Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Patrick Mason's Talk at FairMormon

THE COURAGE OF OUR CONVICTIONS: EMBRACING MORMONISM IN A SECULAR AGE

Patrick Mason
This is an hour-long presentation but it's worth watching the whole thing. I wish they'd open the next General Conference with it. Patrick Mason is the author of Planted. Some highlights:

I don’t think that we can just blame the doubters for not believing enough. Indeed, in some cases they were set up by being asked to believe too much, either in the absence of actual data or in doctrinal propositions or theological frameworks that could not stand the test of time, let alone a basic smell test. Take two examples from my mission. First, I repeatedly and passionately bore testimony that as a young man Joseph Smith was absolutely not engaged in treasure seeking or money digging. Second, I read and discussed with other missionaries various talks by General Authorities teaching that blacks were “fence-sitters,” or otherwise “less valiant,” in the pre-existence, which explained why they were “cursed” in mortality. In the first case, I certainly did not intend to lie to anyone, but that’s precisely what I did because I hadn’t been taught any better. The second case is more pernicious to me, with moral and ethical implications that make me shudder as I look back. But as missionaries we were simply doing what the rest of the church and its leaders had been doing for almost a century and a half—filling in theological and historical blanks with what were really some rather reprehensibly bad explanations, because we felt like we had to have a solid doctrinal basis for everything, even if we were making it up. And if a General Authority said it, well then, it must be dictated straight from heaven. I’ve had to repent for my own un-Christian acts and words, and have been able to reconcile myself to the fact that the church that sent me out as an official representative didn’t arm me with better and more accurate information. However, many people have not been able to make the same peace. They feel that they were betrayed or set up by the very institution that had taught them to be honest and true.

. . . .

In recent years many thousands have found their way to the previously mentioned “Letter to a CES Director,” a slick but in my opinion intellectually amateurish document that has midwifed countless people out of the church. Unfortunately, for many who land there, the “Letter” is the culmination of their quest for knowledge rather than being just one data point among many.

In any case, once they discover these new facts and realize they are not just the inventions of malicious anti-Mormon propaganda, many people start to wonder what else they haven’t been told. They begin to see duplicity rather than sincerity in the church’s presentation of its doctrine and history. Skepticism and doubt begin to overcome trust and faith. One of the ironies we haven’t fully appreciated in our discussions of doubt is that to some degree our church culture is responsible for many people’s reactions to troubling information. Whether consciously or not, they are simply applying what they learned in well-intentioned but ultimately damaging Primary and youth lessons, such as when the teacher offers the class a bowl of ice cream, then dumps a small amount of dirt on it and asks if anyone wants it now. Of course they say no, and the teacher points out that this is what just a little bit of sin does—it ruins everything. So those who see a little bit of dirt in church history are acting in ways that seem entirely commensurate with what they have been taught their whole lives—God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, so we turn away from sin and touch not the unclean thing. Unable to manage the cognitive dissonance, these people’s relationship to the church becomes tenuous, and often breaks. Many feel that they cannot participate with integrity in church meetings where certain details are either neglected, covered up, or denied. In short, they have become switched off. Some of these people not only leave the church, but also abandon Christianity and even theism, since God, Jesus, and Mormonism had always come as a package deal in their minds.

. . . .

My strong belief is that the most important thing we can do to empathize with and minister compassionately to those who are experiencing doubt and disaffection is to make the church a more welcoming place for those who struggle. It is our responsibility, in our church callings but also as parents and siblings and friends, to create the conditions in which people can feel comfortable working through their questions and doubts in the midst of the body of Christ rather than feeling excluded from it. I believe that a more embracing Mormonism may be the most important factor in helping people more fully embrace Mormonism. I recently read about certain members of a ward who refused to take the sacrament from a young man who had come out as gay but who was declared worthy by his bishop. That is not an embracing Mormonism.

. . . .

I was recently struck by a comment made to me by a work colleague. She and her husband have been looking for a good church community to support them as they raise their two adopted granddaughters. They’ve been attending an LDS ward for a few months now. They love it and are talking seriously about getting baptized. At lunch a couple weeks ago, she was regaling me with the many virtues of Mormonism and Mormons—which I thought was my job!—when she paused and said, “I just don’t get why they’re all so defensive.”

I think her comment was more perceptive than she may have realized. As I look across nearly two hundred years of Mormon history, I see a people who have been motivated first by faith, but secondly by fear. That has led us to think, speak, and behave in ways that are not always welcoming either to outsiders or to those within our midst who have questions, different perspectives, or otherwise don’t fit a certain mold. Having written a book about nineteenth-century anti-Mormon violence, I get that there were really good reasons why our pioneer ancestors were scared.[3] And even since systematic anti-Mormon violence ended, we have continued to endure more than our fair share of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, sometimes innocent but often malicious. Afraid of giving our critics any ammunition, we have closed ranks and presented only what we think is the image of our best selves to the world. Furthermore, we have created the impression of absolute unity in both the leadership and membership that is in many ways a useful fiction, but a fiction nonetheless. I’m not saying that this came out of anything but the best intentions—namely, the survival and unity of the church. But I do think that a lot of the way we have constructed our community has been predicated on fear, which has led to a certain parochialism, risk aversion, lack of moral imagination, reticence to take accountability for past missteps, and the overall defensiveness that my colleague spotted.

Circling the wagons was an effective pioneer tactic, but was also a telltale sign of vulnerability and weakness, not strength. Shifting analogies somewhat, for too many years we refused to yield to dissenters and critics even an inch of territory—including some pretty rocky, barren outposts that should never have fallen within our borders and definitely weren’t worth defending. This no-retreat-no-surrender mentality has only fueled the CES Letter and other polemics, which have made the claim that a series of apparent infelicities, contradictions, gaps, errors, and transgressions invalidate the entire Mormon system. They can effectively make that argument, and lead many thousands of people out of the church, because too many Latter-day Saints, including many of our leaders, have over the years essentially made that same all-or-nothing argument. In the process we constructed an edifice that was too rigid and brittle to withstand the storms of scrutiny that have been unleashed especially in our Internet age.

. . . .

without forgetting our past or wilting in the face of opposition, I believe it’s time for Latter-day Saints to move forward with the courage of our convictions. I would suggest that doing so will go a long way in addressing the current predicament of doubt and disaffection that so many of our members are experiencing. Mormonism is a young religion, still finding its legs. For its first century it necessarily focused on origins and basic survival in the face of tremendous persecution and hardship. In its second century the church successfully emphasized stability, respectability, and growth. Only now, as we approach Mormonism’s third century, are we in a position where we can think bigger and bolder. I believe that Mormonism’s challenge and opportunity in the 21st century will not be simply to survive or even to grow, but rather to contribute, to give something novel and unique that the world desperately needs and can have no other way. What will be our community’s gift to the world in this century and the centuries beyond? As we figure it out together, we will galvanize the commitment of our own members, especially our Millennials, who don’t just want to belong to a church but yearn to join a movement that they understand to be relevant and to make a real difference in the world.

Living Mormonism with the courage of our convictions will allow us to embrace a wider cross-section of those who may currently feel switched off or squeezed out. The gospel revealed through Joseph Smith is grand, sweeping, and capacious—not narrow, petty, and restrictive. Whatever you think about the Prophet Joseph, you can’t say he thought small. It was the audacity, not the conservatism, of his thought that captured the imaginations of the early Saints.

. . . .

As part and parcel of embracing our doctrine of God, it’s encouraging to see more members courageously embracing our theology of Heavenly Mother and the divine feminine, rather than simply perpetuating the patronizing stance that she can’t bear us talking about her. And even with the question of women’s ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods off the table, we are beginning to improve in discussing the priestly roles that women serve both in temples and in the everyday church, though of course we still have a long way to go.

