In an era of change and continued growth, President Gordon B. Hinckley said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in better condition than at any time in its history, but its members are not immune from worldly challenges, including pornography.
Speaking Saturday at the church's 174th Semiannual General Conference, President Hinckley said, "I've been around for nearly 95 years of that history, and I have seen much of it firsthand.
"I am satisfied that there is greater faith, there is a broader measure of service and there is more general integrity among our youth. There is greater vitality in all aspects of the work than we have ever seen before."
President Hinckley's remarks came on the heels of several major announcements, including the naming of two new apostles, plans for new temples in Utah and Idaho, seismic renovation of the Salt Lake Tabernacle and a previously announced $500 million redevelopment project in downtown Salt Lake City.
Yet while temples now dot the Earth and membership growth continues strong, church members engaged in the plague of pornography that has become a growing problem among Latter-day Saints must "plead with the Lord out of the depths of your soul that he will remove" the addiction "that enslaves you."
During an address to LDS males Saturday night, President Hinckley read portions of a letter from a woman whose husband confessed on his deathbed that — despite serving in many "important church callings" — he had lived a "double life" addicted to pornography.
He said he receives such letters from "broken-hearted wives," who are demeaned, criticized and distanced from their husbands by the sleaze that has them tightly in its clutches. He has seen enough such letters that "I am convinced this is a serious problem, ever among us." Quoting statistics about its pervasiveness, President Hinckley said pornography has many victims.
"Children are exploited and their lives are severely damaged. The minds of youth become warped with false concepts. Continued exposure leads to addiction that is almost impossible to break. Men, so very many, find they cannot leave it alone."
He asked the audience to consider whether they could imagine the early apostles of Jesus being involved in such degradation. "No, of course not. . . . We can do better than this. We must do better than this. We are men of the priesthood," but that power will be ineffective "for anyone who engages in the practice of seeking out pornographic material." The stain of such unrepented sin "will continue through life and even into eternity."
Earlier in the day, the 94-year-old church leader quickly removed any suspense Saturday morning among Latter-day Saints over two vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve, one of the church's highest governing bodies. He wasted little time in his opening address naming Elders Dieter F. Uchtdorf and David A. Bednar as apostles.
"You may not know them, but you will get to know them pretty soon," he said.
Elders Uchtdorf and Bednar fill the voids left by the recent deaths of Elders David B. Haight and Neal A. Maxwell. The two deceased apostles were remembered fondly by several quorum members during the conference's opening sessions as the new apostles were welcomed to their ranks.
A native of Germany, Elder Uchtdorf, 63, is a former Lufthansa Airlines pilot and executive. He has served as a member of the Quorums of the Seventy since April 1994.
Elder Bednar, 52, is currently president of Brigham Young University—Idaho, where he is overseeing its transition to a four-year college. Born in San Leandro, Calif., he has served as an area authority seventy since 1997.
In addition to the new apostles, President Hinckley announced the construction of temples in the Salt Lake Valley and Twin Falls, Idaho. He did not reveal the site of the Salt Lake edifice but said it would be announced later. There currently are two temples in Salt Lake County.
Though heavy usage warrants the new building, "It may appear that we are unduly favoring this area," President Hinckley said, noting continued growth may bring another temple to the Salt Lake Valley in the future.
Temples also are under construction in Aba, Nigeria; Helsinki, Finland; San Antonio; Newport Beach and Sacramento, Calif.; and in Samoa, replacing one destroyed by fire.
The number of working temples will reach 130 once those that have been announced are dedicated.
President Hinckley also spoke of the downtown Salt Lake City redevelopment project, which will include retail, housing and education components that will affect the Crossroads Plaza, the ZCMI Center and the Triad Center office complex. He said money for the project will not come from tithing funds but will include income from church businesses, rental income on the property and other sources.
"It is imperative that we preserve the environment around Temple Square," he said.
President Hinckley said the church continues to expand worldwide.
"There is tremendous vitality in the church. It is touching the lives of more and more people every year."
Some 451 meetinghouses of various sizes are under construction around the world.
"We have had long experience in constructing houses of worship, and out of that vast experience we are producing better buildings than have ever previously constructed in this church. They combine beauty with great utility. If they look much the same, it is because that is intended. By following tried and tested patterns, we save millions of dollars while meeting the needs of our people."
Speaking from a seated position due to a pinched nerve in his back, President James E. Faust joined his fellow church leaders in addressing more than 20,000 Latter-day Saints seated in the Conference Center and countless other members around the world via satellite. During his Saturday morning remarks, the second counselor in the church's First Presidency urged members to stand strong with God.
"In an increasingly unjust world to survive and even to find happiness and joy, no matter what comes, we must stand unequivocally with the Lord," he said. "We need to try to be faithful every hour of every day so that our foundation of trust in the Lord will never be shaken."
Elder L. Tom Perry welcomed the two apostles during the Saturday afternoon session, saying the Quorum of the Twelve is a tight-knit group who guide and support each other. Apostles study the gospel together and proclaim it to all who will hear.
"I wish the feeling and respect we have for our council could be transported to every quorum of the church," he said.
Jesus Christ has called prophets, seers and revelators to direct his church in ancient and modern times, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
"Thus the apostolic and prophetic foundation of the church was to bless in all times but especially in times of adversity or danger, in times when we might feel like children, confused or disoriented, perhaps a little fearful, times in which the devious hand of men or the maliciousness of the devil would attempt to unsettle or mislead."
Elder M. Russell Ballard taught that every member of the church must have a personal testimony built upon the foundation of Christ.
Monthly testimony meetings should be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures, Ballard said.
"The profound blessing of having a testimony of these truths cannot be measured or ever taken for granted."
Contributing: Leigh Dethman