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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Conference attendees gather around the reflecting pool near the Salt Lake Temple after a conference session Sunday.

Though contentions against and criticisms of the LDS Church may arise, its members should avoid pride, seek unity, defend their faith with love, serve others, be virtuous and, though life changes should be expected, they shouldn't lose sight of what's important.

That's what Jesus would do.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were told to develop those, among other Christ-like attributes, during the church's 178th Semiannual General Conference on Sunday morning.

Church President Thomas S. Monson reminded members that stresses will come no matter what.

"We must deal with them the best we can," he said. "But we should not let them get in the way of what is most important — and what is always most important almost always involves the people around us. Often, we assume that they must know how much we love them. But we should never assume; we should let them know."

"Despite the changes which come into our lives, and with gratitude in our hearts, may we fill our days — as much as we can — with those things which matter most," President Monson said.

During the past two decades, the church has experienced an unprecedented prominence in the worldwide community of faith, said Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"Probably not coincidentally, we have also experienced unprecedented ideological attacks on our people, our history and our doctrine through the media," he said.

Some wonder why the church does not more vigorously defend itself, said fellow apostle Elder Robert D. Hales.

But the members of the church have the ability to respond to criticisms and accusations and should do so through prayer and following the example of Jesus Christ.

"When we respond to our accusers as the Savior did, we not only become more Christ-like, we invite others to feel his love and follow him as well," Elder Hales said.

Each circumstance will be different. True disciples of Jesus Christ seek guidance from the Spirit, respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord, are concerned with others' welfare, avoid being unduly judgmental of others' views, speak with quiet confidence and sometimes show courage by saying nothing at all, he said.

Even negative publicity about the church can present opportunities to present the truth, Elder Hales said.

"We can take advantage of such opportunities in many ways: a kind letter to the editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging comment."

President Henry B. Eyring, of the church's First Presidency, said church members can help avoid the conflicts that beset the world by unifying, even though the worldwide church incorporates different cultures, backgrounds and languages.

"There is always more that the children of God have in common than differences," President Eyring said. "And even the differences can be seen as an opportunity. God will help you see their differences not as a source of irritation but as a contribution. In a moment, the Lord can help you see and value what the other person contributes which you lack."

Challenges faced the pioneers in the 1800s, and challenges face the church today, though they are different.

"Instead of angry mobs, we face those who constantly try to defame. Instead of extreme exposure and hardship, we face alcohol and drug abuse, pornography, all kinds of filth and sleaze, greed, dishonesty and spiritual apathy," Elder Ballard said. "The Lord isn't asking us to load up a handcart; he's asking us to fortify our faith. He isn't asking us to walk across a continent; he's asking us to walk across the street to visit our neighbors."

Through all the hardships, which are part of life's journey, said Bishop Keith B. McMullin, a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, Heavenly Father's children need his help.

"An important source of this help comes through man's service to his fellow man," Bishop McMullin said. "To provide for others in the Lord's way, we strive to care for ourselves and sacrifice to help those in need. The poor labor for what they receive and seek the betterment of others as well."

Sunday afternoon, President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, hearkened back to the perilous times faced by early members of the church and the brutality and wickedness that befell them when the governor of Missouri issued an extermination order against the Mormons.

Back then, the church was a comparatively small band of members.

"Today, the sun never sets on congregations of the Latter-day Saints," President Packer said. "Whatever tests lie ahead and they will be many, we must remain faithful and true."

Elder Russell M. Nelson, of the Quorum of the Twelve, urged members to qualify for and stay faithful in temple marriage, whose principles are under attack by the adversary. He declared that "marriage between a man and a woman is sacred—it is ordained of God," and warned that "some marital options are cheap; some are costly; and some are cunningly crafted by the adversary. Beware of his options; they always breed misery."

Just because a marriage starts with two imperfect people, happiness is not unattainable, he said.

"Just as harmony comes from an orchestra only when its members make a concerted effort, so harmony in marriage requires a concerted effort," Elder Nelson said.

Focus on gospel principles that will strengthen marriage and faith often comes from teachers in the church.

William D. Oswald of the Sunday School general presidency reminded those who teach, which is a requirement in nearly every calling in the church, to know their students by name, teach from the scriptures and encourage students to ponder gospel truths.

Elder Eduardo Gavarret, of the Quorums of the Seventy, said the home should be a refuge from the world, but that church attendance can offer love and support to families who have stopped attending.

"Oh that each one of us would accept, as a beautiful demonstration of our love for our Heavenly Father, the responsibility we bear as members of this church to seek after those who are not here with us," he said.

Hard times have happened and are likely to continue, said Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve, and difficulties come in various forms.

Some deal with economic problems. Others suffer through physical or mental health challenges. Others might deal with marital problems or wayward children. Death, addictions and harmful activities can cause heartache, he said.

"We know from the scriptures, that some trials are for our good and are suited for our own personal development. We also know that the rain falls on the just and the unjust," Elder Cook said.

It's important to be prepared for challenges, he said, by keeping the commandments.

But, "regardless of our trials, with the abundance we have today, we would be ungrateful if we did not appreciate our blessings."

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com