Though most Latter-day Saints identify as Republicans, no political party, platform or individual candidate represents all the church’s positions, Dallin H. Oaks said on the final day of the 191st Annual General Conference.
“We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate,” said Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “...There are many political issues, and no party, platform or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences.”
In his opening and closing remarks, President Russell M. Nelson acknowledged the pain and suffering of the global pandemic, praising the members’ “resilience and spiritual strength in the face of illness, loss and isolation.”
Because it was Easter, Nelson celebrated faith in Jesus Christ and outlined ways to increase it.
No message “is more vital” to human happiness than the “healing, redeeming message of Jesus Christ,” the 96-year-old prophet-president said. “No other message is more filled with hope. No other message can eliminate contention in our society. Faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all belief and the conduit of divine power.”
He encouraged his listeners to build on their faith, not their doubts.
“It takes faith to follow prophets rather than pundits and popular opinion. It takes faith to serve a mission during a pandemic,” he said. “It takes faith to live a chaste life when the world shouts that God’s law of chastity is now outmoded. It takes faith to teach the gospel to children in a secular world. It takes faith to plead for the life of a loved one, and even more faith to accept a disappointing answer.”
Nelson also announced the construction of 20 new temples, including one in Smithfield, which will bring Utah’s total to 26 operating or planned temples.
On Sunday morning, the conference highlighted international participants in the 16.6 million-member church with speakers from all parts of the globe, either in person or in taped videos. Choirs of young and old Latter-day Saints from a number of nations also sang hymns in prerecorded performances.
The blessings of the gospel “are for every race, language and people,” Nelson said. “The Church of Jesus Christ is a global church. Jesus Christ is our leader.”
He added that “even a pandemic has not been able to slow the onward march of his truth.”
It has, however, thwarted proselytizing efforts. Convert baptisms plunged by nearly 50% last year as full-time missionaries had to be released and reassigned due to COVID-19.
On Saturday, the church named three women — Camille N. Johnson, Susan H. Porter and Amy Wright — to oversee the children’s Primary. However, the gathering featured the fewest female speakers (two) in recent history. And only one woman offered a prayer.
During the two-day, third straight all-virtual General Conference, speakers explored a range of spiritual and religious topics — with Christ being at the center of Sunday’s Easter sessions.
Apostles denounced cyberbullying, racism and violence against people of color. They also urged members to embrace the “unmarried, widowed or divorced” in the family-focused faith.
Here are summaries of key sermons:
Dallin Oaks expounds on U.S. Constitution
Oaks’ remarks about the Constitution resonated with the faith’s U.S. members, who recently emerged from a divisive political season and election aftermath.
“Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time,” he said. “Then, members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.”
Members’ independent actions “will sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve,” said Oaks, who noted his long history as a lawyer, clerk to the chief justice of the United States, and as a justice on the Utah Supreme Court. “That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters.”
Latter-day Saint leaders insist and ask their local leaders to insist as well, he said, “that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our church meetings.”
In a focused exploration of the U.S. Constitution — and a departure from the morning’s international theme — Oaks made several points that reflect current events in the country:
• Latter-day Saint belief that the founding U.S. document is “divinely inspired” does not mean that God “dictated every word and phrase.” Hence, the need for “inspired amendments [that] abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote.”
• Loyalty should be “to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any officeholder.”
• Giving power to the people rather than a sovereign “does not mean that mobs or other groups of people can intervene to intimidate or force government action.”
• The Constitution’s “dignity and force … is reduced by those who refer to it like a loyalty test or a political slogan.”
Faithful Latter-days around the world should “exercise our influence civilly and peacefully within the framework of our constitutions and applicable laws,” Oaks said. “On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.”
Apostle Gary Stevenson: Racism, bullying need to stop
Apostle Gary E. Stevenson encouraged kindness in every aspect of life — from stepping up against bullies to fighting racial hatred.
“While bullying is not a new concept, social media and technology have brought bullying to a new level. It becomes a more constant, ever-present threat — cyberbullying,” he told young people. “Clearly, the adversary is using this to hurt your generation. There is no place for this in your cyberspace, neighborhoods, schools, quorums or classes. Please do all you can to make these places kinder and safer.”
Racial hatred also needs to stop, he said.
“We have been heartbroken to hear of recent attacks on people who are Black, Asian, Latino or of any other group,” he said. “Prejudice, racial tension or violence should never have any place in our neighborhoods, communities or within the church.”
Stevenson recalled stories of “narrow-minded parents” who tell their children that they cannot play with a particular child in the neighborhood simply because his or her family do not belong to the LDS Church.
“This kind of behavior is not in keeping with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “I cannot comprehend why any member of our church would allow these kinds of things to happen. ... I have never heard the members of this church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant and benevolent to our friends and neighbors of other faiths.”
Stevenson encouraged inclusion and “love thy neighbor.”
“The Lord expects us to teach that inclusion is a positive means towards unity,” he said, “and that exclusion leads to division.”
Apostle Gerrit Gong: There’s room for all in the ‘inn’
Apostle Gerrit W. Gong used the idea of the “inn” as a metaphor for the church.
The inn should be a place of welcoming all, no matter their foibles and imperfections, Gong said. “We all have something needed to contribute. Our journey to God is often found together. We belong as a united community — whether confronting pandemics, storms, wildfires, droughts or quietly meeting daily needs.”
