Still chewing on Conference here. On the whole, I think it was a real step forward for the Church and a promising first Conference for the new leadership (new boss same as the old boss, but you know what I mean). It is best to avoid exaggeration. Some mainstream Mormons have been talking about the changes announced at Conference as magnificent and revelatory, like a hundred-year flood but in a good way. I think they are just administrative changes, but good ones. And some critics are likely to criticize the changes just out of habit. I think when positive change happens (what critics and reformers and activists are always calling for), you have to acknowledge it. Two hits and a miss.
One Hit: Ministering
So Home Teaching is dead. Visiting Teaching lives on, rebranded as Ministering and now extended to both men and women. Okay, that’s not completely accurate, but the spirit of the new Ministering Program (but not to be called a program) resembles VTing more than HTing. But more than that, this signals an organizational shift of sorts, away from correlation and control. No more monthly reports on families visited. No more any reports on families visited, at least in the statistical sense. There will be bureaucrats at the COB who can’t sleep at night without monthly numbers to analyze. There will be bishops who stand speechless before the priesthood without Home Teaching as a topic to harp on every month.
I don’t especially like Ministering as a title for the new not-a-program, but I can’t think of a better title. (There’s a story like this for Steven Jobs and Siri.) The focus from the senior leadership really does seem to be on Christian service viewed more broadly than was the case with HTing, and a move away from guilt-mongering by local leadership and toward helpful communication and support. Bravo, the Church finally did something right. May this trend continue. Let’s hope local leadership doesn’t muck it up in execution by over-formalizing the whole thing.
Another Hit: What Wasn’t Talked About
Three guesses. Okay, it’s gay marriage. I only napped for two or three talks, but I’m fairly sure the topic was never brought up in this Conference. So it seems the senior leadership has finally emerged from the Era of Negative Messaging to instead focus on what the Church can do right and do better. Yes, it’s too bad we lost the Culture Wars, but it’s time to move forward. I don’t expect the leadership to truly make peace with gay marriage for another two generations, but then it took Southern Christians four generations to make peace with the 13th Amendment. It took Christians as a body a hundred generations to get over anti-Semitism. For now, it’s good enough that senior leadership has moved on to other more positive topics and issues.
One Miss: Nonconsensual Immorality
Not that ungainly term in particular. This is a miss because this reference in a talk was, apparently, an attempt to respond, albeit indirectly, to issues surrounding MTC Scandal and recent media coverage of it. This is a miss because it would have been oh-so-easy to say something clear and principled at Conference, simply repeating blanket condemnations of abuse and sexual assault, and expressing support and sympathy for victims. And it should have been President Nelson who made that clear and simple statement. More than just a statement is needed, but that’s where it needs to start. Later, a serious study and rethinking of LDS policies and practices relating to interviews and how to deal with disclosures of abuse and assault can follow, sooner rather than later. But the rethinking and reforms won’t happen until the leadership gets past denial and gets out of the Mormon Bubble on this issue. And they are not there yet. As far as I can tell, they are still patting themselves on the back for having a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse. As if words on paper solve the problem.
The term “nonconsensual immorality” does reveal something about the mindset of senior LDS leadership. They want to draw the line at immorality rather than consent. Any sex outside marriage is immoral, whereas some sex inside marriage is not. The term suggests there are two kinds of immorality/sex, consensual and nonconsensual, but it’s all immoral (outside of marriage) and therefore participants need to repent if they want to be good Mormons. The whole mindset just can’t quite swallow the idea that victims of nonconsensual immorality are truly *innocent* victims. That mindset, call it the patriarchal mindset, just can’t shake the idea that victims were guilty of *something* if sex was involved. Those embracing this patriarchal mindset are mentally living in the 1950s, simply incapable of understanding the issues surrounding abuse and assault, much less responding to them. They seem tone deaf to how much more offensive sexual assault is to you and me and 99% of modern Americans, compared to consensual sexual encounters or relationships outside marriage. It sure seems like they just don’t get it.
Six months from now, some GA needs to step up to the plate and address this issue. Not just the issue of abuse and sexual assault, but also the issue of how badly the Mormon system has dealt with this in the past. What Elder Uchtdorf did for grace and Elder Holland did for mental illness in recent Conference talks, firmly correcting misguided traditional Mormon thinking on these topics, some apostle needs to do for abuse and sexual assault. As Elrond once counseled the Quorum of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, “One of you must do this.”
But two hits and a miss is pretty good. Let’s keep it up. Maybe more good things will happen at the next Conference.
Thank you for pointing out that there wasn’t any attempt to further vilify LGBT people this conference. I would have missed that bright spot and then I wouldn’t be able to be as grateful for it as I now am.
I really think that Elder Cook was speaking of the perpetrators of non-consensual immorality, not the victims. His point was that those persons (the perpetrators) are committing sin and so are those who engage in consensual immorality — consenting adults doesn’t mean non-sinful. At least, that’s how I took it.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Here are a couple of links that didn’t make it into my post. For further info on the history of HT and VT — sort of putting the current changes into historical context — read these posts at JI and BCC:
ji, he might very well have meant what you said. I’m sure many who heard his talk would be happy to hear such a clarification. In the context of prior remarks by LDS leaders — in particular Pres. Kimball’s remarks in Miracle of Forgiveness and Elder Scott’s remarks in a couple of General Conference talks, both suggesting victims of sexual assault often bear a degree of responsibility for the episode — such a clarification is especially called for. I can’t believe Elder Cook is unaware of that history, so he should have made more of an effort to avoid a misunderstanding.
To be blunt about it, if he meant what you said, he should have specifically mentioned those prior statements and distanced his own understanding of the culpability of victims from theirs.
Well said Dave! I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve laid out.
