A time to heal and a need to belong: Messages of Christ highlight first day of Latter-day Saint conference
‘Abuse constitutes the influence of the adversary. It is a grievous sin. As president of the church, I affirm the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ on this issue’
A ringing condemnation of all kinds of abuse from the beloved, 98-year-old prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints kicked off a memorable first day of the faith’s 192nd Semiannual General Conference on Saturday.
Real talk followed about abuse, racism, disease, evil and other trials — and how the power and love of Jesus Christ can heal, comfort and shape those wounded by such pain.
President Russell M. Nelson, seated Saturday morning on the edge of a tall chair in what he said on social media was a small concession to age, roundly denounced abuse as grievous sin with no place in the gospel of Jesus Christ or the church.
“Abuse constitutes the influence of the adversary. It is a grievous sin,” he said. “As president of the church, I affirm the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ on this issue.
“Let me be perfectly clear,” he continued. “Any kind of abuse of women, children or anyone is an abomination to the Lord. He grieves and I grieve whenever anyone is harmed. He mourns, and we all mourn, for each person who has fallen victim to abuse of any kind. Those who perpetrate these hideous acts are not only accountable to the laws of man, but will also face the wrath of God.”
The talk was his first since the Associated Press published a national story about sexual abuse committed by a late, former Latter-day Saint against his own children. The story questioned the church’s response to the crimes.
President Nelson described to a worldwide audience of millions the abuse prevention resources the church publishes on its website and called on members to act if they suspect abuse.
“For decades now, the church has taken extensive measures to protect — in particular — children from abuse. There are many aids on the church website,” he said. “I invite you to study them. These guidelines are in place to protect the innocent. I urge each of us to be alert to anyone who might be in danger of being abused and to act promptly to protect them. The Savior will not tolerate abuse, and as his disciples, neither can we.”
Jesus Christ provides balm, paths to recovery for present-day anguish
Other talks on Saturday covered a wide array of issues, from the equal roles of women and men in marriage to humanitarian giving, and from the release of a revised “For Strength of Youth” manual to environmental stewardship.
The church gathering’s opening day also will be remembered as the first time a Black woman spoke in a general conference and for the anguished story of another woman leader’s childhood abuse at the hands of her father.
With his permission, Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, shared her painful experience of being verbally and emotionally abused by him as a girl. She said building anger and resentment gave her a warring heart.
“To all who are brokenhearted, captive, bruised and perhaps blinded by hurt or sin, he offers healing, recovery and deliverance,” she said. “I testify that the healing and recovery he offers is real.”
She said the way to healing a vengeful heart is through forgiving, “which can be one of the most difficult things we ever do and one of the most divine things we ever experience. On the path of forgiveness, Jesus Christ’s atoning power can flow into our lives and begin to heal the deep crevasses of the heart and soul.”
“Over the years,” she added, “and in my efforts to find peace and healing on that path of forgiveness, I came to realize in a profound way that the same Son of God who atoned for my sins is the same Redeemer who will also save those who have deeply hurt me. I could not truly believe the first truth without believing the second.”
Christ’s healing balm also changed her father’s heart, “Another testimony to me of the complete and transformative power of Jesus Christ,” she said.
The doctrine of belonging
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught what he called the doctrine of belonging, saying that the mostly white beginnings of the church in the 1800s are giving way to a globally diverse church membership, which he called a naturally occurring phenomenon of gathering Christ’s followers “from every nation and every people.”
“We cannot permit any racism, tribal prejudice or other divisions to exist in the latter-day Church of Christ,” he said. “The Lord commands us, ‘Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.’
“We should be diligent in rooting prejudice and discrimination out of the church, out of our homes and most of all out of our hearts,” he added. “As our church population grows ever more diverse, our welcome must grow ever more spontaneous and warm. We need one another.”
He also described the deep sense of belonging, unity and hope in Christ that early Latter-day Saint pioneers developed in a forge of persecution and sacrifice.
“The same is true for many today who may lose the association of family and friends, forfeit employment opportunities or otherwise suffer discrimination or intolerance as a consequence of being baptized,” he said.
The reward for such a decision should be “a powerful sense of belonging among the covenant people.”
“It is a sad irony, then,” he added, “when someone, feeling he or she doesn’t meet the ideal in all aspects of life, concludes that they don’t belong in the very organization designed by God to help us progress toward the ideal.”
Today’s trials and challenges are real
While people today aren’t pushing handcarts or driving wagons in the 175th year since the arrival of the first pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, “we are trying as they did to spiritually overcome the temptations and challenges of our day,” said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Although the challenges today are different than those of the early pioneers, they are no less challenging for us,” he said.
Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Presidency of the Seventy shared the long, painful journey his grandson has had with severe aplastic anemia. His bone marrow stopped producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
The boy received a bone marrow transplant from his brother.
“Just as Aaron could not cure himself, we cannot save ourselves,” Elder Johnson said. “No matter how capable, educated, brilliant or strong we are, we cannot cleanse ourselves from our sins, change our bodies to an immortal state or exalt ourselves. It is only possible through the Savior Jesus Christ and his infinite atonement.”
Some trials are the result of other’s sins, but the remedy is the same, said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“We realize that as evil increases in the world, our spiritual survival — and the spiritual survival of those we love — will require that we more fully nurture, fortify and strengthen the roots of our faith in Jesus Christ,” he said.
