SALT LAKE CITY — Without a doubt, attending general conference is a highlight for millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While they gain much from all addresses delivered during conference sessions, many feel that hearing and seeing church President Thomas S. Monson is a highlight among highlights.
No one living today has delivered more general conference addresses than President Monson, who became president of the church on Feb. 3, 2008. Since being called to the church's Quorum of the Twelve on Oct. 4, 1963, he has delivered 162 general conference addresses. By the end of the coming general conference, which convenes Saturday and concludes Sunday, he will have addressed 166 sessions of conference.
Beth M. Stephenson of Guthrie, Okla., is among Latter-day Saints looking forward to hearing what President Monson has to say in this conference. She said that as she prepared for last October's conference, she had been pondering and praying about her role and responsibility to others, including those outside her family, in counteracting the decline of values and certain standards in society. As President Monson spoke in the Sunday morning session, she said, he answered many of her questions, touching on the very things that concerned her, including the world's failing moral compass. The title of his address was "Stand in Holy Places."
In that address, he quoted Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (of Great Britain), who noted in a Wall Street Journal article : "We are spending our moral capital with the same reckless abandon that we have been spending our financial capital. There are large (parts) of the world where religion is a thing of the past and there is no countervoice to the culture of buy it, spend it, wear it, flaunt it, because you're worth it. The message is that morality is passé, conscience is for wimps, and the single overriding command is, 'Thou shalt not be found out.' "
President Monson said: "This — unfortunately — describes much of the world around us. Do we wring our hands in despair and wonder how we'll ever survive in such a world? No. Indeed, we have in our lives the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we know that morality is not passé, that our conscience is there to guide us, and that we are responsible for our actions.
"Although the world has changed, the laws of God remain constant. They have not changed; they will not change. The Ten Commandments are just that — commandments. They are not suggestions. They are every bit as requisite today as they were when God gave them to the children of Israel."
After he quoted the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-3, 7-8, 12-17), President Monson said, "Our code of conduct is definitive; it is not negotiable."
He further said: "Our Father in heaven is the same yesterday, today and forever. … In this world where nearly everything seems to be changing, his constancy is something on which we can rely, an anchor to which we can hold fast and be safe, lest we be swept away into uncharted waters. …
"We must be vigilant in a world which has moved so far from that which is spiritual. It is essential that we reject anything that does not conform to our standards, refusing in the process to surrender that which we desire most: eternal life in the kingdom of God. The storms will still beat at our doors from time to time, for they are an inescapable part of our existence in mortality. We, however, will be far better equipped to deal with them, to learn from them, and to overcome them if we have the gospel at our core and the love of the Savior in our hearts. The prophet Isaiah declared, 'The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever' (Isaiah 32:17)."
In her email from Oklahoma, Stephenson said of President Monson's conference address, "It was as though the Lord directly instructed me to respond to inspiration with confidence, courage and faith and to relinquish doubt. … I also determined that I need to be scrupulous in eliminating distractions and media influences that stall progression. How grateful I am to have a true prophet to instruct me in these complicated times."
Dani Stevens, a member of the church's Logan Branch in West Virginia, said she once lamented the fact that she could not obtain tickets to attend the general sessions in the Conference Center. She poured out her feelings in a poem in which she wrote of her desire to:
Dine on inspirational words our leaders will speak.
I would love to be right there in such a beautiful place.
It would be great to be close enough to behold (the prophet's) face.
I cannot be there in person, it is not meant to be. I will have to stay home and watch it on TV …
I'll think of the millions of Saints, that together we'll gather
Not all in one place
Not all in one building … but one place in the heart
A place we find the Savior's love, never to part.
As Mormons fill the Conference Center, or gather in church meetinghouses, watch or listen via various media to broadcasts of conference proceedings, they — most certainly — will pay particular attention to what President Monson has to say.