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Mormons need to be sensitive to others but not shy away from standing up boldly for their faith's bedrock teachings about home, marriage, family and sexuality, a top women's leader said Saturday.

"I worry that we live in such an atmosphere of avoiding offense that we sometimes altogether avoid teaching correct principles," Bonnie L. Oscarson, president of the church's Young Women organization, told the general women's session of the fall General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We fail to teach our young women that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance because we don't want to offend those who aren't married, those who can't have children or to be seen as stifling future choices. On the other hand, we may also fail to emphasize the importance of education because we don't want to send the message that it is more important than marriage," Oscarson said. "We avoid declaring that our Heavenly Father defines marriage as being between a man and woman because we don't want to offend those who experience same-sex attraction. And we may find it uncomfortable to discus gender issues or healthy sexuality."

While sensitivity should "certainly" be used when discussing such topics, she said women should use "common sense" and understanding of Mormonism's plan of salvation to be "bold and straightforward."

Oscarson, who oversees the auxiliary for LDS girls ages 12 to 17, encouraged women to make "home a safe place to raise questions and have meaningful gospel instruction."

She also urged Mormon women to "see themselves as essential participants in the work of the [all-male LDS] priesthood" and to strengthen their grip on the gospel in these "perilous times."

"If current trends are an indication," Oscarson warned, "we need to be prepared for the storms that lie ahead."

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, told the thousands assembled in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and the millions more watching around the globe that people must trust God in times when the future seems unclear — just as a pilot relies on instruments during severe weather.

"Just because we can't hear something doesn't mean there's nothing to hear," Uchtdorf said. "Two people can listen to the same message or read the same verse of scripture, and one might feel the witness of the Spirit, while the other doesn't."

Answers will come from God eventually, he said. "Until then, we walk by whatever faith we have."

Uchtdorf declared that "faith is powerful" and can result in miracles.

"But no matter how much faith we have," he added, "there are two things faith cannot do. For one thing, it cannot violate someone's agency. … The second thing faith cannot do is force our will upon God."

Carole M. Stephens, first counselor in the general presidency of the adult women's Relief Society, referenced women who have suffered from physical ailments, mental illness or from choices made by themselves or others.

She pointed to those who have suffered "verbal, sexual and emotional abuse."

"These experiences, though no fault of their own, have left many feeling guilty and ashamed," she said. "Not understanding how to manage the powerful emotions they experience, many try to bury them, pushing them deeper into themselves."

But even those women, she said, can find comfort and strength from Christ, "the master healer," and by using resources, including perhaps professional counseling.

Jean B. Bingham, first counselor in the general presidency of the children's Primary organization, emphasized the need for women to strengthen family members and those they have an opportunity to mentor.

Through charity, she said, females ages 8 to 108 "can bring the light of the gospel into our own environment, be it a high-rise apartment in Manhattan, a stilt house in Malaysia or a yurt in Mongolia."

Bingham said that no matter what "mistakes and stumbling" another has experienced in the past, Mormon women should focus on the "reality of eternal progression" rather than "harboring grudges or reminding ourselves and others of imperfections in the past."

"Our obligation and privilege is to embrace improvement in everyone as we strive to become like our savior," she said. " ... We are not only allowed to change for the better, but encouraged — and even commanded — to continue in the pursuit of improvement and, ultimately, perfection."

While 89-year-old LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson attended the meeting, he did not speak. Uchtdorf noted that a rendition of the Mormon hymn "How Firm a Foundation" by the choir of young women from northern Utah's Huntsville, Ogden and Morgan areas, brought Monson to tears.

"He loves you, sisters," Uchtdorf said. "He loves you."

Monson, who the church has said is "feeling the effects of advancing age," was assisted out of his chair at the end of the meeting. He blew a kiss to the crowd and waved to eager young women in the audience.

The 186th Semiannual General Conference continues next weekend.

Twitter: @mnoblenews

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