The hours preceding the first day of the 190th Semiannual General Conference on Saturday were much like the preceding weeks and months. They were marked by unsettling breaking news, political splits and the persistent fear of a tenacious virus.
Then a latter-day Prophet stepped to the podium and, with trademark warmth, assured his worldwide audience that they are loved and remembered by the Divine.
Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, “care for us,” said President Russell M. Nelson. “They and Their holy angels are watching over us. I know that this is true.”
The messages from the Saturday morning and afternoon sessions were both timely and timeless. Latter-day Saints, and anyone else tuning in, were gently counseled on overcoming division, eschewing racism and remaining prayerful, devout and hopeful.
President Nelson designated this “unique time” as a moment to grow by exercising faith.
“We are here on earth to be tested, to see if we will choose to follow Jesus Christ, to repent regularly, to learn, and to progress,” he said. “Our spirits long to progress. And we do that best by staying firmly on the covenant path.”
Despite pervasive COVID-19 quarantines and closures, President Nelson confirmed that the Church is not merely treading water and waiting out the virus. Historic things are happening.
Missionary and temple work are moving forward. Ground is being broken for future temples. Ward and stakes are being created. And people in need are being blessed by more than 800 pandemic-related humanitarian projects around the world.
Meanwhile, increased gospel study in homes in recent months is resulting in stronger testimonies and families.
“We will do more than simply grit our teeth, hold on, and wait for things to return to the old normal,” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf on Saturday afternoon. “We will move forward, and we will be better as a result.”
God, he added, will shepherd His people during these times of uncertainty and fear.
“He hears your pleas. He is faithful and dependable. He will fulfill His promises.”
The blessings of the gospel and power of God’s love continue to prove immune to viruses and social unrest.
“As we come to trust God, sometimes through pleading in our darkest, loneliest, most uncertain moments, we learn He knows us better and loves us more than we know or love ourselves,” said Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during his prerecorded Saturday afternoon talk.
“Out of caution, because he has been potentially exposed recently to COVID-19, Elder Gong is at home today,” said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, while conducting the Saturday afternoon session. “He feels fine, but he recorded his remarks earlier.”
Rise above prejudice and racism
Even as many communities are struggling to manage COVID-19, others are waging battles with racism and social injustice. Saturday’s sessions included counsel on rising above biases.
“As citizens and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root racism,” said President Oaks in his Saturday morning remarks.
Knowing “we are all children of God,” he noted, forms understanding of the divine worth of each individual “and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism.”
For United States citizens, peaceful protest is protected by the Constitution. But President Oaks warned that anarchy “undermines rather than protects individual rights.”
Headline-grabbing clashes between cultures remain a challenge. But the “Culture of Christ” remains the greatest of all, taught Elder William K. Jackson, a General Authority Seventy.
“Virtually all conflict and chaos would quickly fade if the world would only accept its original culture, the one we all possessed not so very long ago,” he said.
Government policies and, perhaps, a fast-approaching national election may split the political loyalties of Latter-day Saints.
“However, as followers of Christ we must forego the anger and hatred with which political choices are debated or denounced in many settings,” said President Oaks.
A collective gathering of Saints
Once again, the First Presidency and others Church leaders participating in general conference adhered to social distancing to keep everyone safe. They wore masks when they weren’t delivering their messages at the podium.
And, once again, the Conference Center’s main auditorium was quiet and empty. Prerecorded performances of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and other choirs were utilized for the second time in the biannual conference.
But general conference remains a communal, trending gathering on popular social media platforms. Tens of thousands of Tweets utilizing the hashtag #GeneralConference signaled wide engagement during each conference message. Other memes and quotes were posted in real time on Instagram and Facebook.
Meanwhile, families across the world gathered in their living rooms, virtually inviting President Nelson and other Church leaders into their homes via television and the Internet.
Conferencegoers may not have been sitting together en masse Saturday, but they worshiped as one. They found comfort — even as they looked to a time when 2020’s challenges are the distant claims of Church history.
“We express understanding and concern for your situation,” said Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric. “As well as a firm conviction that better days are ahead.”