As we come to the closing minutes of this great conference, our souls are subdued and lifted by the inspiring messages of counsel and hope we have heard. I come prayerfully to this pulpit—not to judge, but to teach and to caution.
Recently I saw on the wall of a stake president’s office in Brisbane, Australia, a picture of a sad-faced little girl. Above the picture was written “Will I Be Happy?” I suppose everyone in the world could ask that question: “Will I be happy?” The Savior himself prayed that all of his disciples “might have … joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).
I wish to speak of a hope that children will know a future filled with some happiness and peace. No gift bestowed upon us is so precious as children. They are proof that God still loves us. They are the hope of the future.
In today’s world, I cannot help wondering, Who will love them enough to help them be happy? Who will love them enough to teach them faith and moral values? They must learn so much more than survival and self-gratification. There is such a great need for the teaching of the heart and not enough of the civilizing part of education. Where will children learn virtue? Who will care for them enough to mold their moral character? How can they become humane, kind, and happy and make life richer for themselves and others?
This teaching of the next generation is not easy in a society where many fundamental beliefs are disappearing. Deadly mass marketing challenges almost every cherished human value. Excessive permissiveness under the banner of individual freedom is one driving force behind this. Reaching a public consensus on what values should be taught to the next generation is almost impossible. People strongly disagree about almost everything. Social restraints are weakened.
This means we will have to teach our children a life-style of our own and provide moral anchors in the sea of self-indulgence, self-interest, and self-service in which they float.
How can this tide of wrong values be reversed? Can anything be done to combat these challenges? May I suggest three ways to increase the hope that the next generation will grow up with a greater chance to find some continued happiness.
First, adults need to understand, and our children should be taught, that private choices are not private; they all have public consequences.
There is a popular notion that doing our own thing or doing what feels good is our own business and affects no one but us. The deadly scourges that are epidemic all over the world have flourished in the context of this popular notion. But this is simply not true.
All immoral behavior directly impacts society. Even innocent people are affected. Drug and alcohol abuse have public consequences, as do illegitimacy, pornography, and obscenity. The public cost in human life and tax dollars for these so-called private choices is enormous: poverty, crime, a less-educated work force, and mounting demands for government spending to fix problems that cannot be fixed by money. It simply is not true that our private conduct is our own business. Our society is the sum total of what millions of individuals do in their private lives. That sum total of private behavior has worldwide public consequences of enormous magnitude. There are no completely private choices.
Second, adults and children need to know that public and private morality is not outmoded. We need to love our children enough to teach them that laws, policies, and public programs with a moral and ethical basis are necessary for the preservation of a peaceful, productive, compassionate, and happy society. Without the qualities and characteristics of integrity, honesty, commitment, loyalty, respect for others, fidelity, and virtue, a free and open society cannot endure.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently responded to those who say, “Don’t legislate morality.” Said Elder Oaks: “I suppose persons who mouth that familiar slogan think they are saying something profound. In fact, if that is an argument at all, it is so superficial that an educated person should be ashamed to use it. As should be evident to every thinking person, a high proportion of all legislation has a moral base. That is true of the criminal law, most of the laws regulating family relations, businesses, and commercial transactions, many of the laws governing property, and a host of others” (“Gambling—Morally Wrong and Politically Unwise,” transcript of an address given at Ricks College, 6 Jan. 1987, p. 20).
Until recently, ethics and moral philosophy were the foundation of higher education. They were a legacy passed from generation to generation. Those values are as relevant today as when they were taught by Aristotle. Said he, “Man perfected by society is the best of all animals; he is the most terrible of all when he lives without law, and without justice” (Politics, 1.1253a, 31–34). Therefore, public and private morality need much greater emphasis everywhere.
The third, and most important, way to prepare our children for some lasting happiness is to fortify the family. For centuries the family was the bedrock of this and many other nations. It was the glue that held society together. Now many families are in trouble, and the glue is coming unstuck. As a result, many children are bewildered: they are growing physically but lack the support system, the disciplined moral framework, and the love and understanding that a strong family can provide.
It is in a home and with a family that values are usually acquired, traditions are fostered, and commitments to others are established. There are really no adequate substitutes. Church, school, and government programs can only reinforce and supplement that which is acquired at home.
To strengthen the family, the morals of human sexuality need to be restored. Bryce Christensen recently wrote, “Children who have watched parents treat one another with affection and courtesy already understand more about the relationship between the sexes than they will ever learn from any class in reproductive physiology” (The Family in America, Mar. 1987, 1:3).
By the word of the Lord, all men and women are to practice chastity before marriage and fidelity after marriage. “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” said the Lord (Ex. 20:14), “nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6). The Apostle Paul was more explicit in his epistle to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor. 6:9), as was Alma in the Book of Mormon (see Alma 39:1–13).
