The latest from Mormon General Conference: Oaks denounces same-sex marriage; Uchtdorf says church is filled with loving, kind, ‘painfully imperfect' people

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson speaks at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday Oct. 6, 2018.

3:45 p.m. — Church is filled with loving, kind, ‘painfully imperfect’ people

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf beckoned Latter-day Saints who no longer participate in the faith to “come back. We need you.”

"Come, add your strengths to ours. Because of your unique talents, abilities, and personality, you will help us become better and happier, said the popular apostle, a former member of the governing First Presidency. “In return, we will help you become better and happier as well.”

Uchtdorf, the church’s chief point person in Europe, said newcomers and inactive members who return to the fold will “find that this church is filled with some of the finest people this world has to offer.”

“They are welcoming, loving, kind and sincere. They are sacrificing, hardworking and even heroic at times,” he added. “And they are also painfully imperfect. They make mistakes. From time to time they say things they shouldn’t. They do things they wish they hadn’t.”

Uchtdorf’s remarks, given at the close of the Saturday afternoon session, doubled as an invitation to faithful Mormons to help build and strengthen a culture of healing, kindness and mercy. The church should be a place where people forgive one another, he said, where the temptation to gossip and find fault is resisted and where people are lifted up and helped to become the best versions of themselves.

“Let us all work together to become the people God intended for us to become,” Uchtdorf said. “This is the kind of gospel culture we desire to cultivate.”

He also touched on the church’s new ministering program, a reconfiguration of the home teaching and visiting programs that sees adult members assigned to look after individuals and families in their congregations.

Uchtdorf, a native of Germany, said that another name considered for the program was “shepherding,” which led to a joke about his personal heritage.

“Using that term would make me a German shepherd,” he said. “Consequently, I am quite content with the term ministering.”

3:20 p.m. — Taking the name of Christ through baptism

General Authority Seventy Paul B. Pieper spoke about the importance of taking on the name of Jesus Christ through baptism — which occurs beginning at age 8 in Mormonism.

“The word ‘take’ is not passive,” Pieper said. “It is an action word with multiple definitions. Likewise, our commitment to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ requires action and has multiple dimensions.”

3:05 p.m. — A ‘campfire of faith’

Like the warming light of a campfire, facing toward faith can leave the darkness and uncertainty behind, apostle Gerrit W. Gong said, and give hope and assurance through long, lonely nights.

“And the dawn does come,” said Gong, an Asian-American who joined the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in the spring. “Our campfire of faith — our memories, experiences, and heritage of faith in God’s goodness and tender mercies in our life — has strengthened us through the night.”

2:50 p.m. — Welcome new friends into the church

The addition of new members makes the faith stronger and steadier, according to faith’s newest apostle, Ulisses Soares.

Soares, who was named to the Quorum of the Twelve right after Gong last spring, compared the blend of longtime and new Latter-day Saints to the Amazon River of his native Brazil, which is largely formed by the combination of the Solimoes and Negro rivers.

“Our new friends bring God-given talents, excitement, and goodness within them,” Soares said. “Their enthusiasm for the gospel can be contagious, thereby helping us revitalize our own testimonies.”

The apostle urged Latter-day Saints to be “more embracing, accepting, and helpful to [new members], starting this very next Sunday.”

“Be careful to not let your church assignments get in the way of welcoming new friends at church meetings and activities," he pleaded. "After all, these souls are precious before the eyes of God and are much more important than programs and activities.”

2:35 p.m. — ‘This is where the temple goes’

Latter-day Saints have the privilege to sustain the Lord’s living prophet on the earth, said Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, which oversees the faith’s vast financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations.

Before construction of the Mormon temple in Vancouver, British Columbia, Davies said, he accompanied then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley to a tour of potential sites. After seeing several possible locations, Davies said, Hinckley directed the group to a nearby Latter-day Saint meetinghouse and ultimately indicated that the temple should be built on a parcel that lacked the appropriate zoning for religious use.

