Sunday morning’s session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concluded with President Russell M. Nelson urging the members to build their lives on firm foundations of faith and obedience.
Church President Russell M. Nelson opened the two-day gathering Saturday by thanking members who have heeded the faith’s COVID-19 counsel, which has included vaccinations, masking and social distancing.
He closed it Sunday afternoon by announcing 13 new temples, including plans for a 28th (in the Heber Valley) in Utah. They will in or near:
• Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
• Tacloban City, Philippines.
• Monrovia, Liberia.
• Kananga, Democratic Republic of Congo.
• Antananarivo, Madagascar.
• Culiacán, México.
• Vitória, Brazil.
• La Paz, Bolivia.
• Santiago West, Chile.
• Fort Worth, Texas.
• Cody, Wyo.
• Rexburg North, Idaho.
• Heber Valley, Utah.
Nelson said the Provo Temple, dedicated in 1972, would be rebuilt once a temple in nearby Orem opens.
On Saturday, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sang at the opening session, its first live conference performance in two years. The scaled-back choir — with all members vaccinated, tested and physically distanced — also sang at both Sunday meetings.
Here are the latest talks and news from the conference (view summaries of Saturday’s sessions here):
Sunday afternoon session
President Russell M. Nelson: Beware of ‘deceptive, seductive’ voices
Besides naming new temples in his closing remarks, President Russell M. Nelson warned members to beware of worldly influences.
“If most of the information you get comes from social or other media, your ability to hear the whisperings of the spirit will be diminished,” he said. There are “too many voices” that are “deceptive, seductive, and can pull us off the covenant path.”
To avoid “inevitable heartbreak,” he pleaded with Latter-day Saints to “counter the lure of the world by making time for the Lord in your life — each and every day.”
Apostle Neil L. Andersen: ‘The name of the church is not negotiable’
Three years ago, church President Russell M. Nelson issued a stern, uncompromising lecture — for members, media and others — to use the faith’s full name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Using common nicknames such as “Mormon church,” “LDS Church” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” Nelson said, “... is a major victory for Satan.”
On Sunday, apostle Neil L. Andersen reiterated Nelson’s mandate that members eschew the use of “Mormon” to name themselves. He also detailed all the efforts in the past years to make this change.
“It was,” Andersen said, “a miracle.”
The church also has revised names that have long been attached to the church, he said. “The name of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was changed to The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. The website lds.org, which received more than 21 million visits each month, was transitioned to ChurchofJesusChrist.org. The name of LDS Business College was changed to Ensign College. The website Mormon.org was redirected to ChurchofJesusChrist.org.”
More than 1,000 products that had the name “Mormon” or “LDS” attached to them have been changed, Andersen said. “Faithful Latter-day Saints have adjusted their websites, podcasts and Twitter accounts.”
The church adopted a new symbol centered in Jesus Christ, he said. “The typography of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been adapted in more than 50 languages. New domain names have been acquired across the world.”
Andersen thanked “responsible media” for “extending to us the same consideration given cultural, athletic, political or community organizations by using our preferred name.”
There will be a few, “hoping to detract or diminish the seriousness of our mission, who will continue to call us ‘Mormons,’” he said. “With courtesy, we again ask the fair-minded of the media to honor our desire to be called by our name of nearly 200 years.”
The name of the church “is not negotiable,” Andersen repeated, quoting Nelson.
Restoring the church’s “correct name from a nickname may be awkward,” the apostle said, but “let us go forward in faith, remembering we are restoring the name of Jesus Christ.”
The Associated Press, the world’s largest arbiter of journalistic style, adjusted its guidelines, instructing news media to use the full name of the church on first references, while stating that “Mormon” still could be used “when necessary for space or clarity or in quotations or proper names.”
General authority Alvin F. Meredith III: Focus your attention down the road
Alvin F. Meredith III of the Seventy recalled a driving lesson when he was 15 years old. His father quickly told him to pull over because he was “swerving all over the road” and making his dad “nauseous,” because he was focusing only on what was right in front of him instead of looking down the road.
“If you only look at what is directly in front of you, you will never drive straight,” his father said. Meredith, named as a general authority Seventy in April, later “realized that was a great life lesson. … Focusing on the things that are most important — especially those things down the road, those eternal things — is a key to maneuvering through this life.”
He counseled church members to focus on Jesus Christ, beware of distractions, and understand that “we can be rescued.”
General authority Carlos G. Revillo Jr.: The gospel has brought positive changes to the Philippines
Carlos G. Revillo Jr., called as a general authority Seventy in the spring, offered “love and warm smiles” from his native Philippines, where Latter-day Saint missionaries first arrived 60 years ago.
“The miracle of the gospel,” he said, “has brought positive changes to the country and its people.”
