CES devotional: Apostle gives counsel to ‘best generation’

REXBURG, IDAHO — Recalling a famous mission experience of President David O. McKay, Elder Quentin L. Cook urged young Latter-day Saints to live up to their true identity.

Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve was the speaker at the Church Education System devotional broadcast for young adults, emanating on Sunday, March 4, from the Brigham Young University-Idaho Center.

He began by recalling the incident in which President McKay, as a young elder who had served a short time in Scotland, was feeling homesick. Returning with his companion from sightseeing at Stirling Castle, he saw a quotation inscribed above the door of a building: "What e'er thou art, Act well thy part."

The sight of those words motivated Elder McKay to be more dedicated as a missionary and impacted the rest of his life.

"As I have reflected on who you are, the feeling has come over me that you might not fully appreciate the significance of your generation," Elder Cook remarked. He spoke of society having given labels to the generations that are alive today, including "the Greatest Generation" referring to those who endured the worldwide depression of the 1930s and then built a better world through their valor in World War II and its aftermath.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve. | Photo courtesy of Jacob Boden, BYU-Idaho

"Your generation born in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s is currently referred to as the 'Millennial Generation,'" he said. "Some commentators are skeptical about what your generation will accomplish. I believe you have the background and the foundation to be the best generation ever, particularly in advancing our Father in Heaven's plan."

But he warned, "There will be great pressure on each of you to act out of character — to even wear a mask — and become someone who doesn't really reflect who you are or what you want to be."

Elder Cook spoke of an experience he and a fellow apostle, Elder L. Tom Perry, had last summer in meeting with Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, at Mr. Foxman's New York office.

He told of Mr. Foxman's background as a 13-month-old whose imperiled Jewish parents were obliged to entrust him to the care of a Polish, Catholic girl just before they entered a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania in 1941. The parents ultimately survived the Nazi Holocaust but were not reunited with their son until he was 4 years old.

"It is not surprising that Abraham Foxman has devoted his life to fighting anti-Semitism, hatred, bigotry and discrimination," Elder Cook commented.

He said he asked Mr. Foxman what counsel he would give in connection with responsibilities in public affairs for the Church. The director responded by describing the actions of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, pointing out that while some were like the "brown-shirted bullies in the dictatorships of 1930s Europe," the majority of them, behind their masks, were usually normal people, including businessmen and churchgoers.

"Mr. Foxman's counsel was to stress the importance of people avoiding masks that hide their true identity," Elder Cook said.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve was the speaker at the Church Education System dev
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve was the speaker at the Church Education System devotional broadcast for young adults, emanating on Sunday, March 4, from the Brigham Young University-Idaho Conference Center. | Photo courtesy of Jacob Boden, BYU-Idaho

He then recalled incidents from Church history, one when a group of men with their faces painted to hide their identity tarred, feathered and severely injured the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the other when a mob with painted faces stormed the jail at Carthage and murdered the Prophet and his brother Hyrum.

Elder Cook said he was not suggesting that any in the vast congregation would be involved in the kind of events he described. “I do believe, in our day, when being anonymous is easier than ever, that there are important principles involved in ot wearing a mask and being ‘true to the faith for which martyrs have perished,’” he said.

"One of your greatest protections against making bad choices is to not put on any mask of anonymity," Elder Cook declared. "If you ever find yourself wanting to do so, please know it is a serious sign of danger and one of the adversary's tools to get you to do something you should not do. One of the reasons we advise missionaries to dress conservatively and the elders to be clean-shaven is so that there will be no question as to who they are and how they should act. "

Elder Cook urged his listeners to act in accordance with their beliefs by doing things that build and develop character and help them become more Christ-like. He then displayed a segment of the video of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve titled "Special Witnesses of Christ."

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve was the speaker at the Church Education System dev
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve was the speaker at the Church Education System devotional broadcast for young adults on Sunday, March 4, from the Brigham Young University-Idaho Conference Center. | Photo courtesy of Jacob Boden, BYU-Idaho

The video clip shows Elder Perry recounting his experience among the first wave of U.S. Marines to go ashore in Japan after the signing of the peace treaty following World War II. As occupation troops, they helped rebuild the devastated city of Nagasaki, and a few, including Brother Perry, obtained permission to help rebuild Christian churches in the city.

