Elder Tad R. Callister: A fence at the top or an ambulance at the bottom?

If you were asked, “What is the greatest challenge facing our nation today?” how would you respond? The economy, national security, immigration, gun control, poverty, racism, crime, pandemics, climate change? While each of these is a valid concern and deserves attention, I do not believe that any of them strikes at the heart of our greatest challenge — a return to family and moral values. To put our prime focus on other challenges is to strike at the leaves, not the root, of the problem. It is, as some have noted, to put an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather than a fence at the top.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World” confirms the essentiality of the family unit to the well-being of society: “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.” The proclamation then warns “that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” It then concludes: “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

It was the year 1833. The First Presidency of the Church had been reorganized, composed of Joseph Smith, the Prophet; Sidney Rigdon, first counselor; and Frederick G. Williams, second counselor. One might wonder what new truths, what divine disclosures, what breathtaking insights would be revealed to this newly called First Presidency. Certainly, glorious truths were revealed (see Doctrine and Covenants 93), but the climax of this revelation focused on the basics of the gospel, for in essence each of these men was instructed to “set in order [his] own house” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:43; see also verses 44, 48).

The message to these men likewise applies to each of us — we must first set in order our own homes in order to have a prosperous society. Former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr addressed the critical nature of families and moral values, and in doing so addressed some governmental programs that are counterproductive to their advancement:

“Instead of addressing the underlying cause, we have the state in the role of alleviator of bad consequences. So the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but abortion. The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites. The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the state to set itself up as the ersatz husband for single mothers and the ersatz father to their children. The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with the wreckage. While we think we are solving problems, we are underwriting them.”

Elder Tad R. Callister
Elder Tad R. Callister Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

How right he is. How often we choose worldly solutions that nurture rather than nullify existing issues of immorality. How often we adopt a new sin in an effort to cover or hide an existing one and in the process compound rather than resolve the problem at hand. This is the modus operandi of Satan.

His plan is in direct opposition to the family proclamation. It is an insidious attempt to destroy the nuclear family and God’s moral values. He disguises his plan of attack with alluring labels such as “pro-choice” for abortion, “love and compassion” for endorsement of same-sex marriage, and “environmental emergency” for promotion of a zero-growth population agenda. Each of these proposals, however, constitutes a frontal attack on the family unit and its survival. These “solutions” are nothing less than time bombs wrapped with glitter and a glamorous bow. Ultimately, the day of reckoning will come and the explosion will occur. One cannot circumvent God’s commands and expect to escape the divine consequences, regardless of how decorated the package may be or how cosmetically appealing the language may sound.

If our prime focus is to promote family and moral values, then we will experience the consequences that flow from such efforts — less crime and drug abuse, less fraud and abuse, fewer divorces and lawsuits, fewer babies born out of wedlock, more ethical employees and employers, a reduction in welfare cases, less contention and hate, and a resurgence of faith in God. Then we will have a solid foundation upon which to build a society entitled to God’s blessings. Then we will have a fence at the top of the cliff rather than the need for an ambulance at the bottom.

The colonists understood this. Arthur Schlesinger wrote, “Although colonial life was woven of many strands — English, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, French, German and so on — all the new groups, whatever their ethnic differences, shared the common belief that the family was, in Franklin’s phrase, thesacred cement of all societies.’”

No government program or policy can compensate for lack of strong families and moral values. There is no adequate substitute or replacement for them. They are the sacred cement that holds our society together as a nation. To believe and act otherwise is to build our national hopes and aspirations on a foundation of sand, like the house of the foolish man in the parable of Christ: “The rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:27).

Hopefully, we will be archdefenders of the nuclear family and God’s moral values. As we do so, we will experience an outpouring of the Spirit in our homes and nation. Then we will see the fulfillment of God’s promise: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

— Elder Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president.