Citing statistics on fatherless families, drug abuse and abortion, President Gordon B. Hinckley told a gathering of U.S. mayors: "The cities of America are in trouble. They have been for a good while, and in most cases the situation is growing worse."
A reformation will occur, he declared, only when values are again taught in schools and when good fathers once again stand with good mothers in the home, "where virtue, honesty, integrity and a reliance upon God will be taught by example as well as by precept."President Hinckley was a guest speaker at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Sept. 25 in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The conference, an association of mayors from throughout the country, was in Salt Lake City for a summit on youth violence. Nearly 100, including mayors, chiefs of police and others, gathered to listen to President Hinckley, who was introduced by Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini, current president of the conference.
Speaking with a backdrop of the United States and Utah flags, President Hinckley highlighted the problems facing this country, the most serious perhaps being families without fathers. Citing the National Center for Health Statistics, the Church president said that in 1996, there were 7,874,000 fatherless families with children under 18 – representing 23 percent of all families in the country with children under 18. These families, President Hinckley added, are headed by single women, 41 percent of whom have never been married.
"In 1996 there were 1,260,000 children born to single mothers. This represents 32 percent of all live births," President Hinckley noted. "How tragic is the desolate and ever-increasing picture of illegitimate birth. With each such birth comes responsibility to the mother, and, inevitably to society at large. A lack of self-discipline, of a sense of responsibility, in my judgment, is symptomatic of the troubles that afflict us in growing numbers."
Continuing, President Hinckley said that marriage, once regarded as a sacred sacrament, is now becoming an increasingly secular experience. "We are losing something that speaks of accountability, not only to one another, but to God who is our Father and who will stand in judgment upon us."
President Hinckley said, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that in the United States in 1994 there were almost 1.3 million abortions. He also spoke of the growing drug problem and the "terrible blight of gangs."
"We cannot build jails and prisons in this nation fast enough to accommodate the need."
President Hinckley said these problems will continue until "you get at the root. That root, I believe, lies in two places – in our schools and in our homes. Unless there can be some reformation here, it is not likely to occur anywhere. It will not happen in a day or a year, but it could happen in a generation.
"What has happened to our schools?" he continued. "There are still many that are excellent, but there are very many that are failing. What has become of the teaching of values? We are told that educators must be neutral in these matters. Neutrality in the teaching of values can only lead to an absence of values. Is it less important to learn something of honesty than to learn something of computer science?
"What has happened to the discipline we knew? Not the sometimes absurd punishment arbitrarily meted out to a child for a frivolous offense, but the self-discipline which is born of respect for others and an accountability for one's actions. Discipline is not just a matter of punishment for wrongdoing, but of teaching youth not to do wrong in the first place."
President Hinckley explained: "To you men and women of great influence, you who preside in the cities of the nation, to you I say that it will cost far less to reform our schools, to teach the virtues of good citizenship than it will to go on building and maintaining costly jails and prisons in which to warehouse the many who violate the law.
"But there is another institution of even greater importance than the schools," he continued. "It is the home. I believe that no nation can rise higher than the strength of its families. And yet the family is falling apart. Not only in America, but now across the world."
President Hinckley explained that God designed the family as the basic unit of society with a father as "a pillar of strength in every household. I do not believe that women resent the partnership, even the leadership of a good man in the home, and I emphasize the word good. They welcome it. He becomes the provider, the defender, the counselor, the companion who will listen and give support when needed. There is no adequate substitute for husband and wife, father and mother, working together to strengthen each other and guide the destinies of their children.
"The problem we face with family life in America is a tremendous problem. It 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."
President Hinckley encouraged fathers to lead their families in prayer. "The very act of getting on one's knees before a higher power becomes an acknowledgment of our need for help."
The Church president added: "What I have suggested may sound a little strange as I speak to you, the mayors of the cities of America. Am I getting into a field where I do not belong, when I take the liberty of suggesting to you 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. I have experienced it."
After his remarks, President Hinckley was presented a plaque by Mayor Corradini on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, honoring him for his work on "values and the importance of families."