LOS ANGELES — The Church cannot be strong if a majority of its leaders and members come from weak families, said President Dallin H. Oaks on Aug. 24.
“Conversely, if most of the families in a ward or stake are strong, the ward or stake will also be strong,” he said. “The same is true of the Church.”
Directing his remarks to the sometimes “neglected group” of “extraordinary importance,” President Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, addressed young married couples from 11 stakes in the Los Angeles area.
During the devotional, held in the Los Angeles California Santa Monica Stake Center, President Oaks answered important questions raised by young couples “on the frontline of what is vitally important to the Church.” He addressed questions dealing with Church leadership, mental illness, Church history and the Church’s policies relating to children raised by gay couples. He also counseled the couples on how to strengthen their marriages and families and spoke about the Church’s efforts to simplify programs that take leaders out of the home.
President Oaks said some people wonder whether the leadership of the Church know what is going on in the lives of members much younger than they and in conditions much different than those in which they live.
“Brothers and sisters, we know much more than you suppose,” he said. “You know we are constantly traveling to be with our members all over the world. What you may not know is that every week we receive reports from the most knowledgeable professionals in every field of concern in a worldwide Church — economics, politics, social sciences, legal requirements, diplomacy, the latest thinking on social issues, etc.”
The Brethren are informed “about the world in which we live,” but “we are even more intensely informed about our own members — the challenges they face in medical care, mental health, public schools, higher education, employment, the market place, retirement, and in their personal relations such as marriage, childbearing, adoption, child-rearing, challenges to faith such as questions about Church history, same-gender attraction, transgender issues, etc.,” he said.
“We struggle to be informed. We struggle to be close to our members who number about 16 million in about 150 nations.”
President Oaks’ message hit home for many in the congregation.
"The leaders of the Church are incredibly in-tune to the stage of life we face, and the trials it can bring when trying to maintain a righteous marriage," said Deserae Alard, who attended the devotional. "Every word was relevant and resonated with us deeply."
President Oaks called the group “the rising generation” who is “raising the next generation.”
“You are doing what is vitally important to the Church in our day. We love you for that and for your faithfulness in pressing forward with what is most important to all of us.”
The young married demographic in the Church faces “what must seem to be insurmountable obstacles,” he said. “You are raising children in an environment with overwhelming information and attitudes that are hostile to the mission and teachings of the Church.”
Adding to the complexity of the challenges young married members face personally and with their children is the reality of the environment of mental illness; scholars reported in 2014 that one in five of the U.S. population between the ages of 18 to 25 had a mental illness, said President Oaks.
This reaches down to younger ages and causes overall anxieties and significant overload among mental health counselors.
“Truly these are different times for your generation, and it is not surprising that you young marrieds look to Church leaders for help in doing what you need to do and teaching your children what you need to teach,” he said.
President Oaks said leaders understand that many callings take young couples away from their home and family.
“We have spent many hours talking about how we can simplify our Church programs to perform their essential function for a wide variety of family circumstances ...,” said President Oaks. “Now, I am pleased to tell you that some help is on the way and more is under discussion.”
President Oaks asked the men in the congregation to rise up to their responsibilities to lead families in righteousness.
“All of us — husbands and wives — can do better,” he said. “We must do better. But we are doing better than we assume in our most discouraging times.”
President Oaks spoke of the importance of making and keeping covenants and for preparing for eternal life; he also addressed those who make no plans for what happens after they die.
“As has been true throughout history, in this life we must choose between Jesus’ way and the world’s way,” said President Oaks, referencing teachings from the Savior found in John 6 when Jesus expands five loaves and two fishes to feed 5,000.
“Of course we know that we must meet the requirements of the world in many ways, including the need to earn our daily bread and pursue the education and other activities that will allow us to do so. But we should never lose our priority on the things of eternity — the bread of life — that the Savior and His Church will provide us.”
President Oaks said it is his hope that all marriages are loving and free from serious conflict over important values and priorities, “but we know that some are not.”
In a lighter moment, President Oaks shared a list of five things that a husband should say to his wife. "I love you. I am sorry. Yes, dear. You look good in that. We can’t afford it."
President Oaks also addressed questions about the rising generation which “increasingly sees the Church’s stance on the LGBT community as intolerant and inconsistent with our local and national laws” and who are seeking understanding about those who deal with same-gender attraction.
Referencing the Church’s 2007 publication, "God Loveth His Children," President Oaks said there are many political, legal and social pressures for changes that would change the definition of marriage or de-emphasize its importance, confuse gender or homogenize the differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness.
“Our eternal perspective sets us against such changes,” he said. “God’s love is so great that He requires His children to obey His laws because only through that obedience can they progress toward the eternal destiny He desires for them. Thus, in the final judgment, which follows the universal resurrection, we will all be assigned to the kingdom of glory that is commensurate with our obedience to His laws.”
President Oaks said in his “persistent prayerful ponderings, I have never found a better, shorter answer to the innumerable questions on this subject than a thorough knowledge and total faith in the love of our Heavenly Father and the plan of salvation He has established for the blessing of all of His children. The central truth of that plan is the Atonement of His Only Begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
President Oaks said answering the questions of children in an appropriate way is one of the most important things parents can do.
“When you are asked a difficult question, such as a puzzler about Church history or doctrine, be honest and, if necessary, say you don’t know,” said President Oaks. “But then be sure to say what you do know: ‘I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.’”
President Oaks then addressed a difficult question that has caused some to criticize or even leave the Church — the policy to not baptize young children being raised by same-gender couples until they were old enough to make a mature decision.
“We were sorry to see how many critics of that policy failed to consider its positive purpose, which was to follow the Church’s long-standing effort to avoid creating conflicts between children and those who are raising them,” he said. “Where children are being raised by custodians who do not have such a fundamental conflict with Church doctrine, there are ways to obtain approval for children to be baptized.”
Concluding, President Oaks said the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints centers on the family.
“Our relationship to God and the purpose of earth life are explained in terms of the family. We are the spirit children of heavenly parents. The gospel plan is implemented through earthly families, and our highest aspiration is to perpetuate those family relationships throughout eternity. The ultimate mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help us achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and that can only be achieved in a family relationship.”