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News Story —  19 September 2013

Mormon Leader Proclaims Importance of Family at National Marriage Day Event

Prominent Australians celebrate traditional marriage legislation

Melbourne — 

“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God”, said Elder Peter Meurs, Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at recent National Marriage Day celebrations.  In his full-time employment Elder Meurs is Director of Development for Fortescue Metals Group, one of Australia's largest mining companies. 

Elder Meurs was a principal speaker at Parliament House in Melbourne on 13th August at which celebrations occurred recognising the enshrining in Australian law on the same day in August, 2004 of marriage between a man and a woman.  The event was organised by the Australian Family Association.

Other speakers included federal politician, the Honourable Kevin Andrews MHR; The Most Reverend Bishop Peter Elliot, Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne; and Augusto Zimmerman, Senior Lecturer in Law from Murdoch University and a Commissioner WA Law Reform Commission. 

At the time of the introduction of the 2004 law, former Prime Minister, John Howard, said the pre-existing Marriage Act would be changed to include a definition of marriage as the ‘voluntarily entered-into union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others'.  The former marriage laws did not adequately define marriage.

“We've decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation,'' Mr Howard told reporters.

“(It should) not over time be subject to redefinition or changed by courts.  It is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.''

In his address to the Melbourne crowd of approximately 200, Elder Meurs shared passages from “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the Church’s official statement on the traditional family.   “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony” and “happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  

As a senior executive of Fortescue Metals Group, one of Australia’s leading mining companies, Elder Meurs also said that Australian corporations needed to provide an environment in which family life could flourish.  For his entire remarks, please see below.

To reinforce his view of the importance of the marriage relationship, Bishop Elliott shared readings from Matthew in the New Testament.  Politician Kevin Andrews described some of the steps that can strengthen marriage.  And, adding a legal perspective, Professor Zimmerman argued that since the Commonwealth law defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman, any state law providing to the contrary could be subject to constitutional challenge.

Events celebrating National Marriage Day were also held at NSW Parliament House and the Catholic Cathedral in Perth.

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The Pre-eminent Value of the Traditional Family

A Home, Church and Work Perspective

Peter Meurs, Director of Development, Fortescue Metals Group;
Area Seventy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

What a privilege it is to participate tonight in this National Marriage Day celebration.  I am delighted to be here with my wife and best friend, Maxine.  In January this year we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary.  We have four wonderful children – three girls and a boy and six grandchildren (so far).  One of our Church leaders, Elder Jeffrey Holland, has said, and I echo the sentiment, that “I (simply) can’t imagine heaven without my wife and family.”

Maxine and I are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Sometimes we are referred to as “Mormons”.  Those attending our Church meetings for the first time are occasionally surprised to find congregations made up of whole families.  Husbands, wives, children and sometimes grandparents and grandchildren all attend Church together. 

In common with religions around the world The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that, “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 honour 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.”  (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995.)

We are in a world where fundamental values are being undermined.  As people of faith here tonight, we need to stand together to defend and promote marriage and families. These are God-ordained institutions that provide a sure foundation for happiness and prosperity.

To highlight the work that we have to do, I would like to relate a personal experience.  In 2001, I was attending a business dinner in Sydney with leaders from my then employer WorleyParsons.  These men were my friends and associates of many years. 

During the dinner my mobile phone rang and I went outside to take the call.  Clinton Snow was calling to ask if he could marry our daughter, Sarah.  Clinton was living in Melbourne and Sarah with our family in Perth.  By the way, this is a formula that we can recommend for a safe courting relationship.   After a wonderful conversation I returned to the dinner and told my friends and associates what had happened.

I was very surprised by their reaction.  My associates, all happily married with families, seemed amazed that:
1.  Clinton had phoned to ask if he could marry Sarah,
2. That they were not living together already, and
3. That they planned to get married at all.

