Apostolic asides: 29 brief insights from footnotes Latter-day Saint leaders added to conference talks
In their footnotes, the apostles share personal observations and data about the church, refer to research and reveal details about church policies and practices
SALT LAKE CITY — Yes, Latter-day Saint leaders chiefly use footnotes to their general conference talks to cite scriptures they used, but they also make personal observations, share data about the church, refer to research or describe details about church policies and practices.
There is a lot to learn in these apostolic asides. Here are 29 brief observations culled from the footnotes of the talks by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at last weekend’s 190th Semiannual General Conference.
1. Among the publications cited by church leaders in their footnotes for this conference, in addition to the scriptures and church magazines, were The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Economist, The Atlantic, Christianity Today, the Babylonian Talmud, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the Deseret News, CNN.com and the European Journal of Population and Church News.
2. President Russell M. Nelson wrote one of the footnotes that best qualifies as an apostolic aside: “I have spoken of Israel in at least 378 of the more than 800 messages I have delivered during my 36 years as an apostle,” he wrote in the first footnote to his Sunday morning talk, “Let God prevail.”
3. In the talk itself, President Nelson mentioned that “let God prevail” is one meaning of the word Israel that he learned from Hebrew scholars. He added a footnote to point out that the word Israel appears more than 1,000 times in the scriptures. Then he added that “its scriptural use applies to people who are willing to let God prevail in their lives.”
4. To his statement that the gathering of Israel is a “pivotal work,” President Nelson added this footnote: “The Lord has a wonderful way of describing those being gathered. He refers to us collectively as his ‘peculiar treasure,’ as his ‘jewels’ and as a ‘holy nation.’”
5. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles mentioned in his talk on unity that Latter-day Saint congregations are determined by geography or language, not race. He cited a scripture that “every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel and in his own language,” then added, “Accordingly, language congregation units are usually approved.”
Elder Cook spoke on Saturday. On Sunday, the Pacific Area Presidency held a special meeting to organize a Māori-speaking congregation in the Kaikohe New Zealand Stake, according to ChurchofJesusChrist.org. The Te Peka o Ngapuhi Branch is the first in 70 years to make Te Reo Māori its principal language.
“A new day begins and with it comes an opportunity for Te Reo Māori speakers to express their feelings in the language of their heart,” said the Pacific Area president, Elder Ian S. Ardern. “From this pulpit will be heard expressions that some may have had difficulty to express in any language other than Māori and we applaud that opportunity. The Lord understands Māori and will welcome your prayers, the blessing of the sacrament and your testimonies in Te Reo Māori.”
6. Elder Cook declared that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church’s culture, referring in his talk to Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the early church members who were Jews and Gentiles influenced by Greek culture. In a footnote, he wrote that the restoration illuminates two doctrines, “a true understanding of faith and the elaboration of the purpose of Jesus Christ’s Atonement. Romans contains the only mention of the Atonement in the New Testament. I came to appreciate the epistle to the Romans for unifying diverse people through the gospel of Jesus Christ when I served as a stake president with members from numerous races and cultures speaking many different languages.”
7. In his address, “We Talk of Christ,” Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted that nearly every page of the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ and his mission. He cited Susan Easton Black’s “Finding Christ Through the Book of Mormon,” which his footnote says found 101 different names for Christ and a reference to him in every 1.7 verses. In the same footnote, he included a quote from President Nelson’s October 1996 conference talk in which he said any form of atone or atonement appears once in the King James Version of the New Testament but 35 times in the Book of Mormon.
8. Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Twelve taught that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ do not want their children to be tormented by mistakes from which they have repented, “thinking of them as wounds that never heal ...” In his footnotes, he quoted an April 2015 talk by President Boyd K. Packer: “... when the repentance process is complete, no scars remain because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. ... (T)he Atonement ... can wash clean every stain no matter how difficult or how long or how many times repeated. The Atonement can put you free again to move forward, cleanly and worthily, to pursue that path that you have chosen in life.”
9. I noted in a previous column that Elder Gerrit W. Gong, a member of the Twelve, provided a statistic I’d long tried to obtain, the number of nations and territories with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said the number is 196, and his footnote said those nations and territories include entities such as Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa. For perspective, the United Nations has 193 member states while another footnote provided by Elder Gong mentioned Pew research conducted in 230 countries and territories.
