EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview is the first in a series, “Sisters Speaking Out,” that features Mormon women speaking out on social and political issues. The opinions expressed here represent the speaker, and do not imply endorsement by the Mormon Women Project or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We ask that all readers maintain respect for the views of the interview subject.
Angela Fallentine is a U.S. expat living in New Zealand. Angela has had a long career with the Church’s public affairs offices—but she recently gave one of her most significant public speeches as a private citizen, when she and her husband spoke before the New Zealand Parliament during debates on this year’s Definition of Marriage bill. Angela felt impressed to present teachings from “The Family: a Proclamation to the World,” an experience that reconfirmed her commitment to the doctrine of eternal families.
Did you make a deliberate choice to be a “warrior for family”?
Not at all! Just like many people in the Church, it’s just something ingrained in our doctrine and beliefs. However, while I was a single adult, I received an amazing father’s blessing that foreshadowed something along these lines. This was just over a decade ago, when I was ready to move out to Washington DC and work with the Church’s Office of International and Government Affairs. It was a big change in my life—moving from university and Church Public Affairs in Salt Lake, to working with foreign ambassadors and diplomats. In that blessing it said that I would be called upon to defend womanhood and the family. You never really realize, when you get those blessings, how everything will come about. And at the same time, you don’t really set out to be a champion of anything; you just live the gospel day to day and then the Lord places you in situations to be instruments in His hands. But I have never forgotten that blessing and I remembered that I would be given opportunities and be asked to do this many times in my life.
So as far as defining moments with the family proclamation, I’ve had plenty just by living the gospel. But to verbalize it in front of Parliament was a pivotal moment for me. I would say it defined me because it was a proving ground and a tremendous experience. I think there’s something that happens when you verbalize something, when you say out loud your beliefs, despite opposition.
Tell us about your experience presenting The Family: A Proclamation to the World to the New Zealand Parliament.
Last year the New Zealand Parliament discussed a gay marriage and gay adoption bill proposed by one of the members of Parliament. The procedure was to invite everybody in the country to make a submission: you’d go online and you write up your facts, your feelings, why you were for or why you were against gay marriage. My husband and I did it for Family Home Evening. And then there was this little box that you can check, “Will you be willing to stand before Parliament and defend your position?” We just looked at each other and we said, “Let’s check the box!” We felt really passionately about this. We felt that if we didn’t speak then, if people don’t speak up, then our voices can’t be heard. What I’ve always felt is that silence is exactly what Satan wants when it comes to the doctrine of the family, and we had to be heard. And if we got picked, we got picked. If not, then so be it.
We received word a few months later that our submission had been picked to be presented in front of Parliament. (There were about 200 people allowed to present in the country). We called the Area Presidency office just to ask for advice. I had worked in Church public affairs; my whole career was mostly working for the Church so I knew that we needed to be clear on the division between personal statements and Church statements. So I told the legal counsel that we know we’re not to be representing the Church, we have to be careful on this, but please if there’s any advice, just let us know what you have. The phone went silent and the individual I talked to, one of the legal counsel, he just said, “You’ve been picked? What do you mean? This is significant! No member of the Church has been chosen to present before the Parliamentary Committee and our Church has been trying to present and so far, it has been without success!”
So we were the only members in the country who had been chosen. That put the pressure on us. Ultimately, they [the Area Presidency office] just said, “It’s between you and the Lord what you say. For whatever reason, you and your husband were chosen. You’ll be guided and you’ll be helped in what to say.”
Did they make it clear that you were speaking as individuals, not officially representing the Church?
They made it very clear that we could not be representing the Church. We had to make sure that we weren’t going under the guise of official representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—we’re just ordinary people.
There was a lot of prayer. We asked family and some trusted people what they would say if they were given this opportunity and they had some wonderful thoughts. But at the end of the day we realized that it possibly wasn’t by chance that we were asked to do this or chosen randomly out of the country, and that Heavenly Father had a specific message that He wanted, and we would just do what He wanted us to do. By hopefully living close enough to the Spirit we would be able to give what He wanted us to say. So we prayed like crazy!
We had about a week to prepare, and half of it I was at Stake Young Women’s camp, so my mind was away from the internet. It was actually good to be away from the dialogue that was in the media. I was removed; I was in nature with these young women. When I came back from camp and walked in the door, my husband said that he received his answer of what he needed to speak on. And a couple days later, I received a really strong prompting to go back to where the family proclamation began, and that was in 1995 with President Gordon B. Hinckley in the General Relief Society broadcast.
