It was announced Monday that President Henry B. Eyring would be attending “The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium” to be held in the Vatican 17-19 November. From the colloquium website, this is “a gathering of leaders and scholars from many religions across the globe, to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society” with the aim that it serve as “a catalyst for creative language and projects, as well as for global solidarity, in the work
 of strengthening the nuptial relationship, both for the good of the spouses themselves and for the good of all who depend upon them.

The colloquium is taking place against the background of the 2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family, and follows the October 2014 Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, a report of which can be found here.

The sponsors of the colloquium are “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and
 the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.” The list of participants looks very interesting. A variety of world religions are represented. There are those with an academic background in religion and theology as well as those with qualifications in law, sociology or politics. Both scholars and those working with families at the grass-roots are represented. Speakers hail from all areas of the globe. Seven are women.

The programme for the colloquium is a layout unfamiliar to me, consisting as it does of several main presentations (with a speaker and/or film), most followed by witnesses, presumably giving their view or experience of the subject addressed by the main presentation. Hopefully this will provide some breadth, and diversity. President Eyring is listed as a witness during the first topic on Tuesday afternoon, where the topic appears to be “Challenge and Hope for a New Generation”, that’s the film title anyway. The presenter is listed as Rev. Dr. Richard D. Warren, Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church. It looks like President Eyring will get 15 minutes.

Other topics covered include: The Family – Still the Basic Unit of Society; The Sacramentality of Human Love According to Saint John Paul II; Understanding Man and Woman; The Power of Marriage Against Hardship; Marriage, Culture and Civil Society.

At the end of the final session, it appears that there will be presented a Declaration on Marriage.

I have mixed feelings. The very title of the colloquium makes me jittery. Not the idea that individual spouses complement eachother in a partnership, so much as “man” complementing “woman”, and what that has often meant in terms of gender stereotyping. I have to think we need to move beyond stereotypes if we’re going to “support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society”. I can hope the colloquium will address this, when it comes to actual presentations and witnesses, though the first video trailer had me cringing.

I’m not the only one wanting to avoid stereotypes. This year the primary children have had “Families are Forever” as their annual theme. One of the set songs in particular has a problematic couple of verses, modified here. My ward primary had their presentation recently, and skipped those verses altogether. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because whilst the primary presidency are very committed, diligent members, and all are currently married, they have also all experienced divorce, in some cases twice. Their families look very different to the traditional one.

I do think it’s a good thing to get those from different faiths, perspectives and experiences together to talk about families, and the practical things that might help. That it is sponsored by a religion, that while it is clearly concerned about the well-being and healthy functioning of families, also has a place for unmarried folk, makes me think there’s not going to be the extremes of rhetoric about marriage and family we might hear at church. I hope we’ll get to see what they all say. I am very interested to see what the declaration will look like, and how it compares to our proclamation.

I wondered what President Eyring might have to say. Recent changes to the BYU/CES Institute religion curriculum have had some discussion on the blogs, and have seen the introduction of a compulsory course on the family. How is that’s going to play out outside BYU, say in Britain, where typically only the core courses are taken, one a year? Commenters seem to be scratching their heads over a semester on the family proclamation. I’m thinking a year might drive folk to despair. Still, it’s a change that has been made presumably with hope for the upcoming generation in mind. I took a look at some of Pres Eyring’s recent conference addresses that appeared to have some relevance to the colloquium subject: “Daughters in the Covenant” (April 2014), “The Priesthood Man” (April 2014) and “Families under Covenant” (April 2012). They’re generally hopeful addresses given either at the General Women’s Meeting (now General Women’s Session) or the Priesthood Session. The overall message of each is excellent, but they are not without stereotype. In the first: “you surely felt the love of the Savior and a greater commitment to nurture others for Him. I can say “surely” because those feelings are placed deep in the hearts of all of Heavenly Father’s daughters. That is part of your divine heritage from Him.” So, if you’re a woman to whom that doesn’t come naturally what then? And in the third, quoting President Benson: “children need to know and feel they are loved, wanted, and appreciated. They need to be assured of that often. Obviously, this is a role parents should fill, and most often the mother can do it best.” What is this saying to father’s – it’s the priesthood meeting – about showing love to their children? Also, a testimony of priesthood keys is placed ahead of wife and family in importance (though stated as benefiting wife and family) in that last.

  • What are your hopes and feelings for the colloquium?
  • Do you think it’s a good thing, or not, and why?
  • What do you make of the topics?
  • What do you see as the challenges and hopes for a new generation?

Discuss.