Conference has changed since 1911, but the message hasn't

Published: Wednesday, March 30 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

The world was different a century year ago. Automobiles and motion pictures were relatively new inventions. A man could buy a nicely tailored wool suit for less than $30 dollars, and a bottle of Sarsaparilla made all of a person’s aches and pains go away.

General conference was different 100 years ago.

Instead of five sessions in two days, there were multiple sessions during the course of four days. It began with a general session Thursday morning. It continued through Friday with a priesthood that night. Saturday was taken off, and it concluded with two sessions on Sunday. Instead of meeting in the 21,200 seat Conference Center for all sessions, the Saints attended in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Assembly Hall or on the temple grounds.

There were no teleprompters, no video screens, no Internet streaming or worldwide broadcasts. There weren’t even microphones and speakers to project the message of church leaders from the pulpit to the Saints in the audience. If church members wanted to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, they had to physically come to Salt Lake City.

And while the times and technology have changed, the message hasn’t.

President Joseph F. Smith, president of the church at the time, was the last prophet with recollections of its earlier days and its pioneer heritage as he was 5 years old when his father, Hyrum, and his uncle, the Prophet Joseph were martyred. President Joseph F. Smith had crossed the plains and had been in the Salt Lake Valley to watch the city evolve from literally nothing to a sprawling metropolis. He had seen the Salt Lake Temple and Tabernacle built and had presided over The Church of Jesus Christ if Latter-day Saints in a time of tremendous growth. President Smith had seen much and was the leader of the church in a rapidly changing world, but while he had seen many developments in his life, he knew the truth was eternal.

President Smith said in his opening address on April 6, 1911, “God is unchanging,” and he urged members of the church not to be fooled by science or philosophy.

Early 20th-century Saints were counseled on many issues in the 81st Annual General Conference. Topics ranged from choices in entertainment, learning from the Savior’s teachings and the Prophet Joseph Smith to following the Word of Wisdom. Church leaders also tackled important political issues such as prohibition and plural marriage.

President Smith condemned Vaudeville, a popular form of entertainment at the time, saying that Vaudeville theaters where exhibitions of nakedness, obscenity, vulgarity and everything else that didn’t elevate the mind “packed from the pit to the dome.”

President Smith went on to say he hoped the members of the church would make good choices in regard to entertainment.

“I hope that we will stand by our principles and abide by that which is good, elevating and ennobling in character rather than fall in with the habits of the world and patronize that which is beneath the dignity of pure-minded and intelligent people,” President Smith said.

President David O. McKay, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, stated that science had proven that alcohol was “injurious to the people.”

President Anthon H. Lund, of the First Presidency, spoke of the blessings from following the Word of Wisdom and said that marriages in the temple were less likely to end in divorce.

Elder Charles Penrose addressed the topic of sins of omission and commission and of marriage in the resurrection.

Elder Orson F. Whitney spoke of how Mormonism remains unshaken and said science and religion must agree.

Jarrod M. Hiatt lives in Davis County, Utah, with his wife and three children. Jarrod graduated from Weber State University with a degree in journalism. He loves sports and loves to talk sports with anyone at anytime. His email is jarrodhiatt@gmail.com.

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