Revillo was 6 years old when his parents joined the church in 1972. There was one Latter-day Saint mission and no stakes (a regional cluster of congregations). Today, there are 123 stakes, 23 missions and more than 800,000 members.
“As we live and obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel, we are blessed, changed, and converted to becoming more like Jesus Christ,” said Revillo, delivering his first General Conference address. “That was how the gospel changed and blessed the Filipino saints, including my family. The gospel is truly the way to a happy, abundant life.”
General authority Sean Douglas: Responding to ‘spiritual hurricanes’
For the past six years, Seventy Sean Douglas has lived in Texas near the Gulf Coast, and has experienced some of the largest hurricanes in the United States, leaving behind death and destruction.
Many Latter-day Saints will “never face a devastating physical hurricane, Douglas said. “However, each of us has weathered, and will weather, spiritual hurricanes that threaten our peace and try our faith. In today’s world, they seem to be increasing in frequency and intensity.”
Yet God has “provided us a sure way to joyfully overcome them,” he said. “...Just as natural laws govern physical hurricanes, divine laws govern how to feel joy during our spiritual hurricanes. The joy or misery we feel as we brave the storms of life is tied to laws that God has set.”
However, just as warm ocean water “is the breeding ground for hurricanes, doubt is the breeding ground for spiritual hurricanes,” Douglas said. “Just as belief is a choice, so is doubt. When we choose to doubt, we choose to be acted upon, yielding power to the adversary, thereby leaving us weak and vulnerable.”
As hurricanes “weaken over land, doubt is replaced with faith as we build our foundation on Christ,” he said. “We are then able to see spiritual hurricanes in their proper perspective, and our capacity to overcome them is enlarged.”
Believers face spiritual hurricanes best “by believing in Christ and keeping his commandments,” Douglas said. “Our belief and obedience link us to power beyond our own.”
General authority Michael A. Dunn: Try tackling one thing at a time
Michael A. Dunn, named as a general authority Seventy in April, counseled that “rather than being stymied by the churn and dramatic swings between sin and repentance, what if our approach was to narrow our focus — even as we broadened it? Instead of trying to perfect everything, what if we tackled just one thing?”
Dunn, a former managing director of BYUtv and, before that, general manager of KUED-Channel 7, offered the example of someone who has neglected reading the Book of Mormon, the faith’s signature scripture, every day. Instead of “desperately plowing through all 536 pages in one night, what if we committed instead to read just 1% of it?” That’s five pages a day, “a manageable goal.”
But, he warned, “for small gains to aggregate, there must be a consistent, day in and day out effort. … Remember, just as we would not attempt to go from being Attila the Hun to Mother Teresa overnight, so too should we reorient our patterns of improvement incrementally. Even if the changes needed in your life are wholesale, begin at a small scale.”
General authority Anthony D. Perkins: God and suffering
General authority Seventy Anthony D. Perkins discussed his own experience with cancer, and its accompanying pain from surgeries, radiation treatments, medication and “emotional struggles during torturous sleepless nights.”
Everyone will experience some kind of physical or emotional suffering “from a variety of trials” — including from natural aging, unexpected diseases, and random and mortal weaknesses ... accidents; hunger or homelessness; or abuse, violent acts and war.”
Perkins offered four divine principles of hope amid suffering
• Suffering does not does not mean God is displeased with your life. • God is aware of your individual suffering. • Jesus Christ offers his enabling power to help you have strength to endure your suffering well. • Choose to find joy every day.
God remembers and loves his suffering saints and “is intimately aware of you,” Perkins said. “Our Savior knows how you feel.”
As a cancer survivor, he affirmed that “keeping covenants unlocks the power of Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice to provide strength and even joy to you who suffer.”
Bishop L. Todd Budge: Charitable contributions are up since the pandemic began
L. Todd Budge, second counselor in the faith’s Presiding Bishopric, said that, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, church leaders were concerned that contributions from members would decline.
“After all,” Budge said, “our own members were not immune to the setbacks from the pandemic.”
The results proved “just the opposite. Humanitarian donations in 2020 turned out to be the highest ever — and are trending even higher this year,” he said. And because of those donations, “the church has been able to realize its most extensive response since the inception of the humanitarian fund, with over 1,500 COVID relief projects in more than 150 countries.” Those projects include “life-sustaining food, oxygen, medical supplies and vaccinations for those who might otherwise have gone without.”
In addition, the church has operated multiple refugee and immigrant welcome centers in the United States, Budge said, and has provided “goods, funding and volunteers to help similar programs run by other organizations throughout the world.”
The Presiding Bishopric oversees the church’s vast financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations.
Apostle Gerrit W. Gong on the need to regain trust
Trust is “an act of faith,” apostle Gerrit W. Gong said. “God keeps faith with us. Yet, human trust can be undermined or broken.”
