5 themes Mormons can watch for in this weekend’s LDS General Conference

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The opening hymn by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

(screen shot)

The opening hymn by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The opening hymn by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The opening hymn by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

It’s that time of year again! General Conference. Here are five things to look out for tomorrow and Sunday.

1. The appointment of three new apostles.

The major possible news item coming out of this conference could be the appointment (please, sweet Jesus) of at least one apostle of color.

Right now there are three vacancies of the Quorum of the Twelve due to the recent deaths of L. Tom Perry, Boyd K. Packer, and Richard G. Scott.

That’s the most openings the Quorum has had at one time in more than a century, and it represents a historic opportunity: to diversify the top leadership of the Church to more accurately reflect its actual membership in the 21st century.

With more converts coming from Asia, Africa, and Latin America than the Church’s traditional strongholds in North America and Europe, the time has come to demonstrate that this is a global church that happened to begin in America, and not an American church.

2. Attention to women’s issues, sexuality, and the family.

Issues of women and the family have been paramount this year in the LDS Church, and were certainly a prominent feature of the Saturday sessions of the April Conference.

Since then, much has happened. The Church is gearing up to release two new Gospel Topics essays later this year on women, as confirmed by the Church’s Public Affairs department this week.

If Elder Snow’s comments to the New York Times last fall are still current, one of the essays apparently will focus on women and the priesthood.

In other news, since the last General Conference, same-sex marriage has become the law of the land in the United States. We can probably expect at least one speaker this weekend to reiterate that the Church’s doctrinal position on homosexuality has not changed, even though it has taken steps to implement nondiscrimination statutes in the law.

And given that last week marked the twentieth anniversary of The Family: A Proclamation to the World, I’m sure we’ll be hearing about that even more than usual. Which is a lot.

3. A renewed emphasis on keeping the Sabbath.

This summer, the Church rolled out an initiative to help members think and talk more about how to keep the Sabbath day holy.

Along with this, the Church expressed a renewed commitment to the ideal of holding sacrament meeting first in the three-hour block of Sunday meetings, and asked bishoprics to “counsel with ward councils” about the content of sacrament meeting.

We may be hearing more about this over the weekend, in addition to recommendations for ways that individuals and families can better keep Sunday as a day of rest and worship.

My hope here is that rather than legalistic checklists of do’s and don’ts, the talks focus more on the whys of the Sabbath.

4. Possible guidance on the personal use of technology at Church.

This one is the most speculative on my part, but rumors have been circulating online about wildly different advice that Mormons are getting from local and regional leaders about the use of technology at church. Maybe General Conference will offer some clarity.

As By Common Consent explained:

I just heard of a stake in Oregon who read a letter to their congregations that now forbids food and electronic device usage in sacrament meeting as an outgrowth of the sabbath day worship instruction coming down from the general leaders. And then I heard of another in Utah County. Ok, well this a local interpretation, you might say. Well to that I say, watch the next few minutes of the sabbath day worship instruction video . . .

Did you get that? Elder Ballard says

“Surely we can expect that cell phones and iPads and games and food can be set aside for one precious hour out of 168 hours in a week for the sacrament meeting that is devoted to Heavenly Father and his beloved son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

5. Greater attention to “religious freedom.”

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, in the last few years Mormon rhetoric has used the language of religious freedom to protect conservatives’ ability to object to same-sex marriage.

Given the news about Kim Davis, etc., here in the United States in the last weeks, it would not be surprising if some Conference speakers focused on this issue in more detail. What rights should religious people have to say no to issues or groups that violate their conscience?

If this does come up, I hope that the examples used take a broader view than narrowing in on just this one issue in just our faith tradition in just the United States. (And yes, I have been guilty of that same kind of tunnel vision here on the blog.)

Especially with the Parliament of the World’s Religions coming to Salt Lake City this month, I would love to see at least one formal acknowledgment in General Conference that “religious freedom” is far more necessary – and far more robust – than we’ve painted it to be.

