I was hoping for a blunt and unequivocal statement at General Conference, something along the lines of “Wear your d*mn masks!” There are lives in the balance, after all. I didn’t hear that, although I didn’t manage to watch all the talks. But there were some nice things said at Conference, with some rather bold (by Mormon standards) denunciations of racism and racist thinking, for example. There were many comments directly or indirectly responding to the present Covid crisis, in pleasant contrast to last April Conference when the subject was hardly mentioned. So did Conference hit the sweet spot for you? Or miss a chance or two? Or can you no longer muster enough interest anymore to dedicate eight or ten hours of your weekend for the attempt?
The Year 2020 Keeps Getting Crazier
Sometimes the temporal context of a General Conference overshadows the event. I’m thinking of the time President Hinckley, at the Conference podium in October 2001, just a month after 9/11, spoke the following words from the pulpit:
I have just been handed a note that says that a U.S. missile attack is under way. I need not remind you that we live in perilous times. I desire to speak concerning these times and our circumstances as members of this Church.
We live in perilous times again, it seems. If Covid overshadowed this General Conference, at least the leaders who spoke at Conference did a much better job addressing our fears and concerns and personal crises than in April. This time, they achieved relevance. But the context right now is simply overpowering. And bizarre. Almost unfathomable. The “business as usual” format of Conference, even with many relevant comments, just seems out of place right now. Almost everything seems out of place right now. Three observations:
First, maybe the crazies are winning. Am I the only person who now has the disturbing impression that about half the active members of the Church are just batshit crazy? About masks in particular, but the disease may be spreading. Every week or two a media story emerges about yet another public meeting in Utah County where a crowd of mostly Mormons objects to masks and asserts their rights and liberty are at risk. This can hardly be described as a glimpse of the lunatic fringe when the President of the United States has become the standard bearer for the view.
Over the last seven days, President Trump has tested positive, has gone to the hospital for treatment, has seen a dozen close associates also test positive, has engaged in reckless behavior while at the hospital, under treatment and shedding virus (taking jaunts in the car with Secret Service agents and mingling with other patients), has exited the hospital after only three or four days, and has then hiked up the stairs to the entrance to the White House and then … brazenly taken off his mask as some bold but idiotic gesture to America. What universe am I living in? And we haven’t even gotten to the election, the chaotic aftermath, the inevitable court challenges, and the possible transition to follow. Perilous times.
Second, as goes football … The NFL somewhat surprisingly pulled off three weeks of the regular season without any Covid cases, doing more or less daily testing of thousands of athletes and staff. That really was an admirable achievement, and they weren’t in a bubble like the NBA imposed or provided for basketball players. But this last week, Week Four, saw one team with a dozen or two positive tests (game cancelled and rescheduled) and a few other teams with a single positive test. If this gets worse (a likely development?) it could curtail or entirely derail the season.
The story here isn’t about football, which may or may not matter to you. If the NFL — with lots of incentives for all involved to minimize risk and avoid Covid, and lots of resources to throw at the challenge — can’t pull off a season right now, then neither can similar activities. Universities can’t pull off a semester on campus; public schools can’t pull off regular attendance; many workplaces can’t keep their employees healthy and working; churches can’t bring their congregations into their places of worship for an hour or two every week. If the NFL can’t pull off a season right now, then we’re not at the end of the Covid crisis, and we’re hardly at the end of the beginning. That’s a sobering thought.
With an eye to history, remember that in September 1914 every single belligerent country thought the conflict would be short and quick, over by Christmas. Almost not a single person thought it might last four years, cost millions of lives, and in the process destroy Europe as we knew it. Empires fell. A generation was lost. The wreckage of the war led indirectly to the Great Depression, the rise of state Communism in Russia, and the rise of state Fascism in Italy and then Germany. No one saw this coming. It just happened. I hope that rather than continuing to snowball, we (as in we America, or we the world) can somehow get out ahead of Covid and contain it before it continues to compromise one after another of our social and economic institutions.
Third, I was at the hospital yesterday. I was visiting an older family member who has Covid and is in decline. It gets real when it hits someone you know. Perhaps it’s easier to handle for an older person, when you can say that something will get you sooner or later when you are in your nineties. Still, it’s hard to grasp that modern medicine in 2020 can treat some symptoms and relieve some pain and discomfort but can’t stop this disease. Some recover but many don’t, including some younger and otherwise healthy people.
