SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discussed COVID-19, church support for non-discrimination laws, war in Ukraine and legacy of racism at the faith’s first in-person conference since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The nearly 17 million-member faith, widely known as the Mormon Church, is hosting about 13,000 people at its 21,000-seat conference center in Salt Lake City for two sessions Saturday. Although his signature conference steadily reached full capacity before the pandemic, for two years it was held mostly remotely, with the majority of viewers watching live streams from afar.
President Russell Nelson, the 97-year-old Latter-day Saint prophet, told listeners gathered at church headquarters in Utah and those tuning in remotely on Saturday that the troubles plaguing the world reaffirmed the need of faith and devotion.
“Dispute violates everything the Savior forbade and taught,” he said.
He and other leaders mostly avoided political issues, focused their remarks on spiritual matters, and emphasized unity and faith amid global struggles. However, when senior officials addressed the news and politics, they centered their remarks on denouncing polarization. They urged members of the faith to devote their energy to solution-oriented work rather than heated debates or past-focused criticism.
The forward-looking perspective echoes earlier remarks by Church leaders, who have disavowed racism and expressed regret for the Church’s past positions, while stopping to formally apologize and avoiding opening a debate on the inversion of the doctrines of the Church.
Church leader Neil L. Andersen implored members of the faith to focus on healing divisions, rather than dwelling on historical injustices or other divisive issues. Andersen encouraged tolerance and acceptance, pointing to the church’s support for Arizona’s non-discrimination legislation designed to protect LGBTQ people.
“We love and care for all of our neighbors whether or not they believe like us,” Andersen, a member of a church steering committee called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said.
The church has supported anti-discrimination laws in Arizona and Utah, and over the past decade has softened its stance toward LGBTQ members of the faith and their families. However, he remains opposed to same-sex marriage for theological reasons.
Unlike previous conferences, most church leaders did not explicitly address national judgment on racial injustice. Andersen encouraged listeners to summon “the inner strength to cool, calm and quench the flaming darts aimed at the truths we love.”
As an example of such a dart, he pointed to a Salt Lake Tribune opinion piece that linked contemporary racism in Utah to historical examples of prejudice, including the church’s banning of black members. to serve in the priesthood that was lifted nearly half a century ago.
Andersen urged listeners to avoid “to back down before those who denigrate us” and share the faith in a way “without anger or malice”.
Church officials announced a series of personnel changes on Saturday, including the addition of Tracy Y. Browning to a leadership role. When she takes office in August, she will become the first black woman to serve on an all-women steering committee focused on families and children.
Women cannot serve in the priesthood or hold leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although some have pushed to expand the role of women in leadership.
“Demanding revelation from God is both arrogant and counterproductive. Instead, we wait for the Lord and His calendar to reveal His truths through the means He has established,” Dale G. Renlund, a senior church official, declared a women-only session Saturday night.
Jeffrey R. Holland, another senior church official, addressed remarks to young people struggling with the pandemic, highlighting the risk of suicide and urging children to seek help and guidance. His remarks come after the number of emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts increased in the first year of the pandemic and parallel concerns raised last month by Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Latter-day Saint. days himself, about transgender youth and suicide.
“Watch for signs of depression, hopelessness, or anything that suggests self-harm. Offer your help. Listen. Make some sort of intervention, if need be,” Holland told conference attendees.
Although senior leaders typically focus on spirituality at the church’s biannual signing conference, they have announced major changes in the past, including lifting the ban on baptisms for children of same-sex couples. .
Although there is disagreement among members of the faith, throughout the pandemic Nelson and other senior church leaders have repeatedly encouraged vaccinations and adherence to public health guidelines like masks. . For a time, they closed temples, suspended in-person services, and sent missionaries home.
Church leaders on Saturday commended missionaries for adapting to the challenges presented by COVID-19, which for many included the shift to remote service, and acknowledged that it had not been easy. They encouraged young men who are eligible to serve a mission, but who may not have done so yet because of the pandemic, to prepare.
“I know it hasn’t been easy” said senior church official Mr. Russell Ballard.