SALT LAKE CITY — President Thomas S. Monson instructed men and young men of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to "be of good courage" "in a world where moral values have, in great measure, been tossed aside," as he closed the first day of the faith's 184th Annual General Conference.
"We will all face fear, experience ridicule and meet opposition," he warned during Saturday evening's priesthood session. "Let us have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God's approval."
That theme ended the day where it began, with multiple messages from church leaders about weathering whirlwinds through reliance on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Other speakers during the day's three sessions addressed abortion, same-sex marriage and the priesthood authority of men and women in the context of core church teachings.
A statistical report provided news that the church now has 15,082,028 members and 85,039 full-time missionaries.
President Monson said church members face pressures and influences that tear at decency and attempt to substitute philosophies for faith.
"Because of these and other challenges," he said, "decisions are constantly before us which can determine our destiny. In order to make the correct decisions, courage is needed — the courage to say 'No' when we should, the courage to say 'Yes' when that is appropriate, the courage to do the right thing because it is right."
When loved ones feel the pull of the world, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency said in the opening session, parents who want to create "a priceless heritage of hope" for their posterity should fill their homes with daily family prayer, family scripture study, hymns and testimony.
I suggest that you take both the short and the long view as you try to give the inheritance of hope to your family," he said. "In the short run there will be troubles and Satan will roar. And there are things to wait for patiently, in faith, knowing that the Lord acts in his own time, and in his own way."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Latter-day Saints, especially youths, must prepare for the cost — and blessings — of discipleship.
"...if you haven't already," he said, "you will one day find yourself called upon to defend your faith or perhaps even endure some personal abuse simply because you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such moments will require courage and courtesy on your part."
He said taking courageous moral stands is worth it, "because the alternative is to have our houses left unto us desolate — desolate individuals, desolate families, desolate neighborhoods and desolate nations."
Elder Holland said some people today express hate for people of faith and quoted Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi and added some criticisms church members face today: "'Because I have told you the truth you are angry with me. ... Because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad,' or we might add (today) provincial, patriarchal, bigoted, unkind, narrow, outmoded and elderly."
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also said Latter-day Saints will face "spiritual whirlwinds" — "My young friends, the world will not glide calmly toward the Second Coming of the Savior," he said — but such trials can increase spiritual strength. He counseled members to follow church leaders: "You need the strength that comes from trusting the Lord's prophets."
He called same-sex attraction a "whirlwind of enormous velocity" and expressed love and admiration for those who "courageously confront this trial of faith and stay true to the commandments of God."
Those commandments include keeping sexual relations to between a man and a woman in marriage. "As the world slips away from the Lord's law of chastity," Elder Andersen said, "we do not."
"Don't let the whirlwinds drag you down," he added. "These are your days — to stand strong as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Sister Linda S. Reeves of the Relief Society general presidency stepped to the pulpit from the third center row on the Conference Center stand, where auxiliary leaders, including nine women in the presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary, sat in a more prominent position for the first time, to speak in the morning session.
With 13 grandchildren in the congregation Saturday morning, Sister Reeves said she wanted them to know about the destruction pornography causes in families.
"Filters are useful tools," she said, "but the greatest filter in the world, the only one that will ultimately work, is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony of our Heavenly Father's love and our Savior's atoning sacrifice for each one of us."
She said daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening "take away stress, give direction to our lives and add protection to our homes."
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy also spoke in the morning session and encouraged conferencegoers "to take up the joyful 'burden' of discipleship."
He told a story about a tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City last year and how it devastated the personal possessions of many and killed several people.
"It is so important for each of us to strive to lay up our spiritual treasures in heaven," he said.
Latter-day Saints should let their faith show, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during the Saturday afternoon session.
"We might ask ourselves, where is our faith?" he said. "Is it in a team? Is it in a brand? Is it in a celebrity? Even the best teams can fail. Celebrities can fade. There is only One in whom your faith is always safe, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. And you need to let your faith show!"
Elder Nelson told a story about a medical faculty colleague chastising him for not separating his faith from his profession. He said he understood why scholars cherish freedom of expression, but said "full freedom cannot be experienced if part of one’s knowledge is ruled ‘out of bounds’ by edicts of men.
"Spiritual truth cannot be ignored," he continued, "especially divine commandments. Keeping divine commandments brings blessings, every time! Breaking divine commandments brings loss of blessings, every time!"
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told personal stories about how his grandmother encouraged him to be baptized and the girlfriend who became his wife encouraged him to serve a full-time mission for the church before marriage.
