Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Eight Observations from #LDSConf October 2015

A lot to unpack from this October's General Conference, but first here it is in bullet-point format.


- Wixom focussed a lot on purity and virtue. Keep yourselves pure. Motherhood is the highest calling. Your divine nature is needed in this Church.
- Reeves had a similar thing. Stay away from sin and temptation. The trials in this life are worth the eternal life we'll gain in the next.
- McConkie testified about feeling God's love and urged women to remain pure and righteous.
- Uchtdorf told a story about learning to be happy in this life even when it doesn't work out the you'd hoped.


- Uchtdorf told us to simplify, and he warned of people getting too curious on the internet, as there are sites out there that will ruin testimonies, and some of them are inaccurate or misleading.
- Ballard plugged "The Old Ship Zion" again, which makes me wonder if he's writing a book with that title to be on sale soon at Deseret Book. He also pointed out young children shouldn't bear their testimony in Fast & Testimony Meeting until they understand what they're really saying.
- Maynes used a story about clay on a potter's wheel to compare us to the clay and the Lord to the potter (to paraphrase Isaiah.)
- Marriott also referred to potter's clay in her talk and used the example of her daughter's death to illustrate how their family motto "It will all work out" does not mean "It will all work out now." The Lord has eternal perspective.
- Lawrence said we need to keep asking the Holy Ghost what we need to do to improve ourselves or be more righteous.
- Vinas spoke about overcoming afflictions and enduring to the end.
- Cook spoke about wickedness not being happiness, used a ship analogy, spoke about keeping the Sabbath Day holy.


- Hales told young people to be serious about dating in their 20's, and to pay their tithing and avoid debt.
- Holland gave a tribute to mothers, especially one who prayed for her gay son and he eventually was able to finish his mission.
- Foster gave this talk about how parents need to do everything they can to make sure their children have testimonies.
- Montoya spoke about how we can lighten each other's burdens, including "smile" and "express feelings of compassion to others."
- Stanfill spoke about internet critics being part of the great and spacious building.
- Martino said we may not get answers to our prayers when we want, but they will come, even if several years later.
- Oaks spoke about suffering, how we all have trials and Jesus understands them all.


- Andersen spoke about choosing to have faith and how fragile faith can be, so we must protect it.
- Bennett spoke about improving ourselves one step at a time.
- Uchtdorf praised faith and dismissed skepticism.
- Eyring said the Lord will help priesthood holders in whatever calling or assignment they're given.
- Monson emphasized keeping the commandments.


- Monson spoke about keeping ourselves pure and being examples to others.
- Rasband was amazed that he was chosen as an Apostle.
- Stevenson also marvelled about being called.
- Renlund relayed a message about seeing others as God sees them.
- Nelson encouraged women to speak up more in church.
- Schwitzer said to stand up for what you believe and compared church critics to "great and spacious building" dwellers.
- Costa spoke about the sacrament and meditating on its meaning.
- Eyring spoke about relying on the Holy Ghost.


- Christofferson addressed why we have a church, and what the institutional church can do.
- Durrant plugged the word "ponderize" as a way of making scriptures stick with us.
- Keetch told us to keep the commandments.
- Stephens told us to keep the commandments.
- Haynie said we need to keep ourselves clean.
- Clark spoke about how not all recognize the Savior's voice or hear His message.
- Aoyagi spoke about trials and how they forge who we are.
- Bednar spoke about how it's a good thing to have the church led by older, wiser men.


1. The health of Pres. Monson. It's pretty clear at this point that 88 years of age have caught up to President Thomas S. Monson. There's been speculation of dementia for years, and that it seems to come and go. This is the second Conference in a row where he's only spoken twice, and this is probably the last Conference where he'll speak standing, if at all. His Sunday morning talk started out strong but by the end, he was struggling to stand and kept getting caught in his words, repeating himself. He soldiered through, and Pres. Uchtdorf and another man were ready to catch him if needed. It made me reflect on and appreciate the lifetime of service that he's given. Can you imagine getting a call at age 36 and doing that thing for the rest of your life? It also brought to mind the time Russell M. Nelson held up Joseph B. Wirthlin who struggled to keep standing during one of his last talks.

The 1899 "Articles of Faith" laid out how a prophet could be released if he no longer had the physical or mental capacity to lead. It has yet to happen and likely never will. Presidents McKay, Kimball and Benson spent their final years unable to lead, so their counselors ran the Church. If this was the last time Pres. Monson speaks in public, he's gone out on a special note.

2. President Russell M. Nelson. Nelson is now the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. This is actually a big change. Boyd K. Packer had been President or Acting President of the Q12 for 21 years. Pres. Hunter kept Hinckley and Monson in the First Presidency when he became the new President of the Church in 1994.

In Nelson's first General Conference talk acting in this capacity, he addressed the women of the Church and how much the Church needs their voices, their examples and their participation. It seemed to foreshadow future possibilities of working women into more and more leadership roles. It was also the most sober talk I can remember Nelson giving when he thought about his three friends (Perry, Packer, Scott) who'd all passed away over the past six months.

