General Conference wrapped up Sunday as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints heard a recorded talk from their ailing 99-year-old leader and the announcement of 20 new temples to built around the world.
President Russell M. Nelson, who viewed Saturday’s sessions from home, did same Sunday after injuring his back in a fall earlier this month. But he shared a videotaped sermon Sunday.
President Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s top counselor in the three-member First Presidency, presided in person at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. The 91-year-old Oaks is next in line to lead the church.
Here are the latest speeches and announcements from Sunday’s final two sessions, livestreamed worldwide:
President Russell Nelson: Think celestial
Rather than ask how he has lived to nearly 100, Russell M. Nelson chose to answer what he has learned in almost 10 decades.
“The very things that will make your mortal life the best it can be,” Nelson said in a videotaped message that closed the two-day conference, “are exactly the same things that will make your life throughout all eternity the best it can be.”
The choices people make today “will determine three things,” he said, “where you will live throughout eternity, the kind of body with which you will be resurrected, and those with whom you will live forever.”
He encouraged members to “think celestial,” a reference to the Latter-day Saint belief that the highest heaven is the Celestial Kingdom.
For example, “only men and women who are sealed as husband and wife in the temple, and who keep their covenants, will be together throughout the eternities,” he said. “...As you think celestial, you will find yourself avoiding anything that robs you of your agency. Any addiction — be it gaming, gambling, debt, drugs, alcohol, anger, pornography, sex or even food — offends God. Why? Because your obsession becomes your god…Please do not let an obsession rob you of your freedom to follow God’s fabulous plan.”
Thinking celestial will “also help you obey the law of chastity,” Nelson said. “...Many of the adversary’s most relentless temptations involve violations of moral purity. The power to create life is the one privilege of godhood that Heavenly Father allows his mortal children to exercise. Thus, God set clear guidelines for the use of this divine power. Physical intimacy is only for a man and a woman who are married to each other.”
The Latter-day Saint leader warned his audience that “there is no end to the adversary’s deceptions,” he said. “...Never take counsel from those who do not believe. Seek guidance from voices you can trust — from prophets, seers and revelators and from the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.”
Nelson urged members to spend more time in the faith’s temples.
“There you are shown how to progress toward a celestial life,” he said. “There you are drawn closer to the Savior and given greater access to his power. There you are guided in solving the problems in your life, even your most perplexing problems.”
The Lord is directing the leaders, he said, “to build these temples to help us think celestial.”
He then announced the locations of the 20 new temples. They will be built in:
• Savai’i, Samoa.
• Kahului, Hawaii.
• Fairbanks, Alaska.
• Vancouver, Wash.
• Colorado Springs
• Tulsa, Okla.
• Roanoke, Va.
• Cancún, Mexico.
• Piura, Peru.
• Huancayo, Peru.
• Viña del Mar, Chile.
• Goiânia, Brazil.
• João Pessoa, Brazil.
• Cape Coast, Ghana.
• Calabar, Nigeria.
• Luanda, Angola.
• Mbuji-Mayi, Democratic Republic of Congo.
• Laoag, Philippines.
• Osaka, Japan
• Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
The global faith of 17 million members now has 335 existing or planned temples. Nelson has announced 153, or nearly 46%, of them.
Seventy Christophe G. Giraud-Carrier: All are God’s children
General authority Seventy Christophe G. Giraud-Carrier of France urged members to see others as God does.
“May we likewise not let our eyes, our ears or our fears mislead us,” he said, “but open our hearts and minds, and minister freely to those around us as he did.”
French “is not who I am; it is where I was born,” Giraud-Carrier said. “White is not who I am, it is the color of my skin, or lack thereof. Professor is not who I am, it is what I did to support my family. General authority Seventy is not who I am, it is where I serve in the kingdom [of God] at this time.”
Above all, he said, “I am a child of God.”
And so are “all other people around us,” the Seventy said. “I pray that we may come to a greater appreciation of this wonderful truth. It changes everything.”
Though they may be raised in different cultures, come from different socioeconomic circumstances, nationalities, races, political and sexual orientations, Giraud-Carrier said, all humans “are his children, all of us without exception”— with the “same divine origin and the same limitless potential through the grace of Jesus Christ.”
