SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon leaders called on members to practice tolerance despite political differences, providing the faith’s U.S. members guidance at a church conference Saturday amid a presidential campaign marked by harsh rhetoric and bickering.
The faith’s leaders also reiterated the belief that the religion is the only true church, and that its leaders are prophets speaking for the Lord. They implored members to be more thoughtful and sensitive toward children from all backgrounds, many of whom don’t come from “picture-perfect” families.
In a nod to the religion’s international footprint, five of 11 men announced as new members of a second-tier leadership council are from countries outside the United States: Guatemala, Argentina, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. More than half of the 15.6 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live outside the U.S.
Church President Thomas S. Monson, 88, gave a speech during the evening session. He is considered the religion’s prophet.
The comments on politics came from Kevin R. Duncan, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. He said people should be wary of resenting others because they belong to another religion, hold opposing political views or even root for a different sports team.
“Let us all remember that God looketh not upon the color of the jersey or the political party,” Duncan said. “In the competitions of life, if we win, let us win with grace. If we lose, let us lose with grace.”
Mormon leaders don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they sometimes weigh in on what they consider crucial moral issues.
This presidential cycle, the church has defended religious liberty after Republican front-runner Donald Trump suggested banning Muslims from entering the U.S. It also renewed calls for an end to culture wars where people stake out extreme positions.
Henry B. Eyring, a longtime member of a top church leadership council called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, urged members to listen carefully to speeches from Mormon leaders so they can feel closer to the Lord. “This is the only true church,” he said.
Neil L. Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve urged members to embrace all the children of the faith — no matter their family situation. He said the religion has hundreds of thousands of children who live with only one parent or whose parents aren’t Mormon.
He said the religion will continue to advocate for families led by married men and women who belong to the faith, but said children are welcome from any situation.
“While a child’s earthly situation may not be ideal, a child’s spiritual DNA is perfect because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God,” Anderson said.
Anderson didn’t mention children of gay parents. The church came under fire last November when it announced new rules banning baptisms for children living with a gay or lesbian parent.
Those children are still welcome to attend church services. Church leaders have said the rules were intended to prevent children from being caught in a tug-of-war between teachings at home and church.
More than 100,000 Mormons are expected to attend five conference sessions over two days, with millions more watching live broadcasts from their homes. The conference is held twice a year.