Speaking to Latter-day Saints on the second day of the fifteenth annual education conference at Southern Virginia University, Associate Professor of Church History & Doctrine at Brigham Young University Michael Goodman testified, “God wants to play a vastly more active role in our marriages than most of us allow him to play.”
With messages inspired by the theme, “Family…Forever,” the concluding sessions of the conference also featured Charles D. Knutson, associate professor of computer science at BYU; Ariel Rodriguez, associate professor of family and child development at Southern Virginia; Brian King, author of “The 100 Day Promise” and his wife Nonnie; Leslie Whyte Graff, artist and child life specialist; Scott and Angelle Anderson, popular speakers on the subject of parenting; and a musical concert by accomplished pianist Marvin Goldstein and soloist Vanessa Joy.
Goodman’s talk, “The Power of the Sealing Covenant to Exalt,” complimented his remarks from the previous day, stating that the family is the plan of happiness.
He focused on the essential nature of the sealing covenant of marriage—a priesthood covenant required for exaltation in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.
“The ordinance and covenant of eternal marriage makes it possible for us to connect with God in a way that allows God to share his power to exalt us,” Goodman said. “Without that power and covenant a husband and wife cannot spend eternity together.”
Goodman reminded Latter-day Saints that covenants are usually a two-way commitment between God and His children, but eternal marriage is a three-way commitment between a man, a woman and God.
Citing scriptures, general authorities and Church scholars, he outlined the blessings promised to individuals, couples and their children when they enter into this covenant. He also described what is required to live and keep the marriage covenant in order to secure those blessings throughout eternity.
“When we keep our covenants, we eternally bind ourselves to God,” he said. “Once eternally bound to God, he shares with us his virtues.”
Goodman emphasized two blessings of marital covenant keeping. “Above all else God promises power and protection,” he said.
Charles Knutson spoke about Internet and technology safety within the family. He counseled parents and grandparents not to “pull the plug” on technology, but to understand and use it.
“Technology is a tool,” he said. “Every tool can be can be used for good or evil. The easiest reaction to make when faced with technology is to pull the plug, because [it] gives you a sense of security. I assert that it’s a false sense of security.”
Just as the rod of iron, seen by Lehi and Nephi in the Book of Mormon, is located on the bank of the river of filthy water, Knutson explained that at some point in our mortal probation, there is an inevitable colocation of good and evil.
“If you find yourself clutching the rod of iron and filthy water is lapping on your shoes, it may be a sign that you’re trapped in a mortal probation,” he said. “The only way out is to grasp the rod and press forward . . . Successful navigation does not result in the elimination of the opposition.”
A father of ten, Knutson told attendees that the best way to learn what their children or grandchildren are doing is by doing it themselves, such as adding them as a friend on Facebook.
“You don’t have to be a computer science major or a Ph.D. to understand the technology,” he said. “There is an opportunity when dealing with kids where it behooves us to stick ourselves into our children’s technological lives.”
In practice, Knutson counseled parents to:
“The technology is not good or wrong,” he concluded. “It is simply the backdrop against which we are living out our mortal probation. We have to understand it and be fluent enough in it to be guided by the Spirit so that we can make our own decisions.”
Ariel Rodriguez focused his remarks on the importance of gender as evidenced in The Family: A Proclamation to the World. He noted that the eternal nature of gender is the first doctrine asserted after the main declaration of the Proclamation’s introductory paragraph.
According to Rodriguez, who received a doctorate in family and human development from Utah State University, a correct understanding of the Proclamation begins with a correct understanding of gender.
“I think there is a reason why [gender] comes first within the body of the Proclamation,” he said. “If we want to defend the family as an institution, it begins with a correct understanding of gender and a commitment to saying ‘gender matters.’”
Although there is little known in LDS doctrine about the reasons for the gendered division of duties in the plan of happiness, Rodriguez said gender is an essential characteristic of our eternal identity and purpose, and should not be dismissed as trivial, irrelevant, or transient, as it often is in the social sciences and throughout the world.
“A correct understanding of marriage, family, and the plan of happiness requires us to pay attention to these differences,” he said.
Rodriguez described two paradigms of gender within the social sciences: sociological and biosocial. He cited documented research to argue that biology has a direct effect on gendered behavior.
“We need to acknowledge that there are real differences between men and women,” he said. “Some of those differences help us in our divine purpose here in mortality, and some of those differences are challenges that we learn to overcome together.”
Brian and Nonnie King spoke on experiences that inspired Brian’s book, “The 100 Day Promise: Radically Transforming Your Marriage by Living with Complete Concern for Your Spouse’s Happiness,” which details their quest towards a better marriage.
Brian said after an argument with his wife, the Lord reminded him of a prior revelation, saying, “Just love her and let me do the teaching.” He set a goal to only do the things he knew would make his wife happy for 100 days and document her reactions.
“It was not going to be my role to correct, and to try and say how things should be,” he said. “But just to love her in the best way that I could figure out.”
According to Nonnie, the experiment brought both of them closer to Christ and to each other.
Speaking of his decision to turn the experiment into a book, Brian said, “It seemed like a message that people needed to hear. If I can do something . . . to help people understand that it is within their power to change the dynamic and not rely on the other person—that could be a message that could potentially have an impact on the world.”
Leslie Graff spoke about a series of paintings she displayed at the conference depicting women engaged in domestic work.
The distinguishing characteristic of the “Domestic Series,” is that the female figure in each painting is depicted from the shoulders down, dressed in a skirt and high heels—both of which raise a lot of questions, Graff said.
“We often fail to use art for what it can be,” she said. “Art can be very powerful in terms of sending a message or making us feel things. When we create art, the viewer brings his or her own background and experiences to the piece and has a unique experience with [it] that is different from anyone else.”
Graff, who received a master’s degree in marriage and human development from BYU, said she intended to raise questions with these paintings. She hopes to cause people to reevaluate the actions and the roles we do that define who we are and that define what family is and what family does.
“For me it’s about not being afraid to stand up for what we believe about families and not being afraid to be vocal about what we believe about families,” she said.
To conclude the conference, Scott and Angelle Anderson discussed how the Atonement of Jesus Christ can literally make our family relationships “at-one” with each other and with the Lord.
“[Christ’s] desire is to be one with us, not just to help us overcome weakness, or sin, or mistakes,” Scott said. “His at-one-ment can transform our relationships and can make a difference.”
Angelle explained how the pattern the Lord uses to manage His Church and His family here on earth can be used to organize our families, “that we may become closer, more connected, more one.”
Just as wards and stakes delegate callings or assignments to Church members, the Andersons found success giving callings to their seven children. They believe President Hinckley’s instruction that every newly baptized member of the Church needs a friend, a calling, and nourishment from the good word of God, applies to our children as well.
“We need each other,” Angelle said. “Sisters, husbands, sons, daughters; we need parents, brothers, grandparents. We are woven together in a tapestry of love, tears, frustration, and joy.”
Scott reminded attendees that the Savior’s atonement is to help forgive just as much as it is to help be forgiven.
“Don’t look at the atonement in the past tense,” he concluded. “It is not something he did for us, it is something he is doing actively right now; At-one-ment is real this very hour.”