Gong, the faith’s first Asian American apostle, mentioned those who have felt betrayed by questions about church history, cheating spouses, or manipulative business partners.
Many Latter-day Saints today “feel a great need to restore trust in human relationships and modern society,” Gong said. “As we reflect on trust, we know God is a God of truth and ‘canst not lie.’ We know truth is a knowledge of things as they are, were and are to come. We know continuing revelation and inspiration fit unchanging truth to changing circumstances.”
When trust “is broken or betrayed, disappointment and disillusionment are real; so is the need for discernment to know when faith and courage are merited to trust again in human relations,” he said. “...We can always trust God. The Lord knows us better and loves us more than we know or love ourselves. His infinite love and perfect knowledge of past, present and future make his covenants and promises constant and sure.”
God gently entreats Latter-day Saints “to rejoice together,” Gong said, “... and invites us to make our congregations, quorums, classes and activities open, authentic, safe — home for each other.”
Gong urged members to “look again for faith and trust, he said, “a miracle [God] promises you today.”
Sunday morning session
President Russell M. Nelson: ‘How firm is your (spiritual] foundation?’
President Russell M. Nelson opened his Sunday morning sermon with an update on the ongoing renovation of the Salt Lake Temple, including a video presentation in which the 97-year-old president stood below what was once the Garden Room, and said into the camera, “As I examine the craftsmanship of this entire building, I marvel at what the pioneers accomplished. I am totally in awe when I consider that they built this magnificent temple with only tools and techniques available to them more than a century ago.”
Back at the Conference Center pulpit, Nelson said the church is “sparing no effort to give this venerable temple, which had become increasingly vulnerable, a foundation that will withstand the forces of nature into the millennium. In like manner, it is now time that we each implement extraordinary measures — perhaps measures we have never taken before — to strengthen our personal spiritual foundations. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”
He took the temple as a metaphor for a spiritual foundation.
“If you and I are to withstand the forthcoming perils and pressures, it is imperative that we each have a firm spiritual foundation built upon the rock of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ,” he said. “So, I ask each of you, ‘How firm is your foundation? And what reinforcement to your testimony and understanding of the gospel is needed?’”
The temple “lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and his doctrine are the very heart of the temple,” Nelson said. “Everything taught in the temple, through instruction and through the Spirit, increases our understanding of Jesus Christ. His essential ordinances bind us to him through sacred priesthood covenants. Then, as we keep our covenants, he endows us with his healing, strengthening power.”
Temple ordinances are ancient, but they have been “gradually refined,” Nelson said. Procedures change, but the covenants “remain the same.” He noted that principles and doctrines can only be changed by revelation from God.
Current adjustments in temple procedures, “and others that will follow, are continuing evidence that the Lord is actively directing his church,” he said. “He is providing opportunities for each of us to bolster our spiritual foundations more effectively by centering our lives on him and on the ordinances and covenants of his temple.”
Nelson urged members to enter and return often to temples, which the faithful view as Houses of the Lord and where they participate in the faith’s holiest religious rites.
“If I could speak with each husband and wife who have still not been sealed [for eternity] in the temple, I would plead with you to take the necessary steps to receive that crowning, life-changing ordinance,” he said. “Will it make a difference? Only if you want to progress forever and be together forever. Wishing to be together forever will not make it so. No other ceremony or contract will make it so.”
When renovations on the Salt Lake Temple wrap up, Nelson said, “there will be no safer place during an earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley than inside that temple.”
And whenever any kind “of upheaval occurs in your life,” he promised, “the safest place to be spiritually is living inside your temple covenants.”
Apostle Quentin L. Cook laments lack of civility
Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recalled a visit to Missouri’s Liberty Jail, where Joseph Smith Jr., his brother Hyrum and others were “unjustly imprisoned. ... One of the reasons for the violent opposition to our members was most of them were opposed to slavery.”
This “extreme example of the unrighteous exercise of agency that can impact righteous people,” Cook said, " … is not evidence of the Lord’s disfavor, nor a withdrawal of his blessings.”
He went on to say, “In my lifetime, I have never seen a greater lack of civility. We are bombarded with angry, contentious language and provocative, devastating actions that destroy peace and tranquility. ... However, personal peace can be achieved despite the anger, contention and division that blights and corrupts our world today.”
Cook counseled church members to “love God” and “live his commandments and forgive everyone”; “seek the fruits of the spirit”; “choose righteousness”; “build Zion in our hearts and homes”; and “follow … the prophet.”
General authority Vaiangina Sikahema: Order your life
God expects church members to “live your life in order,” said general authority Seventy Vaiangina Sikahema, and “in proper sequence.”
Sikahema said he was taught that he should serve a mission before he got married, and get married before he had children. “If you choose to live your life out of sequence, you will find life more difficult and chaotic. … Sequential order is a simple, natural and effective way for the Lord to teach us, as his children, important principles.”
