Fathers needed as `pillars of strength'

In the first-ever address of a Church president to a conference of the NAACP, President Gordon B. Hinckley said that a father should stand as the pillar of strength in every household.

"But in far too many cases, families of all races have been denied leadership, the leadership of a good and devoted father who stands at the side of an able and kindly mother in quietly training, gently disciplining, and prayerfully helping the children for whom they both are responsible."I believe that no one else, other than a good and exemplary father, can so effectively teach children the value of education, of the dead-end nature of street gangs, of the miracle of self-esteem, which can change their lives for good."

President Hinckley addressed the Western Region 1 Leadership Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the oldest civil rights organization in America, April 24 in Salt Lake City. Attending the conference were an estimated 250 delegates and friends from throughout the western United States, Hawaii and Japan and Korea.

The Church president was presented a NAACP Distinguished Service Award by Julian Bond, chairman of the board of directors; Jeanetta Williams, conference chairman and national board member; Edward L. Lewis Jr., president of the tri-state conference; and Ernestine Barlow Peters, director of regional conferences.

Warmly received at the conference, President Hinckley was given a standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks, and after receiving the award following his address. His wife, Marjorie Hinckley was also given a standing ovation when she was introduced.

In his remarks, President Hinckley emphasized that "the time has come when we need to talk with one another across barriers of race, real and imagined."

He recalled that as a child, he was given to understand by his mother, in no uncertain terms "that among the peoples of the earth there is neither inferiority nor superiority, that we are all sons and daughters of God, and that we have an obligation to respect and help one another."

"I have never forgotten that simple lesson," he said. "I have carried it with me all my life, and across the world. . . ."

He said in the course of his life, he has "mingled widely with people of all races, with those of Asia and Africa, Europe and Polynesia, with people in high station and low station, both good and bad. The world is my neighborhood, and its peoples, regardless of status, are hopefully my friends and neighbors."

President Hinckley said he was deeply concerned about what is happening in America, where all are equal under the law, but in reality there is still "very much of prejudice.

"However, I am an optimist. I think matters are gradually getting better, through the efforts of such people as you who are gathered here this day. I think there is more of tolerance, there is more of respect, there is more of acknowledgment of the good in each of us. The fight has been uphill, but it is gradually being won. I meet men and women of great distinction, tremendous capacity, even of brilliance in many professions, and they are of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds."

He mentioned his recent trip to Africa, where he addressed tens and tens of thousands of people, who are "kind and generous. They are good. They are a beautiful people."

However, he said, much closer to home many young people are being subjected to a form of slavery, the slavery of drugs and substances and other practices "which take hold of them until they lose all control of themselves."

He also spoke of the scourge of teen pregnancy which comes of ignorance, social irresponsibility and lack of self-discipline.

"Every baby born has a father, and in so many, so very many cases, the young men who are responsible for fathering children simply do not step up to that responsibility."

As a result, single mothers with little education "struggle throughout their lives to rear children, because a baby and responsibility for its life never seem to go away."

President Hinckley described additional social ills, including babies of drug-ridden mothers, gangs of youths "who drift in a mire of terror and whose lives lead in only one direction, if they survive, and that is to prison.

"We cannot build jails and prison in this nation fast enough to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of inmates whose numbers are constantly increasing."

All of this, and much more, he said, "becomes the great tragic waste of America. As you know all too well, many, very many of these people, given the right motivation and the right opportunity, could do something useful with their lives."

He commended the NAACP for the efforts its members are making. He then suggested two additional things that need doing.

"The God of Heaven designed the family as the basic unit of society," he declared. "He did not design that children should be begotten and left to a single and often poor mother to rear. He designed that a father should stand as the pillar of strength in every household.

"I do not believe women resent the strong leadership of a man in the home," he continued. "He becomes the provider, the defender, the counselor, the friend who will listen and give support when needed.

"How do we get him to take his place? That is the question. It may be a slow process, but it is worth the effort. We begin with very young boys and teach them, and motivate them, and point them in this direction. It will not be easy. We will not save them all. But I believe we can save many more than we are now saving."

President Hinckley said that youth, black and white together, should be shown that "there is a better way than the way so many are going. It will take patience. It will take persuasion. I believe it will take prayer.

"This is a greater problem than any of us can solve with our own wisdom. It is a problem for which we need inspiration and spiritual guidance. The things of God are understood by the Spirit of God, and I submit that what is needed is that motivating and powerful spiritual inspiration which is real and which can come into the lives of those who seek it.

"I put father back as the head of the family, but while doing so, I plead with him to institute and follow a practice which was commonplace in America a hundred years ago. We have largely lost sight of it. That is the practice of family prayer," explained the Church president.

He said that a father who kneels with his wife and children will do wonders for them.

"The very act of getting on one's knees before a Higher Power becomes an acknowledgment of our need for help," he said. "To thank the Lord in the presence of one another for life, health and strength and family, carries with it a wonderful salutary effect."

Prayers that remember the poor and needy teach children unselfishness, and prayers that seek guidance and ask for a blessing of heaven upon children leave an "inevitably positive effect."

He emphasized the Church's teaching that "each of us is a child of God. It matters not the race. It matters not the slant of our eyes or the color of our skin. We are sons and daughters of the Almighty who loves us and who stands ready to listen to our pleadings and help us with our problems. When a child comes to realize that there is something of divinity within him, then something great begins to happen."

He asked if he had ventured into a field where he didn't belong in suggesting to able and concerned people "that the time has come for the citizens of this land to acknowledge our failures and our weaknesses in dealing with some of these terrible problems and to get on our knees and seek the wisdom of heaven. The marvelous thing is that it works. I have seen it."

Then he emphasized: "I am a churchman. You may expect this of me. But I wish to say that family prayer is still a basic and fundamental practice in the homes of millions of people across the world who can and will testify that it has a tremendous influence on rearing a family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

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