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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Members of the audience raise their hands to sustain the leadership during the Saturday afternoon session of General conference Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Saturday afternoon session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 182nd Semiannual General Conference featured talks by three senior members of the Quorum of the Twelve — including Elder Dallin H. Oaks' indictment of social policies and practices that harm children.

Elder Oaks spoke last on Saturday afternoon, but his address "Protect the Children," was plainspoken and straightforward regarding a series of highly charged topics. Elder Oaks denounced a wide range of behaviors that harm or disadvantage children — abortion; child abuse and neglect; unnecessary divorces spurred by "no fault" divorce laws; bearing children out of wedlock; and same-sex couples choosing to raise children.

In speaking specifically about the disadvantages a dissolved marriage imposes on minor children, Elder Oaks said, "There are surely cases when a divorce is necessary for the good of the children, but those circumstances are exceptional. In most marital contests the contending parents should give much greater weight to the interests of the children. … Children need the emotional and personal strength that comes from being raised by two parents who are united in their marriage and their goals. As one who was raised by a widowed mother, I know firsthand that this cannot always be achieved, but it is the ideal to be sought whenever possible."

Elder Oaks capped his talk by conceding some people would not agree with all of his assertions, and implored everyone to keep the best interests of children at heart within the context of their respective value systems.

"I have spoken for children — children everywhere," he said. "Some may reject some of these examples, but none should resist the plea that we unite to increase our concern for the welfare and future of our children — the rising generation."

The first speaker of the Saturday afternoon session, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Twelve, began his talk by noting he recently celebrated his 90th birthday — making him the only person serving in the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve to have reached that milestone.

In his address "Becoming Goodly Parents," Elder Perry expounded upon the inherent responsibility of parents in the upbringing of their children.

"It is wonderful to see husbands and wives who have worked out real partnerships where they blend together their influence and communicate effectively both about their children and to their children," he said. "The onslaught of wickedness against our children is more subtle and brazen than it has ever been. Building a stronger family culture adds another layer of protection for our children, insulating them from worldly influences."

The other senior apostle to speak Saturday afternoon, Elder M. Russell Ballard, followed Elder Perry. Elder Ballard's address "Be Anxiously Engaged" drew parallels between an industrious beehive — which requires more than 20,000 honeybees to travel the equivalent of two times around the world in order to produce a single pound of honey — and the church-at-large.

Elder Ballard challenged Latter-day Saints to focus on giving meaningful Christian service every day: "There is one simple daily practice that can make a difference for every member of the church: … In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His previous children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help. Stay focused on this, just like the honeybees focus on the flowers from which to gather nectar and pollen. … Over time this (will) have a transformative effect upon all of our Heavenly Father's children through the extension of His love to them through us."

Elder Neil L. Andersen — a junior member of the Twelve — delivered the address "Trial of Your Faith," which provided a road map for leveraging pre-existing faith to overcome tough times.

"You immerse yourself in the very things that helped build your core of faith," Elder Andersen said. "You exercise faith in Christ, you pray, you ponder the scriptures, you repent, you keep the commandments, and you serve others. … Like the intense fire that transforms iron into steel, as we remain faithful during the fiery trial of our faith, we are spiritually refined and strengthened."

A member of the Pawnee tribe and former head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Elder Larry Echo Hawk of the Seventy spoke directly to his fellow Native Americans on Saturday about "the special message" the Book of Mormon holds for them.

"I especially ask the remnant of the House of Israel, the descendants of the people of the Book of Mormon, wherever you may be, to read and re-read the Book of Mormon," Elder Echo Hawk said. "Learn of the promises contained in the Book of Mormon. Follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Make and keep covenants with the Lord. Seek for and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

Elders Robert C. Gray and Scott D. Whiting of the Seventy also spoke Saturday afternoon.