LDS apostles decry COVID contention, other disharmony, at Sunday conference session
SALT LAKE CITY — A leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday praised the sacrifices of medical professionals and others in the struggle against the coronavirus and urged church members to shed discord and antagonism that has arisen during the pandemic.
In a talk during the morning session of the church’s General Conference, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the COVID-19 crisis has been a global stress test as well as a spiritual one. “Yet, in some instances, the spiritual stress test has shown tendencies toward contention and divisiveness,” he said. “This suggests that we have work to do, to change our hearts, and to become unified as the Savior’s true disciples. This is not a new challenge, but it is a critical one.”
He cited mixed results of the world’s reaction to the coronavirus, hailing the work of medical personnel, teachers, caregivers and others and the development of safe and effective vaccines. “Many people have displayed generosity and kindness,” Renlund said, but vulnerable people have suffered due to underlying inequalities.
Church leaders have urged members to get vaccinated and obey local health orders, including mask edicts, yet Utah, the church’s headquarters, has seen significant debate over mask requirements and vaccination policies.
Quoting a Book of Mormon passage, Renlund said Jesus Christ counseled the Nephites, “There shall be no disputations among you … He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”
Said Renlund, “When we contend with each other in anger, Satan laughs and the God of heaven weeps.” He said the work of the church is compromised when contention or enmity exists among members, and contention “is spiritually unhealthy for us as individuals. We are robbed of peace, joy and rest, and our ability to feel the Spirit is compromised.”
If people are unable to place their discipleship above personal interests, Renlund said, “we should reexamine our priorities and change.”
In a similar vein, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve did not mention COVID-19 or other sources of dispute but urged church members to strive for personal peace. “In my lifetime, I have never seen a greater lack of civility,” Cook said. “We are bombarded with angry, contentious language and provocative, devastating actions that destroy peace and tranquility.”
He implored church members toward “letting go of pride and control” and focusing on Christ’s teachings, avoiding exercising free agency in “harmful and hurtful ways.”
Church President Russell M. Nelson used the image of the ongoing upgrading of the faith’s iconic Salt Lake City Temple as an exemplar of how individuals should build a “solid and immovable” spiritual foundation.
“There will be no safer place during an earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley than inside that temple,” Nelson said. “Likewise, whenever any kind of upheaval occurs in your life, the safest place to be spiritually is living inside your temple covenants.”
Another member of the Twelve, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, called upon the faithful to hew to a straight path and “reliable landmarks” as the world continues in turmoil. “Without the help of landmarks to guide us, we inevitably deviate off course and end up in places we never thought we would be,” Uchtdorf said. “This is true for individuals. It is also true for societies and nations. The scriptures are filled with examples” in which people “abandoned the Way and began walking according to their own desires. And, of course, it did not take long before they paid the price for that behavior.”
He urged members to conduct a “daily restoration” of faith to stay grounded.