During the two days of the just-completed 192nd Annual General Conference, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feasted on spiritual sermons from their leaders, highlighting distinctive doctrines of heaven and hell, as well as urging members to resolve personal conflicts, to hold fast to Jesus Christ, to follow God’s divine plan, to shun evil, and to maintain balance.
Contemporary topics included suicide prevention, abuse survivors, the role of Heavenly Mother, the impact of the pandemic, the dangers of the internet, the war in Ukraine, and the church’s continuing opposition to same-sex marriage.
Several speakers addressing the crowd in the half-full Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City — or millions more watching on televisions or the internet — emphasized the church’s expectation for young men to serve full-time missions, for whom it was termed “a priesthood responsibility,” and encouraged young women to do so as an “optional opportunity.”
Five women delivered sermons, compared to dozens given by men. The church also announced new leadership for the worldwide women’s Relief Society and children’s Primary, including the first-ever Black woman to serve in a churchwide general presidency.
In the concluding session, President Russell M. Nelson announced the locations of 17 new temples, boosting the total during his tenure to an even 100.
Here are notable speeches from the five sessions:
President Russell M. Nelson: End conflicts in your lives
As the concluding speaker Sunday morning, Nelson — the 97-year-old president who, after more than four years at the helm, is poised in a matter of days to become the longest-living prophet-president in the faith’s 192-year history — opened by bemoaning the armed conflict in Eastern Europe.
“I have been to Ukraine and Russia many times. I love those lands, the people, and their languages. I weep and pray for all who are affected by this conflict,” Nelson said. “The church is doing all we can to help those who are suffering and struggling to survive. We invite everyone to continue to fast and pray for all the people being hurt by this calamity. Any war is a horrifying violation of everything the Lord Jesus Christ taught and stands for.”
No one, however, can “control nations, or the actions of others, or even members of our own families, he said. “But we can each control ourselves.”
The Latter-day Saint leader, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by the faithful, urged members “to end the conflicts that are raging in your heart, your home and your life. Bury any and all inclinations to hurt others — whether those inclinations be a temper, a sharp tongue, or a resentment for someone who has hurt you.”
After watching a basketball game, Nelson noticed how the momentum had changed from the first half to the second, leading the team with it to win the game. He pivoted from that example to describe “spiritual momentum,” which can help believers move forward in their faith.
“We have seen examples of both positive and negative momentum,” he said. “We know followers of Jesus Christ who became converted and grew in their faith. But we also know of once-committed believers who fell away. Momentum can swing either way. We have never needed positive spiritual momentum more than we do now, to counteract the speed with which evil and the darker signs of the times are intensifying.”
It will help calm troubled hearts, he said, “amid the fear and uncertainty created by pandemics, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and armed hostilities. …[It] can help [members] withstand the relentless, wicked attacks of the adversary and thwart his efforts to erode our personal spiritual foundation.”
Easter is just two weeks away, Nelson said, and he invited members between now and then “to seek an end to a personal conflict that has weighed you down.”
Could there be “a more fitting act of gratitude to Jesus Christ?” he asked. “If forgiveness presently seems impossible, plead for power through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to help you. As you do so, I promise personal peace and a burst of spiritual momentum.”
President Dallin H. Oaks: God’s plans for marriage will win out
To reach the highest degree of “celestial glory” in the afterlife, mortals must follow the church’s “revealed doctrine” and “established commandments,” including “faithfulness to the covenants of an eternal marriage between a man and a woman,” Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, said Sunday afternoon.
That is why the Utah-based faith teaches, Oaks said, that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose.”
It is also why God has required the church “to oppose social and legal pressures to retreat from his doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman,” he said, “and to oppose changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women.”
The church’s positions on these fundamentals “frequently provoke opposition. We understand that,” Oaks said. God’s plan “allows for ‘opposition in all things,’ and Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to that plan.”
The devil seeks to oppose “progress toward exaltation by confusing gender, distorting marriage, and discouraging childbearing,” he said. “However, we know that in the long run the divine purpose and plan of our loving Heavenly Father will not be changed.”
Indeed, these principles are spelled out in the church’s 1995 family proclamation, he said, which is “founded on irrevocable doctrine.”
