Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was at that time second counselor in the LDS First Presidency, addresses the audience during the Saturday morning session of general conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, October 1, 2016. ©2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

15 highlights from LDS General Conference

(RNS) Is home teaching about to change? Is caffeinated Diet Coke really okay? And what did Elder Ballard say to people who are thinking of leaving the LDS Church?

These were the questions that preoccupied Mormons through yesterday . . . when all news of General Conference was superseded by the much less routine news of 15 leaked videos of LDS apostles in conversation behind closed doors.

The Church had to do some damage control last night and release a statement trying to put the videos in better context.  I haven't had a chance to watch any of those videos yet, but I'm sure I'll be writing about them in the days to come, once I've had more of a chance to reflect.

In the meantime, here are 15 impressions from three of this weekend's General Conference sessions. (I missed Sunday afternoon). There are also really good write-ups here (Salt Lake Tribuneand here (Deseret News).

Saturday:

  1. The First Presidency seats are now located on the other side of the podium, to make it a shorter distance for them when they come in. I suspect this has a lot to do with trying to help President Monson, who is looking frail at 89.
  2. Many people’s favorite moment occurred right at the beginning with Pres. Uchtdorf, the opening speaker. Describing his struggles years ago in learning “the strange, mystifying, incomprehensible world” of personal computing, he acknowledged that his struggle was overcome only with hope, faith, and “many liters of a diet soda that shall remain nameless.” The Mormon Internet blew up with the fun (to wit, an awesome Photoshopped image of Dieter Coke) to the serious (“did he just put to rest for all time the idea that Mormons can’t have caffeine?”).
  3. Here’s what was not said during Saturday’s sessions. Nothing on traditional marriage—not a peep. Nothing explicit on religious liberty, which has been a total watchword recently among church leaders. And not a peep about the upcoming US elections—though I had to wonder about the subtext.
  4. Helen Keller may be the first (and last) radical Socialist to receive sustained positive play at an LDS General Conference. Elder Chistofferson’s talk went on at great length about Keller’s inspiring story of triumphing over adversity.
  5. The Book of Mormon figured prominently today. Yes, it’s not like this is earthshattering—but in general, except for Ezra Taft Benson’s drive in the 1980s, the Book of Mormon has actually not featured much in General Conference in recent years. So to hear it referenced so often—and, in the case of Elder Gary E. Stevenson, be the entire focus of a talk—is a little unusual.
  6. Is “unconditional love” really the best term for God’s love? Elder Christofferson suggested that better terms might be “perfect love” or “redeeming love,” lest we misunderstand and imagine that we can sin without paying a price. The term “unconditional love” appears “nowhere in scripture.” That is true, but I wonder if it would have been more pastoral to frame this in a way that made it clear that God’s love is unconditional but that some of his promises are not. The phrase may not appear in scripture, but the idea certainly does: otherwise, why would we say that Christ saved us while we were yet sinners?
  7. My favorite reflection from Saturday was a beautiful and vulnerable talk by Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita of the Seventy. It had a memorable story of a missionary serving under his care who wondered aloud why he was there—and a touching, authentic account of his own second son, who “lived much of his youth apart from the church” before having a conversion experience. I’m sure Elder Y will be receiving many, many letters from Mormon parents who appreciated this story.
  8. More Word of Wisdom wonderings: Elder Cook’s talk taught that “looking beyond the mark is a stumbling block,” and he mentioned some examples of “gospel extremism,” in which “one elevates any gospel principle above other equally important principles and takes a position that is beyond or contrary to the teachings of Church leaders. One example is when one advocates for additions, changes, or primary emphasis to one part of the Word of Wisdom. Another is expensive preparation for ‘end of days scenarios.’” Lots of folks on Twitter speculated about what he meant regarding the WoW: vegans? Anti-vaxers? Practitioners of essential oils?
  9. Prayer was a major theme on Saturday, including a talk by Pres. Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women presidency, explaining why we pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  10. In the evening priesthood session, Elder Holland spoke first and seemed to offer a bit of a game changer about home teaching. “Please, in newer, better way, see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to his children.” No more frantic it’s-the -31st-of-the-month scramble to get over to your assigned families’ homes to read them a lesson they’ve already read themselves in the Rather, he said, home teachers need to love and watch over each member of those families “in any way that helps.” Rather than focusing on “what counts” for home teaching, “EVERYTHING COUNTS!” So, he said, “report it all.”

