President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 1: God and Power

This is the beginning of the second part of my analysis of President Russell M. Nelson’s general conference talks, focusing on his favorite topics and statements.  In looking at what President Nelson talks about, I tried to take a few approaches to understand his favorite topics objectively.  Approaches included word count analysis of his talks and the titles of his talks, noting topics that come up frequently across his talks as I read them, looking at the focus of initiatives that have come out under his administration, and observing key phrases that come up on a repeated basis.  For the sake of post size, I intend to cover these topics in a series of groups, making the overall game plan as follows:

  1. Introductory Thoughts
  2. President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Phrases
    1. God and Power
    2. The Church, Priesthood, and Gathering Israel
    3. The Family
    4. Plan of Salvation
  3. Examining the Sources in President Nelson’s Talks
  4. Potential Long-Term Impact of President Nelson’s Addresses

Today’s post will focus on his comments about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and how we can draw access their power in our lives.

As for the analysis, one approach I took was to create two word clouds to identify the words that come up most frequently in President Nelson’s general conference talks and the titles of his talks.  A word cloud is an image that shows words used in a text or series of texts where the words are different sizes based on how often they are used in the text (i.e., the larger the word, the more frequently it is used).  Ignoring basic grammar words (the, and, also, etc.), the results are presented below.  For words used in his talks, “God” came up most frequently, with words related to Jesus the Christ (Lord, Christ, Jesus) and “Church” being the other most frequent words (see Figure 1).  In analyzing titles of his talks, there were significantly less words to work with, but the results are still revealing.  The words “spiritual,” “power,” “God,” and “priesthood” came up most frequently, with “life,” “faith” and “remarks” also making strong showings (see Figure 2).  Together, these word clouds reveal some of the major focuses of President Nelson’s general conference addresses.

Figure 1. Word cloud of words used in President Russell M. Nelson’s General Conference talks up through October 2020. Larger words indicate higher frequency of use.

Figure 2. Word cloud of words used in the titles of in President Russell M. Nelson’s General Conference talks up through October 2020. Larger words indicate higher frequency of use.


Since God and the Christ were ranked highly on both word clouds, we’ll start out with some of his thoughts on these topics:


Looking to God and acknowledging His hand in our lives and in the world are important topics to President Nelson.  One of the statements that has been repeated in a few different variations throughout President Nelson’s talks is that: “We should gratefully acknowledge God as our Creator. Otherwise, we would be as guilty as goldfish swimming in a bowl, oblivious to the goodness of their provider. ‘Ye must give thanks unto God,; said the Lord, ‘for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with.’”[1]  Depending on the context, President Nelson uses this comparison to point to God as the Creator (rather than natural processes alone) or that we need to express gratitude to God and acknowledge Him through prayer.

As the statement above indicates, attributing the creation of the world to God is something that has come up frequently in the general conference addresses of Russell M. Nelson.  While President Nelson doesn’t seem to be openly hostile to the idea that God works through means of natural processes to create the world while speaking in public (i.e., he notes that: “Compared with the omniscience of our Creator, we know relatively little about dinosaurs or the details of the Creation,” but more will be revealed in time),[2] he does make statements that disparage the idea that God was not involved in creation at all.  For example, on one occasion he spoke of how complex the human body is and then stated that: “Some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. Ask yourself, ‘Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?’ The likelihood is most remote.”[3]  My feeling is that his focus here is primarily to “testify that the earth and all life upon it are of divine origin” in contrast to an increasingly secularized culture.[4]

He also frequently points to God’s love for humankind.  You may note that in the word cloud presented in Figure 1, love is one of the larger words to be emphasized, along with terms like father and children (which are used, as often as not, referring to our relationship with God).  He has stated things like: “When I think of the love I feel for each member of our family, I sense, to a slight degree, the love that our Heavenly Father bears for His children. … We teach that God’s love for His children is infinite. Regardless of race, nationality, or gender, He loves all of them.  He has done so from the beginning and will continue to do so.”[5]  His recent comments on Sunday morning denouncing racism and prejudice (“today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children”), is really a continuation of his ongoing efforts to teach how we, as children of God, are loved by God and should seek to love, understand and respect each other as brothers and sisters with divine origin and destiny.[6]