Like those women, he said: “You can help in ways that are grounded in principle and doctrine. Encourage those you love to seek to understand what the Lord would have them do. One way to do this is to ask them questions that make them think and then allow them sufficient time — whether hours, days, months or more — to ponder and seek to work out the answers for themselves.”
As members share principles that help loved ones progress on the path to eternal life, Elder Scott said, "they should keep it simple because each person learns line upon line."
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described three kinds of obedience — "natural man's obedience," which rejects God's law in favor of personal wisdom and desire; selective obedience; and spiritually mature obedience.
“As our understanding of obedience deepens, we recognize the essential role of agency," he said.
Elder Hales described Christ's own example of courage in a whirlwind, when "He made his own choice to obediently endure to the end and complete his atoning sacrifice, even though it meant great suffering and death.
“Spiritually mature obedience is ‘the Savior’s obedience,’" he continued. "It is motivated by true love for Heavenly Father and his son. Using our agency to obey means choosing to ‘do what is right (and) letting the consequence follow.’ It require self-mastery and brings confidence, eternal happiness, and a sense of fulfillment to us and, by example, to those around us; and it always includes deep personal commitment to sustain priesthood leaders and follow their teachings and counsel."
Like Elder Andersen, Elder Hales said obedience makes people stronger, "capable of faithfully enduring tests and trials in the future. Obedience in Gethsemane prepared the Savior to obey and endure to the end on Golgotha."
The final speaker Saturday afternoon was Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He emphasized the importance of family history work among Latter-day Saints. (See accompanying story on temples.)
President Eyring also spoke in the evening's priesthood session about models of a true priesthood man.
He said his boyhood baseball hero was the great Joe DiMaggio, whom he saw hit a home run the only time he ever watched him play. President Eyring modeled his swing after Joltin' Joe's.
“When we choose heroes, we begin to copy, consciously or unconsciously, what we admire most in them,” he said, adding that every priesthood holder becomes a model of a priesthood man "whether you want to be or not. Each of you will be a model of a priesthood man whether you want to be or not. You becomes a lighted candle when you accepted the priesthood. You can be a great model, an average one or a bad model.”
The priesthood holders who became President Eyring's heroes had three common characteristics.
"One," he said, "is a pattern of prayer, the second is a habit of service, and the third is a rock-hard decision to be honest."
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency asked the men in the priesthood session to consider whether they are “sleeping through the Restoration,” which he said is an ongoing process.
He identified three obstacles that “prevent us from fulling engaging” in the blessings of the restored gospel — selfishness, addictions and competing priorities.
“Past generations had their struggles with variations of egotism, but today we are giving them serious competition," President Uchtdorf said. "Is it any coincidence that the Oxford Dictionary recently proclaimed ‘selfie’ as the word of the year?”
He encouraged “small gifts of charity that have a grand impact for good — a smile, a handshake, a hug, time spent in listening, a soft word of encouragement or a gesture of caring” because such selfless acts “can change hearts and lives.”
“Addictions," he added, "are thin threads of repeated action that weave themselves into thick bonds of habit. These binding chains can have many forms, like pornography, alcohol, sex, drugs, tobacco, gambling, food, work, the Internet or virtual reality. Satan, our common enemy, has many favorite tools he uses to rob us of our divine potential to accomplish our mission in the Lord’s kingdom.”
He encouraged those struggling with addiction not to give up or lose faith but to keep their hearts close to Christ.
As for competing priorities like hobbies, sports, work or politics, they may be honorable, he said, "but are they leaving us time and energy for what should be our highest priorities?”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he is grateful his priesthood session talk was broadcast and will be published for all church members because it was about how priesthood keys direct women as well as men and how priesthood ordinances and authority pertain to women as well as men.
Even though presiding authorities of the church — the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — "hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation," he said, "they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.”
But, he said, "church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the ward or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys.”
He also said "men are not 'the priesthood,' " a distinction he and other church leaders have emphasized. Instead, LDS women regularly act with authority of the priesthood.
“We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their church callings, but what other authority can it be?" Elder Oaks asked. "When a woman — young or old — is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of th priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
Ultimately, he said, “Unlike priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations, the blessings of the priesthood are available to women and to men on the same terms. The gift of the Holy Ghost and the blessings of the temple are familiar illustrations of this truth."
Women and men who exercise priesthood authority "should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities," he added.
"Latter-day Saints surely recognize that qualifying for exaltation is not a matter of asserting rights, but a matter of fulfilling responsibilities."
Other speakers included Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy; Elder Carlos H. Amado, Elder Claudio D. Zivic and Elder W. Craig Zwick of the Seventy; and Brother Randall L. Ridd of the Young Men general presidency.