LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks urged Mormons and non-Mormons alike Saturday to protect children, decrying abortion, divorce, abuse, cohabitation and single and same-sex parenthood as harmful to their welfare.
"Children need others to speak for them," Oaks said during an afternoon speech at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' General Conference, "and they need decision-makers who put their well-being ahead of selfish adult interests."
Oaks was one of more than a dozen LDS leaders who gave talks Saturday, touching on a number of themes, including how to eschew evils of the modern world and how those questioning their faith should recommit themselves to the church. They spoke to 20,000 people who packed the LDS General Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City for morning and afternoon sessions, and to millions more viewing broadcasts of the event around the world.
Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, took on a number of hot-button issues in a speech centered around the need to protect vulnerable children. He condemned abuse and neglect and called abortion "a great evil." He urged parents and caregivers to respond to children who struggle, including with same-sex attraction, with "loving understanding, not bullying or ostracism."
He also cautioned that it should be assumed that kids raised by same-sex couples or unwed mothers will be at a disadvantage.
"Children are also victimized by marriages that do not occur," Oaks said.
He denounced divorce. Oaks said Mormon leaders have taught that viewing marriage as a mere contract easily entered into and broken "is an evil meriting severe condemnation," especially when children suffer as a result.
"Divorcing parents inevitably teach a negative lesson," Oaks said. "There are surely cases when a divorce is necessary for the good of the children, but those circumstances are exceptional. In most marital contests the contending parents should give much greater weight to the interests of the children."
Oaks wasn't the only LDS leader to cover on controversial topics.
Fellow apostles Neil L. Andersen and Quentin L. Cook urged Mormons to remain steadfast in their faith even when facing trials and doubts.
Andersen acknowledged that for unmarried adult Mormons and gay members it can be a severe test of faith to remain chaste. But he said it is possible.
"The world protests: 'How can you ask so much?' " Andersen said. "The Lord responds, 'As the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.' "
Cook said in today's morally deteriorating world, the Utah-based LDS Church faces at least two major challenges: increased unrighteousness across the globe and apathy among some of its own members.
He lamented the portrayal of violence and immorality in music, entertainment and media today as "unprecedented." He also cited unkindness, violence, domestic abuse, sexual immorality and impure thoughts as leading Mormons astray.
"Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions," Cook said, "but they have made unwise choices."
He said some who stray from the faith do so by casual observance of sacred covenants while others devote their time to lesser causes. Some, he added, "allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Both Andersen and Cook warned Mormons not to believe all the disparaging messages they read about their religion and its roots on the Internet.
Reminding Latter-day Saints that church leaders are imperfect, Anderson said some members are shaken when they come across statements made by earlier prophets and apostles that seem out of step with the faith's teachings.
"Doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve," he said. "It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk."
Cook said "some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early church leaders," causing them to draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony.
But he said it's not too late for such Mormons. When members' commitment is weakened, he said, they should immerse themselves in the scriptures and repent to be "spiritually renewed."
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church's governing First Presidency, urged the LDS faithful not to be distracted by their busy lives from what matters most: family and faith.
In an emotional address, Larry Echo Hawk, of the First Quorum of the Seventy and a former head of Indian Affairs under President Barack Obama, urged all people, especially fellow Native Americans to "read and re-read the Book of Mormon."
Ann M. Dibb, second counselor in the church's Young Women General Presidency and a daughter of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, encouraged Mormons to be proud of their faith. She said sometimes church members' enthusiasm can fade. When she has such feelings, she said, she refocuses on her efforts on increasing her gospel knowledge and living gospel principles.
"I pray," Dibb said, "that each one of us will put forth the effort to be able to confidently declare, 'I'm a Mormon. I know it. I live it. I love it.' "