President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 3: The Family

Throughout my time studying President Nelson’s conference addresses, I observed that one topic that he came back to over and over is families.  Whether it be decrying the fragmentation of families, encouraging men to pay more attention to their wives, or offering encouragement to women who are mothers, Russell M. Nelson has had a lot to say about families over the years.

In discussing this topic, this puts us here in the overall scheme of thing:

  1. Introductory Thoughts
  2. President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Phrases
      1. God and Power
      2. The Church, Priesthood, and Gathering Israel
      3. Family
      4. Plan of Salvation
  3. Examining the Sources in President Nelson’s Talks
  4. Potential Long-Term Impact of President Nelson’s Addresses

 

The Family

Two of the most frequently repeated statements from Russell M. Nelson are focused on families.  The first is: “The home is the great laboratory of love. There the raw chemicals of selfishness and greed are melded in the crucible of cooperation to yield compassionate concern and love one for another.”[1]  He sees families as an important training ground for individuals to learn to love, echoing the statement attributed to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther that “marriage is the school of love.”[2]  The second is that: “While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter,”[3] with temple covenants being essential to exaltation.  Together, these statements about families being essential to exaltation display a frequent focus in his talks and may be remembered as short Nelson-isms in the years to come.

President Nelson has repeatedly expressed the need for retention in future generations, building multi-generational families in the Church.  In one talk, he stated that: “Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.”[4]  In an earlier talk, he expressed that: “My heart aches when I learn of those who turn from the faith of their pioneer predecessors.”[5]  Hence, he has expressed that: “Parents have a divine duty to teach their children to love the Lord. Children have an equal obligation to ‘obey [their] parents in the Lord.’”[6] His ultimate hope is that our home will “become a true sanctuary of faith, where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell,”[7] and serve as “the first line of defense” for eternal families.[8]

In many of his talks, President Nelson has also expressed concerns about what he has called “the curse of family fragmentation.”[9]  He decries sexual sins and other social trends that he sees as contributing to this fragmentation: “The seditious evils of pornography, abortion, and addiction to harmful substances serve as termites to erode the undergirding strength of a happy home and a faithful family. We cannot yield to any iniquity without putting our families at risk.”[10]  This statement summarizes several different discussions that occur in the texts of his talks, along with a general concern about sexual immorality.

Marriage

President Nelson has frequently discussed how to keep a marriage happy and healthy in his conference talks.  His belief is that: “An ideal marriage is a true partnership between two imperfect people, each striving to complement the other, to keep the commandments, and to do the will of the Lord.”[11]  He emphasizes that: “Marriages would be happier if nurtured more carefully,”[12] and has expressed concern that too often, “less important appointments are often given priority, leaving only leftover moments for listening to precious partners.”[13]  His encouragement is to focus on the marriage relationship, stating that: “An enduring marriage results when both husband and wife regard their union as one of the two most important commitments they will ever make.”[14]  Prioritizing marriages and focusing on time and communication within that relationship is a frequently-repeated theme in his general conference talks.

Much of this emphasis on focusing on marriages is geared towards men.  For example, on one occasion, he expressed concern about a man he saw on an airplane whose wifewould nestle close to him and rest her head upon his shoulder, seeking his companionship” while the man “was focused solely upon an electronic game player” for the entire journey.[15]  Even for Church leaders, he noted that when he asked them “about the priorities of their various responsibilities … too few remember their responsibilities at home.”  In contrast, his belief is that: “Your foremost priesthood duty is to nurture your marriage—to care for, respect, honor, and love your wife.”[16]  In practical terms, he has encouraged men to “help with the dishes, care for a crying baby, and change a diaper. And perhaps some Sunday you could get the children ready for Church, and your wife could sit in the car and honk.”[17]  As a young married man, this is some of President Nelson’s teachings that were most potent and inspirational to me.

Women and Motherhood

Russell M. Nelson has spoken frequently to women, most often expressing gratitude and praise for their role as mothers or their influence as teachers of the gospel.  For example, in one talk he noted that: “Loving parent. What a noble title! There are no greater roles in life for a man than those of husband and father. Likewise, there are no greater roles for a woman than those of wife and mother.”[18]  In another talk, he noted that: “No one can do what a righteous woman can do. No one can duplicate the influence of a mother.”  He even went on to say that: “Through the years, whenever I have been asked why I chose to become a medical doctor, my answer has always been the same: ‘Because I could not choose to be a mother.’”[19]  He has encouraged boys and men to honor the women in their lives, telling young men to “learn now to show respect and gratitude” to women,[20] and that “the best thing that a father can do for his children is to ‘love their mother.’”[21]  Praise for women and motherhood is a frequent focus for President Nelson.

