyone that we meet is a child of God, do we treat them that way? For me, I’m single, it’s easy for me to dismiss this and say it doesn’t matter to me, it doesn’t relate to me. I see that line later on that says, “individual circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” And I think yes, there I am, I am reflected in that sentence! But I also believe that this elevates, this helps remind us, that within the gospel of Jesus Christ, all relationships are elevated. All relationships have eternal import. And being aware of people’s circumstances, and valuing individuals for who they are as children of God, should be central to how we operate as disciples of Christ.

    Stuart: I think this is reflected, even in the third paragraph of the Family Proclamation and tying it to the plan of salvation. “In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters [children, we might say] knew and worshiped God as their eternal father and accepted His plan by which children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress to perfection, and ultimately, their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and families to be united eternally.” This is the most succinct explanation of the plan of salvation I’ve ever read. We were somewhere before we came to the earth, we have a purpose here on the earth, and that we will go somewhere after the earth. But always in a relationship with other people. That’s been a theme over the past six months that the plan of salvation is individual, but exaltation is formed in community.

    I also think about the line in section 130 of the doctrine and covenants that we will enjoy the same sociality in the celestial kingdom that we will here. Not to be too much like Dominic Toretto in The Fast and the Furious franchise, but if family is ultimately what everything is about, I think that we need to have a pretty expansive definition of who our family is. For instance, through the wonders of the internet, some of my best friends are people that I don’t get to see very often. There’s a woman who is a little bit older than me, but lives in the suburbs of Toronto, whom I speak to everyday. As well as former roommates who live ten miles from me who I am also able to speak with everyday because of text messaging. And again, it’s just remarkable to think about that same sociality that we’re going to enjoy, not only about parents and children, but also, and maybe this is just me and an overactive imagination but who’s coming to that celestial kingdom block party? Who are all the friends and family that we’re going to get to introduce to each other so that we can learn and grow and appreciate and enjoy the company of all of our Heavenly Parents children.

    Johnson: Relationships can be perpetuated beyond the grave. This is essential. Likewise reminding us that our physical bodies are our great gift of mortality. It is too easy for us to just be focused on the limitations of our bodies and the brokenness that we feel. I moved recently and my body felt very broken. I had a lot of steps in that house and they were never a problem until I was moving and then every muscle in my body, and a lot of my bones too, just hurt. Trying to transition how we see our bodies, rather than seeing them as a burden and something that doesn’t act or look the way we want it to, but to see it as a great enabling factor that enables us to do things, even when those things can be limited. And ultimately enables us to be like our Heavenly Parents.

    Stuart: One of the things that I think about too from the Proclamation is that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan. This is something that as a historian– and there’s a reason why sometimes historians aren’t all that fun at parties– but in thinking about what right to life has meant over the past 100 years in the United States to thinking about how things have changed fairly drastically to which political party or political ideology adopts certain phrases. But one thing that I think about that may be important here is to think about in the Roman Catholic understanding of the sanctity of life it refers also to caring for someone once they are here, it is not only about the rights of unborn children and their families, it’s also about providing housing and care and shelter and food.

    Think Matthew 25 here, in terms of the sanctity of life, that because every person is a child of God, they deserve the opportunities to thrive that everyone else does as well. And I think that it’s crucial for us again to always think expansively about what we can read in scripture in revelation. For instance, there are some sections that we’ve been able to dive into, like section 76, or 93, or 121, where there’s a lot of things that we can think about. With the Family Proclamation, sometimes we don’t use our imaginations, we don’t ask for the spirit to direct us to interpretations that really help us to better understand how the plan of happiness is meant for us to enjoy our lives here as well as to create conditions where we want to enjoy the same sociality we have here, after we die.

    Johnson: Thinking about the law of consecration as introduced in the Doctrine and Covenants. In our episodes here, we’ve only talked about consecration a little bit, but the point of the Law of Consecration is creating an environment where everyone can thrive. How much time and energy do we spend on that? Creating an environment at church, in our homes, in our communities, in our country, in the world where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. That requires significant work, and just saying, “Well I just want to create this place where I can thrive. I don’t care what happens to everyone else,” That’s not the way the gospel works. The gospel requires that we look outward and that we orient ourselves outward.

    I’ve also been thinking– the paragraph beginning, “The family is ordained of God. ” I think that, and I am sure that my perspective as a single woman influences this, I often think that Latter-day Saints think about marriage like Jane Austen does. It’s all encompassing and we can’t focus on anything else until someone gets married, and then we think it’s done. But thinking about that language of section 132, “If you abide in my covenant,” that is just the beginning of the work that there is to do. Do you have a relationship that you want to abide in and something that is allowing you to thrive? Are you working to create that kind of relationship- with spouses, with children, with people for whom you have extended your family’s reach? And that’s much harder work than just getting engaged, or saying yes across an altar. That’s hard work too, I’m not going to dismiss that, but there’s harder work that lies ahead. I think both for those with those relationships that we want and those without relationships, or those with relationships that are not as good as they would have hoped. This all requires us to negotiate and for us to work to try and understand and navigate how we can create a place where we, and also those around us, can thrive.

