Members of the LDS Church were counseled Sunday morning to hold fast to their marriage vows, show compassion to others, repent of sin and draw closer to God.
Addressing a worldwide audience from the Tabernacle on Temple Square, President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, admonished members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to marry - and hold that covenant sacred."How wonderful a thing is marriage under the plan of our Eternal Father, a plan provided in his divine wisdom for the happiness and security of his children and the continuity of his race," said President Hinckley, who conducted the fourth session of the church's 161st Annual General Conference.
President Ezra Taft Benson, the church's 91-year-old leader, attended the session, standing with the support of his counselors while members of the congregation, including church, political and civic leaders, joined with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in singing "We Thank Thee, O God, For A Prophet," midway through the proceedings. The audience in the Tabernacle waved as President Benson bid a silent farewell while being helped from the stand after the hymn.
"President Joseph F. Smith once declared that `No man can be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God without the woman, and no woman can reach perfection and exaltation in the kingdom of God alone,' " President Hinckley said. "God instituted marriage in the beginning. He made man in his own image and likeness, male and female, and in their creation it was designed that they should be united together in sacred bonds of marriage, and one is not perfect without the other."
President Hinckley said his heart reaches out to single women who long to marry but have not had the opportunity. "Our Father in Heaven reserves for them every promised blessing," he said.
"I have far less sympathy for the young men, who under the customs of our society, have the prerogative to take the initiative in these matters, but in so many cases fail to do so. Strong words have been spoken to them in the past by presidents of this church."
The fact that divorce has become common also evoked strong words from the church leader.
"There may be now and again a legitimate cause for divorce. I am not one to say that it is never justified," he said. "But I say without hesitation that this plague among us, which seems to be growing everywhere, is not of God, but rather is the work of the adversary of righteousness and peace and truth."
President Hinckley said the tragic fallout of divorce - which ends almost one of two American marriages - is plaguing society.
"Millions of single parents are struggling to rear families, carrying burdens beyond their capacity to handle. Millions of children are growing up in (these) homes from which the parent, usually the mother, out of necessity, is absent most of the time," he said. "These `latch-key children' return from school each day to empty houses, where, in many cases, there is inadequate food, and only the refuge of the television set."
President Hinckley said not only are these children suffering, but society is also "paying a frightful price" in drug abuse, criminal behavior and unemployment.
"We are building and maintaining more prisons than we can afford. The costs are enormous, almost beyond comprehension," he said. "In an alarming percentage of the cases of those who are warehoused in these facilities, there will be found in their background a broken home where a father abandoned his family and a mother struggled in vain to handle the overpowering odds against her."
Why all of these broken homes?
President Hinckley said there's no simple answer, but "I find selfishness to be the root cause of most of it. . . . I am satisfied that a happy marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one's companion," he said.
Marriage, President Hinckley said, is not always bliss. Stormy weather occasionally hits every household. But divorce is not the answer to common marital problems. Rather, the answer is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The remedy for most marriage stress is not in divorce. It is in repentance. It is not in separation. It is in simple integrity that leads a man to square up his shoulders and meet his obligations. It is found in the Golden Rule."
Pres. Monson: Scour your life for ways to emulate the Savior through acts of compassion and generosity.
President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, encouraged faithful church members to follow the example of Christ and show compassion to people everywhere.
"We, too, can bless if we will but follow his noble example. Opportunities are everywhere," he said. "Needed are eyes to see the pitiable plight and ears to hear the silent pleadings of a broken heart. Yes, and a soul filled with compassion, that we might communicate not only eye to eye or voice to ear but, in the majestic style of the Savior, even heart to heart."
President Monson paid special tribute to soldiers who defended their country in the Persian Gulf - and to their loved ones who tied yellow ribbons everywhere and "wept because they did know the danger, the loneliness, the fear that awaited."
Through the war, compassion shone.
"Every man and woman embroiled in that conflict thought of home, of family and friends," President Monson said. "The embers of longing for loved ones glowed brightly and were found on every face. Love replaced hate, warmth filled every heart and compassion overflowed every soul."
In a speech filled with colorful anecdotes, President Monson invited listeners to recall a scene from the popular movie "Home Alone," which illustrates that children, too, have compassion.
"The scene takes place in a chapel; the time is Christmas; the two lonely characters are seated next to one another on a church bench," he recalled. "The older man, who lives by himself, is estranged from family and bereft of friends. His next door neighbor, played by (actor) McCaulay Culkin, is the lad left `home alone' by his family, which had departed for a European vacation, inadvertently forgetting this one, small family member."
During the conversation between the old gent and the young man, the audience learns that the elderly man and his son's family have parted ways and no longer communicate. "In the innocence of youth, the boy blurts out the plea, `Why don't you just call your son and tell him you are sorry and invite him home for Christmas!' "
During the movie, viewers witness the touching scene of the man and his family united and the old neighbor looking upward to the bedroom window of the house next door and seeing his small friend, observing "the private miracle of forgiveness.
"One emerges from the theater with moist eyes," President Monson said. "As the brightness of day envelops the silent throng, perhaps there are those whose thoughts turn to that man of miracles, the teacher of truth - even the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. I know my thoughts did."
Reflecting on the Savior's capacity for compassion, the church leader praised Salt Lake residents. "The compassion of this community is in evidence each day," said President Monson, who gave examples of the community's generosity for the less fortunate.
Within walking distance from the Tabernacle is a shelter for the homeless, a dental clinic, a soup kitchen. A few streets beyond stands the Regional Bishops Storehouse, stocked with commodities. Nearby is Neighborhood House, a non-denominational care center where "generous women share their time and their means to teach preschool children whose single mothers work to provide for their own.
