As a 24-year-old graduate student, I received a fortuitous phone call. A respected acquaintance invited me to accompany her to the World Congress of Families II, held that year in Geneva, Switzerland. I was, of course, ecstatic about the opportunity to see historic Geneva. But it was attending the Congress that transformed me.
I heard speeches during those three days that I have referred to ever since. I’ll never forget insights from Venezuelan scholar Christine de Vollmer about mothers’ unique capacities for facilitating infant development, or a landmark address by Bruce C. Hafen on the moral influence of women, or Patrick Fagan’s comprehensive review of data about the relationship between family structure and children’s well-being or a series of addresses about the demographic challenges facing our world. The Congress covered an astounding array of topics addressed by skilled scholars, and I left changed by what I learned. But I also left changed by the powerful sense of unity among individuals all over the world who recognize the irreplaceable role of the family in the well-being of individuals as well as nations.
Next month, Salt Lake City has the rare opportunity of hosting the World Congress of Families IX, which for the first time in its two-decade history will be held in the United States. It brings with it the world’s largest gathering of scholars, lawmakers, religious leaders, parents and youth committed to understanding and supporting the role of the natural family in society and our personal lives.
These internationally renowned presenters include Nick Vujicic, a motivational speaker born without limbs who affirms the value of every life; Lila Rose and Dr. Alveda King, leaders of the pro-life movement; Elizabeth Smart and Timothy Ballard, advocates for victims of sexual exploitation; Sammy Rodriguez Jr., a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Ted Baher, founder of family-centered MovieGuide; Stephanie Nielson, inspiring family advocate and LDS blogger; and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several members of the European royalty will be delegates at the Congress, as well as U.S. congressional members and parliamentary members from other countries.
These and other experts will address a wide range of topics: sex trafficking, abortion and adoption, pornography, sexual exploitation, ethics and morality, economic costs of family breakdown, Hollywood values vs. family values, euthanasia, bioethics and numerous others. In addition to hearing discussions on these critical topics, attendees will have the opportunity to be enriched by listening to the International Children’s Choir, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, American Heritage Lyceum Orchestra and The Piano Guys.
This is indeed a rare opportunity — to hear from scholars, leaders and advocates representing 50 different nations — whose experience, research and beliefs confirm that the natural family is “the ultimate foundation of every civilization known to history, the proven bulwark of liberty and the key to development, prosperity and peace.” It is hard to imagine a more important effort than that — for if there is anything that the world’s experiences have shown, it is that no intervention, service program, school or government can adequately replace what a loving mother and father can do in raising and nurturing their children.
Those who attend the conference are sure to experience what I did many years ago by gaining insight into the latest social science data on a range of issues affecting families, exchanging ideas with others from around the world who are advocating for the family in culture and society, and joining a global network of community and religious leaders, scholar and advocates, mothers, fathers and young adults who care deeply about that which matters most to all of us: our families.
Jenet Erickson is a family sciences researcher and a former assistant professor at Brigham Young University.