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Russell M. Nelson’s First General Conference As LDS Church President Brings Big Changes

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93-year-old Russell M. Nelson became president of the LDS Church in January of this year.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its bi-annual General Conference over the weekend and with it came a number of changes.

This was Russell M. Nelson’s first conference as president of the church. Although he was officially designated as the top leader following Thomas S. Monson’s death in January, this conference was a chance for Mormons worldwide to raise their hands and “sustain” him. 

In the first big announcement of the session, Mormon leaders named the first Asian-American and Latin American apostles: Gerrit Gong and Ulisses Soares. They join the 15-man council that makes up the top church leadership.

Despite the fact that most Mormons live outside the U.S., top church leaders are traditionally white and American. These appointments shake up that precedent.

In another shift from the norm, three women spoke during the general session this year. Typically there are only one or two female speakers. 

There were also two changes to how LDS congregations worldwide will operate. One change will require Mormon men who hold the priesthood to meet as one group rather than two. In the past adult men were split into two groups based on seniority. This mirrors the way Mormon women have always been organized. 

Another change will affect programs called Home and Visiting Teaching — in which Mormon pairs of men and women do monthly visits to members of their congregations. There will no longer be a monthly quota and the emphasis of visiting in someone’s home, rather than a call or text, has been downplayed.

Apostle Jeffrey Holland said the past way of doing things was too checklist and number-centric. He added that this new approach puts the emphasis on "ministering."

In the final minutes, President Nelson announced seven new Mormon temples including the first in India and Russia.

One topic that was only light touched on was sexual abuse, despite rising concerns among members that the LDS Church has not done enough to protect its own following a number of recent controversies.

In response to pressure, the church last week issued new guidelines for how Mormon leaders should handle abuse reports. These guidelines were not elaborated on.

During a session on Saturday, a woman yelled “Stop protecting sexual predators!” and was quickly escorted from the conference center. 

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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