By Elder Quentin L. Cook
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
CES Devotional – March, 2012
I rejoice in the opportunity to speak to you young adults. I bring you love and greetings from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. It is incredible to be here in the BYU–Idaho conference center. In my mind’s eye I can envision you in various locations all over the world.
When I was your age, President David O. McKay was the prophet. President McKay served as President of the Church from 1951 until 1970, which was the year I turned 30. There is always something very special about the prophet who serves when you are a young adult. I loved and admired President McKay. He often related a true account that occurred while he was a missionary serving in Scotland. He was feeling homesick after being in the mission for just a short time and spent a few hours sightseeing at nearby Stirling Castle. When he and his companion returned from visiting the castle, they passed a building where the stone above the door had a carved inscription of a quotation usually attributed to Shakespeare, which read: What E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.
Recalling this experience in a talk given in 1957, President McKay explained: “I said to myself, or the Spirit within me, ‘You are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than that, you are here as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. You accepted the responsibility as a representative of the Church.’ Then I thought [about] what we had done that forenoon. We had been sightseeing, we had gained historical instruction and information, it is true, and I was thrilled with it. … However, that was not missionary work. … I accepted the message given to me on that stone, and from that moment we tried to do our part as missionaries in Scotland.” 1
This message—What E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part—was so important and had such an impact on Elder McKay that he used it for inspiration for the rest of his life. He determined that whatever responsibility he had, he would do his very best.
When Elder David B. Haight was mission president in Scotland, he located the original stone inscription and had a replica made, which is today in the missionary training center in Provo, Utah. Many of you have seen the quotation and have pondered the significance of its message. Elder Russell M. Nelson reaffirmed this message recently at the 50th anniversary of the Provo Missionary Training Center.
As I have reflected on who you are, the feeling has come over me that you might not fully appreciate the significance of your generation. Society in general has given labels to various generations that are alive today. The oldest among us in the United States and other countries have been labeled “the Greatest Generation” because of what they endured in the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s and then accomplished in World War II and its aftermath in building a better world. A number of the senior Brethren of the Church participated in these events. President Thomas S. Monson was in the United States Navy; President Boyd K. Packer served in the United States Air Force; Elder L. Tom Perry was a United States Marine. I will share with you later some of the experiences they had and the lessons they learned and taught.
Your generation, born in the 1980s and early- to mid-1990s, is currently referred to as the “Millennial Generation.” Some commentators are skeptical about what your generation will accomplish. I believe you have the background and the foundation to be the best generation ever, particularly in advancing our Father in Heaven’s plan.
Why do I say this? Your generation has had more exposure to seminary and institute teaching than previous generations, and you have had the best training of any generation from Primary, priesthood, and Young Women. In addition, approximately 375,000 of you have served or are serving as missionaries. You represent over one-third of all of the missionaries who have served in this dispensation. Samuel Smith, the first missionary in this dispensation, was ordained an elder and set apart as a missionary on April 6, 1830, the day the Church was organized. When you contemplate all of the missionaries who have served since then, it is amazing that one-third would be in your age group. By comparison, only 76,000 missionaries, or less than 8 percent, served in the 12 years when I was 18 to 30 years of age. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to serve a mission, your contribution, nevertheless, can be significant. Almost half of the First Presidency and the Twelve did not have the opportunity to serve a mission.
Avoid Acting out of Character by Wearing a Mask
In view of the enormous potential for good that you possess, what are my concerns for your future? What counsel can I give you? First, there will be great pressure on each of you to act out of character—to even wear a mask—and become someone who doesn’t really reflect who you are or who you want to be.