Sunday:

  1. President Monson addressed us for just four and a half minutes, which is about a third the length of the usual Conference talk. He looked frail, but the talk was moving . . . and could we all just follow the prophet in this way by making every single church talk from Conference down to sacrament meeting under five minutes long? Thanks.
  2. Nelson followed this with a talk on joy that didn’t begin in a particularly joyful way—with an apocalyptic reminder that these are the latter days, that “tragedies and travesties” are on the rise, and that ancient prophets foresaw that “perilous times would come . . . and that in our day the whole world would be in commotion. That men would be lovers of their own selves . . . lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, and that many would become servants of Satan.” Elder Nelson highlighted war, terrorism, and corruption as the defining features of our age. What can help us? JOY. Quoting one of my favorite scriptures, Elder Nelson quoted two of my favorite scriptures — “men are that they might have joy” and that Christ “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” — to show that despite all the problems of our age, we too can have joy. While this talk began in a dark place, I appreciated the realism of him pointing to the problems of the world while also insisting that “Saints can . . . feel joy even on a bad day.”
  3. The hashtag #ldsconf ranked third on Twitter during the weekend’s sessions, according to the Deseret News.
  4. Elder Ballard’s talk contained a veiled Bloggernacle smackdown. He said we should avoid whatever things that distract us from joy, and held up the example of Korihor. “Anything that opposes Christ or his doctrine will interrupt our joy. That includes the philosophies of men, so abundant and in the blogosphere, which do exactly what Korihor did.” Ouch.
  5. Speaking of Elder Ballard, there was some pushback to his remarks to Latter-day Saints who are troubled by certain doctrines or policies of the church. “To whom shall you go?” he asked. “If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do? The decision to walk no more with the church members and the Lord’s chosen leaders will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now. There may be some doctrine, some policy, some bit of history that puts you at odds with your faith, and you may feel that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil right now is to walk no more with the Saints. If you live as long as I do, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves. An inspired insight, a revelation may shed new light and insight on an issue. But remember, the Restoration is not an event, but it continues to unfold.” I hope the subtext of this remark was We’re going to change that hurtful policy about LGBT members and their children. The Restoration is still unfolding. Hang in there a little longer. A girl can dream, right?

TO READ:


 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your write-up of General Conference. I would say, in response to point 6 on Saturday, that it is impossible for God to “save his people in their sins” (Alma 11). I would say that Christ performed the atonement as an unconditional act of Love (for God and us). However, that does not mean that the sinner (that includes us all) is excused from the commandments He has given.

  2. “I hope the subtext of this remark was We’re going to change that hurtful policy about LGBT members and their children. The Restoration is still unfolding. Hang in there a little longer. A girl can dream, right?”

    If you want to keep that dream alive, don’t watch those closed door videos that leaked.

  3. Didn’t the church leaders’ statement clarifying its position on caffeine ALREADY put to rest the idea that Mormons can’t have caffeine, like FOUR YEARS ago?!

  4. “I hope the subtext of this remark was We’re going to change that hurtful policy about LGBT members and their children.”

    Or, perhaps, it means that revelation will later come which will clarify WHY those decisions were made in the first place. You cannot keep assuming that you are right and the church leaders are wrong about this.

  5. Sure i can! When every moral fiber of my being says it is antithetical to fundamental Christian principles and the very fruit of the policy has been most bitter – measured in the lives of our gay brothers and sisters – it isn’t an assumption it is a deeply felt cry of conscious.

    You may have different moral feelings but I think it is worth you asking a similar question to yourself. What does it mean for you to keep assuming there is some revelatory answer coming and that the leaders must be right about this issue? Were they right in denying temple and priesthood blessings on race? Or are you just “church broke” – willing to outsource your conscious to leaders just because they say so, even when they admit they are fallible.