"Similar projects are to be found in every community. The need beckons. We as a people need but to respond."
President Monson expressed his love and gratitude to Desert Storm troops now returning from war.
"They heard the call of duty. They fought the fight of the brave. They return victorious," he said. "To those who lost loved ones in Desert Storm or, for that matter, in any storm of deprivation, our heartfelt compassion goes out to you."
Pres. Hunter: From quiet, humble inception, church has become a global force for good, spreading gospel across Earth.
On April 6, 1830 - 161 years ago - a group of men and women assembled in the house of Peter Whitmer to organize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Unlike most of life's momentous hours, their actions didn't give the world much reason to take note.
"What they did, however, ranks among the most important events ever to have transpired since the death of Jesus and his apostles in the meridian of time," said President Howard W. Hunter, president of the Council of the Twelve.
According to President Hunter, this church - organized by humble, ordinary men and largely unrecognized by society - has become an international faith with units and members "almost literally around the face of the Earth."
"The marvelous progress in transportation and communication have made possible the promulgation of these truths of the restored gospel to the children of men nearly everywhere in the world," he said. "Millions in America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the islands of the sea not only have been able to hear, but in millions of cases, to accept and commit to these saving principles of the gospel of truth."
President Hunter spoke of the church's founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, who was mocked and turned away when men heard that he was claiming God had manifested himself to him. Similarly, in the Christian era, wise and able men in Athens turned away from a singular man ministering in their midst.
"Yet the fact remains that Paul, in that earlier experience, was the only man in that great city of learning who knew that a person may pass through the portals of death and live," President Hunter said. "He was the only man in Athens who could clearly delineate the difference between the formality of idolatry and the heartfelt worship of the only true and living God."
The church leader noted that Joseph Smith - from an intellectual standpoint and in terms of formal education - was unlearned and wholly untrained in the ministry as was Paul.
But President Hunter testified, "Joseph Smith was not only a great man, but he was an inspired servant of the Lord, a prophet of God. His greatness consists in one thing - the declaration that he saw the Father and the Son and that he responded to the reality of that divine revelation.
"Part of the divine revelation was instruction to re-establish the true and living church, restored in these modern times as it existed in the day of the Savior's own mortal ministry . . .
"For the first time in 1,800 years, God had revealed himself as a personal being. Furthermore, the Father and the Son demonstrated the undeniable truth that they are separate and distinct personages. Indeed, the relationship of the Father and the Son was reaffirmed by divine introduction to the boy prophet, `This is my beloved Son, hear him.' "
Elder Faust: Have grace, wisdom to acknowledge sin. Repentance and atonement will elicit forgiveness.
In a world cursed with "thorns of worldly temptation and slivers of sin," church members must acknowledge their sins and repent of them, said Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve.
"The denial of our own sins, of our own selfishness, of our own weakness, is like a crown of thorns which keeps us from moving up one more step in personal growth," he told church members. "Perhaps worse than sin is the denial of sin. If we deny that we are sinners, how can we ever be forgiven? How can the atonement of Jesus work in our lives if there is no repentance?"
Elder Faust commented that it seems no matter how carefully one walks life's path, some still "pick up some thorns, briars and slivers." Others delight in flirting with temptation, only to learn they've affected both their own happiness and that of their neighbors.
"There is a defense mechanism to discern between good and evil. It is called conscience," he said. "It is our spirit's natural response to the pain of sin, just like pain in our flesh is our body's natural response to a wound - even a small sliver. Conscience strengthens through use."
Too often, Elder Faust said, people seek bandages to cover guilt, rather than removing the spiritual thorn causing the pain.
"All irritants of the flesh and soul should be removed before they fester. However, though they ulcerate, and though they torment, they can still be removed and the healing process will take place," he promised. "When the infection is healed, the soreness will leave."
Elder Faust said that process is known as repentance.
"Repentance and forgiveness are among the greatest fruits of the atonement. It is not easy to remove the thorns of pride, the thistles of selfishness, the slivers of ego, the briars of appetite," he said. "I believe that earthly crowns such as power, the love of money, the preoccupation with material things, and the honors of men, are a crown of thorns because they are based upon obtaining and receiving, rather than giving."
Elder Faust added, "Taking up one's cross and following the Savior is always a commitment to service."
Bishop Eyring: God is not a `distant' ancestor. Cultivate a joyous, spiritual closeness with him: Speak, listen and do.
Listen to the Holy Ghost, communicate often with God and prepare to see him again, was the counsel given by Bishop Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
A woman who once sat next to Bishop Eyring on an airplane referred to God "like one of our distant ancestors" who, if ever needed, could be beckoned by a sign of her hand. The woman said she did not believe God was close by.
"God is our ancestor, not distant but close. He is the Father of our spirits; we are his children," Bishop Eyring said. "But like that woman, we all at times feel far removed from him. Like her, if we are to have the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ touch us, then we must believe in God. We must want to be with him. And we must sense our need to be purified to be with him again."
Staying close to God, Bishop Eyring said, is similar to the efforts needed to stay close to a good friend.
"If you want to stay close to someone who has been dear to you, but from whom you are separated, you know how to do it. You would find a way to speak to them, you would listen to them," he said. "And you would discover ways to do things for each other. The more often that happened, the longer it went on, the deeper would be the bond of affection. If much time passed without the speaking, the listening and the doing, the bonds would weaken."
A person's relationship with God is similar, he said.
"God is perfect and omnipotent, and you and I are mortal. But he is our Father, he loves us, and he offers the same opportunity to draw closer to him as would a loving friend," Bishop Eyring stressed. "And, you will do it in much the same way: speaking, listening and doing."