Visiting Salt Lake City, Utah, from Las Vegas, Nevada, for general conference, my uncle told me he had an extra ticket for the Sunday morning session. I was thrilled to accept his invitation to attend.
I had returned from my mission only a few months prior, and the attacks of 9/11 shook the world only weeks before.
Toward the end of the session, we noticed some unusual movements on the stand. A member of the Presiding Bishopric picked up a phone on the small table beside him. Quickly, he pulled out a piece of paper and wrote something down before hanging up the phone.
The note was passed to President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was the President of the Church at that time.
A few minutes later, President Hinckley arose to give his scheduled message for that session.
“I have just been handed a note,” he said, “that says a U.S. missile attack is under way.”
The silence of 21,000 attendees changed somehow. There was no gasp that I can remember. There was no audible reaction. But the focus turned keenly to President Hinckley and what his reaction would be. What would he say? What would the Lord have us all do at a time like this?
He asked members of the Church to avoid persecuting those who were not responsible for 9/11.
“Rather, let us be friendly and helpful, protective and supportive,” he said.
In contrast to the war that was provoked, President Hinckley called on members of the Church to remember who we are.
“We are people of peace,” he said. “We are followers of the Christ who was and is the Prince of Peace.”
President Hinckley read many prophecies from the scriptures. He asked that we remember what prophets have said and taught beginning as far back as the War in Heaven. And then he asked us to remember the promises of our Heavenly Father.
“Now, brothers and sisters, we must do our duty, whatever that duty might be. Peace may be denied for a season. Some of our liberties may be curtailed. We may be inconvenienced. We may even be called on to suffer in one way or another. But God our Eternal Father will watch over this nation and all of the civilized world who look to Him. He has declared, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’ (Psalms 33:12). Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God.”
Immediately following this counsel, President Hinckley explained what it is to “look to Him.”
“Let us be prayerful. Let us pray for righteousness. Let us pray for the forces of good. Let us reach out to help men and women of goodwill, whatever their religious persuasion and wherever they live. Let us stand firm against evil.”
I felt a profound peace that morning. A living prophet gave generations-worth of heavenly perspective to the chaos and war the world was experiencing.
In the afternoon session, President Hinckley shared his nine hopes for those who had participated in general conference throughout the weekend.
He admitted that he did not know what the future held. No one did. But he encouraged our focus on the ultimate purpose of life.
“Regardless of what may come, may faith, immovable and constant, shine above us as the polar star,” he said.
And for those seeking safety and security at a seemingly vulnerable time, he said, “Our safety lies in the virtue of our lives. Our strength lies in our righteousness.”
In closing the conference, President Hinckley offered a prayer specific to the unique circumstances of the day. The words of that prayer are worth considering today.
He asked Heavenly Father to bless us with faith, love, charity, a spirit of perseverance, protection, guidance, mercy, peace and forgiveness.
That last part really hit me. In a time of pain and suffering because of an attack on the country where I lived, the Lord’s prophet asked for our forgiveness.
“We humbly plead with Thee, asking that Thou wilt forgive our arrogance, pass by our sins, be kind and gracious to us, and cause our hearts to turn with love toward Thee.”
Twenty years later, as we listen to general conference, I hope we still work to lessen our arrogance and turn our hearts with love toward Heavenly Father.