In conference speech, church leader warns of ‘rampant immorality and addictive pornography’

People arrive for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' two-day conference in Salt Lake City, April 6, 2019 | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A high-ranking leader with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members Saturday during a church conference to root their families in the teachings of Christ to prepare their children for a world with “rampant immorality and addictive pornography.”

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, center, performs during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conference in Salt Lake City, April 6, 2019 | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Ulisses Soares, a member of a top governing panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, cited church President Russell M. Nelson’s recent remarks about immorality in a speech saying members should welcome back family members and friends who have strayed from the right path and never reject them.

“If that happens with your dear ones, fill your hearts with compassion, run to them, fall on their neck, and kiss them, like the father of the prodigal son did,” said Soares, a Brazilian who is one of the newest members of the governing panel. “Keep living a worthy life, be a good example to them of what you believe, and draw close to our savior Jesus Christ.”

Church members are bracing for more changes during the weekend conference because Nelson has been busy during his first year at the helm reshaping a faith that counts 16 million members worldwide. On Thursday, Nelson announced the surprising repeal of policies that banned baptisms for children of gay parents and labeled people in same-sex marriages as sinners eligible for expulsion. He is expected to speak during the conference.

Church leader Becky Craven, a member of the Young Women General Presidency, dovetailed on Soares’ speech by instructing members not to fall victim to temptation and be diligent following the faith’s teachings. Craven advised members to make sure they don’t let modern fashion prevent them from dressing modestly, especially in worship settings. She also told members to be careful with their language and what they watch on television and their cellphones.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson, center, greets church leaders during the faith’s conference in Salt Lake City, April 6, 2019 | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

“As a covenant people, we are not meant to blend in with the rest of the world,” Craven said. “We have been called a peculiar people – what a compliment. As the influences of the world increasingly embrace the evil, we must strive with all diligence to stay firmly on the path that leads us safely to the savior.”

The Utah-based faith teaches abstinence from alcohol, instructs members to wait until marriage to engage in sexual relations and encourages a modest dress code. The faith opposes same-sex relationships. The religion, widely known as the Mormon church, also asks members to avoid coffee and hot drinks as part of its health code.

The conference brings about 100,000 people to Salt Lake City to watch five sessions in person and millions more watch live broadcasts and livestreams.

Nelson, 94, ascended to the presidency in January 2018 after nearly three decades in the Quorum of the Twelve that helps the president lead the faith.

He has already launched a campaign calling on people to stop using the shorthand names “Mormon” and “LDS,” severed the faith’s ties with the Boy Scouts of America after a century, revised how leaders handle closed-door interviews with young people and changed rules to allow missionaries to speak with their families more often.

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conference in Salt Lake City, April 6, 2019 | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Church leaders don’t always announce new initiatives or make church news at the conference, but Nelson’s busy tenure so far has members and onlookers on high alert.

Nelson has made several changes to church operations designed to improve the religious experience for an increasingly global membership that has more than half of its 16 million members outside of the U.S.

He shortened Sunday worship by one hour — two hours instead of three — and shifted the emphasis to home-based worship. The switch was a significant one for Mormons, who since 1980 had been expected to attend all three hours each Sunday to be considered active members of the faith.

He also has ordered a new hymn book, made structural changes to how local congregations function and revised a sacred temple ceremony to give women a more prominent role.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press.

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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