Young, single adults should persist in their efforts to marry and start families, a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Sunday night during a worldwide devotional.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, reaffirmed the church’s positions on same-sex relationships and gender identity and reiterated that followers of Jesus Christ are commanded both to love God and his law while loving those who experience gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction.

“Anyone who does not treat individuals who face gender identity challenges with love and dignity is not aligned with the teachings of the first and second great commandments,” he said.

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President Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, addressed a worldwide audience of adults ages 18-30 in a broadcast from the theater in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. They sat together holding hands on top of a small, brown, round table on the stage of the full, 850-seat theater and took turns speaking.

President Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, speak to young adults of the church during a worldwide devotional from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 21, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

They spoke about the role and timing of marriage and children. They also urged listeners to be cheerful. They mixed their serious advice with numerous jokes that earned laughs, especially when they spoke about dating.

Stand for truth

President Oaks said they titled their presentation “Stand for truth” in reference to church President Russell M. Nelson’s statement, “Know the truth and stand for it, even if the truth is not politically popular.”

Sister Oaks told the young adults to look toward God in upholding their sacred beliefs.

“Look to the words spoken tonight, the words of our prophet, the scriptures, the Plan of Salvation and your patriarchal blessings,” she said. “Pray and the Lord will be with you. That does not mean any of us will go unscathed, but it does mean we will not be alone, and we will go forward guided and protected from the evil around us. It means we will know the truth and relish in the Spirit.”

President Oaks said an increasingly secularized society is making times stressful for church members, but he told young adults to be of good cheer and persist through adversity via the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He reaffirmed the church’s doctrine of the Plan of Salvation — that all people existed in a premortal state before birth, which is followed by mortal life and then life after death, which includes resurrection for all and a final judgment.

“The purpose of our life on earth, Act 2, is to grow toward our destiny of eternal life. We do this by overcoming what the Book of Mormon describes as opposition in all things, including many temptations to violate the commandments of God,” he said. “Facing and overcoming temptation and drawing closer to God through right choices and repentance from wrong ones, helps us attain the eternal growth that is the purpose of the mortal life of the children of God.”

He also reaffirmed the church document, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which states that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose.”

He also said church members should avoid judgment.

Marriage, family and the purpose of life

The young adults in the theater laughed as President Oaks smiled when he said the first truth they would talk about was marriage.

He said marriage is on a clear decline in the United States and other places.

“Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ are uniquely concerned about recent changes in the nature and extent of marriage in the United States,” he said. “This includes the increasing tendency of U.S. citizens, including some worthy young Latter-day Saint men and women, to postpone marriage.”

U.S. Census statistics show a decline in the number of American adults who have ever been married.
U.S. Census statistics show a decline in the number of American adults who have ever been married. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Oaks said marriage is central to the purpose of mortal life and the afterlife, and that the power of creation is a precious gift to be expressed only within a marriage between a man and a woman. Latter-day Saints stand out from the world because of their belief that it is a central commandment to multiply and replenish the earth within a marriage between a man and a woman.

The average age of Latter-day Saints when they first marry has been rising for the past 45 years.
The average age of Latter-day Saints when they first marry has been rising for the past 45 years. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The decline and postponement of marriage — Latter-day Saints were five years older at marriage, on average, in 2015 than they were in 1970 — leads to belated family formation.

There also are related lost opportunities for development and service, they said.

President Oaks said delayed marriage leads to delayed personal growth within a husband-wife relationship, such as qualities like sacrifice and humility. There also are decreased opportunities to work together to “build the Kingdom of God.”

“Most important, it means fewer children born to grow up with the blessings of the gospel,” he said.

Postponing or devaluing children is evident in a new poll published by The Wall Street Journal, he said. It found that the importance adults placed on having children has dropped in the last 25 years from 66% to 33%.

Sister Oaks, who married at age 53, also shared examples of what young adults lose when they delay dating, marriage and children.

“We learn to sacrifice and serve as we can in few other ways. As a single, I often looked for opportunities to serve. Now, every night at dinner my service project is sitting directly across from me,” she said to shared laughter. “I learn how to better love and help my husband; I have a friend to laugh with and cry with. I have an advocate, teacher and cheerleader who in turn helps me.”

She called marriage a built-in opportunity to learn communication and perspective.

“Life becomes better as our marriage becomes connected to something greater than ourselves and closer to our Savior. We want that for you.”

President Oaks said church leaders’ concerns extend to the causes of delayed marriage. He listed affordable housing shortages for young married couples and growing student debt.

“You are not the cause of those circumstances, but their victims,” he said.

He advised them to move ahead faithfully to find the best possible housing and minimize student debt.

