General Conference topic trends from 2003 to 2013

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This weekend marks the LDS Church’s 184th Semiannual General Conference, during which church leaders will address topics pertinent to the membership of the church. Message topics are not assigned to speakers. Rather, topics chosen and selected based on current issues members face, as well as issues leaders foresee.

Here we take a look back at the the events that took place in 2003, 2008 and 2013 that shaped church leaders’ messages in those years.

Throwback to 2003

In 2003, the world saw Lance Armstrong win his fifth Tour de France; Saddam Hussein was captured in Tikrit by U.S. forces; California voters recalled Governor Gray Davis from office and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as his successor; terrorists bombed the United Nations Baghdad headquarters; and “Finding Nemo” was released in theaters.

Total Church membership was 11,721,548, with 114 temples in operation and 335 missions in operation.

President Gordon B. Hinckley approached the global concern of war and peace following the conflicts and violence, particularly in the Middle East, during the April 2003 conference.

“War, of course, is not new,” President Hinckley said during his address. “The weapons change. The ability to kill and destroy is constantly refined. But there has been conflict throughout the ages over essentially the same issues.”

President Hinckley provided answers as to the position of the church on war and Muslim extremists.

“The question arises, ‘Where does the church stand in all of this?,'” he said. “First, let it be understood that we have no quarrel with the Muslim people or with those of any other faith. We recognize and teach that all the people of the earth are of the family of God. … But as citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders.”

President Hinckley referenced recognition of national and local leaders and how Latter-day Saints are to obey and honor the law in all things.

Other topics addressed in General Conference in 2003 included the power of prayer, receiving revelations, missionary work, gaining a testimony of the Restoration, realizing your full potential and the Atonement.

Over the next 10 years, the church witnessed a change in leadership with the passing of President Gordon B. Hinckley, President James E. Faust, elders Joseph B. Wirthlin, David B. Haight and Neal A. Maxwell.

President Thomas S. Monson was sustained as prophet, seer and revelator in 2008, with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elders David A. Bednar, Quentin L. Cook, D. Todd Christofferson and Neil L. Andersen called to the ranks between 2003 and 2013.

The midway point: 2008

Between 2003 and 2013, the world saw New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning ruin the New England Patriots’ perfect season in Super Bowl XLII; President Obama was elected to his first term as president of the United States; Cuban dictator Fidel Castro relinquished his power to brother Raul Castro after falling ill; and the “The Dark Knight,” with Heath Ledger as the Joker, premiered.

Total church membership was 13,193,999; 124 temples were in operation, and there were 348 missions worldwide.

The jump to 2013

In 2013, the world saw Armstrong admit to the use of performance-enhancing drugs and be stripped of his medals; supertyphoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines, with more than 5,000 people killed; a new pope challenged traditional Catholic views on homosexuality; Edward Snowden took on the NSA; and box-office animated hit “Frozen” was released.

Total church membership surpassed 15 million, with 140 temples in operation and 347 missions worldwide.

The common themes of General Conference talks given over the course of 2013 were on the divine worth of women, forgiveness, missionary work, the Atonement, marriage and obedience.

President Monson approached the topic of obedience in the April 2013 conference.

“There is no need for you or for me, in this enlightened age when the fulness of the gospel has been restored, to sail uncharted seas or to travel unmarked roads in search of truth. A loving Heavenly Father has plotted our course and provided an unfailing guide — even obedience,” President Monson said. “A knowledge of truth and the answers to our greatest questions come to us as we are obedient to the commandments of God.”

In a time when the issue of same-sex marriage is on the forefront of political and social strife, Elder Russell M. Nelson addressed the waves made throughout all levels of government in the U.S.

“In our day civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare and prosperity of rising generations,” Elder Nelson said. “But civil governments are heavily influenced by social trends and secular philosophies as they write, rewrite and enforce laws. Regardless of what civil legislation may be enacted, the doctrine of the Lord regarding marriage and morality cannot be changed. Remember: sin, even if legalized by man, is still sin in the eyes of God.”

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