Sikahema, a former football star at Brigham Young University and later with the Philadelphia Eagles and other NFL teams, went on to say that “miracles operate according to sequential order. Miracles occur when we first exercise faith. Faith precedes the miracle.”
Apostle Dale G. Renlund: ‘Unity requires effort’
The COVID-19 pandemic has been “a global stress test,” said apostle Dale G. Renlund, a former cardiologist. “The test has shown mixed results. Safe and effective vaccines have been developed. Medical professionals, teachers, caregivers and others have sacrificed heroically — and continue to do so. Many people have displayed generosity and kindness — and continue to do so. Yet, underlying disadvantages have been manifest. Vulnerable individuals have suffered—and continue to do so.”
On Sunday, the apostle said the pandemic represents “a spiritual stress test for the Savior’s church and its members,” he said. “The results are likewise mixed.”
Many have provided compassionate help and comfort during these difficult times and continue to do so, he said. “Yet, in some instances, the spiritual stress test has shown tendencies toward contention and divisiveness.”
This suggests that Latter-day Saints “have work to do, to change our hearts, and to become unified as the Savior’s true disciples. This is not a new challenge but it is a critical one.”
Unity, Renlund said, “requires effort.”
He told the story of the long-standing enmity between Finland and Russia and how members in both countries dealt with it when a temple was being built in Finland.
The temple committee, made up of exclusively Finnish members, decided that “Russian saints would be traveling several days to attend [the dedication] and might hope to receive their temple blessings before returning home,” said Renlund, whose father was a Finn who hated Russians. “Faithful Latter-day Saint Finns delayed their temple blessings to accommodate Russian saints.”
When Renlund relayed this kindness to his dad, the apostle reported, “his heart melted and he wept, a very rare occurrence for that stoic Finn. From that time until his death three years later, he never expressed another negative sentiment about Russia.”
The gesture did not make Finns less Finnish, nor the Russians less Russian, Renlund said. “Neither group abandoned their culture, history or experiences to banish enmity. They did not need to. Instead, they chose to make their discipleship of Jesus Christ their primary consideration.”
If they could do that, “so can we,” he said. “...Even former enemies can become united in their discipleship of the Savior.”
President Camille N. Johnson: Write your own story
In her first General Conference talk since being named general president of the children’s Primary in April, Camille N. Johnson encouraged church members to listen to the Holy Ghost.
“We know that the manifestations of the Holy Ghost are reliable,” she said. “Why, then, are we sometimes resistant to asking for this kind of heavenly help, truth manifest to us by the Holy Ghost? Why do we put off asking a question to which we do not know the answer when the witness is not only friendly, but will always tell the truth?”
Johnson, the fourth woman to speak at this weekend’s conference said, “We will be judged by our book of life,” and church members can “choose to write a comfortable narrative for ourselves” or allow God to “write our story for us” and let that “take precedence over other ambitions.”
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf: ’Introspection is an opportunity for recalibration’
Without reliable landmarks, humans have trouble walking a straight line and “drift off course,” said apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf. “Isn’t it interesting how small, seemingly insignificant factors can make a major difference in our lives?”
Drawing as usual on his experience as a pilot, the popular German said, “Every time I started the approach to an airport, I knew that much of my remaining work would consist of making constant minor course corrections to safely direct the aircraft to our desired landing runway.”
It also applies to spirituality, he said. “Most of the changes in our spiritual lives — both positive and negative — happen gradually, a step at a time.”
Sometimes this falling away from the correct course happens in a matter of years or even months, Uchtdorf said. Sometimes it takes generations.
Everyone is susceptible, he warned. “No matter how strong our spiritual experiences have been in the past, as human beings we tend to wander. That has been the pattern from the days of Adam until now.”
There are “reliable, visible landmarks that we can use to evaluate our course,” Uchtdorf said. “...Surely they include daily prayer and pondering the scriptures...Each day, we can approach the throne of God in humility and honesty. We can ponder our actions and review the moments of our day — considering our will and desires in light of his. If we have drifted, we plead with God to restore us, and we commit to do better.”
This “time of introspection is an opportunity for recalibration,” he said. “It is a garden of reflection where we can walk with the Lord and be instructed, edified and purified by the written and spirit-revealed word of our Heavenly Father. It is a sacred time when we remember our solemn covenants to follow the gentle Christ, when we assess our progress and align ourselves with the spiritual landmarks God has provided for his children.”
Small steps can lead to big life changes. “Do you want to change the shape of your life?” the apostle asked. “Change the shape of your day. Do you want to change your day? Change this hour.”
Think of it as “your personal, daily restoration,” Uchtdorf urged his listeners. “...We all drift from time to time. But we can get back on course.”