Mormon hecklers, traditional families and more: Recapping today’s General Conference

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President Boyd K. Packer, seated, addresses the Mormon faithful at the April 2015 LDS General Conference.

(YouTube Screenshot)

President Boyd K. Packer, seated, addresses the Mormon faithful at the April 2015 LDS General Conference.

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:

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.

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.


President Boyd K. Packer, seated, addresses the Mormon faithful at the April 2015 LDS General Conference.

President Boyd K. Packer, seated, addresses the Mormon faithful at the April 2015 LDS General Conference.

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?

  • A more CLEAR note to non-mormon readers 😉

    “Boyd K. Packer is also called “President Packer” [because he is the president of the Quorum of 12 Apostles].”

    Sorry to be nit picky again, but the talks on families HAVE been careful to respect all kinds of families.

    That is all. Carry on!

  • Frank, thanks for reading. I agree that they’re trying to make an effort to include some nontraditional people, especially singles, but it’s rarely with the sense that “You are loved and fine as you are.” Instead it feels like “Someday the Lord will make you like us, and then you’ll be complete.”

    Having one talk after another extol the kind of traditional family that fewer than half of the people in this country actually have (and I don’t know the stats in the many other nations the Church operates in) feels oppressive at times.

  • Kelton

    The votes won’t count anyway. This isn’t a democracy. This is a monarchy and Monson is the Mormon’s king.

  • ron

    On the topic of the family… To raise the people to live a celestial law the celestial standard must be raised.

  • Dee

    I stopped attending Sacrament meeting for the main reason that I could not handle the doom and gloom music. I love an inspiring hymn and instrumentals… but I go to church to be uplifted not gloom filled. I do not attend a different church.. I just worship with my husband now with great joy each Sunday

  • Bruce Cole


    Some days you amuse me, some you anger me, some you appease me. Today, I feel you made a calm and mature post–and one in which there is some real info for some members without a deeper knowledge of how the kingdom works. And I feel your real concern for Elder Packer. I believe we may have seen his last conference address. If you looked closely, you could see two oxygen tubes carried by hie eyeglass frames to both of his nostrils, and he barely made it with those modifications. Regarding the negative votes: if it’s grandstanding for showboating’s sake, then hall them out. But, given the real doctrine of Common Consent, if it is a real dissent (based on a real set of material circumstances), then the concerns deserve a hearing. And, yes, emphasis on the family (as currently decreed by Deity) will ALWAYS be a recurring theme. Have a great week, kiddo.

  • Excellent write up, Jana. I think we watched the same conference.

  • Paul

    In the words of Pres. Hinkley, “we are not in the business of saving our fellow men to the telestial kingdom, we are in the business of saving to the celestial kingdom”. we teach (along with most Christian religions) All you have to do is bow the knee and confess that Jesus is your savior (The Christ) and you will be saved to the telestial GLORY. The celestial kingdom will be FILLED with single people. The “higher” part is with those who live ‘as families’. THAT is what the church desires of everyone… To go there. THAT is why they preach about it.

  • Gabrielle

    Kelton, it’s not that kind of vote. The LDS church isn’t a democracy, it is lead by a man called of God. The sustaining vote, is to give people a chance to vote no, when they have information about a person being unworthy to hold the office. You don’t have to vote at all, and it’s not the same thing as voting no. Generally people only vote yes when they have had a spiritual confirmation that the person has actually been called of God.
    Also, Monson isn’t a King, because all decisions of the church are made by the ENTIRE 12 apostles. They do vote in their meetings.
    Hope that clears it up for you!

  • Gabrielle

    I totally agree Mark. We should stop calling them names. I have been to conference and every time there are no voters, but there are so many people they never get noted.

  • maddy

    I think you made some valid points Jana. It would’ve been so much more uplifting for me personally if the speaker(s) had talked about the “human family–all God’s children, our brothers and sisters” instead of focusing on the specific roles of father and mother in the traditional family. I just think there are still some deep wounds from the Prop 8 campaign that we ought to take a break from the “traditional family” speech. I was a bit surprised Elder Christofferson chose that as his topic, considering he has a gay brother.

    Interesting that Quentin Cook made the point that the church is stronger than ever.

  • Memba

    What a horrible, judgmental comment.

    Great thoughts, Jana!

  • Kathy

    Sharee, Really? You have to complain about the men’s chorus? Nit picking, methinks.