I’ve had a few experiences in my life, when I’ve read or heard something from Prophets or Apostles or general authorities that was so forceful that it has hit me completely and powerfully, to the core. And this happened when I was watching President Hinckley give the proclamation on the family. Literally from head to toe, I knew, I felt it. I actually got pretty emotional because I knew when I was reviewing certain paragraphs and certain phrases that those were the ones that I needed to put into my speech. And I knew that I had to say them, and it was undeniable. But this also meant it was going to be hard. The words were going to be so different and foreign from what everybody else would be saying.
Were you afraid your message wouldn’t be taken seriously?
Definitely. It’s not easy; it’s hard out there in the world. It’s hard to stand up when everybody’s sitting down, and you’re the only one out there. But I think that’s how as members of the Church we stand out, and how we can help others to have a voice. I think that you have to put everything in God’s hands and basically say, “I’ll say what you want me to say, I’ll do what you want me to do,” even if it may be unpopular by the world’s standards. I got a really strong impression about what I was supposed to say. What mattered more was if I didn’t say what God would want me to say. I was more worried about what was recorded in heaven versus what was recorded in Parliament.
So how was the actual experience in Parliament that day?
It was difficult in that we had felt confident in receiving specific direction on what we were supposed to say but somehow we started losing some of our confidence. Reality was setting in. We also realized by checking in on Facebook and checking in with the media the day before (which was not a good idea!) that this audience was hostile to religious belief, and we would not be in a position of popularity.
It was in Auckland, a few hours away from where we live, so we drove up there and when we arrived, we got dressed up and then entered the ballroom. I was shaking. I was nervous. Not nervous that I didn’t know what I was going to say, because we had prepared presentations, but more for the questioning afterwards. I think I didn’t know what to prepare for, and I was just hoping Heavenly Father would fill our mouths with the right answer as they questioned us off the cuff.
It was set up like a debate. They had a moderator in the front and they had members of Parliament and the press all around the room, and then you sat at the front. So they would call your name, you’d get your allotted time and then they’d question you if they felt so inclined. When they called our names they said we had the option of going separately or we could come together, and we thought of course, what symbolism! Of course we would be together as a husband and wife. We would walk up together, we would sit together, and we would stand and defend the doctrine of the family together.
It was powerful to walk up with my husband, John, who is such a great man and strength to me. They had him go first, and he shared a story from President Uchtdorf that had to do with aviation (of course!) which talked about expert navigators who thought that they knew what they were doing but were off by a mere two degrees, which resulted in catastrophe. I think there’s something powerful about seeing a man defend motherhood, and womanhood, and marriage, and children. It made me fall in love with him more, just seeing that.
Then instead of questioning him, they decided to continue on and hear my presentation and then they would question us afterwards. I wasn’t nervous at that point, which was interesting. I got up there and I had my paper in front of me. And as I started reading the words, I quoted the words of President Hinckley in the preface to the proclamation on the family. I heard my words echo in the ballroom. It was completely silent, and I knew at that moment that what I was saying was being recorded in heaven, and in front of the video cameras, and everywhere else. But those people and the Parliament became insignificant compared to what was more important eternally, what we were about to say about the doctrine.
I didn’t read the whole proclamation, but I read bits and pieces of it, and at one point I said, “We stand with those that have gone before us and warn and forewarn about this bill to redefine marriage.” And I remember as I said this, I thought of President Hinckley, as if he were there, because the family proclamation was one of the hallmarks of his presidency. I heard those words as I read them and I knew that was what my Heavenly Father wanted me to say. I was surprised that I wasn’t nervous, and I know that I felt the power of God as I spoke. I felt the Spirit. It wasn’t a weak moment; it was without fear. It was powerful for me to hear that and verbalize it.
“…we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
As soon as I finished, the members of Parliament started their questioning, and they were hostile. They were not happy with what we had said. They spent their time questioning me, on the doctrine of the family basically, and motherhood, womanhood. Questions such as, “Why can’t families be made up of anybody? Everybody can make a family. Why does it have to be a man and a woman? Why does it have to be a mother and a father? Why do they have to be married? What is so important about marriage?”