Last summer Elder L. Tom Perry and I, along with Michael Otterson, 2 in our capacities in public affairs, met with Abraham Foxman in his New York office. Mr. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Its mission is to stop the defamation of the Jewish people. He has been involved in this work for almost 40 years. The account of his life that led him to this position is very compelling. He was born at the beginning of World War II. His parents, Joseph and Helen Foxman, facing edicts against Jews, turned Abraham over to a Polish Catholic girl just before they entered a Jewish ghetto in Vilna, Lithuania, in September 1941. Abraham was 13 months old. His parents survived the war and the Holocaust but were not reunited with Abraham until he was four years old. It is estimated that 1.5 million Jewish children perished in the Nazi inferno. Abraham was protected by the Catholic girl, who took him to church every Sunday and kept his Jewish identity hidden. 3 It is not surprising that Abraham Foxman has devoted his life to fighting anti-Semitism, hatred, bigotry, and discrimination.
I have worked with Mr. Foxman on previous occasions and admire his courage and commitment. In our meeting with him in New York, I asked him what counsel he would have for us in connection with our responsibilities in public affairs for the Church. He pondered for a moment and then explained the importance of encouraging people to not wear masks. He described the Ku Klux Klan. It was an organization that was very influential and quite frightening to most Americans in the first part of the last century. With identical robes and masks that made it impossible to identify the participants, they burned crosses on the lawns of those they targeted and appointed themselves as so-called moral watchdogs. Among those most targeted were African Americans, but Catholics, Jews, and immigrants were as well. The most militant of them were involved in whippings, physical abuse, and even murders. Mr. Foxman pointed out that a minority of the Ku Klux Klan would have been brown-shirted bullies in the dictatorships of 1930s Europe, but the majority of them, without the masks, were usually normal people, including businessmen and churchgoers. He noted that hiding their identity and wearing a mask enabled them to participate in activities that they would normally have avoided. 4 Their conduct had a terrible impact on American society.
Mr. Foxman’s counsel was to stress the importance of people avoiding masks that hide their true identity.
In our early Church history, the Prophet Joseph, Emma, and their 11-month-old twins Joseph and Julia were in Hiram, Ohio, at the Johnson farm. Both of the children were suffering from measles. Joseph and his little son were sleeping on a trundle bed near the front door.
Brother Mark L. Staker has recounted what happened:
During the night a group of men with black-painted faces burst through the door and dragged the Prophet outside where they beat him and threw tar on him and Sidney Rigdon.
“When Emma saw the beaten and tarred Joseph, she fainted. …
“… Though the Prophet had lost a tooth, received a severe injury in his side, was missing a patch of hair, and had nitric acid burns, he preached a sermon at the usual Sunday worship service. Among the Saints gathered there were at least four members of the mob.” 5
The most tragic part of this mobbing was that little Joseph was exposed to the night air when his father was dragged away and caught a severe cold and, as a result, died a few days later.
It is also interesting that those who participated in the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum painted their faces in an effort to hide their true identities. 6 Those who camouflage their identity and enter into secret combinations are of particular concern. We learn in the Book of Mormon that Lucifer “stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness” (2 Nephi 9:9; see also 3 Nephi 6:27–30).
Now, I am not suggesting that any of you would be involved in the kind of terrible events I have just described. I do believe, in our day, when being anonymous is easier than ever, that there are important principles involved in not wearing a mask and being “true to the faith … for which martyrs have perished.” 7
One of your greatest protections against making bad choices is to not put on any mask of anonymity. If you ever find yourself wanting to do so, please know it is a serious sign of danger and one of the adversary’s tools to get you to do something you should not do. One of the reasons we advise missionaries to dress conservatively and the elders to be clean shaven is so that there will be no question as to who they are and how they should act. Some will question: Isn’t that just superficial? I don’t think so. Think about how dress and adornment is described in the Book of Mormon by the prophet Moroni, who equated pride with the wearing of “very fine apparel.” He associated the pride manifested by the wearing of “very fine apparel” with “strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities” (Mormon 8:36). I am particularly concerned that in our day our manner of dress and adornment can be an indication of rebellion or lack of adherence to moral standards and negatively impact the moral standards of others.
