That spring the national debate over same-sex marriage had heated up again, and surveys indicated that the majority of Americans favored it being legalized nationwide. As the support grew, the Church faced extreme pressure from all sides to change its stance against it. Groups of protesters standing outside Church buildings were now common across the country, with the media seemingly always there to report any incidents. The tension escalated, though, when members of the First Presidency received a series of death threats and the walls of Temple Square were painted with obscene graffiti.
After consulting with Salt Lake City’s public safety officials, the First Presidency announced that General Conference would still go forward as usual during the first weekend in April. However, the security precautions around Temple Square would be unprecedented.
In order to help prepare for General Conference, Nathan’s assignment was temporarily switched from making deliveries to helping with security. He and dozens of other maintenance missionaries dressed in suits and stationed themselves around the Conference Center looking for any suspicious behavior.
The Church didn’t limit anyone’s freedom of speech, but the maintenance missionaries would stand directly in front of protestors and just stare into their eyes. The protesters seemed baffled at how to respond, and many simply stopped talking and walked away.
“Aw, come on,” a middle-aged woman shouted at Nathan. “You guys aren’t giving us a fair chance to voice our opinion.”
Nathan just stared at her with his arms crossed as she continued to rant for another five minutes. She finally got right in his face, and he gently said, “If you touch me, you’ll go straight to jail.”
His response startled her, causing her to back away as if he had leprosy. He couldn’t help but smile as she turned the corner and disappeared.
Throughout General Conference, the prophet and apostles left no doubt that the Saints needed to be prepared for major changes in their lives. One apostle explained that while each geographical area of the Church faced different circumstances, members of the Church should be ready if called upon to separate themselves from the world and gather together. The story of Lehi leading his family out of Jerusalem was mentioned in three separate talks.
Another apostle looked directly into the TV camera and said, “Eliminate any credit card debt, and live within your means. Set your lives in order so that you could leave your current situation at a moment’s notice if the Lord asks. That time may soon come, and you must be free from the world’s entanglements.”
During the Priesthood Session the prophet strongly condemned the chip and told the men to avoid it like the plague. He also urged them to be more virtuous than they had ever been, explaining that they needed to be in tune with the Spirit in order to make wise choices in the coming weeks and months.
However, the climactic moment of General Conference came at the end of the Sunday afternoon session when the prophet announced, “All calls for proselyting missions are being indefinitely suspended. No young men or women will be called to serve as full-time missionaries for the foreseeable future, and all U.S.-born missionaries serving outside the United States will be returning home within two weeks. Senior couples who are serving at temples will continue their missions, but all other senior missionaries will be returning home.”
The prophet paused, allowing the announcement to sink in, before adding, “This decision is in fulfillment of several prophecies, including one by Brigham Young, who taught, ‘When the testimony of the Elders ceases to be given, and the Lord says to them, “Come home; I will now preach my own sermons to the nations of the earth,” all you now know can scarcely be called a preface to the sermon that will be preached with fire and sword, tempests, earthquakes, hail, rain, thunders and lightnings, and fearful destruction.’”
The prophet looked steadily into the TV camera and said, “The perilous times that President Young spoke of are rapidly approaching, but the Lord will protect his righteous Saints. I admonish you to carefully ponder the words of counsel that have been given during this conference, and may God bless you all.”
Nathan and Chet were exhausted when they returned to their apartment that Sunday night, but they were excited by the tone of General Conference.
“I’ll bet it won’t be too long before the prophet’s letter is sent,” Chet said. “The apostles were clearly making a final plea for the Saints to turn their lives around.”
“I agree,” Nathan said. “You’d think the fact the Church is suspending proselyting calls and bringing missionaries home from overseas would be a big hint that changes are coming quickly.”
Chet nodded. “Let’s hope the Saints were listening.”