SALT LAKE CITY — President Russell M. Nelson started his administration as the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by pledging to serve God and church members "with every remaining breath of my life."
LDS leaders introduced a new First Presidency on Tuesday in a unique live broadcast from the marriage waiting room in the Salt Lake Temple.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve and chairman of the church's public affairs committee said the quorum met Sunday morning in the temple's upper room and voted unanimously to reconstitute the First Presidency, which had dissolved automatically upon the death of the faith's 16th leader, President Thomas S. Monson, on Jan. 2.
The Twelve sustained, ordained and set apart the senior apostle, President Nelson, 93, as the new prophet and president of the church. He selected President Dallin H. Oaks, 85, as his first counselor and President Henry B. Eyring, 84, as his second counselor.
"I declare my devotion to God our Eternal Father, and to his Son, Jesus Christ," President Nelson said. "I know them, love them, and pledge to serve them — and you — with every remaining breath of my life."
At a press conference following the broadcast, the new First Presidency answered questions about diversity among the leadership, the role of women, challenges facing the international church, LGBT issues and the retention of millennials among.
The First Presidency fielded questions as a group, building on each other's ideas and projecting a memorable image of the new partnership between President Nelson, a pioneer in the field of open-heart surgery; President Oaks, a decorated retired law professor and jurist; and President Eyring, a former Stanford Business School professor.
During the press conference in the lobby of the Church Office Building, with a painting of Christ and his apostles as a backdrop, President Nelson said the church would continue its worldwide missionary and humanitarian work as well as its emphasis on families and temples.
They encouraged increased partnership between the women and men of the church.
"We have women on our councils, we have women administering ordinances in the temple and we have women presidents of the auxiliaries and their counselors," said President Nelson, who has nine daughters. "We depend on their voices."
He referred to his October 2015 talk at a worldwide church general conference, "A Plea to My Sisters." "We need their voices," he added Tuesday, "we need their input and we love their participation with us."
President Nelson said he expects to live to see racial and ethnic diversity in the leading councils of the church, even though those councils aren't intended to be "representative assemblies" of the 188 nations with an LDS presence.
"We are white, and we are American," he said. "But look at our Quorums of the Seventy and look at our leaders locally. Wherever we go, the leadership of the church is from the local communities and those are the real leaders."
He predicted a future with more diversity.
"We’ll live to see the day when there will be other flavors in the mix," he said, "but we respond because we’ve been called by the Lord. Not one of us asked to be here."
President Nelson is expected to call two new apostles to the Quorum of the Twelve between now and April 1, the final day of the church's upcoming general conference. The quorum has two vacancies due to the deaths of Elder Robert D. Hales on Oct. 1 and President Monson.
President Nelson called the church in Brazil a "seed bed" for the leadership of the church worldwide and said remarkable growth and development is also happening in the nations of Africa, Asia and across Latin America, saying, "It just takes time."
Millennials and LGBT
The Associated Press asked the First Presidency to respond to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues. President Nelson and President Oaks said church leaders must continue to balance what they called the love of the Lord for all people with the law of the Lord.
"God loves his children and he wants them to have joy," President Nelson said. "We know that there are challenges with the commandments of God."
President Oaks said church leaders "have the responsibility to teach love and also teach the commandments of God and the high destination that he has prescribed for his children, all of which is embodied in the Plan of Salvation."
President Eyring pushed back when a Deseret News reporter cited research that shows more than one-third of American millennials no longer identify with any religious group. He said as travels the world and meets with young Mormon missionaries, he sees increasing strength.
"There's a power coming in this 'millennial' generation that is in fact remarkable, with greater faith than I can remember," he said. "I thought I had faith when I was an 18-year-old, but I'm seeing 18-year-olds now and some 20-year-olds and 25-year-olds that have rock solid faith.
"It's the best of times for millennials. A lot of people like to talk about, 'How are we going to hold on to them?' I think the thing is, 'How can we hold on to them and not be left behind?' That's what I see of the millennials I spend time with."
Marriage is another way to retain millennials, President Oaks said.
"I also see that the young men and the young women are stronger when they marry and when they are a companionship that the Lord has ordained ... and they go forward strengthening one another, many of the things that the world cites as problems with millennials disappear."
President Eyring agreed, citing scripture — "'It's not good for man to be alone,' and I think particularly a millennial young man."
President Nelson said the First Presidency is time-tested, with more than 90 years of apostolic service, which will allow them to offer time-tested guidance to young people.
Lift where stand
President Oaks technically is the president of the Quorum of the Twelve because he is second in seniority. However, since he is serving in the First Presidency the third in seniority, President M. Russell Ballard, 89, is the new acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
LDS apostles serve for life. Three form the First Presidency. Twelve more make up the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 77, who had served as the second counselor to President Monson in the First Presidency, returned to the Quorum of the Twelve.
During a news conference President Nelson said he has given Elder Uchtdorf major new assignments unique to his abilities.
Afterward, Elder Uchtdorf said, "It is like a talk I gave in 2008 called 'Lift Where You Stand.' That will apply here."
He also referred to the worldwide Young Adult devotional he delivered with his wife, Harriet, on Sunday night, during which he said life is like neo-impressionistic art. He said events in life can seem like unconnected dots but eventually reveal a grand design guided by God.
Sunday's reconstitution of the First Presidency ended the 12-day apostolic interregnum in place since President Monson's death. The Quorum of the Twelve administered until President Nelson was set apart.
This apostolic administration was the longest since 1889, when 20 months passed during the transition from President John Taylor to President Woodruff.
President Nelson said the church's system of leadership is divinely mandated and wise. It takes decades for the junior apostle to become the senior apostle and church president. For him, it took nearly 34 years.
"Each day of an apostle's service is a day of learning and preparing for more service in the future," he said, adding that "during that time he gains insight into each facet of the church."
President Oaks was called as an apostle at the same time as President Nelson in 1984, but ordained several weeks afterward because a work assignment outside Utah kept him from attending the general conference where he was called.
Church leaders said Tuesday's broadcast from the temple was an attempt to speak directly to the faith's 16 million members.
"I give you my assurance that regardless of the world’s condition and your personal circumstances," President Nelson told them, "you can face the future with optimism and joy — if you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel."
"This is a great time in the history of the church," President Eyring added, "and yes, the best is yet to come."
The broadcast provided live translation services in 29 languages on multiple church channels.
President Nelson invited those outside the church to see if the church could add knowledge, perspective and hope to their lives. He said the church has answers to "the most compelling and complicated challenges facing us today."
After President Nelson's first two public appearances as the church's new leader on Tuesday morning, he lingered for 30 minutes. One by one, he greeted dozens of his family members — he has 10 children, 57 grandchildren and 116 great grandchildren, giving them hugs and holding their faces in his hands.
Finally, he posed for a photograph with them — more than 130 were present — in front of a 66-foot-long mural of Christ with his apostles that seemed to have been sized just for the moment and his family.