Yielding obedience to God is also a frequent topic for President Nelson.  That’s part of why the definition of Israel as “let God prevail” that he spoke about this general conference was so meaningful to him.[7]  He began his apostolic career by teaching that: “The surgeon soon learns the incontrovertibility of divine law. He knows that hopes and wishes are sometimes simply powerless sham. Desired blessings come only by obedience to divine law, and in no other way.”[8]  He expressed later on that we need to “teach of faith to keep all the commandments of God, knowing that they are given to bless His children and bring them joy.”[9]  An analysis by data analyst Quentin Spencer that was discussed at the Sunstone Symposium earlier this year found that President Nelson is the president of the Church who has talked about works (as opposed to grace) the most.[10]  A big focus for teaching about works in President Nelson’s addresses is obedience to God.

Jesus the Christ:

Focusing our lives on Christ, drawing his power into our lives, and using his name are all topics that come up frequently in President Nelson’s talks.  Most famous are his two talks, “Thus Shall My Church Be Called” in April 1990 and “The Correct Name of the Church” in October 2018, where he insisted that we need to use the full name of the Church because: “By divine directive, the title of the Church bears the sacred name of Jesus Christ, whose church this is,” and “we revere the name of Jesus Christ. He is our risen Redeemer.”[11]  The latter talk is more forceful, including statements such as: “When we remove the Lord’s name from the name of His Church, we inadvertently remove Him as the central focus of our worship and our lives,” and thus using other names for the Church “is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.”[12]  This reflects both his interest in names (including all the names given to Jesus) and his focus on the Christ as being central to the Church and our lives as members of the Church of Christ.

After he became president of the Church (prior to the second talk), President Nelson backed this belief up with policy.  We see this in the name changes for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Church’s websites, updates to the style guide for how the Church wants to be referenced, the introduction of a logo focused on the Christus statue to emphasize the Christianity of the Church, having fewer temples use the Angel Moroni statues on their spires, and so on.  Between the two talks, of course, there is a bit of controversy because there was a ping-pong game of sorts between members of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency where there were efforts to walk back his insistence on avoiding the term “Mormon” for the Church and its members as non-negotiable (as well as the whole “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign).[13]  In the end, it should be observed that all of the Church leaders involved did emphasize that we should refer to the Church as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though they did vary on how acceptable it was to be called “Mormon” or use the term in certain settings, and that President Nelson does have some sound doctrinal points undergirding how emphatically he has pursued this agenda during his administration.

Such things aside, in President Nelson’s addresses, an important concept that has frequently come up is that we need to draw the Christ’s power into our lives and be Jesus’s disciples.  Russell M. Nelson has repeatedly taught whole lists of ways in which we can draw on the power of the Savior, stating on one occasion that: “There is nothing easy or automatic about becoming such powerful disciples. Our focus must be riveted on the Savior and His gospel. It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto Him in every thought. But when we do, our doubts and fears flee.”[14]  Along those lines, he has emphasized that the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ comes through Jesus Christ rather than existing as its own entity.  “There is no amorphous entity called ‘the Atonement’ upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power,” he said. “Jesus Christ is the source. … The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him.”[15]  Focus on Jesus Christ and the power he can give to us is an important part of President Nelson’s teachings.

One final concept that I would like to mention is that he brings up the idea of following Christ’s example frequently.  A few samples of this: “The Savior of the world repeatedly asked that we pattern our lives after His.”[16]  “To reach your highest destiny, emulate the Savior.”[17]  “He is our exemplar and the author of our faith.”[18]  While this emphasis on imitation of Christ can also be tied into President Nelson’s emphasis on works, it does show that Jesus Christ is central in President Nelson’s teachings at general conference.

