During Conference there were a lot of talks about marriage and family. While the talks briefly mentioned current events such as same-sex marriage, they mostly focused on something somewhat different. Elders Christofferson and Perry in particular had very similarly titled talks which focused on the doctrine or the why of family (“Why marriage, why family” and “Why Marriage and Family Matters” respectfully). President Packer likewise talked about “The Plan of Happiness” and in doing so focused heavily on the doctrine of the family.
Twenty years ago, the Family a Proclamation the World declared powerfully to the world our unique theology and doctrine of family. In the interceding years, that vision has only become more and more essential. Yet, we often focus on the details of the proclamation such as teachings about the roles of men and women and lose sight of what this inspired doctrine taught about the nature of significance of the Family in God’s plan.
What I believe we are witnessing today is a great clarification and sharpening of the doctrine of the family brought about by current events and the global effort to redefine marriage. These challenges have led our leaders to ponder and reflect on the true meaning of the family. These challenges have deeply enriched our understanding of the gospel as a familial matter. Much more so than twenty years ago, our leaders today teach not merely what families should be like, but why this is so essential.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie famously taught of the three pillars of eternity as being the creation, the fall, and the atonement. Today, instead of three pillars Elder Christofferson put forward four things essential for realizing God’s plan of happiness. The first three were the same as Elder McConkie’s pillars—creation, fall, and redemption, but the fourth of these pillars is the Family “the setting for physical birth and subsequent spiritual rebirth in God’s kingdom.” Elder Christofferson explained that this is essential, because in marriage we are able to create “in partnership with God, the physical bodies that are key to the test of mortality and essential to eternal glory with Him.” It is in marriage that we become co-creators with God and therefore enter the path towards exaltation.
President Packer also discussed this theme in his remarks. He emphasized that “The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness.” It is through this power, that “we may come close to our Father in Heaven and experience a fullness of joy, even Godhood.” Being able to responsibly use our power of procreation responsible is the great test of mortality.
Elder Perry likewise spoke about what makes our understanding of the family unique from the many other faiths that affirm the importance marriage between a man and a woman. He emphasized that in our theology families are eternal. They are not only vital to a stable society, but they are “the basic units of eternity and the kingdom and government of God.”
In other words, we understand that a family is not merely a tool used to advance God’s plan. Instead, his plan is by nature familial. We are all part of God’s family. Heaven is built around the family. Christ redeemed us because we are part of his family, and he made it possible to be part of his family eternally. Family is the binding power of the eternities. Ultimately, it is as a family that we will be exalted and transformed into God like beings.
In our day, I believe we are witnessing the doctrine of the family ascending to the forefront as the unique contribution of the restoration. Where once the Book of Mormon, Priesthood, or other doctrines represented our unique message to the world, today it is our teachings on the family that most fully personify what the Church has to offer to the world. This is not to suggest that the Book of Mormon is any less true, or that the appearance of the father and the Son to the boy Joseph Smith any less miraculous. Yet, as Elder Perry emphasized, the theology of the Restoration ultimately centers on family. The great and unfinished work of this dispensation is that of linking eternal families together.
Preach my Gospel makes the importance of the family quite clear. The first and second principles that missionaries are invited to teach investigators is that God is our loving Father in Heaven, and the Gospel Blesses Families. Thus, before we want missionaries to know about Joseph Smith, or even Jesus Christ, we want them first and foremost to know that we are part of the family of God, and that God’s plan is focused on eternal families. This isn’t by chance.
When I was a missionary, I often glossed over and skipped over this second principle in order to get to what I thought was the core of the message of the restoration: the idea that God has restored his Church to the earth through a living prophet. Indeed, teachings on the family were far from the focus of my message as a missionary. Looking back at my mission now, I am filled with deep gratitude for the many miracles that I saw, and yet I also deeply regret that I did not earlier understand the central role of the family in the missionary lessons. I feel now that had I focused more fully on eternal families, I would have been able to teach more families and help more individuals stay faithful to the end. Today, I believe that the family is one of our most potent tools in helping individuals come unto Christ.
I have seen a lot of people expressing a weariness with the torrent of messages on the family. Ultimately, I don’t think talks on the family are going anywhere. Indeed, because we are just starting to understand collectively as a Church how fully the family is integral to the plan of salvation and the teachings of Christ, I foresee talks on the family becoming increasingly common. As Sister Oscarson emphasized in Women’s Conference, we will increasingly be called to be witnesses and defenders of the eternal doctrines taught in the Family Proclamation.