My dear brothers and sisters, in December 2013 the world mourned the death of Nelson Mandela. After 27 years of imprisonment for his role in the antiapartheid struggle, Mandela was the first democratically elected president of South Africa. His forgiveness of those who had imprisoned him was remarkable. He received widespread acclaim and praise. Mandela frequently deflected accolades by saying, “I’m no saint—that is, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” This statement—“a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying”—should reassure and encourage members of the Church. Although we are referred to as “Latter-day Saints,” we sometimes flinch at this reference. The term Saints is commonly used to designate those who have achieved an elevated state of holiness or even perfection. And we know perfectly well that we are not perfect. Our theology does teach us, though, that we may be perfected by repeatedly and iteratively “relying wholly upon” the doctrine of Christ: exercising faith in Him, repenting, partaking of the sacrament to renew the covenants and blessings of baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost as a constant companion to a greater degree. As we do so, we become more like Christ and are able to endure to the end, with all that that entails. In less formal terms, God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than about who we once were. He cares that we keep on trying. The comedy As You Like It, written by the English playwright William Shakespeare, depicts a dramatic change in a character’s life. An older brother attempts to have his younger brother killed. Even knowing this, the younger brother saves his wicked brother from certain death. When the older brother learns of this undeserved compassion, he is totally and forever changed and has what he calls a “conversion.” Later several women approach the older brother and ask, “Was’t you that did so oft contrive to kill [your brother]?” The older brother answers, “’Twas I; but ’tis not I: I do not shame to tell you what I was, since my conversion so sweetly tastes, being the thing I am.” For us, because of God’s mercy and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, such a change is not just literary fiction.
It is also time we realized that these are all Satan’s ways of destroying mankind. Now, what must we do? If there is pornography or obscenity in bookstores, on television or radio, or in places of entertainment, if there are those who would make more easily available to the young and inexperienced alcohol and its attendant evils, including drunken driving, highway fatalities, broken homes, and if we are threatened with the passage of laws which violate the commandments of God, it is our duty and responsibility as individuals to speak out, to organize, and to protect ourselves and our community against such encroachments. We have seen how people react to the high price of food. It is far more important that we react effectively against the immorality and evil in our communities which threaten the morals and the very lives of our children. As President Nixon has said, the only way to attack crime in America is the way crime attacks the people—without pity. People who argue that they have constitutional rights and want to use what they call their free agency to accomplish unrighteous ends abuse the idea of free agency and deprive others of their constitutional rights. While many of our problems are caused by those who are deliberately trying to further their own selfish and devilish interests, there is also a vocal, misled minority which is responsible for other problems as they exist in our country and in our communities. We must be equally vocal and firm in our efforts to maintain the quality of our surroundings, where we can enjoy family solidarity, which is the strength of any nation. We must take a firm stand against the concerted efforts in many areas to destroy the family unit. As we contemplate these devastating conditions rampant in the world today—the wars, death, suffering, poverty, and disease—and while many question why God permits such troublous conditions to plague us, let us remember that man himself is responsible. Even though the innocent suffer with the wicked in many instances, all the strife and contention and wickedness abroad in the land today is because man has chosen to follow Satan instead of accepting and living according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. From the beginning we have been told that there must be opposition in all things in order that we might progress according to God’s plan for us.
President Thomas S. Monson once said: “The world can at times be a frightening place in which to live. The moral fabric of society seems to be unraveling at an alarming speed. None—whether young or old or in-between—is exempt from exposure to those things which have the potential to drag us down and destroy us. … “… But we need not despair. … We are waging a war with sin. … It is a war we can and will win. Our Father in Heaven has given us the tools we need in order to do so.” All of us, young and old, are faced daily with the war mentioned by President Monson. The enemy and his angels are trying to distract us. Their purpose is to encourage us to deviate from the covenants that we have made with the Lord, causing us to lose sight of our eternal inheritance. They know well our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children, for they were present with us in that great Council in Heaven when it was all presented. They try to take advantage of our weaknesses and frailties, deceiving us with “mists of darkness … , which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.” Despite the opposition we face, as President Monson has taught, this is a war that we can and will win. The Lord trusts in our capacity and determination to do so. The scriptures contain countless examples of those who have won their wars even in the midst of very hostile situations. One of these examples is Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon. This remarkable young man had the courage to defend the truth at a time when there were many dissensions and wars which put at risk the very survival of the entire Nephite nation. Although he was brilliant in exercising his responsibilities, Moroni remained humble. This and other attributes made him an extraordinary instrument in the hands of God at that time. The book of Alma explains that if all men had been like Moroni, “the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; [and] the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” All of Moroni’s attributes stemmed from his great faith in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ and his firm determination to follow the voice of God and His prophets.5