It’s encouraging to see greater courage in our Seminaries & Institutes, BYU Religious Education classrooms, and even a few Sunday School classes, which are demonstrating that holistic discipleship means educating people’s minds as well as their hearts. We are seeing that people can not only tolerate challenging information but indeed are strengthened by the faithful presentation of the whole truth. Facts are stubborn things. When our members, and especially our children, see that their religion can be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as any other topic of study, and doesn’t need protective hedges of dumbing-down, denial, and deferred questions, then they will have greater courage in living out their Mormonism.

. . . .

This is a hard one for many people, but I am seeing us begin to courageously explore what it really means to sustain fallible prophets and apostles, and to develop a robust theology that sustains our sustaining. The chapter in Planted that I get the most comments on is chapter 6, “In All Patience and Faith,” which addresses prophetic fallibility while maintaining the conviction that God does reach down and call a few mortals among us to dedicate their lives and best efforts to proclaiming the gospel, leading the church, and calling us to repentance. One of our community’s gifts, as Latter-day Saint Christians, is that we declare that God points us to prophets, apostles, and the church—not because they can save or redeem us, but because they are the temporal means by which he orients us to our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.

Even with all these positive developments, I believe there are many areas where there is still ample room for improvement. You will have your own list, and may well disagree with mine—but I’ve got the mic.

I believe we need to summon the courage to finally and truly repent for some of our past transgressions. Let’s start with the obvious stuff, like Mountain Meadows, the spurious racial ideologies surrounding the priesthood-temple ban, and generations of patriarchal discourse that relegated women to being reflected light compared to the glory of their husbands and priesthood leaders. Repentance, at least as the church has taught me the principle, requires an admission of wrongdoing and an effort toward reconciliation with those who have been trespassed against. It is more than either just moving on or a lawyerly expression of remorse that bad things may have happened.

I believe we need to summon the courage to authentically incorporate more of the diversity of God’s children into our—rather, his—church. Twentieth-century Mormonism was astonishingly successful at creating a committed core of white, middle-class, upwardly mobile, professional, suburban American nuclear families. We need greater courage to allow members in the international church, having been taught correct principles, to govern themselves. We need greater courage to pursue real and sustained ministries to the urban poor, in this country and around the world. Even without changing our doctrine, we need greater courage not just to tolerate but to do all we can to reach out to and welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters who are hurting so badly right now. That includes partaking of the sacrament when it is blessed or passed by gay boys deemed worthy by their bishop like any other Aaronic Priesthood holder, or not isolating LGBT members and treating them like they have or are an infectious disease. And for heaven’s sake, let’s stop fussing over women wearing pants to church, or men coming with beards or blue shirts. With all the other problems in the church and the world, is that where we’re going to spend our emotional energy?

I believe we need to summon the courage to make secularism an ally rather than a bogeyman. Secularism is here to stay as one of the principal conditions of late modern society. Furthermore, we of all people should be grateful for it, because without secularism, with its bequest of disestablishment and religious freedom, there would be no Mormonism. Secularism is not the enemy—it is the very air we breathe, and the foundation for our modern democratic, scientific, and human rights regimes that we all value and which have led to such a dramatic increase in human flourishing. To be sure, secularization can also include an aggressive campaign toward the privatization of religion, in which it is banned mostly or entirely from the public square. And in their most hostile forms, secularization theorists and champions have predicted the inevitable decline of religion, celebrated any movement in that direction, resisted any indicators to the contrary, and portrayed the stubborn persistence of religion as not only backward but genuinely dangerous. But before dismissing secularists as bigoted cranks, let’s have the courage to listen to their real grievances and fears about what centuries of state-sponsored religious majoritarianism and moral establishments did to atheists and religious minorities—including, let’s not forget, Mormons. Despite the cries of the merchants of fear on both sides, my personal feeling, and scholarly analysis, is that at least in America, thanks to the First Amendment, secularism is still mostly benign and generally beneficial to the flourishing of voluntary religious commitments and communities, including ours.

. . . .

As I wrap up, I will admit that I have two fears for the church that I love and am totally committed to. First, I fear for what I call the “juvenilization” of Mormonism, or the “EFY-ification” of the church, or the “Gospel According to Internet Memes.” When it’s adults in the room, let’s respect one another enough to talk like adults. Most people can handle complexity and nuance. We can stretch beyond what we learned in seminary, though we are so rarely invited to. I have a really smart colleague who once invited the missionaries into his home so he could learn more about Mormonism. When they finished their discussion, with frequent references to their accompanying flipchart, he thought to himself, “That’s it?” Indeed, I fear that in too many contexts we’re feeding our members and investigators a low-nutrition religious diet that leaves them not only with the unsatisfied feeling of “That’s it?” but also leaves them poorly fortified against challenges to their faith. I see signs that we’re starting to do better on this score, but frankly only in patchwork fashion.

My second fear is for the fundamentalist takeover of Mormonism. I’m not referring to fundamentalism in terms of polygamy—I’m pretty confident we’re totally past that phase of our history. Instead, this is a reference to what I think is the rather remote possibility of a process similar to what happened in the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1990s, when theological fundamentalists took over the churches, seminaries, and governing bodies of the denomination and either pushed out liberals and moderates or made their lives in the church so miserable that they left on their own, thus leaving only the fundamentalists to control the whole denomination. There are occasional signs that moderates and liberals are simply not wanted in the contemporary LDS Church. We have already lost too many who feel, incorrectly in my estimation, that the church is simply a shill for the Republican Party and Family Research Council. But for the most part I’m optimistic that the center will hold, and that Zion will transcend the ongoing culture wars.

In the end, I’m bullish about the future of Mormonism, and its ability to speak to the needs of a wide range of God’s children, including those who find belief and belonging in the church a genuine struggle. In this moment when we are speaking so much of doubt, perhaps it’s helpful to remember that Jesus chided his disciples for their fears as much as, if not more than, their doubts. Remember Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). I’m convinced that a church that is simultaneously humbler and more self-possessed can capture the imaginations and loyalties of those who feel switched off and squeezed out more than could a church leadership and laity that are constantly on the defensive.

We have a theology that empowers each of us to be anxiously engaged in good causes, to be co-creators and co-participants with Christ in the work of redeeming the world. Flipcharts and risk management will never capture people’s hearts. In our 21st-century secular age, Mormonism will succeed because it stretches people’s moral imaginations, and calls them to a life of faith that is not small and fearful, but rather creative, venturesome, open, and empowering.

Zion calls. Will we have the courage to get there?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunstone 2016 - Saturday July 30

Day three.

FACE TO FACE: FOUNDATIONS FOR A MYSTICAL TRADITION IN MORMONISM
Panelist: Philip McLemore
Moderator: Michael J. Stevens

At this point, any panel that brought up mysticism was the one I wanted to attend. He did a good job of dwelling on the abstracts of God, and how really modern Mormonism has put God in a box, and Jesus was broader than that. It gave me a new way of thinking about being born of the Spirit.

FROM LOST TRIBES TO MORMON HUMOR: ONE MAN'S FAITH JOURNEY THROUGH MORMON
Panelist: Glenn Ostlund
Moderator: Alicia Aiken

This was Glenn's story, how he went from faithful member / returned missionary to being one of the goofs on Infants on Thrones, a subversive ex-Mormon podcast. He spent a lot of times tlaking about the folklore around the Lost Tribes and how many thought that Japan or other parts of Asia contain lost tribes.

