PROVO — BYU senior Alysha Carroll is happily engaged, but she faced a sobering realization Tuesday: She wouldn't have a fiancé if his family had stuck to the U.S. norm for family size.

That thought had never crossed the 23-year-old's mind before Elder Quentin L. Cook of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles conducted an interactive exercise with thousands of students during a BYU devotional in the Marriott Center on Tuesday.

Carroll and her fiancé watched the devotional on a live feed in the Varsity Theater at the Wilkinson Student Center to avoid the rain, but he stood with others when Elder Cook asked students born third or later in their families to do so.

The exercise was part of Elder Cook's bold message on the consequences of alcohol culture and abortion. He said the world inverts values to make good look miserable and evil seem sweet.

"The truth is, not only do the enemies of Father’s plan attempt to undermine the doctrine and principles of the plan, but they also attempt to mischaracterize the blessings that flow from the plan," Elder Cook told a large audience in the Marriott Center on BYU's campus. "Their basic effort is to make that which is good, righteous and joyful, seem utterly miserable."

He described these efforts as distortions, substitutes and paradigm shifts designed by Lucifer to attract followers.

Stone-cold sober

He illustrated his point by talking about one portrayal of BYU's honor code.

"We are all pleased that BYU consistently rates as the highest 'stone cold sober school,' " he said. "...Some other schools are identified as 'Party Schools,' understood to mean alcohol parties. Party is defined as 'a gathering for social entertainment, or the entertainment itself.' Now, to the average young person, particularly those not of our faith, looking for higher education, stone cold sober might sound like misery and party might sound like fun and being joyful."

The reality is far different, he said. Alcohol culture harms all groups of people. Universities around the world are trying to reduce alcohol use because of its connection to sexual assault. Medical authorities have established the deleterious impact of alcohol on young brains. Alcohol also contributes to car accidents and is used as an excuse for physical and sexual assaults.

He cited a recent front-page story in the Washington Post titled "Wine, women and danger," which reported that alcohol consumption is killing women in record numbers.

"The current and emerging science does not support the purported benefits of moderate drinking," the article concluded, adding, "The risk of death from cancer appears to go up with any level of alcohol consumption."

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follow the Word of Wisdom, which proscribes alcohol and tobacco use. Elder Cook called it direction from God that protects people from harmful consequences.

Family choices

He said, "It is fairly common in today's world, in another paradigm shift, to trumpet alternative choices in a positive way that are in direct conflict with this plan and are unfavorable to marriage and family."

He mentioned those who put education and career ahead of marriage and family; the choice to have no children or to use abortion when pregnancy is inconvenient; and "the choice to engage in immoral conduct as a substitute for the sacred institution of marriage."

"The adversary has targeted women and painted motherhood as a dead-end road of drudgery," he said. "He has targeted men and painted fatherhood as unimportant and fidelity as 'old-school.' "

Elder Cook said he was devastated in October when he visited the Children's Memorial Museum at the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. As he reflected on the horror of the deaths of 1 million Jewish children in the Holocaust, his thoughts turned to abortion.

He clearly stated the differences in motives and intent between the Holocaust and abortion, but said the intensity of his feelings was about the loss of children. There are 1 million abortions performed in the United States every two years, which he called "a tragedy of monumental proportions."

"Bringing children into the world is a sacred part of our Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness," Elder Cook said. "We are so numbed and intimidated by the immensity of the practice of abortion, that many of us have pushed it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness. Clearly the adversary is attacking the value of children on many levels."

Carroll, an international relations major from Manchester, New Hampshire, said she understood his message to be a statement that Mormons have a responsibility to stand up for the defenseless.

"It was a 'raise the standard' talk," she said. "It was an invitation to look at the world through a clearer lense and for church members to make their voices heard."

Demographic winter

Elder Cook's interactive, visual example included an invitation to have students born first in their families stand. Those still seated, he said, would never have been born in most of the world, where birthrates are too low to replace the population, a phenomenon called demographic winter.

Abortion combined with demographic winter, he said, "is a serious moral blot on our society."

Carroll, who is scheduled to graduate in April, was thankful for the family choices made by her fiancé's parents.

"I'm so grateful his family decided to have three kids," she said.

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Elder Cook asked students to live within their means, too, calling on them to reject the world's glorification of luxury.

"Excess wealth is not promised to faithful members," he said, "nor does it usually bring happiness."

Carroll appreciated how Elder Cook listed different blessings and the counterfeits created by some to make them appear miserable.

Elder Cook said such efforts undermine God's plan.

"The assault on the Bible and the divinity of Jesus Christ has never been more pronounced in my lifetime than it is today," he said.