Alternatives to the legal and loving marriage between a man and a woman are helping to unravel the fabric of human society. That fabric, of course, is the family. These so-called alternative life-styles cannot be accepted as right because they frustrate God’s commandment for a life-giving union of male and female within a legal marriage (see Gen. 1:28). If practiced by all adults, these life-styles would mean the end of family.
The scriptures clearly and consistently condemn all sex relations outside of legal marriage as morally wrong. Why is this so? It is so because God said so. It is so because we are made in the image of God, male and female (see Gen. 1:27). We are his spirit children (see D&C 76:24). We were with him in the beginning (see D&C 93:23). Bringing to pass our exaltation is his work and glory (see Moses 1:39). We are directed to be the children of light (see D&C 106:5). We are heirs to eternal life. The Spirit gives light to every man and woman who comes into the world (see D&C 84:46).
What values can be taught most effectively in the home? By commandment, parents in this church are to teach their children faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 68:25). At home, in the warm security of discipline and love, we learn the values that never change. We learn the differences between right and wrong, as well as self-discipline, self-mastery, personal responsibility, all of the essentials of good character, concern for others, and civil manners.
Values, public as well as private, cannot last very long without being regenerated and sustained by religious belief; they are a matter of continued renewal. An awakening of faith and belief in religious values is essential. Family teachings are encouraged by the Church, and the Church, in turn, through its covenants and ordinances, unifies the eternal family. Our temples are testaments of our faith in the everlasting family.
Some say families can’t do the job because so many people just do not have families. It is true that a great many do not have a functioning family. Or it is said that too many families fail. Unfortunately, that is also true. However, with all its shortcomings, the family is far and away the greatest social unit, the best answer to human problems, in the history of mankind. Rather than further weaken family ties, they need to be strengthened. To aid parents, the Church has available a thoughtful booklet, A Parent’s Guide (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985). I would urge overburdened parents to accept every help. Cannot grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends also reinforce by example and precept their love and concern for members of the extended family?
My Aunt Angie has hand made 175 quilts for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and others. They are works of art; but more important, each is a labor of love. She can say to a member of her extended family, as she presents a specially made quilt, “Except when I pricked my finger, with every stitch I thought of my love for you.”
Good family life seems to have little to do with whether we are in affluent or humble circumstances. All over the world the poor have good, resilient families. They do their best to raise their children and be good neighbors; they are “money-poor” but “value-wealthy.” Family problems seem to fall on both the wealthy and the impoverished.
The White House Conference on Families reports that “Good families, rich or poor or in between, provide encouragement and support to their children, but no excuses. They teach character. They insist upon standards. They demand respect. They require performance” (The White House Report on the Family, Nov. 1986, p. 32).
The White House Report on the Family continues:
“For most … life is not a matter of legislative battles, judicial decrees and executive decisions. It is a fabric of helping hands and good neighbors; bedtime stories and shared prayers; loving-packed lunchboxes and household budget balancing; tears wiped away and a precious heritage passed along; it is hard work and a little put away for the future. In a healthy society, heroes are the men, women, children who hold the world together one home at a time; the parents and grandparents who forgo pleasures, delay purchases, foreclose options, and commit most of their lives to the noblest undertaking of citizenship; raising children who, resting on the shoulders of the previous generation, will see farther than we and reach higher” (pp. 8–9).
Troubled as many homes may be in our society, we cannot abandon the home as the primary teacher of moral values. Nowhere else will moral values be taught so effectively. As Brigham Young counseled, we must teach children “by faith rather than by the rod, leading them kindly by good example into all truth and holiness” (Journal of Discourses, 12:174).
There is a deep private and public need to retrieve for the children the comfort of belief and of belonging. The products of wealth, technology, and science all fail to satisfy inner spiritual hungering.
Without turning back to the word of our Creator, no one is wise enough to sort out what ethical, spiritual, and moral values should be taught to the next generation, and to their children, and to their children’s children.
There is reason for hope. More people seem to recognize that public solutions are not as effective as family solutions. Some authority seems to be returning to the head of the home. But, most important, I see many adults, mostly parents and grandparents, who are “crazy about kids.” If in the process we can bring back into our lives and into our homes sacred spiritual and moral truths, we will reclaim a sacred and precious part of our heritage.
Someone must love the children enough to do this. Then, if it is done everywhere, to the boys and girls who ask “Will I be happy?” we can answer: “Of course! You are going to be happy, and even more. If you keep the covenants and commandments of God, you will have the joy promised by the Savior when he walked upon the earth. You will have ‘peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come’ (D&C 59:23),” which is the ultimate message of this church to the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.