JOSEPH SMITH'S TEACHINGS ABOUT PRIESTHOOD, TEMPLE, AND WOMEN
Panelists: Clair Barrus, Bryndis Roberts, Nancy Ross.
Moderator: Nadine Hansen.

This one discussed not only the Gospel Topic essay that has the title of this presentation. It goes into more historical details about the Anointed Quorum, and how the attempt to explain away the interpretation of the word "ordain" is strained. Women used to be ordained, they used to lay on hands for healings, they used to anoint with oil, and they used to have more autonomy in the Relief Society.

THE 2ND REFORMATION? KEEPING A RECORD OF THE MORMON INTERNET EXPERIENCE IN THE BEGINNING OF THE 21ST CENTURY
Panelists: Bill Reel, Melissa Young, Gina Colvin, Sarah Collett.
Moderator: Brooke Walrath.

This explored the internet's affect on the gospel, and how blogs, podcasts, social media, etc., are shaping people's perceptions. Are they overall helpful or detrimental? Bill and Gina were able to come at it from their perspectives as hosts of the podcasts Mormon Discussions and A Thoughtful Faith, respectively.

NEW BOOK: THE GHOST OF ETERNAL POLYGAMY
Panelist: Carol Lynn Pearson
Moderator: Lindsay Park

Carol Lynn Pearson has a new book out where she makes the argument that the time has come for the LDS church to disavow the doctrine of eternal polygamy. She read a pssage from her book. I'll say that Pearson has the presence of a true artist, in her oratory, in her poetry, in her presentation. She argues that men and women are not equal before God when God says to the men: have many wives.

REPAIRING AND PRESERVING RELATIONSHIPS DAMAGED BY FAITH CRISES
Panelists: Steve Lowther, John Dehlin, Grant Palmer, Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Sandra Tanner, Gina Colvin, Nathan McCluskey.
Moderator: Derrick Clements.

Now this was a diverse panel. You had everyone from the faithful Nate McCluskey, the Betweeners like Gina and Thomas, to the decidedly ex-Mormons in Grant, John, and Sandra. Sandra Tanner's been "anti-Mormon" for 50 years (she doesn't care for the label), but she still has family members who belong, and their relationship's been rough. Grant spoke about the pain of sitting in the foyer of the temple for sealins and such, but he said the amount of people in the foyer has been growing.

John gave a rapid-fire slideshow of advice to ex-Mormons on how to act around the faithful, all with the message about remember to be patient and merciful, and you used to be just like them.

Nate and Gina are husband and wife, and they spoke about making it work when spouses are on different pages. Which is the story of Monica and me. (The four of us went out for dinner later. I love those two.)

AN EVENING WITH TYLER GLENN

Tyler Glenn, former lead singer of Neon Trees, showed the video of "Trash", and he read some journal entries from his past, where he talked about realizing he was gay, where he talked about supressing it, talked about serving a mission, talked about falling in love but not wanting to do anything about it, talked about speaking at Affirmation and telling others how you could make being a gay Mormon work. And then he talks about the anguish and heartbreak when the November 2015 policy came out, the one that automatically declared same-sex married couples apostates and said that their children could not partake in any church ordinances (baby blessing, baptism, etc.) until they turn 18 and disavow their gay parents' lifestyle. I could feel Tyler's pain. it was that policy that made him question his testimony. He looked up YouTube videos of "I am an ex-Mormon" and devoured John Dehlin's podcasts. He teased his next song "Shameless." he also sang a slow, acoustical version of "Trash."

It reaffirmed what I already concluded about the November policy. It is not from God.

Sunstone 2016 - Friday July 29

Day two.

BY THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT: MARTIN HARRIS IN THE MORMON MOVEMENT
Panelist: H. Michael Marquardt
Moderator: Clair Barrus

This explored Harris' journey not only into Mormonism, but it demonstrated how he bounced around from church to church, claiming divine revelations all along the way. He claimed in 1832 that all churches but the LDS church would crumble by 1836. He was excommunicated in 1837 but was rebaptized in 1842. After Joseph Smith's death he joined the Shakers, saying his testimony of their truthfulness was stronger than his for the Book of Mormon. In 1846 he joined James Strang. In 1847 he joined the David Whitmer / William McLellin's branch. Signed a "Three Witnesses" testimony that Smith had ordained Whitmer in 1844 to be his successor. Signed one of "Three Witnesses" testimony for Francis Gladden Bishop of the Flying Roll of scripture. Write a proclamation in 1855 that he claimed was the word of the Lord to Moses, Elijah, Elias, and John.

In 1857 he joined William Smith's church. Shortly after he damned Smith to hell. Re-rebaptized in LDS church in 1870. Died in 1875. Overall, Harris came off as an unreliable witness of anything.


A SEER IS GREATER THAN A PROPHET: EMPOWERING MORMON MYSTICS
Panelist: Michael Ferguson.
Moderator: Seth Anderson.

This one was interesting. Feguson had slides about the early mystic experiences in the church and how we don't need to shy away from them. We should embrace mysticism and spirituality that dervies from it. He pointed out how different aspects of people's personalities means that not everyone taps into their own spirtuality the same way. He took us through a meditation exercise, and it wound up being one of my favorite presentations.

"THE POLICY" IN CONTEXT OF MORMON THOUGHT ON CURSED LINEAGE AND MARRIAGE
Panelists: Clair Barrus, Newell G. Bringhurst.
Moderator: Chelsea Shields.

Bringhurst actually wasn't there so someone else read his prepared remarks. This one focussed on the 19th century language and beliefs around the church's policy on banning blacks from priesthood and temple work, and then compares it to the church's recent statements and policies on gays. The theme of this class seemed to match many others. Here's a problem, but nothing will change as long as the Top Fifteen don't want it to change. And since senior apostles have more sway, it really means nothing will change as long as Monson, Nelson, Oaks and Ballard are still alive.

WHY WE STAY
Panelists: Bill Reel, Jerri Harwell, Eric Samuelsen
Moderator: Dan Wotherspoon.

I went to this one so I could meet Bill Reel. I've been on his podcast but we'd never met in real life. Bill shared his spiritual journey and how it's important to stay and be a voice for those who can't speak. Harwell and Samuelsen shared similar sentiments, albeit they've been on different journeys.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE DOCTRINE & COVENANTS TEXT: A PRELIMINARY & EXPLORATORY STUDY
Panelist: Bill Speer.
Moderator: Brooke Scott.

This one was interesting at first, but it became clear that it really needed more time for it to develop before any conclusions could be drawn. he showed the difference in the D&C with words, spelling, punctuation, but it felt incomplete (which it was; he said it was "preliminary.") So maybe next year, it'll be a more full presentation.

THE TRANSCENDENT POWER OF THE BETWEEN
Panelists: Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Gina Colvin.
Moderator; Chelsi Archibald.

This explored the experience of those who feel they're stuck between, with one foot in the church and one foot out, and yet how to stay there and make it work. McConkie's experience is unique in that he's the grandson of Joseph B. Wirthlin and grandnephew of Bruce R. McConkie. He was away from the church for a while and has come back recently, though in his own way. He also led us on a meditative exercise, and this was the main thing I got out of it. I need to use meditation more to keep in touch with my personal spirituality.

One my way to the next class, I saw Peggy Fletcher Stack, someone else I hadn't met in real life. The closest I've come is we were on a TribTalk panel with Jennifer Napier-Pierce, Gina Colvin and Dan Wotherspoon discussing the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve after Richard G. Scott died. After about ten seconds of me fumbling my words, I just ejected and left.

