Public Square Magazine Primary White, Gold & Black Logo | PublicSquareMag | What is Public Square | Politics, Faith & Family | Home | Public Square Magazine
A family stands together in the light of the sun, emphasizing that families are eternal.

Prophets, the Proclamation, and the “Arena of Warring Gods”

Can we reclaim sacredness in our modern world? Families can serve as beacons, guiding us to meaning and eternal purpose.

This is adapted from an episode of “The Raising Family Podcast”  S1E10 Solemly Proclaim, Reverence and False Idols.

Sociologist Roger Friedman recently wrote that we live in a world that is “an arena of warring gods.” From a social science perspective, those gods include the economic and political gods of money, fame, and power.

Other “gods” include consumerism, pop icons, and football. Super Bowl Sunday features this trifecta in living color via a billion-dollar arena filled with worshippers of the church of the oval brown ball, with a rock and roll deity making an appearance at half time, while the television audience is regaled with multi-million dollar commercials urging us to give our cash offerings to a variety of companies. Indeed, in the words of Dave Ramsey, “We spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”

In overview then, we have frequently elevated mundane hobbies, diversions, or purchases to serve as our ultimate concerns. It seems that we may have co-created “an arena of warring gods,” where God with a capital ‘G’ tends to be cordially dis-invited from the party—even if the party is on His day.

Regrettably, I have spent far too much of my own time, energy, money, and “worship” in the arena of the lesser warring gods, but every now and then, a prophetic voice will call me to awaken from my thoughtless stupor. One of the most potent of those voices was the soft, raspy one of President Spencer W. Kimball.

On the occasion of the United States bicentennial, President Kimball delivered a jolting address entitled “The False Gods that We Worship,” in which he pleaded with the citizens of this nation and members of the church he served to stop worshiping idols of money, power, and the profane.

For many of our wisest cultural critics, whether they are religious prophets or careful, insightful social scientists, a primary concern is that our deepest passions are profoundly misplaced. We have too often chased shiny but inert decoys and become passionately religious about things that “have no life” and hold no ultimate meaning.

Another prophetic voice—or, more accurately, 15 unified voices—redirect us to honor what is truly sacred and holy. In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, 15 prophets and apostles urge us to seek the sacred and holy things that matter most: eternal concerns on which we can center our lives. They testify that God is our Creator and “Eternal Father” with a plan for us. They “solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” The prophets’ message is that God loves us and has a plan for His children—a plan that involves Godly marriage and a “sacred duty” to our families based on principles of “faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

Guideline or Doctrine?

In discussing The Family: A Proclamation to the World, we generally do not think about the carefully chosen words used to convey the messages contained within the document. I do not profess to know what was on the minds of the apostles and prophets when this document was written. However, we can recognize and study the particular language used to try to further understand the nature of the proclamation. Again, the beginning of the proclamation says,

We, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. [emphasis added]

Let us draw particular attention to these words: “solemnly proclaim.” We do not hear that phrase much anymore. In doing a little dictionary work, some synonyms that arise include ‘dignified’ and ‘serious.’ Additionally, the antonyms or opposites for this word include humorous, lighthearted, or trivial. Essentially, what the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were indicating to us through their words is that these doctrines matter deeply. When I was doing a deeper dive into the word “solemn,” I encountered a related phrase that struck me more than any other: “a matter of life and death.”

A matter of life and death.

If we take notice of the word “proclaim,” some phrases that are similar are ‘to announce’ or ‘declare’ in an official or formal manner. The opposite of ‘proclaim’ is to keep ‘secret.’ If we consider the ancient Hebraic tradition of a prophet speaking from the top of the watchtower or from the city wall, there is a very public kind of urgency to the message. If we put the words together—to “solemnly proclaim”—we can assume there is some matter of life and death being publicly proclaimed. In fact, it’s being shouted from the roof tops. This seems to be the intent of the Proclamation. There have been very few formal proclamations in the history of the Church. They are very rare and very serious. Indeed, the Proclamation on the Family talks about central doctrines which pertain to matters of life and death.

Parents and children bond while fishing in a tranquil setting, illustrating the serene connection within eternal families.
Taking time for what matters most.

