The purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to prepare God’s children for exaltation and the eternal family life promised by its restored sealing power, leaders said Saturday during the faith’s 193rd Semiannual General Conference.

Speakers also thanked the millions of Latter-day Saints for their faithful efforts to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ and called for thousands of additional senior missionaries to spread the good news throughout the world.

President Russell M. Nelson, who turned 99 on Sept. 9 and fell and hurt his back soon after, watched the session from home. Prayers were said on his behalf and speakers quoted his teachings repeatedly. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who is recuperating from health issues, also watched conference from home.

Others described how to develop spiritual gifts, said that paying tithing is a way to put God before self and reiterated the church president’s charge to abandon prejudice in all its forms.

The 18 Saturday speakers, made up of general authorities and general officers of the 17-million-member global faith, brought gospel messages to 195 countries in 70 languages, through broadcast and internet media.

Latter-day Saint doctrine differs from others because it offers an afterlife of glory for all, but it is centered on binding loving families together forever in the highest glory, President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency said Saturday morning.

“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.’”

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Leaders testify of the purpose of the church and the celestial opportunity offered to all

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.”

Among the 17 other speakers on Saturday were five apostles, eight General Authority Seventies and three general officers of the church.

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

Elder Bednar thanked everyday Latter-day Saints for their indispensable contributions to the church. He shared a phrase from the Book of Mormon prophet, Samuel the Lamanite, to talk about church members “in the path of their duty.”

“I am grateful for millions of church members who today are coming unto the Savior ... 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 described those 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 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. Without it, he said, families would dissolve after death and eternity would be a “free-floating disconnected state of individuals.”

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.”

  • “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.”
  • “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 August funeral of Sister Patricia Holland, the late wife of Elder Holland.

  • “In time, Patricia and Jeffrey will be reunited,” President Nelson said. “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.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Everything that each person has comes from God, and disciples of Christ recognize that they should willingly share with others, Elder Andersen said, in part by faithfully paying tithing — 10% of their increase.

God will open the windows of heaven to those who do, he said.

  • “He has promised us that he will protect us from evil. These promises are so certain, the Lord declares, ‘prove me now herewith,’ a phrase found nowhere else in the scriptures.”
  • “The world speaks of tithing in terms of our money, but the sacred law of tithing is principally a matter of our faith. Being honest in our tithes is one way we show our willingness to put the Lord first in our lives, above our own cares and interest. I promise you, that as you trust in the Lord, the blessings of heaven will follow.”

Tithing helps disciples maintain their priorities, Elder Andersen said.

“Being honest in our tithes is one way we show our willingness to put the Lord first in our lives, above our own cares and interest. I promise you, that as you trust in the Lord, the blessings of heaven will follow.”

See the list Elder Andersen provided of some of the uses for church funds and offerings here.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

  • Elder Rasband called for more senior missionaries — thousands more — during his address on Saturday afternoon: “Mission fields around the world are pleading for your help.”

He described taking his turn in the weekly meeting where mission calls are issued and finding that there were 10 senior missionary couples to fill the 300 requests for senior missionaries from the church’s 411 missions.

  • “As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I ask you to serve as a missionary in the gathering of Israel and perhaps serve again. We need you — we need you,” said an emotional Elder Rasband, who spoke with tears in his eyes.
  • “I pray that the next time I sit down to assign senior couples there will be hundreds of you waiting anxiously for your call,” he said.
  • “What are you doing at this stage of your life?” he asked. “There are so many ways senior missionaries can do what no one else can. You are a remarkable force for good, seasoned in the church and poised to encourage and rescue God’s children.”

He said seniors can learn about ways to serve, what best suits them, where they are needed and how to get ready are available at seniormissionary.churchofjesuschrist.org.

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Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

“Exercising spiritual gifts requires spiritual exercise,” Elder Stevenson said.

  • Your ability to invite and recognize the promptings of the Spirit will develop a step at a time. Becoming more attuned to the language of the Spirit is like learning another language. It is a gradual process that requires diligent, patient effort.”

He provided four ways to invite and recognize the promptings of the Spirit:

  • Stand in holy places — “Our temples and homes are the most sacred of these dedicated spaces. In them we more easily invite and recognize the Spirit. Other holy places include meetinghouses, seminary buildings and institutes, and church history sites and visitor centers.”
  • Stand with holy people — “The Spirit cannot be restrained from attending a gathering of holy people. If you hope to feel the Spirit, be with people where the Spirit can easily dwell.”
  • Testify of holy truths — “As you seek and take opportunities to share your testimony with others, you will create moments to recognize the Spirit for yourself.”
  • Listen carefully to the Holy Spirit — “He can be our constant companion but speaks in subtle, quiet tones.”

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Soares reinvoked President Nelson’s efforts to root out racism and said that as God’s children, all are equal before him.

He said the strong divisions of today can lead toward more prejudice.

  • “It is not uncommon to see people characterizing the way of thinking, acting and speaking of other cultures, races and ethnicities as inferior, making use of preconceived, mistaken and often sarcastic ideas, generating attitudes of contempt, indifference, disrespect and even prejudice against them.
  • “Such attitudes have their roots in pride, arrogance, envy and jealousy, characteristics of a carnal nature which are totally contrary to Christ-like attributes. This conduct is improper for those who are striving to become his true disciples.
  • “In fact, my dear brothers and sisters, there is no place for prejudiced thoughts or actions in the community of Saints.”

He called for unity among Christ’s followers, who should follow the Savior’s example.

  • “He ministered, healed and was always attentive to everyone’s needs, especially those who at the time were considered different, belittled or excluded. He denied none but treated them with equity and love, for he saw them as his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same Father.”

Tamara W. Runia, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency

Sister Runia invited listeners to focus on the larger eternal picture of their lives and stories. Doing so provides perspective that produces hope about and increased love for others, she said.

  • “Because of Christ, it all works out. Everything you and you and you are worried about — it’s all going to be OK! And those who look with an eye of faith can feel it’s going to be OK now.”

She also talked about family struggles, and concerns for family members who fall away from faith.

  • “Remember, families are a God-given laboratory where we’re figuring things out, so missteps and miscalculations are not just possible but probable. And wouldn’t it be interesting if, at the end of our lives, we could see that those relationships, even those challenging moments, were the very things that helped us to become more like our Savior? Each difficult interaction is an opportunity to learn how to love at a deeper level—a Godlike level.”
  • “Let’s admit, in a fallen world, there’s no way to be a perfect spouse, parent, son or daughter, grandchild, mentor, or friend — but a million ways to be a good one.”
  • “It’s the Savior’s work to bring our loved ones back. It’s his work and his timing. It is our work to provide the hope and a heart they can come home to.”

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

Other speakers on the first day of the conference included a member of the presidency of the Seventy, Elder Carlos A. Godoy and seven other General Authority Seventies — Elder Yoon Hwan Choi, Elder Alan T. Phillips, Elder Joaquin E. Costa, Elder Robert M. Daines, Elder Ian S. Ardern, Elder Gary B. Sabin and Elder Joni L. Koch.

Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, also spoke.

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