SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Following major policy amendments and procedural changes, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered at the Conference Center for the 189th Annual General Conference.
Members waited with anticipation to hear messages from their leaders; rumors swirled around which changes would be next from church administration.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks conducted the Saturday morning session, just two days after Oaks announced a policy change that would allow children of same-sex couples to be baptized with parental permission, a departure from a November 2015 Handbook update that also labeled same-sex couples as “apostates.” Oaks also said Thursday that members who were in a same-sex marriage would no longer be grounds for church discipline as it relates to “apostasy.”
No mention was made of the new policy in the beginning of the Saturday morning session.
Elder Ulisses S. Soares began the session by talking to members about persevering in faith despite feelings of sadness, regret and anger. Soares told members to not reject family members who choose a different path.
“It is hard to understand all the reasons why some people take another path. The best we can do in these circumstances is to just love and embrace them; pray for their well-being and seek for the Lord’s help to know what to do and say. Sincerely rejoice with them in their successes; be their friends and look for the good in them,” Soares said. “We should never give up on them but preserve our relationships. Never reject or misjudge them. Just love them!”
Sister Becky Craven of the Young Women General Presidency was the first of several female speakers hoped for by members of the church. General Conference historically has featured few female speakers and prayer-givers.
She warned members about living the gospel “casually.”
“We can rationalize all we want but the fact is there is not a right way to do the wrong thing,” Craven said.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ excursion to Rome for the dedication of a new temple. He claimed church membership is growing throughout the world, but Christianity in general is declining.
Uchtdorf spoke of the importance of missionary work. “The Lord has never required expert, flawless missionary efforts,” he said. “Instead, ‘the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.'”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has 85,000 missionaries serving throughout the world. Recent changes to the missionary standards – including a more casual dress code for female missionaries and more opportunities for missionaries to communicate with families – are among the recent changes enacted by President Russell M. Nelson.
Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric reiterated the church’s new focus on “ministering” to members and others.
“If someone is on a list that says ‘not interested,’ don’t give up…people change,” said Waddell. “Friendship is magnified as we minister.”
“Whether we serve as ministering brothers or sisters, or simply when we are made aware of someone in need, we are encouraged to seek the guidance and direction of the Spirit…and then act,” he added.
Much of the focus in the Saturday morning session was on enduring in the church, after growing discord within church membership on political issues like same-sex marriage. President Henry B. Eyring also spoke about the “happiness” that comes when there are “no contentions” and when church members are united.
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sang a lesser-known verse of the popular Latter-day Saint hymn “I Am a Child of God,” perhaps to drive home that message.
“I am a child of god,
His promises are sure.
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.”
SATURDAY AFTERNOON SESSION
LDS leaders focused more on sprituality throughout the Saturday afternoon session of conference, rather than addressing recent changes in the church.
Elder M. Russell Ballard expressed that he was worried members were focusing more on the excitement of church changes rather than the spiritual meaning behind them, urging faithful to continue to implement the new “Come, Follow Me” home study curriculum which recently replaced the third hour of weekly church meetings.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland urged members to keep gospel-living simple, not burden themselves with more meetings and programs. Church leaders emphasized the importance of living eternal truths and not being overcome by the philosophies of the world.
Elder Neil L. Andersen invoked the Church 1995 The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which outlines the church’s position on marriage, gender identiy and the family’s role. Andersen affirmed that the doctrines outlined in the Family Proclamation are eternal truths that will bring members eternal blessings.