Act in Accordance with Your True Beliefs
The second counsel I would give is: Act in accordance with your true beliefs by spending your time on those things that will build and develop your character and help you become more Christlike. I hope none of you see life as primarily fun and games but rather as a time “to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32).
A wonderful example of acting your part and using time appropriately is demonstrated by an incident in Elder L. Tom Perry’s life when, as a Marine, he was part of the occupying United States force in Japan at the end of World War II. Elder Perry shared this account when he recorded his special witness of the Savior, which is shown in our visitors’ centers:
Elder Perry’s Account
“There was an experience in my life which has often reminded me of the joy resulting from asking the question ‘What would the Savior do in this situation?’
“I was among the first wave of Marines to go ashore in Japan following the signing of the peace treaty following World War II. As we entered the devastated city of Nagasaki, it was one of the saddest experiences of my life. A large part of the city had been totally destroyed. Some of the dead had not yet been buried. As occupation troops, we set up headquarters and went to work.
“The situation was very bleak, and a few of us wanted to give more. We went to our division chaplain and requested permission to help rebuild the Christian churches. Because of government restrictions during the war, these churches had almost ceased to function. Their few buildings were badly damaged. A group of us volunteered to repair and replaster these chapels during our off-duty time so that they would be available for the holding of Christian services again.
“We had no command of the language. All we could accomplish was the physical labor of repairing the buildings. We found the ministers who had been unable to serve during the war years and encouraged them to return to their pulpits. We had a tremendous experience with these people as they again experienced the freedom to practice their Christian beliefs.
“An event occurred as we were leaving Nagasaki to return home that I will always remember. As we were boarding the train that would take us to our ships to return home, we were teased by a lot of the other Marines. They had their girlfriends with them saying good-bye to them. They laughed at us and indicated that we had missed the fun of being in Japan. We had just wasted our time laboring and plastering walls.
“Just as they were at the height of their teasing, up over a little rise near the train station came about 200 of these great Japanese Christians from the churches we had repaired, singing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers.’ They came down and showered us with gifts. Then they all lined up along the railroad track. And as the train started down the tracks, we reached out and just touched their fingers as we left. We couldn’t speak; our emotions were too strong. But we were grateful that we could help in some small way in reestablishing Christianity in a nation after the war.
“I know that God lives. I know that we are all His children and He loves us. I know that He sent His Son to the world to be an atoning sacrifice for all mankind. And those who embrace His gospel and follow Him will enjoy eternal life, the greatest of all gifts of God. I know that He directed the Restoration of the gospel again here upon the earth through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I know that the only lasting joy and happiness we will ever find during our mortal experience will come by following the Savior, obeying His law, and keeping His commandments. He lives. This is my witness to you in His holy name, even Jesus Christ, amen.” 8
Think of the significance of some soldiers spending their time restoring Christian churches compared to other soldiers involved in frivolous, foolish, or evil activities. Please ponder and be proactive in choosing how you use your time.
Watching this video reminds me of one of my earliest memories, when I was five years old. Our stake president was Elder Perry’s father. At the conclusion of the Second World War, he had all the returned soldiers seated on the stand in the chapel during a sacrament meeting. They came dressed in their best military uniforms, and each bore a brief testimony. President Perry wept as his two sons, Elder Perry and his younger brother Ted, bore their testimonies. As a small boy, it was very inspiring and impressive to me. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember how I felt.
As you can see from Elder Perry’s example in this video, I am not talking about wearing your religion on your sleeve or being superficially faithful. That can be embarrassing to you and the Church. I am talking about you becoming what you ought to be. When we were working on the missionary guide Preach My Gospel, we felt that it could be a useful guide throughout life for our missionaries and members, particularly chapter 6, “How Do I Develop Christlike Attributes?” As you attempt to act your part and identify attributes you wish to develop, you will want to “list and study … passages of scripture that teach about the attribute[s],” “set goals and make plans to apply the attribute[s] in your life,” and “pray for the Lord to help you develop the attribute[s].” 9 In doing this you must not put on a mask and hide your true identity.
