LDS around the world weigh in on one of the faith’s most controversial documents

The family proclamation continues to be hotly debated and disputed in the U.S., but the iconic text isn’t viewed the same way among Latter-day Saints in many nations that make up the global faith.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A family reads a church magazine. The faith's family proclamation is viewed differently by all members, but especially among believers outside the United States.

Published in 1995, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” with its emphasis on male-female marriage and “traditional” gender roles, has emerged as one of the most dissected, debated and disputed documents in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — at least, that is, in the United States.

But what about outside of the country where the faith was founded? After all, the global church of more than 17 million has more members (10 million-plus) outside the U.S. than in it (nearly 7 million).

Responses from six non-U.S. Latter-day Saints to the same set of questions suggest that how a person views the proclamation, which has never been canonized, depends a great deal not only on their own views but also the dominant politics and culture of the places they call home.

From Argentina to Japan, the interviewees, all of whom identified as active Latter-day Saints, voiced a range of attitudes toward the family proclamation, as it’s come to be known, from the enthusiastic to what amounted to little more than a shrug.

The following were submitted through email and have been edited slightly for style and clarity:

Sine Bentley

South Africa

(Sine Bentley) Raised in South Africa by a working mom, Sine Bentley has wrestled with what she feels is the family proclamation's "prescriptive roles" for men and women.

Bentley was born and reared in Durban. At age 20, she moved to Utah, where she currently resides.

Do you personally believe the family proclamation represents scripture on par with the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price?

Yes, for the most part. There seem to be some contradictions with past church-sanctioned polygamist practices.

Is there any portion of the proclamation that you find especially meaningful?

This part is reassuring and reminds me of the divinity within every single person I encounter: “All human beings — male and female — are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

Is there any portion of the proclamation that you find upsetting or harmful?

The prescriptive roles of mothers and fathers were tough for me to grapple with as a woman raised by a working mom and surrounded by other working moms. For a long time I carried intense shame for my desire to work. However, I felt peace in leaning into this section of the proclamation and knowing that God allows for us to live our lives in way that don’t always match up to any predefined notion of what “good” is culturally: “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

How does the proclamation shape what it means to you to be a Latter-day Saint, if at all?

It’s become a foundational document/declaration for me as a parent and Latter-day Saint. Being reminded of the sacredness of my role and reassurance of God’s presence as I falter and stumble through guiding my own children through this life is reassuring.

How does the proclamation influence your understanding of God, if at all?

It reaffirms the sacred parent-child relationship between me and God that sustains me through difficult times.

Dieudonné Mbuyi


(Dieudonné Mbuyi) Dieudonné Mbuyi, a 64-year-old Latter-day Saint from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said he considers the family proclamation to be scripture on par with the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Mbuyi was born in Luebo, located in Kasai province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but has spent most of his life in the DRC province of Kinshasa. He lived for 16 years in Europe as well. He is 64 years old.

Do you personally believe the family proclamation represents scripture on par with the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price?

Yes, I do.

Is there any portion of the proclamation that you find especially meaningful?

Each paragraph is meaningful and true.

Is there any portion of the proclamation that you find upsetting or harmful?


How does the proclamation shape what it means to you to be a Latter-day Saint, if at all?

The proclamation is very inspired. As a Latter-day Saint, I have to sustain it and follow the inspired guidelines.

How does the proclamation influence your understanding of God, if at all?

We were created in his image, and he wants us to be like him and return to him by following his plan.

Wilfried Decoo


(Wilfried Decoo) Wilfried Decoo is a Latter-day Saint from Belgium, where, he said, church members "pay little to no attention" to the family proclamation.

Originally from Belgium, Decoo has also lived in Congo and Utah, the latter for nearly two decades. The 77-year-old retired linguistics professor taught at Brigham Young University and the University of Antwerp.

Overall, members in Belgium pay little to no attention to the proclamation as such. The message of marital fidelity and familial responsibility is universal. Nothing new there. The core doctrine of eternal marriage is part of basic Latter-day Saint beliefs, amply stressed in lessons and talks. The only salient items in the proclamation are the emphasis on traditional gender roles — male presiding and female nurturing — and the implied rejection of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Research among Belgian Latter-day Saint women showed them shrugging off the concept of male presiding. As one woman wittily expressed it: “Presiding means that we discuss it together, and then he can say what we decided, because Mommy has enough arguments to convince Daddy.” Gender equality is deeply ingrained in Belgian culture.

As to homosexuality, Belgium was one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2003. Its normalcy is widely accepted. So the church’s policy remains an “annoying” issue for many members. Insiders are, of course, aware of the historical context for which the proclamation was needed — the battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii in the 1990s and the “Christian right” coalition, which the church supported. It can be deduced that the trigger for the proclamation was basically political.

As a linguist, I found it surprising to see the term “gender” in the proclamation. It was obviously meant as “biological sex.” But the difference between gender and sex had been expounded since the 1950s. In the United States, Judith Butler’s work on gender constitution dates back to the 1980s — “existence precedes essence.” Perhaps the proclamation authors were unaware of the sociological meaning of the term or were reticent to use “sex” as “an essential characteristic” and then “sex” perhaps being understood as “having sex.”

Translators caught the ambiguity. When the proclamation was published in other languages, “gender” became in French “le genre masculin ou féminin” and in Spanish “El ser hombre o el ser mujer” (being a man or being a woman). In Dutch, “gender” was translated by “geslacht” and in German by “Geslecht,” the word for biological sex, though “gender” exists in both languages. Similar choice in Italian: “il sesso” instead of “il genere.” For English, church leadership finally had to clarify in 2019 that “gender” in the proclamation is meant as “biological sex at birth,” much to the sorrow of those who saw a ray of hope in the term “gender.”


