With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. — President Gordon B. Hinckley
These remarks by President Hinckley, made during the 1995 General Relief Society Meeting as he presented "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," seem to fit the purpose of many statements and proclamations from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve throughout the 1900s.
From 1900, during the administration of President Lorenzo Snow, to the current administration of President Hinckley at the prelude to a new millennium, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have issued statements and proclamations meant to "warn and forewarn," to clarify and to reaffirm Church policy and doctrine.
And this is done according to the inspiration of the Lord, said Edward J. Brandt, manager of the Correlation Evaluation Division of the Church's Correlation Department.
"There are many voices in the world," Brother Brandt explained during a Church News interview. "And they continue to espouse a variety of views. The purpose of the statements has been to clarify truth, and the same is true for proclamations. For example, the family has been under assault for some time. The proclamation on the family was a way of reaffirming the doctrine of the family in God's plan."
According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 3:1151, all Church declarations since the restoration of the gospel "have been solemn and sacred in nature and were issued with the intent to bring forth, build up, and regulate the affairs of the Church as the kingdom of God on the earth. Subject matter has included instruction on doctrine, faith, and history; warnings of judgments to come; invitations to assist in the work; and statements of Church growth and progress."
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states that only a few of the declarations over the years have been labeled "proclamations." Brother Brandt explained the difference between declarations and statements, and proclamations. Generally, declarations and statements are directed at Church membership, whereas proclamations are meant to reach beyond the scope of Church membership. They are proclamations "to the world," he added.
During the 20th Century, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have issued two proclamations: the 1995 proclamation on the family and the 1980 proclamation issued during the sesquicentennial anniversary of the restoration of the Church. First Presidency declarations and statements during the same time period are almost too numerous to mention, although the Church News has selected four of them to discuss their historical backgrounds as well as their impact on secular Christianity.
The following relates to the two proclamations and four statements:
• 1909 statement by the First Presidency on the Origin of Man. "The 1909 statement grew out of the time when there was a movement early in the century to challenge the origin of man through scientific evidence," Brother Brandt said. "It was the purpose of the First Presidency to set the record straight. The Brethren wanted to reaffirm the doctrinal position of the Church."
So in the November 1909 Improvement Era the First Presidency issued this statement on the origin of man; it is also printed in Messages of the First Presidency 4:199-206. In introducing the text, President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency, President John R. Winder and President Anthon H. Lund, emphasized: "We are not conscious of putting forth anything essentially new; neither is it our desire so to do. A restatement of the original attitude of the Church relative to this matter is all that will be attempted here."
The First Presidency then went on to explain in the statement: "Adam, our great progenitor, 'the first man,' was, like Christ, a pre-existent spirit, and like Christ he took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a 'living soul.' The doctrine of the pre-existence, — revealed so plainly, particularly in latter days, pours a wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man's origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality. It teaches that all men existed in the spirit before any man existed in the flesh, and that all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner.
"It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was 'the first man of all men' (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father."
The statement's clarification — which still stands today — as to man's true origin is, perhaps, why the LDS hymn, "I Am a Child of God," (Children's Songbook, p. 2) written by Naomi W. Randall in 1957, touches the hearts of so many — in and out of the Church — with its message:
"I am a child of God, And he has sent me here, Has given me an earthly home With parents kind and dear. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, Help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do To live with him someday."
• 1916 Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and the Twelve: The Father and the Son. Like the 1909 statement, the 1916 statement reaffirms revealed doctrine, Brother Brandt explained. "One of the points of that exposition," he continued, "is not only to describe the roles of the members of the Godhead, but also to introduce the doctrine of divine investiture of authority.
"The way that works in the scriptures is whenever Jehovah [the premortal Jesus Christ] was giving revelation and wanted to describe His own future mission and atonement, He spoke on behalf of the Father."
In other words, the statement, published in Messages of the First Presidency 5:23-34, includes four points concerning the title "Father" in the scriptures: "Father as Literal Parent," "Father as Creator," "Jesus Christ the Father of Those Who Abide in His Gospel," and "Jesus Christ the Father by Divine Investiture of Authority."
The latter point is explained: " . . . In all His dealings with the human family Jesus the Son has represented and yet represents Elohim His Father in power and authority. Thus the Father placed His name upon the Son; and Jesus Christ spoke and ministered in and through the Father's name; and so far as power, authority and Godship are concerned His words and acts were and are those of the Father."
• 1939 First Presidency's Message on World Peace. This statement, issued a month after the start of World War II in Europe, may be called a "voice of warning." Published in the Church Section of the Deseret News Oct. 14, 1939, and again in Messages of the First Presidency 6:89-93, the statement was first presented at the October 1939 general conference by President Heber J. Grant and his counselors in the First Presidency, President J. Reuben Clark Jr., and President David O. McKay. Copies of the Church Section containing the message were later sent to influential leaders of the government of the United States.
