SALT LAKE CITY — With an earthquake accounting for the trumpet missing from the hand of the Angel Moroni statue atop the Salt Lake Temple and with the Conference Center empty due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still made international news throughout its two-day, 190th Annual General Conference.
The conference ended on Palm Sunday afternoon with President Russell M. Nelson, the church’s president and prophet, announcing eight new temples, including the first in the Middle East and in the People’s Republic of China. New temples were also announced for Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
That historic announcement came just hours after a Sunday morning session during which he led millions of Latter-day Saints watching on television and the internet in a rare solemn assembly and Hosanna Shout, described as “a sacred tribute to the Father and the Son symbolizing the reaction of the multitude when the Savior made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.”
He also presented Latter-day Saints with a still-rarer new church proclamation to the world, marking the 200-year anniversary of The First Vision, the name given by believers to the visitation of God the Father and Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith in 1820, initiating the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The proclamation is just the sixth in the church’s 190-year history: “We declare that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized on April 6, 1830, is Christ’s New Testament Church restored,” it said in part.
Church members also are looking forward to Good Friday in five days, when President Nelson has invited the world to join in a fast for relief from the coronavirus, and toward Easter next Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The outpouring left members excited throughout the world, expressing gratitude on social media sites and sharing messages with each other. President Nelson himself in concluding remarks highlighted the most important message of the conference:
“The many inspiring components of this April 2020 general conference — and the sacred week that we now begin — can be summarized by two divinely decreed words, “Hear Him,” President Nelson said, referring to the Savior Jesus Christ.
A unique conference
The entire conference originated via broadcast and livestreaming from a nearly empty auditorium in the Church Office Building tower about 200 yards east of the Salt Lake Temple. The Angel Moroni statue atop the temple, damaged in a March 18 earthquake, will be removed over the next few weeks and repaired as part of the four-year temple renovation project.
Church leaders sat yards apart, too, to maintain physical distance during the pandemic, with fewer than 10 present at any time during the weekend’s five conference sessions.
The eight new planned temples are in Bahía Blanca, Argentina; Tallahassee, Florida; Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Benin City, Nigeria; Syracuse, Utah; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Shanghai, People’s Republic of China.
“The plan for a temple in Dubai comes in response to their gracious invitation, which we gratefully acknowledge,” President Nelson said.
“Context for the plan for Shanghai is very important,” he added. “For more than two decades, temple-worthy members in the People’s Republic of China have attended the Hong Kong China Temple. But in July 2019, that temple was closed for long-planned and much-needed renovation.
“In Shanghai, a modest multipurpose meeting place will provide a way for Chinese members to continue to participate in ordinances of the temple — in the People’s Republic of China — for them and their ancestors.
“In every country,” President Nelson explained further, “this church teaches its members to honor, obey and sustain the law. We teach the importance of the family, of being good parents and exemplary citizens. Because we respect the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, the church does not send proselyting missionaries there; nor will we do so now.
“The plan for a temple in Dubai comes in response to their gracious invitation, which we gratefully acknowledge,” — President Nelson.
“Expatriate and Chinese congregations will continue to meet separately. The church’s legal status there remains unchanged. In an initial phase of facility use, entry will be by appointment only. The Shanghai Temple will not be a temple for tourists from other countries.”
The church now has 225 temples either operating, under construction or planned:
- 161 operating temples are closed temporarily due to the pandemic.
- 7 temples are under renovation.
- 43 temples have been announced.
- 14 temples remain under construction.
The church will break ground and begin construction on 18 of the announced temples this year, said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
A new proclamation
President Nelson issued the historic proclamation during the Sunday morning session of the conference in a prerecorded video from the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York, where members believe Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820.
The proclamation declared that the church is “Christ’s New Testament church restored.” (See full proclamation.) It was written jointly by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World” is the sixth proclamation issued by senior church leaders since the church’s origin.