The Power of God in Our Lives:

At this most recent General Conference, Elder Kelly R. Johnson noted that he “found a word that [President Nelson] has frequently used in many talks.  This word is power.”[19]  Indeed, as the word clouds above indicate, the word “power” is one of the most frequent words to appear in the titles of his talks and is used frequently enough in the text of his talks to be clearly visible in Figure 1.  While I’m sure people who are not enamored with our Church president will crack a few jokes about President Nelson being power hungry, most of the time when he brings up power in general conference, he is talking about gaining access to spiritual power (frequently discussed as God’s power or priesthood power) through our connection to the Godhead.

He has taught that each member of the Godhead plays a role in filling our lives with spiritual power.  “The source of our spiritual power is the Lord! The ultimate source of spiritual power is God our Father. The messenger of this power is the Holy Ghost.”[20]  His emphasis on seeking personal revelation and a personal relationship with God, as exemplified by his keynote address this spring and the subsequent “Hear Him” campaign on the Church’s site seem to be outgrowths of this searching for spiritual power.  As he noted in that address: “You can enjoy the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.  He will guide and protect you.  It means you will never be left comfortless or without access to the power of God to help you.”[21]  Over the years, he has repeatedly emphasized the importance of personal revelation, teaching that: “The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children,” and offering advice on how to “grow into the principle of revelation,” such as his statement that: “Good inspiration is based upon good information.”[22]  Along the lines of what I mentioned above about how he has given entire lists of ways in which we can draw on the power of the Savior (or to prevent blockages of power from God), he has also given lists of things we need to be doing to have greater spiritual/priesthood power.  Important emphases among these lists are powerful prayer from our hearts, fasting, studying the scriptures, serving, etc.[23]  Developing a strong relationship with God that allows us to have His power in our lives is a central topic of President Nelson’s conference addresses.


In this section, I’ve focused on President Nelson’s emphasis on drawing the power of God and Jesus Christ into our lives and developing a relationship with the members of the Godhead.  There are a lot of actions and choices that he calls on us to make to gain access to that spiritual power, reflecting a strong emphasis on works on President Nelson’s part.  Next time, I’ll discuss his frequent discussions about issues related to the Church, gathering Israel, and the priesthood.



Unless otherwise indicated, conference talks referenced are by President Russell M. Nelson.

[1] “We Are Children of God,” CR October 1998, See also “Joy Cometh in the Morning, CR October 1986,, “The Creation,” CR April 2000, and “Thanks Be to God,” CR April 2012,

[2] “How Firm Our Foundation,” fn 39, CR April 2002,

[3] “Thanks Be to God,” CR April 2012,

[4] “The Creation,” CR April 2000,

[5] “Generations Linked in Love,” CR April 2010,

[6] See “Let God Prevail,” CR October 2020,  Compare with “Teach Us Tolerance and Love”, CR, April 1994; “Listen to Learn”, CR April 1991,; “Combatting Spiritual Drift—Our Global Pandemic,” September 1993,; NAACP Convention Remarks, 21 July 2019, Detroit, Michigan, Newsroom Church of Jesus;

[7] “Let God Prevail,” CR October 2020,

[8] “Call to the Holy Apostleship,” CR April 1984,

[9] “Face the Future With Faith”, CR April 2011,

[10] See Peggy Fletcher Stack, “LDS General Conference data reveals who talks the most and what they talk about – grace, works, porn, drugs and more,” Salt Lake Tribune, 6 August 2020,

[11] “Thus Shall My Church Be Called,” CR April 1990,

[12] “The Correct Name of the Church,” CR October 2018,

[13] See Gordon B. Hinckley, “Mormon Should Mean ‘More Good,’” CR October 1990,; Boyd K. Packer, “Guided by the Holy Spirit,” CR  April 2011,; and M. Russell Ballard, “The Importance of a Name,” CR October 2011,