MAKING MORMONISM MINE: CLAIMING SPACE WITHIN THE FAITH
Panelists: Robert Kirby, Carol Lynn Pearson, Fernando Gomez, Cathy Stokes, Lorie Winder Stromberg.
Moderator: Jim Murphy.

Each speaker had ten minutes before opened up for questions. Kirby's was humorous, and he pointed out his wife and kids all left the church so he's the only one in his family who still goes. Pearson opted to be serious with her ten minutes. She said when the church preaches something as doctrine or correct policy, but you know it's wrong, you can blow it away. She blew away the church's past racism, blew away eternal polygamy, blew away the November policy. i can't remember much from the other three speakers.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sunstone 2016 - Thursday July 28


I went to my very first Sunstone symposium this year, so here's what I attended.

BLACK & WHITE: THE CHALLENGES OF COLONIAL ART IN MORMON ART & SCHOLARSHIP
Panelists: Mica McGriggs, Russell Stevenson, Nancy Ross, Brad Kramer
Moderator: Seth Anderson

Mainly dealt with the controversy around J. Kirk Richards' painting "Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge" where she is African, nude, and facing sideways. Standout comment for me was McGriggs saying there's a cultural difference between white and black nudity. Black nudity instantly recalls the auction block.

LIQUID ASSETS
Panelist: Mark Thomas
Respondent: D. Michael Quinn
Moderator: Paul Malan

Thomas focussed on the real estate assets of the Church, primarily all of the land they're buying in Florida, but from what we know of climate change, the bottom fourth of Florida will be underwater in the next 50-100 years. Why isn't the Church more serious about climate change?

Quinn pointed out the Church buys assets in high-risk locations all over the world, not just Florida, and so it is not inconsistent of them to purchase there and these other places. Quinn also let us know his latest book, the third part of his Mormon Hierarchy series, is about the finances of the Church and will be out in a few more months. When I asked him about it later, he said it'd probably come out somewhere between November and January.

STUMBLING BLOCKS & STEPPING STONES: INCLUDING LGBTI CHILDREN OF GOD IN THE LDS PLAN OF SALVATION
Panelist: Duane Jennings
Moderator: Lavina Fielding Anderson

This presentation showed all of the places where the scriptures deal with homosexuality and how most of them have been misinterpreted. For example, whenever the reasons in the scriptures are given why Sodom & Gomorrah was destroyed, it's about the pride and idleness of its inhabitants. He also pointed out that when it came to modern revelation, there's nothing in the Book of Mormon or Doctrine & Covenants about it. He also posited that the groundwork is there for same-sex sealings, as it happened in the church in the earliest days when adult men would be sealed together as father and son.

FAITH & DOUBT IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN MORMONISM: A QUANTITATIVE EMPIRICAL PERSPECTIVE
Panelist: Benjamin Knoll

This looked at the 2011 Pew Research study on U.S. Mormons and went through all of the statistics. It had details like the most likely political bent of someone who's having serious doubts about the Church are independents who lean Democratic. I left about halfway through, because I can always just look up the study myself, to catch the second half of...

EVOLUTION: ANALYSIS OF THE "FACTS"
Panelist: Joe Jensen
Moderator: Whitney Moulton

This was an engineer's perspective on the amazing complexity of the human body and how it makes him lean more toward intelligent design rather than pure evolution. Once he was finished, he had an evolutionary biologist and then a chemist refute some of his conclusions, basically saying he was playing "God of the gaps," where if we don't understand something we assign it to God or intelligent design until we know how it works.

FROM EXCLUSION TO ACCEPTANCE: THE TASK OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN ALL DISPENSATIONS
Panelist: Lisa Hansen
Moderator: Roy Schmidt

This started with all of the people excluded from enterting the temple in Old Testament times, such as the disabled, because they were imperfect and therefore unclean. One of Jesus' main messages was inclusion as he healed the sick and ate with sinners.

She tied this to the restoration and how the Church excluded blacks from holding the priesthood or entering the temple until 1978, when the excluded finally became the accepted, and she also posited that this will eventually happen for the LGBTI community in the Church.

MOVING PAST BLACK & WHITE THINKING ABOUT GOD, RELIGION, AND MORMONISM
Panelists: Jody England Hansen, John Hatch, Dan Wotherspoon
Moderator: Sarah Hancock Jones

This featured three different perspectives of complex faiths, and how to make a place for it in Church. Hansen spoke about her faith transition, and how she still makes the Church work for her even if she doesn't believe some of its truth claims. Hatch came at it from a ex-Mormon view and he spoke about "outrage," how social media has amplified outrage, and he directed his thoughts to other ex-Mormons, who become mirror versions of what they're angry about by letting themselves get so angry about it. Wotherspoon spoke about staying near the fire, the fire of spiritual experience. He talked about how when you have an experience and you share it, the words calcify and become more and more set the farther you get away from the actual experience. We should all try to keep having actual experiences. (if that doesn't make, I think Dan will be the first to admit he can bounce around when talking.)

Q&A WITH REZA ASLAN
Panelist: Reza Aslan
Moderator: Mica McGriggs

Reza Aslan, author of Zealot, spoke about being a progressive Muslim, and how progressives in all faith traditions can communicate and make the world a better place. He also pointed out that 95% of victims of ISIS attacks are Muslim. I missed part of this, but what I caught was good. (I should also mention he was on Skype, not in person.)

Friday, July 1, 2016

#LDSConf April 2016: Sunday Afternoon Session

ROBERT D. HALES - "The Holy Ghost"

I begin by acknowledging the Light of Christ, which is given to “every man [and woman] that cometh into the world.” All of us benefit from this holy light. It is “in all and through all things,” and it allows us to distinguish right from wrong.

But the Holy Ghost is different from the Light of Christ. He is the third member of the Godhead, a distinct personage of spirit with sacred responsibilities, and one in purpose with the Father and the Son....

Each of us may feel the influence of the Holy Ghost differently. His promptings will be felt in different degrees of intensity according to our individual needs and circumstances.

In these latter days, we affirm that only the prophet may receive revelation through the Holy Ghost for the entire Church.

GERRITT W. GONG - "Always Remember Him"
of the Presidency of the Seventy

The Lord remembers His everlasting covenants—from Adam’s time to the day Adam’s posterity “shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy.”

The Lord remembers His promises, including promises to gather scattered Israel through the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ and promises given to every member and missionary who remembers the worth of souls.

The Lord remembers and assures nations and peoples. In these days of motion and commotion, “some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,” who guides “the future as he has the past.” In “perilous times,” we “remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men.”

We can always remember Him on the Sabbath through the sacrament. At the end of His mortal ministry and the beginning of His resurrected ministry—both times—our Savior took bread and wine and asked that we remember His body and blood, “for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.”

In the ordinance of the sacrament, we witness unto God the Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of His Son and always remember Him and keep His commandments, which He has given us, that we may always have His Spirit to be with us.

PATRICK KEARON - "Refuge from the Storm"
of the Seventy

“… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

There are an estimated 60 million refugees in the world today, which means that “1 in every 122 humans … has been forced to flee their homes,” and half of these are children. It is shocking to consider the numbers involved and to reflect on what this means in each individual life. My current assignment is in Europe, where one and a quarter million of these refugees have arrived over the last year from war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa. We see many of them coming with only the clothes they are wearing and what they can carry in one small bag. A large proportion of them are well educated, and all have had to abandon homes, schools, and jobs.

Under the direction of the First Presidency, the Church is working with 75 organizations in 17 European countries. These organizations range from large international institutions to small community initiatives, from government agencies to faith-based and secular charities. We are fortunate to partner with and learn from others who have been working with refugees around the world for many years.

