In the midst of an LDS General Conference filled with big changes within Mormonism, an LDS apostle Sunday addressed a big topic, one drawing headlines inside and outside the faith.
Quentin L. Cook pointed to the #MeToo movement, without mentioning it by name, when he said it is “commendable that nonconsensual immorality has been exposed and denounced.”
“Such nonconsensual immorality is against the laws of God and of society,” he said. “However, those who understand God’s plan must also oppose consensual immorality, which is also a sin.”
Cook decried “the devastation of wickedness and addiction” that is seen “at every turn,” and lamented that “many people no longer feel accountable to God and do not turn to the scriptures or the prophets for guidance.”
He declared that “if we as a society would contemplate the consequences of sin, there would be massive public opposition to pornography and the objectification of women.”
His comments came at a time when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is under criticism for how it handled reports of sexual misconduct in the 1980s by a former president of its flagship Missionary Training Center in Provo.
Cook’s wording drew fire from some quarters.
”[His] unfortunate wording about ‘nonconsensual immorality‘ is a step back,” said Emily Jensen, a Utah writer and editor. “ ... Telling victims that they’ve engaged in immorality is victim blaming no matter what qualifiers you put in front of it.”
Marisa McPeck-Stringham said “nonconsensual immorality” doesn’t exist. “It’s called rape. It’s called sexual assault. It’s called molestation.”
Mormon leaders officially teach that “victims of sexual abuse are not guilty of sin and do not need to repent.”
A day after he was sustained as the Utah-based faith’s 17th president, Russell M. Nelson stepped to the pulpit in the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and offered a kind of introduction of himself to the world’s 16 million Mormons.
The 93-year-old leader grew up in Salt Lake City with loving parents, he said, but who didn’t live LDS standards. He met his first wife, Dantzel White, while he was in medical school, and they married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple in 1945. They went on to have nine daughters and one son. Then, in 2005, after nearly 60 years of marriage, his wife died.
“For a season, my grief was almost immobilizing,” Nelson said. “But the message of Easter and the promise of resurrection sustained me.”
A year later, he married Wendy Watson, also in the Salt Lake Temple. He had prayed fervently about wedding Watson and got his answer, he said. So did she.
Seeking and receiving direction from God is key to LDS faith, Nelson said. It helped him as a heart surgeon, as an apostle and now as church president.
“When we convene as a Council of the [governing] First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, our meeting rooms become rooms of revelation,” Nelson said. “The [Holy] Spirit is palpably present. As we wrestle with complex matters, a thrilling process unfolds as each apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view. Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant. Our unity helps us discern the Lord’s will for his church.”
In such meetings, “the majority never rules,” he said. “We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then, when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost is spine-tingling.”
Nelson’s first counselor, Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, detailed the “small and simple” acts that can mold believers into their best selves, or, on the other hand, can destroy lives.
“Seemingly insignificant” private decisions include “how we use our time, what we view on television and the internet, what we read, the art and music with which we surround ourselves at work and at home, what we seek for entertainment, and how we apply our commitment to be honest and truthful,” said the 85-year-old Oaks, next in the line of succession to lead the LDS Church. “Another seemingly small and simple thing is being civil and cheerful in our personal interactions.”
Likewise, “small acts of disobedience or minor failures to follow righteous practices,” Oaks counseled, “can draw us down toward an outcome we have been warned to avoid.”
The LDS health code, known as the Word of Wisdom, which prohibits tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea “provides an example of this,” he said. “Likely the effect on the body of one cigarette or one drink of alcohol or one dose of another drug cannot be measured. But over time, the effect is powerful and may be irreversible.”
The “terrible consequences of partaking of anything that can be addictive, like drugs that attack our bodies or pornographic material that degrades our thoughts,” he said, “[are] totally avoidable if we never partake for the first time — even once.”
Sunday also featured a string of speakers who reflected Mormonism’s growing international reach.
Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese-American, and Ulisses Soares, a Brazilian native, gave brief talks, their first as newly appointed apostles.
Gong, 64, expressed his “overwhelming feelings” since Nelson “lovingly … extended this sacred call from the Lord that took my breath away and has left me weeping many times these past few days.”
Soares, 59, expressed his “sincere and deep thanks for your sustaining vote” and said that following the counsel of LDS prophets will make Mormons “happier” and “difficulties and problems … easier to bear.”
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was released as a member of the First Presidency and returned to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when Nelson took the faith’s helm, delivered an Easter message, proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection the greatest day in history.
“Yes, there are many events throughout history that have profoundly affected the destiny of nations and peoples,” he said. “But combine them all, and they cannot begin to compare to the importance of what happened on that first Easter morning.”
Uchtdorf recounted the events leading up to the crucifixion and encouraged Latter-day Saints to look to the savior to “find the doorway to life’s greatest joys and the balm to life’s most demanding despairs.”
“This is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday,” he said, “we celebrate life!”
Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the women’s Relief Society general presidency, opened her sermon with a description of monarch butterflies, which travel thousands of miles each year from Mexico to Canada and then back again — “one tiny wing flap at a time.”
The brilliant butterflies “cluster together on trees,” said Aburto, a Nicaraguan native, “to protect themselves from the cold and from predators.”
Each cluster is known as a “kaleidoscope,” she said. “Although each butterfly is different, they work together to make the world a more beautiful and fruitful place.”
The Relief Society leader compared these lovely creatures and their annual journey to Latter-day Saints.
“Every one of our paths is different, yet we walk them together,” Aburto said. “Our path is not about what we have done or where we have been; it is about where we are going and what we are becoming, in unity.”