This spring’s digital-only General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued Sunday, with the faith’s top leaders speaking to a handful of people in a small auditorium in downtown Salt Lake City and an online audience in the millions around the world.
On Saturday, besides celebrating the bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” President Russell M. Nelson unveiled a new church symbol, or logo, that aims to emphasize the faith’s full name and its ties to Jesus Christ. He also called on the world to fast and pray on Good Friday for relief from the coronavirus pandemic.
At the conclusion of Sunday morning’s session, the church convened a special solemn assembly and the 95-year-old Nelson led Latter-day Saints across the globe in a Palm Sunday “Hosanna Shout" in which participants waved a white handkerchief — “if you do not have one,” he said, “you may simply wave your hand” — while reciting three times the phrase: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Amen, Amen and Amen!”
3:50 p.m.: Nelson announces plans for eight new temples
Nelson announced eight new temples, including its first in the Middle East — the United Arab Emirates, a predominantly Muslim country — and one in mainland China.
“The plan for a temple in Dubai comes in response to their gracious invitation, which we gratefully acknowledge,” he said, while the temple in Shanghai will serve in place of one in Hong Kong that has been closed for renovations since July 2019.
“In Shanghai, a modest, multipurpose meeting place will provide a way for Chinese members to continue to participate in ordinances of the temple,” Nelson said, adding that the church will “respect the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China” and will not send missionaries to that country.
“Expatriate and Chinese congregations will continue to meet separately,”he explained. “The church’s legal status there remains unchanged. In an initial phase of facility use, entry will be by appointment only. The Shanghai Temple will not be a temple for tourists from other countries.”
The other six newly announced locations are Syracuse (which would be Utah’s 24th operating or announced temple); Tallahassee, Fla.; Pittsburgh; Bahía Blanca, Argentina; Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Benin City, Nigeria.
3:35 p.m.: Be authentic when reaching out, apostle Christofferson says
Apostle D. Todd Christofferson explained what it takes to be good missionaries: love, example, and the Book of Mormon.
Invitations to join the LDS Church “cannot be a matter of self-interest, rather, they must be an expression of selfless love,” the apostle said. “...We cannot escape the fact that we need to understand and live the principles of the restored gospel as best we can for our invitations to be inviting. It is something often referred to today as authenticity. If the love of Christ dwells in us, others will know that our love for them is genuine.”
The third requisite is the “liberal use of the instrument of conversion that the Lord designed for this last gospel dispensation, the Book of Mormon,” Christofferson said. “It is palpable evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and convincing evidence of the divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
3:20 p.m.: Make room for Christ in your homes, says Seventy
The four-year remodeling of the Salt Lake Temple now underway is not only necessary, but failing to upgrade the structure also would “betray the confidence of the pioneers” who built it, said Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy.
“The foundation, floors, and walls will be fortified," he said. “The best engineering knowledge available today will bring the temple up to modern standards. We will not be able to see the structural changes, but their effects will be real and important. In all of this work, the temple’s beautiful interior design features will be preserved.”
Clayton encouraged members to make their homes among the “finest,” which has nothing to do with “furniture … or network or social status. … The finest characteristic of any home is the image of Christ reflected in the homes’ residents. What matters is the interior design of the souls of the inhabitants, not the structure itself.”
He called upon members to read the scriptures, practice repentance, attend the temple, and keep the commandments.
3 p.m.: Apostle Uchtdorf invites all to find out what church is about
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf said everyone is welcome in the church.
“If Jesus spent his mortal life ministering to ‘the least of these,’ would he not love them today? Is there not a place in his church for all of God’s children? Even for those who feel unworthy, forgotten or alone?” the German said. “There is no threshold of perfection you must attain in order to qualify for God’s grace.”
The Almighty does not “show favoritism, the things the world values mean nothing to him.” Uchtdorf said. “He knows your heart, and he loves you regardless of your title, financial net worth, or number of Instagram followers.”
The apostle urged people to meet with the faith’s members and missionaries online during the “challenging time of coronavirus.” (Worship services have been canceled and most proselytizing is taking place through technology.) “When this difficult time has passed,” Uchtdorf said, “meet with us in our homes and in our worship places.”
All are his beloved children, the apostle said. “Even those who reject him. Even those who, like a headstrong, unruly child, become angry with God and his church, pack their bags, and storm out the door proclaiming that they’re running away and never coming back.”
The Savior, “tears of love and compassion in his eyes, awaits your return,” he said. “Even when you feel far away from God, he will see you.”
After seeing deity, Joseph Smith “spent the rest of his life hearing him and following him,” Uchtdorf said. “As with Joseph, our discipleship begins with our decision to hear and follow the Savior.”
