‘Combine and apply both law and love,’ President and Sister Oaks encourage young adults

In Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, President Oaks echoes President Nelson’s challenge to ‘know the truth and stand for it’

Almost exactly one year after President Russell M. Nelson spoke to Latter-day Saint young adults worldwide, his first counselor in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks, addressed the same audience and echoed the Prophet’s challenge to “know the truth and stand for it.”

In a devotional broadcast to 18- to 30-year-olds across the globe on Sunday, May 21, President Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen M. Oaks, offered loving counsel for young adults regarding marriage and dating.

President Oaks’ instruction also included counsel about how to stand fast with love while proclaiming truth, including on issues involving gender dysphoria and being romantically attracted to persons of the same sex.

President Oaks shared the promise found in 1 Nephi 10:19. “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

“I pray that all I love, and that includes all the children of God within the sounds of my voice, will act upon that invitation to find and know the truth,” President Oaks said.

Audience members listen to President Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, during a Worldwide Devotional
Audience members listen as President Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, speak to young adults of the church during a Worldwide Devotional from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 21, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Related Story
President Nelson asks young adults, ‘Decide what kind of life you want to live forever’

‘Heavenly Father has a plan for His young adults’

Marriage is central to the purpose of mortal life and what follows, President Oaks noted, and the power of creation is one of the most precious gifts of mortal life.

“But central to that gift is the law of chastity, the commandment that our powers of procreation be expressed only within marriage between a man and a woman. That commandment is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That reality explains why we have different values and refrain from certain behaviors that seem common among many around us,” President Oaks said.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are concerned about recent changes in the nature and extent of marriage in the United States. President Oaks showed two charts: one showing the reduction in the percentage of adults in the United States who marry and the other showing the increase in the average age of Church members who marry.

Those who intentionally postpone marriage represent opportunities lost and blessings postponed, President Oaks said, including delays in important personal growth that occurs through that relationship, decreased opportunities to work together in building the kingdom of God and fewer children born. 

“You know all of this, and you need to know that your leaders know that many of our singles are not marrying sooner for reasons beyond their control,” he said.

“In truth, marriage is a gift,” Sister Oaks added. “Not only does marriage give us the opportunity for children, but it gives us the opportunity and incentive to begin a journey of growing with one another.”

In the musical based on Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” is the line, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

“Nowhere does that happen better than in marriage,” Sister Oaks said.

President Dallin H. Oaks and Sister Kristen Oaks speak to young adults during a Worldwide Devotional from the Conference Center Theater.
President Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, speak to young adults of the church during a Worldwide Devotional from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 21, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The postponement and devaluing of the importance of having children is another concern, President Oaks continued. A recent national poll showed that the importance to adults of having children has dropped in the last 25 years from 66% to 33%.

“Just remember, a loving Heavenly Father has a plan for His young adults, and part of that plan is marriage and children,” President Oaks said.

Related Story
President Oaks calls on young adults to ‘stand fast with love’ in proclaiming truth

A reminder about dating

For many years, the Church has counseled youth not to date before age 16. “Perhaps some young adults, especially men, have carried that wise counsel to excess and determined not to date before age 26 or maybe even 36,” President Oaks said.

He then reiterated dating counsel he gave in 2005. To the single men, he said: “Gather your courage and look for someone to pair off with. Start with a variety of dates with a variety of young women, and when that phase yields a good prospect, proceed to courtship. … Men have the initiative, and you men should get on with it.”

A “date” must pass the test of three p’s: planned ahead, paid for and paired off, President Oaks explained. 

To the single women, Sister Oaks said, “Because I married at age 53, I know how the wait for a worthy companion feels, and the longing and heartache and tears on my pillow that often accompanied it.”

Waiting for a worthy companion can be full of heartache, she noted, to both women and men who desire it. “The struggle is real. Dating and even not dating can be stressful.”

To those marking time waiting for a marriage prospect, “stop waiting and start preparing” through education, experience and planning, she said.

“Don’t wait for happiness to be thrust upon you. Seek out opportunities for service, for learning, and most importantly, trust in the Lord, ‘calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come’ (Mosiah 4:11). I promise, as you do, happiness will come to you,” Sister Oaks said.

Although President Oaks originally gave that dating advice back in 2005, “leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ are just as concerned about marriage as we were 20 years ago,” he said.

To young adults worried about the shortage of affordable homes and increasing amounts of student debt, President Oaks encouraged: “Go forward with faith, and do the best you can in housing market circumstances less favorable than I and your grandparents encountered in our early years. And, especially, work to minimize student debt. In God’s plan we can have it all, but not in the sequence the world seems to dictate.”

President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency and Sister Kristen M. Oaks speak to young adults during a Worldwide Devotional on Sunday, May 21, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Applying both the first and second commandments

President Oaks encouraged youth to establish in their minds the truth that they are beloved children of God. “His love endows you with the self-respect, the strength and the motivation to move against whatever problems you face in your life. And never forget that His servants love you. We love you.”

A 16-year-old young woman he called Amy recently sent President Oaks a letter expressing that she wants to do what is right but feels surrounded by values and behaviors she feels to be wrong, and she doesn’t know what to do about it.

In her letter, Amy writes about Church friends who are confused about their gender, a condition called gender dysphoria. “I have pondered this subject for some time,” President Oaks said. “Now, in the love I feel for those concerned with such subjects, I have felt impressed by the Spirit to use this opportunity to emphasize some of the precious truths the gospel of Jesus Christ reveals to help us with such confusions.” 

When Jesus was asked which is the great commandment, He gave two: First, to love God, which individuals show by keeping His commandments, and second, to love one’s neighbor.

