- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Mormon church President Thomas S. Monson told members Sunday to not be discouraged by those who may malign or ridicule the church as it seeks to uphold its moral values in a changing world.

His remarks on the second day of the annual spring conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a tacit reminder of the negative backlash Mormons felt since last fall when the church worked with a coalition of groups to successfully ban gay marriage in California.

Many gay marriage advocates turned their anger toward the Mormon church, picketing outside church temples nationwide. In Utah, more than 3,000 staged a protest march outside the Salt Lake City temple just days after Proposition 8 was passed by California voters in November. A local church meeting house was vandalized and envelopes filled with white powder were sent anonymously to church headquarters.

“The moral footings of society continue to slip,” Monson told the 20,000-plus who packed a church conference center in downtown Salt Lake City. “While those who attempt to safeguard those footings are often ridiculed, picketed and persecuted … It would be easy to become discouraged and cynical about the future _ or even fearful or what might come _ if we allowed ourselves to dwell on only which is wrong in the world and in our lives.”

Before the spring conference rumors swirled that activists planned to descend on Salt Lake City for another protest. Local activist Jacob Whipple said the idea generated by an e-mail was quickly quelled and replaced with plans for two days of community service in Utah.

“The fact is the fight against the Mormon church is over,” he said. “We were able to express how we felt right after Prop. 8. There is no need to continue protesting the church.”

Mormons hold traditional marriage as a sacred institution and a critical part of God’s plan for humanity. Homosexual sex is considered a sin, but gays are welcome in the church and can maintain church callings if they remain celibate.

The church has said, however, that it does not oppose civil unions or legal rights for same-sex couples related to hospitalization, medical care, housing or probate as long as these “do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.”

Acting on a June letter from Monson, California Mormons were among the most vigorous volunteers and financial contributors, donating an estimated $16 million to the Yes on 8 campaign _ about half of what was raised. Campaign finance reports show the institutional church gave nearly $190,000 to the campaign. Those contributions are now being investigated by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

Mormons gather in April and October to hear words of inspiration and practical guidance from leaders of their faith.

The event draws tens of thousands to Salt Lake City. Millions more watch the proceedings _ translated in some 80 languages _ via broadcasts over the Internet, by satellite and closed circuit television.

Founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr., in western New York, the Mormon church is now in more than 170 countries.

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On the Net:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: https://www.lds.org

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