SALT LAKE CITY — Oct. 3, 1987, was unseasonably warm in Salt Lake City, with a high approaching 83 degrees — about 13 degrees warmer than the typical Oct. 3 along Utah’s Wasatch Front. That’s what prompted LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson to open his sermon during the Saturday evening priesthood session of the 157th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by taking off his suit coat.
“Brethren, I know what you’re thinking,” the 88-year-old church president said, standing in white shirt sleeves at the pulpit of the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square, which has a much-deserved reputation for being unpleasantly stuffy when it is warm outside. “You’re thinking that I want to be comfortable, which is true.”
Then he went on to authorize all of the other men in the Tabernacle to take off their coats and jackets before settling into the topic for his priesthood meeting sermon — fatherhood.
“Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released,” President Benson said in remarks titled, “To the Fathers in Israel.”
“Callings in the church, as important as they are, by their very nature are only for a period of time, and then an appropriate release takes place. But a father’s calling is eternal, and its importance transcends time. It is a calling for both time and eternity.”
President Benson suggested two basic responsibilities for every Latter-day Saint father — providing for the material needs of their families and giving spiritual leadership to their families. He also gave 10 specific ways fathers can provide such leadership (please see box).
“Oh, husbands and fathers in Israel, you can do so much for the salvation and exaltation of your families!” President Benson concluded. “Your responsibilities are so important!”
So important, in fact, that the subject of fathers and fatherhood is frequently addressed by LDS general authorities and officers during general conference sessions. Although no statistics are kept regarding the frequency of specific general conference sermon topics, Internet “word clouds” or “wordles” based on the frequency of specific words used during recent general conferences indicate the word “father” appears rather prominently — not as prominently as words like “God,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lord” and “Savior,” but prominently enough to suggest it is a key topic in general conferences.
“Noble fatherhood gives us a glimpse of the divine attributes of our Father in Heaven,” said President James E. Faust, then of the church’s First Presidency during the April 2001 general conference. “A father should be many things. He should magnify his priesthood and be an example of righteousness. In companionship with his wife, he should be the source of stability and strength for the whole family. He should be the protector and the provider and the champion of the members of his family. Much of his love for his children should flow from his example of love, concern and fidelity for their mother. By his uncompromising example he should instill character into his children.”
During the only general conference over which he presided as president of the LDS Church — the October conference of 1994 — President Howard W. Hunter spoke strongly of the father’s role in the LDS family. “A man who holds the priesthood regards the family as ordained of God,” President Hunter said. “Your leadership of the family is your most important and sacred responsibility. The family is the most important unit in time and in eternity and, as such, transcends every other interest in life.”
More recently, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles warned of the negative impact on society as the influence of fathers fades in modern families.
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