Looking forward to Congress of Families

'Celebration' adds impetus to 1999 world event

A worldwide movement to foster and safeguard the traditional family as the fundamental unit of society gained impetus Nov. 21 with a dinner and program in Salt Lake City involving four Church leaders.

President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve; and Mary Ellen Smoot, Relief Society general president, each spoke at "A Celebration of the Second World Congress of Families." The event was conducted by Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy in his role as BYU president. Remarks were also given by Dr. Allan C. Carlson, president of the Howard Center for the Family, Religion and Society.

Entertainment was provided by the Goodman Family: parents Steve and Claudia and their nine surviving children (three were killed in a car accident two years ago), along with LDS musician and composer Kenneth Cope. This LDS family has sung at United Nations conferences in Instanbul, Rome, Lisbon and New York with a presentation designed to touch hearts and shape public policy on the family.

The Second World Congress of Families is to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 7-10, 1999. Building on the momentum of the First World Congress held in Prague, Czech Republic, in 1997, it aims to unite scholars, practitioners, activists, opinion leaders and families in rallying support of the human family system. The program in Salt Lake City is similar to other such events that are being held around the world in preparation for the congress.

BYU and the Howard Center are the sponsors and co-conveners of the congress, with support from NGO [non-governmental organization] Family Voice, a BYU group that participates in the formulation of United Nations policy; and the Anasazi Foundation, which serves youth struggling with substance abuse and emotional and behavioral concerns.

An international planning committee for the congress met in Rome, Italy, May 17-20 of this year and drafted "A Call from the Families of the World."

The document observes that today, "certain social, political and economic forces threaten the natural family, tearing the social fabric at local, national and international levels. Under slogans such as 'modernity,' 'globalization' and 'progress,' and in the name of 'Civil Society,' these forces have weakened the bonds between husband and wife, parent and child, and the generations. These ideologies deny the natural origin and status of the family, the equal but complementary roles of men and women, the miracle of human fertility and procreation, the dignity and worth of every human person, and the autonomy of the family itself."

The document calls for convening of the congress to rally organizations, develop governmental guidelines, raise worldwide awareness and create structures for mutual cooperation and support. The committee hopes to disseminate millions of copies of the call to be signed by the families of the world and then returned. Copies may be obtained from the World Congress of Families II, 934 North Main Street, Rockford, IL 61103; Fax No. 815-965-1826.

In his remarks, President Packer said: "I think Brigham Young would be pleased tonight to have his name teamed up and the university that bears his name taking an active role in the protection and preservation of the family. If society is saved, it will be in the family."

President Packer referred to "The Family — a Proclamation to the World" issued by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in September 1995. He said the Church has issued only five proclamations in its 168-year history, and this one was prompted by the announcement that there would be a United Nations conference on the family in Salt Lake City.

"In council, we thought we must declare ourselves," he said. "And so the members of the Twelve wrote that proclamation. It was considered word by word by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and now is printed in many, many languages and distributed worldwide."

President Packer said everything the Church does is so that a man, his wife and their children can be happy at home "and be sealed in the eternal bonds to the end that there shall be no ending of that sacred relationship."

Elder Oaks declared: "Latter-day Saints cannot afford to ignore a worldwide climate that threatens the family. Our perspective in this day and time must be worldwide. . . . It's apparent that the concern is urgent and that leadership is needed to confront these problems in terms understandable to many different faiths and cultures."

Sister Smoot said she and her counselors in the Relief Society general presidency represent 4.2 million women worldwide. "I recently had an opportunity to visit Japan, Taiwan, Korea and India," she said. "Looking into the faces of many of these women who believe as strongly about the family as I do, I was grateful to be part of this organization, the planning committee that met in Rome, Italy, grateful to be there and to see people of all faiths sitting around the table. We have the same values when it comes to the family. How important it is for us to unite universally to save the family. It's time to speak out. It's time to stand for the family."

Elder Bateman said he began to understand two years ago the importance of what is happening across the earth with the views of anti-family forces beginning to prevail. BYU law professor Richard G. Wilkins had observed such a condition at a United Nations conference he attended in Istanbul, Turkey, with leaders of nations hearing primarily from those who feel the family has failed and is obsolete. With Pres. Bateman's cooperation, Dr. Wilkins organized NGO Family Voice, which has impacted subsequent U.N. conferences in Kenya, New York, Rome and Portugal.

Thereafter, Pres. Bateman and Dr. Wilkins joined forces with Dr. Carlson of the Howard Center to convene the planning meeting in Rome for the Second World Congress of Families.

Speaking at the Salt Lake meeting, Dr. Carlson, a history scholar by profession and one of the foremost family advocates in the United States, referred to the settlement of the Salt Lake Valley by the Mormon pioneers. He said they "sought a place where they could praise God and raise children." That desire has been common throughout the American experience, he said, motivating the Puritans who came to Massachusetts Bay, the Roman Catholics who came to the Maryland colony of Lord Baltimore, and other groups seeking liberty and refuge.

"The core purpose of the World Congress of Families, Second Edition, might be summarized in these few words: We want to help all peoples of the globe to know the freedom to praise God and to raise children," he commented. "We emphasize the family because that is the place where these two activities merge fully together."

Dr. Carlson invoked experts' findings that the more orthodox a person is in his or her own religious faith, the more that person seems to agree with the orthodox adherence of other Americans regarding questions of the family. "I just suspect . . . that this subjective truth derives in some way from the very structure of the Creation, that built into our nature as human beings is the desire of the Creator that we live in families and that we bring children into the world."

He said a number of epiphanies, or sudden recognitions, occurred to him in recent years as he has participated in global conferences pertaining to the family. One of these was that symptoms of problems relating to the family are found around the world: a retreat from marriage, sharp decline in family size, alienated young people, mounting levels of drug abuse and the constant growth of the state. "Despite the unique history of each nation, [countries of the world] were, at the end of the second Christian millennium, lurching toward a common crisis, a family crisis."

Another epiphany for him was the recognition of the degree to which opponents of the family have carried their campaign to the international level. "The products of the 1994 International Year of the Family, the proceedings of the United Nations conferences in Cairo, Beijing and Istanbul, showed the influence of the so-called post-family thinkers and activists. These people are firm in their beliefs that the family is antiquated, that marriage is prison-like, that children are liabilities, that religion is an obstacle to reform, and that sciences should be under their intellectual control.

"It became clear that these views now dominated the debate in institutions as important as the United Nations. Clearly, it was time for the families of the globe to come together for a common advocacy and a common defense."

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