President Ezra Taft Benson urged children to stand up for their beliefs and to follow the teachings of the gospel in a message he prepared for the close of the 159th General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, read President Benson's message Sunday afternoon during the final session of the conference on Temple Square.The message was followed by a videotape of President Benson singing "I Am a Mormon Boy" to a group of children.
The 89-year-old church leader's message said he wanted to turn his attention toward children, having previously addressed the needs of adults and young adults.
President Benson urged children to pray, read the Book of Mormon, honor their parents, attend church meetings, dress modestly and be patriotic citizens.
President Benson also had a message of comfort for children who feel frightened, hurt or alone.
"You need to know that even when it seems that no one else cares, your Heavenly Father does," he said. "He will always love you. He wants you to be protected and safe. If you are not, please talk to someone who can help you - a parent, a teacher, your bishop or a friend. They will help you."
President Benson said children have a special mission.
"Dear children, our Heavenly Father sent you to Earth at this time because you are some of his most valiant children," he said. "He knew there would be much wickedness in the world today, and he knew you could be faithful and obedient."
He warned children that they will face temptations in life.
"Remember, Satan does not want you to be happy," President Benson said. "He does not want you to dare to do right. He wants you to be miserable as he is.
"He has captured the hearts of wicked men and women who would have you participate in bad things such as pornography, drugs, profanity and immorality. Stay away from these evils. Avoid books, magazines, videos, movies and television shows that are not good. As the scriptures tell us, avoid the very appearance of evil."
Referring to the Book of Mormon account of the visit of Jesus Christ to America and an episode where angels descended and ministered to children Christ had blessed, President Benson said children today can have similar blessings.
"I promise you, dear children, that angels will minister unto you also," he said. "You may not see them, but they will be there to help you, and you will feel of their presence."
President Benson said children should thank their Heavenly Father in their prayers for all their blessings.
"Thank him for sending our oldest brother, Jesus Christ, into the world," he said. "He made it possible for us to return to our heavenly home. Thank him for your family. Thank him for the church. Thank him for this beautiful world you live in."
President Benson also told children to ask God for help.
"Ask him to protect you. In your prayers, ask him to help you know what to do in your life," he said. "When you make mistakes, your Heavenly Father still loves you. So pray to him, and he will help you try again to do what's right."
-Church members should overcome contention by cultivating the love of God, said Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve.
He said contention is inspired by Satan and has been a part of Satan's plan from the beginning.
"My concern is that contention is becoming accepted as a way of life," Elder Nelson said. "What we see and hear in the media, the classroom and the work place now are all infected to some degree with contention. How easy it is, yet how wrong it is, to allow habits of contention to pervade matters of spiritual significance, because contention is forbidden by divine decree."
He said Satan often prompts people to aim contention at vital targets such as the individual, the family, church leaders and gospel doctrine.
"The home is the great laboratory of learning and love," Elder Nelson said. "Here parents help children overcome these natural tendencies to be selfish. "Parents should be partners to cherish and protect one another, knowing that the aim of the Adversary is to destroy the integrity of the family."
Elder Nelson said members should not speak ill of church leaders, none of whom sought the positions to which they have been called.
"Throughout the world, saints of the Lord follow him and his anointed leaders," he said. "They have learned that the path of dissent leads to real dangers.
"Of course the authorities are human. But to them God has entrusted the keys to his divine work, and he holds us accountable for our responses to the teachings of his servants."
Elder Nelson said church members should show compassionate concern for others. "Control the tongue, the pen and the word processor."
The love of God will help all people overcome the desire to be contentious, he said.
"As we develop love of God and Christ, love of family and neighbor will naturally follow," Elder Nelson said.
-Church members should join nationwide efforts opposing television programs that destroy values or portray excessive violence or immorality, said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve.
While the apostle believes the Lord inspired church member and inventor Philo T. Farnsworth to develop television in 1927, Elder Ballard said programming standards have declined sharply in recent years.
"In my opinion, we must make our influence felt by joining with other concerned people who oppose television programming that tears down and destroys the values that have made our families and our countries strong," he said.
