No Other Success Can Compensate for Failure in the Home: The Story Behind the Famous Quote

Pop Quiz:

Who wrote this famous quote?

David O. McKay, the 9th prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, right?  I mean the answer is right on the picture.

No.  Wrong.

When David O. McKay said this at the 1935 and 1964 General Conferences, he was quoting someone else.

James Edward McCulloch, known professionally as J.E. McCulloch.

Ten points if you knew this already. 

Who was J.E. McCulloch?

The Internet is pretty dry when trying to find out more about the originator of this famous quote.  Seriously, Internet?  Not even a Wikipedia page?

All I could really find was on  According to his death certificate, James Edward McCulloch was born in 1873 and died at the age of 65 in 1939.  He was married to Minerva Clyce and had three daughters.

Thankfully in 2004, Russell Arben Fox was able to find some more information about McCulloch while researching a different project. 

J.E. McCulloch was a sociologist who wrote many books including Home: The Savior of Civilization published in 1924.

Inside this book we find the famous quote.

Now, if you have read many of my blog articles, you know that I don't like studying things out of context.  And this quote seems to be taken out of context quite often.  In fact, it's often not even quoted correctly.


Not quite. 

The papyrus font isn't the only thing wrong with this.  

I have heard this quote can discourage young mothers and fathers who are trying to do their best raising children.  It's almost as if they hear the quote this way:

If you can't succeed at home, you are a failure.  

I'm pretty sure that isn't what David O. McKay or J.E. McCulloch are trying to say so I decided to try to find the true meaning behind this oft repeated phrase.

Let's look a little more closely at the context of this quote.

Home: A Savior of Civilization is a 644-page book.  That's a big book!  Why is it so long?

The book is actually divided into three parts.
1. An explanation of a Home Council.
2.  365 daily readings of scriptures, poems, and quotes for a family to use for Home Councils.
3. Additional resources to enrich the home like what to do on family member's birthday, how to have a funeral service in a home, and how to dedicate a home.

So what is a Home Council exactly?

According to McCulloch, it is a daily school of character.  It's something his family practiced for years with great success.  He created a manual so that other families could do it too.

Now, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this concept might sound familiar to you.  Sort of like Family Home Evening, right?

Do you know who created the first Family Home Evening manual?

That's right.  David O. McKay.  Sounds like he must of have read McCulloch's book.

Buy it on Amazon

While the idea of Family Home Evening was not new, in 1965 the program was formally implemented with this manual.

So when we read about a Home Council, I think it's fair to say we are really reading about Family Home Evening.

Now, let's find in the book where McCulloch writes the famous quote that will decorate LDS homes a century later.

Again with the Papyrus font! 
The quote can be found in the first section of the book on page 42 under the section titled "A United Family."

He says that it's hard to have a successful Home Council if the family is scattered.  He talks of "the father at the club, the mother at a missionary meeting, the daughter at a party, and the son somewhere other than home."

I love how he doesn't come up with a place for the son, and what is a missionary meeting?  

He goes on to say that no club, party, or social event can justify habitually neglecting Home Council.  He says, "When the club becomes more attractive to any man than his home, it is time for him to confess in bitter shame that he has failed to measure up to the supreme opportunity of his life and has flunked in the final test of true manhood."

Whoa!  That's pretty bold.  If going to the club is more attractive than being at home, you aren't measuring up.

And next is the famous line:

"No other success can compensate for failure in the home."

Now let's stop for a second here.

Is McCulloch saying that we shouldn't attend missionary meetings (whatever those are), go to parties, or go to the club?  I don't think he is.

I think what he's saying is activities OUTSIDE the home shouldn't take priority over activities INSIDE the home.  Essentially nothing we do outside of our home will be more important than what we do inside the home.

Now let's look at what he says after the famous line.

"This is the one thing of limitless potentialities on earth."

Honestly, I'd love to reword it and decorate my home with that.

I don't know about you, but that feels empowering and not quite so guilt inducing.