10. Elder Gong’s footnotes elaborated on statistics about church membership that he shared in his talk. After he said there are three countries with more than 1 million church members — the United States, Mexico and Brazil — he also said 23 countries have more than 100,000 members. In his footnotes, he listed them — the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Philippines, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Canada, United Kingdom, Honduras, Nigeria, Venezuela, Australia, Dominican Republic, Japan, El Salvador, New Zealand, Uruguay, and Nicaragua.
11. The next country to reach 100,000 church members may be Paraguay, he said in the same footnote, which now has 96,000 church members.
12. To teach how God uses adversity to bring about his purposes, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve shared the history of how the pioneers hid the Salt Lake Temple site from a U.S. Army, only to uncover it later and discover cracks in the initial sandstone foundation. They replaced the sandstone with granite to last for generations. His footnote points out that the stone used in the temple’s construction that Latter-day Saints commonly refer to as granite actually is quartz monzonite.
13. Elder Uchtdorf’s footnote portrays his strong belief that youth and young adults have a terrific role model in the Biblical story of Joseph sold into Egypt. In his talk, he briefly recounted how Joseph was “thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, betrayed and abandoned.” God used that adversity “to strengthen “Joseph’s character and put him in a position to save his family.” Elder Uchtdorf elaborated in two apostolic asides. The first said that Joseph was perhaps as young as 17 when sold into slavery by his brothers, and 30 when he entered Pharaoh’s service. Then he noted personally: “Can you imagine how difficult it was for a young man in his prime to be betrayed, sold into slavery, falsely accused and then imprisoned? Joseph certainly is a model for not only the youth of the church but to every man, woman and child who desire(s) to take up the cross and follow the Savior.”
14. His second footnote on Joseph shares an alternate translation of Psalm 105:17-18, which changes the phrase about Joseph’s feet being bound in iron to this: “They have afflicted with fetters his feet, iron hath entered his soul.” Elder Uchtdorf again added a personal aside: “To me, this suggests that Joseph’s hardships gave him a soul as strong and resilient as iron — a quality he would need for the great and unimaginable future the Lord had in store for him.”
15. Relatedly, President Nelson provided his own apostolic aside about adversity in a footnote to his Sunday morning talk, noting that “Being of Israel is not for the faint of heart. To receive all the blessings that God has in store for Abraham’s seed, we can each expect to be given our own unique ‘Abrahamic test.’ God will test us, as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, by wrenching our very heartstrings.”
16. Church leaders spoke of the ebbing tide of faith in Jesus Christ in the world. Four of them mentioned it, with three citing research in their footnotes.
17. Some 30 million people have stepped away from belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ over the past 10 years, Elder Andersen said in his talk. One of his footnotes cited Pew Research Center data that 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians, down 12 percentage points in the past decade. Conversely, the share of the religiously unaffiliated has grown from 17% to 26%.
18. In a second footnote, he showed the differences between generations — 84% of the Silent Generation call themselves Christians, as do 76% of baby boomers, while only 49% of millennials do so. “In the days ahead, those who believe in Jesus Christ will need the friendship and support of one another,” he said in his talk. “As the world speaks less of Jesus Christ, let us speak more of him.”
19. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve also addressed the subject in his talk, saying, “A growing number of people consider that belief in and allegiance to God are not needed for moral uprightness in either individuals or societies in today’s world.” He cited a new “Foreign Affairs” article titled “Giving Up on God: The Global Decline of Religion.”
20. Both Elder Christofferson and Elder Gong also cited Pew research with some positive insights about global belief. In his footnotes, Elder Gong noted Pew data that showed 5.8 billion people were religiously affiliated as of 2010; that was 84% of the world’s population of 6.9 billion at the time. Elder Christofferson cited new Pew research published this summer that majorities in emerging economies still connect belief in God to morality.
21. Though it wasn’t in a footnote, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made a similar clear statement about pressing forward during what he described as an age of “widening divergence between the ways of the Lord and the world” and increasing polarization. “Faithfulness is not foolishness or fanaticism,” he said. In the same vein, President Nelson on Saturday night said, “Our ultimate security comes as we yoke ourselves to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ! Life without God is a life filled with fear. Life with God is a life filled with peace.”
