The challenge of having a living prophet

Reading older general conference addresses is a rewarding mix of challenging and comforting messages. 

The first session of the October 1976 conference offered lots of both, but I’m going to focus on some of the parts that were personally challenging. 

President Kimball spoke of the evil’s of pornography and urged members to join the fight against obscenity:

And so we say to you: Teach your children to avoid smut as the plague it is. As citizens, join in the fight against obscenity in your communities. Do not be lulled into inaction by the pornographic profiteers who say that to remove obscenity is to deny people the rights of free choice. Do not let them masquerade licentiousness as liberty.

Precious souls are at stake–souls that are near and dear to each of us.

As someone who has long been just about a free speech absolutist, this is a very challenging message that feels directed right at me. As I read such thoughts, I reflect deeply on how I can do better to align my professional and intellectual vocations with the demands of God through a living Prophet. I find such challenges to be one of the greatest things about having a living prophet on the earth.

Another point from President Kimball likewise challenged me as a conservative who usually wants to see limited or smaller government. President Kimball spoke of the importance of family life, and held up a social program in France as an example:

Family life is gaining ground. Some countries are coming to an appreciation for children and family life.

We note that France has now repudiated that program which would limit life. It is said that if a couple’s combined ages in France do not exceed fifty-two and one of them is employed, the couple can borrow $1,350 from the government on demand. This is for the payment of rent, payment on a home, or for household equipment, with fifteen months to pay.

If a French couple has a baby before the loan payment is due, their debt is reduced by 15 percent for the first child, 25 percent for the second child, 25 percent for the third, and complete debt forgiveness for the fourth. In France the expectant mother is said to receive $150 for prenatal care. This is a step in the right direction.

President Kimball’s remarks suggest that government can and should play a role in supporting and promoting the family and family values. This pushback on more traditional anti-government conservatives views is extremely valuable for all who listen. This is exactly how it should be.

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The Unifying Spirit of the Lord

At the conclusion of the April 1976 conference President (then Elder) Howard B. Hunter shared a powerful message about the vital importance of unity – in society but especially in the Church. Strikingly, he connected the future growth of the Church to the degree that members would be able to maintain unity.

As we think of the great growth of the Church, the diversities of tongues and cultures, and the monumental tasks that yet lie before us, we wonder if there is any more important objective before us than to so live that we may enjoy the unifying spirit of the Lord. As Jesus prayed, we must be united if the world is ever to be convinced that he was sent by God his Father to redeem us from our sins.

It is unity and oneness that has thus far enabled us to bear our testimony around the globe, bringing forward tens of thousands of missionaries to do their part. More must be done. It is unity that has thus far enabled the Church, its wards and stakes, branches and districts, and members, to construct temples and chapels, undertake welfare projects, seek after the dead, watch over the Church, and build faith. More must be done. These great purposes of the Lord could not have been achieved with dissension or jealousy or selfishness. Our ideas may not always be quite like those who preside in authority over us, but this is the Lord’s church and he will bless each of us as we cast off pride, pray for strength, and contribute to the good of the whole.

I wonder if some of the slowing growth we see in recent years is as a result of growing disunity in the Church. We are divided over a myriad of political, social, and cultural issues. We are encompassed by a large number of “ites” such as Snufferites (or more controversially, followers of groups such as Ordain Women). Therefore, we appear to the world as a church in conflict rather than a united one.

One thing that I truly value about my membership in the Church is the degree to which there is doctrinal unity in the Church. I love having a source of authority to look to for definitive answers from the Lord about perplexing moral and spiritual problems. I love that we need not be children tossed to and fro by the deceptions of the world. There’s a reason why primary children across the world sing “follow the prophet.” Doing so is the key to a united membership and to the spiritual power that comes as a result.

It brings me great sorrow to see so much division and disunity. If we could simply, as President Hunter suggested, “cast off pride” and put on the mantle of love and charity, we would see conditions improve I the Church and in the world.

Elder George P. Lee in the same session echoed similar thoughts about unity:

To me you’re all equal in the sense that you are all Latter-day Saints and that you are all rich spiritually. What I see in the audience today are people from all walks of life. I see doctors and lawyers sitting next to common men. I see a farmer next to a professional person. I see professional people, educators, and teachers side by side. I see composers, musicians, and artists–all kinds of people from all walks of life, sitting together side by side. And this is as it should be, because if you want to know what the celestial kingdom looks like, you are witnessing today a glimpse of the celestial kingdom and heaven.

One of the miracles of the church is how it brings people of diverse backgrounds together to serve together as one. That is the celestial kingdom in action. We need to put off our differences and put our shoulders to the wheel in valiant service.

The Mighty Prophet

Elder Bruce R. McConkie is particularly known for his forceful testimony of Jesus Christ. However, his witness of the prophet Joseph Smith was also especially powerful.

In April 1976, he put the question of whether Joseph truly was a prophet into stark relief:

All men may well ask themselves where they stand with reference to Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Do they inquire after his name and seek that salvation found only in the gospel of Christ as revealed to his latter-day prophet, or do they deride and despise the Lord’s living oracles and say that God no longer speaks to men in the way he did anciently? The great question which all men in our day must answer–and that at the peril of their own salvation–is: Was Joseph Smith called of God?

Ultimately, all seekers of Christ must decide for themselves whether Joseph was a prophet of God. For our day, Joseph Smith was the prophet of the restoration and restored fundamental truth necessary to help us truly know Christ. Even though salvation only comes through Christ, without his servants we would not truly be able to understand Christ. This is truly the great question, because if answered in the affirmative, everything else follows.

Or at least it did for me. My testimony of Joseph Smith was a foundational building block in developing faith in the modern prophets and in the Church. I’m grateful for the powerful witness I received that Joseph was a prophet and for the countless reassurances I have experienced since then.