So as I was sitting at the bedside of this family member dying of Covid, a presidential tweet came out: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Huh? Again, what universe am I living in? Lives in the balance, people under fire, blood on the wire. Just wear your damn masks, people. This shouldn’t be an issue, this shouldn’t be a political issue. But somehow it has become so. It just happened.
Let me offer a positive comment at this point. The nurses and doctors have been outstanding. The nurses have offered quick and detailed reports every time we called for an update (a couple of times a day). They have provided compassionate care when family members could not visit. Despite protective equipment and the best procedures, there is some risk to medical personnel. Many of them, as a result, have tested positive, some have become seriously ill, and some have died. They are unsung heroes in this struggle, laboring against an unseen enemy and doing so largely out of public view while the rest of us deal with politics and ballots, schools versus online classes, work versus work from home, and restaurants versus take out. To those who have lost or are losing a family member, I share your grief. To those who work on the front line in a hospital or who have a family member who does so, I salute your courage and sacrifice. God help us all.
Finally, back to General Conference. I don’t think I can offer an objective evaluation at the moment. Yes, they did a good job, a better job, addressing the pressing issues we face both personally and as a faith community. No, I didn’t hear a clear directive, “Wear your masks!” Yes, they carried on with Conference in perilous times and prudently did so again virtually rather than in the Conference Center with some members in attendance. Yes, carrying on with business as usual lends a sense of normalcy in a world gone askew. But nothing is really business as usual at the moment. It doesn’t quite fit the moment.
What insight or comfort did you draw from Conference? Any happy thoughts to share? Alternatively, what frustrations did you feel at what was said or not said? Is that reaction to Conference or to a particular speaker, or is it just anger and frustration with everything else going on in the world?
Interesting post. I have to say, I do think many of the “Crazies” are winning. Maybe it is just me, but a major problem is identity politics. So many american members think the Republican Party is God’s party. Sadly, that party has been taken over by the orange guy in the white house who has turned a serious pandemic into something I have never seen before in this country.
I can no longer sit through very much of conference so this is second hand from friends and relatives. They liked the denunciation of racism but it seemed a little to generic for my taste. Same with the comments on Covid. I wonder if they are afraid of alienating the base.
You hit the nail on the head – they achieved relevance. In my opinion that’s the baseline and the entry fee to occupy some of my attention, but this time they at least achieved it. Of course, they didn’t even show up to the game of relevance in April so this at least this time they made an effort. This really indicates that they have their conference themes and addresses outlined for several months in advance. They had their April talks all buttoned up before things came apart in March, and they aren’t nearly nimble enough to switch gears that quickly. The talks on racism given this time had probably coalesced by early July.
The senior leadership in the church is such a paradox to me. They want to be extremely prescriptive, to the extent of being controlling, in many aspects of life for the members. And yet for something that they could probably address in two sentences like wearing a mask and thus being considerate of others, they won’t step in but will let people run amok without even trying to openly influence them. It’s baffling.
I did see that seated those participating appeared to be wearing masks, some white, some black, though the lighting was so poor it wasn’t easy to see, and they’d all removed them by the time they got to the pulpit.
I didn’t see any wiping down of the pulpit between speakers by the speakers, which certainly forms part of the safety instructions in my stake at least for worship services.
But none of that addresses my concerns about the aerosols produced by the speakers at the pulpit, and which can remain there for the next speaker to inhale, as it were. What was the rate of change of air in the room? Were the participants tested before going ahead?
As to the subject matter. I enjoyed Sharon Eubank’s address. But the rest of the women’s session pretty much left me cold, Oaks was heavy on law and less specific on racism than he might have been, and there was too much gender essentialism from Eyring in particular. Given this was the first session I watched Sunday morning here in Britain, it left me pretty much on edge for the rest. So I made notes on Saturday Morning and Saturday Afternoon sessions. Yet to see the Sunday sessions. But so far it’s left me irritated, edgy and cold.
I, too, was hoping for a more “blunt” approach. Though the comments on racism were appropriate, there was no denunciation of political leaders who are using racist tools to frighten the electorate. I fear that our leaders may be tempering comments to prevent a mass exodus from the church.
I tried to watch it but found myself just checking a box, so I did some personal study on my own. Ironically, reading a previous conference Ensign. I tend to get more out of reading talks later than listening live. I have also noticed that it tends to be talks from members of the seventy that I enjoy the most. To your last question, I definitely feel anger and frustration with the world right now and stress. The piling on just doesn’t seem to stop and I am tired.
