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Moving forward: LDS leader reaches out, urges respect

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President Thomas S. Monson issued an appeal Sunday for those who have left the LDS Church to come back, and for church members to respect people whose beliefs differ from theirs.

Speaking Sunday morning during the fourth session of the 178th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said, "Change for the better can come to all. Over the years we have issued appeals to the less active, the offended, the critic, the transgressor — to come back. 'Come back and feast at the table of the Lord and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the Saints.'"

"We reach out to you in the pure love of Christ and express our desire to assist you and to welcome you into full fellowship."

It was his first address to the general church membership since he was announced as president on Feb. 4.

He also continued a theme that his predecessor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, emphasized: kindness to all.

President Monson encouraged Latter-day Saints to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere — including their own families. He said the Savior "went about doing good ... for God was with him. May we follow that perfect example."

"The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours."

He also expressed deep humility at finding himself in his present position, more than 44 years after he was sustained as an apostle in October 1963.

"I assure you that I was humbled by my call to the Twelve at that time. However, as I stand at this pulpit today, I address you from the absolute depths of humility. I feel very keenly my dependence upon the Lord."

He reflected on Saturday morning's solemn assembly, where he was sustained as the 16th president of the church by members worldwide. "As your hands were raised toward heaven, my heart was touched."

President Monson also acknowledged the 15 men who preceded him as church president. "I am grateful for the abiding legacy left by each one of these 15 men." He praised President Gordon B. Hinckley for his foresight and vision to construct the Conference Center, saying his predecessor was loved by all.

Sunday afternoon, he closed the fifth and final session of the conference by recalling details of a recent accident his wife suffered. The two will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in October, he said.

Frances Monson suffered a terrible fall and was in a coma in the hospital for 27 days. "She never moved a muscle," he said. He, his children and grandchildren worried and wept. Then one day she opened her eyes.

"I set a speed record getting to her side," President Monson said. After they exchanged expressions of love, she admitted she had failed to mail their most recent quarterly tax payment, he said, drawing laughter from the audience. He then urged husbands and wives to love and care for each other more attentively.

Sunday's two conference sessions featured 15 sermons on a variety of gospel subjects, including tithing, revelation, prayer, the role of the Twelve apostles, spiritual rebirth, the role of mothers, true religion and more.

President Monson described the messages delivered at conference as "rapid fire," containing a "smorgasbord of faith, love and counsel. ... Let's incorporate it in our lives," he urged.

He asked parents to "show love to your children" and stressed better temple attendance as a way to increase spirituality.

"Brothers and sisters, this has been a wonderful conference. We have been edified and our testimonies strengthened. Let us rededicate our lives to live the gospel," he said.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, sustained Saturday as the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve, told church members Sunday morning that spiritual rebirth "originates with faith in Jesus Christ." He said most people looking for a spiritual rebirth experience "a mighty change of heart" gradually as a spiritual journey, rather than as a sudden, dramatic event.

Even so, "Let us not justify ourselves in a casual effort. Let us not be content to retain some disposition to do evil."

"I plead with my Heavenly Father to sustain me as he ever has, that I might measure up to something that is far beyond my native capacity and be able to focus outwardly upon losing myself in your service," Elder Christofferson said.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke Sunday morning about the "Faith of Our Father." He said such faith goes beyond the sacrifices of valiant pioneers who settled in the Salt Lake Valley, or personal family heritage. He spoke to those who hesitate to join the LDS Church because they feel they may disappoint family members.

"True religion should not originate from what pleases men or the traditions of ancestors but rather from what pleases God, our Eternal Father," he said.

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed the role of that group during Christ's original ministry and in today's restored church.

"We do not hear the priesthood keys being exercised in other Christian churches," he said. "It seems odd that we are described by some as being non-Christian when we are the only ones who have the authority and the organization that (Christ) established.

"The present (members of the) Twelve are very ordinary people. They are not, as the original Twelve were not, spectacular individually, but collectively the Twelve are a power."

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told the audience that those who heard President Monson's Sunday morning address had been "eyewitnesses" to the "settling of the mantle" of leadership on the shoulders of the new president.

After addressing characterizations during the October 2007 conference that LDS views of the Godhead make the faith "non-Christian," Elder Holland said a second claim of critics — that true Christianity has a "closed canon" of scripture — is not supported by scholarly evidence.

Latter-day Saints claim continuing revelation and an open scriptural canon, and careful study of the history of how scripture has been obtained supports the conclusion that God speaks to the faithful of all ages, Elder Holland said.

Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke specifically to young mothers on Sunday afternoon. He suggested ways to help reduce the stress of caring for young children: enjoying the journey, avoiding overscheduling family members, finding time for oneself to cultivate personal interests, and building spirituality through prayer, study and teaching children gospel principles.

He told parents to "take time to listen, to laugh and to play together."

Elder David A. Bednar talked on prayer, urging "meaningful" communication with God.

Elder Robert R. Steuer of the Quorums of the Seventy said Sunday afternoon said "spiritual light must burn within us," if we are to prosper in these marvelous times that lack peace;

Elder Sheldon F. Child of the Quorums of the Seventy said, paying an honest tithing will be the best investment you will ever make.

Sunday afternoon, Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Quorums of the Seventy said the Book of Mormon was a book with a promise, while Elder Lance B. Wickman advised members to "seize today," a time granted unto men to repent, forgive others and serve God.

Elder W. Craig Zwick warned against any compromise with evil. "We will not yield. We cannot yield," he said.

Sister Susan W. Tanner, who was released Saturday as Young Women general president, expressed appreciation for the support of her family. "I delight in, more than I can express, the eternal love and constant help of my husband and the prayers and support of my children and parents during these years of my service."

Mostly cloudy skies and cool temperatures in the lower 50s greeted Sunday conferencegoers, but no moisture fell.

Contributing: Twila Van Leer

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com