Let's read on.

"The poorest shack of a home in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than the richest bank on earth. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles." 

Okay, now this I can get behind.  As long as there is love and unity, the poorest shack can do more miracles than the richest mansion.

He later goes on to say something else that I'd love to put on my wall.

"Pure hearts in a pure home are always in whispering distance of Heaven."

That is such a beautiful thought. 

He ends the paragraph by saying, "...if anyone makes a loving home with all his heart, he can never miss Heaven."

Is he really trying to guilt women into become better moms?  Is he telling us that if we don't have a perfect home than we have failed? 

Let's leave McCulloch's 1924 book behind and look at what is happening in this new century.  Our own decade of the 20's. 

We don't have parties, clubs, and social outings that are tearing our families apart.  We have way more serious problems: drug addiction, pornography, anxiety and depression, and so many other social ills that are making it hard to find peace and happiness in this life.  It can feel like the days of a family sitting on the couch happily singing songs and making treats for FHE are long gone.

Our family home evenings never looked like this, did yours?  
 So what are we to do?  Give up?  Say, "Thanks J.E. McCulloch for your thoughts, but in the real world reading a 644-page book with daily devotionals just isn't realistic."

I don't think so.  I think we just need to adapt to what works today.

President Thomas S. Monson said in a 2005 General Conference.

"The lessons learned in the home are those that last the longest."

And how do we teach these lessons exactly?

Fortunately we can do it in a variety of ways, and we don't need to run to Deseret Book and pay money to do it.

Here are three ideas from the Church and my brain:

Idea #1 Come Follow Me 
When the Come Follow Me program was first introduced, it was disastrous for a Certain Englishman and me.  We just couldn't come together to study the scriptures because our styles are so different.  We amicably decided to part ways (just in reading scriptures of course) and check in with each other occasionally to see how we were doing.

But in 2020, I decided I want to be more purposeful in our combined efforts for Come Follow Me.  So we now have turned our Saturday mornings into our "Family Home Evening" or should I call it our Couple Home Morning?

This has quickly become our favorite time in the week.  We make a yummy breakfast and sit down and study that week's lesson from the Come Follow Me manual.
Twice already I have had something else scheduled for Saturday morning that is church related.  But I've decided not to attend because this is our time to be together.  And I remember, 

"No other success can compensate for failure in the home."

Idea #2 - Family Home Evening 
Gathering the family together once a week is a program that was introduced as a suggestion by the then prophet Joseph F. Smith in 1915.  

Did you know he even suggested a light refreshment?  So that's where the idea of treats came from!  

Over the last 100+ years this program has taken many turns.  While the Church still reserves Monday nights for families, the counsel is to do it when it best works.  On its website is a huge source of ideas, tips, and suggestions as to how to have a successful family home evening.
Click here for ideas. 
Idea #3 Family traditions 
Traditions can be a fun way to help a family feel bonded together and learn from each other.  Here are some traditions to help you start thinking of your own. 

  • Monthly birthday parties (This is what President Nelson does with his 100+ descendants) 
  • Sunday dinners
  • Reunions
  • Weekly Skype calls or a continuous text thread
  • Holiday parties 
  • Cultural arts and performances 
  • Vacations 
But even if none of these ideas will work in your home, you can still teach each other lessons simply by just how you live.

Did you accidentally forget an item in the bottom of your cart and return to the store to pay for it? Your child just learned a powerful lesson in honesty.

Did you apologize to your child after getting angry?  Your child just learned a powerful lesson in repentance and forgiveness.

Did you donate some money to charity?  Your child just learned a powerful lesson in compassion.

We don't need to be perfect to be a success.  Being imperfect doesn't mean we are a failure.  All we need to do is try to show love to each other and be unified as a family.

And nothing can compensate for that. 

Not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Anonymous said…
Thank you so much! I was feeling very guilty based on this quote, but after reading your post, I am comforted and encouraged! Thank you for your service for the good shepherd!
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