SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members not to lose hope during the coronavirus pandemic and warned against the guileful evils of modern society.
Speaking Sunday from a small room on Temple Square rather than the faith’s 21,000-seat Conference Center, leaders applied the theme of the church’s beginnings to today’s worries.
In the second day of the church’s 190th Annual General Conference, speakers paid tribute to church founder Joseph Smith, whom the faith teaches was visited by God and Jesus Christ in the spring of 1820.
They tied the hopes and promises of the church’s two centuries of teachings to humanity’s desires of today.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urged hope in the face of the coronavirus.
“When we have conquered it — and we will — may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty.”
He said many other hopes remain unfulfilled.
“May we hope for schools where students are taught — not terrified they will be shot — and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice,” Holland said.
Church President Russell M. Nelson counseled worship as an antidote to “earthquakes, fires, floods, plagues.” He said, “The increasing darkness that accompanies tribulation makes the light of Jesus Christ shine ever brighter.”
Nelson said people still are losing their way, ignoring “great and marvelous things” that have been heard from pulpits around the world.
“Yet most people do not embrace these truths — either because they do not know where to look for them, or because they are listening to those who do not have the whole truth, or because they have rejected truth in favor of worldly pursuits,” Nelson said.
“The adversary is clever. For millennia, he has been making good look evil, and evil look good. His messages tend to be loud, bold, and boastful.”
Nelson added, “We simply cannot rely upon information we bump into on social media.” He decried “a marketing-saturated world constantly infiltrated by noisy, nefarious efforts of the adversary.”
At the end of his talk, Nelson led members in a Hosanna Shout, a sacred ritual first employed March 27, 1836, upon the dedication of the Kirtland, Ohio, Temple.
He also unveiled a bicentennial proclamation outlining core Latter-day Saint beliefs, including the supremacy of Jesus Christ in salvation, the divinity of Joseph Smith’s revelations, and the Book of Mormon.
Three other leaders spoke Sunday afternoon of people struggling with their faith or who have left the church.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church’s First Presidency, sternly outlined church teachings on qualifying for salvation.
He emphasized doctrine over procreation and marriage: “Outside the bonds of marriage, all uses of the procreative power are to one degree or another a sinful degrading and perversion of the most divine attribute of men and women.”
The church has experienced controversy over its opposition to same-sex marriage and regarding the status of LGBTQ church members.
Oaks, referring to letters from people wanting back into the church “after name removal or apostasy,” said, “Many of our members do not fully understand this plan of salvation, which answers most questions about the doctrine and inspired policies” of the church.
Oaks added, “We who know God’s plan and who have covenanted to participate, have a clear responsibility to teach these truths and do all that we can to further them for others and in our own circumstances in mortality.”
The other two leaders seemed to take a more conciliatory tone.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve said church leaders have a “heartfelt desire to be reunited with those who have been struggling with their testimonies, been less active, or have had their names removed from church records.”
Cook added, “We know that some of you may have received offense, unkindness or other conduct that is not Christlike. We also know that some have had challenges to their faith that may not be fully appreciated, understood or resolved.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve said God “does not show favoritism — the things the world values mean nothing to Him. He knows your heart, and He loves you regardless of your title, financial net worth, or number of Instagram followers.”
Those who become angry with God and the church are not forsaken, Uchtdorf said.
“Your Savior, tears of love and compassion in His eyes, awaits your return,” he said. “Even when you feel far away from God, He will see you, He will have compassion for you and run to embrace you.”
Also on Sunday afternoon, as the concluding speaker, Nelson announced eight new temples. The church will build temples in Syracuse, Utah; Bahía Blanca, Argentina; Tallahassee, Florida; Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Benin City, Nigeria; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Shanghai, People’s Republic of China.
In the Sunday morning session, leaders preached temple attendance, looking toward a time when the worship places will be reopened after the pandemic.
Temple attendance is not meant to “hide from or escape the evils of the world,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Rather, Bednar said, it’s intended to bestow “strength beyond our own to overcome the temptations and challenges of mortality and to do and become good.”
Young Women General President Bonnie H. Condon exhorted church members to “... be compassionately aware of those around us. Look and pray for opportunities to let your light shine that others may see the way to Jesus Christ.”
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve, quoting Joseph Smith, said that while “persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble...” prophecies of the Second Coming will be fulfilled.