“As you allow your love for the Savior and his love for you to sink deep into your heart, I promise you added confidence, peace and joy in meeting the challenges of your life,” he added.
Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, urged listeners during the Saturday evening session to grow into wholehearted followers of Christ while sharing her empathy for the difficulties they experience.
“Trials do not mean that the plan is failing; they are part of the plan meant to help me seek God,” she said.
Sister Craig said church members today are called to be “disciples who dig deep to find the strength to keep pulling when called to walk through the wilderness ...,” and declared that when she stumbles, she will keep getting up and relying on the grace and enabling power of Jesus Christ.
“My fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, with all my heart, I choose to stand with the Lord,” she said. “I choose to stand with his chosen servants — President Russell M. Nelson and his fellow apostles — for they speak for him and are the stewards of the ordinances and covenants that tie me to the Savior.”
Sometimes, she noted, that the first step is to get help.
“I also want to say if the thought of taking action amid your pain feels impossible, please let your action be to reach out for help — to a friend, a family member, a church leader, a professional,” she said. “This can be a first step to hope.”
Making history while speaking of Christ
Sister Tracy Y. Browning became the first Black woman to speak at a general conference. She is the second counselor in the Primary general presidency, and also the first Black woman to serve in a general women’s presidency.
She likened the way she struggles to see without her glasses to the need for Latter-day Saints to seek for God each day.
“As covenant children of God, we have been uniquely blessed with a rich supply of divinely appointed tools to improve our spiritual vision,” said Sister Browning, a convert.
“The Savior can also be our compass and our pilot as we steer through both the calm and the turbulent waters of life. He can make plain the correct path that leads us to our eternal destination,” she said.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, noted that this year the church, for the first time, reported its spending on those in need in 188 countries, a total of $906 million and 6 million volunteer hours. He said the report was incomplete because it does not include the personal services Latter-day Saints give in their callings or through other charitable organizations.
He also said that church members give untold money and time to other causes, such as to protect religious freedom, combat racism and other prejudices, support medical research and more.
The church also uses donations from members to help fund its schools, colleges and universities, he said. He encouraged members to continue to help other groups.
“… More members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ should be recognizing the good done by others and supporting it as we have the time and means to do so.”
Apostolic messages on youth and marriage
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles revealed a revised edition of the “For Strength of Youth” guidebook, which has been updated and re-released with the subtitle, “A Guide to Making Choices.”
The updated pocket manual is now less prescriptive and more principle-based, he said. The goal is to point young people to Christ.
“To be very clear, the best guide you can possibly have for making choices is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the strength of youth,” he said.
“When you have important choices to make, Jesus Christ and his restored gospel are the best choice,” he added. “When you have questions, Jesus Christ and his restored gospel are the best answer. When you feel weak, Jesus Christ is your strength.”
Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about marriage, calling it a true partnership between equals with divine responsibilities.
“According to gospel doctrine, the difference between woman and man does not override the eternal promises that God has for his sons and daughters. One has no greater possibilities for celestial glory than the other in the eternities,” he said.
He said that while the family follows the patriarchal pattern, it does not follow the hierarchical model of priesthood leadership in the church.
“The patriarchal pattern entails that wives and husbands are accountable directly to God for the fulfillment of their sacred responsibilities in the family. It calls for a full partnership, a willing compliance with every principle of righteousness and accountability and provides opportunities for development within an environment of love and mutual helpfulness. These special responsibilities do not imply hierarchy and absolutely exclude any kind of abuse or improper use of authority.”
Elder Soares said nurturing and presiding are overlapping and interrelated responsibilities and that a mother and father share “a balanced leadership of their home.”
Apostolic messages on revelation and missionary work
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered a framework for personal revelation.
“The promise of personal revelation through the Holy Ghost is awe-inspiring, much like an airplane in flight,” he said. “And like airplane pilots, we need to understand the framework within which the Holy Ghost functions to provide personal revelation. When we operate within the framework, the Holy Ghost can unleash astonishing insight, direction and comfort.”
He listed four elements of the framework:
- One can only receive revelation for himself or herself.
- Personal revelation always will be in harmony with commandments and covenants.
- Recognize what God already has revealed to you while remaining open to further revelation.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said his study of a copy of the Book of Mormon as a young missionary built his testimony of Christ and made him “a Book of Mormon missionary.”
“One of the greatest missionaries of the Book of Mormon is President Russell M. Nelson,” he said, describing how President Nelson has given copies of the Book of Mormon to hundreds of people, including guests at church headquarters, presidents, kings, heads of state, leaders of businesses, organizations and diverse faiths.
“My dear friends, as an apostle of the Lord, I invite you to follow our beloved prophet, President Nelson, in flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon,” he said. “The need is so great; we need to act now.”
Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé said the earth’s beauty is not an end in itself but an integral part of God’s plan for his children to exercise agency and develop.
“Beyond being simply a scientific or political necessity, the care of the earth and of our natural environment is a sacred responsibility entrusted to us by God, which should fill us with a deep sense of duty and humility,” he said.”
“The care of the earth and of our natural environment is a sacred responsibility entrusted to us by God, which should fill us with a deep sense of duty and humility. It is also an integral component of our discipleship.”
Interestingly, he noted care for environment includes care for others.
“Our stewardship over God’s creations also includes, at its pinnacle, a sacred duty to love, respect and care for all human beings with whom we share the earth,” he said.