[14] “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” CR April 2017,

[15] “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” CR April 2017,

[16] “Doors of Death,” CR April 1992,

[17] “Self-Mastery,” CR October 1985,

[18] “Combating Spiritual Drift—Our Global Pandemic,” September 1993,

[19] Kelly R. Johnson, “Enduring Power,” CR October 2020,

[20] “Protect the Spiritual Power Line,” CR October 1984,

[21] “Hear Him,” CR April 2020,

[22] “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” CR April 2018,

[23] “The Price of Priesthood Power,” CR April 2016,; “Decisions for Eternity,” CR October 2013,; “Face the Future with Faith,” CR April 2011,; etc.

14 comments for “President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 1: God and Power

  1. We had a priesthood class a couple of years ago, where we discussed how oftebn we felt we had recieved personal revelation. We had a couple of ex bishops, and ex SP councilor in class. General concensus 2 or 3 times in a lifetime.
    Pres Nelson, has redefined some of these terms, like the 15 agreeing is revelation, and him getting ideas in the night is personal revelation. I get ideas in the night about projects I am working on,(cars or houses) and sometimes the ideas work. I have not thought of them as revelation though.

    Perhaps he gets revelation more often than the rest of us, and perhaps he doesnt, but he may also be setting us up for failure when he infers the Lord is there willing and ready to help us.

    I am trying to sell an investment property. Wife and I have been fasting and praying to get it sild for 9 months. 3 times we have had contracts of sale, but they have fallen through because the buyers could not get finance. About time he helped out.

  2. Geoff –
    Your comment gives me some thoughts of my own on this issue.
    I’m not surprised that many misunderstand revelation and the Holy Ghost. Thinking about what Joseph Smith taught, combined with baptismal/sacramental covenant renewal and repentance process, I’m not surprised. It makes me sad though, because in some ways it’s very revealing.

    Joseph Smith said: “The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” And, “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations.

    Do we get that? You haven’t received the Holy Ghost if you aren’t receiving revelations.

    Jesus invites us to follow him. When we follow him, we are trying to do what he would do and in principle becoming like the him, line upon line. When we unit our actions with his example and will, you might say we are “always remembering him”. That invites his spirit to be with us. When we receive his spirit, we will receive revelation.

    This is both a very expansive view of revelation, and a very restrictive view at the same time — most of the time people don’t receive revelation, because most of the time they aren’t actually remembering the Lord even if they are “good people”. We are to have our eyes opened and go through life as agents to act in righteousness. Choosing the better part. Not the path of least resistance that seeks to comfortably get through life in a material or social way.

    While we can’t readily be sure what others around us have experienced, based on the things many people say, it seems to me they haven’t actively used their agency to receive the Holy Ghost (by focusing their actions and thoughts on being Christlike), which unlocks closed heavens and pours down revelation.

    It doesn’t mean you are good at buying lottery tickets and predicting the future, or even wording everything right on the first try so that’s it’s perfectly understandable by others. It does mean your mind is enlightened, and you can discern the will of the Lord and you know it down to the marrow in your bones.

    Relatedly, Christ teaches us that the way we can receive his Father is to receive him, and in order to receive him, we need to receive his servants — and through this our Heavenly Father promises us all he has. So let’s be clear that the way to follow Christ is to accept, study, and act upon the words of his servants.

    There’s a lot more that can be said connecting these topics together. But one reason why missionaries are so earnest is they are often receiving revelation in great abundance because they’ve turned over their daily lives in remembrance of the Lord. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way, and missionaries are still learning how not to be socially awkward, etc. But it has also explained to me why so many missionaries just plug into life when they go back home and lose that spirit.

  3. Incidentally, the approach to revelation that I describe has a compounding effect the more and longer you are following the Lord in actual deed. The apostles have consecrated so much of their lives that I’m confident in the fact that they are constantly guided by revelation.