Per prior posts on infantilization, I did not like Rasband’s talk.
Addressing racism in the way they did (from what I understand although I didn’t watch), with vague condemnations of individuals behaving in racist ways is not going to result in any change. NOBODY thinks they are racist. People need to understand how ignoring racism is furthering racism and they need to actively work to root out racism in our systems, our church, our country and our world. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of smug racists sitting there thinking “Isn’t our prophet wonderful in denouncing racism of those bad people out there?” all the while not realizing they are the racists. The other issue is that the Church itself has espoused racism in its manuals, in the Book of Mormon, in the temple, among its leadership, in its Universities, and in its utter refusal to ever acknowledge that prior Church leaders did big bad things that weren’t the will of God while also naming what those things were specifically. Keeping things vague is just a way to have their cake and eat it too. Biggest evidence of racism in the Church (IMO) is that the majority of Utahns (and possible of Church members) still support a POTUS who is a white supremacist, and that they use Republican talking points about there being no such thing as systemic racism or they prioritize property damage above human lives if those lives happen to be BIPOC.
I appreciate RMN’s remarks on racism, but he unfortunately only talked about it in terms of individual/personal racism, not systemic racism (which is the real issue right now). And no acknowledgement of the systemic racism the Church actively promoted for generations. However, I did like that he suggested that the Gathering of Israel is more or less metaphorical. I guess we won’t be packing up and hiking to Missouri anytime soon.
Also, Elder Cook and his outright false retelling of history had me rolling my eyes. Even a cursory study of history reminds us that the early Mormon settlers were not always kind to Native Americans.
But like most of you, I found it generally unsatisfying. Lots of fear-based rhetoric about the perilous times we live in, but not a lot of solutions.
As with the previous Conference, I don’t like that they downplayed the fact that the Choir performances were previously recorded, as if they were trying to preserve the illusion of the songs being performed live. “The choir will now sing…” should have been “We will now show a video of the choir singing (song title) from April 2018…”.
The OP mentions General Conference in the COVID era as being a “virtual” event. Keep in mind that for most members of the Church, GC always has been “virtual”. Whether or not there is a live audience present is largely irrelevant for most of us.
Off topic, but thank you for quoting Jackson Browne!
General Conference exceeded my expectations, but that’s a low bar and I missed some sessions entirely (and others partially) because of other commitments . I appreciated some talks I did not expect to. DHO’s comments on racism were not limited to individual racism, but can be heard/read to encompass systemic racism as well. There was minimal focus on his pet issues. But, yes, he could have been more specific about systemic racism — however he may have chosen to define it. I didn’t hear any false retelling of history from Elder Cook. I heard him telling a story of one instance when some 19th century Mormons treated Native Americans well — an example to be emulated. I didn’t hear him purporting to tell the whole history of 19th or 20th century Mormon/Native American relationships. There are plenty of examples from that history of actions not to be emulated; BY was was both mercurial and inconsistent in his approach. Cook did include an acknowledgment of mistakes, though he was not even minimally specific about those. I appreciate such acknowledgments from GAs wherever/whenever I find them.
I wonder if perhaps some of how we perceive General Conference is a function of personal attitudes, desires, and expectations as much as it is a function of conference itself. On the other hand, I did not expect to appreciate anything from Cook or Oaks.
They didn’t go far enough in conference. Angela C is right about racism. No one thinks they’re racist. To make an effective statement about racism, church leaders have to go more into detail. Likewise with COVID-19. Tell the Trumpist anti-mask denialist group of Mormons, whose numbers are unfortunately large and who respect no authority or body of expertise except church leaders, in no uncertain terms that we are amid a pandemic crisis that we cannot get out of without mask-wearing. This conference was better than April’s but still fell short. Leaders can’t be afraid of the crazies. True leadership at this point has to amount to confronting the crazies in the membership and telling them that they are wrong and not supported by the church leadership. That is the only way to effectively shame them into submission to help the insane spread of COVID-19 in Utah County go down.
I won’t criticize this General Conference. The comments on race, while far from complete, were more than I was expecting.
What I will criticize is the lack of change with the missionary program. I thought the program needed radical change BEFORE Covid-19. And now? Why are we acting like the program is working? I would not send a kid out at this point.
General Conference represents the Church’s opportunity to make and communicate change twice a year. Missed opportunity.
So the church is down-playing racism as not to offend many of its members. That is offensive to the rest of the church that do feel racism is bad! What kind of church does that? Down-playing things is not a good idea for churches or politics.