Its declarations “are, of course, different from some current laws, practices and advocacy, such as cohabitation and same-sex marriage,” Oaks said, but they define the “kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.”
God desires all of humanity “to strive for his highest possible blessings by keeping his highest commandments, covenants and ordinances, all of which culminate in his holy temples being built throughout the world,” Oaks said. “We must seek to share these truths of eternity with others.”
Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham gives her last conference sermon
Delivering her final General Conference talk as the president of the churchwide Relief Society, Jean B. Bingham spoke at Saturday’s women’s session of the spiritual safety available to those who “choose to be anchored to the Savior” through covenants made at baptism and in the temple.
“There is nothing more important to our eternal progress,” she said, “than keeping our covenants with God.”
Bingham called it a “privilege” to have met so many other women throughout her tenure as the highest-ranking official in the faith’s women’s organization.
These women, she said, “look to the Lord and his prophet for guidance rather than to popular media.”
In doing so, they are able to overcome “individual challenges and the detrimental philosophies of the world that try to dissuade them from keeping their covenants.”
“They are determined,” she added, “to stay on the covenant path.”
In closing her remarks, Bingham called on listeners to “stay on the covenant path.” For those who have not yet entered the temple to make the covenants with God available there, she called on them to prepare to do so.
“I testify that as we choose to make covenants with Heavenly Father and access the power of the Savior to keep them,” she said, “we will be blessed with more happiness in this life than we can now imagine and a glorious eternal life to come.”
Bingham will leave her Relief Society position in August.
Seventy Patrick Kearon offers comfort to abuse survivors
Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy spoke about survival stories, saying some listeners are in the midst of their own extreme circumstances such as abuse, neglect or other kinds of suffering.
People in these situations, he said Saturday, may erroneously feel that these events are their fault and that they deserve their pain. But God does not despise people who have suffered abuse, Kearon emphasized, and he loves them in a way they have yet to discover.
“The abuse was not, is not and never will be your fault, no matter what the abuser or anyone else may have said to the contrary,” he said. “When you have been a victim of cruelty, incest or other perversion, you are not the one who needs to repent; you are not responsible.”
Kearon also said the church condemns any kind of abuse. Forgiveness is available for abusers who sincerely confess and forsake their sins, he said, but unrepentant abusers will someday stand before the Lord to account for their crimes.
“Dear friends who have been so terribly wounded — and for that matter, anyone who has borne the injustices of life — you can have a new beginning and a fresh start,” he said. “... With arms outstretched, the Savior offers the gift of healing to you.”
Apostle Neil L. Andersen: ‘Internet is a blessing and a challenge’
The world, awash in conflicts that often play out on the internet, needs peacemakers, apostle Neil L. Andersen said Saturday.
“The powerful impact of the internet is a blessing and a challenge, unique to our time. In a world of social media and information superhighways, one person’s voice can be multiplied exponentially,” he said. “That voice, whether true or false, whether fair or prejudicial, whether kind or cruel, moves instantly across the world. Social media posts of thoughtfulness and goodness are often quietly under the radar, while words of contempt and anger are frequently thundering in our ears, whether with political philosophy, people in the news, or opinions on the pandemic. No one or no subject is immune from this social phenomenon of polarized voices, including the Savior and his restored gospel.”
How does a peacemaker “calm and cool the fiery darts?” the apostle asked. “Certainly not by shrinking before those who disparage us. Rather, we remain confident in our faith, sharing our beliefs with conviction, but always void of anger or malice.”
He offered the example of an opinion piece in The Salt Lake Tribune by the Rev. Amos C. Brown, a national civil rights leader and pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco.
Responding to an earlier piece critical of the church and its former temple/priesthood ban on Black members, Brown pointed to the alliance Nelson had made with the NAACP.
“Reverend Brown is a peacemaker. He calmly and respectfully cooled the fiery darts,” Andersen said. “Peacemakers are not passive; they are persuasive in the Savior’s way.”
Strength to respond to attacks “comes from our faith in Jesus Christ,” he said, “and our faith in his words.”
Latter-day Saints “love and care for all our neighbors, whether or not they believe as we do. Jesus taught us in the parable of the good Samaritan that those of different beliefs should sincerely reach out to help anyone in need, being peacemakers, pursuing good and noble causes.”
