President Nelson pleads for peace, reiterates call for young men to serve missions as global Latter-day Saint general conference begins
President Russell M. Nelson called for peace at this time of global conflict on Saturday morning in his welcome address to a semiannual international general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah.
He also said widespread conflict underscores the need for missionaries to spread the peaceful message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He reiterated the call for all able, worthy young Latter-day Saint men to serve missions.
For the first time in 30 months, the Conference Center doors were open again for the public to attend what is the faith’s 192nd Annual General Conference.
Why it matters
Latter-day Saints consider President Nelson a prophet. The conference will be seen and heard by millions seeking counsel, encouragement and, in President Nelson’s words, spiritual rejuvenation, peace and personal revelation.
President Nelson was followed by:
- President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency and a native Nicaraguan.
- Elders David A. Bednar and Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- Elders Eduardo Gavarret of Uruguay and Larry S. Kacher.
- President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency.
What were the themes?
Themes from the Saturday morning session included:
- The gospel of Jesus Christ can help people find peace and the strength to withstand conflict, contention and temptation.
- Missionary service can bring peace to the world and blesses both missionaries and those they serve.
- Faith in Christ and keeping covenants made with him helps followers stand steady and find consistent peace and guidance.
What President Nelson said
The church president didn’t mention Russia and Ukraine by name, but he referred to the suffering caused by the conflict.
- “Since last conference, difficulties in the world have continued. The global pandemic still affects our lives. And now, the world has been rocked by a conflict that is raining terror on millions of innocent men, women and children.”
- “Prophets have foreseen our day when there would be wars and rumors of wars, and when the whole earth would be in commotion. As followers of Jesus Christ, we plead with leaders of nations to find peaceful resolutions to their differences. We call upon people everywhere to pray for those in need, to do what they can to help the distressed, and to seek the Lord’s help in ending any major conflicts.”
The church has provided $8 million to various relief agencies and local church leaders and congregations are heavily involved in helping refugees across Western Europe.
- The invasion has led to as many as 26,000 deaths, according to reports. More than 10.5 million people have been displaced, nearly 25% of the population, the AP reported. Nearly 10% of Ukraine’s population, over 4.1 million, have fled the country as refugees, UNHCR reported.
How missionary work can help
“The only enduring solution for peace” is the gospel of Jesus Christ, President Nelson said. The current conflict and spiritual darkness in the world emphasize the urgent need for missionaries to spread that message, he said.
- “Today I reaffirm strongly that the Lord has asked every worthy, able young man to prepare for and serve a mission. For Latter-day Saint young men, missionary service is a priesthood responsibility.”
- “Brothers and sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ has never been needed more than it is today. Contention violates everything the Savior stood for and taught.”
President Nelson’s call for worthy, able young men to serve missions was a reference to President Spencer W. Kimball’s statement at the April 1974 general conference: “Every LDS male who is worthy and able should fill a mission.”
- Every Latter-day Saint prophet since then has repeated the same call.
What was said
President Ballard said he was grateful President Nelson had reaffirmed that call.
- “Of all the training I have received in my church assignments, none has been more important to me than the training I received as a 19-year-old elder serving a full-time mission.”
- “As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I call upon you young men, and those young women who desire to serve a mission, to begin right now to talk with your parents about serving a mission. I also invite you to talk with your friends about serving a mission and if one of your friends is not sure about serving, encourage them to talk with their bishop. Commit to yourselves and to Heavenly Father that you will serve a mission…”
Sister Aburto said the church is its members, who “can bring each other to the Savior’s redeeming healing.”
- “The church is more than the buildings and the ecclesiastical structure; the church is us, the members. We are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with Christ at the head and the prophet as his mouthpiece.”
- “My fellow disciples of Christ, let us not underestimate the marvelous work the Lord is doing through us, his church, despite our shortcomings. Sometimes we are givers and sometimes we are receivers, but we are all one family in Christ. His church is the structure he has given to guide and bless us as we worship him and serve each other.”
She also shared the story of her conversion. She attended a church meeting for the first time at age 26.
- “I had recently separated from my first husband. I had a 3-year-old boy. And I felt powerless with fear. When I entered the building, I was filled with warmth as I perceived the faith and joy of the people surrounding me. It was truly ‘a refuge from the storm.’ Three weeks later, I made the baptismal covenant with Heavenly Father and started my journey as a disciple of Christ, although my life has not been perfect along that journey.”
Elder Bednar said living covenants strengthens members against evil influences and mocking voices. He encouraged them to “heed not” those influences.
- “I witness that fidelity to the covenants and ordinances of the Savior’s restored gospel enables us to press on in the work of the Lord, to hold fast to him as the Word of God, and to heed not the allurements of the adversary.”
