Halfway through the six sessions that comprise Mormonism’s semiannual General Conference, here are three quick takeaway points.
1. The #1 surprise of the day was hecklers. Inside the Conference Center. Say wha . . . ?
In the afternoon session, at least one vocal audience member dissented publicly –- and loudly — from “sustaining” the Mormon prophet and his apostles.
While to outsiders it may not sound exactly newsworthy that one person or at most a few individuals in an audience of 20,000 (not to mention millions more following live online or via television) objected out loud to a Mormon leader, it’s unusual enough in the LDS world that people reacted immediately.
And that reaction was overwhelmingly negative:
— Chill Mormons (@ChillMormons) April 4, 2015
Many people jumped to defend the Church, proclaiming their own support for the prophet and other leaders. Some criticized the critics, calling them “haters” and debating whether they had merely shouted “no!” when asked to sustain the prophet or if someone had yelled “You lie!” (I couldn’t hear well, but the latter sounds too much like Buddy in Elf to be plausible.)
If people agreed on anything, it was that Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was conducting the vote, was unfazed by the incident. Handling it with aplomb, he merely said that the vote had been “noted.” The man has class.
— Blake Oakey (@BlakeOakey) April 4, 2015
I for one feel that opposing votes can be expressed the same way assenting ones are – by a quiet raising of the uplifted right hand – but it’s worth trying to understand the motivations of those who spoke out. Apparently this has been planned for at least a month (see here for a March 6 press release), and the action has its share of supporters who claim that although it’s unusual when compared to recent LDS custom, it’s not without precedent.
2. The #2 surprise? President* Packer looks and sounds awful, so much so that it was difficult to understand him beyond the memeworthy successful-marriages-are-based-on-cookies-and-kisses joke he opened with. (It was a joke, right? Hard to say. I told my husband about this, and he promised to bake me cookies in exchange for a kiss. There! Prophetic counsel implemented post haste in our Mormopalian home.)
President Packer’s obvious failing health comes on the heels of news stories this week about the health of the LDS Church’s two top leaders, including Packer himself and current prophet and president Thomas S. Monson.
President Monson looked fine, though it’s the first time I can remember in his tenure when he did not open the Saturday morning session with some introductory remarks. He also didn’t speak this afternoon, though the Deseret News reports that he is scheduled to speak both days this weekend, which means he must be on the docket for the priesthood session tonight. It’s a bummer that he’s not speaking to the whole membership.
Mormons are worried about him. Earlier this week, President Monson skipped a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Salt Lake City, with the Church citing Monson’s need to rest up for this weekend’s conference. To have missed a meeting with the sitting president of the United States in the Church’s own home turf suggests serious frailty – especially since other Internet stories last week indicated that Elder Tom Perry, who is the next in line to become the prophet after Monson and Packer, recently canceled a speaking engagement at a mission conference because the worsening health of the two more senior leaders meant he would need to take a more expanded role this weekend. (See here and here.)
3. The #3 surprise is not a surprise at all. It has now been empirically proven that if talks focusing on the “traditional family” were banned from General Conference, the event would be one-quarter of its current length.
Better yet, let’s recast those talks as beautiful relational advice for all families, without judging. Then General Conference would entail less shaming for people with gay children, or couples without kids, or single members. We could all stop having to hold our breath or brace ourselves against hurtful verdicts about our personal righteousness.
That way, General Conference would be uplifting and spiritual for everyone, but still long enough that we could justify the consumption of multiple cinnamon rolls.
I’m off social media on Sunday as usual but I will be watching Conference, so I may have more updates on Monday. Here’s hoping that tomorrow’s talks focus on the resurrection, love, and atonement of the Savior more than this fixation with the patriarchal family. It’s Easter, for crying out loud.
* A note to non-Mormon readers: Thomas S. Monson is the current president of the Church, so he is called President Monson. Makes sense, right? But Boyd K. Packer is also called “President Packer” even though he is not the president of the Church. It’s a Mormon thing. We know it’s confusing. We’re really sorry. Would you like a cinnamon roll?