SALT LAKE CITY — The 89-year-old president of the LDS Church stood Saturday night and in a short address asked Mormon men to make sure they are kind.
President Thomas S. Monson spoke during the general priesthood session of the faith's international general conference and said, "Brethren, we do not honor the priesthood of God if we are not kind to others."
That theme resonated throughout the second day of the 187th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other leaders said church members must guard against hate and bigotry and should be inclusive. They also said anyone can draw power and healing into their lives by working to become genuine disciples of Jesus Christ and to develop charity.
It is human tendency to be self-righteous, judgmental, hateful or bigoted, said Elder Dale G. Renlund, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Christ helped, lifted and ate with sinners instead of flinching at the sight of them or dodging them, He treated others with love, compassion and empathy, "regardless of any outward characteristic or behavior."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said diversity was divinely intended and that the church, which has congregations in more than 180 nations and publishes in 188 languages, has room for people from diverse cultures.
"There is room for the single, the married, for large families and for the childless," he said. "There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions. In short, there is a place for everyone who loves God and honors his commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior, for if love of God is the melody of our shared song, surely our common quest to obey him is indispensable harmony in it."
President Monson suggested the quest could begin now with self-examination.
"Brethren, let us examine our lives," he said, "and determine to follow the Savior's example by being kind, loving and charitable."
Once believers decide to follow the Savior's example, they can gain power to develop charity by studying his life and teachings, said President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Understanding Christ's atoning sacrifice as "the central act of all human history" is so important, he said, that talking about the Atonement without reference to Christ's role is doctrinally incorrect. He is the source of succor, healing, forgiveness and power.
Understanding Christ's compassion and love unlocks the ability to repent and be healed through him, several leaders said.
"He does not want mindless, obedient followers," Elder Renlund clarified. "No, our Heavenly Father desires that his children knowingly and willingly choose to become like him and qualify for the kind of life he enjoys."
Once a goal is set and study is underway, there is no substitute for true and humble service, said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency. No one can "power-lunch" their way to eternal glory, he added. Instead, he said the best counsel is to not take yourself too seriously.
Those who exercise such faith in Christ will develop a constellation of characteristics that will strengthen followers, promised Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He called charity the defining characteristic. Genuine discipleship, then, is not following, he said. It is a state of being.
"Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry," he said. "There will be no disparity between the kindness we show our enemies and the kindness we bestow on our friends."
Feeling some inadequacy is normal, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, told priesthood holders. Feeling overwhelmed is a good sign, he added, "because you want to improve" and because it conveys the magnitude of God's trust.
Like President Monson, he asked members to begin with introspection that leads to knowing they can do more and that they want to do more, followed by accepting Christ's invitation to walk with him. He shared three lessons from his 72 years of priesthood service. First, no one is too small or insignificant for God to notice the service given in his name. Second, "the Lord’s work is not just to solve problems; it is to build people." Third, "walking with the Savior in priesthood service will change the way you look at others."
Charity by definition flows outward, several leaders said.
"As his disciples," Elder Renlund said, "let us fully mirror his love and love one another so openly and completely that no one feels abandoned, alone or hopeless. He added, "We must not be guilty of persecuting anyone inside or outside the church."
Elder Holland said this pattern has the power to change the toughest problems.
"The declarations of heaven cry out to us that the only way complex societal issues can ever be satisfactorily resolved is by loving God and keeping his commandments," he said, "thus opening the door to the one lasting, salvific way to love each other as neighbors."
He expressed hope that the world will "harmonize across all racial and ethnic lines" and declared "that guns, slurs and vitriol are not the way to deal with human conflict."
Developing an all-encompassing love for Christ allows his disciples to "overcome the world," said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Twelve. Some beliefs will be ridiculed, he said, but "a disciple of Christ is not alarmed if a post about her faith does not receive 1,000 likes or even a few friendly emojis. Overcoming the world is being less concerned with our online connections and more concerned with our heavenly connection to God."
"Church leaders cannot," Elder Renlund added, "alter God's commandments or doctrine, contrary to his will, to be convenient or popular."
That does not license church members to be rude or confrontational, he said. Mormon history is full of examples of others treating Latter-day Saints with hate, persecution and bigotry.
"How ironically sad it would be if we were to treat others as we have been treated," he said, adding, "For us to ask for respect, we must be respectful."
The power of Christ's Atonement empowers disciples, said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve.
"As we increase our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s power to give rest unto our souls by forgiving sins, redeeming imperfect relationships, healing the spiritual wounds that stifle growth, and strengthening and enabling us to develop the attributes of Christ," he said, "we will more deeply appreciate the magnitude of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ."
God never intended believers to face alone the maze of personal problems and social issues presented by a complex, turbulent world, President Nelson said, adding that divine help can be accessed by spiritually stretching toward Christ like the woman who physically stretched to touch the hem of his robe. Spiritual stretching includes study of Christ's life and teachings.
"There is nothing easy or automatic about becoming such powerful disciples," President Nelson said. "Our focus must be riveted on the Savior and his gospel. It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto him in every thought."
President Nelson also called on Mormons to share their beliefs.
"True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand up, speak up and be different from people of the world. They are undaunted, devoted and courageous."
Elder David A. Bednar provided a "spiritually potent" pattern of preparation and progression for sons of God: priesthood, temple, mission. Fulfilling duties in the Aaronic, or lesser priesthood, commonly received by boys of age 12, prepares them for the Melchizedek or higher priesthood and going to the temple, which prepares them for mission service. He asked them to learn to love being and remaining worthy for each step.
President Eyring reported a large increase in the number of LDS teenagers with limited-use temple recommends who are attending the temple. Temple baptistries, he said, are busier than ever, and some temples have had to adjust their schedules to accommodate the increased activity. It now is normal for youth to bring names of their own ancestors to the temple.
"The youth have caught the vision admirably," he said. "Now their parents need to catch up."
"Families are at the heart of his plan," President Eyring said, and Mormons are all gatherers trusted by God to do temple work for their ancestors to help him gather and reunite his children in heaven through sacred covenants performed in the temple.
"This is the work of our generation," he said.
Elder Mark A. Bragg, a general authority Seventy, said church members should not allow the church's critics to hurt them.
"This is a wonderful time to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," he said. "The church is stronger than it has ever been and quite literally grows stronger each day as new members join us, new congregations are formed, new missionaries are called and new territories are opened to the gospel."
The church now has 15.8 million members. (See accompanying story.)
President Monson, the church's leader since 2008, presided at the morning and evening meetings. He did not attend the middle session to conserve his energy, a church spokesman said. Some 60,000 people attended the three sessions. Millions more watched and listened to broadcasts.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided the music Saturday morning. A family choir from the Bear River Valley in northern Utah sang in the afternoon. A priesthood choir from the Salt Lake Valley sang during the evening session. The conference concludes Sunday with two general sessions at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Visit the Deseret News LDS General Conference page for more conference coverage, including summaries of each talk.