    I again do not suggest that everything they say and do is perfect or couldn’t be improved or communicated better, etc. But I know that they know. And that spirit can smooth over a lot of rough surfaces.

  4. p, I believe I stated pretty clearly in the first post in the series that: “My goal is both to for me continue to better understand President Nelson’s teachings through the process of study and analysis, to share some of that understanding in case someone else finds it interesting, and to hopefully learn from you through discussion as we go along.” That’s all the point that I can see to it.
    I am curious to know what the original rehash is in your mind, though.

  5. For what it’s worth, I thought the post was illuminating. it helped me to better understand some of President Nelson’s main themes and concerns. To be honest, I have had a hard time with some of what President Nelson has done and said. I feel more connection and admiration after reading Chad’s post.

  6. Chad,

    I often wonder what “gathering Israel” means. What is the expectation? What is the modern-day context? Is gathering the same as converting? Does gathering mean “baptisms?”

    It would be nice to identify stepping stones, or some path of indication.

    How can we “gather,” or even have a conversation with Muslims or Othodox Christians when our “grooming standards” at BYU codify facial hair—beards—as dishonorable?

    The culture of Utah is not the culture of the Gospel, but the institution that runs the church sells them together as a package deal.

    So I wonder if “gathering Israel” really means “exporting Utah.”

  7. Travis,

    Look at it from God’s perspective — after all, it is His phrase. God promised Abraham that through his (Abraham’s) seed, all the world would be blessed. That blessing passed down to Jacob and his twelve sons. For His own reasons, God restricted worship of Him to these twelve tribes, and only one of those tribes held the priesthood — but the promise was that all the world would be blessed. Ten of the tribes became the Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim was the dominant tribe in this kingdom), and were carried into captivity and scattered — Israel ceased to exist. But God promised that they would be gathered in the last days, and that gathering is happening now in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and all the world is being blessed through priesthood ordinances for the living and especially for the dead.

    The modern nation state called Israel is not the gathering of Israel; rather, it is the gathering of the two tribes that were the Kingdom of Judah (Judah was the dominant tribe in this kingdom) — its people are called Jews. Jesus was born among the remnant of the Kingdom of Judah.

    The stick of Ephraim and the stick of Judah have been put back together in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. God is in control.

  8. Ji,

    “God’s perspective,” you say.

    It is the standard dogmatic narrative, regurgitated by many faithful saints. Lots of unsubstantiated beliefs and goofy assumptions. You exemplify the beliefs of “Utah Mormonism.”

    My contention is that Utah Mormonism is more about “exporting Ephraim” or “exporting Utah,” than about gathering Israel. Fitting, because historically, the tribe of Ephraim was corrupt and self-centered. Ephraim is blamed for apostasy and for the destruction of the kingdom of Israel throughout the Old Testament. Did you read that part?

    The culture of Utah Mormonism is marked by its proclivity for Prozac, porn, and mult-level marketing: unhappiness, perversion, and profit. That ain’t Zion, and nobody is buyin.’

    The culture of Utah Mormonism a stumbling block to gathering Israel. It would seem that the feat of gathering Israel requires a culture where different belief systems and different paradigms can share in universal ordinances.

    In the same way Utah culture contaminates the Gospel, some LDS belief systems contaminate the Church.

  9. Travis, the Gathering of Israel (at least Russell M. Nelson’s understanding of it) is a topic in the next post, not this one, so I’ll talk more about that once that post is up. I think ultimately, however, a more in-depth answer would require delving into the Abrahamic Covenant and theologizing about why God called a chosen people in the first place, which is a pretty in depth discussion. I think the short answer, though, is that God made covenants with the House of Israel for them to become His people and we make covenants as members of His Church today to become His people. Because of the parallels of joining convents to become the people of God and a parlance inherited from our ultimately Jewish roots as a religion, it’s convenient to co-opt the idea of gathering Israel as the process of leading people through into the covenant path and joining a spiritual Israel.

