Conference Report

Elder Richard L. Evans


As is usually the case, there were many great and inspired talks given at October General Conference.

There were many important pronouncements, and we invite all readers to examine the December Ensign (adult magazine of the Church) for the full annual conference report. All of the addresses are reprinted in it.

For the past several conferences we have printed excerpts from the addresses that had the most to do with youth and their problems. We depart from that pattern this time and reproduce in full two talks that we know will be of interest to New Era readers.

The first is by Elder Richard L. Evans, who spoke on the ten commandments. After Elder Evans had finished his talk, President Harold B. Lee of the First Presidency commented on its greatness and timeliness for youth. We had planned to print this talk anyway. But with Elder Evans’ death, this great talk takes on even more importance: it is the last major address ever given by Elder Evans. Of late it has become fashionable for school groups to sponsor what is called a “Last Lecture” series. Persons invited to speak are to say those things that they would like to say if this were the last talk they would ever give. Knowing how deeply Elder Evans loved youth, it is appropriate in his last major address that he should speak primarily to youth—and those who heard him know that Elder Evans spoke as if he were bearing an urgent testimony. In many ways, this “last lecture” is a masterpiece. Not only will it live on for many years to come, but it will do what Elder Evans intended: change many peoples’ lives.

The second talk is by Dr. James O. Mason, commissioner of health services for the Church. In his address Brother Mason reviewed a recent decision of the First Presidency to have Latter-day Saints serve other kinds of missions! There are many members of the Church throughout the world who need help—medical, dental, engineering, agricultural—all sorts of help. The Church is going to become involved in this need. This is a fantastic idea and one that excites everyone. You’ll want to read the full text of Dr. Mason’s address.

Should the Commandments Be Rewritten?

Perhaps I could begin with an interesting question posed recently and an equally interesting answer. The question was, “Don’t you think the commandments should be rewritten?” The answer was, “No, they should be reread.”

This may be a good point from which to take off for consideration of some fundamental facts; namely, the commandments of God are there. They come from a divine source. The experience of the ages has proved the need for them, and has proved what happens if they are ignored.

So why spend life in the frustration and unhappiness and sorrow and tragedy of trying to rationalize and wave them away?

Beginning with the Ten Commandments may be as good a place as any. It would be well to read and reread them and not spend life trying to convince ourselves that they really don’t mean what they say.

Some things the commandments say thou shalt not do, and if that is what they say, that’s what they mean, and there’s a reason for it.

Some of them say this you should do, and there’s a reason for it.

It would be interesting some time to make a list of what our Father in heaven tells us to do and what he tells us not to do. Any parent is faced with the same situation. Any doctor is faced with the same situation.

Essentially this is what the gospel is: counsel from a living Father who says to his children, “You have limitless, everlasting possibilities. You also have your freedom. It’s up to you how you use it. This is what you can become if you take my advice—and this is what will happen if you don’t. The choice is yours.”

We all make choices every day. We all have to live with the results of the choices we make.

It’s just that plain. It isn’t a question of quibbling or hairsplitting or arguing about the mysteries or brooding about the things God hasn’t yet told us, while neglecting the things he has told us. Let’s stop quarreling with the commandments and the requirements and just face the facts.

Who knows better than the Creator and Father of us all what is and isn’t essential?

Brilliant men, philosophers and others, have wrestled with these questions through the centuries, and haven’t arrived at any answers they can agree on among themselves.

I have a great respect for scholarship, for education and research, for academic excellence, and for the magnificent accomplishments of sincere and searching men. But I also have great respect for the word of God, and his prophets, and life’s purpose; and it comes to a question of where to place our trust.

I have been privileged to know some of the ablest men on earth—men of many faiths, many professions, many accomplishments, in nearly 150 countries. But I’ve never known a man who knew enough so that I was willing to trust him with my everlasting life.

Sometimes people quibble about the meaning of scripture and rationalize and justify themselves in doing things they well know they shouldn’t do. They sometimes say, for example, that “Thou shalt not commit adultery” doesn’t include all the other kinds and degrees of immoral sins and perversions, or that the Word of Wisdom, for example, doesn’t catalogue all the substances and brand names and all the products and dope and harmful things that have been discovered or concocted that are not good for men.

Obviously, all of them couldn’t be catalogued. In the words of King Benjamin: “And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.” (Mosiah 4:29.)

The Lord expects us to use wisdom and common sense and not quibble about what obviously isn’t good for the body or mind or spirit or morals of man. And before doing or partaking of anything, stop and ask honestly, “Does this contribute to health? Does it contribute to happiness? Would this please God? Will this bless and benefit me and others, or does .it drag me down? Is it good or isn’t it?”

It doesn’t matter what people call things. It matters what they are—what they do. If I may modify Shakespeare considerably: Anything by any name will still be what it is and will still do what it does no matter what you call it.

