Mormon Conference

In this April 4, 2020 file photo, the Salt Lake Temple at Temple Square is shown during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ twice-annual conference in Salt Lake City.

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decried abortion as evil and issued another plea for members to combat prejudice and racism during a church conference that took place last weekend without attendees because of the pandemic.

The faith has long opposed abortion, but addressed it only sparingly in recent years.

Citing a speech by former church President Gordon B. Hinckley from a 1998 conference, church leader Neil Andersen said abortion is “evil, stark and real and repugnant” and pleaded with women to avoid considering it.

“Let us share our deep feelings about the sanctity of life with those who make decisions in society,” Andersen said. “They may not fully appreciate what we believe, but we pray that they will more fully understand why, for us, these decisions go well beyond just what a person wants for his or her own life.”

Andersen, a member of a top governing panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said church members should step in to help support women if an unanticipated child is coming to allow a child to be born and continue the baby’s “journey in mortality.”

He also lamented that fewer children are being born around the world, even in the most prosperous countries.

That trend could be seen in new church statistics released Saturday that showed the number of new children added to church membership rolls declined for the sixth consecutive year. About 65,500 children were added to church membership in 2020 — down 47% from a modern peak reached in 2008, church figures show.

Also on Saturday, Quorum member Gary Stevenson called on church members to be welcoming to people of all faiths and ethnicities on the heels of recent attacks on Asians and following a recent reckoning over racial justice around the world.

“The Lord expects us to teach that inclusion is a positive means towards unity, and that exclusion leads to division,” Stevenson said. “We have been heartbroken to hear of recent attacks on people who are Black, Asian, Latino, or of any other group. Prejudice, racial tension, or violence should never have any place in our neighborhoods, communities, or within the church.”

He also called on young members to stop cyber-bullying, which can lead to anxiety and depression, and for adults to model “kindness, inclusion and civility.”

Stevenson’s plea marked a continuation of a push in recent years by church leadership to strike a more strident tone against racism.

Fellow church leaders urged members to root out racism and make the faith an “oasis of unity” at the last church conference in October. Two months later, the church added to the faith’s handbook new language demanding members root out prejudice and racism, adding significance and permanence on one of the most sensitive topics in the church’s history.

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