Once or twice in a generation we get a General Conference like the one in two weeks: where a newly elevated President of the Church first addresses the full membership of the Church in General Conference. The expectations are even higher when the new President’s predecessor had been in mental and/or physical decline for some time. I have heard a variety of online rumors that “something big” is coming at Conference, which often does not come to pass in the event, but does sort of raise the ante. Are you excited for what we might hear from the new First Presidency? Are you anxious or worried about what might be said or presented? I’m sort of both. I’ll offer my thoughts in the classic good, bad, and ugly format. You can share your thoughts in the comments.
It will be good to hear a strong and confident President’s voice. It will be good to hear from ex-President Uchtdorf as he shoulders new responsibilities for rewriting the curriculum materials of the Church (or whatever he plans to do with it). No Women’s Conference this time: remember that General (male) Priesthood meeting will be a Saturday evening session every April and General (female) Women’s Conference will be a Saturday evening session every October. That seems like a very reasonable change. It also definitively resolves the dispute from a few years back about whether Women’s Conference held the week before was technically part of General Conference or not.
I’m anxious about what exactly President Nelson is going to say and how he is going to say it. Sometimes the mantle of leadership, of actually running the whole show, moves a leader to adopt a kinder and gentler approach. That would be nice. But you never really know what is coming. If the “big change” is relaxing the rules for home teaching visits or even collapsing home and visiting teaching into some hybrid love your neighbor program, fine. If he just tells everyone to read the Book of Mormon and keep the sabbath day holy, fine. Don’t forget there are a couple of openings in the Twelve to be filled. If a non-white or non-Anglo fills one of the those spots, that would be a real step forward.
The November Policy and the Family Proclamation are sort of the elephants in the room here. I know there are rumors, but I can’t see the Proclamation or the Policy being proposed for canonization. That would push thousands of members out the door for no particular benefit, as most members already treat them as revelation. That action would create controversy, and what a new President wants at his first Conference is unity, not division. On the other hand, I can’t see them publicly stepping back from the Policy or the Proclamation. That runs counter to everything we have heard from Pres. Nelson and Pres. Oaks the last few years. So maybe they will simply sidestep the whole issue this time around.
But they’ll have to address it sooner or later. It’s like a self-inflicted wound that refuses to heal, damaging missionary efforts in the West (US, Canada, Europe), alienating thousands of members, and hurting tithing receipts (a measurable effect that certainly gets the attention of senior leaders). Interestingly, local leaders by and large have found ways to avoid taking actions based on a straightforward application of the Policy. That’s the only conclusion I can draw in the complete absence of media or social media reports of this or that gay couple being excommunicated or this or that child denied LDS baptism under the terms of the Policy. Given the visibility of the issue, if such things were happening, they would certainly be reported. If the Policy is hurting the Church’s public image and local leaders aren’t applying it anyway, why keep it? In the long run, they’ll either have to double down on it (force local leaders to apply the Policy) or quietly shelve it. But I suspect not at this Conference.
So, wild speculation aside, what are your hopes or fears about this upcoming Conference?