Regarding the serious and rare nature of such a proclamation, I believe that the words used are very intentional. If we take notice, there are differences in verbiage between (a) guidelines and (b) laws or commandments. In reading through the Proclamation on the Family, there are several delineated principles. However, in the majority of the Proclamation’s nine paragraphs, the carefully selected verbiage includes phrases like “we declare,” “God’s commandment,” “God has commanded,” “a solemn responsibility,” “sacred duty,” “commandments of God,” and even more specifically, “we will one day stand accountable before God.”

Let us return to the phrase “solemnly proclaimed.” Whether we are in ancient Israel, in the early Christian church with Peter and Paul as apostles, or in present times, statements like this go far beyond a guideline or suggestion. The sacred mission of the prophet and apostles is to teach eternal truths and call us to repent. For me, my repentance has often included “awakening” from squandering myself in the arena of warring but meaningless gods. The prophets’ mission is to deliver messages of life and death import; messages with both temporal and eternal consequences physically, spiritually, and relationally.

Family is the central meaning and the purpose of the entire play.

If we take the Proclamation seriously, it is far more than a guideline or a set of good ideas; it is a document centered on commandments and covenants. The proclamation calls us to center our lives on our family relationships and on eternal matters. These foci can help turn us from “the false gods we worship” and ennoble us to rise up to our divine inheritance as sons and daughters of God.

Over the last two and a half decades, David Dollahite and I have had the unique opportunity to interview exemplary families from a variety of different faiths. We found that Orthodox Christians believe in a way quite similar to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that marriages and families can be eternal. Additionally, there are those within a variety of faith traditions, including Islam and certain strains of Judaism, who hold similar beliefs.

Further, we have found that many people of various religious backgrounds resonate with the concept of eternal family relationships and have for as long as they can remember. While we believe that marital and family relationships can literally be eternal, it is not a concept that solely belongs to members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Even so, the doctrine is of particular interest to us, and those who study us.

Douglas Davies, a careful and thorough scholar of the Church of Jesus Christ from outside the LDS faith, has commented that our doctrine involves a “veritable theology of the family,” a theology that presents a three-act play. It is Latter-day Saint doctrine that in Act 1, the family existed before we came to Earth. Further, as the Proclamation outlines, we are children of a Heavenly Father with whom we lived before our present, mortal life.

In Act 2, we come to Earth and experience life and learning in a mortal family. However, in this act, we also learn and are schooled in a mortal family. As Act 2 proceeds, we may have the opportunity to make covenants to God to honor an eternal companion of our own, and to welcome children into our lives.

As we contemplate Act 3, we believe that if we keep certain sacred covenants and promises to God, our family will remain central to our life after death. Accordingly, the family is not merely the scenic, colorful contextual backdrop in these three acts. Rather, family is the core meaning and the purpose of the entire play. We certainly worship God vertically, but He also asks us to express our love and our devotion to Him by creating, deepening, and profoundly investing horizontally in family relationships.

Again, loving family is not just the context for God’s plan. It is the plan. It is central.

One Latter-day Saint husband I interviewed had been married for over four decades. He had recorded in a book for his own children, “I love my wife so deeply that there could be no heaven for me without her, and with her, even hell would be tolerable.” There are many people across diverse faiths who feel a similar depth of emotion for their families. This is the depth that the Family Proclamation urges us to reach for: the hunger for eternal love, for everlasting love.

Let us close with a statement from the remarkable mind of the Sufi mystic Rumi, who observed, “Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots.” The prophets similarly invite us to leave the superfluous for the deep. Like President Kimball, they invite and teach us to love and serve the true God whose plan invites us to place eternal familial love at the center of all we do.

I hope and pray for the strength and wisdom to choose God, His plan, my marriage, my children, and our relationships over the loud but hollow call of the arena that never stops beckoning, for the God that I seek is not to be found in the arena but in our home.

About the author

Loren Marks

Loren D. Marks, Ph.D. is professor of Family Life at BYU, co-director of the American Families of Faith project, and co-author of Religion and Families. He is a Fellow at the Wheatley Institute.
On Key

You Might Also Like

Leisurely Consecration

The traditional Catholic conception of leisure—a “mental and spiritual attitude” closer to worship than to idleness—can help us consecrate ourselves with joy, rather than toil.

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Stay up to date on the intersection of faith in the public square.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This