“This is where the temple goes,” Davies recalled Hinckley saying. “This is where the Lord wants the temple.”

Davies said the property posed several challenges but ultimately was acquired by the church and approved for temple construction. He said he was humbled by the experience, as his education and experience in real estate and design were superseded by prophetic authority.

“President Hinckley had no such formal training,” Davies said, “but he had something far greater: the gift of prophetic seership. He was able to envision where God’s temple should stand."

2:20 p.m. — ‘Eat your vegetables,’ apostles says, to persevere through trials

D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave the first sermon of the Saturday afternoon session. His remarks opened with the biblical story of the prophet Elijah calling down fire from the heavens to demonstrate the power of the God of Israel.

In modern times, Christofferson said, Elijah may have pointed to the church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, and its founder, Joseph Smith, as evidence of Christ’s restored gospel. That gospel is true or it is not, he said, but if it is true, its teachings should be followed.

Christofferson said he is reminded of the counsel from mothers to “eat vegetables; it will do you good,” and how that guidance translates to a life of obedience.

“‘Eat your vegetables’ is to pray constantly,” the Latter-day Saint apostle said, “feast on the scriptures daily, serve and worship in the church, love your neighbor, and take up your cross in obedience to God each day.”

2:10 p.m. — Leaders sustained without disruption

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, conducted the procedural sustaining of high-level Latter-day Saint leaders during the Saturday afternoon General Conference session.

In recent years, the sustaining segment has occasionally been disrupted by audience members shouting “no” in opposition to church brass. But Saturday’s largely symbolic vote did not appear to contain any demonstrations of opposition.

Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities and first counselor in the faith’s female Relief Society, offered the invocation. She was the first woman to speak from the pulpit Saturday, although a general women’s session is planned for Saturday night.

11:40 a.m. — Oaks urges distrust of anonymous sources and secular teachings, reiterates opposition to abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and transgender rights

In the final remarks of Saturday morning’s General Conference session, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, reiterated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia and transgender rights.

He also cautioned members against relying on the opinions of celebrities and urged a distrust of anonymous internet sources of information.

“When we seek the truth about religion,” he said. “We should use spiritual methods appropriate for that search.”

Oaks took aim at secular and scientific thinking, saying its truths are “not the whole of life.”

He also stressed faith’s family-centered focus, including a traditional, heterosexual definition of marriage and the belief that “gender is eternal.”

“Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage,” he said, “or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women.”

Oaks said that “maleness” and “femaleness,” as well as marriage between men and women and the bearing of children, are essential to God’s plan of happiness. Satan, he said, seeks to confuse gender, distort marriage, and discourage childbearing.

“Our positions on these fundamentals frequently provoke opposition to the church,” he said. “We consider that inevitable. Opposition is part of the plan.”

Here’s what else happened Saturday morning:

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson, right, gets a sign of support from Dallin H. Oaks before the start of the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday Oct. 6, 2018. At right is Henry B. Eyring.

11:20 a.m. – Sunday church schedule wasn’t just ‘shortened’, apostle says, it was ‘strengthened’

With the announcement Saturday that Mormon weekly church services would be shortened to two hours, apostle David A. Bednar emphasized that there is a spiritual, more than a procedural, motivation behind that and other recent structural changes.

“Please do not focus primarily upon the logistical aspects of what has been announced,” Bednar said. “We must not allow procedural details to obscure the overarching spiritual reasons these changes now are being made.”

Members can sometimes overly focus on checklists of topics to study and tasks to complete, Bednar said. But that “pharisaical focus" can divert the faithful away from the Lord.

“The Sunday meeting schedule was not simply shortened,” he said. “Rather, we now have increased opportunities and responsibilities as individuals and families to use our time for enhancing the Sabbath as a delight at home and at church.”

11 a.m. — ‘Be not troubled,’ apostle says, despite living in perilous times

When Latter-day Saints are tentative in their commitments to the gospel or doubt God’s divinity, apostle Ronald A. Rasband said, they allow fear to open a door to discouragement, anger, frustration and disappointment.

