An interview with Elder Kopischke about the importance of marriage and families in today’s society.
While speaking at the VI World Congress of Families in Madrid, Spain, Elder Erich W. Kopischke of the Seventy and president of the Europe Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave the following address:
I feel very privileged to speak to you today. This convention and its objectives are close to my heart. I am aware that, at least in so-called western society, the traditional family of father, mother, and children is in rapid decline. My wife Christiane and I, who have been happily married for more than thirty-three years, along with our seven children and five grandchildren to date, seem to belong to a dying breed—almost an oddity in today’s world. People look at us with some astonishment and inquire: “Seven children, one wife, thirty-three years?” Some feel sorry for us, and some call us lucky. However, we feel neither sorry nor lucky—we are just happy. We are living the life we dreamed about and always wanted to have. It is fulfilling and rewarding. Elder Russell M. Nelson, who spoke at the 2009 European Congress on Families in Amsterdam, recently said:
“We were born with a capacity to grow, love, marry, and form families.
“Marriage and family are ordained of God. The family is the most important social unit.… It fulfills the deepest longings of the human soul—the natural yearning for endless association with beloved members of one´s family” (“Thanks Be to God,” Ensign, May 2012, 77).
Even though many people yearn for traditional family life, fewer and fewer have it. During the second half of the last century, annual marriages in Germany declined by more than 40%. Too many young people do not marry any more. Many foster a variety of personal lifestyles, often driven by fun, freedom, and self-fulfillment. The “shareholder value” principle of the business world has crept into individual lives and families: low investment, quick and high return. The overall credo seems to be: “I am willing to marry and even have one or two children if that does not interfere with my career or personal life style.” And that is exactly what happens: family and children are planned and built around career and personal interests. Sometimes children even become a hobby. The objective is to increase the pleasurable life for the individual adults.
However, the price is high for pursuing this course of action. Attributes that build successful marriages and families like sacrifice, love, consideration, commitment, service, patience, endurance, and fidelity often are not found in these relationships. Personal desires, attractions, and opportunities take precedence. Small storms, which everyone has to face in life, cause families to fall apart quickly. In today´s world, where almost everybody thinks they should be able to get everything they want, people get more and more selfish and less and less content. No wonder the divorce rate increased from 9.6% in 1955 to a peak of 56% in 2003. In the last ten years the divorce rate in Germany has consistently been above the 50% mark. But Germany does not stand alone. We are surrounded by neighbors who are facing the same types of problems.
The decline of the family is not only reflected in fewer marriages and higher divorce rates, but also in far fewer children being born. And those newborns who do come into this world are often born out of wedlock and are being raised by single parents. More than 90% of these children live with their mothers and miss the influence of their fathers in their lives.
The loss of the father’s influence in the home has a significant effect on children. The journalist Claus Jacobi has written:
“An allegedly improved quality of life for adults has been obtained at the cost of the little ones. Every divorce wounds their little souls. Like turtles, many of them don’t know their fathers. Others look out of strangers’ windows or grow up in broken clans. Whilst Daddy pursues his career and Mommy asserts herself, they, who are, after all, innocent, are farmed out to day care centers, shoved into homes or parked in front of the television, which teaches them new cruelties every day” (Claus Jacobi, “Like Turtles, Many German Children Don’t Know Their Fathers,” Welt am Sonntag, 5 Nov. 2001).
All these developments have serious consequences for society. Overwhelmed parents, many of them living in single or patchwork households, deal with disoriented and rebelling children. Children who seek a sense of belonging are attracted to organized gangs, which in turn create a security issue. Child poverty and lack of educational opportunities for these children are on the rise. Many of them feel they have nothing positive to look forward to in life.
Exploding state budgets reflect that the largest expenditures come from dealing with social issues and security expenses. Securing “social peace” has become a political program. Pondering the reasons for the recent outbursts of violence in the United Kingdom in 2011, Britain´s chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote:
“In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint. All you need, sang the Beatles, is love. The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came: whatever works for you. The Ten Commandments were rewritten as the Ten Creative Suggestions. Or as Allan Bloom put it: ‘I am the Lord Your God: Relax!’” (Jonathan Sacks, “Reversing the Decay of London Undone,” The Wall Street Journal, 20 Aug. 2011).
