The World Congress of Families is the largest pro-family gathering in the world. For the first time ever, the monumental event is being held in the United States--right in the heart of Salt Lake City.
At the Grand America Hotel on Tuesday morning, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered the keynote address. He urged the audience of thousands to not surrender their deeply held convictions of the family, yet to strive toward compassion and understanding for all.
"We should extend a hand of fellowship to those with whom we disagree," he said. "Christ commanded, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father which is in Heaven.' Just as we do not or should not shun family members with whom we disagree, we cannot shun those who look or act differently than we do."
To emphasize his point, Elder Ballard discussed the ways the LDS Church has recently teamed up with the LGBT community to pass important legislation that balances and protects the rights of both LGBT people and religious groups.
"Our work with the LGBT community and the Utah Legislature lessened the divisiveness in our communities without compromising on key principles," he said. "We can love one another without compromising personal divine ideals. And we can speak of those ideals without marginalizing others."
"If those who oppose us are genuine in their commitment to diversity and equality, we should be able to work together to find compassion and peace . . . we can create a diverse tapestry of ideals and beliefs."
Many pro-LGBT organizations have recently labeled the World Congress of Families as a "hate group" because of their conservative stance on family issues. The congress is a staunch proponent of traditional marriage and opposed the Supreme Court's recent decision to legalize gay marriage around the country.
Elder Ballard indirectly addressed these accusations. "We seem to live in a time of extremes," he said. "Often compromise seems difficult and distant. We hear stories of people who have tried to be true to their standards, only to be accused of bigotry or intolerance or punished on some seemingly unreasonable scale."
Despite the chasm of differences between these opposing viewpoints, Elder Ballard maintained that peaceful dialogue and mutual respect is not only possible, it is imperative. "We demonstrate our best humanity when we show love and kindness to all of God's children," he said. "We demonstrate our discipleship when we refuse strident tones, when we refuse derisive labels, and when we enter the public square seeking fair outcomes."
Elder Ballard's address to the congress focused heavily on the doctrine of the Plan of Salvation. He outlined the Father's plan of happiness by playing the Children's Primary song, "I Lived in Heaven." He discussed the sacred nature of the temple and the promises made there. He outlined the Latter-day Saint belief that our families are not just given to us here on earth, but for eternity.
"The doctrines and theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints literally start and end with family," he said.
He closed by quoting from the Family Proclamation: "We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society."