LDS conference highlights: President Russell Nelson touts ‘priesthood keys,’ Dallin Oaks says wear garments ‘continuously’

New apostle Patrick Kearon trumpets a welcoming God; Dieter Uchtdorf urges a “higher joy”; Dale Renlund warns against being judgmental; and Jeffrey Holland recalls his near-death experience.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell Nelson, center, reaches out to audience members at General Conference on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

Though Latter-day Saint General Conferences don’t typically have a “theme,” the idea of covenant keeping ran through nearly every sermon at this weekend’s sessions — whether it was the commitment to have a “broken heart and contrite spirit” or to consistently wear sacred temple garments.

The 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints featured some “firsts” — the elevation of the first African (Edward Dube, a native of Zimbabwe) to the top tier of the Seventy; the first talk as an apostle by Patrick Kearon; and the first use since the 1980s of apostles rather than the governing First Presidency to conduct the meetings. It also showcased a rare conference performance of “Amazing Grace,” a widely praised Christian anthem that multitudes of Latter-day Saints hope will be included in the faith’s new hymnal, and a speech by a beloved apostle — Jeffrey R. Holland — after a life-threatening illness and an absence of nearly two years.

Once again, the number of male speakers vastly outnumbered the female ones — 29 to 3.

Dube’s advancement to the Presidency of the Seventy lifts the 61-year-old general authority to a level just below the apostles. Of the past eight men named to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, six have come from that seven-member presidency.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) General authority Seventy Edward Dube, a native of Zimbabwe, has become the first Black Latter-day Saint to be named to the Presidency of the Seventy.

The advancing ages of the senior leaders were apparent: 99-year-old church President Russell M. Nelson; his 90-year-old second counselor, Henry B. Eyring; and 83-year-old apostle Jeffrey R. Holland were escorted in wheelchairs.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson and other church leaders at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

President Russell Nelson: ‘Priesthood keys’ are key

Nelson, the faith’s oldest-ever prophet-president who will turn 100 in September, capped off the conference by naming 15 temples, including two more in Utah.

Overall, Nelson viewed three sessions remotely, while attending two in person at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, delivering his one and only address in a recorded message Sunday afternoon.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson speaks in a recorded message at General Conference on Sunday afternoon, April 7, 2024.

In his remarks, Nelson pointed to the church’s recent purchase of the Kirtland Temple from Community of Christ and the significance of the events that took place there.

It was in the walls of the historic Ohio edifice that, Latter-day Saints believe, Jesus along with the biblical Prophets Elias, Elijah and Moses appeared in 1836 to the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith, and bestowed on him three pivotal “priesthood keys.”

Without them, Nelson continued, the church would represent a “significant teaching and humanitarian organization, but not much more.”

With them, he added, Smith and his successors were “authorized” to “gather Israel on both sides of the veil, to bless all covenant children with the blessings of Abraham, to place a ratifying seal on priesthood ordinances and covenants and to seal families eternally.”

Nelson said these keys are what “distinguish” the church “from any other organization on Earth.”

In short: “Many other organizations can and do make your life better here in mortality,” he said. “But no other organization can and will influence your life after death.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) In a recorded message, Russell M. Nelson speaks at General Conference on Sunday afternoon, April 7, 2024.

Other speakers addressed an array of topics, ranging from the importance of temples, joyous discipleship, the power of prayer, the value of scripture reading, the value of words, and the twin commandments to love God and your neighbor.

But two speakers — a man and a woman — discussed the proper wearing of garments.

President Dallin H. Oaks, the 91-year-old first counselor in the First Presidency, was unequivocal in his assertion that there was only one right way to wear the sacred clothing, while women’s leader J. Anette Dennis took a more general tack as to why members should wear them.

President Dallin Oaks: Wear temple garments ‘continuously’

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks at General Conference on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

Covenants are essential to many organizations such as the military, firefighters and religious traditions, and clothing symbolizing those commitments is not “magic,” Oaks said, “just a needed reminder of the special responsibilities the wearers have assumed.”

Devout Latter-day Saints don “a temple garment” to be worn under their clothes.

It “reminds endowed members of the sacred covenants they have made and the blessings they have been promised in the holy temple,” Oaks said. “To achieve those holy purposes, we are instructed to wear temple garments continuously, with the only exceptions being those obviously necessary.”