Apostle Gerrit Gong: Ward activities can help everyone feel included
For new members, church vocabulary “often requires decoding,” said apostle Gerrit W. Gong, the first and only Asian American Latter-day Saint apostle. “We chuckle at the thought that ‘stake house’ could mean a nice beef dinner. ‘Ward building’ could indicate a hospital. ‘Opening exercises’ could invite us to do ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ in the church parking lot.”
And Gong urged members to be “understanding and kind” as converts “learn new languages of love together.” One convert, he said, “was told her skirts were too short. Instead of taking offense, she replied, in effect, ‘My heart is converted. Please be patient as my skirts catch up.’”
The apostle also extolled the virtues of ward, or congregational, activities and service projects, which “can build new and enduring gospel bonds. … A few more ward activities, of course planned and implemented with gospel purpose, could knit us together with even greater belonging and unity.”
Well-planned activities “help everybody feel valued, included and invited to play a needed role,” he said. “... Enjoyable gospel activities also invite neighbors and friends.”
Seventy J. Kimo Esplin: Healing enmity through temple work
General authority Seventy J. Kimo Esplin told a long, sweet story about a woman from the Japanese island of Okinowa, which was bombed by Americans during World War II.
The woman, her husband and two children faced enormous challenges while hiding in a cave for three months. Later, the Buddhist family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite opposition from family and neighbors, and had three more children. Sadly, the husband died but his widow remained a faithful Latter-day Saint for decades, even attending the temple in Hawaii.
Now, there is a Latter-day Saint temple in Okinawa — not far from where the family hid — that will be dedicated Nov. 12.
Esplin, a native Hawaiian who served a mission in Japan, said he was “grateful to witness the ongoing fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that ‘the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue and people,’ including to those ‘upon the isles of the sea.’”
Seventy Valeri Cordón: Parents are God’s agents
“Parenting is one of life’s most extraordinary experiences,” said general authority Seventy Valeri V. Cordón. “Parents enter a partnership with their Heavenly Father to guide their precious children back to heaven.”
He outlined three “crucial parenting responsibilities described by prophets and apostles that can help us establish a higher gospel culture in our homes” — “teach freely … model discipleship” and “invite to act.”
“As parents, we are God’s agents in the care of our children,” said Cordón, a native of Guatemala who has been a general authority since 2016. “We must do everything we can to create an environment where our children can feel his divine influence. Heavenly Father never intended for us as parents to sit on the sidelines as spectators, watching the spiritual lives of our children unfold.”
Seventy John Pingree: Differentiating between doctrine and policy
In a world of constant and conflicting information, Latter-day Saints need to hold onto eternal truth.
“Truth helps us avoid deception, discern good from evil, receive protection, and find comfort and healing,” said general authority Seventy John C. Pingree Jr. “Truth can also guide our actions, make us free, sanctify us, and lead us to eternal life.”
God expects members, he said, “to seek, recognize and act on truth.”
They also need to keep in mind the distinction between doctrine and policy.
“Doctrine refers to eternal truths, such as the nature of the Godhead, the plan of salvation, and Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice,” Pingree said. “Policy is the application of doctrine based on current circumstances. Policies help us administer the church in an orderly way. While doctrine never changes, policy adjusts from time to time.”
Those who do not understand the difference, the Seventy said, “risk becoming disillusioned when policies change, causing some to question God’s wisdom or the revelatory role of prophets.”
Truth cannot exist, Pingree said, apart from love.
“Truth taught without love can cause feelings of judgment, discouragement and loneliness. It often leads to resentment and division, even conflict,” he said. “On the other hand, love without truth is hollow and lacks the promise of growth.”
Both are essential, Pingree said, “for our spiritual development.”
Apostle Dale Renlund: Prioritize temple attendance
Apostle Dale G. Renlund warned church members not to be caught “looking beyond the mark” — to miss what is important — in the opening sermon of Sunday afternoon session.
“We need to guard against this tendency lest we miss Jesus Christ in our lives and fail to recognize the many blessings he offers us,” Renlund said. “We need him. We are counseled to rely wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.”
He recalled when he was 8 years old and was baptized by his father. “Afterward, I held his hand as we were going to cross a busy street. I was not paying attention and stepped from the curb just as a big truck came rumbling by.”
