Church Leaders Speak “The Pure Truth”
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members on Saturday to listen to religious leaders as they seek “pure truth” and expressed gratitude for those who have followed the church’s advice during the pandemic, which involved getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
President Russell M. Nelson acknowledged at a church conference that the world “still faces the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants.” And although he didn’t specifically mention vaccines, he thanked members for taking the advice of church leaders, medical experts and government officials.
The Utah-based faith has repeatedly encouraged its 16 million members worldwide to limit the spread by getting vaccinated and wearing masks.
“Contrary to the doubts of some, there really is such a thing as right and wrong. There really is one absolute truth – an everlasting truth, ”Nelson said, speaking from inside a nearly empty conference center in Salt Lake City. “One of the scourges of our time is that too few people know where to turn for the truth. I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow is the pure truth.
The conference is once again being held without full attendance due to the pandemic, but for the first time in two years, leaders were back at the 20,000-seat Faith Conference Center with several hundred people watching in person.
The famous Church Choir Tabernacle in Temple Square was also back in person. However, there were fewer members than normal to allow for social distancing, and all members had been vaccinated, the church said.
Leaders have spoken at the previous three conferences inside a smaller building with no choir and no attendees. These conferences were the first to take place without full participation in over 70 years.
Most of the faith widely known as the Mormon Church watch speeches at the two-day conference on televisions, computers, and tablets from their homes across the world. Before the pandemic, the event brought about 100,000 people to church headquarters to listen to five sessions over two days.
Church pressure for people to get vaccinated has divided faith, similar to a larger society. Members who support the position say they fear some Latter-day Saints who refuse to be vaccinated will let their political views trump their loyalty to a faith that places a high priority on unity and obedience . Other church members are upset that their leaders won’t let them exercise their personal decision-making about vaccines and masks.
About 65% of Latter-day Saints who responded to a survey earlier this year said they accept the vaccine, meaning they have received at least one dose or plan to do so soon. According to the survey conducted this summer by the Public Religion Research Institute, a Washington-based polling organization, and Interfaith Youth Core, 15% were identified as hesitant and 19% said they would not get the shot.
The survey found that 79% of white Catholics and 56% of evangelical white Protestants identified themselves as vaccine acceptors.
In Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based and where members make up nearly two-thirds of the 3.2 million population, a summer surge of the virus among unvaccinated residents has pushed hospitals at almost full capacity. Cases peaked in mid-September before declining in recent weeks, reflecting national trends. About 65% of Utah residents aged 12 and older have been fully immunized, according to state data.
The pandemic was not a central topic in conference speeches on Saturday, with most of the speakers focusing on matters of spiritual guidance. Several speeches have been pre-recorded by international members of mid-level steering committees who were unable to travel to the United States due to the pandemic.
In one, Erich W. Kopischke from Germany pleaded with members to better understand mental health issues and to avoid passing judgment on those who struggle with such illnesses. He spoke of his son’s struggle with panic attacks, anxiety and depression that kept him from completing his mission in the church and caused him to consider suicide.
Kopischke admitted that he and his wife worried about what others would think and were disappointed and sad that their son couldn’t complete a mission. Missions are considered a rite of passage for young adult members of the faith, and coming home early has long caused anguish for young adults and their parents.
“It can be difficult for parents to identify their children’s difficulties, but we have to educate ourselves. How can you tell the difference between difficulties with normal development and signs of illness? As parents, we have the sacred responsibility of helping our children overcome life’s challenges; However, few of us are mental health specialists, ”Kopischke said. “We must nonetheless take care of our children by helping them learn to be content with their sincere efforts as they strive to meet appropriate expectations.”
Ulisses Soares of Brazil, who in 2018 became the first Latin American member of a leadership group called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also encouraged members to be compassionate with others.
“We should never pass harsh and cruel judgment on our fellow human beings because we all need understanding and mercy for our imperfections from our loving Heavenly Father,” said Soares.
Bonnie H. Cordon, president of the church’s program for young women, told young members to always remember God’s love for them. She was one of only three women to speak in the sessions on Saturday.
“Remembering this love can help you push back the confusion of the world that is trying to weaken your confidence in your divine identity and blind you to your potential,” Cordon said.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks issued a stern reminder to members to attend church regularly. He is the second highest member of the church as Nelson’s first counselor and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
“If we stop valuing our churches, for whatever reason, we are threatening our personal spiritual lives, and a significant number of separating from God reduces His blessings for our nations,” Oaks said.