The five previous church proclamations were released in 1841, 1845, 1865, 1980 and 1995. The 1845 and 1980 proclamations also declared the reality of the resurrected, living Christ and the restoration of his church with living prophets.
“When God appeared to Joseph Smith, He introduced His Son, Jesus Christ, and said, ‘Hear Him,’” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Joseph spent the rest of his life hearing Him and following Him. As with Joseph, our discipleship begins with our decision to hear and follow the Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The church, he added, “is structured to provide opportunities to practice the fundamentals of discipleship,” the effort of a lifetime.
President Nelson, the 16th church prophet and president to follow Joseph Smith, had asked members for months to consider how they hear Christ, and it was a chief theme of the conference. He told them Sunday that they can hear him in the scriptures, in the temples, in the whisperings of the Holy Ghost and in the words of the 15 living apostles who spoke in the conference.
“We are to hear the words of the Lord,” President Nelson said, “hearken to them and heed what he has told us.”
After presenting the video release of the proclamation, President Nelson led the church in the solemn assembly to commemorate the First Vision. The solemn assembly included the Hosanna Shout. The first recorded use of the shout was in the Old Testament when it was used to celebrate the original temple in Jerusalem.
That city again shouted hosanna during Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, five days before his death, as recorded in the New Testament. The first time it was used in the Latter-day Saint restoration was in March 1836 at the Kirtland Temple in Ohio.
President Nelson led millions of church members watching in their homes around the world in the sacred tribute to the Father and the Son. During his talk leading up to the shout, he tied the conference to the recent turmoil caused by earthquakes, fires, floods and plagues, saying they have created upheaval that makes gospel truth even more important.
“The increasing darkness that accompanies tribulation makes the light of Jesus Christ shine even brighter,” he said.
“The increasing darkness that accompanies tribulation makes the light of Jesus Christ shine even brighter.” — President Nelson
He asked members to study the proclamation “privately and with your family members and friends. Ponder the truths and think of the impact those truths will have on your life if you will hear them, hearken to them and heed the commandments and covenants that accompany them.”
Restoration of the gospel
Every speaker in the morning session focused on the First Vision and the Restoration.
Ancient prophets prophesied about the Restoration of Christ’s full gospel in the latter days, and Joseph Smith said it “fired the souls” of those early seers, said Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He quoted prophecies of Daniel, Joseph of Egypt, Malachi, the Apostle Paul and John the Revelator.
Another member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he and his wife spent the past six months preparing for this conference’s celebration of the Restoration by imagining themselves in 1820 and looking at the beliefs of the day.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said he and Sister Patricia Holland found they would have wanted to find a truer concept of God, evidence of another testament of Jesus Christ like the Book of Mormon, someone with true priesthood authority and to see temples established again, “with the Spirit, the ordinances, the power and the authority to teach eternal truths, heal personal wounds and bind families together forever,” he said.
“I would have looked anywhere and everywhere to find someone authorized to say to me and my beloved Patricia that our marriage in such a setting was sealed for time and all eternity, never to hear or have imposed on us the haunting curse ‘until death do you part,’” he added.
Elder Holland also looked ahead, beyond the pandemic, to global problems yet to be solved.
“We still have hopes that have not yet been fulfilled,” he said. “Even as we speak, we are waging an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ war with COVID-19, a solemn reminder that a virus 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand can bring entire populations and global economies to their knees. We pray for those who have lost loved ones in this modern plague, as well as for those currently infected or at risk. We certainly pray for those who are giving such magnificent health care. When we have conquered this — and we will — may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught — not terrified they will be shot — and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice.”
He said the key to solving those issues remains “greater devotion to the two greatest of all commandments: to love God by keeping His counsel, and to love our neighbors by showing kindness and compassion, patience and forgiveness. These two divine directives are still — and forever will be — the only real hope we have for giving our children a better world than the one they now know.”
Elder Holland looked forward with hope.
