Messages to Faithful Expand Over Time
"I felt that I would like to see the spot where the blood of those innocent men was shed for the testimony they bore to the world."
Salt Lake City, UT, October 2006 - In the October 1906 Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church leaders addressed faithful members gathered in the not-yet-historic Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Joseph F. Smith, the sixth church president and nephew of church founder Joseph Smith Jr., was prophet, seer and revelator of a church 400,000 members strong, with 8,000 young missionaries abroad proselytizing for converts.
Back then, General Conference was a three-day event -- Friday to Sunday. There were two daily sessions, each lasting two hours. There were no additional sessions for the priesthood or Relief Society members.
It would still be another 18 years before microphones were used and 32 years from radio broadcasts. To accommodate crowds who couldn't get a seat in the tabernacle, overflow meetings were held in the Assembly Hall and outside on the temple grounds.
A century ago, there were no conference talks on family home evening (which wasn't established until 1965, no announcements of a fifth temple yet to be built and no warning to avoid tattoos, inappropriate music, drugs and Internet pornography.
So what else was there to talk about for three days?
Most speakers shared their testimonies of the atonement of Jesus Christ, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith Jr., and the Book of Mormon. Others spoke on morality, respect for women, guidance for young adults, obeying the Word of Wisdom and keeping the Sabbath day holy.
President Smith, sounding remarkably like his future successor Gordon B. Hinckley, apologized for speaking on personal matters. He recounted his recent visit to Carthage, Ill., where his father Hyrum Smith, and Uncle Joseph had been martyred.
"I had a desire to see that place, as I had never seen it before," said President Smith. "I felt that I would like to see the spot where the blood of those innocent men was shed for the testimony they bore to the world. ... I will not attempt to express to you in the least degree how I felt on that ground."
President Smith also spoke on tithing.
"The man that complains about not knowing what is done with the tithing, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, is the man who has no credit on the books of the church for paying tithing."
He went on to invite any tithe-paying member to examine the church's financial books to see how their donations were being spent.
A hundred years before "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," Apostle Francis Lyman spoke on the evils of gambling.
"It is not necessary for us to be gamblers. It is not profitable; it is not a good business. It is immoral, degrading and humiliating."
Apostle Reed Smoot, taking time from his U.S. Senate seat confirmation hearings, spoke on a perpetual conference topic -- debt.
"I hope and trust you will use judgment and not go beyond your ability to pay. Keep out of debt. Don't go into debt at all, unless you have absolute security to back it, and unless it is for the purpose of controlling some land purchase, or some business that you know you are absolutely safe in going into."
Elder George F. Richards, giving his first conference talk as an apostle, spoke on avoiding wearing the "Babylonish fashions of today" and of the importance of having children.
"When you go into the houses of some fashionable people of the world today, instead of finding children there, you see poodle dogs, pussy cats, canary birds, things which can be tethered to a string and left in a corner."
It just wouldn't have been a proper General Conference without a talk by the colorful Elder J. Golden Kimball, who spoke about the missionaries, whom he called his "beardless boys."
"I am informed that laws have been passed in cities of the Southern States, where thousand of our Elders (who) formerly traveled without purse or scrip ... are placed in prison," he said.
"People far and near, hearing of Mormon Elders being under arrest, gathered to see these peculiar individuals. The brethren sang hymns and testified of the truth of the Gospel, etc. It is claimed they had congregation of 300, and I have been told that the people had never heard such wonderful preaching and singing.
"So I am almost included to advocate putting our Elders in jail once in a while, when they are unable to get (an audience) in any other way."