"Latter-day Saints are not alone in this concern. Many individuals, churches and other organizations are raising their voices. Let us join with them, brothers and sisters, to persuade TV scriptwriters and executives and sponsors to use their power and resources to build a better and safer world."
Elder Ballard cited experts who say children are dramatically affected by the violent acts they view on television and that they become desensitized to the sufferings of others.
"Some may be surprised to know that in the average American home the television set is on just under seven hours each day. More than 66 million Americans who are under age 19 live in these homes," he said.
"A mind exposed to violence and immorality cannot escape the negative impact of such exposure."
Elder Ballard said the average high school student has seen 18,000 murders and other acts of violence and sin by the time of graduation.
On the other hand, families who limit television viewing to two hours a day of carefully selected programs see improved relationships between parents and children, homework completed on time, more personal conversations, a greater sense of imagination in children, more discriminating viewing habits by all family members and better reading habits, Elder Ballard said, citing recent studies.
He urged church members to be understanding and tolerant, but to make efforts to improve the quality of television.
-To obtain the reward of exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God, one must follow the steps Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount and must repent of sins, said Elder Royden G. Derrick of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
"To come unto Christ, one's first step is to come forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit that results in overcoming unrighteous pride and becoming submissive to his will," Elder Derrick said.
Other steps include developing a sorrow for sins, becoming meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, being merciful, developing purity of heart and being willing to withstand persecution for righteousness' sake, he said.
"The savior concluded his sermon by encouraging us to become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect," Elder Derrick said. "While these steps follow one another in a natural sequence, we should always be striving to perfect ourselves in each of these virtues. We should always help others as they strive to improve.
"Disparagement of others should not exist within our ranks, for each of us is struggling to move forward. A helping hand should be extended to lift one another over the shoals along the rocky shore through which our ship must sail."
Elder Derrick encouraged members to partake of the church's sacrament ordinance each week.
"When we do so, based upon sincere repentance, our baptismal covenants are renewed, the Lord forgives us, and we start anew," he said. "It is a truly marvelous and a merciful process which enables us to grow and progress."
-Temples are spiritual universities where faithful church members can prepare for eternal life, said Elder F. Enzio Busche of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Elder Busche, who also serves as president of the church's temple in Frankfurt, West Germany, said members must learn to become their own judges so they can monitor their progress in life.
"We ourselves and the Lord are the only ones who really know us," he said. "We do not even know ourselves unless we have learned to walk the lonely and most challenging road toward self-honesty as guided by the Spirit."
He said members must develop a painful awareness of self-honesty before they can understand and accept principles of truth.
"Without the capability to receive truth we will not be really free," Elder Busche said. "We will be slaves to habits or prejudices heavily covered with excuses. But learning to become aware of the depth and dimension of truth will make us free. We cannot grow unless we know what is holding us back."
Temples are places where such an awareness can grow, he said.
"We have reason to rejoice because the understanding that this life is a time for men to prepare to meet God has come to us while we still have time to consider the consequences of this message," Elder Busche said. "Temples have been erected as houses of the Lord. They are standing ready to serve as instruments to our own gradual awakening to the full dimension of truth on our inevitable road to eternity."
-President Joy R. Evans, first counselor in the general Relief Society Presidency, urged members to help people in need.
"It is said that love is tested and proved in the fire of suffering and adversity," she said. "How sensitive we should be to those who are suffering or hurting, to those with special problems - the sister who has had a miscarriage or a stillbirth, a premature or handicapped child, the one whose beloved husband has died, the lovely woman to whom marriage and family have not yet come, the new convert whose family has rejected her because of her baptism."
President Evans said opportunities to help the needy come almost every day.
"Having compassion on those who are hurting for whatever reason and then translating the response of the heart into the needed act is truly ministering as God would have us do," she said.
"We must take seriously our responsibility to reach out in love to those among us who may be lonely or unhappy, who are struggling with problems and temptations," President Evans said. "They will find friends somewhere; they will find comfort somewhere. What is our failure if they find it elsewhere because we were not there, were not welcoming?"