Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

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

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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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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