SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided a focus on doctrine with messages of love, healing and hope in 13 talks during Saturday's first two sessions of the faith's 188th Semiannual General Conference.
The church is properly known as a family centered church, but family centeredness "is focused on more than mortal relationships," said President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency. "Eternal relationships are also fundamental to our theology."
He listed three "restored gospel truths" he called fundamental to church doctrine — there is a god, who is the loving Father of all; gender is eternal and "an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity;" and God’s love is so great that "he has provided a destiny of glory for all his children."
Those doctrines, as applied in church policy, often provoke opposition, President Oaks said, which church leaders understand and expect. Social media Saturday included some criticism of President Oaks as he reaffirmed the application of that doctrine, including that marriage is of devine origin between a man and a woman.
He listed five applications of those beliefs in church policy: that the church honors individual agency, that its members are a missionary people, that life is sacred and therefore the church opposes abortion and euthanasia, that the identities of men and women are eternal and therefore there should be no retreat from traditional marriage, and that the nurturing or children is a sacred duty.
Opposition, grief and other hardships are inevitable in life and can become a "furnace of affliction," other speakers said. When they do, those who cultivate steadfastness and practice it can find relief and peace.
When trials do come, said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve, "it is the love of God that rescues, restores and revives."
That's because, he said, Christ's love "isn't a 'gift-card, throw-away, move-on-to-other-things' love" but the one that Heavenly Father has for his children.
"It is this endless compassion that allows us to more clearly see others for who they are," he said. "Through the lens of pure love, we see immortal beings of infinite potential and worth and beloved sons and daughters of Almighty God. Once we see through that lens, we cannot discount, disregard, or discriminate against anyone."
When affliction arrives, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, divine help can make all the difference.
"Without God, these dark experiences tend to despondency, despair, and even bitterness," he said. With God, comfort replaces pain, peace replaces turmoil, and hope replaces sorrow. Remaining firm in the faith of Christ will bring His sustaining grace and support. He will convert trial into blessing... ."
Elder Christofferson urged members to become converted and rely on Jesus Christ, whom he called "the perfect example of stability."
"To persevere firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ requires that the gospel of Jesus Christ penetrate one's heart and soul, meaning that the gospel becomes not just one of many influences in a person's life, but the defining focus of his or her life and character."
Elder Uchtdorf said church members are painfully imperfect but are "trying to get it right." He issued a call for help from those outside the church or estranged from it.
"If you are not a member of the church, I invite you to come and join with us," he said. "If you are a member of the church but presently not participating actively, please come back. We need you! Come, add your strengths to ours. Because of your unique talents, abilities, and personality, you will help us become better and happier. In return, we will help you become better and happier as well. Come, help us build and strengthen a culture of healing, kindness, and mercy towards all of God’s children."
Life can be hard at times for everyone, leading to times of despair and discouragement, said Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve.
"In various times and ways, we all feel inadequate, uncertain, perhaps unworthy," he said. "Yet, in our faithful efforts to love God and to minister to our neighbor, we may feel God’s love and needed inspiration for their and our lives in new and holier ways."
At times, that may require extra effort, he added: "When we have felt, or feel, uncertain, alone, frustrated, angry, let down, disappointed or estranged from God and his restored church, it may take an extra measure of effort and faith to enter again on his covenant path. But it is worth it! Please come, or come again, unto the Lord."
Elder Gong also encouraged members to "remember perfection is in Christ, not in ourselves or in the perfectionism of the world."
Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve said the church "cannot afford to lose even one" new member and asked member to help.
"My beloved companions in the work of the Lord, I believe we can do much better and should do better in welcoming new friends into the church," he said, mentioning his own status as a convert to the church with his wife. "I invite you to consider what we can do to be more embracing, accepting, and helpful to them, starting this very next Sunday."
He provided three suggestions, saying new people need true, loyal friends in the church, an assignment to serve and to be taught how to learn and apply scripture.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve also emphasized following the Lord's path.
He encouraged conference-goers to put aside worldly influences and "love what the Lord loves."
That love, combined with steadfastness, can conquer all fears, he said.
"When we are tentative in our commitments to the Lord, when we stray from his path leading to life eternal, when we question or doubt our significance in his divine design, when we allow fear to open the door to all its companions — discouragement, anger, frustration, disappointment; the Spirit leaves us, and we are without the Lord."