Jesus Christ’s pure gospel provides those trying to follow him with healing, security and power against the plagues besetting the world, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told millions Saturday during global broadcasts of the faith’s 191st Semiannual General Conference.

A day after COVID-19 deaths surpassed 700,000 in the United States and 5 million worldwide, the biannual gathering’s return to the vast Conference Center auditorium in Salt Lake City for the first time since the coronavirus emerged was accompanied by ubiquitous reminders of the pandemic.

191st Semiannual General Conference talk summaries and photos
A touching moment between President Nelson and the multicultural choir that performed at conference

But a global pandemic and other natural disasters and plagues leaders described can be met with a global response of faith, church leaders said.

“One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth,” President Russell M. Nelson said. “I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow constitutes pure truth.”

He declared that the church’s general authorities and officers would focus on messages about Jesus Christ, his mercy and his redeeming power, and each of Saturday’s 24 speakers in three conference sessions urged believers to fully embrace and comprehend God’s profound, perfect love for them, and to put prophetic counsel ahead of the world’s norms.

“There has never been a time in the history of the world when knowledge of our Savior is more personally vital and relevant to every human soul,” President Nelson said, adding an invitation to listen to the conference for “pure truth, the pure doctrine of Christ and pure revelation.”

“The pure doctrine of Christ is powerful,” he said. “It changes the life of everyone who understands it and seeks to implement it in his or her life.”

Completely understanding and knowing the unfailing love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for all of God’s children and loving God and one’s neighbor helps with the plagues of mental illness, division, confusion, complexity and distractions, other leaders said.

The remarkable personal story this General Authority Seventy told about mental health in general conference
Familiar venue, voices return for October general conference

Membership and activity in the Church of Jesus Christ adds to personal spirituality, blessing both individual lives and nations, providing opportunities for growth and service, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency.

“Personal disappointments should never keep us from the doctrine of Christ, who taught us to serve, not to be served,” he said, adding that “in service we find heaven-sent opportunities to rise above the individualism of our age.”

Two other senior leaders described faith and belief.

Faith can be an action as simple as asking a question like the prophet Joseph Smith, the answer to which was revelation that changed the world, said President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency.

He said he experiences personal revelation, which he said is available to everyone, by feeling an internal quiet and submission to God’s will, he said.

“To believe,” said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “is to love and follow our Savior and keep the commandments, even in the midst of trials and strife.”

Strife was on the minds of many speakers, who shared heart-rending, personal stories of lost loved ones, mental illness, divorce and more. They connected those stories to God’s love and what Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said distinguishes the Church of Jesus Christ — a living prophet who calms fears and lifts sights.

“That is staggering when you think about it,” Elder Rasband said, “but it is critical to realize that his clear direction will shield us all from the deceit, craftiness and secular ways gaining momentum in the world today,” he said.

Gospel living brings security, comfort in times of heartache, leaders say Saturday afternoon

Elder Rasband repeated the Biblical story of Naaman, who at first balked at a prophet’s direction to wash seven times in the River Jordan to be healed of leprosy.

“The account of Naaman reminds us of the risks of picking and choosing the parts of prophetic counsel that fit our thinking, expectations or today’s norms,” he said. “Our prophet continually points us to our own River Jordans to be healed.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told church members they have a divine responsibility to follow Christ and his prophet with wholehearted, unreserved devotion, to be “all in.”

He said the first great commandment in the universe is to love God completely, “but the first great truth in the universe is that God loves us exactly that way — wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise, with all of his heart, might, mind and strength.”

Each person is beloved by our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon said.

“The Savior’s love for us is unfailing — even when we fail,” she said. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

A world beset by “divisions and subdivisions, sets and subsets ... with more than enough hostility to go around,” Elder Holland said, distracts from and diminishes that love.

Alternately, allowing deity’s love for oneself to dwell in one’s heart is the key to contented, happy living, he added.

“Our Heavenly Father loves us profoundly and perfectly,” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Jesus Christ shares with the Father this same perfect love.”

The two great commandments were a repeated theme expressed by Elder Holland and other speakers throughout the day.

“It is meaningful to observe that Jesus’ compassionate acts were not occasional and mandated manifestations,” Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “... but everyday expressions of the reality of his pure love for God and his children and his abiding desire to help them.”

Following Christ’s example increases a person’s ability to see the virtues in others and decrease judgment of others, making life sweeter, more tender and happier, Elder Soares said.