2:50 p.m.: Cling to faith when times get tough, general authority says
Ricardo Patricio Gimenez Salazar of the Seventy examined the role of belief in the midst of suffering.
“Although our lives may at times be relatively smooth, the time will come for each of us when we will face unexpected challenges and storms that will push the limits of our ability to endure,“ the Chilean general authority said. “Physical, mental, family and employment challenges; natural disasters; and other matters of life or death are but some of the examples of the storms that we will face in this life.”
He urged people to cling to their faith when they face trouble.
“No matter what kind of storm is battering us — regardless of whether there is a solution to it or whether there’s an end in sight — there is only one refuge, and it is the same for all types of storms,” he said. “...This single refuge provided by our Heavenly Father is our Lord Jesus Christ and his atonement.”
2:30 p.m.: Return to the fold, apostle Cook urges former members, ‘we need you’
Apostle Quentin L. Cook reached out to former church members, beseeching them to return.
He declared Latter-day Saint leaders’ “heartfelt desire to be reunited with those who have been struggling with their testimonies, been less active, or have had their names removed from church records. … We need you! The church needs you! The Lord needs you! Our heartfelt prayer is that you will join with us in worshipping the Savior of the world.”
Cook acknowledged that some former members “may have received offense, unkindness or other conduct that is not Christlike. We also know that some have had challenges to their faith that may not be fully appreciated, understood or resolved.”
But, he added, “please know that the church and its members will welcome you back!”
2:10 p.m.: Oaks preaches importance of chastity and marriage
Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, reviewed Latter-day Saint beliefs about the purpose of life.
God wants humans “to become as he is,” Oaks said in the afternoon session. “The divine plan...requires us to make choices to reject the evil opposition that tempts mortals to act contrary to God’s commandments and his plan. ...Sometimes our needed growth is achieved better by suffering and adversity than by comfort and tranquility.”
Oaks described a future where Christ will return during a millennium “of peaceful reign to wrap up the mortal part of God’s plan.”
The leader reaffirmed his faith in Jesus’ resurrection and added that “there will be different resurrections, of the just and the unjust, with the final judgment of each person always following his or her resurrection.”
We will be judged “according to our actions,” he said, “the desires of our hearts, and the kind of person we have become.”
The 87-year-old church leader, next in line to take the church’s reins, also emphasized the importance of “chastity, marriage and the bearing of children” in the divine design.
“The power to create mortal life is the most exalted power God has given his children. Its use was mandated in the first commandment, but another important commandment was given to forbid its misuse," he said. "Outside the bonds of marriage, all uses of the procreative power are to one degree or another a sinful degrading and perversion of the most divine attribute of men and women.”
Having read many letters from members requesting to return to the church after name removal or apostasy, Oaks concluded that “many of our members do not fully understand this plan of salvation, which answers most questions about the doctrine and inspired policies of the restored church.”
It is crucial that those “who know God’s plan and who have covenanted to participate,” he said, “have a clear responsibility to teach these truths and do all that we can to further them for others and in our own circumstances in mortality.”
11:20 a.m.: Nelson announces new proclamation
Church President Russell M. Nelson unveiled a new proclamation to the world “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ" marking the 200th anniversary of the First Vision.
[You can read the proclamation here.]
This is the sixth proclamation issued by the church. The others were made in 1841 (to members only), 1845, 1865, 1980 and 1995. The 1980 proclamation most closely resembles the one President Nelson introduced Sunday.
The 1995 proclamation on the family has become an oft-quoted document in Latter-day Saint circles. It also has been praised, parsed and politicked for its emphasis on so-called traditional gender roles.
Nelson also led his virtual audience in a solemn assembly.
In Latter-day Saint parlance, such an assembly suggests a gathering of enhanced significance and spirituality. It has applied to the sustaining of new church presidents, the dedication of temples and other buildings, and other special occasions.
These assemblies have often involved a ritual known as the “Hosanna Shout” to mark such sacred moments. It was first used as a collective membership experience at the 1836 dedication of the church’s first temple, in Kirtland, Ohio. It involves waving a white handkerchief, and repeating three times the words: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Amen, Amen and Amen!”
Nelson, hankie in hand, demonstrated the procedure and urged the media to “treat this very sacred observance with dignity and respect.
He and the apostles with him then participated in the ritual — this one occurring on Palm Sunday, marking the beginning of the Christian Holy Week.
11 a.m.: Temples help us conquer evil, apostle Bednar says
The number of languages in which the temple endowment ceremony is available “likely will double” in the next 15 years from the current total of 88, said apostle David A. Bednar, as the building of new Latter-day Saint temples accelerates.
The church currently has 168 operating temples, and — coming into this General Conference — 49 more are either under construction or have been announced. (All Latter-day Saint temples are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus.)
