Mormon conference to feature guidance to members worldwide

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon leaders are set to deliver guidance to their worldwide membership in a series of speeches this weekend during the religion's semiannual conference in Salt Lake City.

The spring conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes during the heated presidential campaign, though leaders are not expected to mention candidates by name, and when the religion's missionary program faces extra exposure after four missionaries were injured in the Brussels attack this month.

More than 100,000 Mormons will attend five conference sessions over two days, with millions more watching live broadcasts from their homes. The first session kicks off Saturday morning at a 21,000-seat conference center near the church's headquarters.

The missionaries wounded in the Belgian airport bombing shows the inherent danger of sending young men and women into a diverse range of geopolitical situations around the globe. All four are expected to survive, and two of them returned this week to their home state of Utah to receive more treatment.

The missionary program gets daily updates from its security team so officials can relocate missionaries when areas become unsafe, program executive director Brent Nielson said this week in a Web posting.

Worldwide, 75,000 missionaries are serving, down from an all-time high of 89,000 last year. The peak came when church leaders lowered the minimum age to start a mission in 2012, sending out a double wave of young Mormons. The church expects the total to hover around 75,000 before it gradually increases, Nielson said.

The fact that thousands of Mormons have served proselytizing missions around the world is one factor in the religion's dislike for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, political scientists say. Mormons tend to take a less hardline position on immigration than Trump, experts say.

Ted Cruz, a Texas senator, has defeated the front-runner in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming — all states with large Mormon populations.

The church does not back one party or endorse candidates, but Mormon leaders sometimes weigh in on what they consider crucial moral issues.

Church leaders have defended religious liberty after Trump suggested banning Muslims from entering the U.S., and they have renewed calls for an end to culture wars where people stake out extreme positions.

Leaders urged a conference of Mormon women last weekend to help refugees in their communities — striking a different tone than Trump and Cruz.

Before an election, the church instructs lay leaders to a read a letter in their congregations encouraging members to vote and to choose candidates who will act with "integrity and are wise, good, and honest."