Strengthening spiritual foundations needed to withstand the coming storms, church leaders say
President Russell M. Nelson: ‘How firm is your foundation? And what reinforcements to your testimony and understanding of the gospel are needed?’
The Salt Lake Temple weighs 187 million pounds, and President Russell M. Nelson said Sunday that Latter-day Saints must match the extraordinary effort to reinforce the pioneer-era foundation that carries that weight by strengthening their own spiritual foundations during unprecedented times.
He illustrated that message on the final day of the 191st Semiannual General Conference with a striking video of his visit to the renovation site in May.
“We are sparing no effort to give this venerable temple, which had become increasingly vulnerable, a foundation that will withstand the forces of nature into the Millennium,” President Nelson said. “In like manner, it is now time that we each implement extraordinary measures — perhaps measures we have never taken before — to strengthen our personal spiritual foundations.”
The message was a continuation of calls President Nelson has made repeatedly to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during eight general conferences as church president to buttress themselves against current and coming challenges to spirituality and faith.
“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures,” he said Sunday.
Once again, President Nelson invited listeners to center their lives on Jesus Christ and temple ordinances and covenants, encouraging them to attend the temple more often. He said there will be no safer place during an earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley than inside the temple when the renovation work is done.
“Likewise, whenever any kind of upheaval occurs in your life, the safest place to be spiritually is living inside your temple covenants,” which bind Latter-day Saints securely to Christ, he said.
President Nelson closed the conference by announcing 13 new temples to increase members’ access to temple attendance and blessings centered on Christ, including first temples for Madagascar and Liberia and second temples for Rexburg, Idaho, and Santiago, Chile.
“Nothing invites the Spirit more than fixing your focus on Jesus Christ,” he said.
The two Sunday sessions of the virtual global conference reached millions via broadcast and livestreaming, originating from the Conference Center across the street from the Salt Lake Temple. The temple’s spires have been removed and stored, the towers are surrounded by scaffolding and the foundation exposed for the work to strengthen them.
Construction workers began the major seismic strengthening process last month, inserting massive steel pipes below its existing foundations. The renovation, announced in April 2019, began in January 2020. Cranes temporarily removed the Angel Moroni statue in May of that year. Upcoming work includes installing a base isolation system under the temple to protect it from earthquakes.
One apostle reminded the conference that President Nelson promised three years ago that one way to increase faith and spiritual power is to give rigorous attention to the correct name of the church and its focus on Christ.
“The influence of the restored Church of Jesus Christ will not only be upon those who are members of the church,” Elder Neil L. Andersen said. “Because of the heavenly manifestations in our day, because of the sacred scripture restored to the earth and the powerful gift of the Holy Ghost, we will be a shining light on the hill as the somber shades of disbelief in Jesus Christ darken the world. Although many may allow the world to cloud their faith in the Redeemer, we will ‘not be moved out of (our) place.’”
The church has renamed more than 1,000 church products and websites to remove “Mormon” and “LDS” and focus on the Church of Jesus Christ. Elder Andersen predicted those changes will bear fruit.
“Christians, who are not among our membership, will welcome our role and our sure witness of Christ,” he said. “Even those Christians who have viewed us with skepticism, will embrace us as friends. In these coming days, we will be called by the name of Jesus Christ.”
Other senior church leaders shared messages about unity, order and straight paths.
Church members can access personal peace and restoration in daily life, two apostles said. That is increasingly difficult, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- “In my lifetime, I have never seen a greater lack of civility. We are bombarded with angry contentious language and provocative, devastating actions that destroy peace and tranquility.”
Those conditions only make seeking peace more vital, he said.
- “Universal peace was not part of the Savior’s initial mortal ministry. Universal peace does not exist today. However, personal peace can be achieved despite the anger, contention, and division that blights and corrupts our world today. It has never been more important to seek personal peace.”
He suggested five “works of righteousness” to help members find peace among disputation and contention:
- First, love God, live his commandments and forgive everyone.
- Second, seek the fruits of the spirit.
- Third, exercise agency to choose righteousness
- Fourth, build Zion in our hearts and homes.
- Fifth, follow the current admonitions of the prophet, President Nelson.
Human beings tend to wander, a fact proved in a study that showed people without landmarks walk in circles, said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Unlike the wandering test subjects, we have reliable, visible landmarks that we can use to evaluate our course,” he said.
He noted that the restoration of the gospel and church is an ongoing process, and the same applies to individual lives. He prescribed what he called an ongoing daily infusion of heavenly light — regular prayer, pondering scriptures and self-introspection.
“Think of it as your personal, daily restoration,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “... We all drift from time to time, but we can get back on course. We can navigate our way through the darkness and trials of this life and find our way back to our loving Heavenly Father if we seek and accept the spiritual landmarks he has provided ... and strive for daily restoration.”
Latter-day Saints have not been immune to divisions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has served as a spiritual stress test for the church and its members, said Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- “The results are likewise mixed,” he said. “... In some instances, the spiritual stress test has shown tendencies toward contention and divisiveness. This suggests that we have work to do to change our hearts and to become unified as the Savior’s true disciples. This is not a new challenge but it is a critical one.”
Elder Renlund said contention in the church is harmful in two ways. It can be harmful to the Lord’s latter-day work, and it can be harmful to the individual.
- “First, contention weakens our collective witness to the world of Jesus Christ and the redemption that comes through His ‘merits, ... mercy and grace,’ ... and everyone knows that we are not his disciples when we do not show love one to another.”
- “Second, contention is spiritually unhealthy for us as individuals. We are robbed of peace, joy, and rest and our ability to feel the Spirit is compromised.”
Those who are quick to take offense or respond to a difference of opinion by becoming angry or judgmental fail the spiritual stress test, he said.
- “If we are not one, we are not his. My invitation is to be valiant in putting our love of God and discipleship of the Savior above all other considerations. Let us uphold the covenant inherent in our discipleship — the covenant to be one.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve added his voice to those calls for unity.
- God “invites us to make our congregations, quorums, classes and activities open, authentic, safe — home for each other,” he said. “With kindness, understanding and mutual respect, we each humbly seek the Lord and pray and welcome his restored gospel blessings for all.”
He spoke to listeners whose trust has been broken — with themselves, others or God. He said the disappointment and disillusionment when trust is broken is.
- “So is the need for discernment to know when faith and courage are merited to trust again in human relations,” he said.
He promised that God is always coming to meet them.
- “In him we can find faith and courage, wisdom and discernment, to trust again,” Elder Gong said. “Likewise, he asks us to keep the light on for each other, to be more forgiving and less judgmental of ourselves and each other, so his church can be a place where we feel at home, whether we are coming for the first time or returning.”
Primary General President Camille N. Johnson invited listeners to allow Jesus Christ to author their stories instead of writing comfortable narratives for themselves.
- “Why do we want the Savior to be the author and finisher of our stories? Because he knows our potential perfectly, he will take us to places we never imagined ourselves. ... He will stretch us and refine us to be more like him.”
Bishop L. Todd Budge, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said humanitarian donations to the church not only increased in 2020 despite the pandemic but rose to the highest level in history.
That allowed the church to engage in 1,500 COVID-19 relief projects in 150+ countries.
Half of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed in both Sunday sessions.
- The reduced number of singers was designed to create physical distancing, said President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, who conducted the morning session. Every participating choir member was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and had been recently tested.
- The other half of the choir performed during the Saturday morning session.