Some of you may have succumbed to conduct that goes well beyond just fun and games. Those involved with pornography or any other form of immorality are acting out a different role from what they really want to be or should be. It is interesting that almost everyone who is involved with pornography assumes a false identity and hides his or her participation. They mask their conduct, which they know is reprehensible and destructive to everyone they care about. Pornography is a plague that is detrimental not only to a person’s moral standing with God, but it can also destroy marriages and families and has an adverse impact on society. Internet addiction and pornography are both harming marriages. 10 As you move toward marriage, you must not wear any masks that hide inappropriate conduct that will be detrimental to you or your marriage.
For those who have fallen into this destructive habit, please be assured that you can repent, and you can be healed. Repentance will need to precede healing. Healing may be a long process. Your bishop can counsel you as to how you can receive the help you need to be healed. We have asked the bishops to refer you to those who can best assist you.
Pornography and sexual immorality aside, there are other insidious behaviors that poison society and undermine basic morality. It is common today to hide one’s identity when writing hateful, vitriolic, bigoted communications anonymously online. Some refer to it as flaming. Certain institutions try to screen comments. For instance, the New York Times won’t tolerate comments where there are “personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, … impersonations, incoherence and SHOUTING. …
“The Times also encourages the use of real names because, ‘We have found that people who use their names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations.’” 11
The Apostle Paul wrote:
“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
“Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God” (1 Corinthians 15:33–34).
It is clear that evil communications are not just a matter of bad manners, but, if practiced by those who are Latter-day Saints, they can adversely affect those who do not have knowledge of God or a testimony of the Savior.
Any use of the Internet to bully, destroy a reputation, or place a person in a bad light is reprehensible. What we are seeing in society is that when people wear the mask of anonymity, they are more likely to engage in this kind of conduct, which is so destructive of civil discourse. It also violates the basic principles the Savior taught.
One of the basic messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ that you have learned from your youth is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16; see also D&C 34:3). The Savior explained that He had not come to condemn the world, but to save the world. He then described what condemnation means:
“Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
“But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19–21; see verses 17–21).
The righteous need not wear masks to hide their identity. I love this true account from President Thomas S. Monson’s life. He did not turn 18 until near the end of World War II. In fact, the war in Europe was over, but war in the Pacific continued.
He enlisted in the United States Navy and was shipped to San Diego, California. You will remember his account at the last general conference. On his first Sunday the drill sergeant lined everyone up to go to church. He sent the Catholics one place, the Jews another, and tried to send the rest to a Protestant meeting. President Monson said he knew he wasn’t a Catholic, Jew, or Protestant; he was a Mormon. He had the courage to stand in place and was pleased to find that there were other faithful members standing behind him. It would have been easy to go with the large group to the Protestant meeting. He was determined to be identified as who he was and act his part accordingly. 12
Set Appropriate Goals
My third counsel relates to some of the goals you should consider. At approximately the same time that Elder Perry was in Japan with the Marines, President Boyd K. Packer served in Japan with the Air Force at the end of World War II.
In his address at the 100th anniversary of seminary on January 22nd of this year, he explained that this was a very formative time in his life. 13 In 2004, I accompanied President Packer and others to Japan. He had an opportunity to retrace some of his steps and reflect on some of the experiences and decisions he made at that time. He recited a few of those during his seminary talk. With his permission, I share with you other thoughts and feelings.
President Packer described experiences that occurred on an island off the coast of Okinawa. He considers this as his mount in the wilderness. His personal preparation and meeting with other members had deepened his belief in gospel teachings. What he yet lacked was confirmation—sure knowledge of that which he had already come to feel was true.