As soon as they asked the first question, with a prayer I hoped I would say the right thing, and I just blurted out, “This bill will dilute the sanctity of motherhood and fatherhood. It would dilute the importance of mothers and fathers and dilute marriage, and it will purposely take either mom or a dad out of the equation for children, so yes, it is significant.”
They were so intrigued by that and they were not happy about it. They said, “How could that be? You’re making it sound like this bill will change the face of society. You have a pretty gloom-and-doom perspective on this.”
Eventually our time was up, but before we left, we handed each member of Parliament and the press a copy of our statements and a copy of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. We held hands as we left the ballroom and were just so relieved that it was over. As hard as it was, it absolutely solidified our testimony of the doctrine of the family and the plan of salvation, and we knew that from this experience, we would never go back.
What did you take away from this experience?
First, I’d have to say it was both the easiest thing to do and it was the hardest thing to do. It was easy because when the Lord asks you to do something and when you’re given that opportunity, you go and do. But it was hard emotionally. It was hard to know that it wasn’t well received. And it was hard to know that we’re going to be raising children in a world that is hostile to the doctrine of the traditional family.
Elder Hales said, “Sometimes we become the lightning rod, and we must “take the heat” for holding fast to God’s standards and doing His work. I testify that we need not be afraid if we are grounded in His doctrine. We may experience misunderstanding, criticism, and even false accusation, but we are never alone. Our Savior was ’despised and rejected of men.’ It is our sacred privilege to stand with Him!” [Robert D. Hales, “Stand Strong in Holy Places,” April 2013 General Conference.] I think that’s what I learned.
What does “defending family” mean to you? Do you think that’s a special responsibility Mormon women have?
For me personally, it would have to mean defending the doctrine of the plan of salvation. It means defending the Savior and our Heavenly Father. It means being fearless, and not flinching in the face of criticism. Yes, women do have a special responsibility. They are the ones who bear the children. They are the nurturers. They bring children into the world with a husband. The role of a righteous woman has been prophesied about by President Kimball. In 1978 he talked about the need for women to defend the family, because they are the creators, the nurturers. For women, defending the family is increasingly important. I think Satan is attacking women and he’s attacking motherhood and the sanctity of women, and we see that throughout the world. We see virtue being a non-issue for most of the world.
Just like many other women around the world, I come from a long line of strong women who have defended the faith, and I think it’s part of my DNA. There are really strong, fearless women from the past—defenders of faith and family–and I think we all have these types of people in our ancestry. They’re courageous, and we can bring that with us into our battles to defend the traditional family. We can draw strength and spiritual support from those who have gone before us.
You and your husband do not have any children yet. What does it mean to you to live the family proclamation at this point in your life?
It’s ironic because even when I was single for a number of years, I still felt a really strong desire to defend the doctrine of the family. Because truth is truth, and Heavenly Father’s plan is for everyone, regardless of marital status, regardless of children or the lack thereof.
Dealing with infertility is probably thought of as really ironic when it comes to defending children and families. “How could you be so interested in defending children and families when you do not have that yourself?” was actually a question that came up a lot while I attended the World Congress of Families recently. I found that people were pleasantly surprised and curious when they found out that my husband and I didn’t actually have children. But they would quickly acknowledge that truth is truth. Having children or being married is not a qualification for a testimony of doctrine. The important thing to remember is that we’re all part of a family, we all have a mom and a dad, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and so forth. So defending the family can be pretty natural for anyone who believes in this critical unit of society.
I have a mother and a father, and because of their relationship, I’ve seen it work so well and I’ve seen them complement each other in their different roles. That’s where my personal, positive experience of marriage comes from, by seeing those distinct and unique roles magnified in a temple marriage.
At the end of the day, for all of us, life unfolds differently than we anticipate. But that’s okay. Elder Holland once said, “Remember that He is God, and you are not.” So, we follow the Spirit as our guide, as a way to navigate through challenging or surprising life circumstances. I have been taught to rely on the Lord and to seek His plan for me and not my own and what I thought it would be, and then leave it to Him and move forward with faith. That’s pretty much the basis of it. And I believe it to be so true.
At A Glance
Location: New Zealand
Marital status: Married
Occupation: Business owner
Schools Attended: BYU, Utah State University
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go”
Interview by Lydia Defranchi. Photos used with permission.