United Kingdom

Born and raised in England, this interviewee moved to the United States nearly 10 years ago at age 32. She asked that her name not be cited out of concern that her comments could negatively impact her husband’s status as a church employee.

Unless “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is officially canonized, I wouldn’t consider it scripture in the strictest sense. Still, I wouldn’t worry if it were. This probably stems from how we interact with it in England. I wouldn’t say it’s ignored, but there is a level of ambivalence. While it is seen as containing some important doctrinal points, such as the inclusion of everyone in God’s family and the preeminent role of families in society, it isn’t seen as a rigid directive for what families should look like or how they should function. Perhaps these things were viewed already as axiomatic by British members. Greater value is placed on personal revelation and practicality, based on the assumption that people are simply trying to do the best they can.

Personally, I see much potential flexibility in the proclamation. It is definitive on only a few points. When I moved to America, I was surprised at how some people’s interpretations were more rigid and binary. For example, there are many ways to define “nurture.” For myself, that implies being spiritually present for my children, and that finds expression in many ways. Yet many reduce it to mean simply remaining home with children. I would never assume to know what nurturing looks like for another woman; that would be for her to discover and choose to apply.

The more I research the global church, the more I realize how this flexibility is necessary when applying the proclamation to different locations. While some points may seem restricting in some cultures, the proclamation can be liberating and extremely beneficial to others, especially where neglect, abuse and inequality are endemic.

Still, when I emigrated, I discovered a lot of women found the proclamation difficult, especially the phrase that “men should preside.” For myself, that doesn’t preclude women from presiding with them, especially in a family setting. Disillusionment toward this point may stem from an accumulation of cultural baggage American women carry that has made the proclamation political. Many are burdened by a memory of anti-Equal Rights Amendment lobbying, personal connections to polygamy, and remnants of post-World War II American family ideology. At church, they may sometimes deal with a surplus of male local leaders that reflect wider old-school American patriarchal attitudes.

European women do not relate to these pressures. Allowing men to preside does not necessarily equate to a loss of female autonomy, especially when it is offered freely by society. Furthermore, the survival of European church units relies on the absolute equality of service offered and value placed on both genders.

Ultimately, when I hear Americans say the proclamation is too conservative, I am inclined to remind them it was not written only for them and that it doesn’t have to be viewed only through one culturally politicized lens. We can choose to fixate on certain parts, or we can underscore the main message that we are all God’s family, that Christ’s gospel is intended to bless everyone, and that that truth is first and best applied in our own families and homes.

I see in the proclamation room for eventual acceptance of gay marriage as a recognized civil union. I do not see any language that would stop gay couples from being allowed full fellowship within the church, just as the church recognizes the civil marriage of heterosexual partners who aren’t married in the temple.

Sandra Mahr Zanché


(Sandra Mahr Zanché) An Argentine, Sandra Mahr Zanché believes the family proclamation is an inspired document God gave to the prophet at the exact moment the world needed it.

Zanché has lived her entire life in Argentina. She is 58 years old. Her responses were translated from the original Spanish.

I firmly believe that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was a revelation given to the prophet at the exact moment when the world was beginning to accept norms contrary to Heavenly Father’s plan regarding the family.

In my country, when we received the proclamation, it seemed absurd that emphasis was placed on marriage between a man and a woman. That point surprised us. But a few years later, a ruler who became president of the country approved the law of marriage between people of the same sex, and then we understood that Heavenly Father knows the future and the prophets teach us his word so that we are prepared before things happen.

There is no part of the proclamation that bothers me. I firmly believe that men and women have different gifts and abilities, and can fulfill the same functions within the family, such as raising children if the woman works, but there are certain tasks that I believe correspond to each.

As a priority, it is the man who must work to support the home and the woman must care for, raise and educate the children because she is at home. If they both work, they must share household chores.

As a Latter-day Saint, I believe that the proclamation is a commandment because it is the way of life that Jesus Christ taught us and the plan that the Father devised for all of his children.

I don’t think it’s inappropriate or unfashionable as some people have told me. I believe that the commandments do not change even if the world and its norms change.

It testifies to me that God is perfect, that he is a God of love because he wants his children to be happy and achieve exaltation, and the way to do it is by fulfilling the commandments that he gave us. The proclamation is a summary of commandments that we must fulfill with our families.

Shinji Takagi


Originally from Japan, Takagi, 70, is a professor emeritus of economics at Osaka University. He has lived in the United States for 20 years, much of that just outside of Washington, D.C. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book on Japanese Latter-day Saints that examines, among other things, how church members in Japan reconcile their national and religious identities.

To be honest, I have not given much thought to it ever since it first came out (maybe I read it once — and I thought it did not say anything new — just a restatement of what I had been hearing in the church for many years).

I do remember, though, that, when we were told to share it with friends, I said to those around me that I would not, because the Japanese translation was so poor. I felt ashamed of sharing it with my university colleagues for lack of grace and eloquence (the original English version is well crafted, evidently redrafted many times).

The bigger issue is that the overwhelming majority of Japanese people probably are not interested in even knowing what’s written in it. Japanese society is also becoming quite tolerant of gender diversity. Japan’s Supreme Court recently ruled that a Japanese law that required removal of reproductive ability as a condition for sex change was unconstitutional.

One may think that Japanese society may object to the tone of the family proclamation. I do not think so. Religion or religious organizations in Japan are expected to play a particular role — that is, to be a conservative voice. In this sense, the family proclamation is saying what a religion (a conservative religion, at that) is expected to say. People/organizations are expected to play games in this society. In this social game, the church can only state traditional values. But everybody knew this already. So making a “proclamation” was not necessary in Japan.

— Tribune reporter Alixel Cabrera contributed to this story.

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