NEW YORK CITY
One of the great tasks of our time — one on which diverse faith communities should be united — is to help people understand the true meaning and purpose of marriage, said Elder David A. Bednar during a forum in New York City on marriage.
“All people, especially the rising generation, need a vision of the richness of family life and its potential for developing the highest and best in each of us,” said Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles while speaking at the Humanum Colloquium on March 9. “In an age of increasing selfishness, we must highlight marriage’s capacity to lift men and women beyond their narrow self-interests to the joys that come from dedicating one’s life to a higher and holy purpose.”
Catholic and Jewish leaders joined Elder Bednar in the interreligious symposium; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of the Congregation Shearith Israel and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, also spoke.
The New York City colloquium follows an international symposium on the complementarity of man and woman hosted by the Catholic Church at the Vatican in 2014. At the gathering in Rome, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency called for a “renaissance of happy marriages.” In 2015, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on marriage and family at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the first time the event had been held in the United States.
During the New York City event on March 8, Rabbi Soloveichik said, “It’s wonderful for people of one faith, facing challenges in this world, to both see old friends from another faith, and to make new friends from that faith. That’s what makes moments like this so wonderful.”
Cardinal Dolan said he wants people to remember that even though the world’s view of marriage is changing, “we’re not alone in our battle to defend the sanctity of marriage. You and I believe, without any touch of arrogance at all, that God is on our side.”
Addressing the topic, “The Divinely Designed Pattern of Marriage,” Elder Bednar said he was grateful for the invitation to participate in the forum on marriage and to endorse the themes presented at the Vatican in 2014.
Quoting “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Elder Bednar said the divinely designed pattern of marriage is neither an experiment nor a sociological innovation. “Rather, it is a relationship ‘central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’ ”
Elder Bednar taught that men and women complement and complete each other in unique ways that enable them individually and as couples to fulfill their divine potential.
“Because of their distinctive temperaments and capacities, males and females each bring to a marriage relationship unique perspectives and experiences,” Elder Bednar said. “The man and the woman contribute differently but equally to a oneness and a unity that can be achieved in no other way. By divine design, men and women are intended to progress together toward redemption and enduring joy.”
Elder Bednar said that rather than teaching people to pursue their own interests as the way to personal fulfillment, Jesus Christ taught: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).
The divine doctrine of eternal marriage is infused with ennobling and selflessly motivated duties and obligations, he said. “The covenant and responsibilities of marriage provide a sacred context within which we gradually turn from self-centeredness and selfishness to selflessness and service. In marriage, we live not exclusively for ourselves but for our spouses and children and posterity.”
The vision of marriage as a holy order based on enduring covenants, duties and lifelong sacrifice stands in stark contrast to a modern secular concept of marriage, he said. “That worldly formulation has virtually nothing to do with losing your life in service to family or in self-sacrifice for spouse and children.”
This is a full-fledged revolution, transforming marriage into a purely social institution which focuses on the needs of individuals, he said. “This revolution is based on extreme conceptions of personal autonomy and individual rights that elevate one’s own will over God’s will, that opt for personal choice over personal responsibility, and that prioritize the desires of individuals over the needs of spouses and children.”
Elder Bednar said this inordinate focus upon rights without a commensurate concern about obligations and responsibilities “has produced the shrill and demanding entitlement we encounter so often in our contemporary world.”
“People clamor constantly for their individual rights, believing that the highest good is unfettered freedom to pursue their narrow self-interests, while failing to understand that the most important reason for the protection of individual rights is to allow us to live dignified lives that are whole and rich with the duties of faith and family.”
Elder Bednar said never has a global society placed so much emphasis on “the fulfillment of romantic and sexual desires as the highest form of personal autonomy, freedom and self-actualization.
“Society has elevated sexual fulfillment to an end in itself, rather than as a means to a higher end. In this confusion, millions have lost the truth that God intended sexual desire to be a means to the divine ends of marital unity, the procreation of children, and strong families, not a selfish end in itself.
“We are losing the basic understanding that society has a unique and profound interest in marriage because of its power to form a male-female union that is the optimal setting for the bearing and rearing of children — ensuring to the greatest extent possible that every child has an opportunity to know and be loved and cared for by the mother and father who brought him or her into the world.”
Given this trend, many in our culture could not long resist the call to redefine marriage from the union of man and woman to the union of any two people, regardless of gender, Elder Bednar taught. “After all, if marriage is little more than a vehicle for advancing personal autonomy and individual rights — rather than a sacred and enduring union between man and woman centered on self-sacrifice and raising a family — then it becomes very hard to deny marriage — any type of marriage — to any couple or group of people that seek it.”
Elder Bednar said the “skewed conception of marriage” has serious personal and social consequences. First, he said, it inevitably cankers the souls of those who seek to employ it, leading to heartbreak and despair. Second, this skewed concept of marriage often leads to divorce as people bounce from one relationship to another. Third, increasing numbers of people are giving up on the very idea of marriage, believing that relationships are inherently unstable and transitory.
Elder Bednar said, in truth, the building of stable marriages and families is part of the hard work of a meaningful life. Marriage affords unique opportunities for some of the richest blessings of life.
“In marriage and family life, we learn and grow together as God intended ...,” he said. “In marriage and family, we can experience profound loyalty, pure love and consummate joy. We learn in a deeply personal way about God’s love for each of us.”
As husbands and wives “lose” their lives in fulfilling these sacred duties of marriage and family, they find themselves — becoming true servants of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, he said.
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