President Ezra Taft Benson presided over Saturday's opening session of the 161st Annual General Conference of the LDS Church, where his gratitude about the end of the war in the Middle East joined that of other church authorities.
During action normally reserved for later conference sessions, six new members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy were announced Saturday morning, and five members of that quorum were moved to the First Quorum of the Seventy (see story below).The 91-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was seated between his two counselors during the first hour of the morning session. As aides escorted him out during a congregational hymn, President Benson stopped briefly, smiled and waved to the packed audience assembled in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
"He is pleased that the president of the United States has proclaimed that yesterday, today and tomorrow be designated as days of prayer and that sincere expressions of gratitude ascend to heaven for the end of the war in the Middle East," said President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, speaking in behalf of President Benson. President Monson conducted the opening session of the two-day conference.
"With all his noble heart, President Benson would desire to stand at this pulpit and bear to you his witness concerning the truth of this work, the gratitude he feels for your prayers and his fervent hope that all of us may so live as a merit and receive the abundant blessings a loving Heavenly Father desires to bestow," President Monson said.
"We are thankful for the resolution of the war, and it is our fervent hope and prayer that all nations involved will work in concert for a lasting peace," President Monson said, quoting a recent statement from the First Presidency. "The collective prayers of the nation and the world should focus not only on a lasting peace but also on the needs of the many on both sides who lost loved ones and endured suffering in the conflict."
Continuing with statements from President Benson, President Monson said, "The price of peace is righteousness. Men and nations may loudly proclaim `Peace, peace,' but there shall be no peace until individuals nurture in their souls those principles of personal purity, integrity and character which foster the development of peace. Peace cannot be imposed. It must come from the lives and hearts of men. There is no other way."
President Benson was also quoted as having said, "If we would advance in holiness, increase in favor with God, nothing can take the place of prayer. Give prayer - daily prayer, secret prayer - a foremost place in your lives. Let no day pass without it. Communication with the Almighty has been a source of strength, inspiration and enlightenment through the world's history to men and women who have shapedthe destinies of individuals and nations for good.
"In speaking to a large audience in Sao Paulo, Brazil, some time ago, President Benson testified, `All through my life the counsel to depend on prayer has been prized above almost any other advice I have ever received. It has become an integral part of me, an anchor, a constant source of strength and the basis of my knowledge of things divine. Our Heavenly Father is always near. Thank God we can reach out and tap that unseen power, without which no man can do his best.' "
Also during that address, President Benson said, "I testify that there is a God in heaven who hears and answers prayers. I know this to be true, for He has answered mine. I would humbly urge all within the sound of my voice to keep in close touch with our Father in Heaven through prayer."
Elder Packer: An eternal perspective can comfort those who suffer from handicaps, which are temporal afflictions.
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve said life often brings to individuals "circumstances they did not invite, and do not deserve, but cannot turn away from.
"I speak to families of those who, at birth or as the result of accident or disease, must live with an impaired body or mind. I desire to bring comfort to those to whom the words `handicapped' or `idsability' have very personal meaning."
He als said many people, unless the die prematurely, may end up physically or mentally handicapped in their advancing years, and encouraged church members to "make advance payments of service and compassion on which we may draw when that time comes."
Elder Packer said the idea that all suffering is somehow the direct result of sin has been falsely taught since ancient times. "There is little foom for feelings of guilt in connection with handicaps. Some handicaps may result from carelessness or abuse, and some through the addiction of parents. But mose of them do not. Afflictions come to the innocent.
"The very purpose for which the world was created and man introduced to live upon it requires that the laws of nature operate in cold disregard of human feelings. We must work out our salvation without expecting to be exempted from them. Natural law is, on rare occasions, suspended in a maracle. But mostly our handicapped, like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, wait endlessly for the moving of the water."
Elder Packer had quoted form the Gospel of John in the New Testament the instance where an angel, at times, "troubled the water" in the pool at Bethesda, healing the first person to enter the water.