First, Angela C, you should watch Cook’s talk and Nelson’s talk. Their condemnations of racism were fairly progressive. RMN even mentioned “attitudes.” For me, these stark denunciations hearkened back to GBH’s comments on the subject, which I’ve pined for here recently.
As I’ve said before, it’s easy to mistake slow progress for no progress. The crazies are still around, sure, but I think they are (very) slowly losing ground to the reasonable, diverse, younger, international Church (as has happened repeatedly in Church history). For example, President Oaks’ talk was appalling in so many ways. I wretched when he actually showed a picture of a burning vehicle in General Conference. I could not believe it. I immediately turned to my wife and basically shouted: “If he wants to play the ‘violence on both sides’ card, he should have shown a picture of a lynching first! Priorities!” I was so incensed that I almost didn’t notice a critical change: he didn’t hate on “the gays”! By contrast, Elder Cook’s talk was almost progressive in places, which is unusual for him (there’s only one Uchtdorf).
In sum, for almost every talk, this was true: 1) progressives were, at worst, no more offended than usual (that’s good); (2) vocal, total Trump supporters who’ve drunk the authoritarian Kool-aid were embarrassed/offended/called to repentance (that’s better), and 3) marginalized groups got a boost (Black people explicitly, LGBT people by silence, mostly) (that’s best). On the whole, it was a small but clear win for the progressive Church.
Those who disagree: Did you really expect much more than this?
It makes you wonder how inept the leaders of the church would be to changing things if the Savior showed up tomorrow. How many months would it take for them to pivot from their current plans and schedules?
I had good luck this time around. I thoroughly enjoyed the talks I heard. First of all, racism: The DHO talk is the first ever to give a nod to legal and systemic change to combat racism instead of just encouraging individuals to act better on a personal level. I was very surprised. I thought that the comments against racism were stronger than they have previously done. I have racist relatives and maybe these stronger messages will sink in better than what they have said so far. Better late than never for the brethren. I expect so little — this one cleared the bar easily.
Second, I was glad to hear strong words about violence and having Christ-like attitude to the other side during an election. Compared to those evangelical leaders that have thrown their hat in with Trump, I am glad the message from DHO was principled and neutral. I suppose it is a low bar to say that violence is unacceptable and that we should follow the ethical teachings of Jesus, but it seemed very sane compared to all the insanity in our country.
Third, I am glad the personal beliefs of the other speakers I heard make them happy and give a good reason to commit their best efforts to be good people. I don’t think there are very many GAs that would be bad neighbors. I am sure they would not be interested in what I think or why, but all I hope for is some politeness and discretion. I think they would offer that to me.
There are things I deeply disagreed with, and I seem to have missed those talks. For me, calling children born out of wedlock “bitter fruit” was one such moment. I am very far away from SLC, and everyone in my ward treats those born out of wedlock with the respect that those INNOCENT CHILDREN deserve. They are lovely. They are loved. They will be ok in life.
Elder Kearon’s invocation to open the Saturday morning session was profound. He prayed for the “marginalized” and then asked for “guidance for leaders of nations as we yearn for a return to grace, dignity, and civility in public life.” He closed “by humbly acknowledging that the Gospel of Jesus Christ joyfully lived is the answer to all ills.” This was my favorite “talk” of the entire Conference.
If Christ came, do you think they would wait until April to let us know?
Or pop it in the Liahona maybe.
I was entirely satisfied with general conference. I am glad that it occurred — a cancellation because of the coronavirus would have been over-reach.
The First Presidency and Twelve all wore masks when sitting, but not when speaking. That makes sense. There was a clear message in that, for those who have eyes to see.
The messages were on point — to me, a good balance of teaching, encouragement, and admonition. I see each general conference talk as a gift, where each speaker tries to offer something helpful to someone. Some of the gifts may not have been directed at me, and some may not have scratched a particular itch of mine, and some might not be useful to me right now, but all of the speakers spoke in good faith, and I appreciate that.
Because of my belief in a God that rarely stirs the pot, I relate better to real action than more passive activities. I don’t see prayer as the answer to the COVID crisis. There is nothing wrong with prayer, but the solution to the pandemic lies in our personal behavior. It’s great to mention prayer, but “wear the damn mask” along with it would have been better. Particularly considering the craziness in Utah.
To overcome secularism, encouraging the long version of the Church’s name is trivial. But real action to highlight the upside of Christianity is better. For example, really helping the poor.