Bednar recounted the 1823 visit of the Angel Moroni — an ancient prophet from the Book of Mormon, the faith’s signature scripture — to Joseph Smith, which “initiated temple and family history work in the latter days and was a key element in restoring ‘all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.’”
And, he said, an appearance by the Prophet Elijah to Smith in 1836 to bestow “the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood” was necessary “to prepare the world for the Savior’s Second Coming and initiated a greatly increased and worldwide interest in family history research.”
“We do not build or enter holy temples solely to have a memorable individual or family experience,” Bednar said. “Rather, the covenants received and the ordinances performed in temples are essential to the sanctifying of our hearts and for the ultimate exaltation of God’s sons and daughters. … We do not come to the temple to hide from or escape the evils of the world. Rather, we come to the temple to conquer the world of evil.”
10:45 a.m.: We will conquer the coronavirus, apostle Holland says
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland first reviewed the era when Joseph Smith launched a movement to restore what he believed was lost in Christ’s original church.
The apostle wondered what he would have looked for back then, what he thought was missing from the churches of the time.
“We realized that two centuries ago we would have dearly hoped for the restoration of a truer concept of God than most in that day had,” Holland said, “hidden as he often seemed to be behind centuries of error and misunderstanding.”
The apostle then turned to the current coronavirus crisis.
“Even as we speak, we are waging an ‘all hands on deck’ war with COVID-19, a solemn reminder that a virus 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand can bring entire populations and global economies to their knees,” Holland said. “We pray for those who have lost loved ones to this modern plague, as well as for those currently infected. When we have conquered it — and we will — may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught — not terrified they will be shot — and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice.”
Many, he noted, have “deeply personal hopes: hope for a marriage to improve, or sometimes just hope for a marriage, hope for an addiction to be conquered, hope for a wayward child to come back , hope for physical and emotional pain of a hundred kinds to cease.”
“Because the restoration reaffirmed the foundational truth that God does work in this world,” he added, “we can hope, we should hope, even when facing the most insurmountable odds.”
The best hope for the future, he said, is “greater devotion to the two greatest of all commandments: to love God by keeping his counsel, and to love our neighbors by showing kindness and compassion, patience and forgiveness.”
These two divine directives, Holland said, “are still — and forever will be — the only real hope we have for giving our children a better world than the one they now know.
He also spoke optimistically of his hopes for the future.
“We all need to believe that what we desire in righteousness can someday, someway, somehow yet be ours,” he said. “I testify that the future is going to be as miracle-filled and bountifully blessed as the past has been.”
10:30 a.m.: Let your light shine, says Young Women president
Bonnie H. Cordon, president of the Young Women organization, drew on Jesus’ mandate to followers to let their light “shine before [others] that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Why is “shining our light so important?” asked Cordon, the fourth woman (including a 17-year-old youth) to speak at this two-day conference. “The Lord has told us that ‘there are many yet on the earth … who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.’ Latter-day Saints “can help,” she said. “We can intentionally shine our light so others may see. We can extend an invitation.”
She told listeners that they “can walk the journey with those who are taking a step toward the Savior, no matter how halting.”
They don’t have to do it alone, Cordon said. “The Holy Ghost will prompt us to know what to say and do. Such attempts may require us to step out of our comfort zone, but we can be assured that the Lord will help our light shine.”
The church’s three top female leaders — including Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham and children’s Primary President Joy D. Jones — have given sermons this conference.
10:15 a.m.: Nations flowing to Salt Lake City a fulfillment of prophecy, apostle says
We live in the times prophesied by ancient prophets, said apostle Ronald A. Rasband, and Latter-day Saints are responsible for “ushering in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”
“Elijah has come and as a result, today, we have 168 temples [temporarily closed due to the coronavirus] dotting the earth. … We are to gather God’s children, those who will hear and embrace the truths, covenants and promises of the everlasting gospel,” Rasband said. “President Nelson calls it ‘the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work on the earth today.’”
The apostle went on to say, “We do not know when the Savior will return, but this we do know. We must be prepared in heart and mind, worthy to receive him, and honored to be part of all that was prophesied so long ago.”
Rasband pointed to “presidents of the United States, kings, judges, prime ministers, ambassadors and officials” who have visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, along with leaders of the NAACP, the United Nations 68th Civil Society Conference, Vietnam’s Committee for Religious Affair, ambassadors from Cuba, the Philippines, Argentina, Romania, Sudan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the secretary-general of the Muslim World League.
He also noted the world gathering in Utah for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
“What I am describing is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that in the last days, nations shall flow unto ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house,’” Rasband said. “ The great Salt Lake Temple stands in the center of that majesty and glory.”