22. While Elder Christofferson catalogued some of the sustainable values that religion instills in societies, Elder Gong added a list of them in his footnotes. Here’s what he wrote there: “Religious virtues and values anchor and enrich civil society; inspire community, civil engagement, social cohesion, service and volunteerism; foster justice, reconciliation and forgiveness, including helping us to know when and how to hold on and to let go, to know when and what to remember and to forget.”
23. President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, delivered a muscular rebuke of both historic and current American racism. He said that Black Americans today have suffered injustices in racist public actions and personal attitudes and said Latter-day Saints “must do better to help root out racism.” He said peaceful protest is a constitutional right but denounced violence and property damage and theft by protesters and quoted Joseph Smith’s teaching about love, “It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love — show forth our kindness unto all mankind.”
In his footnote to that teaching, President Oaks quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
24. C.S. Lewis was quoted in a talk footnote by Sister Michelle D. Craig, the first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, who spoke about how faithful people can follow Christ’s example and really see others — “their needs, their faith, their struggle and who they can become.” Her footnote was a quote from Lewis’ 1949 book, “The Weight of Glory”: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. ... There are no ordinary people.”
25. President Nelson offered insight into church policy and practice about patriarchal blessings in a separate footnote to his Sunday morning talk: “Each faithful member may request a patriarchal blessing. Through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the patriarch declares that person’s lineage in the House of Israel. That declaration is not necessarily a pronouncement of his or her race, nationality, or genetic makeup. Rather, the declared lineage identifies the tribe of Israel through which that individual will receive his or her blessings.”
26. The church has published 192 million copies of all or part of the Book of Mormon in 112 languages, Elder Gong said in his talk. In his footnote, he added, “Additional translation languages continue the promise that every man and woman will ‘hear the fulness of the gospel in (their) own tongue ... and ... language.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 90:11)
27. Elder Gong showed the mural by Greg Newbold formed by the covers of the four volumes of “Saints,” the new, official narrative history of the church. Two of the four volumes have been published, and Elder Gong’s footnote shared the titles of each volume and their source: “The titles of the four volumes of ‘Saints’ come from the inspired testimony declaration of the Prophet Joseph in the Wentworth letter — ‘The Standard of Truth’; ‘No Unhallowed Hand’; ‘Boldly, Nobly, and Independent’; and ‘Sounded in Every Ear.’”
28. “A place of security is anywhere you can feel the presence of the Holy Ghost and be guided by him,” President Nelson said during the women’s session Saturday night. “When the Holy Ghost is with you, you can teach truth, even when it runs counter to prevailing opinions.” He added this in a footnote to the first of those sentences: “Eliza R. Snow taught that the Holy Ghost ‘satisfies and fills up every longing of the human heart. ... When I am filled with that Spirit, my soul is satisfied, and I can say in good earnest, that the trifling things of the day do not seem to stand in my way at all. ... Is it not our privilege to so live that we can have this constantly flowing into our souls?’”
Elder Scott Whiting, a General Authority Seventy, taught a clear sermon on how to begin “a thoughtful, deliberate and intentional pursuit of becoming” like Christ. In doing so, he pointed out the footnote attached to Matthew 5:48 in the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible that shows alternate Greek meanings for perfect: completed, finished, fully developed. In his footnotes, Elder Whiting quoted an 1896 Christian novel, “In His Steps,” by Charles M. Sheldon: “If our definition of being a Christian is simply to enjoy the privileges of worship, be generous at no expense to ourselves, have a good, easy time surrounded by pleasant friends and by comfortable things, live respectably and at the same time avoid the world’s great stress of sin and trouble because it is too much pain to bear it — if this is our definition of Christianity, surely we are a long way from following in the steps of him who trod the way with groans and tears and sobs of anguish for a lost humanity; who sweat, as it were, great drops of blood, who cried out on the upreared cross, ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me.’”
BONUS NOTE: I looked up the first time that footnote to Matthew 5:48 was mentioned in general conference, and it turns out that it was first noted by then-Elder Russell M. Nelson in an October 1995 talk in which he said he recently had studied the Greek edition of the Bible. He said “perfect” was “translated from the Greek teleios, which means ‘complete.’ Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means ‘end.’ The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means ‘to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.’” He said it implies “achieving a distant objective.” Christ’s final words on the cross were, “It is finished.” President Nelson said, “Not surprisingly, the Greek word from which finished was derived is teleios.”