On Saturday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sustained its first African American general authority.
Elder Peter M. Johnson was sustained as a General Authority Seventy. At the time of his call, the 52-year-old had been serving as an Area Seventy and a member of the Sixth Quorum of the Seventy in the North America Southeast Area of the church.
The sustaining of Johnson comes after a year of warming friendships between the African American community and the church that until 40 years ago did not allow those of African descent to hold the priesthood. In May, a special meeting was held with the church’s President Russell M. Nelson and leadership of the NAACP. Later in 2018, church leaders for the first time participated in the NAACP’s yearly convention. The church has also made large financial contributions to genealogical and family history museums focusing on the African American story and those who were sold as slaves.
In all, 10 General Authority Seventy were sustained as well as 55 Area Authority Seventy. The church also sustained a new general Sunday School Presidency that includes President Mark L. Pace, First Counselor Milton Camargo and Second Counselor Jan E. Newman.
Messages from the general authorities of the church were varied and focused on the improvement of the individual and the family unit.
The Family Proclamation
Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, invited church members to use a spiritual eye when they read and ponder the church’s proclamation on the family.
He said by seeking the true knowledge of things it becomes clear where the Lord and the church stand on issues, including abortion.
“The scriptures teach, ‘Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come,’” Andersen said. “Truth looks backward and forward, expanding the perspective of our small point in time.
“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ Truth shows us the way to eternal life, and it comes only through our Savior, Jesus Christ. There is no other way.”
Andersen talked about looking through two eyes and used the family proclamation as an example of seeing through spiritual eyes.
“The proclamation is direct: ‘We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan,’” he said. “Our Father’s plan encourages a husband and wife to bring children into the world and obligates us to speak in defense of the unborn.”
Andersen also emphasized his belief that man’s laws are moving outside the laws of God.
“One friend of nearly 20 years, whom I admire greatly, is not married because of same-sex attraction. He has remained true to his temple covenants, has expanded his creative and professional talents, and has served nobly in both the church and the community,” he said. “He recently said to me, ‘I can sympathize with those in my situation who choose not to keep the Law of Chastity in the world in which we live. But didn’t Christ ask us to be ‘not of this world’?’ It is clear that God’s standards are different from those of the world.”
The Lord’s Sacrament
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke in strong words of the importance of the Lord’s Sacrament. He reminded members of the church that, while they have one less hour at the church building each week, they still need to be there to partake of the Sacrament each Sunday. Leaders expect reverence to be given to the sacred hour and for respect of the offering of the Lamb of God.
“We congratulate those bishoprics who are eliminating announcements that detract from the spirit of our worship,” Holland said. “I, for one, cannot imagine a priest such as Zacharias — there in the ancient temple of the Lord about to participate in the one and only priestly privilege that would come to him in his entire lifetime — I just cannot picture him pausing before the altar to remind us that the pinewood derby is just six weeks away and registration will soon be due.”
Keep it simple
Elder M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, said that, “In the last 18 months, the Lord has inspired His prophet and the Apostles to implement a number of wonderful adjustments. However, I worry that the spiritual purposes of these adjustments might become lost in the excitement about the changes themselves.”
By focusing on the simple message of the gospel members of the church can find true peace, joy and happiness, he counseled.
“The best ways for us to see the spiritual purposes of the church is to live the true, pure, and simple teachings of Christ and also apply the Savior’s two great commandments: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. ... Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’” Ballard said.
Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Bishop W. Charles Waddell talked personally of how to strengthen family and home. Eyring referred to the people written about in the Book of Mormon that lived prosperously but let pride slowly sneak in. He compared it to today’s world and how many they believe are being drawn away from the church because pride crept in; they stopped sharing what they had; they developed class distinctions; they began to hate and began to sin. Their faith had diminished.
Eyring urged members to encourage and love their children so as to never keep them from wanting to be at home.
“There is the key to leading your family to rise to that spiritual place you want for them and for you to be there with them as you help them grow in faith that Jesus Christ is their loving Redeemer, they will feel a desire to repent. As they do, humility will begin to replace pride,” Eyring said.
Elder Ulisses Soares, of the Quorum of the Twelve, urged members to learn from and to sustain the church’s prophet. Soares set forth the purposes for developing faith and the importance of teaching and helping others develop faith, while showing great love for them.
“Our purpose as we seek to learn and to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ is to increase faith in God and in His divine plan of happiness, and in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, and to achieve lasting conversion,” he said. “Such increased faith and conversion will help us make and keep covenants with God, thus strengthening our desire to follow Jesus and producing a genuine spiritual transformation in us; in other words, transforming us into a new creature, as taught by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians.”
Soares said, “The commandment to learn the gospel and teach it to one another is not new. It has been constantly repeated from the beginning of human history.”
Members were told that their actions must reflect what they teach.
“Attuning ourselves to the highest influences of godliness is not a simple matter, it requires calling upon God and learning how to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the center of our lives,” Soares said.
Casual in actions
Sister Becky Craven, second counselor in the church’s Young Women organization, asked, “Are we careful or casual?”
“There is a careful way and a casual way to do everything, including living the gospel,” Craven said.”As we consider our commitment to the Savior, are we careful or casual? Because of our mortal nature, don’t we sometimes rationalize our behavior, at times referring to our actions as being in the gray, or mixing good with something that’s not so good. Anytime we say, ‘however,’ ‘except’ or ‘but’ when it applies to following the counsel of our prophet leaders or living the gospel carefully, we are in fact saying, ‘that counsel does not apply to me.’”
She also said information and instruction in the Strength of Youth pamphlet for youth does not go away when youth in the church turn 18. The pamphlet instructs youth about various standards the church expects to be followed including chastity, Word of Wisdom and health, modesty, to avoid drugs and other addictions, to study the scriptures and more.
Deep and lasting happiness comes by intentionally and carefully living the gospel of Jesus Christ, Craven said.
Members were told there is a careful way and a casual way to do everything, including living the gospel. They were encouraged not to be concerned about how the world sees them but how they can develop a greater commitment to God.
Sharing with others
With members receiving instruction on how to renew their faith, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the Quorum of the Twelve, broke down how members can prepare themselves to be missionaries across the world.
Uchtdorf, who oversees the missionary department in the church, gave five suggestions on how share the church’s message including: draw close to God, fill one’s heart with love for others, strive to walk the path of discipleship, sharing what is in one’s heart, and then trust the Lord to work His miracles.
“Understand that it’s not your job to convert people,” Uchtdorf said. “That is the role of the Holy Ghost. Your role is to share what is in your heart and live consistent with your beliefs.”
In his address, Elder Brook P. Hales, of the Quorum of the Seventy, said the prayers are answered in the Lord’s time and that members often forget that He knows their needs. He said God answers prayers, often not how they expect.
“We have the assurance that in His own way and in His own time, Heavenly Father will bless us and resolve all of our concerns, injustices and disappointments,” Hales said.
Ministering, considered a holier way to care for others and introduced to members in 2018 to replace its Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching programs, was also discussed.
“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,” said Bishop W. Christopher Wadell of the Presiding Bishopric.