I also felt very encouraged and excited during conference. Then I went to Bishopric meeting and ward council yesterday and boy was that a buzz kill. Is PEC supposed to be replaced by a ward council every week? I have a feeling that in my neck of the woods monthly home visits and acceptance of such visits is going to be used as a measure of orthodoxy. My cult-o-meter was maxing out during fast and testimony meeting too. I got to go play the piano for primary for the final two hours and that got my spirits back up.
“Where as some sex inside marriage is not”
You seem to think they still hold on to the idea that some sex inside marriage is immoral?
This is on the heels of Elaine Dalton misquoting a verse from the BoM to inaccuaratg concur that women who were raped lost their virtue- the new YW value.
Yes, the church needs a crash course in victim sensitivity-STAT.
Zach, rape can occur during marriages, as well.
Although in the past, the church has condemned oral sex, it’s been well over a generation since any word on it.
Zach: wait–there are wards that don’t have Ward Council every week? I’ve only been in WC in my current ward, but we meet every week.
I think you are overlooking the most significate change both long term and short term. That is the doing away, for all intent and purpose, of the High Priest group and the High Priest Quorum. There is now only one group (quorum) for all men, mirroring the RS in form. All men 18 years and older meet together, from the newest convert to the visiting GA all in the same room, just like the RS is for all women; all the men with the same goals and mission. This will be a bigger changing than most people think.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Scott J, I’m thinking the HT/VT change will have more impact than the HP/EQ change. The HP/EQ impact will vary by the demographics of each ward. If there are a lot of HP, the Elders might feel a little out of place. If the HP are vocal and conservative and opinionated (you know this guy), the Elders will feel even more alienated, like every Sunday is 45 minutes stuck in a room with crazy grandpa.
On the positive side, it’s nicer to have a fair-sized class than a small one for lessons and participation. It streamlines and simplifies things as well, freeing up a few extra men to staff the Primary.
From a doctrinal standpoint, it shows how easy it is for senior leadership to play fast and loose with supposedly fixed priesthood categories or distinctions. when they want to be. Like when they abolished local Seventies, which had existed for over a hundred years in the Church, with a simple policy change. They have done something like that with High Priests now. “High Priest,” the priesthood office, is now functionally equivalent to local leadership callings or hierarchical office. In a sense, the HP priesthood office has merged or been displaced by an org chart. In a sense, there really isn’t a HP office anymore, there are Elders and there are Elders in leadership positions (which we will call High Priests to give the illusion of continuity). The HP office is now superfluous, even meaningless, although I doubt many Mormons will notice this.
FYI, here is a real nice discussion of the good and bad of combining HP and EQ.
Chris- I did not think of rape within marriage.
Bro. Jones – We have been having ward council on the first and third weeks. PEC on the second and fourth weeks. Just Bishopric meeting on the fifth Sundays. That is the way our whole stake has been doing it for at least the last 15 years. I was hoping that with the elimination of PEC we would just have two less meetings, but I am afraid we are going to have WC every week.
Combining EQ and HP will be interesting in my ward. The most outspoken and loudest members are a couple of men who happen to be in HP. It will be interesting to see how the dynamics play out and I would bet it varies from ward to ward.
I do hold out some hope for the younger generation rubbing off on the older generation in some areas that might be beneficial to the whole body. My father is serving as a singles branch president and one of the singles in his ward invited Bro. Christofferson to do a fireside. My fathers attitude towards homosexuals changed overnight. It was quite remarkable to witness. I then saw him argue with one of his friends about homosexuality and could not believe how ignorant his friend was.
I am going to disagree with you on the importance of the merging of HP/EQ, in the long term it will have a much bigger impact than any change to HT/VT/ministering/etc. In 10 years we will still be lectured about “are you doing your ministering”?, “Are you visiting them enough?” etc. In 10 years no one would even imagine not having all the men in one group and men will talk about the “bad” old days when you had to coordinate with two separate groups to get things done etc. It will help remove the old/young divide we see in the church. New ideas get talked about with all the men in the same room, no more will the older men get isolated from younger ideas. Everything gets talked about in one place.
As for doctrinally, what is the difference between a HP and an Elder? A few years ago the Stake President wished to make a group of older Elders into HP, being one of them I asked why. Was there a calling they needed me for that required me to be a HP? No, was the response just that I was getting older and I might be more comfortable meeting with the HP. I told them thanks but no thanks, I liked being in the EQ. Now unless you are going to be in the bishopric, stake presidency or high council, people will not be made HP. And people who are HP will only be acting in the capacity of a HP only when it is needed. Otherwise everyone is an Elder. This will be game changing.
Scott J, I’ll agree the merger does eliminate the problem of the “older Elder” who might have felt out of place in that quorum, as well as the mid-20s Elder who gets called into the bishopric, then finds himself, just a few years later, twenty years younger than any other high priest he meets with on Sunday.
My father, a lifelong active Mormon, was 56 when he was finally made a high priest. People we’re starting to question why he hadn’t been made one earlier (some implying negative reasons.) The elimination of high priests was way overdue.
All in all it will be an adventure. Fodder for many future posts I imagine.
I had the impression there was, as well as less mention of gay marriage, also less wicked world and obedience, there was a lot more about Christlike love. As christlike love does not allow for discrimination against anyone, women or gays, it will look a bit inconsistent until these are fix.
I kind of gave the TV a funny look with Elder Cook’s “Our LDS Women are Incredible” talk in 2011. I have no disagreement that they are, but watched as some bloggers expressed a reaction that the talk was patronizing.
I gave the TV a similar look when he counseled against “Non-consensual immorality”. I choose to interpret it like Ji did, but had to do a quick mental gymnastic exercise to get to that interpretation.
Southern Christians are still working on 14 and 15 (or, from the looks of it, maybe they aren’t).