And if anyone doubts that all forms of moral infraction and perversion are not condemned by scripture, may we assure you that there are scriptures that could be cited for you that prohibit all evils, all impurities and perversions, all uncleanness and excesses, all unwise habits and unbecoming conduct.

Why quibble? Why not simply accept the facts and be honest with ourselves?

“… fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13.)

“If ye love me,” said our Savior, “keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.)

But we ought also to keep the commandments simply as a favor to ourselves.

Many years ago Emerson wrote an essay, “Compensation,” in which he said:

“The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself. … Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. …

“Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, … the fruit in the seed. …

“What will you have? quoth God; pay for it and take it. … Thou shalt be paid exactly for what thou hast done, no more, no less. …

“A man cannot speak but he judges himself. … Every opinion reacts on him who utters it. …

“You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. …

“The thief steals from himself. The swindler swindles himself. …

“… it is impossible to get anything without its price. …

“Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew.

“… we gain the strength of the temptation we resist. …

“Men suffer all their life long under the foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But it is … impossible for a man to be cheated by anyone but himself. …”

I heard from President Lee a very short sentence that said essentially what Emerson said, that there are no successful sinners. It is a remarkable sentence to contemplate.

Since there is a law of compensation that is built into life, we ought always to take time to stop and look and consider what we do, and fail to do, and what we will wish we had done.

Now this to our youth: There are persuasive people who will tell you that the commandments of God are not valid, that there are no serious consequences for breaking them.

But if you want a guideline to know whom to follow, who’s telling the truth, ask yourself always, “Is what this person is telling me or tempting me to do something that will bring me happiness and peace and lead me to my highest possibilities, or is it something that will lead me to the baser side.”

Don’t follow anyone who will endeavor to destroy ideals, reject the commandments, or lead you to lower levels.

I heard a question once asked by President [Hugh B.] Brown: “Do you want to repent or to rationalize?”

To quote a sentence from Cromwell: “I beseech you, … Think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

Anyone is mistaken if what he is doing would lead him down physically, mentally, or morally, if it would destroy his peace, or estrange him from his Father in heaven, or impair his everlasting life.

“Pride,” said John Ruskin, “is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”

At least, pride is one of the principal barriers to repentance, because we can’t correct an error without first admitting a mistake.

God bless you, my beloved young friends, and be with you and give you the humility to overcome pride, to admit and correct mistakes.

Respect parents. Confide in them. Respect yourselves. Respect God and the knowledge he has given. Don’t gamble with life. It is all we have.

Don’t tempt temptation. Don’t foolishly see how close you can come to danger or evil, how close you can come to a fire, or how close you can come to a precipice. Stay away from what you shouldn’t do or where you shouldn’t go or what you shouldn’t partake of.

And if you’ve turned toward some dead end or down some wrong road, turn back as quickly as you can—not later than right now—and thank God for the principle of repentance.

Don’t run aimlessly looking to and fro for what has already been found. Don’t live by the sophistries and temptations of these times.

Don’t tamper with the degrading soul—and body—destroying things of life. Don’t deliberately look less than your best or grubby or unclean, physically or morally.

Parents, set before your children an example of honesty and honor and cleanliness and righteousness and dedication to duty.

Children, love and respect your parents. They’ve given you life. They’d die for you. Families, draw closer together, in love and kindness, preserving the home, building traditions that will make you proud of each other and grateful to belong and be what you are.

Should the commandments be rewritten? No, they should be reread and become the guide and standard of our lives, if we want health and happiness and peace and self-respect.

I remember the words of a beloved stake president, and I thank him for the thought he left with me some months ago. He said, “I used to ride the range with my father, looking for lost sheep or cattle. And as we would mount a ridge, we would look off into a distant hollow or a clump of trees, and my father would say, ‘There they are.’” But this stake president said, “My father could see farther than I could, and often I couldn’t see them. But I knew they were there because my father said so.”

There are many things, my beloved brethren and sisters, that I know and you know are there, because our Father said so. And I know that he lives, that he made us in his image, that he sent his divine Son, our Savior, to show us the way of life and redeem us from death. I know that he will enter into our lives as fully as we let him, and that his church and gospel and way of life are on earth and here with us, and that we will realize our highest possibilities if we accept the counsels God has given, and that we will fall somewhat, somewhere short of what we might have been, or might have had, if we run contrary to his commandments. God bless you and be with you always, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

A New Health Missionary Program

This is an awesome responsibility, my dear brethren, and with fear and trembling I stand before you, praying that I may be blessed with a portion of that Spirit that has inspired those who have preceded me.

I want you to know that it is a great testimony to have had the opportunity during the past year of working under the direction of the General Authorities of our church. From a distance I have sustained these men as prophets, seers, and revelators through faith. During the past year it has been my privilege to meet with them in counsel, to feel of their spirit, their wisdom, and their love for you and members of the Church everywhere. I have observed their discernment and judgment and their ability to go to our Heavenly Father for answers to perplexing and difficult questions. I bear you my testimony that with every fiber of my body I know that as these men are called of God, and as the mantle of authority falls upon them as they are ordained and set apart, they are in very deed prophets, seers, and revelators, receiving communication with God the Eternal Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.

