Every six months, LDS leaders address the 14.8 million Mormons at a two-day meeting known as General Conference.
Their speeches — streamed, beamed and broadcast from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City — are viewed as authoritative, posted on the Utah-based faith’s website, printed in its official magazine and studied carefully by many members.
Some remarks make history for the church as a whole; others make memories for individual believers.
We asked several Latter-day Saints to tell us about a favorite conference sermon and why it impressed them.
Warner Woodworth, retired Brigham Young University professor of organizational behavior and an advocate for workers worldwide
• President Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk at the priesthood session March 31, 2001, announcing the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund to help returned Mormon missionaries in the Third World.
“In an effort to remedy this situation, we propose a plan — a plan which we believe is inspired by the Lord,” Hinckley said. “The church is establishing a fund largely from the contributions of faithful Latter-day Saints who have and will contribute for this purpose. We are deeply grateful to them. Based on similar principles to those underlying the Perpetual Emigration Fund, we shall call it the Perpetual Education Fund.”
This struck me with deep joy because I had been promoting this idea, indeed, calling it the “Perpetual Education Fund” for about a decade earlier. Beginning in the late 1980s and early ’90s I gave several dozen conference presentations and firesides about the plight of our returned missionaries in the Third World.
At first people didn’t believe they suffered. The assumption was that a mission was just the beginning of a whole new life of success and happiness. It may be true for elders and sisters from industrialized nations, but not those of poor countries. They often returned home to a shanty, one meal a day, no jobs and unable to marry in a temple.
When my ideas fell on deaf ears within the church offices, my students helped me collect the data which showed many returned missionaries were partially illiterate. In Peru, 82 percent were inactive approximately a year after their return. In Brazil, similar challenges faced returned missionaries, and, in Africa, it was worse.
Little by little, my hopes for a radical new idea, that the church should begin giving loans for training so the pursuit of a job would be more achievable, began to take root with the help of some former mission presidents who started small loans in Mexico and Brazil. Operating outside the formal church, experiments could occur and the process refined. The results were spectacular, and the data helped persuade LDS welfare managers and some of the brethren to circulate the idea throughout headquarters.
When the decision was finally made and announced, I came home from that conference, told my wife, Kaye, and we both fell to our knees to thank the Lord. Ever since, as I continue to travel the globe with the nongovernmental organizations I have launched to combat poverty, when seeking to strengthen LDS members, they share their joy at the miracle of the PEF in their families.
• Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk in April 1996 titled “A Handful of Meal and a Little Oil” about the Prophet Elijah’s hunger in which he asks a suffering and impoverished widow to feed him, although she has practically nothing herself.
Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, discusses King Benjamin’s words in the Book of Mormon and adds his own thoughts about our work to build Zion:
“We may not yet be the Zion of which our prophets foretold and toward which the poets and priests of Israel have pointed us, but we long for it and we keep working toward it,” Holland said. “I do not know whether a full implementation of such a society can be realized until Christ comes, but I know that when he did come to the Nephites, his majestic teachings and ennobling spirit led to the happiest of all times, a time in which ‘there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.’ That blessed circumstance was, I suppose, achieved on only one other occasion of which we know — the city of Enoch, where ‘they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.’ ”
These words struck me so powerfully I used them in the introduction to my book, “Working Toward Zion: Principles of the United Order for the Modern World,” with James Lucas. It has been read by thousands of Mormons and others as they join with me in building a new and better world. We’re not just talking about a Zion of economic and social justice, but about implementing these principles — practicing what we preach. Together, we have labored to build economic self-reliance in more than 40 countries since 1996, giving microloans to some 8 million poor families and empowering them to a better life here and now, as well as a more promising future.
Rebecca van Uitert, LDS immigration attorney in Chicago
Neil L. Andersen’s talk “You Know Enough” from October 2008 is a favorite.
At the time, I was struggling with doubts and concerns related to my beliefs about God and the church — and my place within the church and within God’s plan for the eternities. As he spoke, it was comforting and validating to hear this soon-to-be LDS apostle recognize that having doubts is a common experience. Often I’ve felt like an outsider when I’ve had doubts about the church, like I wasn’t a good person or member because my faith was failing in some respect. But as he said those words, “you know enough,” and then repeated those same words throughout the talk, I felt like it was one of those cosmic-whoosh-past-present-future moments, when my understanding was enlarged and everything just made sense again, in a way that was comforting and reassuring.
“We each have moments of spiritual power, moments of inspiration and revelation,” Andersen said. “We must sink them deep into the chambers of our souls. As we do, we prepare our spiritual home storage for moments of personal difficulty.”
Andersen’s words have come back to me on numerous subsequent occasions when my faith has grown weak. I know enough, and I can keep going, in the hopes that those moments of spiritual clarity will increase in frequency.
Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics
My favorite LDS conference talk changes frequently — depending on my questions and needs — but one that is always at or near the top is “Good, Better, Best” by apostle Dallin H. Oaks in October 2007.
I read the talk frequently, because it is always applicable and inevitably helps me better structure my priorities, schedule and passions.
“We have to forgo some good things,” Oaks advised, “in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.”
More succinctly, he said, “Just because something is good is not sufficient reason for doing it.”
We can all find ourselves overwhelmed with potentially worthy quests (not to mention unworthy time-killers). As the pressures and prospects on each day mount, the key to finding true joy is using your precious time on the best pursuits — ones that will really matter. Being with my family, strengthening my spirituality and working on projects that can improve the lives of others are always the best use of my time. I am grateful for this talk to help me keep life’s demands and opportunities in perspective.
Thomas B. Griffith, adjunct professor, BYU and Stanford law schools and former LDS stake president
The conference sermons that touch me most and to which I return most often for inspiration and guidance are invariably apostolic teachings about the atonement of Christ. Here we see the apostolic witness at its zenith.
The talk by apostle Boyd K. Packer, “The Mediator,” given in April 1977, has had a profound impact on my thinking about what we as a people should be doing when we gather in our meetings and lessons and when we reach out to serve others.
Speaking of the atonement of Christ, Packer said, “This truth is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them.”
When our talks and lessons make a direct and express connection to the atonement of Christ, they are filled with life, substance and redemption. By contrast, when they neglect the atonement, they fall far short of what they can and should be.
The same holds true on a personal level. When my life in the church is focused on the atonement of Christ, it is a rich experience.