Indeed, the Message on World Peace carried a dire warning: "We appeal to the leaders of all nations and to the people themselves thus to mend and adjust their differences, lest the vials of God's wrath be poured out upon the earth, for He has said He will visit His wrath upon the wicked without measure."
Ironically, according to Messages of the First Presidency 6:89, six months before the message was issued and five months before the war began, President Clark declared in a special priesthood meeting in the Tabernacle on April 8, 1939: "I think war is perceptibly nearer to us today than it has been since the end of the World War. I do not know and do not pretend to know whether war will come, but if it does come . . . we shall be left at the end of the war with a condition which will wring our hearts in more ways than one. . . ."
Six years later, millions were dead, hundreds of millions were homeless and the world had entered the atomic age.
• 1942 Message of the First Presidency to the Church. Less than three years after the First Presidency issued the Message on World Peace, and four months after America's entrance in the war, the First Presidency again issued a major statement concerning World War II. The message, printed in Messages of the First Presidency 6:148-163, included the testimonies of the First Presidency, counsel to parents and youth, and counsel on welfare work, "false political isms," love, hate, the mission of the Church and missionary work. Latter-day Saints were also assured "God is at the helm."
A poignant part of the message was directed at men in the service: "To our young men who go into the service, no matter whom they serve or where, we say live clean, keep the commandments of the Lord, pray to Him constantly to preserve you in truth and righteousness, live as you pray, and then whatever betides you the Lord will be with you and nothing will happen to you that will not be to the honor and glory of God and to your salvation and exaltation."
More than 100,000 Latter-day Saint men served their countries during the war.
• 1980 Proclamation to the World. One hundred and fifty years after the Prophet Joseph organized the Church in the Peter Whitmer Farmhouse in Fayette, N.Y., President Spencer W. Kimball stood at a pulpit in the rebuilt home for the sesquicentennial observance of the Church's organization in the latter days. On the second day of that April general conference, April 6, 1980, President Kimball addressed members via a satellite system which linked the farmhouse with the congregation gathered in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. A satellite system had been used in the past to link conference proceedings from the Tabernacle to various meetinghouses, but this was the first time conference was telecast to the Tabernacle. (Please see the April 12, 1980, Church News.)
After President Kimball's remarks, then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve, who is now president of the Church, stepped to the pulpit and presented a Proclamation to the nations of the world from the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve.
The proclamation reaffirmed the validity of the restoration of the gospel and Church of Jesus Christ and referred to the progress of the Church, and "its doctrine, its mission, and its message."
The proclamation declared: "We solemnly affirm that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact a restoration of the Church established by the Son of God when in mortality He organized His work upon the earth; that it carries His sacred name, even the name of Jesus Christ; that it is built upon a foundation of apostles and prophets, He being the chief cornerstone; that its priesthood, in both the Aaronic and Melchizedek orders, was restored under the hands of those who held it anciently — John the Baptist, in the case of the Aaronic, and Peter, James and John in the case of the Melchizedek."
The proclamation continues by sanctioning the divine nature of the family and calls on all men and women to forsake evil and "turn to God."
• 1995 — The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Since President Hinckley issued the Proclamation on the Family at the General Relief Society Meeting in 1995, the text has been translated into dozens of languages and hangs on the walls of Latter-day Saint homes throughout the world. Many times over, the proclamation has been presented to leaders of governments.
The proclamation begins: "We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children."
Gender is declared an "essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose," and husbands and wives are reminded of their sacred responsibility to care for each other and their children.
The proclamation also includes a warning: "We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."
To members today, the proclamation is a reminder of the sacred place of the family in God's plan. For Nanette J. Clarke of the Hidden Canyon Ward, North Las Vegas Nevada Stake, the proclamation is a reaffirmation of a role she cherishes — that of mother.
"I love the proclamation because it affirms the family, all aspects of the family, that I felt society was tearing down almost to the point of making it embarrassing to defend the family," she said during a telephone interview. "Now here was this beautiful document defending the family in such a positive manner."
The proclamation not only hangs in the home of Sister Clarke, her husband, Bishop Arthur Clarke, and their four children, but also she uses it in home evening lessons and in visiting teaching. She has even used it as a missionary tool, sharing it with a friend who has been investigating the Church. "She has struggled as I have in explaining how we're happy to be a mother in the home. She reacted pleasantly to the proclamation."
But most of all, Sister Clarke added: "I feel it is a proclamation telling my family the path that families need to stay on, that the choices we make need to correlate with the words of the prophet."
Bringing lives to correspond with the words of prophets seems to be a main purpose for most statements and proclamations from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.