About the McKay Quote…

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.

7 comments for “About the McKay Quote…

  1. Adam Greenwood
    March 11, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re getting at, but could our leadership embrace a more communal understanding of family (my obligation to raise my children flows not only to them and to God but to you, and you in turn have some obligation to assist) without becoming more political?

  2. March 11, 2004 at 2:41 pm

    “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.”

    I am curious as to what you might mean by this statement.

  3. lyle
    March 11, 2004 at 2:48 pm

    Russell, of note is that ALL references to this man on google stem from LDS sources. One that might interest you is:


  4. lyle
    March 11, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    Sorry. I tried; and failed…for now. These are other books he worked on though:


    1 Dad’s Old Book Store
    via Abebooks Publisher: Nashville, TN: Southern Sociological Congress, 1913; Seventeen separately authored addresses on various aspects of race relations and problems in the South. INSCRIBED BY DR. C. V. ROMAN, author of a chapter on “Racial Self-respect and Racial Antagonism”, to Professor J. W. Work of Fisk University dated Aug. 16, 1914. 148 pp. includes bibliography. Red cloth covers, soiled, but tight. 8″ x 5″. VERY SCARCE. $75.00
    11 Southpaw Books
    via Abebooks Publisher: Washington, D.C. 1918; Southern Sociological Congress condition. 415pp Labor, Health Care, Justice, Work, Temperance, and Race Relations. Robert Moton, Rev. M.C. Kestler, Monroe Work and Mrs. Booker T. Washington were among those addressing the Congress. $50.00
    2 Alibris
    1 Acorn Books
    via ILAB
    [United States] Nashville, TN Southern Sociological Congress 1914 1st Edition. Octavo. Maroon cloth, without dust jacket. Major topics of the Congress include “The Church and Social Service” and “Race Relations” Good+ condition; ex-library; leading corner bumped. $50.00
    1 Alibris
    [United States] Nashville, TN Southern Sociological Congr 1913. BOOK VERY GOOD-/no dustjacket. 702 pages. Prevous owner’s name and address on the front free endpaper. Printed on good quality paper. Tissue guard pre sent and in very good condition over frontispiece. Interior pages are gener ally clean except for approx. 25 which have at least some pencil underlinin g or notes. Contains several graphs and charts. Annotated. “Addresses Deliv ered at the Southern Sociological Congress Atlanta, Georgia April …

  5. Restoring Lost Comments
    November 25, 2004 at 11:14 pm

    [Restoring Comments Inadvertently Lost in the WP transfer] :

    Adam and Brent: my only observation is that, outside an explicitly social/political context, the family becomes basically just a site for personal fulfillment and (if you accept the gospel) spiritual growth. Hence, to talk about “failure in the home” is to refer to unhappiness, both in this life and in the life to come. That’s a powerful motivation, but it is also one which admits the idea that families are primarily about happiness, about being a “haven in a heartless world.” And if that’s the case, then the social conservative position has been somewhat disarmed: then one must respond to those who will say “Explain how legalizing homosexual marriages wll threaten your marriage, your promises to one another, your private haven, your soul, your happiness.” Not very easy to do. But what if, instead, you insist (as I believe McCulloch likely insisted) “Actually, happiness and personal fulfillment is secondary, just a byproduct: what marriage is really about is children and civilization and moral progress.” That gives you an entirely different range of arguments to make on behalf of the “traditional family.” And as the church finds itself being forced on this issue into a more and more explicit political stance, I suspect that, whether or not a full “recovery” of McCulloch’s original meaning is likely, church leaders will find it important to “discover” in McKay’s quote a broader and more communal meaning than I think they usually have. (And I should note, I’m basically in favor of just that. As I’ve written before, a more political church, occupying a definite civic role, does not strike me as something to necessarily be afraid of.)
    Comment by: Russell Arben Fox at March 11, 2004 03:43 PM


    Thanks for the clarification. I think some of these arguments are already being made by church leaders, and others in the pro-traditional marriage camp.
    Comment by: Brent at March 11, 2004 04:31 PM


    Aha! I’ve put the cart before the horse. You’re saying that the politicization of some issues is forcing us to examine our assumptions and realize that we had in mind something more social than we thought, not the other way around.
    Comment by: Adam Greenwood at March 11, 2004 05:40 PM


    That’s a very interesting distinction that I haven’t really thought about. Marriage is often discussed in two very different ways in the Church.
    First, marriages are talked about as a private act between a man and a woman (and God if one is sealed). Families are seen as places of recluse and protection from the storms of the world.
    But a second way of thinking about marriage (and perhaps a more recent conceptualization) is that it is a social bond that is sanctified both by God and by the larger community/society. It is this latter aspect of marriage that is believed to be threatened by same-sex marriages. It doesn’t make sense to think that other peoples’ matrimonial commitments (to a member of the same-sex, as it were) would affect your private vows, but if you assume that those commitments are a link to a greater community of norms and understandings, then marriage is particularly threatened by any changes that the community tries to make to the institution.
    What is puzzling though is that these two conceptualizations of marriage don’t seem wholly compatible. Why, if marriage is very private and sanctified by God, do we need public approval or community enforcement?
    The answer, if I were a lawyer, would probably be that marriage is really a public contract – an exchange of properties and responsibilities, which is only given an emotional content because we believe it should. This contract is an exchange between private individuals but is enforced by an external set of laws. This latter perspective though doesn’t seem to be threatened by same-sex marriages. If a marriage is just a contract, why should we feel threatened that individuals of a different sexual persuasion want to also make that contract with each other?
    Comment by: brayden at March 11, 2004 05:59 PM


    Russell, you can try your university’s interlibrary loan to track down a copy of the book. By searching on WorldCat, at least 37 universities have the book. They probably all won’t loan it, but try your ILL department.
    Comment by: Mary at March 13, 2004 07:57 PM

  6. Yvonne Bent
    March 5, 2006 at 8:20 am

    Dear Brent,
    Did you ever get hold of a copy of Home, The Savior of Civilization, by J. E. McCulloch? I would be interested in reading it in its entirety.

    Thank you
    Yvonne Bent

  7. Jonathan Green
    March 5, 2006 at 10:27 am

    Russell, this is the first time I’ve seen this post, but 37 hits on WorldCat–probably most of them in US libraries–means that you’re almost assured of geting this book by interlibrary loan. By ILL standards, 1924 is not old, and 37 copies is not rare. If you didn’t already order this two years ago, I’m ordering it tomorrow.

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