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LDS Church Holds General Conference During Pandemic, Announces First Temple In China

Men sit in seats in empty auditorium
Courtesy of Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
LDS Church officials address a nearly empty auditorium at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City during the church's biannual General Conference on April 4, 2020. The conference was held without a live, in-person audience.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revealed a new logo, announced new temples in China and Dubai and made a rare proclamation at its worldwide meeting that was largely overshadowed by the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Overall, the conference did not see any major changes or developments. But due to the growing pandemic, church leadership held the biannual General Conference without an in-person, public audience in downtown Salt Lake City. 


Church officials, who typically speak to a group of 20,000 church members, shared their messages instead to a nearly empty conference room on Temple Square. The hymns, sung by the Tabernacle Choir, were recordings from past years. But for Latter-day Saints at home, the broadcast carried on as usual. 


The Church President Russell M. Nelson encouraged speakers to focus their remarks on Mormonism’s first prophet Joseph Smith and his account of seeing God and Jesus Christ in a New York forest 200 years ago, an event known as the “first vision.” 


Latter-day Saints believe Smith was chosen by God to be a prophet and then “restored” Jesus Christ’s original church to the Earth after it was lost following the deaths of the original 12 apostles. 


Nelson revealed a new official church proclamation — revered nearly as scripture — that detailed Smith’s recounting of the vision and its significance in the church’s history. 


“We felt impressed to create a monument,” Nelson said. “Not of granite or stone, but of words.” 


This is the sixth proclamation since the church’s inception. 


Credit Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint's official new logo, or symbol, as revealed during General Conference.

Nelson also revealed a new official logo, or symbol, that features a depiction of the artist Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Christus statue which is featured prominently in Latter-day Saint visitor centers around the world. 

The new logo is meant to work in tandem with Nelson’s recent push for the church to use its full name and end the term “Mormon” by turning the focus instead to the name and image of Jesus Christ. 


Nelson ended the conference by announcing eight new temples to be constructed, including the first in Dubai and in mainland China. He described the temple to be built in Shanghai as a multi-use meetinghouse and reaffirmed that the church does not proselytize in China per a long-standing agreement with the Chinese government.  


Nelson asked Latter-day Saints across the world to fast on Good Friday for relief from COVID-19, but the outbreak, while clearly the elephant in the empty conference room, wasn’t addressed at length by many speakers. Church apostle Elder Jeffery R. Holland was one of the few who turned his focus to the pandemic. 


“Even as we speak we are waging an all-hands-on-deck war with COVID-19,” Holland said.


Holland referred to the virus as a “modern plague” and offered prayers for those who have lost loved ones or worry for their own safety. He then looked to the future. 


“When we have conquered [COVID-19] —  and we will — may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty,” Holland said.


Correction 3:47 p.m. MDT 4/6/2020: A previous version of this story contained a factual error. The first General Conference held without a public audience was in 1942. Church members were not invited to the April conference that year due to World War II travel restrictions. And due to flu epidemics, General Conference was postponed in April of 1919 and cancelled altogether in October 1957.

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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