H urged parents to refrain from and teach their children not to be cruel by ridiculing those with handicaps. "Such assault can inflict deeper pain that can physical punishment; more painful because it is undeserved," he said. "Caution your family never to amuse themselves at the expense of the handicapped or of any whose face or form or personality does not fit the supposed ideal or whose skin is too dark or too light to suit their fancy."
Quoting former church President joseph Fielding Smith, Elder packer said that each spirit, before being born into earth life, was in perfect form, having all faculties and mental powers unimpaired. Deformities in the body and mind are physical. "Physical means temporal: temporal means temporary. Spirits which are beautiful and innocent may be temporarily restrained by physical impairment. If healing does not come in mortal life, it will come thereafter.
"If our view is limited to mortal life, some things become unbearable because the seem so unfair and so permanent. There are doctrines which, if understood, will bring a perspective toward and composure regarding problems which otherwise have no satisfactory explanation," Elder Packer said.
"The day of healing will come. Bodies which are deformed and minds that are warped will be made perfect."
Elder Ashton: Gospel teachings, mature perspective can emphasize the voices of gladness in bittersweet lives.
Gospel teachings convey how joy can emerge from the disappointments and tragedies that are part of life, said Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Council of the Twelve.
An elderly gentleman who fled his burning apartment complex with only the clothes on his back thanked God there were no serious injuries in the fire. "What did we hear from this tragedy?" Elder Ashton asked. "A voice of gladness from someone who could have been bitter and angry with the situation but chose to share a mature sense of values. He was bigger than that which happened. He saw beyond the present and gave appreciation and hope for conditions and people in the future.
"Disappointments, death, losses or failures are real and difficult to manage, but should never cause us to have barbed tongues, lasting resentment or negative attitudes. The gospel encourages us to develop the capacity to learn from the past and pres-ent and see the opportunities that can be ours in the days to come," he said.
"In the world where there are often voices of pessimism and negative feelings, the voice of gladness is welcome indeed. Some seem to live with doubt, fear of the future, and sorrow for the past. If it is our nature to criticize or demean, we can cause the voices of gladness to be silenced. We need those who bring gladness into our lives. We need those who give encouragement and reflect optimism."
Much of how people react to the trials in their lives is reflected through attitudes. "Research has verified the fact that bitterness injures more the person who carries it than the one who caused it," Elder Ashton said.
Young cancer patients interviewed by author Erma Bombeck demonstrated humor and optimism which kept them in the mainstream of life and, perhaps, was a major part of their survival.
Even though the Savior's suffering was beyond human comprehension, his voice of gladness recorded in the Gospel of John reminds: "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
"Jesus challenges all of us to be happy and optimistic," Elder Ashton said. "Thank God for noble souls who can and do weather life's storms with sincere voices of gladness which overshadow the present and make the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ real and strengthening," he said. "Life can be both bitter and sweet. It is up to us to choose whether we want to reflect the voices of gloom or gladness."
"The voices of gladness from the scriptures remind us that we don't have to walk alone. Christ came that we might have life and have life more abundantly," Elder Ashton said.
Elder Oaks: Children honor their parents by caring for them when old, respecting them and emulating righteous examples.
Showing honor for parents is one of the Ten Commandments God gave Moses and still has strands that run through the entire fabric of the gospel, said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve.
"The commandment to honor our parents echoes the sacred spirit of family relationships in which - at their best - we have sublime expressions of heavenly love and care for one another."
For young people, the commandment means a focus on obedience, respect and the emulation of righteous parents. "Young people, if you honor your parents, you will love them, respect them, confide in them, be considerate of them, express appreciation for them, and demonstrate all of these things by following their council in righteousness and by obeying the commandments of God," he said.
For those whose parents have died, honoring parents is likely to involve thoughts of family reunions, family histories, vicarious work for the dead in temples and commitment to the great causes in which departed parents spent their lives.
Middle-age persons are likely to think of the commandment in terms of caring for aged parents. "Remember, parents and grandparents are our responsibility, and we are to care for them to the very best of our ability. When the elderly have no families to care for them, priesthood and Relief Society leaders should make every effort to meet their needs in the same loving way," Elder Oaks said, quoting remarks made by President Benson in 1989.
