The United Nations has set 8 Millennium Development Goals to help the world’s poorest countries improve their situations by 2015. They include eradicating diseases, promoting gender equality and empowering women, improving maternal care and reducing child mortality rates. But conspicuously absent from these goals is the strengthening of families. The leaders of nations, it would appear, don’t seem to notice. But the religions of the world are not only taking notice, they are uniting to do something about it. Nicholeen Peck, a mother and blogger who was invited to present a symposium at this year’s U.N. Conference, wrote:
It is no secret that boundaries are being crossed and topics are being legislated at the United Nations that are not the proper role of national government let alone international government. “The family” a term we are very used to hearing is not a term that many organizations and world leaders favor now days. They think the term is too limiting. Many of these groups also don’t like the term “motherhood,” as they see it as degrading to women. …
For years now, many great people have traveled to the United Nations to impact positive change…. Great pro-family pioneers started productive conversations about the importance of life, the family and motherhood which we are still benefiting from. Currently, there are multiple organizations that are following in the footsteps of these great pioneers. In fact, there were more pro-family organizations attending the CSW conference than I realized existed! This was exciting for me. And, what was even more exciting to me was who was running these organizations. Religious people! So many faithful people from all over the world, Islamic, Catholic, Christian, Mormon and Jew are all working side by side to spread love and brotherhood/sisterhood as well as influence world leaders to support the most holy of organizations, the family. …
What these supporters of traditional family understand is this: The family is the foundational unit of society. If the family fails, then society fails. In contrast, if you support the family, you support and build up society. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, until his death, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said:
A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes. If you want to reform a nation, you begin with families, with parents who teach their children principles and values that are positive and affirmative and will lead them to worthwhile endeavors.
It is this reason that The Church of Jesus Christ and other religious faiths are joining forces to defend the family as well as to help strengthen the traditional family in many nations that are struggling to survive. If a nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes, then we need to help those in impoverished nations improve their homes—so they can improve their nation. It is, of course, only one area of focus to help a country. But we can’t underestimate its vital role in the process of building a nation.
The Family is of God
The family is the basic, fundamental unit of any society. The family is also an essential element of our existence here on earth. We are all spirit children of a loving Father in Heaven, who sent us here to earth to gain a physical body and to see if we would obey His commandments in all things. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), explained:
Our understanding of life begins with a council in heaven. There the spirit children of God were taught his eternal plan for their destiny. We had progressed as far as we could without a physical body and an experience in mortality. To realize a fulness of joy, we had to prove our willingness to keep the commandments of God in a circumstance where we had no memory of what preceded our mortal birth.
In the course of mortality, we would become subject to death, and we would be soiled by sin. To reclaim us from death and sin, our Heavenly Father’s plan provided us a Savior, whose atonement would redeem all from death and pay the price necessary for all to be cleansed from sin on the conditions he prescribed (see 2 Nephi 9:19–24).
But a loving Father in Heaven didn’t send us to earth alone—He sent us to earth in families. Elder Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, taught:
Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another.
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 for families to be united eternally. …
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. … 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.
Children are the past, the present, and the future all blended into one. They are consummately precious. Every time a child is born, the world is renewed in innocence…. Parents are responsible to provide for their children…. We are to look after their physical, their spiritual, and their emotional needs. … Nothing compares with a father who is responsible and in turn teaches his children responsibility. Nothing compares with a mother who is present with them to comfort them and give them assurance. Love, protection, and tenderness are all of consummate worth.
The family is the protective shelter into which children are born, nurtured, loved and taught. It is there that they learn their values, morals and how to treat other people. And parents and grandparents also benefit from lessons provided by the young. Elder Packer said:
When it comes to understanding our relationship with our Heavenly Father, the things my wife and I have learned as parents and grandparents that are of most worth knowing, we have learned from our children.
As a child, it’s difficult to comprehend the love that our parents have for us. But as we become mothers and fathers, we gain a greater appreciation for that unconditional love. And, as Elder Packer said, we gain deeper insight into the relationship we have with our Father in Heaven. Families serve a divine purpose here on earth.
The Power to Bind Traditional Families Together Forever
Family relationships also have a divine purpose in the eternities. A loving Heavenly Father did not intend for us to develop deep and abiding love for family members on earth only to be forever separated when we die. Rather, families are designed to be together forever, if certain conditions are met. Forever families begin in the holy temple. Temples are literally houses of the Lord, holy places of worship where a person makes sacred covenants (or two-way promises between a person and God, and the terms are set by God). To enter the temple, a person must have a valid temple recommend—which is available to members of The Church of Jesus Christ who are in good standing. In the temple, a man and woman are sealed together for eternity, provided they keep the commandments and honor their covenants. This means that their marriage does not end at death but will continue beyond the grave. This is possible through the power of the priesthood, which is the power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of His children. It is the same power by which Jesus Christ organized His church on the earth and performed miracles. Only one who has the proper priesthood authority has the power that Matthew described: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The greatest joys in this life and the next are found in families. Indeed, the definition of exaltation, or eternal life, is to live in God’s presence as families. Elder Nelson taught:
Marriage is the foundry for social order, the fountain of virtue, and the foundation for eternal exaltation. Marriage has been divinely designated as an eternal and everlasting covenant. Marriage is sanctified when it is cherished and honored in holiness. That union is not merely between husband and wife; it embraces a partnership with God. … Marriage is but the beginning bud of family life; parenthood is its flower. And that bouquet becomes even more beautiful when graced with grandchildren. Families may become as eternal as the kingdom of God itself. …
Marriage was intended by the Lord to endure beyond physical death. His plan offers eternal perpetuation of the family in the kingdom of God. His plan provides temples and opportunities to officiate therein for the living and the dead. A marriage sealed there launches a husband and wife into that grand order of unity so necessary to the perfection of God’s work.