This echoed the sentiments expressed in a recent speech by a Latter-day Saint general authority, who condemned members, especially women, who wear garments only on Sunday or to the temple, and the rest of the week can be seen in “yoga pants.”

Covenants “do not take a day off,” Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, said, so “to remove one’s garments can be understood as a disclaimer of the responsibilities and blessings to which they relate.”

On the other hand, those who wear their garments “faithfully and keep their temple covenants,” Oaks said, “affirm their role as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Relief Society leader J. Anette Dennis: ‘A sacred obligation and a sacred privilege’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Relief Society leader J. Anette Dennis speaks at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

The wearing of sacred underwear by Latter-day Saint men and women “is both a sacred obligation and a sacred privilege,” said Dennis, first counselor in the worldwide women’s Relief Society presidency. The “garment is deeply symbolic and points to the Savior.”

Members wear “the garment of the holy priesthood, both during temple worship and in our everyday lives,” Dennis said. The holy underclothing “reminds us that the Savior and the blessings of his Atonement cover us throughout our lives. As we put [it] on …. that beautiful symbol becomes a part of us.”

Some leaders have worried publicly about Latter-day Saints who don their garments only on Sunday and to the temple, rather than every day.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Underclothing, known as garments, worn by faithful men and women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are shown in these authorized photos.

Dennis declared that her “willingness to wear the holy garment becomes my symbol to [Christ]. It is my own personal sign to God, not a sign to others,” she said, and expresses her “love and gratitude for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and my desire to have him with me always.”

The garment is a reminder of her covenants with God, she said. “I have symbolically put on Christ, who himself is an armor of light.”

Dennis made headlines last month in a worldwide Relief Society broadcast when she declared that “no other religious organization in the world that I know of ... has so broadly given power and authority to women.”

Latter-day Saint women cannot be ordained — unlike in a number of other faiths — and hold no priesthood offices.

After thousands of women took issue with her remarks, Dennis thanked those who shared their feelings on social media.

Apostle Patrick Kearon: God removes ‘roadblocks,’ welcomes everyone home

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Patrick Kearon speaks at General Conference on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

God does not put “roadblocks” in the way of believers, Kearon said in his conference debut as an apostle. “He is in relentless pursuit of you. He wants all of his children to choose to return to him, and he employs every possible measure to bring you back.”

The purpose of mortality, the British church leader said, is to “have the stretching and refining experiences of mortality, the chance to use our God-given moral agency to choose him, to learn and grow, to make mistakes, to repent, to love God and our neighbor, and to one day return home to him.”

Jesus Christ came to “this fallen world to live the full range of the human experience, to provide an example for the rest of his children to follow, and to atone and redeem,” said Kearon, who was named an apostle in December in the wake of M. Russell Ballard’s death. His “great atoning gift removes every roadblock of physical and spiritual death that would separate us from our eternal home.”

God’s plan of happiness “is your happiness, right here, right now, and in the eternities,” he said. “It is not to prevent your happiness and cause you instead worry and fear.”

He wants believers “to live on a higher plane of moral conduct,” and calls them “to personal progression, to transformative faith in Christ, to a mighty change of heart,” Kearon said. “God wants for us a radical reorientation of our selfish and prideful impulses.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Patrick Kearon and his wife, Jennifer, look over the audience at General Conference on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

Those who are “prone to worry that you will never measure up, or that the loving reach of Christ’s infinite Atonement mercifully covers everyone else, but not you,” he said, “then you are misunderstanding. ‘Infinite’ means infinite. ‘Infinite’ covers you, and those you love.”

Kearon conceded that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is “beyond our mortal capacity to comprehend. But, and this is an important ‘but,’ we do understand, can comprehend the holy, saving intent of his atoning sacrifice.

God does not “put up roadblocks and barriers; he removes them,” the apostle said. “He does not keep you out, he welcomes you in.”

Apostle Dale Renlund: ‘Rowing toward the Savior’

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dale G. Renlund speaks at General Conference on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

Believers become “vulnerable when we slow down” in following spiritual principles, apostle Dale G. Renlund said, “and especially when we stop.”

Maintaining “spiritual momentum by continually ‘rowing’ toward the Savior,” Renlund said, “we are safer and more secure because our eternal life depends on our faith in him.”

