Where the Family is Safe

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 298th week, and we’re covering the Saturday Morning session of the April 1994 General Conference.

Several themes stood out to me from this session, and a couple of them line up with thoughts I’ve been having in my own scripture study. First, I liked what Elder Faust taught about those of us who aren’t especially talented being able to contribute to the Church in his talke Five Loaves and Two Fishes.Although some of us have been “given minds and talents equal to fifteen loaves and ten fishes,” he taught that “if God has a work for those with many talents, I believe he also has an important work for those of us who have few.”

I had similar thoughts reading Helaman Helaman 5, which I posted publicly on Facebook.You can read the whole thing, but what struck me was how God used both spiritual giants from the Book of Mormon’s most elite spiritual dynasty (Nephi and Lehi, descended from Alma the Elder) and some random apostates to do his work. If you’re trying to feed 5,000 people, does it actually matter if you start out with 10 loaves or with 15? Individual differences in talent and ability don’t matter without God, because we are all unprofitable servants, and they don’t really matter with God, either, because as long as he’s multiplying the loaves and fishes there will always be enough.

I was also struck–one again, this is probably the single most consistently surprising thing since I started the General Conference Odyssey–by how consistent the teachings of the General Authorities are. There’s a kind of folk history of the Church that says in the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s the Church was much more austere and punitive and that only in the very recent years has the Church softened its positions. 

Now, there’s certainly some truth to that. The Church has matured and deepened its position on some moral issues. But the narrative hides more than it illuminates. And what it hides is how similar the teachings have been across the decades. Here are a few things taught in this session that demonstrate my point.

First: bad things can happen to good people. This is a tough teaching, but a mature and vitally important one. Elder Scott discussed it in his talk, To Be Healed:

It is important to understand that His healing can mean being cured, or having your burdens eased, or even coming to realize that it is worth it to endure to the end patiently, for God needs brave sons and daughters who are willing to be polished when in His wisdom that is His will.

Recognize that some challenges in life will not be resolved here on earth….Don’t look for a life virtually free from discomfort, pain, pressure, challenge, or grief, for those are the tools a loving Father uses to stimulate our personal growth and understanding.

Elder Jeppsen continued the theme in his talk, A Divine Prescription for Spiritual Healing, quoting Spencer W. Kimball:

If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled. … No man would have to live by faith. … There would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life

Another teaching that seems contemporary but has in fact been there all along (or at least certainly back to the 1970s when I started this Odyssey), is the teaching that–in contrast to the stereotype of domineering, authoritative patriarchs–men must be gentle and loving towards their families and treat their wives as equal partners.

Elder Choules taught this in A Child’s Love Matured

No man—particularly one who bears the priesthood—has the right to treat any woman unkindly, especially his wife, with whom he would hope to share eternal joy. Certainly unrighteous dominion cannot be excused upon the mistaken notion that permission comes by being the husband, head of the family, and particularly under the umbrella or authority of the priesthood. The scripture is clear that when sacred authority is abused, the authority of the priesthood is withdrawn (see D&C 121:34–37)

He then quoted Elder Ballard (from just the previous conference), who said:

Any man who claims the special powers of heaven for his own selfish purposes and seeks to use the priesthood in any degree of unrighteousness in the Church or in the home simply does not understand the nature of his authority. Priesthood is for service, not servitude; compassion, not compulsion; caring, not control. Those who think otherwise are operating outside the parameters of priesthood authority.

Elder Packer taught the same thing this session in his talk, The Father and the Family: “Your wife is your partner in the leadership of the family and should have full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating to your home.”

He went on to acknowledge that the men of the Church were failing in this regard, saying:

 I speak to the men of the Church. Most of you are worthy fathers and husbands who do what you should do. But there are women whose hearts have been broken and children who are neglected, even abused.

If we are to help them, we must begin with the men. The next series of stake and regional conferences will be devoted to teaching the doctrines and principles of responsible and worthy manhood.

Although this anti-authoritarian teaching and emphasis on soft masculinity is there, the Church’s steadfast opposition to liberalizing social mores is also present. There’s an apparent tension there, one that has only grown stronger in recent years. 

When we speak plainly of divorce, abuse, gender identity, contraception, abortion, parental neglect, we are thought by some to be way out of touch or to be uncaring. Some ask if we know how many we hurt when we speak plainly. Do we know of marriages in trouble, of the many who remain single, of single-parent families, of couples unable to have children, of parents with wayward children, or of those confused about gender? Do we know? Do we care?

Those who ask have no idea how much we care; you know little of the sleepless nights, of the endless hours of work, of prayer, of study, of travel—all for the happiness and redemption of mankind.

Because we do know and because we do care, we must teach the rules of happiness without dilution, apology, or avoidance. That is our calling.

That paragraph is eerily similar to what Elder Holland said in his address at the BYU Annual University Conference in August 2021.

In that spirit, let me go no farther before declaring unequivocally my love and that of my Brethren for those who live with this same-sex challenge and so much complexity that goes with it. Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters. Like many of you, we have spent hours with them, and wept and prayed and wept again in an effort to offer love and hope while keeping the gospel strong and the obedience to commandments evident in every individual life.

But it will assist everyone in providing such help if things can be kept in some proportion and balance in the process. For example, we have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy, or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people. As near as I can tell, Christ never once withheld His love from anyone, but He also never once said to anyone, “Because I love you, you are exempt from keeping my commandments.” We are tasked with trying to strike that same sensitive, demanding balance in our lives.

The Apostles saw then–referring to Elder Packer’s 1994 talk–that their refusal to budge on “the rules of happiness” was going to lead to conflict with the world, too. “The distance between the Church and a world set on a course which we cannot follow will steadily increase,” he said. 

It’s encouraging for me to see the consistency of the Church’s teachings through the decades. It’s encouraging for me to hear Elder Packer avow that “the family is safe within the Church.” And it’s also encourage to hear the prophecy that, as the world devalues and undermines the family, those in the world who want to find a safe haven for their own families will increasingly turn to the Lord’s Restored Church. 

While “some will fall away into apostasy, break their covenants, and replace the plan of redemption with their own rules,” Elder Packer stated that “across the world, those who now come by the tens of thousands will inevitably come as a flood to where the family is safe.”

Note: This post is dated August 17, 2021 to keep it in line with the General Conference Odyssey schedule, but I am catching up and actually wrote it in October 20210, which is why it references content that is more recent than Aug 17, 2021.

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