“I testify that the future is going to be as miracle-filled and bountifully blessed as the past has been,” he said. “We have every reason to hope for blessings even greater than those we have already received, because this is the work of Almighty God, this is the church of continuing revelation, this is the gospel of unlimited grace and benevolence.”
Both Elder Holland and Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, the Young Women general president, spoke about the power of the light that appeared in the Sacred Grove when Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820.
“Their light drove back the spiritual darkness that covered the earth and pointed the way forward for Joseph Smith,” Sister Cordon said.
“The Lord’s invitation to let our light so shine is not just about randomly waving a beam of light and making the world generally brighter,” she added. “It is about focusing our light so others may see the way to Christ. It is gathering Israel on this side of the veil. Helping others see the next step forward in making and keeping covenants with God.”
She encouraged members to use the gospel’s light to help others.
“You and I have enough light to share right now,” Sister Cordon said. “We can light the next step to help someone draw nearer to Jesus Christ, and then the next step, and the next. Ask yourself, ‘who needs the light you have to find the path they need but cannot see?’”
Understanding God’s plan
Elder David A. Bednar of the Twelve spoke of the restoration of temples and temple ordinances, including the sealing authority. Temple worship is essential to God’s plan to develop his children, he added, and said Latter-day Saints go to the temple not to escape the evils of the world but “to conquer the world of evil.”
“The essence of the Lord’s work is changing, turning and purifying hearts through gospel covenants and priesthood ordinances,” he said.
Many church members do not fully understand God’s plan of salvation, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency. He became convinced of that because of letters he has received from members and requests he’s reviewed from people wanting to return to the church.
“We who know God’s plan and who have covenanted to participate, have a clear responsibility to teach these truths and do all that we can to further them for others and in our own circumstances in mortality,” he said.
God’s plan provides four assurances, “All are given to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the centerpiece of the plan,” he said. First, the Atonement can cleanse each person from sin. Second, it took on all other mortal infirmities. Third, all will be resurrected. Fourth, progress does not end with death.
Those assurances allow each person “to receive divine help and strength to bear the inevitable burdens of mortality, personal and general, such as war and pestilence,” he said.
“Even in the midst of unique trials and challenges, we are truly blessed,” he added. “This general conference has given us an outpouring of the riches and joy of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have rejoiced in the vision of the Father and the Son that commenced the Restoration.”
Elder Uchtdorf invited all people to “come and belong” to the church.
“Come and see,” he said. “We invite you to come and help. Come and serve with us, ministering to God’s children, following in the footsteps of the Savior and making this world a better place. Come and belong. You will make us stronger. And you will become better, kinder and happier as well.”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve spoke about the need to spread the message of the Restoration to all. “The Restoration belongs to the world, and its message is especially urgent today,” he said.
He told church members that compelling invitations to learn about the gospel require three things: “First, your love; second, your example; and third, your use of the Book of Mormon.”
Elder Uchtdorf also addressed people who have left the church, inviting them back.
“Your Savior, our Savior, tears of love and compassion in His eyes, awaits your return,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “Even when you feel far away from God, he will see you, He will have compassion for you and run to embrace you. Come and belong.”
‘We need you’
The church does indeed want to be reunited with those struggling with their faith or who have left the church, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“We need you,” he said. “The church needs you. The Lord needs you. Our heartfelt prayer is that you will join with us in worshipping the Savior of the world. We know that some of you may have received offense, unkindness or other conduct that is not Christlike. We also know that some have had challenges to their faith that may not be fully appreciated, understood or resolved. ...
“Regardless of your situation, please know that the church and its members will welcome you back.”
Pandemic restrictions precluded the 360-member Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square from performing live at a general conference for the first time since World War II. The church used previous choir recordings and prerecorded music prepared especially for this conference. At the end of the conference, the church broadcast clips of Latter-day Saints around the world singing, “We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet.”
President Nelson closed the conference by expressing his love for viewers and listeners and invoking a blessing on them “during this time of tension and uncertainty.”
“I bless you with peace and increasing faith in the Lord,” he said.