Faith in Jesus Christ “needs to be nourished daily,” he said. “It is nourished as we pray daily, study the scriptures daily, reflect on the goodness of God daily, repent daily, and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost daily.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman gives the closing prayer at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

The important part of this spiritual routine, Renlund emphasized, “is that we do not give up.”

As members minister to others, “we do not need to ask unhelpful questions or state the obvious,” he said. “Most people who are struggling know that they are struggling. We should not be judgmental; our judgment is neither helpful nor welcome, and it is most often ill-informed.”

In addition, comparing “ourselves to others can lead us to make pernicious errors, especially if we conclude that we are more righteous than those who are struggling,” the church leader said. “After all, we are all struggling in our own way. None of us earns salvation. We never can. … We do need all our compassion, empathy and love as we interact with those around us.”

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Reaching for higher joy

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the former airline-pilot-turned-apostle, joked that he gets asked often why he hasn’t used an aviation story in recent General Conference talks. He then recounted the story of the Wright brothers’ famous flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and later taking their fearful father up in the air, who exclaimed, “Higher, Orville, higher!”

The charismatic German described “a higher joy — where it comes from, how it enters our hearts, and how we can experience it in greater measure.”

He first offered a caveat, acknowledging that “depression and other difficult mental and emotional challenges are real, and the answer is not simply, ‘Try to be happier.’”

Uchtdorf said he did not want to “diminish or trivialize mental health issues. If you face such challenges, I mourn with and stand beside you. For some people, finding joy may include seeking help from trained mental health professionals. … We should be thankful for such help.”

Life is not “an endless sequence of emotional highs,” he said. “Feeling sad is not a sign of failure. In this life, at least, joy and sorrow are inseparable companions. Like all of you, I have felt my share of disappointment, sorrow, sadness and remorse.”

Still, the apostle said, “joy is the very purpose of God’s plan for his children.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attendees at the Conference Center await a General Conference session to begin on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

He urged Latter-day Saints to “search the word of God for a deeper understanding of God’s eternal plan, accept these invitations, and strive to walk in his way.”

In doing so, he vowed, “you will experience ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,’ even in the midst of sorrows.”

Uchtdorf promised members that they would “feel a greater measure of God’s unsurpassable love swelling within your heart … and that [they] will begin to taste the unspeakable glories and wonders of the unseen, perfect, heavenly sphere.”

Joy, he explained, can be found in “simple things” such as:

• “Praying for someone.

• “Giving a sincere compliment.

• “Helping someone feel welcome, respected, valued and loved.

• “Sharing a favorite scripture and what it means to us.

• “Or even just by listening.”

You will feel “your spirit lifting away from the gravity of this world,” he told them. “And like good Milton Wright, perhaps you will raise your voice in rejoicing and shout, ‘Higher, Father, higher.’”

Apostle Jeffrey Holland returns to conference, speaks of his health trials

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) In a tender moment, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf leans in to kiss fellow apostle Jeffrey R. Holland at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke at conference for the first time since October 2022 and joked about learning a “painful lesson” from that.

“That lesson is — if you don’t give an acceptable talk, you can be banned from the next several conferences,” he said. “You can see I am assigned early in the first session of this one. What you can’t see is that I am positioned on a trapdoor with a very delicate latch. If this talk doesn’t go well, I am gone again.”

Holland, 83, who spoked seated as he delivered the first talk Saturday morning, was hospitalized for six weeks this past summer, entering the hospital just after the death of his wife, Pat. He said he spent “the first four weeks of a six-week stay in and out of the intensive care unit and in and out of consciousness.”

Holland said that during the near-death encounter, he “received ... an admonition to return to my ministry with more urgency, more consecration, more focus on the Savior and more faith in his word ... Since that experience, I have tried to take up my cross more earnestly, with more resolve to find where I can raise an apostolic voice of both warmth and warning in the morning, during the day and into the night.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland speaks at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

The apostle said these past months of loss and illness have filled him with “endless gratitude for the efficacy of resolute prayers — your prayers — of which I have been the beneficiary.”

He told church members that “God hears every prayer we offer and responds to each of them according to the path he has outlined for our perfection. … We should pray individually, in our families, and in congregations of all sizes.”