Yet, at times the way he discussed the roles of women rubbed me wrong.  To me, it felt like he offered praise for motherhood to the exclusion of all other potential roles for women, believing that “women were prepared that they may bear children and glorify God.”[22]  In marriage, while he talks about the idea of a partnership (“neither dominion nor subservience, but a lateral relationship as partners, to work and to live, side by side”),[23] he usually focuses on the roles of women in that partnership as being limited to teaching the gospel, shaping her children and husband into what they need to be to serve God, and bearing children.[24]  He tended to pigeonhole women as having innate characteristics related to nurturing (i.e., “her divine gift is to nurture, to help the young, to care for the poor, to lift the brokenhearted”), portraying attributes that women might gain or exemplify by looking outside of traditional roles in negative terms: “being selfish,” exercising “dominion,” and seeking “notoriety.”[25]  Even for those women who have not had the opportunity to marry, often the best he could come up with were things like: “The virtue and intelligence of women are uniquely applicable to other realms as well, such as compassionate service and teaching,”[26] and that “every women is a mother by virtue of her eternal divine destiny.”[27]  While I recognize that motherhood is important and I respect his efforts to praise that role, his perspective struck me as being patriarchal and narrow-minded in regards to the potential of women beyond bearing and raising children on many occasions (though that may be the result of a generational gap between him and me or a particular sensitivity to this topic on my part).

That being said, President Nelson has also been an advocate in his words for women to make their voices heard and the idea that they are equal with men in God’s eyes.  He sees men and women as being equal in God’s eyes because they have equal opportunities for salvation: “Blessings of the priesthood are shared by men and women. All may qualify for baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. All may take upon themselves the name of the Lord and partake of the sacrament. All may pray and receive answers to their prayers. Gifts of the Spirit and testimonies of the truth are bestowed regardless of gender. Men and women receive the highest ordinance in the house of the Lord together and equally, or not at all.”[28]  He has expressed that because women “possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God,” we need to hear and listen to their voices in Church councils and in family councils.  As he told women in the Church on one occasion: “Whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils.”[29]

Conclusion

While much of this post discusses topics and concerns that aren’t particularly unique to Russell M. Nelson among modern Church leaders, no discussion of frequent topics in his general conference addresses would be complete while neglecting his interest in families.  Whether it be his memorable quotes that “the home is the great laboratory of love” and that “while salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter”; his encouragement and advice to parents and partners in marriage; or his respect and admiration for mothers, concerns relating to families are central topics in President Nelson’s ministry.

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women,” CR April 1999, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1999/04/our-sacred-duty-to-honor-women?lang=eng, see also “The Canker of Contention,” CR April 1989, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/04/the-canker-of-contention?lang=eng and “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR April 2008, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng

[2] Cited in Eugene England, “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel,” Eugene England Foundation, http://eugeneengland.org/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/1999_e_004.pdf.  I haven’t been able to find the original quote.

[3] “Celestial Marriage,” CR October 2008, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/10/celestial-marriage?lang=eng, see also “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR April 2008, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng and “Come, Follow Me,” CR April 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/46nelson?lang=eng

[4] “A Plea to My Sisters,” CR October 2015, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2015/10/a-plea-to-my-sisters?lang=eng

[5] “Roots and Branches,” CR April 2004, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2004/04/roots-and-branches?lang=eng.

[6] “Listen to Learn, CR April 1991, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1991/04/listen-to-learn?lang=eng

[7] “Closing Remarks,” CR April 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/57nelson?lang=eng

[8] “Embrace the Future with Faith,”  CR Oct 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/37nelson?lang=eng

[9] “Repentance and Conversion,” CR April 2007, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2007/04/repentance-and-conversion?lang=eng

[10] “Set in Order Thy House,” CR October 2001, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2001/10/set-in-order-thy-house?lang=eng

[11] “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women,” CR April 1999, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1999/04/our-sacred-duty-to-honor-women?lang=eng

[12] “Nurturing Marriage,” CR April 2006, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2006/04/nurturing-marriage?lang=eng

[13] “Listen to Learn, CR April 1991, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1991/04/listen-to-learn?lang=eng

[14] “Endure and Be Lifted Up,” CR October 1997, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1997/04/endure-and-be-lifted-up?lang=eng

[15] “Nurturing Marriage,” CR April 2006, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2006/04/nurturing-marriage?lang=eng

[16] “Nurturing Marriage,” CR April 2006, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2006/04/nurturing-marriage?lang=eng See also “We Can Do Better and Be Better,” CR April 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/36nelson?lang=eng

[17] “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women,” CR April 1999, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1999/04/our-sacred-duty-to-honor-women?lang=eng

[18] “Woman—Of Infinite Worth,” CR October 1989, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/10/woman-of-infinite-worth?lang=eng

[19] “Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel,” CR October 2018, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/10/sisters-participation-in-the-gathering-of-israel?lang=eng.  One wonders whether he would have considered the possibility of being a stay-at-home father if he had the opportunity, though I understand that wasn’t so much a thing back in his generation.