    How about you respect the deeply felt moral considerations of people like myself and I respect your efforts for obedience, even if we think the other is misguided.

  6. MEH… no revelations, no sudden deaths on stage, no hot button issues, and nobody stood up and abstained to sustain. It’s no wonder that most Mormons need a few liters of Dieter Coke to get through Conference. I do agree that all presentations should be limited to 5 minutes and btw…what the fetch were you doing that was so important that you missed the Sun Afternoon session? You call yourself a Mormon journalist? JK Keep Calm and Morm on and “keep dreaming” that your church is going to be anything different than what it really is. When the women and minorities are in charge, there will be hope. At this point Dieter Coke is your best chance. I sorta ponderize and pray that he has a longerish fizzy reign than many of the driveling un-caffeinated old timers we have seen in our lifetimes.

  7. If I remember correctly, Elder Ballard referred to “heavenly parents” twice in his talk, rather than the usual exclusionary reference to just the Father. Our Heavenly Mother’s inclusion is rare but definitely appreciated. it’s progress!!

  8. Thanks Jana, I always love your insights. I also wish that rather than describing God’s love as something to be earned it would be much healthier, more positive, and less shame-making, to teach of His unconditional love while also showing that certain promises, blessings and growth opportunities are contingent on living a certain way.

  9. So the passive aggressive Mormon way of, if you live by our rules we won’t ridicule you or kick you out for using your agency?

  10. I do not necessarily have a problem with the policy one day changing — though I doubt it will happen any time soon. Where I have a problem is that the VAST majority of people who take issue with the policy are also those who believe that the Church should allow gay marriage in the first place. And that IS doctrine we’re talking about, not simply policy. Frankly I have grown incredibly weary of the old “human fallibility” argument being used as an excuse to maintain a belief manifestly inconsistent with actual doctrine. Like it or not, God isn’t going to change His mind about gay marriage at the last possible second. He has ALWAYS, in every single dispensation, forbidden it, and as we get closer to the Last Days (and by the way, this is in fact one of the well-known prophesied disaster signs of those Last Days) He is not going to suddenly decide it’s okay now. Have prophets made their mistakes in the past? Certainly. But in truth they are far more often right than they are wrong. And when you have a unanimously united leadership of prophets, seers, and revelators proclaiming a doctrine, the chances of their being wrong are INCREDIBLY slim. And since you mentioned blacks and the priesthood, that was understood from the very beginning to be a temporary thing, and the leadership was always deeply divided over it. Likewise with polygamy, there was much controversy over it even within the leadership. (For the record, though, in both those cases there WERE in fact valid reasons for those decisions to be made, even if we hate that they happened. So I’m not sure you can actually say they were wrong.) Naming a time when the ENTIRE leadership, from the Presidency to the Quorums, was wrong is much harder to find. And finding one in recent years is probably even harder. Prophets are FAR more careful these days about what they proclaim even from the pulpit, knowing how easily it can be misconstrued. When they do say something, it tends to be of great import. The human fallibility line is getting tired.

    And I resent the implication that I do not think for myself on these matters, or that I allow the church to do my thinking for me. My initial reaction to this recent policy news was anger. But the further I looked into it, the more I understood it. As I said, I think most people who still think it’s wrong are those who champion the gay-marriage cause within the church. After all, you didn’t see people outraged about the children who were ALREADY subject to this policy, such as those in polygamous families — it is only the children of gay parents who are “targeted” here, according to those upset about this policy “change,” not a word about anyone else. Jana’s own words were “that hurtful policy about LGBT members and their children.” But this was NOT a new thing, not a policy about LGBT members at all, merely a specific clarification on a policy that had existed for years. But no one cared before, they ONLY care now that it involves LGBT people. So where is moral conscience now? At any rate, I do not allow anyone else to make my decisions for me, and I tend to look into things pretty heavily before forming a solid opinion. That being said, faith to some degree is, by its very nature, blind. And frankly, why even have prophets and claim to believe in them if you are not going to listen to them? If we only choose to listen to the words of the prophets that coincide with our own personal thoughts, then we are missing the point. Every prophet throughout history has had the task of telling the Lord’s people things they DIDN’T want to hear. It is when people ignore the prophets and decide they have better ideas that things go badly for them.