At the time I remember thinking – what has happened in our society over the last 20 or 30 years that has so significantly changed our community’s attitudes towards marriage?  Why would these good people who were born into traditional families and had all been married for 20 years or so now have such a low expectation of marriage and fidelity for their children?

Clinton and Sarah were married and, since then, all our children have also married. Our youngest son, Jarom, was the last when he married a lovely Melbourne girl in December last year.  We consider our children, our sons and daughter-in-law and our grandchildren to be the greatest blessings of our lives.

A recent study of a sample of 165,000 people by the UK office of national statistics found that, “being married is 20 times more important to a person’s well-being than their earnings, and 13 times more important than owning a home” (Steven Swinford, Daily Telegraph, London, 30 May 2013).  And, yet, if you read the press in Australia today and look at marriage trends you would think that the only people still interested in marriage are those attempting to change its fundamental definition.

So, on this day, when we celebrate the value of marriage and family, what can we do to support these fundamental foundations of a successful society?  One message I would like to give is that we should value the contribution that religious teachings and practices make. Generally, religions not only support marriage and family, but also teach fundamental values like work, service, integrity and helping others. Marriage, family and these values underpin humanity and the society in which we live.

I believe that the joy and love that Maxine and I continue to experience in our marriage, and the success that we have experienced in raising children that have sought and valued marriage, is largely a reflection of the teachings and support we have received from our Church. 

Latter-day Saint doctrine recognises the family as the most important religious unit in the Church.  A key purpose of the Church is to help husbands, wives and children to develop faith in God and to live lives that reflect His teachings, commandments and values.  The Church provides support to parents as they strive to teach their children the same values and principles.  As active Latter-day Saints, we have been blessed by simple practises that have great power in strengthening marriage and the family.

These include:

  • Daily family prayer, where the family kneel together to give thanks to God for His blessings and to pray for each other as they face each day
  • Weekly Family Home Evening: In general, Monday night is kept free of other meetings or activities so that the family can spend time together. Simple lessons are taught that develop faith and teach values, usually followed by family-focused games activities and treats.
  • Family scripture reading: As in times of old, families are encouraged to spend time reading from the Bible and other holy books.  Typically, each family member takes turn to read a few verses and the family stops to talk about how they feel about the messages they are reading.
  • Valuing meal times: Families are encouraged to meet around the meal table. Meals begin with a blessing on the food and then the family has a rare opportunity in our busy world to really talk to each other.  From our experience, we know that this works; although meal times with three teenage girls two years apart were pretty noisy events for us.

Similar practises, taught by religious bodies throughout the world build strength in marriage and families.  This short video clip of young people from some of the world’s great religions demonstrates the very important role that faith continues to play in ensuring the security of family life.

[Here, ElderMeurs showed Messages for Youth, “I Choose to be Pure”, available at this link.]

While my work as a Church leader is on a part-time, voluntary basis, my full-time employment is with Fortescue Metals Limited.  I started working with Andrew Forrest and the Fortescue organisation as a consultant in 2005 and then joined the company as the Director of Development in 2010.  Fortescue has been an amazing Australian resource company success story.  This diagram shows Fortescue’s iron ore mines and port and rail infrastructure in the Pilbara.

Let’s consider for a moment the principles and values that have provided the foundation for Fortescue’s success.

Fortescue started just 10 years ago in a makeshift office in Andrew Forrest’s lounge room.  The company was founded on an incredible vision that:

1. The Pilbara region of Western Australia had significant undiscovered iron ore, and
2. China would need significantly more steel to support its urbanisation and infrastructure development plans.

In 2003, Fortescue did not have any proven iron ore tenements or any infrastructure in the Pilbara to deliver iron ore to the market.

The second equally important foundation for the company was a set of fundamental values shown on this slide. 

The first value is described, simply, as “family”.  From the beginning, Fortescue set out to recognise the role that the whole family plays in business.  The sacrifice of spouses and children are frequently recognised and thanks given to them in company meetings, in briefings and during important celebrations.  Open communication is promoted including concepts such as loving and supporting each other enough, to provide recognition when deserved and correction when necessary.

