His white hair, kind smile, gentle manners and love of people is what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remember when they think of President David O. McKay, the ninth president of the church. His monumental guideposts through his 20-year administration from 1951 to 1970, set the church in motion to be a worldwide beacon of safety and home. Whatever success the church had, one of the greatest efforts for President McKay was his focus on family.
It was his strong testimony and continual message that “no other success can compensate for failure in the home,” that continues to speak to the world today.
The 1995 Proclamation on the Family, released by the First Presidency some 30 years later, was further fulfillment of President McKay’s message to help parents and children understand their duty, what God’s laws are, and what he expects from his children.
In part the proclamation states: “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. 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. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
“David O. McKay’s ‘Success can never compensate for failure in the home’ was a statement that has remained in my heart since I first heard it,” said Orem resident Candace Salima. “A pure truth, we come to understand that the family unit is not just a mortal unit, but one that is eternal. As such, we must fight to keep our family together. If we fail our families, we fail everything.”
President McKay exemplified every word of what he preached. He was devoted to his own family, particularly to his beloved wife Emma Ray. In fact, they were the first couple to be married in the Salt Lake Temple in the 20th century on January 2, 1901.
President McKay believed every couple and family should have the opportunity to cultivate heaven in the home. He took that love and message to the people of the world and was the first LDS Prophet to visit every continent. He visited more countries than all the other prophets combined, up to that point in church history.
Family Home Evening Program Launched
In 1965, after decades of church leadership suggesting families meet once a week, President McKay solidified the Family Home Evening program.
Wards were encouraged to pick a night for families to meet and Family Home Evening manuals were distributed to each LDS home. It wasn’t until 1970 that Monday nights were set worldwide as Family Home Evening night.
“The home is the first and most effective place for children to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self-control; the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life,” said President McKay in the 1968 Family Home Evening manual. “Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
The church encouraged families to hold spiritual discussions, participate in wholesome activities and render service to keep family bonds secure. “The Church History In the Fullness of Times Student Manual” states that President McKay emphasized the importance of home and family life as the source of happiness and the surest defense against the trials and temptations of modern life.
Much has changed in the world since President McKay uttered those words. The importance of the family has not.
A later Family Home Evening manual contained this promise: “Families who prayerfully prepare and constantly hold their weekly Home Evenings, and who work together during the week to apply the lessons in their lives, will be blessed. There will be better feelings between husband and wife, between parents and children, and among children. In such homes the Spirit of the Lord will be made manifest.”
From the 1960s through the next four decades Mormons were synonymous with family. The church drew more attention to family and family values from famous members of the church including the King Family, the Osmonds, the J. Willard Marriott family, Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, George Romney and son Mitt, the Jon Huntsman family and others.
The concept of families meeting one night a week has slowly been adopted by other churches and organizations. It has been seen as a way to lower crime rates, improve school grades and strengthen communities. The concept also became a money-making venture for corporations including board game makers Hasbro and Milton Bradley as they promote family game nights.
While the importance of the family and the programs set for through Family Home Evening helped toward perfecting the saints, President McKay was also working on keeping genealogical records, dedicated temples, and improved missionary efforts.
Temple and Genealogy Work Continues
In 1963 vaults blasted out of the granite mountains in Little Cottonwood Canyon were completed. Over the years they would store millions of genealogical records and other documents and items significant to the church.
The granite vaults have since become a curiosity to the members of the church and fodder for several LDS urban legends.
On November 17 through 19, 1964, President McKay dedicated the church’s 13th temple in Oakland, Calif. During his administration in the 1950s he McKay also previously dedicated the Bern Switzerland, Los Angeles California, Hamilton New Zealand, and London England Temples.
Missionary Work Grows
On July 31, 1960, it was announced that young men would be able to start serving missions at age 19, even though they had not met educational or military qualifications that had been required. By June of 1961, the entire missionary program of the church had been revamped, the first conference for mission presidents was held and a new missionary teaching plan, including six lessons, was introduced.
In a bold move, Latter-day Saints were introduced to the “Every Member a Missionary” program and put members on notice that they are part of the missionary effort. Within months missions throughout the world were divided into nine areas and a General Authority was assigned to administer each area.
Church Correlation Begins
It was under President McKay’s administration that church leadership was asked, in March 1960, to study church programs and curriculum in order to have better correlation between the groups.
In the History of the Church it states: “The Church also made other changes in order to more effectively correlate all programs and activities — including welfare, missionary, and family history work — to better accomplish the church’s mission.”
Home teaching, which had been part of the church since the time of Joseph Smith, was reemphasized in the 1960s as a way to help care for the spiritual and temporal needs of all church members.
Meetinghouse libraries were established to enhance teaching, and a teacher development program was also put in place.