 

Whatever happens, look for me on Twitter on Saturday, when I’ll be live tweeting under the usual hashtag #ldsconf (@janariess). I’m offline on Sunday. Cheers.


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  • John

    It would be great to have apostles from Africa etc. but it’s not like they’re going to be as liberal as you want. The Church is even more conservative in the developing world than in the US.

  • Mark Harmon

    The new apostles that are called, assuming some will be, will be chosen by the Lord. The President of the Church, his counselors, and the Twelve seek the mind of God, they do not choose the new apostles. God chooses the new Apostles and reveals His choice to His living oracles. It may be that that someone from another nation or continent is chosen but that is God’s choice, not yours or even the choice of the Apostles. The fact that you feel/believe that “the time has come to demonstrate that this is a global church that happened to begin in America, and not an American church” is irrelevant. God has prepared whom He has prepared and they will be called.

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”

  • Fred M

    Doctrinally and scripturally we know that the Lord’s chosen leaders (even prophets and apostles) do not always listen to him. We also know that sometimes He leaves them to their own designs and they do the best they can on their own. Anyone who believes that every single choice made by the leaders of the church throughout history is exactly the choice God would have made does not understand the gospel.

  • Paul LE

    I’m just glad that we have apostles and that they seek the will of God. They’re doing a good job. I was born and raised far from Utah and selecting three members from Utah does not affect my faith in the Quorum.

  • Mark Harmon

    I will thank you to not put words in my mouth when you reply to my comment. My comment in no way implied that all whom God calls are infallible or always do precisely what God intends – look no further than Christ’s selection of Judas for a prime example of one called who failed to live up to the opportunity presented. But the men who have now been called are the men that the Lord has chosen to serve Him at this time, despite the fact that they do not meet the expectations or desires of those who do not share the faith.

  • Fred M

    I’m not sure what I said that put words in your mouth, but I’m sorry if it came across that way. That was not my intention.

    Just to clarify–you said that the choice of the new apostles would be God’s choice, not that of the apostles. This implies that the apostles in making these choices will absolutely do exactly what God wants. I agree that they are the men the Lord has chosen to serve him at this time. But it is not doctrinal to assert that in making these choices they are absolutely doing exactly what God wants. Doctrinally we do not believe they are infallible. They have their agency and can ignore God’s will, not seek it, etc. I’m not suggesting they will, I’m just stating that it’s possible. That’s all.

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  • Mark Harmon

    You put words in my mouth by implying that I was arguing “that every single choice made by the leaders of the church throughout history is exactly the choice God would have made.” That was never the point I was making and you know it. My point is that the men that are chosen in these situations are the men God has called. We do not know the reason why and it may turn out that those men go on to make mistakes and maybe even do great damage to the church – but they are chosen by God, not by the President of the Church or the Apostles. If you deny that then you deny the very foundation of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Danny S

    In a stunning development, the LDS church appoints 3 white males as its new “apostles”. The ever increasing diversity of the church worldwide is reflected in that one of the white males is from Ogden Utah.

  • Fred M

    But just hypothetically, what if God wants Bro. Smith as a new apostle, and reveals that to the current leadership, but instead they use their agency to ignore that impression and instead choose the man they think is right for the job, Bro. Jones? In that situation the new apostle was not chosen by God, but by men. If you deny that can happen then you are denying their agency, which is also denying one of the key elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think that rarely ever happens, but as the brethren themselves would be the first to admit, past and present leaders make mistakes.

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  • Jenny

    Help Jana!! Help us process this conference. Three white males, all from Utah as new apostles (who I’m sure are all lovely people, but not the diversification I was hoping for). Only two female speakers. A talk on women rising up and speaking out, which sounds nice until you think about the lack of institutionally viable ways to do that. And we are back to all speakers speaking in English, a reversal of the new last year policy of speaking in your native tongue. Why the reversal on such a positive change in policy?

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