Cover image via Church Newsroom.
In preparation for the April 2020 general conference it is important to reflect upon President Russell M. Nelson’s closing remarks in the October 2019 conference: “General conference next April will be different from any previous conference. In the next six months, I hope that every member and every family will prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.” He went on to offer several suggestions for how to prepare. With all that is happening with the COVID-19 virus, we already know that this will be a unique conference. At the same time, it is hard to overstate the excitement we all feel as we anticipate this bicentennial conference.
President Nelson’s short tenure has been remarkable. After carefully analyzing the data from the last four conferences, it seems clear that one thing President Nelson is emphasizing is the importance of making and keeping gospel covenants. Since he became Church President in 2018, 75% of all general conference talks have referred to covenants. While covenants have always been a fundamental concept in the church, President Nelson has brought increased emphasis on the importance for each individual. This is illustrated by the following chart that shows percentage of all conference talks that refer to covenants for each of the last eight church presidents:
It will be interesting to see if this emphasis continues in the April 2020 conference. For more of President Nelson’s thoughts on covenants, read his talk in the October 2011 conference.
The phrase covenant path describes the path that we, as children of God, must follow in order to return to Him. During his first press conference on January 16, 2018, President Nelson’s first counsel to the Church was: stay on the covenant path. He said:
Now, to each member of the Church I say, keep on the covenant path. Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.
President Nelson’s leadership and emphasis on the importance of staying on the covenant path has inspired other general authorities to include the phrase in their talks.
The phrase covenant path entered the general conference lexicon in April 2007 with Elaine S. Dalton’s talk Stay on the Path. Since that time, the phrase covenant path has been used 105 times by 39 speakers in 65 general conference talks. Since 2018, the phrase has been used in 35% (47 of 132) of all general conference talks. The first time President Nelson used the phrase in general conference was in his October 2015 talk A Plea to My Sisters.
Here are the speakers who have used the phrase in more than one talk:
The following chart shows the number of talks that have used the phrase covenant path by year:
Since becoming president of the church, President Nelson has continually reminded us of our responsibility to help prepare the world for the second coming of the Savior. Typical of these reminders is this quote from his talk Spiritual Treasures:
We Latter-day Saints are not of the world; we are of covenant Israel. We are called to prepare a people for the Second Coming of the Lord.
Emphasis on the second coming is illustrated by the following chart that shows percentage of all conference talks that refer to the phrase second coming. 13% of all conference talks during the Nelson years have mentioned the second coming.
President Nelson’s happiness and enthusiasm for the gospel is contagious. He frequently talks about joy and this emphasis is having an influence. For example, in his talk The Joy of the Saints, Elder Christofferson quoted President Nelson as follows:
My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.
When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, which President Thomas S. Monson just taught us, and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. We feel it at Christmastime when we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” And we can feel it all year round. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy!
This increased emphasis on joy is illustrated in the following chart. 61% of all conference talks during the Nelson years have mentioned joy.
Moses chapter 1 was the most referenced chapter in the October 2019 conference (71 references in 7 talks). This chapter describes Moses’ face-to-face encounter with Jehovah in preparation for Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt.
In his talk Deceive Me Not, Elder Gary E. Stevensen uses Moses 1 to help us understand our divine nature, our relationship to God and the reality of Satan:
“Moses … saw God face to face, and he talked with him.” God taught Moses about his eternal identity. Though Moses was mortal and imperfect, God taught that Moses was “in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten … shall be the Savior.”
… in this marvelous vision, Moses beheld God, and he also learned something important about himself: he was indeed a son of God.
Listen carefully to what happened as this wondrous vision closed. “And it came to pass that … Satan came tempting him,” saying, “Moses, son of man, worship me!” Moses courageously replied: “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” In other words, Moses said: “You cannot deceive me, for I know who I am. I was created in the image of God. You don’t have His light and glory. So why should I worship you or fall prey to your deception?”
Peter M Johnson amplified these points in his talk Power to Overcome the Adversary:
The adversary was relentless in his attempts to deceive Moses, but Moses resisted, saying, “Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.” Moses remembered who he was—a son of God.
The Lord’s words to Moses apply to you and to me. We are created in God’s own image, and He has a work for us to do. The adversary attempts to deceive by having us forget who we truly are. If we do not understand who we are, then it is difficult to recognize who we can become.
After this encounter with Satan, the Lord appeared and blessed Moses for his obedience, “Blessed art thou, Moses, for … thou shalt be made stronger than many waters. …“And lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.”
Elder Stevensen adds “Moses’s resistance of the adversary is a vivid and enlightening example for each of us, no matter our stage in life. It is a powerful message for you personally—to know what to do when he tries to deceive you. For you, like Moses, have been blessed with the gift of heavenly help.”
The following chart shows the frequency of Moses 1 references in general conference:
A closer look at references to Moses 1 in the last 8 conferences shows that 21% of talks in the October 2019 conference referenced Moses 1.
Here is a look back at the statistics for October 2019:
- 34 talks by 29 different speakers
- First-time Speakers: Hans T. Boom, Jorge M. Alvarado, L. Todd Budge, Lisa L. Harkness, Mark L. Pace, Michelle Craig, Peter M. Johnson, Rubén V. Alliaud
- 1,051 scripture references – the conference average since 1971 is 710
- Most referenced verses: Matthew 22:37-38, Mosiah 18:9, Mosiah 24:14
- Most referenced chapters: Moses 1, D&C 138, D&C 76
- Since 1971, there have been 3,596 conference talks given by 475 different speakers. In those talks there are 69,575 scripture references.
- President Russell M. Nelson has referenced scriptures 6,270 times in his talks – more than twice as many as Dallin H. Oaks (2,941) who is second on the list.
- The most frequently referenced scripture is Moses 1:39. [This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.] This scripture has been referenced 210 times in 205 talks by 94 different speakers. President Nelson has referenced it 17 times – the most of any speaker.
This general conference data may be accessed at https://scottkbrown.shinyapps.io/searchGC
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