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If LDS opposition to same-sex marriage does not prevail in the United States, Mormons should respond graciously and "practice civility with our adversaries," a leading church apostle counseled Saturday at the faith's General Conference.

"We should be persons of goodwill toward all," Dallin H. Oaks said, "rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.

Oaks, who has been outspoken in defending the LDS Church's stance against gay marriage, said those in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be exemplars of civility.

"We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs," he said during the afternoon session of the 184th Semiannual LDS General Conference, a two-day meeting broadcast to 20,000-strong from the giant Conference Center and across the world via satellite, TV or the Internet. "Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious."

The apostle, who was once a Utah Supreme Court justice, urged Mormon families not to shun those who do not share their LDS faith.

"Surely we can teach our children values and standards of behavior without having them distance themselves or show disrespect to any who are different," Oaks said. "We challenge all youth to avoid bullying, insults or language and practices that deliberately inflict pain on others. All of these violate the Savior's command to love one another."

During the morning session, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson reported that the Utah-based faith now has more than 88,000 full-time missionaries. He announced no new temples, though he did say that when all previously announced temples have been completed, the church will have 170 such edifices sprinkled across the globe.

"In the future," Monson said, "as we identify needs and locate properties, announcements of additional temples will be made."

The 87-year-old "prophet, seer and revelator" also noted the continued growth in the Mormon missionary effort.

"We reaffirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty, and we encourage all worthy and able young men to serve," he said. "We are very grateful for the young women who also serve. They make a significant contribution, although they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men."

Those Mormon women now make up 25 percent to 30 percent of the proselytizing force, a dramatic jump since the church lowered the minimum age for missionary service two years ago to 18 for young men (down from 19) and to 19 for young women (down from 21).

Though Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, had said last Saturday's general women's meeting was the first session of the semiannual conference, both Henry B. Eyring, Monson's first counselor, and Bonnie Oscarson, president of the Young Women's organization (for girls ages 12 to 17), in her invocation, called Saturday morning's gathering "the first session."

Other Saturday sermons discussed a Christian approach to the poor, the expansive nature of truth, adhering to church standards, discipleship, testimony, the prophetic role of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, the importance of the family in teaching LDS principles and the nature of the sacrament (communion),

Jesus Christ's first "messianic call" was to care for the poor, said Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "The great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join him in lifting this heavy burden from the people."

But some see poverty as such an ingrained societal problem that it seems futile to do anything, Holland said. Then, quoting Mother Teresa, the Mormon apostle said to just "do what you can."

"I don't know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who do not or cannot always help themselves," he said. "But I know that God knows, and he will guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment he has given us again and again."

Mormons should stop withholding means from people who they believe brought poverty on themselves, an emotional Holland said, quoting an LDS scripture saying, "we are all beggars" before God and all bring consequences on ourselves.

Uchtdorf described the grandeur of God's knowledge, which believers can grasp only a little at a time and not everyone will come to the same understanding at the same time.

And that's OK, Uchtdorf said.

"There are some members of the church whose testimony is sure and burns brightly within them. Others are still striving to know for themselves," he said. "The church is a home for all to come together, regardless of the depth or the height of our testimony. I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, 'Your testimony must be this tall to enter.' "

The LDS Church is "a place of welcoming and nurturing, not of separating or criticizing. It is a place where we reach out to encourage, uplift and sustain one another as we pursue our individual search for divine truth," Uchtdorf said. "In the end, we are all pilgrims seeking God's light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright and true.

"Let us acknowledge," he added, "that most often gaining a testimony is not a task of a minute, an hour or a day. It is not once and done. The process of gathering spiritual light is the quest of a lifetime."

Lynn G. Robbins, a member of the presidency of the Seventy, warned his audience about the dangers of giving into peer pressure.

"Some members don't realize they are falling into the same snare [of wickedness] when they lobby for acceptance of local or ethnic 'traditions of their fathers' that are not in harmony with the gospel culture," Robbins said. "Still others, self-deceived and in self-denial, plead or demand that bishops lower the standard on temple recommends, school endorsements or missionary applications. ... Like the Savior who cleansed the temple to defend its sanctity, bishops today are called upon to boldly defend the temple standard."

Some "scornful" members "often accuse prophets of not living in the 21st century or of being bigoted. They attempt to persuade and even pressure the church into lowering God's standards to the level of their own inappropriate behavior," he said. " ... Lowering the Lord's standards to the level of a society's inappropriate behavior is apostasy."

Longtime apostle Boyd K. Packer pointed out that "no matter how many continents and countries our missionaries enter or how many different languages we speak, the true success of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be measured by the spiritual strength of its individual members."

The LDS Church is for everyone — "men, women and children, those of every race and nationality, the rich and the poor" — Packer, the 90-year-old senior member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said while seated at a portable podium at his chair. "We need the recent convert and those among our numbers descended from the pioneers. We need to seek out those who have strayed and assist them to return to the fold. We need everyone's wisdom and insight and spiritual strength. Each member of this church as an individual is a critical element of the body of the church."

Apostle Neil L. Andersen decried critics of Mormon's first prophet, Joseph Smith.

Smith was the "instrument in God's hands in bringing forth sacred scripture, lost doctrine and the restoration of the priesthood," Andersen said. "The importance of Joseph's work requires more than intellectual consideration; it requires that we, like Joseph, 'ask of God.' Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God."

Quoting the late apostle Neal A. Maxwell, Andersen said, "Studying the church through the eyes of its defectors is like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed."

The lone female speaker Saturday was Cheryl A. Esplin, second counselor in the general Primary presidency (for children under age 12), who celebrated the LDS practice of taking the sacrament, or ritually eating bread and water in memory of Christ's body and blood.

"The more we ponder the significance of the sacrament, the more sacred and meaningful it becomes to us," Esplin said. " ... Our wounded souls can be healed and renewed not only because the bread and water remind us of the Savior's sacrifice of his flesh and blood but because the emblems also remind us that he will always be our 'bread of life' and 'living water.' "

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