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Mormons listen to, love and support their church president, Thomas S. Monson, as a "prophet, seer and revelator."
But it is not mere "hero worship," Henry B. Eyring said Sunday at the 184th Semiannual LDS General Conference. "It is a gift from God. With it you will receive more easily the gift of confirming revelation when he speaks in his office as the Lord's prophet."
Eyring, first counselor in the governing LDS First Presidency, addressed 20,000 people in a packed Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more worldwide viewing the proceedings on television and the Internet.
Several speakers on the second and final day of the worldwide Mormon meeting focused on the importance of prophets to the Utah-based faith.
Apostle Russell M. Nelson detailed the ways in which the role of an LDS prophet is distinct from other leaders.
For one thing, Nelson said, a Mormon prophet does not seek or work to earn the position. Nor is he elected by a vote.
"Sustaining" prophets, as those in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pledge to do, is a "personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oathlike indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us."
And, because the longest-serving apostle becomes church president, the system usually brings older men to the office of' president.
"Man's ways remove people from office or business when they grow old or become disabled," Nelson said. "But man's ways are not and never will be the Lord's ways."
The Mormon system, he added, provides "continuity, seasoned maturity, experience and extensive preparation, as guided by the Lord."
Members also sustain the whole three-member First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as "prophets, seers and revelators," Nelson said, which guarantees "prophetic leadership even when the inevitable illnesses and incapacities may come with advancing age."
If an LDS Church president becomes too ill to fully function in the office, he explained, his two counselors carry on the daily work, reserving any major policy or doctrinal questions for the entire First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.
That provides "great protections for us ... because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous," Nelson said. "Can you imagine how the Spirit needs to move upon 15 men to bring about unanimity? These 15 men have varied educational and professional backgrounds, with differing opinions about many things. Trust me! These 15 men ... know what the will of the Lord is when unanimity is reached."
Carol F. McConkie, first counselor in the faith's General Young Women Presidency, also spoke about the importance of these top LDS leaders.
"They are messengers of righteousness, witnesses of Jesus Christ and the infinite power of his atonement," McConkie said. "They hold the keys of the kingdom of God on Earth and authorize the performance of saving ordinances."
Mormons who "give heed to, uphold and affirm prophetic word," she said, express their willingness "to humbly submit to the will, the wisdom and the timing of the Lord."
In contemporary society, "following the prophet may be unpopular, politically incorrect or socially unacceptable." McConkie said. "But following the prophet is always right."
Other speakers Sunday also described the need to give deference to LDS leaders, who they emphasized are called by God to lead, exhort and protect the faithful.
"Given the challenges we all face today, how do we stay on the Old Ship Zion?" asked apostle M. Russell Ballard, echoing Brigham Young's reference to Mormonism as Zion. "Here is how! We need to experience a continuing conversion by increasing our faith in Jesus Christ and our faithfulness to his gospel throughout our lives not just once, but regularly."
Ballard also used river rafting as a metaphor for traveling in the chaos of modern society.
"Experienced river guides today can be likened to the church's apostles and prophets and inspired local priesthood and auxiliary leaders. They help us arrive safely to our final destination," he said. " ... We will not and cannot lead you astray."
Some critics suggest that these LDS leaders "live in a bubble," Ballard said. "What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places and worked with many people from different backgrounds. ... We see and experience the world in ways few others do. ... We live less in a 'bubble' than most people."
Ballard said he had seen Mormons who have "not stayed in the boat ... during times of trials and troubles" as well as those who have left "during times of relative calm."
In both cases, he said, "many of them have lost their focus on the central truths of the gospel the reasons why they joined the church in the first place, the reasons they remained fully committed and active in living gospel standards and blessing others through dedicated, consecrated service, and the ways in which the church has been in their lives 'a place of spiritual nourishment and growth.' "
Continuing a practice that debuted Saturday, two speakers Sunday delivered their sermons in their native languages, with subtitles on the big screens in the Conference Center and dubbed into English online and broadcast media.
Brazilian Carlos A. Godoy, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, addressed in Portuguese the importance of making better choices.
"Making decisions that can impact our lives and those we love without having the broader vision of their consequences can bring some risks. However, if we project the possible consequences of these decisions into the future, we can see with greater clarity the best path to take in the present," Godoy said. "We do not need to see an angel to obtain understanding. We have the scriptures, the temple, living prophets, our patriarchal blessings, inspired leaders and, above all, the right to receive personal revelation to guide our decisions."
Puerto Rican Hugo E. Martinez, of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, talked in Spanish about individual ministries.
God and Jesus Christ "know us individually and personally," Martinez said. "For that reason, They provide what we need so we will have the opportunity to reach our divine potential."
Apostle David A. Bednar, delivering his remarks to those outside the Mormon faith, detailed why the LDS Church sends out tens of thousands of missionaries around the globe.
"We are not trying to sell you a product," he said. "As members of the church, we do not receive prizes or bonus points in a heavenly contest. We are not seeking simply to increase the numerical size of the church. And, most importantly, we are not attempting to coerce you to believe as we do."
Missionary invitations also are not an attempt to diminish others' religious traditions or life experiences, he said. "Bring all that you know is true, good and praiseworthy and test our message. ... We urge you to come and see if the restored gospel of Jesus Christ enlarges and enriches that which you already believe to be true."
The 87-year-old Monson was the concluding speaker Sunday morning and used that time to give a straightforward sermon on Jesus Christ, some of which was drawn from an address he gave in 1974.
Describing a woman's trip to Israel and the thrill she felt at being in the land where the Christian Savior had lived, Monson said, "physically walking where Jesus walked is less important than walking as he walked. Emulating his actions and following his example are far more important than trying to retrace the remnants of the trails he traversed in mortality."
Jesus walked the paths of disappointment, temptation, obedience, service and prayer, the church president said, ultimately suffering death and rising in the resurrection.
"As we strive to place Christ at the center of our lives by learning his words, by following his teachings and by walking in his path, he has promised to share with us the eternal life that he died to gain," Monson said. "There is no higher end than this, that we should choose to accept his discipline and become his disciples, and do his work throughout our lives. Nothing else, no other choice we make, can make of us what he can."
Monson capped the conference Sunday afternoon by urging members to be more Christ-like.
"May we be a little kinder and more thoughtful," he said. "May we reach out in helpfulness, not only to our fellow members but also to those who are not of our faith. As we associate with them, may we show our respect for them."