“The spirit leaves us, and we are without the Lord,” Rasband said. “If you know what that is like, you know it is not a good place to be.”

While battles will rage on, Rasband said, the faithful need not be troubled. By standing with the Lord, and standing for his principals, the faithful will stand on holy ground.

“Yes, we live in perilous times,” Rasband said, “but as we stay on the covenant path, we need not fear.”

10:50 a.m. — Family traditions can lay a foundation of faith

Parents in Zion have a sacred duty to awaken in their children a passion and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, said Steven R. Bangerter, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy.

That can be done through family traditions, he said, that ingrain strong and unwavering characteristics of goodness and strength in children.

“Lessons taught through the traditions we establish in our homes, though small and simple," Bangerter said, “are increasingly important in today’s world.”

10:40 a.m. — Facing challenges

A common reaction to a challenge is to ask “Why me?” said M. Joseph Brough, but asking “Why?” does not eliminate the challenge.

Brough, second counselor in the church’s Young Men general presidency, remarked on difficult situations he and acquaintances have faced in their lives, as well as those faced by figures in the Mormonism’s founding history and scriptural canon.

“As we face hard things in the Lord’s way,” Brough said, “may we lift up our heads and rejoice.”

10:20 a.m. — Two-hour Sunday meeting block unveiled

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Quentin L. Cook announces changes to weekly meetings at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday Oct. 6, 2018.

The church is moving to a “home-centered” model, church President Russell M. Nelson announced Saturday, aimed at reaching faithful members where they are.

“As the church continues to expand throughout the world," Nelson said, “many members live where we have no chapels — and may not for the foreseeable future.”

As explained by apostle Quentin L. Cook, the traditional three-hour block for weekly Sunday services — in place since 1980 — will be shrunk to two hours. Beginning in January 2019, a 60-minute sacrament service, down from 70 minutes, will be followed by a 50-minute class period after a 10-minute transition period.

Classes will alternate by week, with traditional Sunday school meetings on the first and third weeks of each month, and the faith’s all-male priesthood, female Relief Society and youth classes held on the second and fourth weeks.

In the event of a fifth Sunday in a given month, classes will be held at the discretion of local lay leaders. And Primary classes for young children will be held each week.

“We are confident that members will be blessed in extraordinary ways,” Cook said. “Sunday can be a day of gospel learning and teaching at church and in the home. As individuals and families engage in family councils, family history, ministering, service, personal worship, and joyful family time, the Sabbath day will truly be a delight.”

Cook said there’s been an awareness “for many years” that a three-hour schedule can be difficult for members, particularly the elderly, new converts to the faith and those with small children.

A shorter schedule, he said, allows more time for families to study the gospel at home on Sunday or at other times they choose. In connection with the changes, a new home-based study guide called “Come, Follow Me” will be distributed.

“This new resource will be provided to each household by December of this year,” he said. " ... The church’s traditional curriculum has emphasized the Sunday church experience. We know that when we have better teaching and more spiritually prepared class members, we have a better Sunday church experience."

The delay until January, Cook said, allows for the distribution of “Come, Follow Me” and gives time to local leaders to readjust their schedules so that more wards — individual congregations — can meet earlier in the day.

“We gratefully acknowledge the inspiration from the Lord that has influenced the development of the plans and procedures,” said Nelson, presiding over his second General Conference as the 17th president of the Utah-based faith.

The move to a two-hour block has long been a rumored, and anticipated, announcement.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson speaks at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday Oct. 6, 2018.

10 a.m. —Mormon General Conference convenes

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met Saturday — in person and remotely live through global broadcasts — for the faith’s 188th Semiannual General Conference.

The twice-yearly gathering follows the announcement Friday that the Utah-based faith’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been renamed as “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.” The move comes after instruction by LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson to move away from common nicknames like “Mormon" and the acronym “LDS” in favor of the church’s formal title.

The conference will include three two-hour sessions on Saturday and two two-hour sessions on Sunday in the faith’s Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

Editor David Noyce contributed to this story.