This week, let me put my geek credentials on full display.  In the movie Star Trek VI, after a briefing ordering Captain Kirk to escort a visiting delegation of Klingons to a historic peace summit, Captain Spock relates an old Vulcan proverb… ‘Only Nixon could go to China‘.”  To quote from Wikipedia: “Nixon, having had an undisputed reputation of being a staunch anti-Communist, was largely immune to any criticism of being “soft on Communism” by figures on the right of American politics.”  

In my previous piece I talked about evaluation of the statements and teachings of leaders in the church within the marketplace of ideas.  Similarly but entirely different, I’ve wondered whether General Authorities develop a focus, expertise, or reputation for addressing topics in certain areas. I’m sure that many of these are developed through their own life experience, personality traits, gospel interests, as well as their topical and committee assignments.  

A few brief examples:  
Whenever President Nelson talks about evolution (or other scientific topics), people react for better or worse, I feel much more than if similar comments came from Elder Neal Anderson. Whenever President Oaks talks about LGBTQ issues, people react for better or worse, I feel more than they would for President Uchtdorf. Whenever Elder Bednar talks about obedience…you get the picture.

These individuals have developed reputations in these areas, Pres. Nelson because of his education and professional experience, Pres. Oaks because of his profession, historical assignments and (personal gospel interest?), and Elder Bednar because he lived in Rexburg….
(I kid. I actually don’t know why Elder Bednar has developed his focus/reputation.)

Growing up I always loved to hear Pres. Monson’s talks during conference. He always seemed to inject so much of his own personality into them, and I appreciated his stories about practical applications of gospel principles. Even at the MTC, when the general authorities came to speak, his talk was a little unconventional, which I sincerely appreciated in the midst of the many maudlin EFY-styled talks we seemed to usually get.

Nixon was effective in his approach to and message in China partially because of his reputation as a strong anti-Communist. Even though this action was a very bold step for him, the message was successful particularly because of his strong anti-communist “street cred.” His reputation (part of the medium) affected the reception among his supporters and ultimate success of the message. On the other side of the same coin, I personally found Pres. Monson’s talks effective because his history of practical applications resonated with me. His reputation affected the reception and success of the message with me. On the other hand, some of Pres. Nelson’s comments on evolution in particular have come across all the more odd to me since he has had science and medical training.

Questions to ponder: 

  • With General Authorities, does the medium (messenger) affect the message reception and success?  Do you find that the statements of Pres. Nelson, Pres. Oaks, and others, have more impact/more effective/less effective based on their area/reputation?  
  • Do certain General Authorities resonate more or less with you based on their life experiences and personality?
  • Feel free to share experiences when a GA personally resonated with you more than others. Why do you think they did?
  • Note: While I recognize the potential influence of the spirit in every talk, the Holy Ghost does not work with a blank canvas in any of us.
  • Regarding Nixon in China, how would you feel people would receive a similar bold message from Pres. Nelson or Pres. Oaks, vs Pres. Uchtdorf? Consider hypotheticals such as extending recognition of marriage to same-sex partnerships or extending priesthood offices to women. Would there be a different reception based on the messenger?