This special guest blog post comes from former General Relief Society Board member Mary Ellen Edmunds. Sister Edmunds was serving as a member of the General Relief Society Board and seated on the stand when The Family: A Proclamation to the World was announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley. We are absolutely thrilled she has shared her thoughts and testimony of this historic occasion!
MEMORIES OF SATURDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER, 1995
I’ll never forget the evening of Saturday, 23 September, 1995. I was serving as a member of the General Board of the Relief Society and President Elaine L. Jack had told us a few weeks earlier that President Gordon B. Hinckley was deciding whether to read the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” in General Conference or in the General Relief Society meeting. She announced to us shortly before the General Relief Society meeting that he had decided to read it that evening. We were thrilled! We could feel the importance of the Proclamation—only the fifth to be issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles! (Please see below for a list of all five official proclamations).
I arrived early for a special prayer meeting in a room under the Tabernacle with our presidency (Elaine L. Jack, Chieko N. Okazai, and Ailene H. Clyde) and General Board members. We greeted the choir (sisters from the American Fork area). Elder Pace arrived and gave a short message to us in our prayer meeting. Elder and Sister Oaks arrived as well; he was whispering to us, saving his voice for conference. Aileen conducted. Carol Thomas offered the prayer. Quoting from my journal:
We started upstairs, and Elder Oaks asked that we wait to go out (to our seats). He said the First Presidency wanted to greet us. We felt sad that two of our General Board members had already gone out to greet people (which is what all of us usually did). But we obeyed and waited. Pretty soon, here came President James E. Faust, and President Gordon B. Hinckley. We were able to shake hands with both of them. What a privilege! I wrote in my journal that “I do NOT like being in front like that in the big red seats.” I was uncomfortable being there, but it did give a good chance to see friends. I was able to greet Sister Barbara B. Smith, Sister Marjorie P. Hinckley, Sister Ruth W. Faust, and others.
The meeting was just wonderful. The music was beautiful. Elaine was strong and cheerful and optimistic. Chieko was typically excellent and tender. She used her Father’s fishing net as her visual aid. Aileen was brilliant and so good. And President Hinckley was a Prophet. No doubt about it. He began by saying he was going to go a little long, and that if some had dates and were late they could blame it on him. Oh he’s so fantastic and wonderful!!
And then it was time for the Proclamation. He prefaced it with this:
“With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history. I now take the opportunity of reading to you this proclamation … “
I will not include the Proclamation since it is readily available, but it is my hope and earnest invitation to everyone to read and study and ponder it again. I wrote in my journal: He read a Proclamation about families … A clear trumpet sound. It was a privilege just to be there. I spent time with family and friends after the meeting. I had such a feeling of joy, and also a deep desire to study and understand the Proclamation.
I think this 20 year anniversary is a time for each of us to re-read, re-study, re-acquaint ourselves with this critical document. As I’ve been writing about it and thinking about it, because it’s a Proclamation, I’m thinking we can possibly be judged by it. I hope you understand my meaning. I consider it to be scriptural, just as I do the General Conference issues of the Ensign.
In connection with this, I share a quote from President Howard W. Hunter:
Much inspired counsel by prophets, seers, revelators, and other General Authorities of the Church is given during general conference. Our modern-day prophets have encouraged us to make the reading of the conference editions of our Church magazines an important and regular part of our personal study. Thus, general conference becomes, in a sense, a supplement to or an extension of the Doctrine and Covenants. In addition to the conference issues of the Church magazines, the First Presidency writes monthly articles that contain inspired counsel for our welfare. (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 212; emphasis added).
Apparently there are some who feel that the Proclamation on the Family is not scripture and also not doctrine. Ponder this from the Doctrine and Covenants 68:4:
And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
Remember that before President Hinckley read the Proclamation, he did not read it as something “new” (please read again what he said in the paragraph before he read the Proclamation). That will be a reminder that the Proclamation was intended to be a reconfirmation of doctrines taught by those Church leaders whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators of the Church.
President Boyd K. Packer said:
In 1995 that great document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was prepared by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles…. The hope is that Latter-day Saints will recognize the transcendent importance of the family and live in such a spiritually attentive way that the adversary cannot steal into the home and carry away the children. … ” (Boyd K. Packer, “Fledgling Finches and Family Life,” BYU Campus Education Week Devotional, 18 August 2009, emphasis added).
