Rumors about possible announcements and changes preceding the 189th Annual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were abundant on social media in the days leading up to conference weekend. However, in the end, conference was replete with messages of love, repentance and the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Church members have witnessed changes in programs and procedures during President Russell M. Nelson’s short tenure as Church president. Those changes were meant to enhance the things that really matter — the way we look out for those who are in need, the way we study and teach the gospel in our homes, the focus of Sunday meetings — but they altered the way some things had been done for decades.
By contrast, this conference provided the kind of spiritual food a starving world ought to distribute like a care package in a famine. It was a cargo load of the things that really matter.
The real miracle of general conference lies in continuing revelation and in learning what God wants the people of this age to hear through His prophets. And what I heard is that He wants those who have left the fold to come back, those who never have been to join, and those who are devout to care more about the first two groups. And He wants the world to repent and follow the Savior.
President Nelson gave us the powerful, frightening scene of last fall’s wildfire in Paradise, California, with “impenetrable darkness that was streaked with javelins of threatening embers,” then described a young police officer’s anguish after long hours spent saving many people as he was consumed by the question, “Where is my family?”
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the metaphorical darkness of a raging forest fire in a modern world filled with the judgments and taunts prevalent on social media, the endless lures for pleasures and consumer-driven pursuits in everyday life, the promotion of behaviors and substances that in truth are harmful and the many diversions that would, in the words of the Apostle Paul, lead people along the circular and frustrating path of being “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)
The one and only way to ensure our families are safe and together with us is through Jesus Christ, and only the restored Church with priesthood authority and keys can make it happen.
“Love songs perpetuate a false hope that love is all you need if you want to be together forever,” he said. “And some erroneously believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides a promise that all people will be with their loved ones after death.”
The truth, President Nelson said, is that exaltation requires much more. The key lies in “making covenants with God, keeping those covenants and receiving essential ordinances.”
I imagine that’s a hard thing for some people to hear, but in truth it is a shining ray of hope in a darkened world. God has not forgotten his children. He has provided a way.
And, as President Nelson reminded those at the priesthood session Saturday evening, repentance is not a punishment. It is a process that is more “liberating,” “ennobling,” and “crucial” than anything else we could do.
Contrast that to a world that often urges people to seek fulfillment by indulging themselves in whatever they think will bring happiness. Then consider the question "Where will this lead?" posed by President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, to have us consider as we make decisions.
President Henry B. Eyring spoke of building a home where the Spirit of the Lord can dwell. The key, the second counselor in the First Presidency said, is not to call a child to repent. It is to “help them grow in faith that Jesus Christ is their loving redeemer.” This “is more likely to bring repentance than your preaching against each symptom of spiritual decline.”
Consider these messages in light of the problems of the world, and it’s easy to see that modern prophets and apostles have the answers many people crave, no matter how counter-intuitive they may seem in secular settings. They have shown how to make each home a sanctuary in a frightening world.
We should be thankful for a conference that gave the Church, and the world, what they most needed to hear.