The sacred covenants and ordinances entered into by Latter-day Saints, like baptism, the endowment and temple sealing, bind them to Jesus Christ and provide security and personal power, Elder David A. Bednar said.

“We are bound securely to and with the Savior as we faithfully remember and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted. And that bond with him is the source of spiritual strength in every season of our lives,” he said.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared powerful stories of simple, plain and precious application of simple gospel principles.

“We are blessed as we exercise care not to allow complexity, so common in the world, to enter into the way we receive and practice the gospel,” he said.

He spoke of “divinely appointed responsibilities.”

“These responsibilities are simple, inspirational, motivating and doable,” he said. “Here they are:”

  1. Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  2. Caring for those in need
  3. Inviting all to receive the Gospel
  4. Uniting families for eternity

Several leaders spoke of self worth and the need not to judge others.

“God’s message is that worthiness is not flawlessness. Worthiness is being honest and trying,” said Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, and a professor in BYU’s Department of Ancient Scripture.

“Ours is not a religion of rationalization nor a religion of perfectionism, but a religion of redemption through Jesus Christ,” Elder Christofferson said. “By his Atonement, our sins are nailed to his cross and we are forgiven and purified.”

Among the personal stories of struggle was one about Elder Moisés Villanueva of Mexico, who joined the Seventy 18 months ago. He lost his brother, sister and brother-in-law to COVID-19 and other causes early this year.

“The Savior has perfect compassion for us,” he said.

He talked about how disciples of Christ should react to afflictions by sharing an example of how Christ reacted to the death of his dear friend, John the Baptist. Christ first sought solitude, but when a multitude found him, he healed their sick and directed his disciples to feed them.

Another General Authority Seventy shared his family’s long struggle with their son’s suicide ideation after severe panic attacks, anxiety and depression forced him to return home early from a mission. The young man and his family fought for his life against his mental illness, said his father, Elder Erich W. Kopischke, a member of the Seventy from Germany.

His son survived, but it took a lot of time, therapy and medical and spiritual care, and he said Latter-day Saints must educate themselves about mental illness and help their children focus on growth rather than shortcomings. Education can lead to understanding, acceptance, compassion and love, he added.

“Educating ourselves about mental illness prepares us to help ourselves and others who might be struggling,” he said. “Open and honest discussions with another will help this important topic to receive the attention it deserves. After all, information precedes revelation.”

The second great commandment, love they neighbor, also received specific focus.

President Oaks said church membership allows one to be a part of global humanitarian relief. The church participated in 1,500 COVID-19 relief projects over the past 18 months, and responded to 933 natural disasters as well as refugee needs in 108 countries, said Sister Sharon L. Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and president of Latter-day Saint Charities.

“The Church of Jesus Christ is under divine mandate to care for the poor. It is one of the pillars of the work of salvation and exaltation,” she said, adding that “The First Presidency has charged us to increase our humanitarian outreach in a significant way.”

Needs also come closer to home, Elder Kopischke said. He and his wife relied on nurturing and ministering from family, friends and other church members during their son’s crisis.

“We need to constantly watch over each other,” he said, speaking from Germany in a pre-recorded address because of pandemic travel restrictions. “We must love one another and be less judgmental — especially when our expectations are not immediately met. We should help our children and youth feel the love of Jesus Christ in their lives, even when they struggle to personally feel love for themselves.”

President Eyring told church members that exercising faith in Christ — and following the prophet — will increase faith across the world. He closed the final Saturday session of conference and his address provided an apt summary of the day’s testimonies of faith, God’s love, and the pure truth spoken of by President Nelson.

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“The more we have the doctrine of Christ in our lives and hearts, the more we feel greater love and sympathy for those who have never had the blessing of faith in Jesus Christ or are struggling to maintain it,” he said.

This weekend’s conference is the fourth since the start of the pandemic but the first time since October 2019 that the international broadcast is originating from the main hall in the Conference Center. The 20,000-seat center remained closed to the public because of the spreading delta variant. Attendance was restricted to the families and guests of the speakers and represented about 2.5% of the center’s capacity.

Saturday marked the return of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, which President Nelson called “a wonderful step forward.”

The choir had not performed in conference since October 2019. Following the group’s new pandemic protocols, half of the choir performed in the morning session. The other half will perform on Sunday. A multicultural choir sang in Saturday’s afternoon session and combined BYU choirs sang in the evening session.

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