Following is the complete text of a talk given by Elder Russell M. Nelson at the World Congress of Families V in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Aug. 12, 2009.
My wife, Wendy, and I express profound gratitude and respect for each participant at this Congress. You have been actively and tirelessly engaged in the defense of marriage and the promotion of families. We commend you, we thank you, and we pray for you!
As do you, I care deeply about the family. Not only do I care deeply about the worth of the family to God and to all of God's children, but I have experienced the strength that comes into the lives of a man and woman who cherish each other as husband and wife and who love their children.
My deceased wife, Dantzel, and I were blessed with nine daughters and a son. Our great joys of family life are real; our sorrows have been heart-wrenching. I know what it is to lose a daughter from cancer and to walk from her funeral carrying her two young sons in my arms. I have also felt the joy when our son-in-law married a wonderful woman who once again completed their family circle.
I know what it is to see a daughter suffer through a divorce. I have seen the pain and upheaval that ensued, and have also been grateful for the remarkable man she later married, who has again completed that family circle.
After 59 years of marriage, my dear wife, Dantzel, died of a sudden rhythm shift of the heart. Ironically, my professional life as a heart surgeon included intensive research in the very malady that claimed her life. Even so, I could not resuscitate her. I know about a widower's silent loneliness.
I also know what it is to be blessed again by my Heavenly Father in marrying a second time, also to a woman of compassion and generosity of spirit, who has once again completed my family circle. Nothing, absolutely nothing, compares with the companionship between a husband and a wife. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can provide the joy and growth that come from happy children who make a family circle. Throughout my life, I have answered to many titles, including doctor, captain, professor, and elder. But the titles I revere most are those of husband, father, and grandfather.
I am pleased to follow Wendy in speaking to this world congress on "The Family: The Hope for the Future of Nations." That topic is timely. On all sides, the family is under attack. Many wonder if the institution is no longer needed. Our response is certain. If there is any hope for the future of nations, that hope resides in the family. Our children are our wealth; our children are our strength; our children are indeed our future!
You are well aware of the ominous statistics. In the past 50 years, the birthrate has dropped in nearly every nation of the world. In the nations of Europe the birthrate has dropped from the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman to the present rate of 1.5.1 Nations that cannot maintain their populations could even disappear, along with their culture and heritage. Data from the United States show similar worrisome trends. In 1960, minor children formed half of the population; now they constitute only 30 percent.2 Predictions are that by the year 2025, single-person households will outnumber families with children.3
What would happen to the future of nations if the next generation failed to appear in significant numbers? The answer is alarming! Yes, we would be poorer economically, but even poorer spiritually.
Spiritual concerns are of great importance. Spiritually, we need children as much as they need us. They are our spiritual wealth. Children teach us the joy of building goodness that will outlive our own. They teach us the joy of loving someone more than self. That love lifts one to give from the abundance of one's own life to help a child. I know what it is to see my dear sister, Enid, donate a kidney for her daughter, Sally, otherwise doomed to an early demise. Now 16 years later, they are emotionally closer and stronger, physically and spiritually.
In the twilight of life—in the declining years that can be so difficult—those individuals who had made an earlier self-centered choice not to have children, will be alone and unloved. They missed the point of the Psalmist who said: "As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
"Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."4
Dear friends, future happiness and even the future of nations is linked to children. Families with children need to be re-enthroned as the fundamental unit of society. We simply must value children more than we do! Without a new generation to replace the old, there is no wealth; without families, there is no future.
Children come from the union of a man and a woman. The happiest and most secure children come from happy and secure marriages of fathers and mothers. History and contemporary studies have shown that marriage of a husband and a wife, with both contributing their distinctive natural traits to the family, provides the ideal context within which to rear productive, compassionate, and moral individuals.5
In 2006, the parliament of France courageously rejected same-gender marriage precisely so that children would not "suffer as a result of situations imposed on them by adults. The interest of the child must outweigh the exercise of freedom by adults . . . whatever life choices are made by the parents."6
Any attempt to broaden the definition of marriage to encompass a contractual relationship between adults outside of the traditional family weakens the institution of marriage as God Himself defined it, and undermines the separate, divinely decreed responsibilities of man and woman for procreation, protection, and rearing of children.
Marriage is not simply a contract between individuals; it affects all of society. For that reason, governments have long recognized the family as the fundamental unit of society and have endorsed and encouraged traditional marriage through legal recognitions, protections and benefits.
Individuals and groups who would overthrow the traditional concept of marriage and family would first mutate and then mutilate these long-established, time-tested social norms. The consequences of such changes would have far-reaching implications. If youth were to harbor the belief that the traditional family is but one choice of lifestyle among others, many of them will make choices that will reap only emptiness and despair, both for themselves and for society at large.
Furthermore, those who seek to undermine traditional marriage and family would effectively limit the rights of those who do uphold the sanctity of these institutions. This consequence leads to another major concern— the eventual erosion of religious liberty, including the liberty to defend, promote, and practice traditional family values.7 Religious liberty is essential if we are to raise up righteous children. Morally responsible families will not marginalize religious liberty, they will nurture and protect it.
In 1995, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a document that supports the development of happy children who are morally strong. It is entitled, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World."8 It has been translated into 81 languages. Copies are available at this Congress at no charge. You may also procure the text from the Internet.9
I will cite excerpts from this proclamation that may be helpful to you, your nations, and associations.
We proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. The family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Because each person is a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, each has a divine nature with a potential destiny as an heir of eternal life.
The sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. They have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children, with a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God, and to be law-abiding citizens of their country.
Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
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, with support from extended families as needed.
That concludes my citations from this proclamation. Copies of the complete text are available to you and to all who would choose wisely among contending messages of our day.
This Congress can also help with persuasive statements and continuing efforts to defend marriage and promote the interests of children in traditional families. While competing voices battle for approval, the message from this conference must be clear. We can learn from Paul who said: "There are . . . so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification."10
"For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?"11
Our message is certain! Children are the hope for the future of our nations!
1. United Nations World Population Prospects: 2006 revision - Table A.15n.
2. David P. Goldman, "Demographics & Depression," First Things, May 2009, 24.
4. Psalms 127:4–5.
5. This conclusion reflects what the New York Times has called a "powerful consensus among social scientists that 'from a child's point of view . . . the most supportive household is one with two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.'" Hardin, 2-Parent Families Rise After Change in Welfare Laws, quoted in What Next for the Marriage Movement? (New York: Institute for American Values), posted to MarriageMovement.org, 12 Dec. 2004.
6. Report of the Mission of Inquiry on the Family and the Rights of Children, a study commission appointed by the National Assembly of France, January 25, 2006, 46 (English translation of commission report).
7. In countries where same-gender marriage is adopted with no religious exemptions, all religions could eventually be required to perform gay marriages or to accept gay priests—even when that violates their most basic doctrines.
8. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.
9. At www.lds.org or by a search on family proclamation.
10. 1 Corinthians 14:10.
11. 1 Corinthians 14:8.