It’s great to condemn racism, but actually taking action to reduce racism in the Church and world is superior. It’s easy to talk about racism in the US and world, but the Church needs to atone for its own past racism. I want to see positive steps to mend relations with the Black and Native American communities. Meetings and token activities are not enough.
Maybe I misunderstand, but to me Christ was an action figure. The Church needs to be a activist organization. If there are world problems and internal Church problems, the leadership needs to step forward. And to me, the message of GC was short on action. Didn’t there used to be a saying, “The Lord helps you after you have done all you can.”? Conference missed the “all you can.”
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Ethan said, “You hit the nail on the head – they achieved relevance.” Thanks. It’s very unclear why they were not tuned in last April.
Angela C said, “NOBODY thinks they are racist.” Especially Mormons, and very especially Mormon leaders. Despite evidence to the contrary.
KC, thanks for that. We are not yet at the fountain of sorrow, and let’s hope that’s not my line for 2021.
John W. said, “They didn’t go far enough in conference.” Well, they certainly made noticeable progress. I’d agree with Billy Possum, who said, “Did you really expect much more than this?” I didn’t expect what I got. I look forward to reading the transcripts of the talks I didn’t hear.
I agree that this conference was much, much better than April’s.
-Sister Craig’s talk, beautiful! Heard good things about Sister Eubank’s and Elder Ballard’s but have not caught those yet.
-I didn’t / don’t listen to him, but word has it that DHO did not attack LBGTQ folks this time around.
-At least some condemnation of racism, TBH I wouldn’t expect church leaders to talk about systemic racism in politics (but would be good to address in the church).
-I thought it was really weird that Elder Christofferson spend so much time condemning consensual sex. Umm, OK, but I am under the impression that we have a fairly significant *non-consensual sex* problem globally and, if I were to pick the one that posed the biggest threat, I’m going to go with “non-consensual sex is worse than consensual sex, with or without a marriage certificate.”
– Rasband, worthiness, recommends, hate that concept.
-The talk on “culture” was really weird (in both Cook and the 70’s talk). I think if they had more clearly defined what Christ’s culture is — and specifically stated that not all Mormon culture is Christ’s culture — it would have been better. I think they meant well but the failure to be specific made it weird (are we asking everyone to adopt our white patriarchal heteronormative BYU-loving culture?)
-In the general sessions, there were as many speakers drawn from Jeffrey Holland’s immediate family (2) as there were drawn from the entire population of LDS women worldwide (2). And although there were 3 female speakers in the women’s session (because women are allowed to speak to women), they were of course followed by 3 men. For the life of me, I cannot begin to fathom how Church leadership could see that roster and think, “Cool.” In our church, women are not equal. RMN can tell women to speak up in meetings till he’s blue in the face but until he lets more women speak in conference, and until everyone starts quoting women as authoritative sources, it’s meaningless.
My favorite quote from this conference was “We stand adjourned”. It was quite a thing for me to (almost) forget entirely – that it was General Conference Weekend. Oh, I listened here and there; as I was running errands in my car. I certainly didn’t hear anything new; but a rehashing of a very, very tired narrative. BTW: we DO NOT need another Temple in Lindon, Utah. The LDS finance boys must really be needing to transition some of their investment earnings into real estate. We have more than enough Temples along the Wasatch Front.
Good post and comments. Most of the comments have focused on the references to racism. That was not the most noteworthy item to me.
I thought the most noteworthy thing was that DHO condemned people refusing to accept election results that go against one‘s hopes—he used the word „disappointing“
To me, that is a clear shot across the bow of the alt-right pro-Trump conspiracists who are ranting about ballot fraud, in an effort to dispute an election that increasingly looks like a Biden blowout (one can only hope!). I think the Church is worried about the cultish alt-right pro-Trump following in the Church.
Thoughts on this?
I do sometimes wonder why I still come here. Generally, it’s to understand others and to gain sympathy and empathy. Less often, I try to return the favor by commenting occasionally, but I’ve seen less and less of a point to it. I have no idea if W&T has any desire to make inroads with others who think differently than they do, but referring to groups as “crazies” simply won’t do it. Since lurking and then commenting here starting about five years ago, I’m afraid there are authors that I’ve simply lost respect for over time.