President Packer’s biographer then captures what happened: “Counter to the peace of confirmation he sought, he came face to face with the hell of war against the innocent. Seeking solitude and time to think, he climbed, one day, to a rise above the ocean. There he found the gutted remains of a peasant cottage, its neglected sweet potato field nearby. And lying amid the dying plants he saw the corpses of a slaughtered mother and her two children. The sight filled him with a deep sadness mingled with the feelings of love for his own family and for all families.” 14
He subsequently went inside a makeshift bunker where he contemplated, pondered, and prayed. President Packer, in looking back on this event, described what I would call a confirming spiritual experience. He felt inspired as to what he should do with his life. He, of course, had no idea that he would be called to the high and holy calling that he now holds. His vision was that he wanted to be a teacher, emphasizing the teachings of the Savior. He made up his mind that he would live a righteous life.
It came to him in a rather profound way that he would have to find a righteous wife and that together they would raise a large family. This young soldier recognized that his career choice would provide modest compensation and his sweet companion would need to share the same priorities and be willing to live without some material things. For those of you who have become acquainted with Sister Donna Packer, she was and is, for President Packer, the perfect companion. There was never enough excess money, but they did not feel deprived in any way. They raised 10 children, and sacrifice was required. They now have 60 grandchildren and 79 great-grandchildren.
I can remember the tender feelings I had when I learned that he was embarrassed as a new General Authority to go with one of the senior Brethren to a meeting of Church leaders because he did not have an adequate white shirt to wear.
I share this true account with you because too often our goals are based on what the world values. The essential elements are really quite simple for members who have received the saving ordinances. Be righteous. Build a family. Find an appropriate way to provide. Serve as called. Prepare to meet God.
The Savior taught that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). He then used a parable:
“The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
“And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
“And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
“And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
“But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
“So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16–21).
Build Your Country and the Community Where You Live
In addition to personal attributes, qualities, and decisions, if you are to be the generation you need to be, you will build your country and the community where you live. Your generation, like the Greatest Generation, will need to protect righteousness and religious freedom. The Judeo-Christian heritage we have inherited is not only precious but also essential to our Father in Heaven’s plan. We need to preserve it for future generations. We need to join with good people, including those of all faiths—especially those who feel accountable to God for their conduct. These are people who would understand why we are talking this evening about “what e’er thou art, act well thy part.” The successful enhancement of Judeo-Christian values and religious freedom will mark your generation as the great generation it needs to be.
With the challenges that exist in the world today, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are particularly concerned that you participate appropriately in the political process in the country where you live. The Church is neutral in political contests and does not support candidates or parties. We do expect, however, that our members will be fully engaged in supporting the candidates and parties of their choice based on principles that will protect good government. Our doctrine is clear: those who are “honest … and wise … should be sought for diligently” (D&C 98:10). “When the wicked rule the people mourn” (D&C 98:9). This means that everyone should feel obligated to vote.
In those states in the United States that have caucuses, you should make yourself familiar with the issues and the candidates and fully participate. For example, the caucuses for the various parties in Utah and Idaho will be held starting this week and spread out until mid-April. If you attend, you will be allowed to participate. We hope that you will check out the caucus time for the party of your choice and then feel an obligation to attend. We would hope this would be true of all citizens, members and nonmembers alike, in all states and all countries where elections will be held. The price of freedom has been too high, and the consequences of nonparticipation are too great for any citizens to feel they can ignore their responsibility.
Please know that we have great confidence in you. The leadership of the Church honestly believes that you can build the kingdom like no previous generation. You have not only our love and confidence but also our prayers and blessings. We know that the success of your generation is essential to the continued establishment of the Church and the growth of the kingdom. We pray that you will act well your part as you avoid wearing a mask, act in accordance with your true identity, set appropriate goals, and build the country and community where you live.
I close with my personal witness of the Restoration of the gospel through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith did see God the Father and Jesus Christ. Our Father in Heaven is a loving father with a plan that blesses each of His children. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and His Atonement is the seminal event in all history. The Holy Ghost ministers to us and bears witness of the Father and the Son. Of these things I testify as one of the Savior’s witnesses, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.