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LDS leader to join Vatican conference on 'complementary union of man and woman'

SALT LAKE CITY — An LDS Church leader will join Pope Francis and other faith leaders this month at an interreligious Vatican conference that seeks to "support and reinvigorate" marriage between a man and a woman.

President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be one of more than 30 speakers at "The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium."

Pope Francis, who last year said "It is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society," will give the opening address at the three-day conference Nov. 17-19.

Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus are among those representing 14 faith traditions from 23 countries.

President Eyring will be accompanied at the conference by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Bishop Gérald Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric, according to an LDS Church news release.

The LDS Church also issued a statement about the interfaith conference:

"At this time of rapidly declining moral values and the challenges to traditional family structures and relationships throughout the world, we are pleased to unite with the Catholic Church, other fellow Christian denominations and other world religions in standing firm and speaking clearly about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."

President Eyring is one of 16 people who will speak for 15-30 minutes each over the first two days of the colloquium.

The conference's website said "Witnesses will draw from the wisdom of their religious tradition and cultural experience as they attest to the power and vitality of the complementary union of man and woman."

Other witnesses include The Rev. Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He wrote about the conference Monday on his blog under the headline, "Why I'm going to the Vatican."

“I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled."

Rev. Moore also wrote that he "has been charitably (I hope) critical of Pope Francis," including last month during the widely publicized Vatican Synod on the Family, held Oct. 5-19.

That conference sparked media reports that the Catholic Church was softening its teachings on gays and lesbians, but the final synod report pulled back on that language.

Helen Alvaré, a family law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, said Cardinal Gerhard Müller presented the idea for the upcoming conference to Pope Francis a year ago.

"Considering that you can look at the law, the culture, the news coming out of almost any country, and marriage is experiencing considerable difficulty, this (conference) is a good start," Alvaré told the Deseret News. "There's a lot of conversation in the world and the media about men and women but not a lot to enlighten and support."

Alvaré said much of that conversation is "sensational," as opposed to "helping billions of people to find their way to the institution that becomes a make-or-break component of happiness for themselves and their communities."

She hopes the Vatican event "will move people in a positive direction."

President Eyring will speak on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 18, after a presentation by The Rev. Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life" and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

Rev. Warren urged last month's synod on the family to defend traditional marriage, in an open letter to Pope Francis also signed by 47 other Christian ministers and scholars.

One suggestion in the letter was to support efforts to "restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman."

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, will make a presentation. Dr. Janne Haaland Matláry, the former Secretary of State of Norway, will give a presentation titled, "The Family – Still the Basic Unit of Society."

Another American participant in the upcoming Vatican event said he hopes the conference will help change the tone of discussions about the nature of marriage and the male-female relationship.

Supporters of marriage from different faith traditions "are talking past each other in some ways," said Luis Tellez, president of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, "but we need to pay attention to what each one brings to the table, and this has been lost in the conversation we have been having in recent times."

The colloquium will include the premiere of six short films about men and women and marriage around the world, including "The Destiny of Humanity: On the Meaning of Marriage" and "A Hidden Sweetness: The Power of Marriage Against Hardship."

Film subjects "range from the beauty of the union between the man and the woman to the loss of confidence in marital permanence to the cultural and economic woes that follow upon the disappearance of marriage," the LDS release said.

Archbishop Charles Chaput will make a presentation on the 2015 World Meeting of Families, a Catholic event, scheduled Sept. 22-27 in Philadelphia.

The colloquium will close with the presentation of a declaration on marriage.