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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gives the keynote address during the opening session of the World Congress of Families IX at the Grand America in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015.

Twenty years ago, Elder M. Russell Ballard and 14 of his associates from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles added their signatures to the bottom of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

That timeless proclamation — found hanging in countless Latter-day Saint homes across the globe — clearly states the Church’s unwavering support of the traditional family. In the two decades since its release, Elder Ballard and his fellow apostles have continued to champion the family and its central, joyful place in mortality and beyond.

On Oct. 27, he once again spoke unequivocally in support of the traditional family in his keynote address at the four-day World Congress of Families held in Salt Lake City. The WCF is a global gathering of parents, youth, lawmakers, scholars, religious leaders and advocates united in their support of families. This year marked the first time the event has been held in the United States.

Elder Ballard began by explaining the doctrinal reasons why traditional families play an essential role in the Church. He taught key elements of the Plan of Salvation — including one’s divine and eternal connection to God, “our Heavenly Father.”

God’s whole purpose — His work and His glory — is to enable all to enjoy His blessings through obedience to His commandments, Elder Ballard added. Jesus Christ is central to God’s plan. His Atonement made it possible for everyone to enjoy immortality and eternal life.

And finally, he said, marriage and family ties are bound by priesthood authority to endure beyond the grave if couples are married for “time and eternity in the temple.”

“This brief overview, I hope, will help you understand how completely linked our theology is to the traditional family,” he said. “Society, law and popular opinion may change, but we know that society’s version of the family cannot and will not substitute for God’s purpose and plan for His children.”

Elder Ballard noted that other prominent Christian leaders share the Church’s belief in traditional families.

Some dismiss doctrines and statements dedicated to nurturing, protecting and promoting traditional families as “irrational religious voices.” But even in its recent recognition of same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that “sincere and reasonable” people in the world continue to recognize traditional marriage.

“Understanding that reasonable and sincere people may view marriage as only between people of the opposite gender, the public square must accommodate and religious freedom must protect such views,” he said. “Indeed, since religious beliefs can affect how believers view the very purpose of life, such views will inform how they interact with society.”

Compromise, he added, can seem difficult and distant in a time of “extremes.”

“We hear stories of people who have tried to be true to their standards, only to be accused of bigotry or intolerance or punished on a seemingly unreasonable scale,” he said.

Even amid the challenges, there is wide support for the Church’s view of traditional marriage. There can be no surrender in the defense of truth and values, he added.

“If those who oppose us are genuine in their commitment to the values of diversity and equality, we should be able to work together to find compassion and peace,” he said.

Elder Ballard said fellowship can exist between those who disagree.

“Just as we do not or should not shun family members with whom we disagree, we cannot and should not shun those who look or think or act differently than we do,” he said. “We demonstrate our best humanity when we show love and kindness to all of God’s children. We demonstrate our discipleship when we refuse strident tones, when we refuse derisive labels and when we enter the public square seeking fair outcomes through understanding and mutual respect.”

The apostle noted the Church’s recent support of Utah legislation protecting those from the LGBT community from being fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation. “At the same time, religious conscience and the right to protect deeply held religious beliefs is protected by this robust legislation.”

Jesus Christ, he taught, is the greatest example of loving others.

Elder Ballard shared the account of the first Mormon Pioneers who left Nauvoo, Illinois, after the 1844 martyrdom of the prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum. Before beginning their westward trek, they attended the Nauvoo Temple day and night to make sacred promises that would unite them eternally as families.

The pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley only after much suffering. They buried many beloved relatives along their trek. But still they pressed forward.

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“Their faith in a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us gave them courage in the face of tremendous challenges,” he said. “They sought a place where without persecution they could raise their families to love God and serve Him. I thank them for leading the way.”

Elder Ballard concluded his keynote address by reading a key passage from “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”:

“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote these measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

jswensen@deseretnews.com

The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.