SALT LAKE CITY — At precisely 10 o’clock Saturday morning, the old Nauvoo Bell will sound on Temple Square and the attention of members around the world will focus on the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
More than 100,000 will attend five conference sessions across two days. Millions more around the world will watch and listen via television, radio, satellite and Internet broadcasts.
They will be watching and listening for spiritual messages from church leaders, but also for counsel and instruction about more temporal topics, including financial responsibility.
“There have been a number of general conference messages that have applied directly to me, both personally and professionally,” said Stephen W. Gibson of Provo. “I have drawn from them in my life and in my business, and I think I have been better at both as a result.”
Gibson, a kindly and energetic septuagenarian, is a businessman, with more than a dozen profitable entrepreneurial ventures to his credit. He is also the founder and CEO of the Academy for Creating Enterprise, a school designed to teach microenterprise development among returned LDS missionaries in both the Philippines and in Mexico. So for him, general conference messages on financial responsibility have been especially meaningful.
As an example, he cited a conference quote from President J. Reuben Clark Jr., then a member of the LDS Church’s First Presidency, during the April Conference of 1938.
“I hadn’t even been born yet when President Clark delivered this sermon on financial responsibility,” Gibson said, “but I have heard this one quote referenced so many times through the years that it has become a guiding principle for me.” The quote has to do with what President Clark called “a rule of our financial and economic life in all the world that interest is to be paid on borrowed money.”
“Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies,” President Clark said in 1938. “It never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation; it never visits nor travels; it takes no pleasure; it is never laid off work nor discharged from employment; it never works on reduced hours; it never has short crops nor droughts; it never pays taxes; it buys no food; it wears no clothes; it is unhoused and without home and so has no repairs, no replacements, no shingling, plumbing, painting or whitewashing; it has neither wife, children, father, mother, nor kinfolk to watch over and care for; it has no expense of living; it has neither weddings nor births nor deaths; it has no love, no sympathy; it is as hard and soulless as a granite cliff.
“Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night,” President Clark continued. “You cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.”
“That’s a powerful message that I’ve tried to share with my children as well as with the young, aspiring entrepreneurs that I’ve mentored,” Gibson said.
Stephen W. Johnson, branch manager for Raymond James Financial Services in Draper, Utah, has been similarly influenced by “One for the Money,” a sermon delivered by Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the welfare session of the April 1975 general conference.
“I was a young man then, but the talk still impressed me,” said Johnson in his comfortable office just a few blocks west of the Draper Temple. “It was a great talk on financial responsibility, with 12 specific recommendations for living ‘abundantly and happily.’ The church eventually turned it into a pamphlet — I think I still have a copy of it around here someplace.
“The thing I remember from that talk and still reference to my children and my clients is his fourth recommendation: ‘Teach family members that paying financial obligations promptly is part of integrity and honesty development.’
“What a great concept,” Johnson continued. “In my profession, I see a lot of people who will take on a debt and then walk away from it. But if you’re going to be a truly honest person, if you incur a debt, you pay what you owe, and you pay it on time.”
Elder Ashton’s recommendation so impressed Johnson that he says it has become part of his professional philosophy.
“Sometimes,” he said, “when a client comes into a lump sum of money, they’ll say, ‘Rather than pay off my mortgage with this money, I’d like to take it and invest in this killer deal.’ ”
Johnson chuckled. “It’s always a ‘killer deal,’ ” he said. “I’ve never had anyone come in and say, ‘Hey, I really want to invest in this lousy thing.’
“But I’ve seen a lot of ‘killer deals’ that ended up killing the investment,” Johnson said. “So my advice is usually to pay off the debt first. Not only is it a matter of personal integrity, as Elder Ashton said, but I also think it's good financial planning.
“It's good to be out of debt,” Johnson continued. “That’s a sound financial principle. And I have found that usually what comes from the brethren at conference is sound advice.”
Which is a thrilling thing to Gibson, and one of the great blessings of general conference.
“I remember sitting in general priesthood meeting with my son back in October 1998 and hearing President Gordon B. Hinckley (who was then president of the LDS Church) talk about the dangers of debt,” Gibson said. “President Hinckley made if very clear that he wasn’t predicting famine or prophesying anything frightening, but he said, ‘The time has come to get our houses in order.’ ”
“So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes,” President Hinckley said. “In fact, some are living on borrowings.
“I am troubled by the huge consumer installment debt which hangs over the people of the nation, including our own people,” President Hinckley continued, urging listeners to carefully consider “the condition of your finances.”
“I urge you to be modest in your expenditures,” he said. “Discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage. This is a part of the temporal gospel in which we believe.”
For Gibson, watching conference via satellite transmission with his son, it was a powerful moment.
“I was thrilled that a prophet of God was giving us good, solid temporal advice,” he said. “He was sharing his wisdom — but it was the wisdom of a prophet. I talked to my son about it afterwards, and he got the point. As a father, I really appreciated that the prophet would speak to us so clearly on something so important to our temporal happiness.”
Which, according to Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also has a spiritual component.
“All of us are responsible to provide for ourselves and our families in both temporal and spiritual ways,” he said during the Saturday morning session of general conference in April 2009.
“To provide providently,” he said, “we must practice the principles of provident living: joyfully living within our means, being content with what we have, avoiding excessive debt and diligently saving and preparing for rainy-day emergencies.
“When we live providently,” he concluded, “we can provide for ourselves and our families and also follow the Savior’s example to serve and bless others.”
On Salt Lake-area TV: All four general sessions will be broadcast live on KSL/Ch. 5 and on cable/satellite channel for BYU-TV. KBYU-Ch. 11 will will repeat the morning sessions at noon and the afternoon sessions at 4 p.m. both days.
On the radio: KSL Radio (AM-1160/FM-102.7), KBYU (FM-89.1) and BYU-Radio (Sirius XM-143) will air all four general sessions. KSUB/KSSD (AM-590), Cedar City; KMTI/KMGR (AM-650/FM-95.9), Manti; KSVC/KMXD (AM-980/FM-100.5), Richfield; KLGL (FM-93.7), Richfield; and KDXU (AM-890), St. George, will also air the general sessions live. For the complete list, visit www.bonneville.info