3. "It is the same." More than one Apostle emphasized that they are speaking for Christ, so heed their words the same way you'd heed Christ's. Ballard quoted the scripture: "He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me" and then he added, "We cannot separate Christ from His servants." More than one speaker (Bednar was one) quoted the scripture where the Lord says: "Whether by mine own voice, or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D&C 1:38)

That's three General Conferences in a row that someone has used that verse in their talks, and there's a danger to it, an easy way for leaders to abuse it. No person has ever been able to take the Lord's agency, and there have been prophets and apostles past and present who have done or said things that I doubt the Lord agrees with. Each person the Lord calls to whatever position has their own agency; this is one reason why the LDS Church is to be led by common consent (though I'd argue it hasn't been for a long time.)

For example, more than once, Apostle George F. Richards gave talks in General Conference where he said that Negroes were less valiant in the pre-existence, and this is why black men couldn't hold the priesthood or African people get sealed in temples. Was this the voice of the Lord? No. But Richards was his servant. And yet his voice and the Lord's voice were not the same. We sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, but it's still up to them to qualify for the Lord's guidance and do everything they can to in order to do His will. If Jesus has appeared to any of the FP/Q12, He hasn't spelled things out for them. They still have to work it out in their own minds. This may be why they haven't Prophesied, Seen, and Revealed much, or why we haven't had a new section in the D&C for almost a hundred years. They want to be absolutely sure.

4. The three new Apostles. Rasband and Stevenson were understandably overwhelmed and their talks sounded like thank-you speeches at award shows, but Renlund managed to work in a really touching story about a surgery where he failed to save a boy's life and how that affected him. I look forward to hearing more from these three and I think they're good additions to the Quorum. Are they the only three that the Lord wanted called? I don't believe so.

Studying how each Apostle has been called in this dispensation has taught me just how much personal relationships factor into a call. I do not believe that every man who's ever been called into the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve was God's will. Joseph Smith was quite naive when it came to certain leaders, most glaringly John C. Bennett.  He called other Apostles that wound up becoming bitter enemies of the Church like William McLellin. When Smith commissioned the Three Witnesses to call the original 12, they chose Phineas Young, Brigham's older brother, to be an Apostle, but Smith vetoed him in favor of his brother William. William wound up being a sore spot for the Church and his brother.

Did the Lord really want Brigham Young ordain so many of his own sons as Apostles, including one to be ordained at age 11? Did the Lord really want John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Joseph F. Smith to call their own sons too?

So when Pres. Monson called these three men, I believe he only extended the call after much prayer and contemplation, and after he had it confirmed to him that these would be good Apostles. I also believe that if he'd spent more time and prayer on some non-white and/or non-American candidates, we wouldn't have wound up with three more white guys from Utah. Again, I like all of them and sustain them, but FP/Q12 is still made up of fifteen white men, fourteen being American, and eleven being Utah born. This is a global church but it doesn't look like it at the top. Yes, it matters.

5. Faith v. Doubt. There has been increased rhetoric about how faith and doubt are incompatible. This was a Church started by a 14-year-old boy who had doubts and went to pray about them. When talking about questions, they're usually couched with modifiers. It's "honest questions" or "sincere questions." Many members have had honest or sincere questions that led to unresolved doubts or even oblitherations of testimony. But faith is what we believe in without proof, but is true. What happens if you have faith in something that is not true? For example, what if you believed that it was a trial of faith that it was God's will that blacks not receive the priesthood until 1978, and now the Church has admitted that it was never God's will? It's a conundrum for every member to face.

6. "Simplify." This is a much-needed message. We've set ourselves up a very busy church. Meetings and callings and home-teaching and visiting teaching and weekly activities and more meetings. The Church is set up so that if you wanted to, you could set up your entire social life to only involve other church members. But how can we proclaim the gospel or care for the needy if this is how we organize our lives?

7. Running times. The Priesthood Session keep ending earlier and earlier, I think to make it more like the Women's Session.

8. Talks by the Numbers. There were 39 talks over the six sessions. Now there are 15 of the FP/Q12, 7 of the Presidency of Seventy, 84 from the 1st & 2nd Quorums of Seventy, 3 from Presiding Bishopric, and 9 women and 6 men from the General Auxiliaries. How the talks were distributed:

- 7 by the First Presidency
- 12 by the Quorum of the Twelve
- 1 from Presidency of the Seventy
- 12 from the 1st or 2nd Quorum of Seventy
- 1 Emeritus Seventy
- 0 from Presiding Bishopric
- 5 women in General Auxiliary leadership
- 1 man in General Auxiliary leadership

Now usually there will be one talk from someone in the Presiding Bishopric and two from the Presidency of the Seventy, but Rasband and Stevenson both spoke, so there was an overlap. All five men who were called to the 1st Quorum of Seventy at last Conference spoke at this one.

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