President Henry B. Eyring made the significance of the Proclamation clear as he described the weight which the Apostles consider it:
Since the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a proclamation only four times. It had been more than 15 years since the previous one, which described the progress the Church had made in 150 years of its history. Thus, we can understand the importance our Heavenly Father places upon the family, the subject of the fifth and most recent proclamation, given on 23 September 1995 (President Henry B. Eyring, “The Family,” Ensign (February 1998).
As well, Elder David B. Haight said this: That marvelous document [the Proclamation] brings together the scriptural direction that we have received that has guided the lives of God’s children from the time of Adam and Eve and will continue to guide us until the final winding-up scene.” (David B. Haight, “Be A Strong Link,” Ensign (November 2000).
I’d like to share parts of a message given by President Boyd K. Packer in a Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting. It helps us know how the Proclamation came about. Here is the excerpt:
Not too many years ago there came a movement in the world having to do with the family. The United Nations called a council on the family in Beijing, China. We sent delegations to that council on the family and to other councils that were held. And then it was announced that one of them would be held near our headquarters, and we thought, “Well, if they are coming here, we had better proclaim ourselves.
A proclamation in the Church is a significant, major announcement. Very few of them have been issued from the beginning of the Church. They are significant; they are revelatory. And at that time, this was a little more than 10 years ago, the Brethren issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It is scripturelike in its power.
Now, you will hear in the other presentations that are made many references to the proclamation on the family. I thought it would be of good purpose to read it to you. We know we’ve read it. But if we read it slowly and carefully and articulate it very well, it may have more revelation than you thought was there. (President Boyd K. Packer, “The Proclamation on the Family,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Building Up a Righteous Posterity, February 9, 2008)
As I close this message about the Proclamation on the Family, I want to add one more thing. I’m adding it because of the Mormon Women Stand organization and mission statement. This is from President Gordon B. Hinckley in a Leadership Training meeting in January 2004 and the title of his remarks is “Standing Strong and Immovable.” Here is just a small part of what he shared:
We call upon the women of the Church to stand together for righteousness. They must begin in their own homes. They can teach it in their classes. They can voice it in their communities. They must be the teachers and the guardians of their daughters. Those daughters must be taught in the Primary and in the classes of the Young Women of the values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints. When you save a girl, you save generations. She will grow in strength and righteousness. She will marry in the house of the Lord. She will teach her children to ways of truth. They will walk in her paths and will similarly teach their children. Wonderful grandmothers will be there to lend encouragement. I see this as the one bright shining hope in a world that is marching toward self‑destruction. (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Church News, 17 Jan 2004).
Author Mary Ellen Edmunds has served as a missionary in Taiwan, Hong Kong, twice in the Philippines, and in Indonesia, and she directed a child health project in Nigeria, West Africa. She was a director of training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and served as a member of the Relief Society general board for eleven years. Mary Ellen is a frequent presenter at BYU Education Week, Women’s Conference and Time Out For Women. She is the author of many books and talks, including Peculiar—in a Good Way; MEE Thinks; Love Is a Verb; and Tug of War. She enjoys her family, teaching, writing, people, music, thinking, serving, and being a happifier.
NOTES ON OFFICIAL PROCLAMATIONS
(Please also see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1151, 1153, 1155, 1156, and archives for the 1980 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
* PROCLAMATION 1: Issued on January 15, 1841 by the First Presidency consisting of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Hyrum Smith. This proclamation “reviews the progress of the Church in spite of hardships and persecution, and speaks at length on the prospects of the settlement of Nauvoo.”
* PROCLAMATION 2: Issued April 6 in New York and on October 22, 1845 by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (who were currently serving as the governing of the Church because a First Presidency had not yet been re-organized) and was “addressed to the rulers and people of all nations” and “was an announcement that God had spoken from the heavens and restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth.”
* PROCLAMATION 3: Issued October 21, 1865, by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the purpose of “correct[ing] certain theories about the nature of God that had been published by one of the Twelve in official Church literature, without having those statements cleared and verified by the First Presidency and the Twelve.”
*PROCLAMATION 4: Issued on April 6, 1980 by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the organization of the church. This proclamation was concerning the progress, doctrine, mission, and message of the Church, and also mentioned in some detail about the family.
* PROCLAMATION 5: Issued on September 23, 1995 by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “The Family: Proclamation to the World.” as “a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history.”