Andersen noted a recent effort in Arizona, where the Utah-based faith joined with other churches to protect gay and transgender Arizonans.
It is especially heartbreaking for church leaders and members “when harsh or dismissive words about the Savior, his followers, and his church are spoken or published by those who once stood with us, took the sacrament with us, and testified with us of the divine mission of Jesus Christ,” Andersen said. “….Sadly, not all will remain firm in their love for the Savior and their determination to keep his commandments.”
Still, Jesus taught followers “to withdraw from the circle of anger and contention,” he said. “...We, too, can move away from contention and bless the lives of others, while not isolating ourselves in our own corner.”
Members can and should be peacemakers, Andersen said, “that we may be called the ‘children of God.’”
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland: ‘Death by suicide is not the answer’
Focusing his remarks particularly to the faith’s young people, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland issued an emotional plea Saturday to listeners to resist the idea that ending one’s life represents a solution to life’s struggles.
“To any of our youth out there who are struggling, whatever your concerns or difficulties, death by suicide is manifestly not the answer,” Holland said. “It will not relieve the pain you are feeling or see yourself causing.”
He emphasized the worth of each individual not only in the sight of God — but also to God’s family.
“In a world that so desperately needs all the light it can get,” he said, “please do not minimize the eternal light God put in your soul before this world was.”
Instead, he called on listeners to seek help.
“Talk to someone. Ask for help,” he said. “You are loved and valued and needed.”
Holland also directed his remarks to those who might know someone in need of help, calling on them to “watch for signs of depression, despair, or anything hinting of self-harm” and offer help, listen, and intervene “as appropriate.”
How to get help
If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.
Apostle Dale G. Renlund talks about Mother in Heaven
In a speech that echoed what he said earlier this year, apostle Dale G. Renlund discussed four “foundational truths” he finds in the Young Women theme — particularly the church’s distinct doctrine about Heavenly Parents.
“Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven but what we do know is summarized in a Gospel Topic found in our Gospel Library application,” Renlund said as the final speaker at Saturday’s women’s session. “Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject. I wish I knew more. You, too, may still have questions and want to find more answers.”
Seeking greater understanding “is an important part of our spiritual development, but please be cautious,” the apostle warned. “Reason cannot replace revelation. Speculation will not lead to greater spiritual knowledge, but it can lead to deception or divert our focus from what has been revealed.”
Renlund repeated the instruction he gave in his earlier presentation that Jesus had taught his disciples “to pray unto the Father in my name.”
Latter-day Saints “follow this pattern and direct our worship to our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother,” he said. “Ever since God appointed prophets, they have been authorized to speak on his behalf. But they do not pronounce doctrines fabricated ‘of [their] own mind’ or teach what has not been revealed.”
Current church prophets “are similarly constrained,” Renlund said. “Demanding revelation from God is both arrogant and unproductive. Instead, we wait on the Lord and his timetable to reveal his truths through the means that he has established.”
In Saturday’s concluding speech, the former cardiologist discussed other ideas in the Young Women theme, including the notion that humans “have a divine nature” and “an eternal destiny.”
The church’s Young Women commit to “strive” to be like Christ, “to seek and act upon personal revelation and minister to others in his holy name,” and “to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places.”
Humans are “free to choose, but we cannot choose the consequences of not following the revealed path.” Renlund said. “... We cannot deviate from Heavenly Father’s course and then blame him for inferior outcomes.”
He invited listeners to center their lives on Jesus Christ and to “let the Holy Ghost … guide you.”
“Our Heavenly Father wants you to become his heir and receive all that he has,” Renlund said. “He cannot offer you more. He cannot promise you more. He loves you more than you know and wants you to be happy in this life and in the life to come.”
Primary leader Amy A. Wright: Christ is the healer
Jesus Christ will help believers “successfully navigate the things in our lives that are broken, no matter our age,” said Amy A. Wright, second counselor and soon-to-be first counselor in the Primary general presidency. “He can heal broken relationships with God, broken relationships with others, and broken parts of ourselves.”