- “Living and loving covenant commitments creates a connection with the Lord that is deeply personal and spiritually powerful. As we honor the conditions of sacred covenants and ordinances, we gradually and incrementally are drawn closer to him and experience the impact of his divinity and living reality in our lives. Jesus then becomes much more than the central character in scripture stories; his example and teachings influence our every desire, thought and action.”
Elder Andersen noted that social media often is a source of conflict and contention, too. He said, “No one or no subject is immune from this social phenomenon of polarized voices, including the Savior and his restored gospel” and the church’s apostles.
- “Without any specific professional preparation, we are called and ordained, to bear testimony of the name of Jesus Christ throughout the world until our final breath,” he said, adding that “our humble desire is for the Savior’s teachings to be honored by all…”
- He suggested Latter-day Saints should be peaceable followers of Christ: “Peacemakers are not passive; they are persuasive in the Savior’s way.”
- “How does a peacemaker calm and cool the fiery darts? Certainly not by shrinking before those who disparage us. Rather, we remain confident in our faith, sharing our beliefs with conviction, but always void of anger or malice.”
He noted that a recent headline in Arizona noted that Latter-day Saint leaders supported a bill to protect gay and transgender people in the state.
- “We, as Latter-day Saints, are ‘pleased to be part of a coalition of faith, business, LGBTQ people and community leaders who have worked together in a spirit of trust and mutual respect.’”
President Eyring also talked about perilous times of increasing temptation and wickedness. He called on listeners to stand on the firm rock of faith in Jesus Christ and consistent covenant keeping.
- “I plead with you to accept the Savior’s invitation. Like a meek and loving child, accept his help. Make and keep the covenants he offers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They will strengthen you. The Savior knows the storms and the places of safety on your way home to him and to our Heavenly Father. He knows the way. He is the way.”
- “When the storms in life come, you can be steady because you are standing on the rock of your faith in Jesus Christ. That faith will lead you to daily repentance and consistent covenant keeping. Then you will always remember Him. And through the storms of hatred and wickedness, you will feel steady and hopeful.”
Elder Gavarett quoted a statement President Nelson made during last October’s conference:
- “Imagine how quickly the devastating conflicts throughout the world, and those in our individual lives, would be quickly resolved if we all decided to follow Jesus Christ and heed his teachings.”
Elder Kacher also mentioned covenants.
- “If you find that your current path is in conflict with your faith in the Savior, then please find your way back to Him and to the covenant path.”
Venue and attendance
For the first time since the pandemic began, the public attended a conference session. The Conference Center’s capacity is 21,000, but the church limited attendance to 10,000 not because of any ongoing concerns about COVID-19. Instead, there were concerns about parking and access due to construction on and around Temple Square with the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple.
- The general public hadn’t attended a conference session since October 2019.
- In October 2021, the families and guests of the speakers were allowed to attend, which amounted to several hundred people per session.
All missionaries teach and testify of the Savior. The spiritual darkness in the world makes the light of Jesus Christ needed more than ever. Everyone deserves the chance to know about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Every person deserves to know where they can find the hope and peace that ‘(passes) all understanding.’
— President Nelson
As ‘the peaceable followers of Christ,’ we are striving to become of ‘one heart and one mind’ and to be humble; submissive; gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; temperate in all things; diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; full of faith, hope, and charity; and abounding in good works. We are striving to become like Jesus Christ.
— Sister Aburto
I frankly do not have the ability to describe adequately the precise nature and power of our covenant connection with the resurrected and living Son of God. But I witness that the connections with him and Heavenly Father are real and are the ultimate sources of assurance, peace, joy and the spiritual strength that enable us to ‘fear not, though the enemy deride.’ As covenant-making and covenant-keeping disciples of Jesus Christ, we can be blessed to take ‘courage, for the Lord is on our side’ and pay no attention to evil influences and secular scoffing.
— Elder Bednar
Prayers and hymns
Elder Jose L. Alonso of Mexico, in his 11th year as a General Authority Seventy, gave the opening prayer. Primary General President Camille N. Johnson, who spoke in the previous conference in October, provided the closing prayer.
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sang six songs during the Saturday morning session of the conference.
- “We That Love the Lord.”
- “Awake and Arise.”
- “Love Is Spoken Here.”
- “Let Us All Press On.”
- “On This Day of Joy and Gladness.”
- Rejoice, the Lord is King.”
For the first time, the choir is singing all of its music from memory during the three sessions it will perform, choir general manager Scott Barrick said.
- Live music by the Tabernacle Choir and others returned to general conference in October. The omicron variant caused another hiatus for the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in mid-December, but the choir returned to rehearsals on March 3 and live performances on March 6.