  • 3GrandKeys

    I don’t think you’re accurately describing what the doctrine of common consent is

    “No man can preside in this Church in any capacity without the consent of the people. The Lord has placed upon us the responsibility of sustaining by vote those who are called to various positions of responsibility. No man, should the people decide to the contrary, could preside over any body of Latter-day Saints in this Church, and yet it is not the right of the people to nominate, to choose, for that is the right of the priesthood.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:123; see also D&C 20:65.)

    So…the priesthood may nominate individuals, but if the majority of members opposes the decision they aren’t powerless. They can overturn.

    I think what is unfortunate is that this is a good doctrine but the church no longer utilizes it. If it were truly used as Joseph described there would be a global sustaining vote process that all members could officially participate in rather than an informal show off hands by a small fraction of the membership.

  • carson

    You sustain the leaders of the church every stake conference and ward conference everywhere in the world

  • Geoff – A

    I was also very aware of all the talks and their definition of family.

    I believe this definition of family is the conservative American definition and has nothing to do with the Gospel. So I see the leaders of the church again teaching their political views as if they were the Gospel.

    Apart from offending those who don’t conform to this (I don’t believe it is an ideal, but a political definition), it also offends many potential members who see the blatant politicking, and have trouble with a church claiming to be Christs, excluding so many when Christ second great commandment was to love our fellow man. All of them.

    I had hoped once gay marriage was legal this would stop and the church could move forward.
    Perhaps if some of the older Apostles die we might have a future.

  • Sharee

    Their voices were great, but a hymn of joy should not sound like a funeral dirge. And it wasn’t just the men. The Tab Choir and the Young Adult group also had some pretty slow (yawn) numbers.

  • Ben in oakland

    Because all of that talk about counterfeit families, counterfeit marriages, and counterfeit “lifestyles”, was all about respect. At least, there was one brief moment of unintentional truth telling– because there is no such “lifestyle” except in the minds of ignorant and/or antigay people.

    And then, there was even more talking about how the vast majority of families have to be defended from the tiny minority of families who are not like them.

    All that this tells me is that nothing really changed for the Mormon church with it’s much ballyhoo’d “progressive’ attitude towards gay people. Mr. Wolf, I’m sure we can find some nice wool clothing.

  • bee

    Not everyone has to like or support or agree with gays…..

  • Danny S

    “Someday the Lord will make you like us, and then you’ll be complete.”

    Jana, you nailed it. Kinda like my driver off the tee on hole 6 at the Elks this am.

    Speaking of tone deaf, why is Packer after all the damage he’s done still talking about marital relations? This guy shouldn’t be allowed in public.

  • Dawn

    The need for the talks on the family is evident all around us. Bringing up kids in this world (4 for me) is getting harder by the day with phones, Internet, and the decline of moral values. More and more people don’t believe in God or religion. I think those talks are very important for us. We can’t hear it enough!!

  • Danny S

    But the world isn’t getting worse. It’s not getting more immoral. Just Google “is the world getting better” and pick your sources. Child mortality, deaths at childbirth, hunger, longevity, by any measurable standard continue to improve. The world is no more immoral than it’s ever been. Between the mid 1880s and 1950 or so, an estimated 50,000 british men were convicted of homosexual conduct, which was a crime then. I say that merely to point out the world has always been the world, even before internet. Churches have a vested interest in scaring their members with dire predictions, telling them the family is under attack like never before, knowing this will cause the members to double down to prevent the whatever dire consequence is foretold.

  • Linda Verma

    Hindus are not polygamous.

  • Danny S:

    Somehow in your roundabout way, I think YOU are trying to scare US. 😉

  • How can Mormons support a prophet that has been proven wrong by the two tests God has given us?

  • 3Grandkeys

    The sustaining vote doesn’t exist to give dissenters a chance to reveal they have questionable testimonies. Unfortunately as the church has scaled it has not scaled the practice of the doctrine of common consent along with it and it has become nothing more than a trivial formality that does only serve to cause awkwardness when there is public disagreement. The doctrine’s intended purpose was to give the general membership power to overturn decisions made by priesthood leaders regarding the selection of new leaders. This would include who is chosen to be the president of the church by the Quorum of the Twelve.

  • DocFaber

    It’s not a small fraction. There is a witness at EVERY meetinghouse that receives the satellite broadcast across the earth that records and reports the vote to their stake presidency. Those who choose to watch at home rather than at the chapel, and those who do not have a chapel do get left out, but it still is not a small number of votes…

  • Wayne Dequer

    Danny S,

    I understand your viewpoint. I too am grateful for medical, technological and material progress. I rejoice that there are places in the world where gays are no longer jailed, beaten, and/or killed. Additionally, crime rates in the U.S. generally lower and not higher. I do not deny areas of progress.

