SALT LAKE CITY — LDS theology is completely linked to the traditional family, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the faith's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Tuesday in the keynote address during the opening ceremonies of the ninth World Congress of Families.
"The doctrine and theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints literally start and end with family," said Elder Ballard, who reiterated messages Mormon leaders have been giving for several years now — that traditional marriage remains important and that those who think so must defend their religious liberty rights while interacting respectfully with those who disagree.
Elder Ballard said marriage and children are increasingly marginalized in today's world after he extended an official welcome at the Grand America Hotel to the four-day international event. Organizers expected 2,000 people to register, but that number has jumped to 3,100. The is the first time the congress has gathered in the United States.
Elder Ballard and his wife Barbara have seven children and 43 grandchildren. After he announced they had welcomed a 73rd great-grandchild on Monday night, he said Mormons take a strong position on the family and are "dedicated to nurturing, protecting and promoting traditional families" because LDS doctrines state that eternal marriage and family are "central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children."
Mormons believe that all people lived with God before this life and that his purpose is to make it possible to enjoy eternal life with him through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Temples are important to Latter-day Saints because in them, he said, marriages and families are bound together by priesthood authority "to endure beyond the grave" — for "time and eternity."
"This is a very brief overview," Elder Ballard said. "I hope it will help you understand how completely linked our theology is to the traditional family.
"Society, law and popular opinion may change, but we know that society’s version of the family cannot and will not substitute for God’s purpose and plan for his children."
Elder Ballard said some people and groups find those beliefs and statements to be "irrational religious voices." However, he contended that when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage in June 2015, it "went out of its way" to acknowledge in the majority opinion that "reasonable and sincere people'" could hold a different opinion.
"Understanding that reasonable and sincere people may view marriage as only between people of the opposite gender," Elder Ballard said, "the public square must accommodate and religious freedom must protect such views. Indeed, since religious beliefs can affect how believers view the very purpose of life, such views will inform how they interact with society."
Elder Ballard has for years been a leader in interfaith efforts in Utah. In the past he has taught at the faith's general conference that the LDS Church has a doctrine of inclusion and that because of it, Mormons "should be the most loving, the kindest and the most tolerant because of that doctrine."
On Tuesday, Elder Ballard struck a moderating, compromising tone. He said those who believe in God and traditional marriage should extend the hand of fellowship to and interact civilly with those who disagree.
"We can be specific and passionate about the benefits of man-woman marriage without disrespecting or injuring those who think otherwise," he said.
In fact, he added, "We demonstrate our discipleship when we refuse strident tones, when we refuse derisive labels and when we enter the public square seeking fair outcomes through understanding and mutual respect."
He gave the example of the Utah Compromise, struck earlier this year.
"My church recently supported legislation that balanced the concerns of the LGBT movement and religious sensitivities," he said. "The legislation protects LGBT people from being fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation. At the same time, religious conscience and the right to protect deeply held religious beliefs is protected by this robust legislation.
"Although none of the parties achieved all they wanted, our work with the LGBT community and the Utah Legislature lessened the divisiveness in our communities without compromising on key principles. We can love one another without compromising personal divine ideals. And we can speak of those ideals without marginalizing others."
He also provided an example of inflexibility, when a school district in 2006 refused to provide parents with advance warning if a teacher read a story about two princes falling in love.
"If those who oppose us are genuine in their commitment to the values of diversity and equality, we should be able to work together to find compassion and peace," Elder Ballard said. "Forcing the beliefs of one onto another, as was done with the children being read material contrary to their parents’ wishes, diminishes diversity and skews the scales of equality. By engaging in compromise and extending love to all God’s children, who are our brothers and sisters, we can create a peaceful, diverse tapestry of ideals and beliefs."
The World Congress of Families is designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting legislation in other countries that the center says criminalizes anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people.