His father jerked him back, pulling him out of the way of the truck. “I thought, ‘Maybe it would have been better for me to be killed by the truck because I’ll never be as clean as I am right now after my baptism.’”
Redlund encouraged members to prioritize temple attendance at a time when the church is building many more temples. “When temples are distant, we plan our time and resources to travel to the temple to worship there. … With a temple close at hand,” he said, “it can be easy to let little things get in the way of attending, saying to ourselves, ‘Well, I’ll just go another time.’”
President Henry Eyring: Repent and seek the Holy Ghost
Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, offered advice to his children and his grandchildren: “I have come to better understand what it will take for them to have the constant influence of the Holy Ghost in the days in which we live.”
The 90-year-old apostle spoke of his “personal experience of inviting the Holy Ghost, as nearly I as could, to be my constant companion,” adding, “When I feel distant from the Lord, when answers to my prayers seem delayed, I have learned to follow the counsel of President [Russell M.] Nelson to review my life for opportunities to repent. He reminds us, ‘Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power.’”
Eyring urged Latter-day Saints who are “having difficulty in feeling the Holy Ghost” to “ponder whether there is anything for which you need to repent and receive forgiveness. You can pray with faith to know what to do to be cleansed and thus more nearly qualify for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.”
Eyring went on to say that “If your motives are too selfish, you will find it difficult to receive the promptings of the spirit. The key is to want what the Savior wants.”
Bishop W. Christopher Waddell: Hero worship as a ‘golden calf’
Innocent childhood hero worship can become a stumbling block for adults who revere “politicians, bloggers, influencers, athletes or musicians,” said W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, causing members “to lose sight of what is truly essential.”
The challenge for Israelites escaping “was not the gold that they brought with them on their journey to the promised land, but what they allowed the gold to become…an idol,” Waddell said, “which then became the object of their worship, turning their attention away from Jehovah, who had parted the Red Sea and delivered them from bondage. Their focus on the calf impacted their ability to worship the true God.”
The only hero for today’s believers, he said, “is Jesus Christ, and anything, or anyone, that distracts us from his teachings, as found in the scriptures and through the words of living prophets can negatively impact our progress.”
It can be tempting “to turn to society’s ‘heroes’ in an effort to provide clarity to life when it may seem confusing or overwhelming,” Waddell acknowledged. “We buy the clothes they sponsor, embrace the politics they espouse, and follow their suggestions shared on social media. This might be fine for a temporary diversion, but we must be watchful that this form of hero worship does not become our golden calf.”
Choosing the “right” hero, he said, “has eternal consequences.”
Waddell generated national attention in May, when he appeared on “60 Minutes” in defense of the church’s wealth and financial practices. As a member of the Presiding Bishopric, he works as an ecclesiastical overseer of the Utah-based faith’s far-reaching financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations.
Apostle Dieter Uchtdorf: ‘The greatest short story ever told’
Popular apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf began his remarks by praising colleague M. Russell Ballard: “You don’t have 20-20 eyesight anymore, but you have 20-20 spiritual vision.” And then he retold “the greatest short story ever told” — the biblical account of the prodigal son.
After the son took his inheritance and left his father’s house, Uchtdorf said, “Had there been social media in that time, surely, he would have filled pages with animated photos of laughing friends — #Livingmybestlife! #Neverhappier! #Shouldhavedonethislongago! But the party did not last — it rarely does.”
The prodigal son ran out of money; a famine swept the land; and “the once unstoppable, jubilant, high-roller now could not afford a single meal, let alone a place to stay. How would he survive?”
Uchtdorf — a refugee twice in his life, once while leaving then-Czechoslovakia and again while fleeing from then-East Germany to West Germany — said it “wasn’t just an empty stomach that troubled” the prodigal son. “It was an empty soul. He had been so sure that giving in to his worldly desires would make him happy, that moral laws were obstacles to that happiness. Now he knew better.”
The father was overjoyed when his prodigal son returned, but his other son — who “is carrying some emotional baggage” — was not. But the father told him, “This is not about comparing rewards or celebrations. This is about healing.”
The parable, Uchtdorf said, shows that, no matter what we’ve done, “Our Heavenly Father will run to us, his heart overflowing with love and compassion. … Though choices may have taken you far away from the Savior and his church, the master healer stands at the road that leads home, welcoming you.”