Elder Perry said that as he and his companions were boarding a train to leave Nagasaki and return home, some of the other Marines taunted them, intimating that they had missed the fun of being in Japan by wasting their off-duty time laboring and plastering walls.

"Just as they were at the height of their teasing, up over a little rise near the train station came about 200 of these great Japanese Christians from the churches we had repaired, singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers,'" Elder Perry recounted in the video. "They came down and showered us with gifts. Then they all lined up along the railroad track, and as the train started down the tracks we reached out and just touched their fingers as we left. We couldn't speak; our emotions were too strong. But we were grateful that we could help in some small way in re-establishing Christianity in a nation after the war."

Resuming his speech after the video was shown, Elder Cook remarked, "As you can see from Elder Perry's example in this video, I am not talking about wearing your religion on your sleeve or being superficially faithful. That can be embarrassing to you and the Church. I am talking about you becoming what you ought to be."

He warned his listeners against succumbing to the temptation of pornography and other immoral behavior. He stressed the principle of repentance that can reclaim and heal those who have fallen into destructive habits.

There are other "insidious behaviors that poison society and undermine basic morality," he said. "It is common today to hide one's identity when writing hateful, vitriolic, bigoted communications anonymously online. Some refer to it as flaming."

Some institutions try to control it, he said, noting that the New York Times won't tolerate comments where there are personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, impersonations, incoherence and shouting. The Times also encourages the use of real names because “'we have found that people who use their names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations.'"

Elder Cook denounced "any use of the Internet to bully, destroy a reputation or place a person in a bad light" and said anonymity makes people more likely to engage in such behavior.

He said the righteous need not wear masks to hide their identity and retold the personal experience recounted at the last general conference by President Thomas S. Monson from his experience in the U.S. Navy. On his first Sunday, the drill sergeant lined everyone up to go to church and sent them off to separate locations depending on whether they were Catholic, Jewish or Protestant. But the young Thomas Monson, a Mormon who was not willing to indicate he was of another faith, remained in his place in line. He was then pleased to find that there were other faithful Latter-day Saints standing behind him.

Counseling his young adult listeners to set appropriate goals, Elder Cook told of President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve who served in Japan with the U.S. Air Force at the end of World War II. On the island of Okinawa, he came face to face with the horrors of war. Seeking solitude in a makeshift bunker, he had a confirming spiritual experience that motivated him to devote his life to being a teacher, emphasizing the teachings of the Savior. He recognized his career choice would provide only modest compensation. But he and his wife, Sister Donna Packer, have not felt deprived. They sacrificed to raise 10 children and now have 60 grandchildren and 79 great-grandchildren, Elder Cook noted.

Elder Cook encouraged the young adults to build their country and community where they live.

"Your generation, like 'the greatest generation,' will need to protect righteousness and religious freedom. The Judeo-Christian heritage we have inherited is not only precious, but also essential to your Heavenly Father's plan. We need to preserve it for future generations."

While the Church itself maintains neutrality in partisan politics, "we do expect, however, that our members will be fully engaged in supporting the candidates and parties of their choice based on principles that will protect good government. ... This means that everyone should feel obligated to vote. In those states in the United States that have caucuses you should make yourself familiar with the issues and the candidates and fully participate."

He added, "We would hope that this would be true of all citizens, members and non-members alike, in all states and countries where elections will be held. The price of freedom has been too high and the consequences of non-participation are too great for any citizen to feel that they can ignore their responsibility."

Expressing confidence in today’s young adults, Elder Cook said, “The leadership of the Church honestly believes that you can build the Kingdom like no previous generation. You have not only our love and confidence, but also our prayers and blessings. We know that the success of your generation is essential to the continued establishment of the Church and the growth of the Kingdom. We pray that you will act well your part: as you avoid wearing a mask, act in accordance to your true identity, set appropriate goals, and build the country and community where you live.”

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