While it is vital to understand the problems being created by the disintegration of the family, listing problems alone will never solve the issues. We need to understand the reasons behind the changes. If we identify and understand why this is happening, we have a better chance to look for solutions.
More than a hundred years ago, Henry M. Field, an American clergyman, observed:
“The loss of popular respect for religion is the dry rot of social institutions. The idea of God as the Creator and Father of all mankind is, in the moral world, what gravitation is in the natural; it holds all together and causes [everything] to revolve around a common center. Take this away, and men [and women] drop apart: there is no such thing as collective humanity, but only separate molecules [of men and women drifting in the universe], with no more cohesion [and no more meaning] than so many grains of sand” (Henry M. Field, as quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts, Tryon Edwards, ed., 1891, 478).
This thought, though expressed in the nineteenth century, still holds true today. Not only do we need to rebuild trust in the value of marriage and family but also faith in God. Religion plays a vital role when it comes to values, responsibility, and appropriate use of agency, which is our ability to make choices. Therefore, today I want to make a case for marriage and family, based and centered on a belief in a God and Creator.
My faith and trust in God has an impact on what I do. My actions are different because I believe in a Supreme Being and in a life after death. These beliefs deepen my understanding of agency and broaden my perspective of life. I am grateful that God has given me and my fellow mortals the ability to make decisions, but I realize that with this opportunity to make choices comes great responsibility. I know that my actions matter and that I am accountable to God for how I choose to live my life.
Those of the Judeo-Christian tradition believe that God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make an help meet for him.” “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:18, 24). In this decree we find one of God’s reasons for marriage: God recognizes that it is simply not good for man to be alone. One major purpose in life is to get married and have children.
In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” published in September 1995 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we read the following:
“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God…The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife…Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalm 127:3). Parents have the sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”
The Proclamation further states:
“Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity… Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
We need to teach and reteach these principles. From the beginning of the world, men were never meant to stay single but to live in families. Without healthy families, there cannot be healthy civilizations.
The American Historian Will Durant noted: “The family is at the nucleus of civilization” (Will Durant: BrainyQuote.com. 12 April 2012). http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/willdurant154369.html).
A civilization and a society can and will be only as strong as its families. This idea has probably been stated a hundred times at pro-family conventions and conferences like this around the globe. I would like to add to this obvious truth the following statement: A family can and will only be as strong as the marriage on which it is based. We therefore need to help people understand why to get married and how to be successful in marriage. We need to advertise that the investment is worth all the effort. We need to continually plead for more marriages, for better marriages, which over the years turn into strong and lasting marriages. A relationship between a man and woman that is founded on mutual faith and a love towards God becomes the foundation upon which the couple can grow in their love, respect, and care for one another.
I have learned in my own life that my deepest satisfaction and purpose are the result of my marriage and the loving family relationships that have grown out of it. This happiness money cannot buy and surely cannot be achieved on the fast track. It took me 32 years of parenting to experience, just the other day, a wonderful excursion with our 2-year-old granddaughter. We went on a walk together—just the two of us—and we had so much fun, so much to discover, and we created a lot of sweet memories. In order to experience such happiness and fulfillment, throughout the years I have had to focus on the well-being and welfare of others, not on self-centered pleasures and quick satisfactions. I have tried to be the kind of person I know God wants me to be.
I will close with a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet, who stated:
“Marriage is the beginning and the pinnacle of all culture. It makes the rough person gentle, and the most educated has no better opportunity to prove his gentleness. It must be unbreakable, because it brings so much happiness, that each individual unhappiness pales into insignificance against it. And why should we speak of unhappiness? It is impatience that overcomes people from time to time, and then they deign themselves to be unhappy. Let the moment pass, and then you will consider yourself happy that something which has endured so long continues to endure!” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Elective Affinities,Tübingen: in de J.G.Gottaischen Buchhandlung, page #I, 9).