Families should preserve the independence of their elderly parents as long as they can, allowing aging parents to make as many choices about their lives as is possible.
If they become less able to live independently, then family, church and community resources may be needed. Family care in the home should be provided when possible when the elderly become unable to care for themselves.
Aged parents unable to live alone who are invited to live with their children are kept in the family circle, facilitating close ties with all family members.
When care in a family home is not possible and institutional care is obtained, children should remember that institutional care focuses generally on physical needs, Elder Oaks said. Family members should make regular contacts to provide the spiritual and emotional sustenance and love that is needed.
The commandment to honor parents is often referred to as the first commandment with a promise of longevity, Elder Oaks said.
Elder Larsen: Blessings of worldly wealth can become a great test of the righteous, as recorded in scripture, history.
Obedience to the Lord's commandments brings blessings - blessings that can become trials if not treated properly, said Elder Dean L. Larsen of the Presidency of the Quorums of the Seventy.
"Historically, the abundance with which the Lord has blessed his people has proved to be one of their greatest tests. The cycles of their acquiring worldly wealth and their subsequent spiritual decline are well-documented in the scriptural and historical records," he said.
Moses expressed concern that his people would forget the Lord after their trial in the desert had ended.
Coveting wealth often results in avarice, dishonesty and greed. The acquisition of wealth has frequently produced pride, self-satisfaction and arrogance, even though the Lord has promised riches, if they are wanted, to those who first seek the kingdom of God and obtain a hope in Christ - if the wealth is sought for the intent to do good, Elder Larsen said, quoting from a passage in the Book of Mormon.
Wealth is also a relative thing, he said. Conditions vary so dramatically from place to place in the world that the necessities of life to some would be an abundance and even an extravagance to others. "The message that echoes to us from the pages of history and from the counsels of the Lord and his prophets is clear: Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven. Seek not for riches to consume them on your own lusts. Thou shalt not covet. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Relieve the sick and the afflicted. Pay tithes and offerings. In all things acknowledge the Lord. Be grateful. Be humble."
Elder Howard: Accept responsibilities for own actions. Repent instead of trying to blame others for faults.
Unwillingness to accept the responsibility for and consequences of one's actions is an all-too-common condition in today's world, said Elder F. Burton Howard of the Quorums of the Seventy.
"Who has not heard of the drunken driver who sues his host for allowing him to get drunk, or of the accident victim who claims damages from the physician who tries to help him?"
Discomfort always accompanies sin, Elder Howard said, encouraging church members to repent of their faults rather than trying to pass them along to someone else.
The first step to repentance is recognizing there has been a wrong. "If we are so hedged about by pride, rationalization, `machismo' or a misdirected sense of self-esteem so as to prevent us from ever admitting that we are part of the problem, we are in trouble. We then may not even know of our need to repent."
Just as foolish as trying to pass one's responsibility to another is believing the notion expressed by the phrase, "the end justifies the means."
"Those who teach it are almost always attempting to excuse the use of improper or questionable means. Such people seem to be saying, `My purpose was to do good or to be happy. Therefore, any little lie, or misrepresentation, or lapse of integrity, or violation of law along the way is justified.' "
Others find no wrong in concealing the truth to pursue an advantage of some kind over another. "If the means which prompt these sayings are wrong, no amount of rationalization or verbal whitewash can ever make them right.
"Even if the goal is good, it would be a personal calamity to look beyond the mark and fail to repent of the wrong we do along the way."
10 years of growth
The following figures represent statistics released Saturday by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as of Dec. 31, 1990, compared with statistics fro one decaded ago.
Dec. 31, 90 Dec. 31, 80
Number or church units:
Stakes 1,784 1,218
Missions 256 188
Wards and branches 18,090 10,324
Nations/territories with weards/branches 130 83
Total membership 7,760,000 4,644,768
Children of record
baptized for year 78,000 65,000
Converts baptized for year 330,877 211,000
Full-time missionaries 43,651 29,953