  11. Actually yes, someone did cry out “opposed” during the sustaining vote, repeatedly. Not sure if they stood, but there was definite opposition.

  12. Did God change his mind about black people? You seem to come from the camp that still believes the priesthood restriction was rooted in God and not human fallibility. That is a fundamental disagreement we have in basic religious worldviews. I think history and conscious is pretty clear that the racial priesthood ban was rooted in nothing but human bigotry. God had nothing to do with it. The “human fallibility” argument isn’t “old” it is central to understanding any communication between God and man. There were long stretches of time where the apostles were unified in their beliefs about race and priesthood, absolutely unified. I also find it interesting that you assume the brethren are unified about the policy or their views on what we do and do not know about homosexuality. Clearly you believe the racial priesthood ban could be passed and perpetuated when the leadership was split on the issue. So why couldn’t the exclusion policy and other teachings about homosexuality also be passed and perpetuated with leaders split on the issue?

    And yes the exclusion policy surrounding children of polygamists is debatably unfair as well. It was rooted in a time and place where the concern was polygamists actively recruiting people through this mechanism. Taking that and applying that architecture to the children of gay people is particularly bigoted. It is rooted in the idea that these children are dangerous because they could “recruit” others into…what being gay? That is the logic for denying them what we believe are saving ordinances? Just to make super, extra clear that the church disapproves of their parents making a commitment to each other?

    I am perfectly happy to make a personal moral judgement here that our current leaders don’t speak for God when it comes to an understanding of homosexuality. Like all the racial theology that was taught over our most sacred pulpit I believe it is rooted in bigotry taken from the societal attitudes around them and not at all from a divine source. That is my personal call to make. You clearly believe otherwise. I get that.

  13. Sorry Morminion, I don’t understand your comment… Could you explain a little more what you’re saying?

  14. If that doesn’t make the Q12’s heart skip a beat and acid reflux start to happen nothing will. That’s not a “burning bosom” they are feeling. It’s a good thing most of them can’t hear so well anymore.

  15. The Priesthood ban was not doctrinal and was always a policy. Indeed many false doctrines were come up with by lay members that had to constantly be disavowed to try to justify the policy for which they could find no justification for. There is not one scripture prohibiting a group from holding the priesthood based on race or skin color, indeed the closest we come is the Old Testament ban on anyone not a Levite holding it. With homosexuality the bible including the New Testament speak out against it. It has always been doctrinal from the days of at least Abraham that it is a grievous sin.

    In short you are comparing apples to oranges.

  16. Because if you don’t “live a certain way” God and his chosen sheeple will pretend to love you while ridiculing you at the same time. So many stupid, man made ridiculous hoops to jump through to be a “good” Mormon. I guess the irony is that most Mormons are closeted hypocrites anyhow, so Celestial Kingdom is off the radar for most. If living “a certain way” for time and all eternity is God’s plan. I’ll use my agency and put in my request to skip being invited to Nonsense land.

  17. “Like all the racial theology that was taught over our most sacred pulpit I believe it is rooted in bigotry taken from the societal attitudes around them and not at all from a divine source.”
    BINGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. “We made a huuuuuuuge muistake before, but this time we have it right.”
    same old same old.

  19. You mistake them having something wrong, with all ancient and modern prophets having it wrong. It’s not a valid comparison. Homosexuality is a clear violation of scripture, giving the priesthood to select groups is also scriptural. You can’t compare the two they are completely different.

  20. Uhhh…read much Brigham Young, Mark E. Petersen, Stapely and whole host of other apostles. This wasn’t “lay members” coming up with theories (or only lay members, they came up with a lot to). Apostles were writing and speaking about specific racial theology. We have retroactively called them “folk doctrines” but that is totally revisionist history. This is one place where the race and priesthood essay is…less than forthcoming with what we know from documented history.

    Also, the distinction between “policy” and “doctrine” is really fluid in Mormonism. Regardless, hurtful policies that have significant spiritual consequences on groups of people – denying them baptism or temple ordinances based on nothing they can control – are in and of themselves morally wrong completely independent of the theology that supports them. Besides the claim by the church itself is that these policies are in some say directed by God. I reject the God had anything to do with either the racial policy or the exclusion policy. At least not the God i worship. So the policy/doctrine distinction you want to make doesn’t help here, IMHO.

