Not only is Mormonism a Christian faith, it is the truest form of Christianity, said speaker after speaker on the first day of the 177th Semiannual LDS General Conference.
LDS authorities were responding to the allegation that Mormonism isn't part of Christianity. Made by different mainline Protestant and Catholic churches and repeated constantly during coverage of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, the claim is based on Mormonism's beliefs about God, its rejection of ancient ideas about the Trinity still widely accepted, and the LDS Church's extra-biblical scriptures.
"It is not our purpose to demean any person's belief nor the doctrine of any religion," said Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland in the afternoon session. "But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first [Christians], many of whom were eye-witnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?"
The biggest news of the conference, however, was President Gordon B. Hinckley's announcement that Apostle Henry B. Eyring would be joining the governing three-member First Presidency, filling the vacancy created by the death of Second Counselor James E. Faust on Aug. 10.
Hinckley also appointed Elder Quentin L. Cook of the First Quorum of Seventy as an apostle to take Eyring's place.
The 97-year-old Hinckley, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" to the 13 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was speaking to 21,000 people in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching on live television, over the Internet and via satellite in LDS church buildings across the globe.
As Hinckley sat down, he tapped Eyring on the head with his cane, as if to knight him, and the audience erupted in laughter.
Despite the 20-year age difference, Hinckley and Eyring know each other well. Eyring comes from a long-standing, prominent Mormon family, and was the first new apostle chosen by Hinckley after he became church president in 1995. Like Apostles Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland and David A. Bednar, Eyring was a university president. While the first two were at Brigham Young University, Bednar and Eyring headed Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). Eyring was educated at Harvard and taught at Stanford.
In his first speech as second counselor Saturday evening, Eyring described the urgent prayer he uttered when he was 12 years old and expected to pass the sacramental bread and water for the first time.
"I prayed with that same pleading for help and assurance that I would not fail when I was called into the First Presidency," he told the assembled men. "I have had that same faith for more than 50 years . . . that God will watch over you if you pray for it."
The day's sermons included many familiar themes, including the importance of faith, the need for pure thoughts and actions, avoiding pornography reaching out to neighbors and eliminating spiritual procrastination.
Hinckley talked about the destructive nature of anger in marriages, on the road, and in life, urging Mormons to "control your tempers, to put a smile upon your faces, which will erase anger; speak with words of love and peace, appreciation and respect."
L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles talked about "raising the bar" for those who want to serve a two-year or 18-month mission for the church.
Missionary work is physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually demanding, Perry said.
He encouraged young men attending Saturday's men-only priesthood session to start dressing and looking like missionaries even before they begin their service, take their schooling seriously, and develop their social skills by shutting down their iPods and cell phones, quit texting, and putting down their headphones.
"Much of missionary work involves relating face-to-face with people," Perry said, "and unless you set the bar higher in the development of your social skills you will find yourself unprepared."
During his morning speech, 90-year-old apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin was shaking so much, he was in danger of collapsing. Fellow apostle Russell M. Nelson stood up and steadied Wirthlin from behind so he could finish his speech.
Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, described the LDS Church's unique approach to leadership.
The church has no professional clergy or seminaries for leadership training, Packer said. "Everything that is done in the church - the leading, the teaching, the calling, the ordaining, the praying, the singing, the preparing of the sacrament, the counseling, and everything else - is done by ordinary members."
Noting the declining number of clergy in other Christian faiths, Packer said the LDS Church has an "inexhaustible supply of faithful brothers and sisters who . . . are willing to answer the call to serve."
This creates a "unique equality among members," Packer said. "No one of us is to consider himself of more value than the other."
That includes the highest leadership ranks, the apostles, he said. "No member and no calling is esteemed by the Lord as more or less than any other."
As an example of such equality, Bishop Richard C. Edgley, of the Presiding Bishopric, quoted a column written by Salt Lake Tribune humor columnist Robert Kirby, describing the love and care Mormon ward members have for each other.
The two-day conference resumes today.