Each general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints constitutes another milestone in the continuing growth and development of this international institution with a worldwide message.
So it was with the church's 165th Annual General Conference this past weekend with the formal sustaining of President Gordon B. Hinckley as the faith's 15th president and the calling or elevation of six general authorities.Elder Henry B. Eyring, who had been serving in the First Quorum of the Seventy, was called to serve as a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. Elevated from the Second Quorum of the Seventy to the First Quorum were Elders David E. Sorensen, Jay E. Jensen, and John B. Dickson. Also called to the First Quorum was W. Craig Zwick of Salt Lake City. Named to the Second Quorum was Bruce D. Porter of Provo.
Among other conclusions that can be drawn from these appointments is the great emphasis the LDS Church puts on education - a characteristic that has marked the church from its beginnings.
As the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve, former Ricks College President Eyring joins former Brigham Young University presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland as well as Elder Boyd K. Packer, former supervisor of LDS Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, and Elder Neal A. Maxwell, former Church commissioner of education. Elder Jensen has served as director of curriculum for the Church Educational System, while Elder Porter is an associate professor at BYU.
By personal example, these men and many of their associates in the various councils of the church have lived as well as taught the key principles that knowledge is eternal, that learning plays a vital role in the spiritual and moral as well as the intellectual development of humankind, and that more education should be accompanied by more righteous living.
Indeed, as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes, "members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have earned advanced degrees are more likely to be deeply involved in religious practices and activity in the Church, both from a personal standpoint and in rendering service in their Church."
Another significant point about the past weekend's general conference involves the well-known trend by which the LDS Church becomes larger and its membership more far-flung.
Since 1980, total membership has increased from 4,638,861 to 9,024,569 today. With greater growth comes greater challenges.
One of those challenges, as the gospel of Christ is spread to more parts of the world, is to learn to love people everywhere just as the Savior himself loves them.
Another challenge, as the LDS Church acquires more new members with increasingly diverse backgrounds and personal circumstances, is to maintain unity of principle and purpose.
Both challenges can be mastered if people everywhere look beneath their surface differences and see each other as they really are - all children of the same Eternal Father who requires us to love each other as He loves all of us.
The extent to which this task is accomplished is the extent to which future general conferences will continue to mark the progress of the LDS Church not just through numerical growth but through the spiritual advancement of its individual members.