It was anticipated by the Deseret News that President Thomas S. Monson would not attend the 187th Semiannual General Conference sessions due to limitations related to age, but the passing of Elder Robert D. Hales in between the Sunday sessions came as a shock to everyone.
It was announced that Elder Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had been hospitalized prior to General Conference for several days and that he would not participate in the conference.
However, by the Sunday Afternoon Session, President Henry B. Eyring began the session by acknowledging Elder Hales had passed away. He said, “Brothers and sisters, as you may know, our dear friend and associate, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, passed away peacefully this afternoon at 12:15 in the hospital, surrounded by his wife, other family members, and President Russell M. Nelson.
“We will miss him. His wisdom and goodness have blessed our lives for many years. We express our love to his sweet wife and caregiver, Mary, and extend our heartfelt condolences to the family.”
In every session, President Monson’s absence was mentioned. During the Saturday Morning Session, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said during his remarks, “Recently, as we met with President Thomas S. Monson, he expressed with great solemnity and a countenance of happiness how much he loves the Lord, and that he knows that the Lord loves him. I know that President Monson is very grateful for your love, your prayers and your dedication to the Lord and his great gospel.”
On the opening of the Women’s General Session, Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President, said, “President Thomas S. Monson is viewing this meeting at his home. We love him and sustain him.”
In conclusion of General Conference, Elder Neil L. Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles honored Elder Hales with additional time in his discourse. He said even though Elder Hales’ health did not permit him to speak during his scheduled time, he still prepared a message.
Acting as messenger for that message, Elder Anderson related, “When we choose to have faith, we are prepared to stand in the presence of God. After the Savior’s crucifixion, He appeared only to those who had been faithful in the testimony of Him while they lived in mortality.
“Those who rejected the testimonies of the prophets could not behold the Savior’s presence nor look upon His face. Our faith prepares us to be in the presence of God.” Those few sentences would serve as Elder Hale’s last official apostolic declarations.
Courtney Schwendiman, a sophomore from Washington studying exercise and sports science, said, “Elder Robert D. Hales gave his entire life to the Lord. Literally, he bore testimony of Christ until his last breath!
“I felt that he was very prepared to enter the Lord’s presence because of the faith he exercised during his lifetime. I could feel that meeting God with joy was his top priority. I have been inspired by his words countless times and will miss his counsel.”
Another momentous talk given during the conference sessions was when Elder Dallin H. Oaks reaffirmed the church’s stance on same sex marriage.
Elder Oaks’ speech came during the Saturday Morning Session of conference. He said, “We have witnessed a rapid and increasing public acceptance of cohabitation without marriage and same-sex marriage.
“The corresponding media advocacy, education, and even occupational requirements pose difficult challenges for Latter-day Saints.” Elder Oaks said the body of the church must try to balance the doctrines of the gospel with showing love for all of God’s children.
He acknowledged this belief can put Mormons at odds with family and friends and doesn’t match current laws, including the recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States. But he told members of the nearly 16-million-member faith watching around the world that the religion’s 1995 document detailing the doctrine – “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” – isn’t’ a policy statement that will be changed.
He closed his talk with a quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley made two years after the family proclamation was announced, saying: “I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. If we will cling to our values, if we will build on our inheritance, if we will walk in obedience before the Lord, if we will simply live the gospel, we will be blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. We will be looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness.”
Jana McQueen, a junior from New Zealand studying management and psychology, said, “Elder Oaks reminded us that the family proclamation came out over 23 years ago, and it was under development for a year. I am 24. They prepared this document for our generation. Now we can learn the information that they labored to have revealed, and live the truths.”
Preston Coleman, a senior from Canada studying political science, said as far as Elder Oaks’ comments toward children being raised in a homosexual household go, that it isn’t ideal. However, he said he thinks it is still better than a child being transferred between orphanages.
“I personally have an aunt who is lesbian and married to her partner. They recently adopted a 6-year-old boy who is so happy that he has two loving parents and no longer has to bounce around in foster care,” he said.
Another first for the church was the addition of Sister Memnet Lopez, who was born in the Philippines and grew up in Guam, as she joined the Relief Society General Board.
According to Mormon Newsroom, prior to her call to the Relief Society General Board, Sister Lopez served as a nursery leader, ward missionary, seminary teacher, Primary president, served in a stake Young Women’s presidency, and as a missionary in the Illinois Chicago Mission.
Sister Lopez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from BYU-Hawaii. She also served as a missionary companion to her husband, Marlo Lopez, when he presided over the Philippines Bacolod Mission. She also served as a member of the Seminary and Institute Research Committee.
Catherine Salvador, a freshman from the Philippines studying business, said, “I was shocked at first to know and happy at the same time. All I can say is that the church is true and that the leaders are really guided to choose whom the Lord wants. I believe that because of that experience, that really shows that they’re not choosing who they want to or who they believe really fits to the position, but instead because they listened to the Spirit. Anyone from different races can be in that position.”
NOTE: This story's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Oct. 2017 print issue.