“We must do both, and that is not easy,” President Oaks said. “Many of us have a tendency to give less attention to loving our neighbor and to overemphasize keeping the law [commandments]. That is surely my tendency because of my legal training. … However, it is also vital for each of us to keep the second commandment, which is ‘like unto it,’ to love our neighbors the way Jesus loved us.”

Vocalists Ethan Anderl and Anna Gubbay, violinist Erika Hubbard and pianist Suzannah Rose perform during the Worldwide Devotional from the Conference Center Theater with President Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 21, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Savior offers a divine example of keeping both commandments. In John 8, a group of Pharisees and scribes bring a woman to be judged. Their intent, President Oaks explained, was to trap the Savior in contradicting either the law of Moses or the law of Rome, which did not allow for the capital punishment directed by the law of Moses for the woman’s sin.

The Savior effectively disarmed those who sought immediate application of the law by saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (verse 7). The Savior then applied the power of love. “He mercifully declined to condemn the woman, and that loving act lifted her to a new life,” President Oaks said. “The application of the law would come later, when she would be judged on the whole of her life, including repentance. But on that earlier occasion, the Savior extended love and mercy by refraining from condemning and then affirmed the law by saying ‘go, and sin no more’” (verse 11).

The need to apply both law and love, with inspired balance and timing, is ever present, President Oaks continued.  

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Putting the first commandment first does not diminish our ability to keep the second commandment. To the contrary, it amplifies and strengthens it. … Our love of God elevates our ability to love others more fully and perfectly because we in essence partner with God in the care of His children” (“The First Commandment First,” BYU devotional, March 22, 2022).

Audience members listen as President Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, speak to young adults of the church during a Worldwide Devotional from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 21, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In a previous talk, President Oaks referred to “continually trying to balance the dual commandments of love and law” (“The Paradox of Love and Law,” BYU–Idaho devotional, Oct. 30, 2018). “But I now believe that goal to be better expressed as trying to live both of these commandments in a more complete way. Anyone who does not treat individuals who face gender identity challenges with love and dignity is not aligned with the teachings of the first and second great commandments. Thus, on the subject of God’s law, we need to remember that God has revealed again and again that He created male and female. And on the subject of our duty to love our neighbor, we need to remember that God has commanded us to love even those who do not keep all of the commandments.”

To individuals and their family members or friends who may be struggling with issues of confusion of identity, President Oaks said: “I urge you to apply both the law of the gospel and the love and mercy of our Savior and Redeemer, who will help and guide you, if you patiently walk in His paths. Jesus Christ, who said He was the ‘light of the world,’ teaches us the path we need to follow to realize our Heavenly Father’s choicest blessings. He teaches us through the scriptures, through His prophets and through personal revelation. He loves us and will guide us as we seek to follow where He leads us.”

To those who experience the feeling of being romantically attracted to persons of the same sex, President Oaks noted that, if not acted on, such attractions are not sins. “But how do we deal with such feelings, in us or in others?” he asked. “My first advice is to remember that whatever our own variations in the diversity of our Father in Heaven’s creations, He loves all of us, and His perfect plan of happiness has a place for all. We show our love for Him by keeping His commandments, including love for His children.”

President Oaks also echoed counsel from President Nelson to be careful with labels. “No identifier should displace, replace or take priority over these three enduring designations: ‘child of God,’ ‘child of the covenant’ and ‘disciple of Jesus Christ.’”

President Nelson also warned: “Any identifier that is not compatible with these three basic designations will ultimately let you down. Other labels will disappoint you in time because they do not have the power to lead you toward eternal life in the celestial kingdom of God” (“Choices for Eternity,” Worldwide Devotional to Young Adults, May 15, 2022).

What does have the power to lead individuals to eternal life in the celestial kingdom? Covenants made with God (“The Everlasting Covenant,” Oct. 6, 2022, Liahona).

In conclusion, Sister Oaks shared the story of the children of Israel being attacked by poisonous serpents in the wilderness. At God’s command, Moses fashions a staff — symbolizing the Savior, Jesus Christ — that the people must look to for healing. “Tonight, just like the Israelites, we are under attack for various beliefs we hold sacred. I ask you, too, to look to God and live. Look to the words spoken tonight, the words of our Prophet, the scriptures, the plan of salvation and your patriarchal blessings. Pray and the Lord will be with you.”

President Oaks reiterated the loving concerns shared during the devotional, including the role and timing of marriage and children, the need to diligently seek to know Jesus Christ and feel His love, and the need to observe the two great commandments. 

“In all our concerns, as we work through all our challenges, we urge that we be of good cheer, because He has overcome the world. We can too. Remember, our Father’s plan is a plan of happiness,” President Oaks said.

President Dallin H. Oaks stands at a pulpit while speaking to young adults of the Church during a Worldwide Devotional from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City.
President Dallin H. Oaks speaks to young adults of the church during a Worldwide Devotional from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 21, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Young adults were encouraged to gather with friends to watch the devotional.

Latter-day Saints in other areas of the world can watch the devotional on or stream it on Gospel Library or the Church’s YouTube channel. It will also be rebroadcast the afternoon and evening of May 28.

Related Story
President Nelson asks young adults, ‘Decide what kind of life you want to live forever’

How to watch

  • On the Church’s satellite system.
  • On (available for two weeks).
  • On YouTube, via both live and on-demand streaming in 10 languages — English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

Also, video files will be available in all broadcast languages in Gospel Library under “Young Adults” shortly after the broadcast.

Related Stories
Episode 96: Approaching his 90th birthday, President Dallin H. Oaks reflects on the lessons learned in nine decades
‘Live together with mutual respect for one another’s differences,’ says President Oaks
President Dallin H. Oaks: ‘The Teachings of Jesus Christ’
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed