This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
We know that a key role of prophets is to serve as a voice of warning, but that voice is not often as stark as it was from Elder Perry in the Sunday afternoon session of the October 1977 General Conference:
I stand before you today to accuse many of the husbands and fathers who are within the sound of my voice and throughout the world of failing in your two major God-given responsibilities.
This talk is another in the long, long list of examples for how seriously the Church has been committed to the ideal of the family going back long before I was born. As Elder Perry says:
God in His divine plan ordained that marriage was to bring about his basic organizational unit, the family. The role of husband and wife was clearly defined from the very beginning. In the Lord’s plan, these roles are unchanged and eternal.
So that’s one of the recurring surprises for me as I go through these old General Conference talks. I didn’t know—and hadn’t expected—that the exact same ideas about the family would be taught to clearly and emphatically back then.1
The other recurring surprise for me has been how soft and gentle a lot of the language was. Yes, there is some rhetoric—especially on topics related to sexual morality—that is a lot harsher than what we’re used to. The word “abomination” got used a fair amount, and I don’t think we ever hear that at all these days. But when it comes to teaching about how fathers should treat their children and how husbands should treat their wives, the language is diametrically opposed to the stereotype of the stern, remote, authoritarian patriarch. The Church’s teachings on marriage and family—we’re supposed to believe—are some kind of anachronistic throwback to an era of rigid inflexibility. But when I read the words, what I find instead are things like Elder Perry’s story of how he was so besotted with his wife (after decades of marriage) that a random bystander at a car wash noticed and talked to his wife about it. He wraps up the story with: “Husbands, are your actions at all times a reflection of your love for wife?” Just for good measure, he reiterates: “it is a twenty-four-hour-a-day job to show appreciation and consideration for [your wife].”
Elder Perry’s talk is far, far from unique in this regard, and the cajoling words of the general authorities with regards to how fathers should treat their children are just as emotion and—for lack of better words—soft and squishy. I can’t find it offhand, but I know the word “cuddle” was used at least one in this general conference.
This is why I’m so glad I’m going back to read these talks for myself. There’s incredible value in knowing for yourself what the message has actually been all this time.