  21. The Old Testament only gave the Priesthood to literal descendants of Levi, who (when considering you were stoned if you married a non-Israelite) were already not of African descent. Therefore, it denied blacks the Priesthood. The New Testament, though it talks about Priesthood, did not say non-Levites could attain it. In the Book of Mormon, the entire race was made up of Israelites – once again, no blacks of African descent held it.

    But you do have scriptures in both the Bible and Book of Mormon that can and have been construed as painting those with dark skin as spiritually inferior. These were the justification for the Priesthood ban, and for American racism in general.

    Similarly, there is nothing in the scriptures that specifically says homosexuals cannot be married. None. And though the scriptures on marriage in the bible only talk about a man and a woman, how is that different than only talking about Levites as potential Priesthood holders? Yes, there are scriptures that seemingly condemn homosexuality. As there are scriptures that seemingly condemn mixed-race marriages. As there are scriptures that seemingly disparage dark skin. As there are scriptures that seemingly condemn polygamy. Too be more blunt, there are scriptures that BLATANTLY condemn polygamy. But somehow, some scriptures are only temporary policy, and some are doctrine.

    The only – the ONLY – reason we recognize the Priesthood ban as non-doctrinal is that we are post-1978. To act like everyone (even Apostles) knew it was only temporary policy is blatantly false. Look at past history, including statements by previous First Presidency’s where they clearly considered it doctrine.

    The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood is doctrine, and those who can or can’t enter into it can easily be seen as part of that doctrine. Marriage is doctrine, and those who can or can’t enter into it can easily be seen as part of that doctrine. Or you can consider the Priesthood and Marriage doctrine, but consider as policy the specifics of who can enter into them.

    But to say who can enter into the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood is obviously policy and who can enter into Marriage is obviously doctrine is, to me, a laughable viewpoint.

  22. The author claimed in her article that the Book of Mormon has hardly been featured in talks since Pres. Benson passed away but that is totally, 100% false. I can think of many, MANY talks that focus on the Book of Mormon in conferences after Pres. Benson’s death. More reasons I don’t trust this woman. She is a member of the LDS church on paper only. Quite frankly, after reading her articles occasionally over the last 4 or 5 years I wonder why she has not officially left the church already. Read at your own risk.

  23. Article quote: “Elder Ballard’s talk contained a veiled Bloggernacle smackdown. He said we should avoid whatever things that distract us from joy, and held up the example of Korihor. “Anything that opposes Christ or his doctrine will interrupt our joy. That includes the philosophies of men, so abundant and in the blogosphere, which do exactly what Korihor did.” Ouch.” To that I would add that “the wicked take the truth to be hard”. “Looking beyond the mark”, which the author often does on the issues of homosexual behavior and women and the Priesthood, should also cause some serious reflection. Good luck.

  24. I can assume the policy is wrong just as much as I can assume that it is wrong to walk over to someone and hit them over the head, which is actually less hurtful than that policy is. Some things don’t require revelation.

  25. It’s funny to me that President Nelson’s talk would seem like a highlight to someone else. In my teens and 20’s, I suffered from depression and other effects of trauma. The idea that righteousness always leads to happiness was the first church teaching I knew to be absolutely false. It was that teaching specifically that led me to believe that not everything said in General Conference is true. When I was depressed, I hated hearing it. It just seems to blame people who are not happy, call them wicked and absolve others of any duty to help them. It also seems contrary to the scriptures. It is certainly an odd way of “mourning with those who mourn” because it means you don’t actually have to do anything for people who mourn: if they’re righteous, they will feel joy without you.

    I guess I just don’t understand the need to believe that you will feel joy every single day of your life. I also don’t understand why it would rob someone of hope to say that you will probably have days when you don’t feel joy, no matter how righteous you are. And I don’t understand why it’s a bad thing to say that it isn’t necessarily your fault if you aren’t happy and don’t feel joy.

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