As members of the Church, as a people, we don’t have to look back far in our history to reflect on times when we were refugees, violently driven from homes and farms over and over again...

The Lord has instructed us that the stakes of Zion are to be “a defense” and “a refuge from the storm.” We have found refuge. Let us come out from our safe places and share with them, from our abundance, hope for a brighter future, faith in God and in our fellowman, and love that sees beyond cultural and ideological differences to the glorious truth that we are all children of our Heavenly Father.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love.”

Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period—we hope a short period—in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us.

DALLIN H. OAKS - "Opposition in All Things"

The purpose of mortal life for the children of God is to provide the experiences needed “to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.” As President Thomas S. Monson taught us so powerfully this morning, we progress by making choices, by which we are tested to show that we will keep God’s commandments. To be tested, we must have the agency to choose between alternatives. To provide alternatives on which to exercise our agency, we must have opposition.

The rest of the plan is also essential. When we make wrong choices—as we inevitably will—we are soiled by sin and must be cleansed to proceed toward our eternal destiny. The Father’s plan provides the way to do this, the way to satisfy the eternal demands of justice: a Savior pays the price to redeem us from our sins. That Savior is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God the Eternal Father, whose atoning sacrifice—whose suffering—pays the price for our sins if we will repent of them...

From the beginning, agency and opposition were central to the Father’s plan and to Satan’s rebellion against it. As the Lord revealed to Moses, in the council of heaven Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man”. That destruction was inherent in the terms of Satan’s offer. He came before the Father and said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor”.

Thus, Satan proposed to carry out the Father’s plan in a way that would prevent the accomplishment of the Father’s purpose and give Satan His glory...

The Church in its divine mission and we in our personal lives seem to face increasing opposition today. Perhaps as the Church grows in strength and we members grow in faith and obedience, Satan increases the strength of his opposition so we will continue to have “opposition in all things.”

Some of this opposition even comes from Church members. Some who use personal reasoning or wisdom to resist prophetic direction give themselves a label borrowed from elected bodies—“the loyal opposition.” However appropriate for a democracy, there is no warrant for this concept in the government of God’s kingdom, where questions are honored but opposition is not.

KENT F. RICHARDS - "The Power of Godliness"
of the Seventy

Just a few months before the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, he met with the Twelve Apostles to talk about the greatest needs the Church was facing in that very difficult time. He told them, “We need the temple more than anything else.” Surely, today in these trying times, each of us and our families need the temple more than anything else.

During a recent temple dedication, I was thrilled with the entire experience. I loved the open house, greeting many of the visitors who came to see the temple; the cultural celebration with the vibrancy and excitement of the youth; followed by the wonderful dedicatory sessions. The Spirit was sweet. Many people were blessed. And then the next morning, my wife and I entered the baptismal font to participate in baptisms for some of our own ancestors. As I raised my arm to begin the ordinance, I was nearly overcome by the power of the Spirit. I realized again that the real power of the temple is in the ordinances.

As the Lord has revealed, the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood is found in the temple and its ordinances, “for therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained, that you may receive honor and glory.” “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” This promise is for you and for your family.

PAUL V. JOHNSON - "And There Shall Be No More Death"
of the Seventy

The Resurrection is brought to pass by the Atonement of Jesus Christ and is pivotal to the great plan of salvation. We are spirit children of heavenly parents. When we come to this earth life, our spirit is united with our body. We experience all the joys and challenges associated with mortal life. When a person dies, their spirit is separated from their body. Resurrection makes it possible for a person’s spirit and body to be united again, only this time that body will be immortal and perfect—not subject to pain, disease, or other problems.

After resurrection, the spirit will never again be separated from the body because the Savior’s Resurrection brought total victory over death. In order to obtain our eternal destiny, we need to have this immortal soul—a spirit and body—united forever. With spirit and immortal body inseparably connected, we can “receive a fulness of joy.” In fact, without the Resurrection we could never receive a fulness of joy but would be miserable forever. Even faithful, righteous people view the separation of their bodies from their spirits as captivity. We are released from this captivity through the Resurrection, which is redemption from the bands or chains of death. There is no salvation without both our spirit and our body.

Each of us has physical, mental, and emotional limitations and weaknesses. These challenges, some of which seem so intractable now, will eventually be resolved. None of these problems will plague us after we are resurrected.

JEFFREY R. HOLLAND - "Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You"

During His earthly ministry, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, where, the scriptures say, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” The heavens opened, ancient prophets came, and God the Father spoke.

After such a celestial experience, what does Jesus come down the mountain to find? Well, first He found an argument between His disciples and their antagonists over a failed blessing administered to a young boy. Then He tried to convince the Twelve—unsuccessfully, it turns out—that He would soon be delivered up to local rulers who would kill Him. Then someone mentioned that a tax was due, which was forthrightly paid. Then He had to rebuke some of the brethren because they were arguing about who would be the greatest in His kingdom. All of this led Him at one point to say, “O faithless generation, … how long shall I suffer you?” He had occasion to ask that question more than once during His ministry. No wonder He longed for the prayerful solitude of mountaintops!

Realizing that we all have to come down from peak experiences to deal with the regular vicissitudes of life, may I offer this encouragement as general conference concludes.

First of all, if in the days ahead you not only see limitations in those around you but also find elements in your own life that don’t yet measure up to the messages you have heard this weekend, please don’t be cast down in spirit and don’t give up. The gospel, the Church, and these wonderful semiannual gatherings are intended to give hope and inspiration. They are not intended to discourage you. Only the adversary, the enemy of us all, would try to convince us that the ideals outlined in general conference are depressing and unrealistic, that people don’t really improve, that no one really progresses. And why does Lucifer give that speech? Because he knows he can’t improve, he can’t progress, that worlds without end he will never have a bright tomorrow. He is a miserable man bound by eternal limitations, and he wants you to be miserable too. Well, don’t fall for that. With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed...

My brothers and sisters, the first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength—that’s the first great commandment. But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life. Indeed it is only with that reassurance burning in our soul that we can have the confidence to keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace to our neighbor... Of Him I bear witness. Of Him I am a witness.




Saturday, April 30, 2016

#LDSConf April 2016: Sunday Morning Session

THOMAS S. MONSON - "Choices"

I have been thinking recently about choices. It has been said that the door of history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. The choices we make determine our destiny.

When we left our premortal existence and entered mortality, we brought with us the gift of agency. Our goal is to obtain celestial glory, and the choices we make will, in large part, determine whether or not we reach our goal.

Most of you are familiar with Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You will remember that she comes to a crossroads with two paths before her, each stretching onward but in opposite directions. As she contemplates which way to turn, she is confronted by the Cheshire Cat, of whom Alice asks, “Which path shall I follow?”

The cat answers, “That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.”

Unlike Alice, we know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life.

May we choose to build up within ourselves a great and powerful faith which will be our most effective defense against the designs of the adversary—a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us and will bolster our desire to choose the right. Without such faith, we go nowhere. With it, we can accomplish our goals.

BONNIE L. OSCARSON - "Do I Believe?"
Young Women General President

Do we sometimes become so accustomed to the blessings we have been given as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we fail to fully comprehend the miracle and majesty of discipleship in the Lord’s true Church? Are we ever guilty of being complacent about the greatest gift we can be offered in this life? The Savior Himself taught, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”2

We believe that this Church is more than just a good place to go on Sundays and learn how to be a good person. It is more than just a lovely Christian social club where we can associate with people of good moral standing. It is not just a great set of ideas that parents can teach their children at home so they will be responsible, nice people. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is infinitely more than all of these things.