It should be “a place of grace and space, where each can gather, with room for all,” Gong said. “As disciples of Jesus Christ, all are equal, with no second-class groups.”
At the “inn” — or church — members “learn perfection is in Jesus Christ, not in the perfectionism of the world. Unreal and unrealistic, the world’s insta-perfect-filtered perfectionism can make us feel inadequate, captive to swipes, likes, or double taps,” he said. “In contrast, our Savior Jesus Christ knows everything about us we don’t want anyone else to know, and he still loves us.”
The church now has an expanding global population, Gong said. “Since 1998, more church members have lived outside than inside the United States and Canada,” Gong said. “By 2025, we anticipate as many church members may live in Latin America as in the United States and Canada.”
Model nuclear families are no longer the norm in the church, he said, and that is “a significant change.”
Most adult Latter-day Saints “are now unmarried, widowed or divorced,” Gong said. “... It includes more than half our Relief Society sisters, and more than half our adult priesthood brothers. This demographic pattern has been the case in the worldwide church since 1992, and in the church in the United States and Canada since 2019.”
But that makes no difference, he said, in the “inn.”
“Our standing before the Lord and in his church is not a matter of our marital status,” Gong added, “but of our becoming faithful and valiant disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The faith’s first Asian American apostle said these disciples “come from everywhere, in every shape, size, color, age, each with talents, righteous desires, and immense capacities to bless and serve.”
“Adults want to be seen as adults, and to be responsible and contribute as adults,” Gong said. “... During this life, we sometimes wait upon the Lord. We may not yet be where we hope and wish to be in the future. A devout sister says, ‘Waiting faithfully upon the Lord for his blessings is a holy position. It must not be met with pity, patronizing or judgment but instead with sacred honor.’”
Prepare children for life’s challenges, outgoing Primary leader urges
President Joy D. Jones, outgoing leader of the children’s Primary, encouraged parents to role-play difficult situations so their children know what to do when they encounter faith-testing moments.
“As they act it out and then talk it out,” she said, “rather than being caught unprepared in a hostile peer-group setting, children can be armed with “the shield of faith wherewith [they] shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
Parents can ask children what they would do if:
• If they are tempted to break the Word of Wisdom, the church’s health code, which forbids tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea.
• If they are exposed to pornography.
• If they are tempted to lie, steal or cheat.
• If they hear something from a friend or teacher at school that disputes their beliefs or values.
Building spiritual resilience doesn’t have to be “complicated or time-intensive,” said Jones, Saturday’s lone female speaker. “Simple, caring conversations can lead children to know not only what they believe, but most important, why they believe it.”
“As we nurture and prepare our children,” she said, “we allow for their agency, we love them with all our heart, we teach them God’s commandments and his gift of repentance, and we never, ever, give up on them. After all, isn’t this the Lord’s way with each of us?”
Jones told parents to never harm youngsters “physically, verbally or emotionally in any way, even when tensions and pressures run high” and advised them not to allow “the convenience of electronic devices to keep us from teaching and listening to our children, and looking into their eyes.”
Help those treated unfairly, says apostle Dale Renlund
Inexplicable unfairness may be “infuriating,” but it is part of mortal life, said apostle Dale G. Renlund. “Unfairness comes from living with bodies that are imperfect, injured or diseased. ... Some people are born in affluence, others are not. Some have loving parents, others do not. Some live many years, others few. And on and on and on.”
Different types of unfairness “can merge,” he said, “creating a tsunami of overwhelming unfairness.”
For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic “disproportionately affects those who already are subject to multifactorial, underlying disadvantages,” said Renlund, a former cardiologist who contracted the virus late last year.
The response to unfairness should be “to approach others with compassion and try to alleviate unfairness where we find it,” he said. “...We can try to make things right within our sphere of influence.”
Renlund shared the biblical story of the woman accused of adultery. Jesus told the angry crowd, ready to stone her, that whoever was “without sin,” could cast the first rock.
“Brothers and sisters, not throwing stones is the first step in treating others with compassion,” he said. “The second step is to try and catch stones thrown by others.”
People “will be judged not so much by what we say but by how we treat the vulnerable and disadvantaged,” he said. “As Latter-day Saints, we seek to follow the Savior’s example, to go about doing good. We demonstrate our love for our neighbor by working to ensure the dignity of all Heavenly Father’s children.”
Shun abortion, embrace adoption, apostle Neil Andersen tells women
Apostle Neil L. Andersen called on Latter-day Saints to avoid abortion and encourage adoption.
“Abortion is an evil, stark and real and repugnant, which is sweeping over the earth,” he said. “I plead with the women of this church to shun it, to stand above it, to stay away from those compromising situations which make it appear desirable.”
Andersen acknowledged that there may be circumstances, under which it can occur, “but they are extremely limited.”
If an unanticipated child is expected, he encourages members “to reach out with love, encouragement, and when needed, financial help,” allowing the unborn child to enter the world and “continue his or her journey in mortality.”
He recounted the story from two decades ago of a 16-year-old who learned that she was expecting a child. She and the baby’s father were not married, and they could see no way forward together.
The young woman gave birth to a baby girl and allowed a family to adopt her. The family named her Emily — and now she is grown and is married to Andersen’s grandson.
“You are the mothers of the sons and daughters of God, whose lives are sacred,” the apostle said. “Safeguarding them is a divinely given responsibility which cannot be lightly brushed aside.”