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President Gordon B. Hinckley would like to see more people joining the LDS Church in North America and more Mormon boys graduating from high school and college.
These were among Hinckley's messages to the Mormon faithful Saturday, on the first day of the LDS Church's 176th Semiannual General Conference. The three sessions were broadcast from the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City to thousands of church buildings across the world.
In the morning session, the 96-year-old leader of the 12-million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints noted that in October 1982 the conference was carried on 300 satellite downlinks; 24 years later, the church has 6,066 satellite-receiving sites in 83 countries.
"We could wish for more baptisms in the United States and Canada, but that could be said of everywhere throughout the world," said Hinckley, who seemed a little frail as he gave brief opening remarks.
Speaking in the evening to the church's all-male priesthood holders, though, Hinckley seemed to be stronger, according to men who were there. As usual, the Mormon leader did not mince words.
"There is not a man or boy in this vast congregation tonight who cannot improve his life, and that needs to happen," said Hinckley, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" by LDS members.
He chastised especially the young men for "dressing in a slouchy manner" and for indulging in profanity, but reserved his strongest criticism for those who fail to complete their education. He pointed to studies showing that nearly 73 percent of young American women graduate from high school, compared with 65 percent of young men. He also noted that women have earned more bachelor's degrees than men every year since 1982 and more master's degrees since 1986.
"In revelation, the Lord has mandated that this people get all the education they can," Hinckley said. "So I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities."
Later in the speech, Hinckley cautioned the men against the dangers of pornography, which, he said, often leads to a crippling addiction.
It was a theme echoed throughout the day.
Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said Jesus' power to heal went beyond physical illnesses to emotional, mental or spiritual ailments, including addiction.
"Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, and known to him who loves us best," he said. "Sometimes a 'healing' cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are 'healed' by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us."
Oaks, who has spoken and written extensively about homosexuality and the church, emphasized people with same-sex attraction. He read from a letter he received from a gay man who was excommunicated from the LDS Church for violating his "temple covenants," presumably marriage vows.
The letter-writer prayed for forgiveness, sometimes for hours at a time, Oaks said. The man was "sustained by reading the Scriptures, by the companionship of a loving bishop and by priesthood blessings. But what finally made the difference was the help of the Savior."
Some say that change is possible and therapy is the only answer, but they forget to involve God in the process, the letter-writer said, according to Oaks.
"I also worry that many people focus on the causes of [same-gender attraction]," the man wrote. "There is no need to determine why I have [this challenge]. I don't know if I was born with it, or if environmental factors contributed to it. The fact of the matter is that I have this struggle in my life and what I do with it from this point forward is what matters."
James E. Faust, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, discussed what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
"What is required is not to die for the church, but to live for it," said Faust, who delivered his address sitting down because of recurring back pain. "For many, living a Christ-like life every day may be even more difficult than laying down one's life."
Sometimes, though, Mormons are doing too much service for the church, which relies on a volunteer, lay clergy. Members should balance their church assignments, family and professional obligations, said Apostle M. Russell Ballard.
"Focus on people and principles, not on programs. Eliminate guilt. Divide the work and delegate responsibility," Ballard cautioned. "The key, it seems to me, is to know and understand your own capabilities and limitations and then to pace yourself, allocating and prioritizing your time, your attention, and your resources to wisely help others, including your family, in their quest for eternal life."
In a poignant address, Elder Joseph Wirthlin of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles described the deaths of his parents, his sister and, finally, his wife of 65 years, Elisa Wirthlin.
"She was my strength and my joy," Wirthlin said of his wife, who died this summer. "Because of her I am a better man, husband and father. . . . I don't know if there ever was a perfect marriage but, from my perspective, I think ours was."
Such losses compelled Wirthlin to consider the "comforting doctrines of eternal life," which include Jesus' death on the cross on a Friday and his miraculous resurrection on a Sunday.
"We will all have our Fridays," Wirthlin said. "But I testify to you in the name of the one who conquered death - Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. . . . The resurrection is not a fable."
The conference resumes today.