When it comes to science, I’m sure there are plenty out there who revel in ignorance. There are others of us who try not to limit our data to epidemiology alone. There’s broader medical science and the fact that thousands of people with diseases other that Covid (and often much worse) will die this year because their treatment has been sidelined. There’s psychological science and the fact in early lockdown we had a year’s worth of average suicides in a four-week period (not to mention what that will do to families of those victims). There’s social science and the fact that domestic abuse has gone up, or that disconnection can readily come with masks. There’s criminal science and the fact that Child trafficking went up during lockdown, and common sense that masks make it more difficult for witnesses to identify both abductor and abductee. There’s also political science and studies that show government generally grows during a crisis and stays there after it subsides.
I’m willing to give people the benefit of a doubt and assume they’re doing the best with the data they have, even if I ultimately deem them ignorant. When people throw words like “crazies” around, I start to feel I’m the more tolerant one in the room.
Work prevented me from seeing half of Conference, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far. It’s doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t take a line on masks. And if they did, and did it contrary to what was hoped for in the OP, I have no doubt someone would quickly mention Elder Ballard’s quote “that members expect too much from Church leaders and teachings — expecting them to be experts in subjects well beyond their duties and responsibilities.” Especially if they don’t fit our worldview.
Agree, Taiwan Missionary. Although I wonder if DHO also (or even primarily) had in mind far-left groups who have threatened not to accept a Trump victory. Regardless of what was in his mind, I think the warning shot found many, many more far-right targets than far-left targets within the Church. DHO might have known that, but he also might have not, and just been railing against civil disobedience (his general theme).
@Taiwan Missionary, I also appreciated that statement, except that the extreme right will assume DHO was talking about the left and pat themselves on the back. (I recognize that the left is also just as capable of refusing to see the beam in its own eyes.)
@Eli, I disagree with a lot of what you’ve said but do agree that reasonable minds can differ and that there are certainly downsides to how some governments have dealt with Covid. I think some states have taken it way too far as if it’s their job to stop anyone from getting sick (it’s not) at any cost to the economy or educational system (and the costs are great). Lots of room for debate there.
But I think when we’re talking about the “crazies” (a word I didn’t use, but understand) we’re talking about the extreme anti-science, pro-Trump crowd who seem to have abandoned all reason. (BTW – there are people on the left who also seem to have abandoned all reason, but they aren’t the ones watching General Conference, so these comments aren’t really talking about that crowd.). The ones showing up in crowds to protest masks (there is not – NOT – a legitimate debate about the effectiveness of masks anymore. They work. Full stop.). The ones who think that God prepared Trump to lead us during this time and act as though he’s practically our Savior and will go out of their way to justify or ignore any number of the absolutely insane, horrible, destructive things he’s done and said. The ones who keep saying “All Lives Matter” and refuse to listen to any of the many good explanations for how that is misconstruing the real issues with race in America. Etc. etc.
There’s plenty of room for reasonable minds to differ on either side of a lot of these issues but there’s an extremist element among many members of the Church that is simply beyond reasonable and probably fairly characterized as crazy. And when a Church sees a significant portion of its membership going down that path, potentially because the “crazies” are misconstruing Church teachings, then yes, I think leaders should address and correct it instead of just letting the dumpster fire burn on.
In other words, Don‘t be a mask-hole!
“There’s broader medical science and the fact that thousands of people with diseases other that Covid (and often much worse) will die this year because their treatment has been sidelined.”
Without lockdowns it would have been way worse. Hospitals would have been completely overwhelmed.
“There’s also political science and studies that show government generally grows during a crisis and stays there after it subsides.”
Yes. All the presidents most Americans can agree are heroes increased the size of the government. Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR. The size of the government went down after FDR, particularly under Reagan. Having a large government isn’t inherently bad. Countries that have more central control are fairing far better in the COVID crisis. In fact, I blame libertarianism for why the US has the most cases. If we could back in time, our economic situation would be far better had the US lockdown been stricter and earlier.
On masks, I wear a mask to help keep the economy open. I wear a mask because myriad studies show just effective they are at stopping the spread of COVID. Those protesting masks because of ” freedom” have a myopic view of freedom. Freedom from the coronavirus is the most important freedom right now. By obsessing about whatever downsides mask-wearing might have (i.e., can’t identify suspects as easily) and ignoring the clear and overwhelming advantages, you exhibit extreme myopia about the issue of freedom. So much so that I highly question if you care about freedom at all.
“First, Angela C, you should watch Cook’s talk and Nelson’s talk. Their condemnations of racism were fairly progressive. ”
Progressive by what measure? Their talks amounted to “don’t be racist.” That was a pretty progressive message…in 1950.