Think for just a minute about the profound claims we make as a religion. We believe that the same Church Jesus Christ established while on the earth has been restored once again by a prophet called of God in our time and that our leaders hold the same power and authority to act in God’s name that ancient Apostles held. It is called the priesthood of God. We claim that through this restored authority, we can receive saving ordinances, such as baptism, and enjoy the purifying and refining gift of the Holy Ghost to be with us at all times. We have apostles and prophets leading and directing this Church through priesthood keys, and we believe that God speaks to His children through these prophets...

I am often asked, “What is the greatest challenge our youth face today?” I answer that I believe it is the ever-present influence of the “great and spacious building” in their lives. If the Book of Mormon was written specifically for our day, then surely we cannot miss the relevance for all of us of the messages in Lehi’s vision of the tree of life and the effect of those pointing their fingers and taunting from the great and spacious building.

What is most heartrending to me is the description of those who have already fought their way through the mists of darkness on the strait and narrow path, have clung to the rod of iron, have reached their goal, and have begun tasting of the pure and delicious fruit of the tree of life. Then the scripture says that those finely dressed people in the great and spacious building “were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
“And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”
These verses describe those of us who already have the gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives. Whether we were born into it or had to fight our way through mists of darkness to find it, we have tasted of this fruit, which “is most precious and most desirable” and has the potential to bring us eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” We need only to keep feasting and not heed those who would make fun of our beliefs or those who delight to create doubts or those who find fault with Church leaders and doctrine.

W. CHRISTOPHER WADDELL - "A Pattern for Peace"
2nd Counselor, Presiding Bishopric

In our journey through mortality, as glorious as our intended destination may be and as exhilarating as the journey may prove, we will all be subject to trials and sorrow along the way. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught: “The dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt.” “The Lord in His wisdom does not shield anyone from grief or sadness.”2 However, our ability to travel this road in peace is, in large part, dependent on whether or not we too have a hard time thinking about Jesus.

Peace of mind, peace of conscience, and peace of heart are not determined by our ability to avoid trials, sorrow, or heartache. Despite our sincere pleas, not every storm will change course, not every infirmity will be healed, and we may not fully understand every doctrine, principle, or practice taught by prophets, seers, and revelators. Nevertheless, we have been promised peace—with a condition attached.

In the Gospel of John, the Savior taught that despite the tribulations of life, we can be of good cheer, we can be of good hope, and we need not fear, because He declared, “In me ye might have peace.” Faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice is, and forever will be, the first principle of the gospel and the foundation upon which our hope for “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” is built...

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” From the days of Adam and down through the ages to our current prophet, Thomas Spencer Monson, the Lord has spoken through His authorized representatives. Those who choose to listen and give heed to the words of the Lord, as delivered through His prophets, will find safety and peace.

D. TODD CHISTOFFERSON - "Fathers"

As a Church, we believe in fathers. We believe in “the ideal of the man who puts his family first.” We believe that “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” We believe that in their complementary family duties, “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” We believe that far from being superfluous, fathers are unique and irreplaceable.

Some see the good of fatherhood in social terms, as something that obligates men to their offspring, impelling them to be good citizens and to think about the needs of others, supplementing “maternal investment in children with paternal investment in children. … In short, the key for men is to be fathers. The key for children is to have fathers. The key for society is to create fathers.” While these considerations are certainly true and important, we know that fatherhood is much more than a social construct or the product of evolution. The role of father is of divine origin, beginning with a Father in Heaven and, in this mortal sphere, with Father Adam.

The perfect, divine expression of fatherhood is our Heavenly Father. His character and attributes include abundant goodness and perfect love. His work and glory are the development, happiness, and eternal life of His children. Fathers in this fallen world can claim nothing comparable to the Majesty on High, but at their best, they are striving to emulate Him, and they indeed labor in His work. They are honored with a remarkable and sobering trust...

Some men are single fathers, foster fathers, or stepfathers. Many of them strive mightily and do their very best in an often difficult role. We honor those who do all that can be done in love, patience, and self-sacrifice to meet individual and family needs. It should be noted that God Himself entrusted His Only Begotten Son to a foster father. Surely some of the credit goes to Joseph for the fact that as Jesus grew, He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

Regrettably, due to death, abandonment, or divorce, some children don’t have fathers living with them. Some may have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent or in other ways inattentive or nonsupportive. We call on all fathers to do better and to be better. We call on media and entertainment outlets to portray devoted and capable fathers who truly love their wives and intelligently guide their children, instead of the bumblers and buffoons or “the guys who cause problems,” as fathers are all too frequently depicted.

To children whose family situation is troubled, we say, you yourself are no less for that. Challenges are at times an indication of the Lord’s trust in you. He can help you, directly and through others, to deal with what you face. You can become the generation, perhaps the first in your family, where the divine patterns that God has ordained for families truly take shape and bless all the generations after you.

QUENTIN L. COOK - "See Yourself in the Temple"

Until 1891 the President of the Church signed each temple recommend to protect the sanctity of the temple. That responsibility was then delegated to bishops and stake presidents.

It is our great desire that members of the Church will live to be worthy of a temple recommend. Please don’t see the temple as some distant and perhaps unachievable goal. Working with their bishop, most members can achieve all righteous requirements in a relatively short period of time if they have a determination to qualify and fully repent of transgressions. This includes being willing to forgive ourselves and not focus on our imperfections or sins as disqualifying us from ever entering a sacred temple.

The Savior’s Atonement was accomplished for all of God’s children. His redeeming sacrifice satisfies the demands of justice for all those who truly repent. The scriptures describe this in a most beautiful fashion:
“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
“And I will remember [them] no more.”
We assure you that living righteous principles will bring you and your family happiness, fulfillment, and peace. Members, both adults and youth, self-certify their worthiness when they answer the temple recommend questions. The essential requirement is to increase our testimony of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Restoration of His gospel and to experience the ministering of the Holy Ghost.

DIETER F. UCHTDORF - "He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home"

As I pondered the history of Dresden and marveled at the ingenuity and resolve of those who restored what had been so completely destroyed, I felt the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit. Surely, I thought, if man can take the ruins, rubble, and remains of a broken city and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure that rises toward the heavens, how much more capable is our Almighty Father to restore His children who have fallen, struggled, or become lost?

It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem. It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be. Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God can be rebuilt. Save those rare sons of perdition, there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored.

The joyous news of the gospel is this: because of the eternal plan of happiness provided by our loving Heavenly Father and through the infinite sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, we can not only be redeemed from our fallen state and restored to purity, but we can also transcend mortal imagination and become heirs of eternal life and partakers of God’s indescribable glory.

During the Savior’s ministry, the religious leaders of His day disapproved of Jesus spending time with people they had labeled “sinners.”

Perhaps to them it looked like He was tolerating or even condoning sinful behavior. Perhaps they believed that the best way to help sinners repent was by condemning, ridiculing, and shaming them.

When the Savior perceived what the Pharisees and scribes were thinking, He told a story:

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

“And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

Over the centuries, this parable has traditionally been interpreted as a call to action for us to bring back the lost sheep and to reach out to those who are lost. While this is certainly appropriate and good, I wonder if there is more to it.

Is it possible that Jesus’s purpose, first and foremost, was to teach about the work of the Good Shepherd?

Is it possible that He was testifying of God’s love for His wayward children?

Is it possible that the Savior’s message was that God is fully aware of those who are lost—and that He will find them, that He will reach out to them, and that He will rescue them?

If that is so, what must the sheep do to qualify for this divine help?

