The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday opened the faith’s two-day semiannual conference with reminders of Mormons’ history of sacrifice and persecution.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, addressing more than 20,000 members at the church Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and to millions more around the world via satellite feed, spoke of the faith’s ”long march” from its founding on April 6, 1830, to its present stature, and extolled global missionary efforts.
”Our people have passed through oppression and persecution; they’ve suffered drivings and every imaginable evil. And out of that has come something which today is glorious to behold,” Hinckley said.
Conference sessions are a time of celebration for church members, and also a time when their leaders deliver talks aimed at renewing their religious commitment. On Saturday, church leaders spoke of morality in the face of modern temptations, and re-examined the faith’s beginnings and teachings.
Sometimes the talks were jeremiads, such as M. Russell Ballard’s admonishments about the ”intelligent evil” of the entertainment media which would devastate families by pulling children away from church teachings.
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Fighting the family makes sense to Satan, Ballard said. ”(He) does so by attempting to disregard the law of chastity, to confuse gender, to desensitize violence, to make crude and blasphemous language the norm, and to make immoral and deviant behavior seem like the rule rather than the exception.”
First Presidency member Boyd K. Packer hit the same theme, telling young people that ”degrading profanity and the wicked joking and humor … (are) all paraded before you in unworthy entertainment – music, print, drama, film, television and, of course, the Internet.”
Saturday evening during an evening priesthood meeting open only to boys and men and not publicly broadcast, Hinckley directed his comments to the 18,000 men who serve as Mormon bishops, reminding them they must have utmost integrity.
Touching again on the theme of resisting evil, a transcript of Hinckley’s sermon shows he told the bishops that ”your morals must be impeccable. The wiles of the adversary may be held before you because he knows that if he can destroy you, he can injure an entire ward.”
Members of the high priesthood are ordained bishops for indefinite periods of service. They act as private confessors to their wards, which are similar to parishes, but are required to inform authorities and church leaders if a member discloses child or spouse abuse.
The talks are never elaborated upon during a conference, but sometimes subsequent sessions offer illumination.
A year ago, Hinckley announced that becoming an overseas missionary would be more difficult than in the past due to ”raising the bar” for personal and spiritual standards, and indicated that young people with emotional problems might not be chosen for full-time missionary work.
In April, Ballard re-emphasized the new standards for missionaries, and cautioned bishops and stake presidents ”to recommend only those young men and women whom you judge to be spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to face today’s realities of missionary work.”
The talk raised questions among members about prospects for would-be missionaries who take medications for mental and emotional problems.
While not specifically addressing such questions, Quorum of the Twelve member Richard G. Scott on Saturday said if potential missionaries ”have emotional challenges that can be stabilized to meet the rigors of a full-time mission, you can be called.
”It is vital that you continue to use your medication during your mission or until competent medical authority counsels otherwise,” Scott said. ”Recognize that emotional and physical challenges are alike.”
The church, which has 11.7 million members on its rolls and more than 26,000 congregations around the world, actively proselytizes through its missionary program. There are 60,000 missionaries now in 120 nations, Hinckley said.
Their efforts, and the church’s reach ”is only the beginning. We have scarcely scratched the surface,” he said.
As usual, street preachers from evangelical churches picketed the conference, waving signs and shouting sermons about false teachings at passers-by. Saturday evening, police said there had been no significant disruptions or arrests.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr., in a part of upstate New York known as the ”burned-over” district. There, waves of apocalyptic religious revivals inundated settlers during the early 1800s.
The church teaches that in 1820, when he was 14, Joseph went to a grove of trees near his home, where God and Jesus appeared and told him Christ’s church had fallen into apostasy. Three years later, an angel named Moroni told him he would receive an ancient record written on gold plates, which he found at age 21.
With a translation device, the church’s first prophet wrote the Book of Mormon, which the church teaches as the story of the tribes of Israel who lived in the Americas and of Christ’s appearance after his resurrection.
Since then, the ”restored” church has been led by a president who is the faith’s ”prophet, seer and revelator.”
Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were arrested in 1844 for smashing a dissident Mormon newspaper’s printing press. They were killed by a mob that broke into their jail cell in Carthage, Ill.
Mormon pioneers established churches in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois before the second prophet, Brigham Young, led them to the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.
Young established a theocratic government headquartered in Salt Lake City that for more than four decades battled U.S. troops and officials over church teachings and its resistance to federal territorial law. Young died in 1877. In 1890, church leaders agreed to the rule of law and to ban polygamy. Utah became a state in 1896.
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