My appointment as commissioner of Health Services gives me responsibility for the fourteen hospitals that are owned or operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition, I have been asked to be concerned about and to feel a responsibility toward the health needs of a worldwide Church membership. President Lee has asked me to address myself tonight to the needs of our brothers and sisters who live distant from the United States.

May I share with you, just for a moment, several experiences that have come to me. I can’t say that these experiences have all been pleasant or that they have been associated with joy. At times they were associated with sadness and almost overwhelming despair. How wonderful it is to realize that only this church, the church restored in the latter days, has a solution to some of the overwhelming problems that are faced by our brothers and sisters, the children of our Heavenly Father, many of whom live distant from here.

How often we take for granted those things that we enjoy and participate in almost every day—the hospitals, the physicians, the dentists, the nurses, and other professional people who render services.

Read with me a letter that came from the Philippine Islands, from a dear sister who pleaded, “Can our family share with you who live in the United States the blessings of good health, the Primary Children’s Hospital, and other facilities where you go to keep your children healthy and strong?” She told how it was necessary to go great distances to find doctors and a hospital.

Go with me to talk with a branch president in an Indian village in Guatemala. Hear him as he explains how four of his nine children died before they reached the age of five because of improper nutrition and poor sanitation, which resulted in dysentery, pneumonia, and other illnesses.

Walk with me into the home of an Indian family living on the high plains of Bolivia. The husband serves as the branch Sunday School superintendent and his wife is the Primary president. See their six-week-old infant daughter dying of starvation because their meager income of eight dollars a month makes them unable to provide food for their baby when the mother becomes sick and is unable to nurse.

Travel with me to a large government hospital newly built in Tonga and equipped to provide needed services to members and nonmembers alike. But there are insufficient nurses with which to staff the hospital and only limited services can be provided.

We could multiply these examples by the hundreds and see the suffering, the sorrow, the tragedy of life in areas near and far from here. These problems are not brought on because sin and transgression are more common there than here. These people are not handicapped by lack of intelligence, ability, or industry, but by extreme poverty, lack of education, and insufficient opportunity. How they reach out to us and ask, “Can you help us to enjoy the blessings that you in North America take for granted?”

Brethren, how do we solve these problems that exist in these faraway places where the Church is growing more rapidly than in other parts of the earth—in South and Central America, the islands of the Pacific, and areas of Asia, where baptisms are not measured in the tens or the hundreds, but in the thousands. These people come into the Church and need our help. They need our assistance with health and with every phase of life. What wonderful people they are! You can’t help but love them as you meet and talk with them. You want to do something, to reach out and lift them up and share with them the blessings that we have in such great abundance.

Time does not permit me to go into detail on the program that is being developed under the inspiration of the First Presidency. The Church has now begun to send forth specially trained men and women with the calling of a missionary to reach out and lift up our brothers and sisters. A physician has gone to Samoa and a nurse to Tonga. Nurses have been called who will soon be leaving for Guatemala, and other professionally trained missionaries will go forth to other nations to assist those with great needs.

What will these health missionaries do? A guiding principle, in the tradition of the Word of Wisdom, will place emphasis on health education and disease prevention. These health missionaries will work with priesthood leaders. A priesthood correlated program, utilizing the home teachers, the Relief Society, and the visiting teachers, will bring into the homes of these families temporal blessings that will help them progress spiritually. They will assist families by teaching better nutrition, by teaching how to take care of babies and children so they won’t perish from diarrhea and respiratory infection. They will teach proper care of the expectant mother, home sanitation, and many other things that are easy to understand, if there is just a teacher.

I emphasize that problems are not only health related. What if we were to have assisted that branch president and his wife in the small Indian branch in Guatemala so that four of those nine children would not have died? Even though we have the ability to prevent their deaths from illness, this family could not have fed the nine children on their income of twelve dollars a month, which was derived from their small cornfield and blanket making. Unless there can be a concomitant economic growth through better agricultural methods—use of fertilizers, irrigation, improved seeds and plants—unless there is a balanced program, we are not going to be fully effective in meeting the needs of these choice and wonderful people who join us in bearing testimony that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ? and that we have a living prophet upon the earth today.

Oh, brethren, I challenge you to prepare for missionary calls, not only to go out and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ at home and abroad, but to go forth in love and brotherhood, using your professional and vocational skills to reach out and lift up. Physicians, dentists and nurses, social workers, agricultural specialists, people with knowledge in marketing and home industry—all of your skills and talents are required if we are going to be a blessing to those whose needs are so great.

I pray that we might have the vision of this great program, that we might prepare ourselves, that many might receive such a calling and go forth to provide a great service. This is my prayer as I bear testimony to the divinity of this great latter-day work in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.