Does the sheep need to know how to use a complicated sextant to calculate its coordinates? Does it need to be able to use a GPS to define its position? Does it have to have the expertise to create an app that will call for help? Does the sheep need endorsements by a sponsor before the Good Shepherd will come to the rescue?

No. Certainly not! The sheep is worthy of divine rescue simply because it is loved by the Good Shepherd...

My dear brothers and sisters, my dear friends, I testify that God sees us as we truly are—and He sees us worthy of rescue.

You may feel that your life is in ruins. You may have sinned. You may be afraid, angry, grieving, or tortured by doubt. But just as the Good Shepherd finds His lost sheep, if you will only lift up your heart to the Savior of the world, He will find you.

He will rescue you. He will lift you up and place you on His shoulders. He will carry you home.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

#LDSConf April 2016: General Priesthood Session

RUSSELL M. NELSON - "The Price of Priesthood Power"

Congenital heart disease afflicted three children born to Ruth and Jimmy Hatfield. Their first son, Jimmy Jr., died without a definitive diagnosis. I entered the picture when the parents sought help for their two daughters, Laural Ann and her younger sister, Gay Lynn. I was heartbroken when both girls died following their operations.1 Understandably, Ruth and Jimmy were spiritually shattered.

Over time, I learned that they harbored lingering resentment toward me and the Church. For almost six decades, I have been haunted by this situation and have grieved for the Hatfields. I tried several times to establish contact with them, without success.

Then one night last May, I was awakened by those two little girls from the other side of the veil. Though I did not see or hear them with my physical senses, I felt their presence. Spiritually, I heard their pleadings. Their message was brief and clear: “Brother Nelson, we are not sealed to anyone! Can you help us?” Soon thereafter, I learned that their mother had passed away, but their father and younger brother were still alive.

Emboldened by the pleadings of Laural Ann and Gay Lynn, I tried again to contact their father, who I learned was living with his son Shawn. This time they were willing to meet with me.

In June, I literally knelt in front of Jimmy, now 88 years old, and had a heart-to-heart talk with him. I spoke of his daughters’ pleadings and told him I would be honored to perform sealing ordinances for his family. I also explained that it would take time and much effort on his and Shawn’s part to be ready and worthy to enter the temple, as neither of them had ever been endowed.

The Spirit of the Lord was palpable throughout that meeting. And when Jimmy and Shawn each accepted my offer, I was overjoyed! They worked diligently with their stake president, bishop, home teachers, and ward mission leader, as well as with young missionaries and a senior missionary couple. And then, not long ago, in the Payson Utah Temple, I had the profound privilege of sealing Ruth to Jimmy and their four children to them. Wendy and I wept as we participated in that sublime experience. Many hearts were healed that day!...

I fear that there are too many men who have been given the authority of the priesthood but who lack priesthood power because the flow of power has been blocked by sins such as laziness, dishonesty, pride, immorality, or preoccupation with things of the world.

I fear that there are too many priesthood bearers who have done little or nothing to develop their ability to access the powers of heaven. I worry about all who are impure in their thoughts, feelings, or actions or who demean their wives or children, thereby cutting off priesthood power...

Are we willing to pray, fast, study, seek, worship, and serve as men of God so we can have that kind of priesthood power? Because two little girls were so eager to be sealed to their family, their father and brother were willing to pay the price to bear the holy Melchizedek Priesthood.

My dear brethren, we have been given a sacred trust—the authority of God to bless others. May each one of us rise up as the man God foreordained us to be—ready to bear the priesthood of God bravely, eager to pay whatever price is required to increase his power in the priesthood. With that power, we can help prepare the world for the Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

STEPHEN W. OWEN - "The Greatest Leaders Are the Greatest Followers"
Young Men General President

If I were to ask you, “Who is the greatest leader who ever lived?”—what would you say? The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. He sets the perfect example of every imaginable leadership quality.

But what if I were to ask you, “Who is the greatest follower who ever lived?”—wouldn’t the answer again be Jesus Christ? He is the greatest leader because He is the greatest follower—He follows His Father perfectly, in all things.

The world teaches that leaders must be mighty; the Lord teaches that they must be meek. Worldly leaders gain power and influence through their talent, skill, and wealth. Christlike leaders gain power and influence “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”

In God’s eyes, the greatest leaders have always been the greatest followers.

DIETER F. UCHTDORF - "In Praise of Those Who Save"

I am grateful that I belong to a church that values marriage and family. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are known throughout the world for having some of the finest marriages and families you can find. I believe this is, in part, due to the precious truth restored by Joseph Smith that marriages and families are meant to be eternal. Families are not just meant to make things run more smoothly here on earth and to be cast off when we get to heaven. Rather, they are the order of heaven. They are an echo of a celestial pattern and an emulation of God’s eternal family.

But strong marriage and family relationships do not happen just because we are members of the Church. They require constant, intentional work. The doctrine of eternal families must inspire us to dedicate our best efforts to saving and enriching our marriages and families. I admire and applaud those who have preserved and nourished these critical, eternal relationships...

perfect but for a person with whom, throughout a lifetime, we can join efforts to create a loving, lasting, and more perfect relationship. That is the goal.

Brethren, those who save their marriages understand that this pursuit takes time, patience, and, above all, the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It requires you to be kind, envy not, seek not your own, not be easily provoked, think no evil, and rejoice in the truth. In other words, it requires charity, the pure love of Christ.

All this won’t just happen in an instant. Great marriages are built brick by brick, day after day, over a lifetime.

And that is good news.

Because no matter how flat your relationship may be at the present, if you keep adding pebbles of kindness, compassion, listening, sacrifice, understanding, and selflessness, eventually a mighty pyramid will begin to grow...

The great enemy of charity is pride. Pride is one of the biggest reasons marriages and families struggle. Pride is short-tempered, unkind, and envious. Pride exaggerates its own strength and ignores the virtues of others. Pride is selfish and easily provoked. Pride assumes evil intent where there is none and hides its own weaknesses behind clever excuses. Pride is cynical, pessimistic, angry, and impatient. Indeed, if charity is the pure love of Christ, then pride is the defining characteristic of Satan.

Pride may be a common human failing. But it is not part of our spiritual heritage, and it has no place among holders of the priesthood of God.

Life is short, brethren. Regrets can last a long time—some will have repercussions that echo through eternity.

HENRY B. EYRING - "Eternal Families"

Before we were born, we lived in a family with our exalted and eternal Heavenly Father. He ordained a plan that enables us to advance and progress to become like Him. He did it out of love for us. The purpose of the plan was to allow us the privilege of living forever as our Heavenly Father lives. This gospel plan offered us a life of mortality in which we would be tested. A promise was given that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, if we obeyed the laws and priesthood ordinances of the gospel, we would have eternal life, the greatest of all His gifts.

Eternal life is that kind of life which God our Eternal Father lives. God has said that His purpose is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). The great purpose of every priesthood holder, therefore, is to assist in the work of helping people rise to eternal life...

As we are faithful in our service to help Heavenly Father’s children to go home to Him, we will qualify for the greeting we all so much want to hear when we finish our earthly ministry. These are the words: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).

Among those “many things” is the promise of an endless posterity. My prayer is that we may all qualify and help others to qualify for that supernal blessing in the home of our Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

THOMAS S. MONSON - "A Sacred Trust"

My beloved brethren, I pray for the Spirit to guide my remarks this evening. A common thread binds us together. We have been entrusted to bear the priesthood of God and to act in His name. We are the recipients of a sacred trust. Much is expected of us.

We read in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 121, verse 36, “The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven.” What a wonderful gift we have been given. Ours is the responsibility to guard and protect that priesthood and to be worthy of all the glorious blessings our Father in Heaven has in store for us—and for others through us.