[20] “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women, CR, April 1999, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1999/04/our-sacred-duty-to-honor-women?lang=eng

[21] “Endure and Be Lifted Up,” CR October 1997, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1997/04/endure-and-be-lifted-up?lang=eng

[22] “Roots and Branches,” CR April 2004, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2004/04/roots-and-branches?lang=eng.

[23] “Lessons from Eve,” CR October 1987, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1987/10/lessons-from-eve?lang=eng

[24] See, for example, “Woman—Of Infinite Worth,” CR October 1989, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/10/woman-of-infinite-worth?lang=eng

[25] “Woman—Of Infinite Worth,” CR October 1989, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/10/woman-of-infinite-worth?lang=eng

[26] “Woman—Of Infinite Worth,” CR October 1989, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/10/woman-of-infinite-worth?lang=eng

[27] “Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel,” CR October 2018, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/10/sisters-participation-in-the-gathering-of-israel?lang=eng.

[28] “Woman—Of Infinite Worth,” CR October 1989, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/10/woman-of-infinite-worth?lang=eng

[29] “A Plea to My Sisters,” CR October 2015, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2015/10/a-plea-to-my-sisters?lang=eng

9 comments for “President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 3: The Family

  1. From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art.

    Michel Foucault

  2. “Because I could not choose to be a mother.’” Yeah, this read really off to me too. My first thought was that plenty of men are doing shared parenting or the stay-at-home-dad thing. Not back when he was in college of course, but maybe he could encourage more couples to opp for this if they desired it since it was something he wanted and it is now totally doable…?

  3. I have been married to one woman for 50 years, more than RMN. I do not believe polygamy is good, and one wife will be plenty for me. I also believe that gay people being able to marry, enlarges marriage.

    His view of marriage is closer to the views my parents had. He is sadly a man of his age/times, limited by that thinking.

    I was impressed how many times, all are alike unto God was quoted in conference, and disturbed that it could be applied to black and white, but not male and female, or gay and straigh.

  4. Since “Gifts of the Spirit … are bestowed regardless of gender” how is it that women “possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition … received as gifts from God” because they are women?
    I suppose my muddled thinking doesn’t follow the same paths as RMN’s muddled thinking. But sometimes I succeed in reading his apparently factual statements as aspirational statements instead. Of course, his aspirations may not always match those of others or the reality experienced by others.

  5. Geoff AUS
    The one big problem here is that gay marriage is not compatible with the gospel and will not be around after this life.

  6. Wondering, I’ve wondered about similar things quite a bit over the years when it comes to the rhetoric surrounding men and women being innately inclined to certain traits in their natures based on their biological sex.

  7. Jon, You seem almost as convinced you are right, as I am. You continually make that assertion, with no plausible evidence.

    So God creates 0.01% of his children LDS, and he creates 5% of his children gay. 50 times as many gays (or is it 500). By your reasoning a proportion of mormons (you but not me) will be exalted, but no gays. What is he thinking? What a waste of resources.

    I agree wondering and chad. Thinking from 50 or 60 years ago, when men were masters, and women knew their place.

  8. I believe in the Gospel, but this is where I get off the ship. I just know too many people that never married, don’t have children, are divorced or widowed and alone, families that don’t speak or are abusive, etc. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for neat and tidy nuclear families. If you actually READ the New Testament, you can see that the Savior was very down on “family first.” He pushed back on that idea every chance he got.

  9. I think that the “while salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter” line has been widely misunderstood and deserves more attention. When I teach this principle, I always remind the audience that there is only one family–the family of Adam and Eve. It could just as easily be worded “while salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a collective matter”, but that terminology carries too much political baggage. Consider all of the collective stuff in the temple–the “blood and sins of this generation”, covenants simultaneously made by “you” (collectively) and “each of you” (individually), everything about the sealing of parents to children…Exaltation is not just salvation on steroids–it is a completely different process. President Nelson is trying to get us to think that way.

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