    While I agree that American/Utahan influences on the Church and gospel aren’t always good and we have a tendency towards cultural imperialism, I fail to see how prozac, porn, and mult-level marketing capture Utah culture in its entirety and I’m uncertain what good evidence there is that conversion to the Church brings an increased proclivity to those things because of that cultural imperialism.

    On a different note, thanks SDS. I had similar feelings about Russell M. Nelson going into this project, but came to feel more respect for him him through study. I’m glad that’s coming through the post for at least a couple other people as well.

  10. Travis,

    You seem to be a very unhappy person. I feel sorry for you.

    Yes, I am aware of the tribe of Ephraim’s corruption in the old days before the scattering. But God sees the end from the beginning, and now the tribe of Ephraim is accomplishing God’s work in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Isn’t it wonderful? God remembers and keeps His promises.

    I’ve never lived in or near Utah, but I have met some Latter-day Saints from there. Some are very fine people.

  11. When President Nelson announced that the institution would drop “Mormon” from LDS jargon, it was for me a most timely, prophetic policy change—because in my view the culture of Mormonism has become toxic and corrupt.

    So I interpret the Church distancing itself from Mormonism as a dramatic, optimistic step towards gathering Israel—a good thing.

    In the same way, eliminating Boy Scouts was for me evidence of revelation—it felt to me like we finally cut the “Utah” out of young men’s programs.

    And in another way, the deconstruction of temple ordinances eliminated the drossy Masonic and Mormon elements—and in doing so, revealed a more pure form, a more universal ordinance.

    As for the stepping stones of gathering Israel and cultivating Zion, I expect the missionary program to change from sending young boys to calling whole families, so that wards and branches are strengthened worldwide with our greatest assets—families. I also expect the Church to secure worldwide supplies on grains for bread, taro for Polynesia, and worldwide water sources—all aimed to preserve and truly consecrate a “sacrament.” Sacrament is a critical vulnerability. Pure water and pure bread are endangered.

    Zion is set apart by the offering of the purest sacrament, body and spirit, literal and figurative. Our new narrative revisits Enoch’s covenant with Earth—which means we will need to establish a relationship with the natural world as if it were an Eden-becoming.

  12. Thanks, Chad, for noting that the Victory-for-Satan talk “reflects both [President Nelson’s] interest in names (including all the names given to Jesus) and his focus on the Christ as being central to the Church and our lives as members of the Church of Christ,” and that at least one of the talks touching on science does not “seem to be openly hostile to the idea that God works through means of natural processes to create the world”.
    There’s no need to rehash the details of his rhetoric here, but I thought to note that the misplaced judgmentalism some see in his Victory-for-Satan language [as if more than a 100 years of members and prophets’ informal references to the Church as “Mormon” removed Christ “as the central focus of [their] worship and [their] lives”], etc. and similar rhetorical and analytical “gaffes” since at least 2003 have made it very difficult for some to find the larger messages to which you point. This series of posts seems to reflect an effort to look beyond such rhetoric. Perhaps for some the negatively-perceived rhetoric has loomed too large for them to see what may lie behind it.
    I wonder if President Nelson has ever seen that for some his rhetoric gets in the way of his message or when he may not have been working with good information in concluding that something was “inspired.” Cf., “Good inspiration is based upon good information.”
    I look forward to the rest of your series.

  13. Wondering, to be candid, I think the rhetoric gaffs have been there from the start. There were a couple times I took a break from studying the talks because I was irritated by some of the things he said (or at least how he said them). I particularly remember one address in the early 1990s where he talked about women’s roles that was very difficult for me to swallow. But yes, I think your analysis of my analysis as an effort to move beyond the specific flash points in his talks to look at the larger picture of what he is getting at (and I do find his core messages to be inspiring) is accurate.

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