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LDS leader speaks out on marriage at forum with archbishop of New York, rabbi

SALT LAKE CITY — A marriage between a man and a woman centered on self-sacrifice is divinely designed and better for society than a redefined, skewed conception of marriage in which the highest aim is self-satisfaction, Elder David A. Bednar said Thursday in New York City.

"Men and women complement and complete each other in unique ways that enable them individually and as a couple to fulfill their divine potential," said Elder Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The man and the woman contribute differently but equally to a oneness and a unity that can be achieved in no other way," he said. "The man completes and perfects the woman and the woman completes and perfects the man as they learn from and mutually strengthen and bless each other. Thus, by divine design, men and women are intended to progress together toward redemption and enduring joy."

His address was part of a marriage symposium based on the Vatican's major November 2014 event, Humanum: An International Interreligious Colloquium on The Complementarity of Man and Woman. Leaders of two dozen faiths spoke at Humanum, where President Henry B. Eyring of the LDS First Presidency called for "a renaissance of happy marriages and productive families" based on the principles of the Proclamation on the Family issued by the church in 1995. He also delivered a heartfelt witness about the complementarity of his own marriage.

On Thursday, Elder Bednar endorsed the Humanum conference and said the LDS Church considers marriage "a sacred and enduring union between man and woman centered on self-sacrifice and raising a family."

He was joined at the event by two other speakers whom LDS Church leaders consider friends — Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

Cardinal Dolan and Rabbi Soloveichik joined Mormon apostles in October at separate LDS-sponsored events.

Thursday's event was sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute. The institute's director of strategy, Mitchell Muncy, said the goal of the panel was to gather in what he called the heart of American secularism and provide a platform for the concept of complementarity.

"We want to continue," Muncy said, "to put before the public the idea that marriage is the bedrock of civilization and that the major religions of the world are really united in their views of marriage as the complementary union of man and woman in one lifelong, exclusive marriage, and that this has been entirely to the benefit of society from the beginning. Wherever you find strong families, you find a strong society."

Complementarity, which Pope Francis called "the root of marriage and family" at Humanum, is the concept that because a man and a woman are significantly different but equal in dignity, according to George Mason University's Helen Alvaré, a marriage between them can produce not only children but unique growth and development.

"The divine doctrine"

Elder Bednar said marriage between a man and a woman is the "divinely designed pattern of marriage" and "is neither an experiment nor a sociological innovation" but central to God's plan for "the eternal destiny of his children."

"The divine doctrine of eternal marriage," he added, "is infused with ennobling and selflessly motivated duties and obligations. 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."

Elder Bednar drew what he called a stark contrast between divine complementarity and "a modern secular concept of marriage."

He quoted the 2014 Humanum address by President Eyring, who said, "Where there is selfishness, natural differences of men and women often divide. Where there is unselfishness, differences become complementary and provide opportunities to help and build each other. Spouses and family members can lift each other and ascend together if they care more about the interest of the other than their own interests."

Elder Bednar described a full-fledged revolution transforming modern marriage into an easily broken institution focused on personal choice over personal responsibility.

"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."

Marriage is becoming fragile and transient, he said, as the world rejects the idea that male-female unions are optimal for bearing and rearing children. In its place, he added, is an "inordinate focus" on freedom, rights and autonomy that overshadow "a proper understanding of the enduring commitments, covenants, duties and sacrifices necessary to build successful marriages and families and to bring lasting joy."

That trend led to the redefinition of marriage to the union of any two people, regardless of gender, he said.

"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."

Dire consequences

He said some argue that society should not limit marriage, an efficient vehicle of personal rights and individual satisfaction, to a man and a woman.

"If the ultimate aim is the highest form of self-satisfaction, why should not marriage be open to all in whatever form will most quickly and easily bring that result? Having lost the predicate upon which marriage has always been based, it is difficult for many to dispute the conclusion."

Elder Bednar called that a "skewed conception of marriage" and listed three dire consequences.

First, exercising individual rights to their fullest extent leads to heartache and despair, not freedom.

"An increasingly cynical and self-absorbed world sees (the) principle of selflessness as 'old school' and paradoxical," he said. "But we know that it is paradisiacal."

Second, people seeking "ultimate freedom, ultimate self-fulfillment and ultimate happiness" without giving of themselves leads to increased divorce rates and traumatized children "abandoned because a father or mother has determined that he or she just is not being 'true to himself or herself' by remaining in a marriage that he or she selfishly perceives is no longer serving his or her own interests or orientation."

Third, "and perhaps worst of all, increasing numbers of people are giving up on the very idea of marriage, believing that relationships are inherently unstable and transitory, thereby avoiding in their view the unnecessary commitments of formal marriage and pain of the inevitable divorce."

He worried that fewer strong marriages and families are eroding societal stability, weakening the future.

He said faith leaders recognize that all marriages are not perfect, and neither are those who defend traditional marriage.

"Regrettably," he added, "some children and spouses who are in traditional marriages experience only disappointment and heartache. But these sad outcomes do not occur because the principles of true marriage are in error; rather, failure occurs when we do not live up to those true principles and the serious marriage covenants into which we have entered."

Elder Bednar issued a call to all faith communities and people of faith to unite to help others understand the true meaning of marriage.

"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."

He asked people to build stable marriages and families as "part of the hard work of a meaningful life."

Elder Bednar provide a lengthy list of blessings marriage can provide, including a profound unity he said is possible only through the deep meaning found in the complementary roles of husband and wife and father and mother.

Several of the blessings included effort, sacrifice and experience. For example, he said parents can cultivate faith in their children and rejoice with those who honor their parents and carry on their name while weeping with those who struggle.

Elder Bednar said he admired Dolan and Soloveichik, the latter having visited BYU in April 2016, when he spoke about the Jewish philosophy of marriage and family.

Both men were part of LDS events in October that included other members of the Quorum of the Twelve.

First, Soloveichik spoke at the BYU Jerusalem Center with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Jewish leaders at a celebration of the 175th anniversary of Orson Hyde's dedication of the Holy Land for the gathering place for the Jewish people.

Two weeks later, Elder Holland handed Dolan the Visionary Leadership Award from the New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association.

The Catholic-LDS association began before the 2014 Humanum conference but was strengthened after Humanum when Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke at the Catholic World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015. The LDS Church made a significant financial contribution to the event, where the archbishop of Philadelphia praised Mormon families as an example for all families.

Neither the address by Cardinal Dolan nor Rabbi Soloveichik were available for immediate review.