    However, your quality of life and morality measurement are different from those of Dawn. I am also reminded of Laman’s and Lemuel’s analysis of Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah and Nephi: “And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him.” (1Nephi 17:22)

    The teachings of the gospel and talks in conference are not designed to frighten us, but rather prepare us and fortify our faith that we need Not fear.

  • Wayne Dequer

    There was indeed a strong focus on the family in the Saturday morning session and the family is central to our understanding of the gospel in per-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal existence. There was a strong emphasis on the ideal mortal family structure, but I certainly heard clear teaching that those families with less than an ideal structure can, and usually do succeed, magnificently teaching both the information, traditions and the spirit of the gospel. How about you?

    Whenever, I consider this topic I remember that Dallin Oaks’ father died when he was 7. He was raised by a single, working mother. He is certainly Not the only apostle and/or prophet to be raised by a single parent.

  • Anti-Abe said: “Mormonism is for less intelligent people to believe.”

    Well, by gum! Under the weight of your censure I’ll be sure to deconvert IMMEDiATELY!!! 😉

  • Old Guy

    Here’s a good example of how *not* to respond to dissent from a BYU coach. I hope he is disciplined or fired.

    Mark Atuaia – ‏@CoachAtuaia

    For those who oppose – go see your stake president then find me and oppose those beloved men in front of me and witness how I sin #realtalk
    1:27 PM – 4 Apr 2015

  • Tim

    This was one of the rare conferences where Sunday was better than Saturday. And the single-minded focus on families, so present on Saturday, was much diminished on Sunday. Some fantastic talks on Sunday.

  • Mar

    Janna-your comments have an edge of irritation to them. I don’t appreciate that. Our General authorities are given divine inspiration to speak on those topics the general members most needs to hear. The Traditional family provides the best possible way for all individuals to thrive while on this earthly experience. While that may not be possible for all while on this earth-it should be the goal–for Celestial marriage is required for the highest degree in the Celestial kingdom. I am not a regular visitor to your site but honestly after stumbling across it and reading your update on conference I am not sure how to take your comments as friend or foe. What most makes me irritated myself is that members of the church post comments and judgements of the Lords annointed…….and that crosses the line for me. Who would go against their temple covenants and speak negatively about the Lords annointed? Well good luck to those persons. I will avoid your site.

  • Timothy-Allen Albertson

    Where have you been? While respect for the basic rights of all is required of Christians, homosexuals have taken the word gay, transformed it into gay, and these days into Chrisophobic and Christianphobic. If one does not openly and without question accept that there behavior is the same as skin color, and something one would want their child to emulate, one is a hater who has no rights under the US Constitution, Well, Golden Kimball may not even of had the vocabulary I have in response to this load of manure.

  • ben in oakland

    Nor are you required to. On the other hand, not everyone likes or agrees with Mormons.

  • ben in oakland

    Not surprisingly, Christians are. You can read all about it by googling “Christian polygamy ni Africa”.

  • Old Guy

    I looked for a video of the opposing vote:

    When I watched for myself, I had to ask “Is *this* what the big stink is about?” Jesus! The leader says “Any opposed?” A couple guys stand, say “Opposed” and sit down. The leader thanks them. Over in about a second. Sounded perfectly respectful all around to me. Voice levels seemed OK for a huge auditorium and no mics. Certainly not worth making threats over.

  • Logan

    You don’t have to watch closely to see the he WAS phased by the incident. He may have handled it well but he stumbled when it came up.

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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    President Monson and President Packer have worn themselves out serving their fellow members in the LDS Church. I don’t see it as a positive trend in society when people disrespect the elders in their community. I respect them for soldiering on to their last breath. The same could be said for those who succumbed at an earlier age to illnesses like cancer, such as Bruce McConkie whose farewell testimony of Christ in General conference in 1985 was given within days of his death.

  • Doug Bancroft

    Prof. Riess:

    How can you follow this backward sect led by (only) men with various levels of dementia? You must have studied the history of the church by reading non-LDS historians and their work. It’s obviously a man-made church that exists to hold its members in the 1950s as long as it possibly can.

    You’re on a slippery slope if you’re “finding fault” with the Brethren! The problem is, so much of the The Brethren have said has been proved false. Wrong. No seer-ing. No special power of discernment (see Hinckley’s purchase for the church of Hoffman forgeries, believing they could be real/were real).

    It’s best to sever ties and admit there’s no Superpower who watches for the good and faithful. Studying religion teaches us that they’re all invented by humans to quell the fear of death and to give a purpose to living.

  • Justin

    Also, at each Stake Conference a counted vote is taken.