President Henry B. Eyring just did something that my wife and did earlier this year: visited the Vatican. OK, our visit wasn’t newsworthy. We stood in line with lots of other tourists as we explored a little of the endless art at the Vatican Museums and admired its surroundings. President Eyring was doing something more noteworthy than sightseeing. He was sharing a message from the Church about the importance of the family at an international summit at the Vatican that was opened by Pope Francis.
While some might have expected direct arguments against same-sex marriage in President Eyring’s talk, he took a more indirect and gentle approach, calling for a “renaissance of
happy marriages and productive families” while also reminding us of the need to strengthen (traditional) marriage through greater unselfishness. I respect what he said and how he said it, though it naturally leaves open the argument that unselfishness and growth through family relationships can happen between any two individuals regardless of gender.
In fact, whether or not we agree with the trend of changing law and traditional institutions to recognize same-sex marriage or other non-traditional relationships, I think it’s fair for us to recognize the growth, the selfless service, and the happiness that people in non-traditional relationships can experience. And yes, I also recognize that argument can also be applied to relationships that I’m especially uneasy with, such polygamous relationships or adultery dressed up in robes of love and service. So opportunities for service or feelings of growth and happiness are not the standard in determining what the law should be nor what what divine standards are, but I think in our diverse society we need to be open to what others experience and why it is so important to them, even when we disagree with their position. That said, those who believe in traditional marriage or the wisdom of having a father and a mother in the lives of children need not retreat from their principles. President Eyring’s talk illustrates a reasonable effort to stand for those principles, rooted not in legal argument or statistics, but on a foundation of faith. Accepting the Proclamation on the Family is definitely a matter of faith, though one can make a variety of secular arguments for some of its points.
Here is an excerpt from the transcript of his remarks:
We must find ways to lead people to a faith that they can replace
their natural self-interest with deep and lasting feelings of charity
and benevolence. With that change, and only then, will people be able to
make the hourly unselfish sacrifices necessary for a happy marriage and
family life—and to do it with a smile.
The change that is needed is in people’s hearts more than in
their minds. The most persuasive logic will not be enough unless it
helps soften hearts. For instance, it is important for men and women to
be faithful to a spouse and a family. But in the heat of temptation to
betray their trust, only powerful feelings of love and loyalty will be
That is why the following guidelines are in “The Family: A
Proclamation to the World,” issued in 1995 by the First Presidency and
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of
“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care
for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the
Lord’ (Psalm 127:3). 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 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. Extended families should lend support when needed.”
Those are things people must do for us to have a renaissance of
happy marriages and productive families. Such a renaissance will require
people to try for the ideal—and to keep trying even when the happy
result is slow to come and when loud voices mock the effort.
We can and must stand up and defend the institution of marriage
between a man and a woman. Professor Lynn Wardle has said, “The task we
face is not for summer soldiers or weekend warriors who are willing to
work for a season and then quit.” A past president of our Church,
Gordon B. Hinckley, offered similar counsel, as well as encouragement,
saying, “We cannot effect a turnaround in a day or a month or a year.
But with enough effort, we can begin a turnaround within a generation,
and accomplish wonders within two generations.”
What would you have said if you had a chance to speak at the Vatican on this topic?