Apostle Quentin Cook: Facing tragedies with faith
With optimism, apostle Quentin L. Cook promised church members “striving to be ‘peaceable followers of Christ,’ [that] a brighter day awaits us as we focus on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
No one escapes human suffering, the apostle said. “Trials are a part of mortality and occur in everyone’s life throughout the world. This includes major conflicts between countries and individuals.”
Latter-day Saint leaders are frequently asked, Cook said, “Why does a just God allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?” And “Why are those who are righteous and in the Lord’s service not immune from such tragedies?”
Church authorities “do not know all the answers. However, we do know important principles that allow us to face trials, tribulation and adversities,” he said, “with faith and confidence in a bright future that awaits for each of us.”
Such principles include the belief that there is a God “who knows and loves us personally and understands our suffering perfectly,” Cook said. “...The scriptures are clear; peaceable followers of Christ who are righteous, follow the Savior, and keep his commandments will be blessed.”
Seventy Adilson de Paula Parrella: Don’t call it the ‘Mormon church’
General authority Seventy Adilson de Paula Parrella reiterated church President Russell M. Nelson’s 2018 admonition to use the full, formal name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not call it the “Mormon church.”
“I really watched myself to make sure I used the correct name of the church,” he said. “The first few times I had to be very conscious and not allow myself to go back to the old ways.”
But after the “first few attempts,” he “realized that speaking the full name of the church with intent gave me valuable opportunities to speak the name of Jesus Christ and, in fact, bear testimony of the Savior by declaring his name in the name of his church.”
The native Brazilian, who has been a general authority since 2017, said he also noticed that when he “spoke the correct name of the church with others, I more frequently remembered Jesus Christ and felt his influence in my life.”
Young Women leader Emily Freeman: Walking with Jesus
A covenant is more than “a set of checkboxes,” said President Emily Belle Freeman, leader of the church’s worldwide Young Women program.
It’s about a relationship with God, said Freeman, the third woman to speak at the two-day conference. “Conditions have been set, and there will be expectations along the way. And yet, he invites each of us to come as we are able with full purpose of heart, and to ‘press forward’ with him at our side, trusting that his promised blessings will come.”
Freeman has chosen “to walk with the Lord,” she said. “I have been called to stand as a witness of Christ. When the path feels overwhelming, I am strengthened with enabling grace.”
The leader cautioned her listeners not to be discouraged by where they find themselves on the “covenant path.”
“Begin where you are,” she said. “Don’t let your condition hinder you. Remember, pace or placement on the path are not as important as progress.”
She praised the church’s young people, noting “the strength of the rising generation.”
Everyone can learn from the young, Freeman said. “You have a genuine desire to know the guide, Jesus Christ. You trust the strength of the rope that tethers us to him. You are gifted in leading others to him.”
Thankfully, she said, “we walk this path together.”
Apostle M. Russell Ballard: Thank you, Joseph
Unable to read from the teleprompter because of his failing eyesight, 94-year-old M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, expressed gratitude for church founder Joseph Smith and his reported encounter with deity.
“We sing … ‘Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah,’” Ballard said. “We thank the Lord for Joseph Smith and for his courage to go into that grove of trees in 1820 near his home in Palmyra, New York.”
Speaking slowly and somewhat haltingly, Ballard said, “I’ll soon be 95. My children tell me they think I’m a lot older than that some days. But that’s OK. I’m doing the best I can.”
His 95th birthday is Oct. 8.
“My message this morning is simple, it’s deep, and it’s full of love for the prophet Joseph Smith,” he said. Ballard’s great-great-grandfather is Hyrum Smith, the brother of the faith’s founder.
Ballard has been in the headlines in recent weeks after a church spokesperson issued a stinging rebuke of anti-human-trafficking activist Tim Ballard (no relation) for allegedly exploiting his once-friendship with the senior apostle.
“Once it became clear Tim Ballard had betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and [for] activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association,” according to the faith’s statement. “President Ballard never authorized his name, or the name of the church, to be used for Tim’s personal or financial interests.”
The apostle did not address that dispute in his remarks Sunday.
Rather, Ballard said he was grateful for the Book of Mormon, a “marvelous, wonderful gift. … We have it because Joseph was worthy to go get the [gold] plates, was inspired by heaven to translate them by the gift and power or god. And to give it to the world.”