Challenges: LDS leaders warn against pornography, express need for more missionaries as annual conference ends
The instant insight provided by 14-year-old Joseph Smith’s vision of God and Jesus in a grove of trees outweighed centuries of religious debate and scholarship about the nature of Deity, said LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley on Sunday.
“This grand theophany is, in my judgment, the greatest such event since the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord in the meridian of time,” Hinckley told 21,000 people in the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. “Upon the reality and truth of this vision rests the validity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Hinckley discussed Smith’s vision during the first session Sunday of the church’s Annual General Conference, which commemorated the 175th anniversary of the church’s founding and the 200th anniversary of Smith’s birth. Mormons across the world also were listening to their leaders’ sermons via satellite in their homes or local chapels.
“How beautiful is the unfolding of the pattern of restoration which led to the organization of the church in the year 1830,” Hinckley said. “The very name of the church came of revelation. Whose church was it? Was it Joseph Smith’s? No, it was the Church of Jesus Christ restored to earth in these latter days.”
The 94-year-old leader, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by 12 million Mormons worldwide, went on to enumerate the church’s distinctive teachings including the eternal nature of the family, the spiritual authority of its all-male priesthood, and its practice of “baptism for the dead,” a proxy ritual for those who died without an opportunity to join the LDS Church.
Hinckley and other speakers then challenged the faithful to follow church teachings more faithfully.
The church needs more qualified missionaries, said Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“The spirit of the Lord is brooding over many of the nations of the world,” Ballard said. “Doors previously locked are opening to us.”
The apostle suggested that each bishop of the church’s 26,000 congregations find at least one more young man to serve as a missionary. That would add significantly to the current corps of 51,000 full-time missionaries.
LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks said church leaders are seeing an increasing number of devout Mormon men who are addicted to pornography.
“Some involved in pornography apparently minimize its seriousness and continue to exercise the priesthood of God because they think no one will know of their involvement,” Oaks said.
“But the user knows, brethren, and so does the Lord.”
Desensitizing and addicting, pornography erodes normal emotional and romantic relationships, Oaks said. “Pornography produces fantasies that destroy spirituality.”
He urged his listeners to acknowledge this seductive evil, then get help from leaders and from God.
“Don’t accommodate any degree of temptation,” he said. “Turn it off. Look away.”
One way to escape the vulgarity of today’s world is to seek holiness, said James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency.
“Holiness is the strength of the soul,” Faust said. “God purifies the heart by faith, and the heart becomes purged from that which is profane and unworthy.”
The church’s holiest places are its temples, he said, but holiness can also dwell in chapels and in homes.
Mormons need to work harder to be “a holy people,” he said. “We should strive every day to rise to a higher level of personal righteousness in all our actions.
Hinckley closed the two-day conference by once again reminding the Mormon faithful not to be self-righteous, feel superior or denigrate others.
“Wherever we live, we can be friendly neighbors,” he said. “Our children can mingle with the children of those not of this church.”
The conference was adjourned until October.