While Latter-day Saint doctrine offers an afterlife of glory for all, it is centered on binding loving families together forever in the highest glory, a senior leader said Sunday morning in the opening session of the 193rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

God offers all people the privilege to qualify for the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom by becoming fully converted to Jesus Christ’s gospel, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency.

“That highest destination — exaltation in the celestial kingdom — is the focus of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said.

“God’s plan, founded on eternal truth, requires that exaltation be attained only through faithfulness to the covenants of eternal marriage between a man and a woman in the holy temple, which marriage will ultimately be available to all the faithful,” he added.

“That is why we teach that ‘gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose.’”

Other leaders spoke about the importance of the priesthood sealing power that can bind families together in the highest kingdom, expressed gratitude for the service and efforts of millions of church members and encouraged them to nourish their souls daily with faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

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President Nelson participating remotely

The church’s president, Russell M. Nelson, who turned 99 on Sept. 9 and fell and hurt his back soon after, watched the session from home, according to President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, who conducted the morning session. President Nelson is expected to deliver a recorded message later in the conference.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who is recuperating from health issues, is watching the conference from home.

President Dallin H. Oaks speaks during the Saturday morning session on Sept. 30, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Oaks on ‘Kingdoms of Glory’

President Oaks said the church’s 1995 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” clarifies the requirements for exaltation, which is living with God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.

  • “Those who do not fully understand the Father’s loving plan for his children may consider this Family Proclamation no more than a changeable statement of policy,” he said. “In contrast, we affirm that the Family Proclamation, founded on irrevocable doctrine, defines the mortal family relationship where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.”

President Oaks said that Latter-day Saint doctrine also differs because exaltation requires change, not just belief.

  • “In contrast to other preaching, which teaches us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.”
  • “The commandments, ordinances and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Bednar commended everyday Latter-day Saints for their indispensable contributions to the church.

  • “I am grateful for millions of church members who today are coming unto the Savior and pressing forward on the covenant path in the last wagons of our contemporary wagon trains — and who truly are no less serviceable. Your strong faith in Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and your unpretentious, consecrated lives inspire me to be a better man and disciple.
  • “I love you. I admire you. I thank you. And I commend you.”

He said those “in the path of their duty” describes members who sit with the lonely and comfort the suffering, who support loved ones serving in leadership positions, who teach children, who return to the path after sinning and more.

  • “Coming unto Christ by returning to the covenant path from sinful detours into ‘forbidden paths’ is spiritually essential and righteously rigorous,” he said.
  • He also thanked church members who have children: “In an increasingly confused world beset with calamities and misplaced priorities, these courageous souls heed not the secular voices extolling self-centeredness; they reverence the sanctity and importance of life in Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for his children,” he said.”
  • Elder Bednar said there are millions of other examples of people “found in Christ-centered homes and in church units around the world “who offer their ‘whole souls’ unto God,” including those who wish to have children or marry but cannot.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Christofferson also spoke about the importance of the temple sealing of a man and a woman.

  • “The highest and holiest manifestation of the sealing power is in the eternal union of a man and a woman in marriage and the linking of humankind through all their generations,” he said.
  • “No other theology or philosophy or authority can match such an all-inclusive opportunity. This sealing power is a perfect manifestation of the justice, mercy and love of God.”

Without the Latter-day Saint doctrine of sealing, the priesthood power that binds families together forever, families would dissolve after death and eternity would be a “free-floating disconnected state of individuals,” Elder Christofferson said.

  • “Without the sealings that create eternal families and link generations here and hereafter, we would be left in eternity with neither roots nor branches, that is, neither ancestry nor posterity.
  • “This is the ultimate step in gathering the covenant people. It is the highest privilege of your membership in the church of Jesus Christ. I promise that as you faithfully seek that privilege, in time or eternity it will surely be yours.”

Elder Christofferson quoted President Nelson’s talk at the funeral of Sister Patricia Holland in August.

  • “In time, Patricia and Jeffrey will be reunited. They will later be joined by their children and their covenant-keeping posterity to experience the fulness of joy that God has in store for his faithful children. Knowing that, we understand that the most important date in Patricia’s life was not her birth date or her death date. Her most important date was June 7, 1963, when she and Jeff were sealed in the St. George Temple.
  • ... Why is this so important? Because the very reason the earth was created was so families could be formed and sealed to each other. Salvation is an individual matter, but exaltation is a family matter. No one can be exalted alone.”

Elder Christofferson also noted that President Nelson has called the gathering of Israel by the sealing power “the most important thing taking place on earth today.”

He also quoted the late church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said:

  • “I have said many times that if nothing else came out of all the sorrow and travail and pain of the restoration than the sealing power of the holy priesthood to bind together families forever, it would have been worth all that it has cost.”

Sister Amy A. Wright, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency

Peace in Christ after her own cancer diagnosis was the centerpiece of the talk by Sister Amy A. Wright, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency.

  • “I have learned from personal experience that spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord is not only essential but the only way to find true peace and happiness,” she said.

At first, she worried whether she would live or die and what impact that would have on her children.

  • Then she remembered, she said, that “because of Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, if I died, my family would be comforted, strengthened and one day restored. If I lived, I would have access to the greatest power on this earth to help succor, sustain and heal me. In the end, because of Jesus Christ, everything can be OK.”
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She described Mount Carmel in northwestern Israel, which stays green year-round because of regular, tiny amounts of dew, or daily nourishment.

  • “Like the Dews of Carmel, as we seek to nourish our souls ‘with things pertaining to righteousness,’ ‘small and simple things,’ our testimonies and the testimonies of our children will live!” she said.

Sister Wright said she knows church members often ache with questions of the heart. She told them to look to Christ.

  • “Jesus Christ is the ‘hope in thine end.’ Nothing we have, or have not done, is beyond the reach of his infinite and eternal sacrifice. He is the reason why it is never the end of our story.”

Other speakers

  • Elder Robert M. Daines of the Seventy spoke about the desire to see Jesus and feel his love.
  • Elder Carlos A. Godoy of the Presidency of the Seventy, who spoke to those who have fallen away from their faith or are not being as faithful as they should, encouraged them to reconsider and return to actively following Christ.
  • Elder Ian S. Ardern of the Seventy talked about Christ’s injunction to “love they neighbor”: “Despite our every effort, you and I won’t heal everyone, but each of us can be the one who can make a difference for good in the life of someone.”

Other notes

President Eyring also noted the passing of Sister Holland.

“Hers was a life of goodness as she served in various capacities and supported her husband in his many assignments,” he said. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to Elder Holland and to his family.”

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