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Posted: 4:38 PM- The LDS Church has become one large family scattered across the earth, President Gordon B. Hinckley said Sunday during the opening session of the 177th Semiannual LDS General Conference.
"With 13 million members in 176 nations and territories, . . . a great miracle is taking place right before our eyes," Hinckley told the throngs of Mormons gathered in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City or watching via satellite in LDS churches across the globe.
Hinckley's speech was largely a repeat of the one he gave last April, but the Mormon leader, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator," was unapologetic.
"A soloist sings the same song again and again. An orchestra repeats the same music," Hinckley said . "But a speaker is expected to come up with something new every time he speaks."
During his many decades as a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hinckley has given more than 200 speeches at the twice-yearly conferences. By now, he has hit every possible topic imaginable, including Saturday's exploration of the damaging effects of anger.
So Hinckley simply repeated his strong belief in the church's key teachings - founder Joseph Smith's vision of God and Jesus, Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon from ancient texts, Jesus' death, resurrection and visit to the American continent and the establishment of the LDS Church as a model of early Christianity.
Other speakers, including several non-American authorities, discussed the nature of sin, the value of inspirational religious teachers, unselfish service in the church and community and the urgency of disciplined living.
Apostle Dallin H. Oaks urged Mormon parents to limit their children's extracurricular activities.
"Teams sports and technology toys like video games and the Internet are already winning away the time of our children and youth," Oaks said. "Some young men and women are skipping church youth activities or are unavailable for family time in order to participate in soccer leagues or to purse various entertainments."
They are "amusing themselves to death," he said, "spiritual death."
Perhaps the most controversial speaker on Sunday, though, was Julie Beck, the new president of the church's all-women Relief Society, who talked about the powerful influence of motherhood.
Faithful Mormon women want children and do not delay child-bearing, Beck said, quoting the late LDS Pres. Ezra Taft Benson as saying, "children - not possessions, not position, not prestige - are our greatest jewels."
Mormon mothers honor their sacred covenants by bringing daughters to church "in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts," Beck said.
They establish a good climate where children can be nourished physically and spiritually.
"Another word for nurturing is homemaking," Beck said. "[It] includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes, and keeping an orderly house."
In partnership with their husbands, mothers "plan for missions, temple marriages, and education," she said. These women "are selective about their own activities and involvement to conserve their limited strength in order to maximize their influence where it matters most."
The speech triggered a firestorm of criticism on the Mormon weblog timesandseasons.org from listeners who objected to Beck's stereotyping of women's roles or guilt-inducing comments about the necessity of being the best mothers in the world.
Earlier in the session, the newest members of the LDS hierarchy gave their first formal speeches in their new roles.
Henry B. Eyring, the LDS apostle who was appointed Saturday as second counselor in the church's three-member First Presidency, spoke admiringly of James E. Faust, whose death on Aug. 10 created the opening for Eyring.
"I always felt when I grew up, I wanted to be like Pres. Faust," the 74-year-old Eyring said. "There may still be time."
In an animated, emotional speech, Eyring urged members to find ways to "recognize and remember God's kindness."
The challenge has always been hardest "for those who are blessed abundantly," he said. "It is easy to begin to feel the blessings were granted not by a loving God on whom we depend but on our own powers."
The newest apostle, Quentin L. Cook, has hard a hard time forgetting God's involvement in his life.
Since Thursday, when he was asked to join the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Cook has experienced a "kaleidoscope of feelings, sleepless nights and much prayer," he said.
"To say I feel deeply inadequate would be an understatement," Cook said. "But my spirit is buoyed by the knowledge that Pres. [Gordon B.] Hinckley is a prophet of God."
He described the influences for good all around him, beginning with Mormon ancestors who "gave everything that was asked of them to build the kingdom of God." He mentioned his wife, children and grandchildren, the Mormons in California, where he lived for 33 years, the members in the Philippines, where he lived for three years, and the various leaders he worked with as executive director of the church's vast missionary department.
"My heart is filled with appreciation for the faith and goodness of Latter-day Saints all over the world," Cook said. "The gospel is having a tremendous impact in improving their lives."
As the two-day conference adjourned, Hinckley remarked, "I am 97 years old. I hope I will be with you [at the church's next General Conference] in April."