What I heard were largely meaningless platitudes. Sadly, I suppose “don’t be racist” is a progressive message for the church in 2020.
This GC contained more relevant and timely messages compared to last April’s. But part of it still feels disingenuous to me because leaders appear to craft talks that are designed to address their problems without telling members what those problems are. For example:
1. There’s anecdotal evidence that many temples are underutilized. Rather than admit this and ask members to make temple attendance a focal point, Elder Rasband gives a talk about how we should want to be “recommended to the Lord.” This message may also be intended to address another problem in the church, which is that a growing number of members are unwilling to subject themselves to worthiness interviews. BTW, I loved Elisa’s succinct comment above about worthiness and recommends.
2. Also, RMN continues to encourage members to prepare for the second coming by participating in the “gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil” which I understand includes temple work. It would be easy to conclude that this is another way of trying to deal with the problem of having built too many temples too soon at a time when many members are less interested in attending.
3. RMN’s call to stamp out racism was good, but it’s 40+ years overdue. So why the clear statement now? With racism being such an issue in the US, I wonder if their real concern is that they haven’t been able to dispel the cloud of racism that still hangs over the Church and they want members to help them solve this problem. I thought it was significant that later that day the following headline appeared in the Deseret News (a church-owned daily newspaper in Utah): ” Historic conference puts the focus on member responsibility to stamp out racism.” Rather than transfer this problem to members, current church leaders should be honest and acknowledge that prior leaders made a terrible mistake, apologize, and let the chips fall where they may.
4. There also were comments designed to make the missionary program appear to be functioning well, when there’s ample evidence that it’s still struggling.
In short, I wonder if the format, and the sometimes disingenuous delivery of GC, needs to be replaced with something that’s fresh and authentic.
One final thought: I don’t recall hearing any GC talks about tithing since it was discovered that the church has at least $100 Billion+ in investments under management. This, along with the economic impact of the pandemic, must have caused donations to decline but I expect it will take a few more GC’s before they can address that problem.
@Dave F great point about addressing problems without actually identifying them.
They did the same thing during the Ordain Women years; at the time I would honestly have loved it if they’d just said, “hey we know a lot of women want to be ordained and we feel for them but we’re not going to do it and here’s why.” (I mean, I don’t love that answer, but I’d have loved a sincere and direct acknowledgement of the problem and pain).
Ditto Pres Nelson’s BYU devotional where he just “happened” to have a great example about revelation to explain the POX flip-flop when it’s so obvious that the entire point of his talk was to justify that change. Maybe this prevents exposing unaware listeners to problems, but it would be way more effective and honest to simply address things directly. I almost wonder if the culture talk (which was strange to me) is addressing some problem I’m not aware of.
Interesting comment about tithing (and of course we’ve also not seen any acknowledgement of the $100B) but again that’s covered by the “get your recommend” talk. So that’s a great roundabout way to get people to pay.
Part of me wonders if all of the new temple announcements are partially intended to make members feel like the church is growing and is really successful. Honestly, feels a little like a Ponzi scheme.
Like Eli, I like to come here every now and then to listen to varying viewpoints. However, I find it tiresome the tendency to always assume the worst from the Leaders of the Church. Is it really all that necessary?
For example, when it come to Temples, one might take in consideration that the new temples being built are smaller in capacity, less ornate and in more remote locations than what they used to be. It might give another reason for the surge in temple building (a change in priorities maybe) than the one proposed above.
I don’t think it’s helping anyone to keep complaining about how the Leaders aren’t doing things the way we want them to. If instead we tried to understand why they might do things differently, or why their priorities don’t match ours? It doesn’t mean we have to agree with every decision that comes from Salt Lake (I know I don’t).
That attitude of self-righteousness and self-justification is what is poisoning our societies. Not the fact that opinions can be as diverse and contradictory as possible, but our inability to reach beyond our ideological viewpoints and understand others is.
If all you can do is be innocent from racism, extremism, unkindness and so forth, good. Its better than expecting change to happen from above and not act on it. It goes against the principle of agency and it gives the brethren more power on someone’s life than I would judge necessary.
a bon entendeur
I was uncomfortable about calling others crazies, but I find trump supporters frustrating, because they talk in Trump facts,which are usually lies, but they can not considder that possibility.
I understand there are reasons why church leaders could not explicitly say vote one way or the other. Were there any subtle messages, one way or the other?
