DENVER, Colo. There is no more important foundation stone on which to build a bridge to the future than the family, said President Gordon B. Hinckley April 22, speaking to an audience of 6,500 on the University of Denver campus.
One of several prominent individuals to participate in a statewide Colorado effort to promote values, President Hinckley said that society cannot destroy the family with the values on which it must be based without undermining the strength of the nation.
The address was part of a yearlong series sponsored by Colorado State University and the University of Denver. "Bridges to the Future: American History and Values in Light of September 11th" is an exploration of American values, said University of Denver Chancellor Daniel L. Ritchie.
The series began last fall with an inaugural address by former U.S. Senator and astronaut John Glenn. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and columnist George F. Will among many others have also participated in the series, aimed at exploring different viewpoints.
Chancellor Ritchie said in a Church News interview before the event that President Hinckley was invited to participate in the series because of his international reputation and a desire to learn more about the values he teaches, embraced by a rapidly growing Church membership in Colorado. The university reserved 2,000 tickets to President Hinckley's address for Church members; the remainder of the tickets were distributed at no cost to students, local leaders and others in the Denver community.
During his remarks, received with numerous standing ovations, President Hinckley spoke with characteristic wit. "I will be 93 on my next birthday," he said. "You ask, 'What future is there for you?' "
But even as an old man, he said in reference to a Greek proverb, he has an impulse to plant trees whose shade he will never enjoy.
"I hope I can assist in building bridges, bridges I will likely never walk across, but which will be crossed and appreciated by many," he said.
Recalling the days he lived in Denver while working for the railroad, President Hinckley spoke of an incident in which a freight train derailed in a very narrow gorge of the Colorado River. The line was blocked and there was no room to run a track around the wreck.
"There was only one solution," President Hinckley said. "Push the cars into the river. Sacrifice the freight. Repair the tracks and open the line. . . .
"I learned that a wreck can become a very costly thing, but it will be more costly to do nothing but wring your hands. You will soon find yourself out of business. You make the best of the situation, no matter the cost, and move forward."
So it is with events in history such as 9/11 that lead to significant change, said President Hinckley.
The events of Sept. 11 led to the war on terrorism, chiefly in Afghanistan, and ultimately to the present conflict in Iraq.
While cities of Iraq have now been occupied, terrible problems remain, said President Hinckley. "We have won the war and we now face the perplexing challenge of winning the peace."
The war, he said, has also brought anger against America from those who were once allies and friends. "As a nation we must build bridges to cross these rivers of bitterness," he said. "There will be a need for great statesmanship, magnanimous trust and absolute integrity on our part.
"But there are bridges which we must build not only outside but also within our nation, important bridges, without which there will be increasing national decay."
He spoke of his extensive travels all over the world, the beauties of the earth in all their diversity, and of his love of the peoples of the world. He spoke also of his love for America and for the people of this land, particularly the youth, hundreds of thousands with whom he has met. He described them as bright and beautiful, possessing a certain vitality and strength, foresight and ambition, goals and objectives.
Yet, he said, there are millions of others who have fallen through the cracks, who have lost their dreams and have no purpose. "Their lives lead to a dead end," he said. "They are the bitter fruit of broken families and fractured homes. Most of them have no fathers of whom they know.
"In my judgment the greatest challenge facing this nation is the problem of the family, brought on by misguided parents and resulting in misguided children. Though it did not begin with 9/11, the events of that day spoke to all of us of the necessity of strong and supportive families. The strengthening of the home is of paramount importance in building bridges for the future.
"The family is the primary unit of society. I believe it was designed by the Almighty. A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its families."
Further, he said, "It isn't the place, the real estate, that determines the quality of a home. It isn't the opulence of the dwelling or the race or the brilliance of the occupants. In most cases it's the parents that make the difference. It's the man and the woman who are responsible for the children. And to put it bluntly, too many of them are cop-outs.
"As we contemplate the future I see only a small chance of our improving our values system unless we can strengthen the sense of responsibility and acceptance of the vital truth that fatherhood and motherhood carry with them tremendous and lifelong obligations."
President Hinckley said that a parent who runs away from family responsibility teaches irresponsibility to children. "A parent who stays with the family, nourishes them, loves them, teaches them pride in their name regardless of their economic circumstances, does something for the family, the community and the nation that cannot be done in any other way or by anyone else."
He said people in America need discipline which can be learned and taught, a process that starts in the home.
President Hinckley said many factors brought the nation to this point: pornography, illegal drugs, divorce, the "fruits of unbridled sex."
"I think none of us would wish to return to a code of extreme puritanism," he said. "But I honestly believe that most people would welcome an uplift, a great improvement in the products of Hollywood."
He then explained to the audience about the Church's family home evening program.
"I submit that if we will work to turn the families of America to God, if they will recognize Him as our divine Father, as the Ruler of the universe, as the Giver of all good, something wonderful will happen," he said. "Think of what it means to know that each of us is actually a child of God and that He is our Father to whom we may go in prayer.
"If we will use our energies to bring about a practice in the homes of America of good reading, including the reading of the scripture, of a desire for education, of an attitude of civility one to another; then, and only then, will our nation truly become not only the military leader but also the moral light of the entire world."
President Hinckley said that since 9/11 America has established a large agency entitled Homeland Security to deal with any present or future threat. "May I say that it is likewise urgent that we work at Home and Family Security.
"As we do so America will be strong not only in her arms and military affairs, she will be invincible in her moral values and in the integrity of her people."
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