“In God’s plan we can have it all, but not in the sequence the world seems to dictate,” President Oaks said.

He noted that pioneers left their homes and possessions to take their families to spiritual safety in the West.

“Today, we urge you not to leave spiritual safety and family to obtain material possessions,” he said.

Helping church members avoid debt is a regular reason church leaders give for providing more than $1 billion in tuition subsidies and other aid to Brigham Young University, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Pathway Worldwide, BYU-Hawaii and Ensign College to help over 90,000 students around the world.

The presidents of BYU, BYU-Idaho and Ensign College attended the devotional, which was conducted by Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy who serves as the commissioner of the Church Educational System.

Dating advice

President Oaks noted that many single Latter-day Saints don’t marry sooner for reasons beyond their control.

Sister Oaks shared the heartache of waiting to marry. She said she cried into her pillow.

“I can testify of the Lord’s love for the valiant sisters who find themselves waiting, because I have felt it,” she said. “My heart also goes out to the faithful brothers who desire this, also. The struggle is real. Dating and not dating can be stressful.”

She said those who are waiting for a spouse should stop waiting and start preparing.

“Prepare yourself for life — by education, experience and planning. Don’t wait for happiness to be thrust upon you. Seek out opportunities for service and learning. Most importantly, trust in the Lord ...”

The young adults laughed along with the Oakses frequently, especially when they shared a video clip from President Oaks’ 2006 advice to young adults in a talk titled “Dating versus hanging out.”

President Oaks said that advice to start looking for someone to pair off with is not dated, including a granddaughter’s use of three p’s to define a date: planned ahead, paid for and paired off.

Gender dysphoria

President and Sister Oaks also spoke about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and how church members should navigate them.

“My first advice is to remember that whatever our own variations in the diversity of our Father in heaven’s creations, he loves all of us, and his perfect plan of happiness has a place for all,” he said.

While he said God has repeatedly revealed that he created male and female, he said church members can love others and find common ground while not compromising those truths.

President Oaks repeated previous statements he has made that gender dysphoria “assumes different forms at different times in a person’s life,” and that those affected by it and their families should take a long view and rely on eternal principles.

He expounded on previous teachings about balancing love and gospel law.

“Many of us have a tendency to give less attention to loving our neighbor and to overemphasize keeping the law (commandments),” he said.

That is his own tendency, because of his legal training, he said, and because the first great commandment to love God includes keeping his commandments. It’s just easier to judge oneself and others on whether they are obeying the law.

“I now believe that goal to be better expressed as trying to live both of these commandments in a more complete way,” he said. “Anyone who does not treat individuals who face gender identity challenges with love and dignity is not aligned with the teachings of the first and second great commandments.”

The church has supported Fairness for All laws around the country, and last year, it supported a similarly balanced approach in the amended Respect for Marriage Act, adding protections for religious expression while codifying same-sex marriage into federal law.

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President Oaks said church members should follow the divine example of Jesus Christ, who refrained from judging the woman taken in adultery. Instead, Christ asked those who wanted to judge her, or apply the law immediately, to first examine themselves. He knew the law would be applied at the judgment bar after this life.

Then, “the Savior applied the power of love,” President Oaks said. “He mercifully declined to condemn the woman, and that loving act lifted her to a new life, including repentance. ... The Savior extended love and mercy by refraining from condemning and then affirmed the law by saying ‘go, and sin no more.’”

President Oaks said record numbers of American teens are struggling with anxiety, social media addiction and drugs. Latter-day Saint teenagers and young adults, he said, benefit from gospel knowledge.

“You know you are children of God, a uniquely divine heritage. God loves you. He is a powerful mentor, and he has promised to help you if you but seek him in the way he has taught. Establish in your mind and your personal priorities the powerful truth that you are a beloved child of God. His love endows you with the self-respect, the strength and the motivation to move against whatever problems you face in your life,” he said.

“And never forget that his servants love you. We love you,” he added.

Same-sex attraction

He reiterated that the church teaches that the feeling of romantic attraction to someone of the same sex is itself not a sin, but church members are not to act on those feelings.

“As persons and family members experience such feelings, they should be careful with labels.”

He shared a video clip and quotes from last year’s young adult worldwide devotional, when President Nelson said labels are limiting, divisive and restrictive.

“No identifier should displace, replace or take priority over these three enduring designations: ‘child of God,’ ‘child of the covenant’ and ‘disciple of Jesus Christ,’” President Nelson said.

President Oaks also repeated President Nelson’s statement that, “Any identifier that is not compatible with these three basic designations will ultimately let you down. Other labels will disappoint you in time because they do not have the power to lead you toward eternal life in the celestial kingdom of God.”