Wherever you go, your priesthood goes with you. Are you standing in holy places? Before you put yourself and your priesthood in jeopardy by venturing into places or participating in activities which are not worthy of you or of that priesthood, pause to consider the consequences. Remember who you are and what God expects you to become. You are a child of promise. You are a man of might. You are a son of God.

#LDSConf April 2016: Saturday Afternoon Session

First there was the sustaining of church officers. Handful of opposing votes.
Then the church audit department said everything passed.
Then the church gave its statistical report for growth.

RONALD A. RASBAND - "Standing with the Leaders of the Church"

My dear brothers and sisters, we have just participated in a most blessed experience as we have raised our hands to sustain prophets, seers, and revelators and other leaders and general officers called of God in these very days. I have never taken lightly or casually the opportunity of sustaining and being guided by the Lord’s servants. And being just months into my own new calling as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I am humbled by your sustaining vote and confidence. I treasure your willingness to stand with me and with all of these great leaders.

Soon after I was sustained last October, I traveled to Pakistan on an assignment and, while there, met the magnificent and dedicated Saints in that country. They are few in number but large in spirit. Shortly after returning home, I received the following note from Brother Shakeel Arshad, a dear member I had met on my visit: “Thank you, Elder Rasband, for coming to Pakistan. I want to tell you that we … Church members … sustain you and love you. [We are] so lucky that you were here and we heard from you. It was just a golden day in my family’s life that we met an Apostle.”

Meeting Saints like Brother Arshad was an overwhelming and humbling experience and, using his words, “a golden day” for me as well...

By reading many hundreds of our youth’s questions, what did we learn? We learned that our youth love the Lord, sustain their leaders, and desire to have their questions answered! Questions are an indication of a further desire to learn, to add to those truths already in place in our testimonies, and to be better prepared to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ.”...

We have sustained leaders today who, by divine inspiration, have been called to teach and guide us and who are calling out to us to beware of the dangers we face each day—from casual Sabbath-day observance, to threats to the family, to assaults on religious freedom, and even to disputing latter-day revelation. Brothers and sisters, are we listening to their counsel?...

As we press forward, choosing to follow the counsel and the warnings of our leaders, we choose to follow the Lord while the world is going in another direction. We choose to hold fast to the iron rod, to be Latter-day Saints, to be on the Lord’s errand, and to be filled “with exceedingly great joy.”

The growing question of today is clear: are you standing with the leaders of the Church in a darkening world so that you might spread the Light of Christ?

NEIL L. ANDERSEN - "Whoso Receiveth Them, Receiveth Me"

God loves children. He loves all children. The Savior said, “Suffer [the] little children … to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Children today find themselves in many different and complex family configurations.

For example, today, twice as many children in the United States are living with only one parent than were 50 years ago. And there are many families that are less unified in their love of God and willingness to keep His commandments. In this increasing spiritual commotion, the restored gospel will continue to carry the standard, the ideal, the pattern of the Lord...

But my plea today is for the hundreds of thousands of children, youth, and young adults who do not come from these, for lack of a better term, “picture-perfect” families. I speak not only of the youth who have experienced the death, divorce, or diminishing faith of their parents but also of the tens of thousands of young men and young women from all around the world who embrace the gospel without a mother or father to come into the Church with them...

While a child’s earthly situation may not be ideal, a child’s spiritual DNA is perfect because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God.

President Thomas S. Monson has said: “Help God’s children understand what is genuine and important in this life. Help them develop the strength to choose paths that will keep them safely on the way to eternal life.” Let’s open our arms and our hearts a little wider.

MERVYN B. ARNOLD - "To the Rescue; We Can Do It"
of the Seventy

President Thomas S. Monson, who has sounded the clarion call to go to the rescue, noted, “Our members need to be reminded that it is never too late when it comes to our … less-active members … who could have been considered a hopeless cause.”5

Like many of you, I have shared the gospel with some who are soon baptized or activated, and others ... take much more time...

The Lord has provided all of the tools necessary for us to go to the rescue of our less-active and nonmember friends. We can all do it!

I invite each of you to heed the Savior’s call to go to the rescue. We can do it! I solemnly testify that I know Jesus is the Good Shepherd, that He loves us, and that He will bless us as we go to the rescue. I know He lives; I know it.

JAIRO MAZZAGARDI - "The Sacred Place of Restoration"
of the Seventy

I was not religious, but I had been raised by parents who were, and I had seen what was good in other religions. At that point in my life, I thought all religions were acceptable to God.

After my visit to the temple open house, I sought an answer through prayer, having faith and a sure confidence that God would answer me, which was His Church on earth.

After a great spiritual struggle, I finally received a clear answer. I was invited to be baptized. My baptism happened on October 31, 1978, the night before a session of the São Paulo Temple dedication.

I realized that the Lord knew and cared about me as He answered my prayers...

What happened at Cumorah was an important part of the Restoration, as Joseph Smith received the plates which contained the Book of Mormon. This book helps us get closer to Christ than any other book on earth.

I bear witness that the Lord raised up prophets, seers, and revelators to guide His kingdom in these latter days and that in His eternal plan families are meant to be together forever. He cares about His children. He answers our prayers.

DAVID A. BEDNAR - "Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins"

In mortality we experience physical birth and the opportunity for spiritual rebirth. We are admonished by prophets and apostles to awake unto God, be “born again,” and become new creatures in Christ by receiving in our lives the blessings made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The “merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” can help us triumph over the self-centered and selfish tendencies of the natural man and become more selfless, benevolent, and saintly. We are exhorted to so live that we can “stand spotless before [the Lord] at the last day.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith summarized succinctly the essential role of priesthood ordinances in the gospel of Jesus Christ: “Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.” This penetrating statement emphasizes the roles of both the Holy Ghost and sacred ordinances in the process of spiritual rebirth.

The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a personage of spirit and bears witness of all truth. In the scriptures, the Holy Ghost is referred to as the Comforter, a teacher, and a revelator. Additionally, the Holy Ghost is a sanctifier who cleanses and burns dross and evil out of human souls as though by fire...

Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost is an ordinance administered in the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood. In the process of coming unto the Savior and spiritual rebirth, receiving the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost in our lives creates the possibility of an ongoing cleansing of our soul from sin. This joyous blessing is vital because “no unclean thing can dwell with God.”

As members of the Lord’s restored Church, we are blessed both by our initial cleansing from sin associated with baptism and by the potential for an ongoing cleansing from sin made possible through the companionship and power of the Holy Ghost.

M. RUSSELL BALLARD - "Family Councils"

Family councils have always been needed. They are, in fact, eternal. We belonged to a family council in the premortal existence, when we lived with our heavenly parents as their spirit children.

A family council, when conducted with love and with Christlike attributes, will counter the impact of modern technology that often distracts us from spending quality time with each other and also tends to bring evil right into our homes.

Please remember that family councils are different from family home evening held on Mondays. Home evenings focus primarily on gospel instruction and family activities. Family councils, on the other hand, can be held on any day of the week, and they are primarily a meeting at which parents listen—to each other and to their children.

I believe there are at least four types of family councils:

First, a general family council consisting of the entire family.
Second, an executive family council consisting of a mother and father.
Third, a limited family council consisting of parents and one child.
Fourth, a one-on-one family council consisting of one parent and one child...

Please remember that a family council held regularly will help us spot family problems early and nip them in the bud; councils will give each family member a feeling of worth and importance; and most of all they will assist us to be more successful and happy in our precious relationships, within the walls of our homes.