Other strong values that you will recognise as those taught within the family include determination, frugality, empowerment and integrity.  A particularly powerful objective is setting stretch targets and then working to achieve them.

One way that family and other values are promoted is to have the chairman and other senior leaders of the Fortescue team visit construction and operations sites on a regular basis.  With as many as 10,000 people in the field, getting to everyone is a challenge.  These regular visits ring true with the workforce as we talk about concepts including:

1. The family comes first,
2. Recognition of the contribution of spouses and families at home,
3. Contractors and suppliers are all considered part of the family,
4. Families deal with hard issues by talking to each other and working out their problems.
5. We also point out the importance of Fortescue’s development  to the future of Australian families as well as for families in China and other countries that use our mined products.

These basic discussions connect people with the work and help them to understand the important part that they all play in delivering outcomes.

Like many successful families, Fortescue has based its development on very high expectations and setting aggressive targets.  As these have been announced, there have been many naysayers amongst market analysts and competitors.  Some of the best negative statements were published internally and distributed as a way of building the team.

I particularly like this one where an analyst said in late 2007 – “I would be happy to be chained to the (rail) tracks between Cloudbreak (the new mine) and Port Hedland (the new port) because I know I won’t be killed by a train.”  Of course in April, 2008 the first train delivered ore to the Port along that very rail line.

The emphasis on developing a strong family culture is also evident in our early employment ads which read – “Fortescue is proud to include men and women from every walk of life and actively discriminates against the apathetic, the unsafe, the rigid, the unprofessional and non-team players.” 

As a new Australian mining company, Fortescue has broken records in terms of project development and ramp up of mining activities.  Some of these are shown here, including the development of rail, port and mine projects in half the normal time and for 30 – 40% lower costs.  To me, this clearly demonstrates the power of focusing on being committed to strong traditional values and proven practices.

Tonight, I have shared some of the personal blessings that have come to Maxine, me and our family through active participation in a religious organisation.  I have also shared the very positive impact that strong traditional family values can have on commercial organisations.

As the world around us turns its back on the importance of marriage, the vital role of fathers and mothers and the importance of raising children in righteousness, we need events like this to remind us of our need to stand together to defend and support  those principles that underpin the future of our society.

In conclusion, I would like to share three quotes.  The first is from Elder Dallin Oaks, one of our Church’s Twelve Apostles and a former US state Supreme Court judge.  In May, he addressed a gathering of religious leaders from numerous denominations from across the U.S. to address the subject of religious freedom.  He said:

“Our society is not held together primarily by law and its enforcement, but most importantly by those who voluntarily obey the unenforceable because of their internalised norms of righteous or correct behaviour. Religious belief in right and wrong is a vital influence to produce such voluntary compliance” (speech given at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City, 16 May 2013).

At this same gathering, Elder Oaks was presented with a lifetime achievement award (the Canterbury Medal) by Francis Cardinal George, Catholic Archbishop of Chicago.

Elder Oaks also said, “Religious leaders and believers must unite to strengthen our freedom to teach what we have in common….We must walk shoulder to shoulder on the same path in order to secure our freedom to pursue our separate ways when that is necessary according to our distinctive beliefs” (ibid).

The issue of the traditional family is one on which we must remain united.  It is also one on which we must act concertedly, ensuring that any theological differences do not get in the way of preserving this most important unit of a stable society. It is critical that we work together to preserve our religious freedom to practise our traditional views of the family.

The final quote is from Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, who said, “[Religion] remains the most power¬ful community builder the world has known. . . Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history” (The New York Times, “The Moral Animal”, 23 December 2012).

I conclude with my witness that marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God.  God is a loving Heavenly Father that knows the vital importance of marriage and families to His children.  I also testify of His son, Jesus Christ.  I know that applying Jesus’ teachings and example to our marriages and families will provide a sure foundation for success and joy.

Style Guide Note: When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online style guide.

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