As part of a different project, I found myself trying to track down the specifics of the famous quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” It’s possibly the most oft-repeated General Authority statement is the contemporary church; certainly it would give even certain famous statements by Joseph Smith a run for their money. President David O. McKay made this statement, as far as I can tell, at least twice from the pulpit during general conference; once as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in April 1935, and once as president of the church in April 1964. (Neither of which are available on the church website–if someone has copies of conference reports from those dates, perhaps on cd-rom, I’d be very interested in getting reading McKay’s talks and getting the full context for the quote.) It is not original with President Mckay; he’s quoting a man named J. E. (James Edwards) McCulloch, who made this statement in a book titled Home: The Savior of Civilization, published by The Southern Co-operative League in 1924. The book is long out of print, and The Southern Co-operative League doesn’t exist anymore. The full McKay quote includes the lines: “The poorest shack in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than any other riches. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles.” Since I can’t get a hold of the book, I don’t know whether that was also a quotation from McCulloch. However, I have learned a little bit about the man.
One thing which poor Southern universities have going for them is that their libraries are often crammed with all sorts of odds and ends that completely missed the boat sailing down the academic mainstream. Hence I’ve located here at Arkansas State a couple of edited volumes by James E. McCulloch, who lived in Nashville at the turn of the century, and served as secretary to the Southern Sociological Congress, which is also defunct. The essays which the Congress published, and which McCulloch edited, are a wonderful mix of early 20th-century sociology, Southern conservativism, and Christian social gospel progressivism (with the temperance movement being very prominent–these volumes are from 1914 and 1915). Among their stated “Social Program” is to urge “the adoption of uniform laws of the highest standards concerning marriage and divorce,” “the suppression of prostitution,” “the recognition of the relation of alcoholism to disease, to crime, to pauperism, and to vice, and for the adoption of appropriate preventive measures,” and “the closest co-operations between the Church and all social agencies for the securing of these results.” Following up on that last point, the Congress believes that “the Church [should] prove her right to social mastery by a universal and unselfish social ministry.” It’s a fascinating collection of documents.
Of course, I haven’t read McCulloch’s book (though I will track it down eventually), so there’s no telling how much of this agenda his book reflects–though the title alone must certain give a lot of his perspective away. More importantly, there’s no reason to assume that President McKay, in adopting a pithy statement to express a vital truth, was necessarily agreeing to and stipulating for the whole church an agenda and worldview now nearly a century old. Still, it’s worth thinking about. The “home,” outside of which no success can compare, was for the man who originally made this statement very likely not an isolated haven, to which modern men and women can escape from the world, but rather the apex of a worldly social and moral order; to moral reformers and Southern conservatives of that era, the family was the capstone of a fundamentally religious and profoundly communal project: namely, Christian civilization itself. From this perspective, the duty which the family places upon fathers and mothers to raise up righteous children comes at least as much from social obligation as it does from any concern for happy souls. And I wonder if, with all the present pressures placed upon doctrines of the “traditional family,” a more knowing embrace of the communal presumptions and consequences of this perspective is likely to be forthcoming from our leaders.