Asking members to show tolerance, compassion and mercy for all people - regardless of race, religion, political persuasion or ethnicity - the new First Presidency of the LDS Church addressed their first remarks to the general membership on Sunday morning.Sustained Saturday morning as the 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley paid tribute to his predecessor - President Howard W. Hunter - and acknowledged the Lord's call to fill his place. Since that call, "I have . . . been overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and of total dependency upon the Lord, who is my head and whose church this is," he said. "Years ago I gave a talk on the loneliness of leadership. Now for the first time I realize the full import of that loneliness."
Even so, he said, he faces his responsibility with almost youthful vigor. "Sister Hinckley and I are learning that the so-called golden years are laced with lead. But I think I can honestly say that I do not feel old. I cannot repudiate my birth certificate, but I can still experience a great, almost youthful, exuberance in my enthusiasm for this precious work of the Almighty."
President Hinckley spoke of the dedication of his forebears and their devotion to the Savior and his gospel, and thanked his wife of 58 years. "How grateful I am for this precious woman who has walked at my side through sunshine and storm. We do not stand as tall as we once did. But there has been no shrinkage in our love for one another."
He detailed his love for church members of all ages and races, and he invited those who were once affiliated with the faith but have lost touch to "return and partake of the happiness you once knew. You will find many with outstretched arms to welcome you and assist you."
He urged members to stand a little taller, lift their eyes, stretch their minds and become more Christlike.
Speaking of the "grand millennial mission" of the church, he said, "This is a time to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to be more Christlike."
Asking members to fulfill their callings faithfully, he said, "All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others . . .. Whatever your calling, it is fraught with the same kind of opportunity to accomplish good as mine is."
His voice rising, President Hinckley said, "I plead with our people everywhere to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies. We must not be partisan of any doctrine of ethnic superiority."
He reminded members that Joseph Smith once said he would be just as willing to die defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a man of any other faith as he would be willing to die for a Latter-day Saint.
"We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may become the victims of bigotry," he said.
Music for the session was provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, directed by Jerold Ottley.
Speakers at Sunday morning session
Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the LDS Church
Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency
James E. Faust of the First Presidency
Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve
Joe J. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy
Don't continue to punish yourself for sins the Lord has forgiven, forgotten.
The refusal to forgive others - or oneself - can canker the soul and ruin lives, said President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency.
He admonished church members to develop the quality of mercy in their lives. Jesus Christ is the example of perfect mercy. "I often think that one of the most beautiful things in the Christ's life was his words on the cross when, suffering under the agony of death that is said to have been the most painful that the ancients could devise . . . He said to his Father in Heaven, as those who were within hearing testify, `Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' "
God could not implement his plan of mercy for mankind without an atonement. So Christ himself atoned for the sins of the world to bring about the plan of mercy so that God might be a just God and a merciful God, too, he said.
Despite this perfect example, many let pride, bitterness and blame keep emotional, mental or spiritual wounds open, President Monson said. He told of a man who had quarreled with his brother. The two men shared a small, one-room cabin near Canisteo, N.Y. Following the quarrel, they had divided the room in half with a chalk line and neither had crossed the line or spoken a word to the other for the ensuing 62 years. The silence ended only with the death of one of the brothers. "What a human tragedy - all for the want of mercy and forgiveness."
Forgiving others and ourselves is an expression of mercy, he said. Some people can forgive others, but they can't forgive themselves - which is even more destructive than not forgiving others. Members should not continue to punish themselves for old sins the Lord has forgiven and forgotten, President Monson said. When the Lord said "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men," the Lord was referring to forgiving oneself, too.
"Should you or I have erred or spoken harshly to another, it is good to take steps to straighten out the matter and to move onward with our lives."
Quoting George Herbert, President Monson said, "He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven, for everyone has need to be forgiven."
Church embraces cultural diversity, but its moral standards are uniform.
While the church's cultural diversity is a blessing, its most striking strength is its spiritual and doctrinal unity, said President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency.
"We say to all who have joined the church, keep all that is noble, good and uplifting in your culture and personal identity. However, under the authority and power of the keys of the priesthood, all differences yield as we seek to become heirs to the kingdom of God, unite in following those who have the keys of the priesthood and seek the divinity within us. All are welcome and appreciated. But there is only one celestial kingdom of God," he said.
