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.”
Joy for the faithful
President Henry B. Eyring opened the Sunday conference sessions by sharing counsel he has given to two of his grandchildren who will be married this year and who are wondering about how to create family happiness. Such counsel is difficult to give, President Eyring said, because "Heavenly Father has made each of us unique."
"No two of us have exactly the same experiences," he said. "No two families are alike ... Yet a loving Heavenly Father has set the same path to happiness for all of his children. Whatever our personal characteristics or whatever will be our experiences, there is but one plan of happiness. That plan is to follow all the commandments of God."
President Eyring said his message to his grandchildren, "and to all of us trying to forge eternal families, is that there is joy guaranteed for the faithful."
Our highest priority
Elder Dallin H. Oaks delivered one of the most-talked-about sermons, based on social media, in his discussion of misplaced priorities. Elder Oaks emphasized the importance of chastity and marriage.
"We know that the marriage of a man and a woman is necessary for the accomplishment of God's plan," Elder Oaks said. "Only this marriage will provide the approved setting for mortal birth and to prepare family members for eternal life. We look on marriage and the bearing and nurturing of children as part of God's plan and a sacred duty of those given the opportunity to do so. We believe the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity."
Because Latter-day Saints believe that "the power to create mortal life is the most exalted power God has given to his children," and because they believe that God has forbidden its misuse outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman, Elder Oaks said the church cannot condone "behaviors contrary to God's decrees about sexual morality and the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing."
He said political and cultural pressures have permitted "so-called same-gender marriage" in some states and nations, but LDS "understanding of God's plan and His doctrine give us an eternal perspective that does not allow us to condone such behaviors or to find justification ni the laws that permit them."
"Man's laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral," he said. "Commitment to our highest priority — to love and serve God — requires that we look to his law for our standard of behavior Laws legalizing so-called 'same-gender marriage' do not change God's laws of marriage or his commandments and our standards concerning it."
"In this determination we may be misunderstood and we may incur accusations of bigotry, suffer discrimination or have to withstand invasions of our free exercise of religion. If so, I think we should remember our first priority - to serve God - and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited."
“We can be cleansed”
Elder Richard G. Scott spoke of the personal strength that can come into individual lives through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
"It is a fundamental truth that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be cleansed," Elder Scott said. "We can become virtuous and pure. However, sometimes our poor choices leave us with long-term consequences. One of the vital steps to complete repentance is to bear the short- and long-term consequences of our past sins."
Elder Scott urged his listeners to "fill your life with service to others."
"As you lose your life in the service of Father in Heaven's children," he said, "Satan's temptations lose power in your life."
Falter or finish?
On the day before what would have been his 65th wedding anniversary, President Monson spoke personally and movingly of his wife's recent death and his assurance that God is with us in times of adversity as he concluded the Sunday morning session.
"Our Heavenly Father, who gives us so much to delight in, also knows that we learn and grow and become stronger as we face and survive the trials through which we must pass," said the 86-year-old church leader, who observed the 50th anniversary of his call to the church's Quorum of the Twelve during this conference.
"We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve, and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were — better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before."
For President Monson, the passing of his beloved wife, Frances, six months ago was such a time of sorrow and grief.
"She was the love of my life, my trusted confidant and my closest friend," he said. "To say that I miss her does not begin to convey the depth of my feeling."
At such times, President Monson said, "a fundamental question remained to be answered by each of us: Shall I falter, or shall I finish?"
Those who have made the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of their lives find that "this is what will pull us through whatever comes our way," President Monson said.
"We will still experience difficult challenges, but we will be able to face them, to meet them head on and to emerge victorious. From the bed of pain, from the pillow wet with tears, we are lifted heavenward by that divine assurance and precious promise: 'I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.' Such comfort is priceless."
As he concluded his remarks, President Monson urged his listeners to "have a commitment to our Heavenly Father that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives."
"Only the Master knows the depths of our trials, our pain and our suffering," he said. "He alone offers us eternal peace in times of adversity ... Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, he is with us. He has promised that this will never change."
Forms of bondage
Elder Quentin L. Cook was the first speaker in the Sunday afternoon session of conference, and he 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
For example, he said, “there are many voices now telling women how to live. 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.
“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.”
Strength, peace and perspective
Speaking right after Elder Cook, Elder Neil L. Andersen discussed the power of the priesthood and its equal availability to both men and women. He observed “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.”
However, Elder Andersen said, “seeing through the lens of mortality does not always give a complete understanding of the workings of God. 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.”
Decisions for eternity
Elder Russell M. Nelson added his voice to Elder Oaks’ 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.”