Thousands of people from dozens of countries flocked to Salt Lake City last week for the second time in a month, this time for the ninth World Congress of Families. Salt Lake’s Grand America Hotel hosted the congress from Oct. 27 through 30, just weeks after the Parliament of the World’s Religions met in Utah’s capital city. It was the first time the congress had been held in the United States.
At the Congress pro-life advocates and groups dedicated to upholding traditional family values welcomed scholars, theologians and educators to address their concerns and suggest solutions to problems concerning the family.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve kicked off the congress by delivering a speech that emphasized the importance of protecting faith, freedom and the traditional family.
“We must rally all the support we can to strengthen and protect our faiths, families and freedom,” Elder Ballard said. “Some are actively trying to strip us of these rights. One news story reported that millions of dollars have been poured into defeating religious freedom protections in the United States. To these kinds of threats, I believe my colleague, Elder Dallin H. Oaks has put it best: ‘Even as we seek to be meek and to avoid contention, we must not compromise or dilute our commitment to the truths we understand. We must not surrender our positions or our values.'”
Elder Ballard further discussed the public’s necessity to accommodate views of “reasonable and sincere people (who) may view marriage as only between people of the opposite gender.”
“We can love one another without compromising personal divine ideals,” Elder Ballard said. “And we can speak of those ideals without marginalizing others. We can be specific and passionate about the benefits of man-woman marriage without disrespecting or injuring those who think otherwise. Regardless of belief or practice, as brothers and sisters we should strive to understand one another. Remember, married or single, that in the end, we are each a unique part of God’s grand plan.”
In a variety of panel discussions audience members heard from pro-family and pro-life opinion leaders on topics that included abortion, marriage and family and family values. Alveda King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and pro-life activist, spoke about the racial undertones of abortion.
“Pro-life means that we respect every life from conception or fertilization until natural death,” King said on Tuesday. “So that’s the babies, the sick, the elderly and the poor.”
King affirmed that “a woman has a right to choose what she does with her body, but the baby isn’t her body.”
Furthering the discussion on abortion was Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D., president and CEO of Americans United for Life.
“In working to defend the defenseless, to establish justice, we stand in the historic tradition today of heroes like William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and the nameless thousands who fought against and died fighting slavery,” Yoest said. “We stand in the historic tradition of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement and Alveda King. … This is the civil rights and social justice battle of our time, because we are fighting for human rights for human beings.”
Millennials were also a subject of debate throughout the congress as panelists and speakers addressed the need for the younger generation to understand the importance of religion, faith and family.
Emily Bleazard of the Sutherland Institute during a panel of millennials on Tuesday night addressed the issue of marriage and millennials and reasons why they might have a hard time tying the knot.
“If we really understood what marriage was, then we could believe in it more,” Bleazard said. “We don’t know what marriage is; no one has taught us. We’ve really not been taught what it could be.”
Jennifer Murff, a Regent University doctoral candidate, also spoke about marriage trends among millennials. Twenty-five percent of millennials don’t want to get married and 40 percent believe that the vow “’til death due us part,” should be abolished, according to Murff.
“Marriage is becoming extinct, and our generation is leading the way,” Murff said. “The cry for our generation is to stand for what we’re for, not just what we’re against.”
The World Congress of Families calls itself the “largest gathering of pro-family advocates in the world.” It was founded in 1995 and has held eight world conferences to date throughout Europe, South America, Australia and now the United States.