    Stuart: Absolutely. I like what you said earlier about how focusing on certain parts of the document, or interpretations of the Family Proclamation can lead us to be miopic, to not see the forest for the trees so to speak. And I think this is especially true when thinking about the place for single people in the church. I’m not sure there’s a population that is less addressed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at least in public sermons and in General Conference than the place of single people. And we would just implore each of our followers to think, “how am I creating family, and creating communities, not only across an altar, but in creating those socialites where individuals can thrive?”

    Johnson: Last General Conference was the first time that it was mentioned that single people make up over half of the church. And it took until single people made up half of the church for it to be a significant theme in the General Conference. That says something, and perhaps tells us that we’ve got stuff to work on and that stuff to work on is not just pairing up people! Just because two people are faithful Latter-day Saints doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be good together, or want to be together. Just if you’re having any setting up ideas in your head.

    I also think talking about fathers and mothers, I think that that sentence, “other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation” is always important. One thing that struck me, “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” I think this is interesting because when nurture shows up in restoration scripture it was talking about fathers and fathers bringing up children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord”. This addition makes it reciprocal. That both fathers and mothers nurture. And sometimes I think we read this just as saying “mothers nurture” but if we read this in conjunction with scripture, it’s actually reminding us that we all nurture and that nurturing is not something that just one sex is responsible for.

    Stuart: Amen to that! I’m also thinking about these last few sentences at the end, “disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation” every single person is going to face “adaptation”. There are going to be changes in your family from the time you’re born until you pass away. And I’m thinking particularly about those “father and mother figures” who have stood out so much in my life.

    This past week I found out that a man who was a ward mission leader on my mission passed away in a skiing accident. Lee was just a good and dependable man all the way around. And when I was a missionary– you can probably tell from this podcast– I thought I knew a lot about what life was like and what needed to be done, and Lee in his very gentle, but direct way would help me to see the best course of action that my companion and I could take. I was training young missionaries when I was there and we had a lot of experiences where I just didn’t know what to do. And one of the most important things that Lee did for me was taught me that it’s okay to let things not be your fault. And I know that sounds a little bit silly, I think it’s really important that we take responsibility, that we own up when we’ve done something wrong, but when something happens that isn’t favorable it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the individual’s fault who is facing consequences.

    I have a great relationship with my father, with grandfathers, with many men and I feel very fortunate to have many of those relationships, but when I think about father figures I think about Lee. I think about how important it is to create relationships where people can come to love and trust you in the way that we need to learn to love and trust our Heavenly Parents.

    Johnson: Having relationships with people who honor those relationships with complete fidelity is a significant thing here. Having that kind of loyalty and I think throughout this, one piece that remains unsaid is the necessity of communication. Towards the end of that section, “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners”. This is not something that is easily achievable. One partner might think that things are quite equitable when, in fact, the other partner does not think they’re equitable. And the Family Proclamation wants us to focus on that and I think that’s always going to require communication in all of our relationships, that we have that ability to talk and to communicate and that we trust that when we express those difficulties and express things that are concerning us that someone else will honor those concerns.

    Stuart: I also think about a couple that I knew that had been married for 51 years. They had a conversation one night. They washed and dried the dishes every night together. They didn’t have a dishwasher, the husband always washed the dishes and the wife always dried. And they had a conversation one night and they realized that the other one preferred to wash/dry, but that they always took the other task because they thought that the other one preferred to do the task that they were doing. So it’s just important to remember that communication isn’t just about when things are going wrong, it’s about saying, “Hey, so how do you actually feel about this?” And while no one is perfect at communication, what can we do as members of families, however defined, to make people comfortable enough that they can ask for help?

    I’m also struck by the second to last paragraph, “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.” That seems really important to me. Whenever I see something terrible happening to a child, or children in the news all I think of are millstones and necks. And I think this sentence could go right along with that for the great responsibility we have to not only care for children, but for all people as children of Heavenly Parents.

    Johnson: I think perhaps, that also begs the question of our communities and again turning outwardly, not just focused on our own nuclear families, but looking outwards to our communities. What can we do to protect people? Those relationships matter more than people need to value individuals as children of God.

    Stuart: Yeah, and then the second sentence in that paragraph saying, “We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” And I think about in the 26 years since this was read, about how our relationship to others have changed. People that we may never meet in person may become really close to us, but also those who are close to us may not want to see every single thing that they think about.

    So I wonder if this sort of “disintegration” of the family that’s being warned about is about the need to fiercely love and protect one another and to create environments where we can maintain those family relationships as well, not use the wonders of technology, of social media that bring together these connections that can ultimately be used against us. As President Oaks taught as an apostle, “strengths can become weaknesses if we become too zealous about them, or if tools that are given are used in an incorrect, or inappropriate way.

    Johnson: As I read that paragraph I think about section 45, and one of those signs of the second coming is that men’s hearts will grow cold. I think that we all need to think about that. Women are included here too, all of our hearts can grow cold. And sometimes, our hearts grow cold because we have been through painful, justifiable things, but figuring out how to continue to love and take care of people, in my mind, is our primary concern if we love God.

    Stuart: I think that’s the perfect place to end. Love God, love yourself, love others. Great community is where people can feel that love. Have a blessed week y’all!