It’s been a little more than 20 years since President Gordon B. Hinckley, then president of the Church, stood at the pulpit in the Tabernacle on Temple Square during the general Relief Society meeting and read the words of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
The words of the document are succinct — a little over 600 words easily printed on the front of one page — but they provide a clear summary of the Church’s doctrine, beliefs and practices regarding the family and its importance in God’s eternal plan for His children.
Julie Heaps was a reporter for the Church News when she was assigned to cover that meeting on Sept. 25, 1995. As a media representative, she sat in the southwest corner of the balcony overlooking the pulpit. Sister Heaps said she can still close her eyes and remember the women in the audience. “The Tabernacle was filled,” she recalled. In her article for the Church News, she noted the “reverent calm” felt in the Tabernacle that night. Sitting within a few yards of the prophet, she took notes as he declared the principles and practices that are vital to the happiness and well-being of families. “It was reverent and beautiful and prophetic.”
The importance of that proclamation might best be judged by the “enormous” impact it has had, said Alan Hawkins, professor of family studies at Brigham Young University. “Even 20 years later, [the proclamation] continues to be a document that is referenced by Church leaders, that guides training within the Church, that is used by members in talks and lessons and that is accessed by members and nonmembers all over the world to see what we believe about families and family life.”
David Dollahite, Brother Hawkins colleague in the Department of Family Studies, said the proclamation serves as a beacon — a light — that individuals can look to for truth. “In a world that continues to become more and more materialistic, more and more individualistic, more and more hedonistic, to have a document like the Family Proclamation as a standard that you can hold up is very, very helpful,” he said.
The proclamation can serve as a resource for missionaries working with individuals unfamiliar with the Church’s beliefs, for local Church leaders in training and counseling other members, and for the youth, who “are in many ways on the front lines of the culture wars,” said Brother Dollahite.
“I think it gives the youth of the Church a clear statement that helps them separate out what’s being taught to them in a variety of mediums: on television and in books and magazines and popular culture where marriage and family are not particularly emphasized,” he said.
In addition to being a clear, succinct summary of doctrine, the proclamation sends a strong message that there are living prophets and apostles on the earth, noted Brother Dollahite. “Those of us that study marriage and family see that it’s a time of great change, uncertainty and chaos in family life. The proclamation for me is a profound sign that there are living prophets and apostles on the earth and they are very concerned with what’s happening and the Lord is speaking through them to the world. The proclamation is ‘to the world.’”
Looking back, Sister Heaps, who is a member of the Huckleberry Ward, Syracuse Utah Bluff Stake, said she is grateful, not only for being able to hear the words proclaimed in person, but to know that the proclamation was for her individually. At the time that it was issued, “I was 32 and I was not married. I had no children,” Sister Heaps recalled. “But I knew the proclamation was for me,” she said, “because I was waiting and trying to live my covenants so that my children would be born when the Lord wanted them to be born and in the manner the Lord wanted them to be born.”
Since then, Sister Heaps has married and has an 8-year-old “miracle” daughter named Hannah. “As a 32-year-old, those promises were real. They were real to me then and they are real for my family now. The proclamation is not just commandments; it’s promises,” she said.
Going forward, Brother Dollahite said, “those of us who observe the changes in family and the attacks on marriage, we see that [this] document just grows in stature and will continue to become even more powerful and meaningful.”
Brother Hawkins said he hopes the truths found in the proclamation will “live more in our hearts than just hang on our walls.” At BYU they teach a class on the doctrines and practices of the Family Proclamation. Brother Hawkins said he often encourages his students to memorize segments of the document.
“As my students have come to memorize the proclamation, it sinks in at a different level for them. It becomes a more organic part of who they are and their faith. It’s somehow within them and inside them and a part of them and I think they come to understand and cherish these principles even more as they do that. That’s something I really recommend,” he said.
Sister Heaps said she has decided to hold a special family home evening in the coming weeks. “I’m going to share with my daughter that I was there that night. I’m going to write in her little journal that I was there and I’m going to write how I feel about the proclamation.”