Christ knows everyone’s “complete story and exactly what we suffer, as well as our capabilities and vulnerabilities,” Wright said Sunday. “... He is the source of healing all that is broken in our lives. As the great mediator and advocate with the Father, Christ sanctifies and restores broken relationships — most importantly our relationship with God. "
Wright has spent many hours at a cancer treatment facility “united in my suffering with many who were yearning to be healed. Some lived; others did not,” she said in her sermon. “I learned in a profound way that deliverance from our trials is different for each of us, and therefore our focus should be less about the way in which we are delivered and more about the deliverer himself. Our emphasis should always be on Jesus Christ. Exercising faith in Christ means trusting not only in God’s will but also in his timing. For he knows exactly what we need and precisely when we need it.”
Everyone has something in their life “that is broken that needs to be mended, fixed or healed,” Wright said. “... I testify that there is nothing in your life that is broken that is beyond the curative, redeeming and enabling power of Jesus Christ.”
Apostle Ronald A. Rasband touts religious freedom
Apostle Ronald A. Rasband spoke passionately Sunday about what he said was “another scourge sweeping the globe — attacks on your and my religious freedom.”
These attacks work “to remove religion and faith in God from the public square, schools, community standards and civic discourse,” Rasband said. “Opponents of religious freedom seek to impose restrictions on expressions of heartfelt convictions. They even criticize and ridicule faith traditions. Such an attitude marginalizes people, devaluing personal principles, fairness, respect, spirituality and peace of conscience.”
In the LDS Church’s beginnings, “opposition, persecution and violence plagued our first latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, and his followers.”
In response, Smith published 13 fundamental tenets of the growing church including this one: “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege; let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
His statement “is inclusive, liberating and respectful,” Rasband said. “That is the essence of religious freedom.”
The apostles spelled out four ways societies benefit from religious freedom:
• It helps believers place “God at the center of our lives.”
• It fosters “expressions of belief, hope and peace.”
• It “inspires people to help others.”
• It acts as “a unifying and rallying force for shaping values and morality.”
The good of religion, “its reach, and the daily acts of love,” Rasband said, “which religion inspires, only multiply when we protect the freedom to express and act on core beliefs.”
Apostle Gerrit W. Gong celebrates family ties
Gerrit W. Gong, who was named four years ago as the church’s first Asian American apostle, asked listeners to connect with their families.
“From their trials and accomplishments, we gain faith and strength,” he said Saturday. “From their love and sacrifices, we learn to forgive and move forward. … Ties with ancestors increase family closeness, gratitude, miracles.”
Gong also said sometimes family relationships cause abandonment, embarrassment and hurt. At those times, he said, community can also become family.
The church leader said people can honor family members by gathering photos, journals and other items that make memories real. They can also do temple work for deceased ancestors, and gather key names, dates and experiences.
“Let the adventure of family history be intentional and spontaneous,” he said. “Call your grandmother. Look deeply into the eyes of that new baby. Make time — discover eternity — at each stage of your journey. Learn and acknowledge with gratitude and honesty your family heritage. Celebrate and become the positive, and, where needed, humbly do everything possible not to pass on the negative. Let good things begin with you.”
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Offer your ‘whole souls’
Riding a bike means learning to balance and flying an airplane requires upward lift, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf said Sunday. “Just as forward momentum keeps a bicycle balanced and upright, moving forward helps an aircraft overcome the pull of gravity and drag.”
What does this mean for disciples of Jesus Christ? Uchtdorf asked. “It means that if we want to find balance in life, and if we want the Savior to lift us heavenward, then our commitment to him and his gospel can’t be casual or occasional.”
He then described the difference between sacrifice and consecration. These two “are similar,” he said, “but not identical.”
To sacrifice means “to give something up in favor of something more valuable,” Uchtdorf said. “... When we consecrate something, we don’t leave it to be consumed on the altar. Rather, we put it to use in the Lord’s service. We dedicate it to him and his holy purposes. We receive the talents that the Lord has given us and strive to increase them, manifold, to become even more helpful in building the Lord’s kingdom. Very few of us will ever be asked to sacrifice our lives for the Savior. But we are all invited to consecrate our lives to him.”
As members look at their lives and see a hundred things to do, they may “feel overwhelmed,” he said. “When we see one thing — loving and serving God and his children, in a hundred different ways — then we can focus on those things with joy.”
This is how Latter-day Saints “offer our whole souls,” he said, “by sacrificing anything that’s holding us back and consecrating the rest to the Lord and his purposes.”