SALT LAKE CITY — With a plea for church members to “show increased kindness toward one another” and to “ever be found doing the work of the Lord,” President Thomas S. Monson brought the 183rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to a close Sunday afternoon.
“We have been spiritually fed as we have listened to the counsel and testimonies of those who have participated in each session,” President Monson said. “May the spirit we have felt here be and abide with us as we go about those things which occupy us each day.”
During the Sunday afternoon conference session, much of the counsel to which President Monson referred came from three members of the Quorum of the Twelve, including Elder Russell M. Nelson, who added his voice to Elder Dallin H. Oaks from the Sunday morning session in declaring that “marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to the Lord’s doctrine and crucial to God’s eternal plan.”
“Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s pattern for a fullness of life on earth and in heaven,” Elder Nelson said. “God’s marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood or misconstrued. Not if you want true joy.”
Elder Nelson said “civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare and prosperity of rising generations.”
“But civil governments are heavily influenced by social trends and secular philosophies as they write, re-write and enforce laws,” he continued. “Regardless of what civil legislation may be enacted, the doctrine of the Lord regarding marriage and morality cannot be changed. Remember: Sin, even if legalized by man, is still sin in the eyes of God!”
While he urged church members to follow Jesus’ example of kindness and compassion and to “value the rights and feelings of all of God’s children, we cannot change (God’s) doctrine. It is not ours to change. His doctrine is ours to study, understand and uphold.”
Speaking from the perspective of his background as a medical doctor, Elder Nelson noted his profound respect for the human body. He talked about its extraordinary capabilities as well as its imperfections. And he talked about the “strong appetites within us for nourishment and love, vital for the human family to be perpetuated.
“When we master our appetites within the bounds of God’s laws, we can enjoy longer life, greater love and consummate joy,” he said. “It is not surprising, then, that most temptations to stray from God’s plan of happiness come through the misuse of those essential, God-given appetites. Controlling our appetites is not always easy. Not one of us manages them perfectly. Mistakes happen. Errors are made. Sins are committed. What can we do then? We can learn from them. And we can truly repent.”
The first speaker in the Sunday afternoon session of conference was another apostle, Elder Quentin L. Cook, who spoke about four different kinds of bondage that are “destructive of the human spirit” and “pernicious in today’s culture.” He identified:
- Addictions that impair agency, contradict moral beliefs and destroy good health
- Addictions or predilections that occupy time that could be used for better purposes
- Ideology or political beliefs that are inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ
- Forces that violate sincerely held religious principles
“There are many voices now telling women how to live,” he said. “They often contradict each other. Of particular concern are philosophies that criticize or diminish respect for women who choose to make the sacrifices necessary to be mothers, teachers, nurturers or friends to children.
“If we allow our culture to reduce the special relationship that children have with mothers and grandmothers and others who nurture them, we will come to regret it,” Elder Cook said.
“The church is a relatively small minority even when linked with people who are like-minded,” Elder Cook said. “It will be hard to change society at large; but we must work to improve the moral culture that surrounds us. Latter-day Saints in every country should be good citizens, participate in civic affairs, educate themselves on the issues and vote.
“Our primary emphasis, however, should always be to make any necessary sacrifices to protect our own family and the rising generation,” he added. “The vast majority of them are not yet in bondage to serious addictions or false ideologies. We must help inoculate them from a world that sounds a lot like the Jerusalem that Lehi and Jeremiah experienced.
“Our challenge,” Elder Cook continued, “is to avoid bondage of any kind, help the Lord gather his elect and sacrifice for the rising generation. We must always remember that we do not save ourselves. We are liberated by the love, grace and atoning sacrifice of the Savior If we are true to his light, follow his commandments and rely on his merits, we will avoid spiritual, physical and intellectual bondage as well as the lamentation of wandering in our own wilderness, for he is mighty to save.”
Speaking right after Elder Cook, Elder Neil L. Andersen spoke about the power of the priesthood and its equal availability to both men and women. He observed that “we sometimes overly associate the power of the priesthood with men in the church.”
“The priesthood is the power and authority of God given for the salvation and blessing of all — men, women and children,” Elder Andersen said. “A man may open the drapes so the warm sunlight comes into the room, but the man does not own the sun or the warmth it brings. The blessings of the priesthood are infinitely greater than the one who is asked to administer the gift.
“To receive the blessings, power and promises of the priesthood in this life and the next is one of the great opportunities and responsibilities of mortality,” he continued. “As we are worthy, the ordinances of the priesthood enrich our lives on earth and prepare us for the magnificent promises of the world ahead.”
Still, Elder Andersen said, “some may sincerely ask the question, ‘If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?’”
While he suggested that we do not know all of the answers to that question, he said there are many things about the priesthood that we do know.
“We know that God loves all his children, and is no respecter of persons,” Elder Andersen said, adding that “as surely as we know that God’s love is ‘alike’ for his sons and his daughters, we also know that he did not create men and women exactly the same. We know that gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose. Sacred responsibilities are given each gender.”
We also know “that from the beginning the Lord established how his priesthood would be administered,” he continued, noting that men like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John all held the priesthood. “This is the way our Father in Heaven has administered his priesthood,” he said.
“While we know a lot about the priesthood, seeing through the lens of mortality does not always give a complete understanding of the workings of God,” Elder Andersen said. “But his gentle reminder, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ reassures us that with time and eternal perspective we will see things ‘as they really are,’ and more completely understand his perfect love.”
The Sunday afternoon session of conference also included sermons by:
- Brother David M. McConkie of the Sunday School general presidency, who talked about how to teach with the power and authority of God: “As you feast upon the words of Christ and strive to live the gospel with greater purpose than ever before, the Holy Ghost will manifest unto you that the things you are teaching are true”
- Elder Kevin S. Hamilton of the Seventy, who spoke about the importance of “continually holding fast to the iron rod”: “As we ‘continually hold fast to the iron rod’ by keeping our covenants, we will be strengthened to resist the temptations and perils of the world”
- Elder Adrian Q. Ochoa of the Seventy, who spoke about the importance of building and maintaining a strong testimony: “There are signs of storms forming all around us. Let us look up and prepare ourselves. There is safety in a strong testimony. Let us cherish and strengthen our testimonies every day”
- Elder Terence M. Vinson of the Seventy, who urged his listeners to draw closer to God: “Our Savior wants us to really love him to the point that we want to align our will with his. We can then feel his love and know his glory. Then he can bless us as he wants to.”