"More regrettable than the [LDS] Church being accused of not being Christian is when church members react to such accusations in an un-Christlike way," Apostle Robert D. Hales said on the second day of the two-day conference. "Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened - and the devil laughs - when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors."
Sometimes, the best response is to say nothing at all, Hales said. "Meekness is not weakness. It is a badge of Christian courage."
Hales was speaking to more than 20,000 gathered in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City and millions more watching on TV, the Internet or via satellite to LDS meeting houses across the globe.
One Sunday speaker, Apostle Russell M. Nelson, made a veiled reference to the church's opposition to same-sex marriage.
"The subject of marriage is debated across the world, where various arrangements exist for conjugal living," Nelson said, adding emphatically, "Marriage between a man and a woman is sacred - it is ordained of God. . . . [And] a temple marriage is the highest and most enduring type of marriage that our Creator can offer to his children."
Comparing wedding choices to shopping, Nelson said, "Some marital options are cheap; some are costly; and some are cunningly crafted by the adversary. Beware of his options. They always breed misery."
Not all Mormons in California agree with the church's support of the state's traditional marriage initiative, which may have prompted Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the church's governing First Presidency, to discuss the need for unity among members.
As the church attracts members from diverse backgrounds and experiences, true peacemakers recognize they have more in common than they have differences, Eyring said. "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."
For his part, President Thomas S. Monson, who became the 16th leader of the 13-million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February, spoke personally and emotionally about accepting change.
"Some changes are welcome, some are not," Monson said during his morning address. "There are changes in our lives which are sudden, such as the unexpected passing of a loved one, an unforeseen illness, the loss of a possession we treasure."
The 81-year-old leader reflected on his years as an LDS apostle, watching the 14 men ahead of him in the church's hierarchy pass away until the death of LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley, which elevated Monson to the position.
"Of course, there's no going back, only forward," Monson said. "Rather than dwelling on the past, we should make the most of today, of the here and now, doing all we can to provide pleasant memories for the future."
Several other LDS authorities discussed the best way to handle critics and disagreements.
Apostle M. Russell Ballard said in the past few decades the LDS Church had experienced "unprecedented ideological attacks on our people, our history, and our doctrine through the media."
In a possible allusion to the critics of Mormonism that emerged during Mitt Romney's failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Ballard noted that in the 1920s, LDS Apostle Reed Smoot was elected to the U.S. Senate but had to fight to be seated.
"A great deal was said of the church and its teachings at that time - much of it hurtful and directed toward [LDS] President Joseph F. Smith and other church leaders," Ballard said. "However, some newspaper articles began to speak of the members of the church as contributing citizens and good people."
From the church founding in 1830 to today, Ballard said, "persecutions have raged. Calumny, lies, and misrepresentation have attempted to defame. But in every decade . . . the truth of God has gone forth boldly."
Monson closed the conference in the afternoon with an appeal for tolerance and kindness.
"We are a global church," he said. "May we be good citizens of the nations in which we live and good neighbors in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths as well as to our own. May we be men and women of honesty and integrity in everything we do."
He thanked members for their generous contributions, which help the church continue its humanitarian work. He urged them to offer every kind of assistance to those in need.
"May we ever be mindful of the needs of those around us," Monson said, "and be ready to extend a helping hand and a loving heart."
The conference was adjourned until April 2009.