World Congress of Families IX: Panel discusses decline of faith, morality and family

Father Josiah Trenham addresses an audience during a plenary panel on the decline of faith Thursday morning at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City. (Steven Potter
Father Josiah Trenham addresses an audience during a plenary panel on the decline of faith Thursday morning at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City. (Steven Potter)

A four-person panel addressed a World Congress of Families IX audience on the casualties that result in the decline of faith in society Thursday morning at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

The panel consisted of Father Josiah Trenham, Francisco Tatad, Mark Tooley and Marlene Peterson.

Lech Kowalewski, chairman of the panel and organizer of the World Congress of Families IV in Poland, welcomed the crowd and introduced the panelists. Trenham, a fourth-generation southern Californian with 10 children, then took the podium in traditional black robes to deliver his address on the significance of God and his relationship to man.

“I’m not going to attempt to explain the black dress, but I am going to focus on the 10 children,” he said. “I’m not going to seek to explain the mechanics of how 10 children came to pass. Instead of mechanics I would like to explain the meaning of embracing children, because large families, dear ones, stem from a value judgement about the worth of the human person.”

The Congress, robust with pro-life advocates and groups dedicated to upholding traditional family values, welcomed scholars, theologians and educators to address their concerns and suggest solutions. This panel was no different, as each stood in turn to offer insights and testimony of what they strongly believe.

“The mystery and preciousness of the human being, the essential and un-erasable quality of all human beings is the product of revelation, it is the priceless truth of religion,” Trenham said. “Without the witness of the truth, without the stentorian voice of religion, the mystery and preciousness of man is eclipsed, and we’re left merely with externals; merely with observable realities that mark the limits of science, and externals do not convey the depth and potency of any human personality, nor do externals inspire a culture to goodness, to truth and to beauty.”

He acknowledged the physical body as a mark of God’s mastery and meaningful to the human being, but said it is not the most meaningful part of the human being.

“The most precious things are invisible,” he said. “God himself, the truth, love, reason, the angelic world and the human soul; concerning this you must check science at the door and turn your attention to revelation.”

Peterson, founder and president of Libraries of Hope, echoed Trenham’s comments, focusing her remarks on mothers of young children. As a lifelong educator and mother of nine children, Peterson encouraged mothers to focus on the hearts of their children, before the mind.

“You mothers are the guardians of the world’s most important natural resource, the hearts of children,” Peterson said. “For far too long you’ve been sent the message that the work you do in your home is beneath you, and that there are more productive ways to spend your time. That is a lie.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leaders have led the charge in preaching motherhood and the value of family, and though Peterson did not mention the church, the ideals of her talk matched those sentiments. She acknowledged the improvements in invention and science over the past 100 years, but said she is wary that people will think that “reason” will be the answer to their problems and, as a result, they will more easily justify creating a new moral code “that’s more practical and realistic.”

“Your baby’s heart develops before your baby’s brain in the womb,” she said. “And outside the womb his emotions develop before his intellect. While minds are fed with facts, information and words, hearts are fed with impressions, feelings and images. Nature has reserved the first years of your child’s life, especially the first eight years, for making impressions on his heart. The wise mother will use those years to fill his heart with the good, the beautiful and the true.”

She did not address the subject of women in the workforce, or women that work and raise families.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, took the discussion in a different direction, addressing the the decline of faith within religious institutions.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute of Religion and Democracy addressed an audience at the World Congress of Families Thursday morning in Salt Lake City. (Steven Potter)
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, addresses an audience at the World Congress of Families Thursday morning in Salt Lake City. (Steven Potter)

He said such a decline is not new. Growing up in a traditional Methodist church back East, and elevated to a leadership position at the age of 19, he was “scandalized” by what the policies he saw within the national Methodist denomination. He realized, to his horror, “how they had forsaken much of traditional Christianity… and were involved in very radical and unhelpful political causes.”

His cause for the last 30 years has been to point out these problems in his own denomination in an effort to correct weaknesses.

“The problems that have originated in America’s mainline Protestant world have unfortunately spread and metastasized throughout American religion, and even once-great and strongly orthodox religious institutions are now affected by these issues and are compromised by topics related to marriage, family and sanctity for all human life.”

The panel’s lone participant from oversees was Tatad, a former majority leader in the Senate of the Philippines. He discussed the problems arising from modern thought on sex, and “sex without consequences.” He said society is now in a place where morality is relative, based on personal philosophy and ideals.

“The modern individual no longer merely fornicates,” Tatad said. “The verb has virtually disappeared from the lexicon of our highly-sexualized societies. There’s hardly a distinction left. The global attack on human dignity, on the integrity of the human person and the family is ultimately an attack on God.”

He said the return to morality will only come about when man embraces his relationship with God, and hence his relationship to his fellow man.

“God gave us memory so that we would never forget where we came from and where we are going,” he said. “(God) overflows with pure and boundless joy, as if he has been gifted with the strongest arms and legs. The least we can do is to imitate his witness, and to seek forgiveness for having failed — to serve, to love God and our fellow man with all our heats, and minds and strength.”

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