Baptism, the sacrament, the hymns and the temple ordinances are the same all around the world, he noted. "The high moral standards of this church apply to all members in every country. Honesty and integrity are taught and expected everywhere. Chastity before marriage and absolute fidelity to husband or wife after marriage are required of members of the church everywhere. Members who violate these high standards of moral conduct place their church membership in question anywhere in the world."
Pollster Richard Wirthlin has identified, through polls, Americans' basic needs: self-esteem, peace of mind and personal contentment. "I believe these are needs of God's children everywhere," President Faust said.
"All three needs, regardless of ethnic background, culture or country, can be met if we look to the divinity within us" and are faithful in obeying God's commandments, he said.
While the multiplicity of languages and cultures is a challenge for the church, the Spirit time and time again provides deep communion in meetings where words cannot be understood.
He urged minority groups not to feel so unwelcome that they choose to worship exclusively in their own ethnic cultures. "We hope that those in any dominant culture would reach out to them in the brotherhood and sisterhood of the gospel, so that they establish fully a community of saints where everyone will feel needed and wanted."
President Faust closed his remarks with an emotion-filled testimony of the Savior that brought him to silence more than once as he restrained tears. "Mine is a certain knowledge that Jesus is our divine Savior, Redeemer and the son of God the Father. I know of his reality by a sure perception so sacred I cannot give utterance to it."
Most of our major problems cannot be solved without basic self-denial.
Many of society's tragedies stem from people's refusal to deny their own appetites, said Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve.
Jesus Christ's instructions on discipleship admonish a man to deny himself, then take up his cross and follow the Lord. "Even so, in today's world, individual appetites, far from being denied, are actually celebrated," Elder Maxwell said.
He condemned the hedonism that takes such a heavy toll on society. Sexual immorality has had devastating effects, resulting in children having children, unwed mothers, children without parents, rampant spousal infidelity and hundreds of thousands of fatherless children. "These and related consequences threaten to abort society's future even before the future arrives. Yet carnalists are unwilling to deny themselves, even though all of society suffers from an awful avalanche of consequences," he said.
The public has an enormous stake in private morality, he said, because, "A society which permits anything will eventually lose everything."
"Many things will not get better until we have better families, but this will require much more self-denial, not less. Most major social and political problems simply cannot be solved without large doses of self-denial; ironically, this is a quality best developed in loving families where the lamp is lit."
Most of the Ten Commandments are self-denying, Elder Maxwell said. "Heavenly Father loves his children perfectly, but he knows our tendencies perfectly, too. To lie, steal, murder, envy, to be sexually immoral, neglect parents, break the Sabbath and to bear false witness - all occur because one mistakenly seeks to please himself for the moment regardless of divine standards or human consequences."
Many who are innocent of gross sins are guilty of smaller ones. "The failure to visit and care for parents is a failure to honor one's father and mother. In its lesser form, the lack of self-restraint causes unkind comments to a spouse," he said. "The tendency to strike back whenever we are offended makes us brusque and rude, as if others were functions, not as brothers and sisters."
Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. By following him, members can learn to deny themselves, Elder Maxwell said.
True love means admitting our mistakes, keeping courtship alive.
Remember the central importance of marriage and pray for its success, Elder Joe J. Christensen admonished married church members during the Sunday morning session.
From the moment of birth until the time of marriage in the temple, everything in the gospel is aimed at preparing members for marriage, he said, quoting Elder Bruce R. McConkie.
Husbands and wives should pray for the success of their marriages. Those not married should pray to not only marry the one they love, but love the one they marry. "We should pray to become more kind, courteous, humble, patient, forgiving, and especially, less selfish," said Elder Christensen, of the Presidency of the Seventy.
Couples should listen attentively to each other and avoid what President Spencer W. Kimball called "ceaseless pinpricking," he said. "Ceaseless pinpricking can deflate almost any marriage. Generally, each of us is painfully aware of our weaknesses, and we don't need frequent reminders. Few people have ever changed for the better as a result of constant criticism or nag-ging."
Keep the courtship alive, be quick to say, "I'm sorry" and live within planned budgets, he advised. "True love is developed by those who are willing to readily admit personal mistakes and offenses," he said.
Finally, husbands should be a true partner in home and family responsibilities. "Don't be like the husband who sits around home expecting to be waited on, feeling that earning the living is his chore and that his wife alone is responsible for the house and taking care of the children. The task of caring for home and family is more than one person's responsibility."