A husband and wife, sealed in the holy temple, are bound together for eternity. Any children born into the union are also bound to them. If the couple already has children, these children can be sealed to them in the temple. It is a powerful bond that will remain in force after death.
God’s grand plan for His children is to have generations linked in love, by the sealing power. One husband and wife, sealed together for eternity, is but a single link in the human chain. My husband is sealed to his parents and siblings. I am sealed to my parents and siblings. Each of our siblings is sealed to his or her spouse. Our hope is that our children will be sealed to their spouses. When my husband and I were sealed together in the Salt Lake Temple, there were two mirrors across from each other. When we looked into the mirror facing us, we saw images of us stretching back for eternity. When we turned around, we saw the same image stretching back for eternity. This is symbolic of the human chain. Each of us has ancestors who came before us, and each of us has countless numbers of descendants who will follow us. We are the current link in the chain. Each one of us will, at some point in our lives—either here on earth or after we die— have the opportunity to accept or reject the teachings of Jesus Christ. Each will have the opportunity to make and keep the sacred covenants necessary to bind our families together forever. It is for this reason that members of The Church of Jesus Christ perform vicarious work in the temples of God for the dead. The ancient prophet Malachi prophesied:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)
The vicarious ordinances we perform in temples, beginning with baptism, make possible an eternal welding link between generations that fulfills the purpose of the earth’s creation. Without this, “the whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” Elijah has, in fact, come as promised to confer the priesthood power that turns hearts and establishes the welding links between the fathers and the children so that once again what is bound on earth “shall be bound in heaven.” When he came, Elijah declared, “The keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.”
We are anxiously about the task of searching out our fathers and mothers of generations past and binding them to us and us to them. Is not this the strongest possible evidence of our conviction that Jesus Christ will come again to reign upon the earth? We know He will, and we know what He expects we will have done in preparation for His return.
When I think of the love I feel for each member of our family, I sense, to a slight degree, the love that our Heavenly Father bears for His children. … God’s love for His children is infinite. Regardless of race, nationality, or gender, He loves all of them. … Every human being who comes to this earth is the product of generations of parents. We have a natural yearning to connect with our ancestors. This desire dwells in our hearts, regardless of age.… When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us. We feel part of something greater than ourselves. Our inborn yearnings for family connections are fulfilled when we are linked to our ancestors through sacred ordinances of the temple.
Defending the Family
The world today seeks to redefine what a family is—that a family is just any group of people of any gender who want to live together. But this isn’t true. There is no power in such a loosely defined term. The traditional family is powerful because it was instituted by God. No other family structure, no matter how well-intended, has the power to extend beyond the grave. In speaking of different options for marriage, Elder Nelson compared it to shopping. He explained:
Wise shoppers study their options thoroughly before they make a selection. They focus primarily on the quality and durability of a desired product. They want the very best. In contrast, some shoppers look for bargains, and others may splurge, only to learn later—much to their dismay—that their choice did not endure well. And sadly, there are those rare individuals who cast aside their personal integrity and steal what they want. We call them shoplifters.
The patterns of the shopper may be applied to the topic of marriage. A couple in love can choose a marriage of the highest quality or a lesser type that will not endure. Or they can choose neither and brazenly steal what they want as “marital shoplifters.”
The subject of marriage is debated across the world, where various arrangements exist for conjugal living. My purpose in speaking out on this topic is to declare, as an Apostle of the Lord, that marriage between a man and a woman is sacred—it is ordained of God. I also assert the virtue of a temple marriage. It is the highest and most enduring type of marriage that our Creator can offer to His children. … The noblest yearning of the human heart is for a marriage that can endure beyond death. Fidelity to a temple marriage does that. It allows families to be together forever.
Marriages and families that aren’t based on the Lord’s standard for marriage—which is a legal, lawful union of one man and one woman—will not stand the test of time. They also undermine the traditional family. Elder Nelson said:
Throughout the world, the family is increasingly under attack. If families fail, many of our political, economic, and social systems will also fail. And if families fail, their glorious eternal potential cannot be realized. Our Heavenly Father wants husbands and wives to be faithful to each other and to esteem and treat their children as an heritage from the Lord.
People of all faiths feel the need to defend traditional marriage because they know the divine importance of the family. While governments and civil leaders may feel the need to bow to social pressures, people of faith do not. They know that traditional marriage is the proper setting for the bearing and rearing of children. And they know that developing countries need to strengthen their own homes and families to build a stronger foundation for their nation. As Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:
Our communities and neighborhoods will be safer and stronger as people of all faiths work together to strengthen families. It is important to remember that all larger units of society depend on the smallest and most fundamental unit, the family. No matter who or what we are, we help ourselves when we help families.
I am a wife and mother of 4 beautiful children in a small town in the mountains of Idaho. We ski as a family in the winter and camp, fish, and go to the beach in the summer. I’m a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I am grateful for the Savior and the blessings of the gospel in my life.