1. A group of people all social distancing, and wearing masks. Not Trump
2. Racism is bad and we must work to eradicate it. Not Trump
3. Demonstrations are constitutional, but violence is bad. 93% of BLM protests peacefull, violence come with white supremacists, or heavy handed policing. Not Trump
4. Contention, and bullying and hatred of the devil Not Trump
5.Zion society, one mind, and no poor among them Not Trump
6. Remove our prejudices, and find our moral compass. Not Trump supporters.
7. Heal society by being Christlike, honest, peacemakers, living and respecting our fellow men, be kind, humble, caring. Not Trump
8 Racial and other Diversity, and love can go together Not Trump
9. Be subject to law, oppose anarchy. Not Trump
10. Peacefully accept the results of elections. Not Trump
11. Loyalty to established law, not temporary leader. Not Trump
12. There were no warnings about socialism. Not Trump
13. Nothing about masks = attack on religious freedom. Not Trump
These are all from the Saturday morning session, mostly Oaks. Because of time zones we usually watch Sunday sessions next Sunday.
I’m sure you will have interpreted things differently. I saw a Sumary of Oaks talk on a conservative site as condemning race riots, nothing else.
@Guest, I didn’t see very many (if any) people here “assume the worst” about leaders. A person can think that the leaders are good people and have good intent and still think and express that their decisions and actions are wrong / ineffective / destructive. Given that a good chunk of LDS folks think leaders are perfect and can do no wrong, it’s refreshing to come to a corner of the Internet where people have some freedom to think and speak.
Also, where there is evidence of bad intent, assuming good intent is no longer rational. I think manipulation and lying are one of those areas. Yes, I still think there is good intent in some way (“keep people in the boat”) but manipulating people to get them to do what you want and withholding truth from people (in addition to breaking the “thou shalt not bear false witness” commandment) runs counter to one of our most cherished doctrines: agency. I do not believe people can be free to choose if they do not have accurate information, so I won’t readily excuse manipulation and dishonesty even if it comes from a place of leaders wanting what they think is best for people (obedience).
I can see where the temple comment seems particularly cynical and I will own that. I don’t doubt leaders think temples are wonderful and I don’t doubt that many people, especially in those remote areas, will be happy to have one. So I’m happy for them. But I don’t think it’s unfair to think it’s a little bit of a show too or that there are a lot of other things we could be spending time and money on. Doesn’t have to be just one or the other.
I have a new dislike for the word “myopic.”
@Chet, 100%. Such a dismissive attitude towards that granddaughter.
RMN is obsessed with words about eyes (“myopic,” “inoculate”). Reminds me of The Tell-tale Heart (and his profile is sort of vulterine). It’s creepy.
I was pleased overall with Conference. My expectations were pretty low after last time; I filled in my Conference bingo card with “Oaks trashes gays” with as much certainty of crossing it off as “Eyring cries,” “covenant path,” “combover,” and “supernal.” I’ve never been so happy to not get a bingo. Oaks’s talk had me wary at first. Were there really any Conference-attending Mormons toppling police cars to need that rebuke?! But I think going there gave him more credibility with the right. I was pleasantly surprised that he all but supported the protests and acknowledged that racism is a problem. Right-leaning Mormons I know believe that there is no racism, unless maybe against white people. I agree with others who’ve said that the talks condemning racism were well intended but likely to be misconstrued and miss their mark.
I was waiting for a clarification that “God’s culture” is not equal to current Mormon culture, but it didn’t come. It will likely be interpreted as “Immigrants need to learn God’s English and worship the flag.”
@Elisa, thank you for your reply!
To be honest, I might have gotten too quickly on my high horses and came out more harsh then I originally intended. I definitely agree with you about the tendency Salt Lake has to put up a show (e. g. the “16 million” members we keep hearing about, the World report …) and not everything is “well in Zion, indeed”. One great example is the story behind the implemantation of the “quick baptism”culture in Missionary Work in the 60ies, which, despite it being catastrophic, it somehow can’t seem to get away completely.
I agree that we would gain a lot with more transparency on the Brethren’s side regarding issues the Church faces or concerns the Brethren have.
Though, even with the best of intents, I’m not sure I’d do any better than any of the brethren if I was parachuted in their place, and therefore, don’t feel comfortable being overly critical, without a full knowledge of what happens behind closed doors. I assume they try to do their best, the way they know best…and over time I’ve figured it was a healthy way to view people in general (obviously, without being too candid either, boundaries are important, right?)
I feel most comfortable with the church when I regard leaders as an instrument in God’s hand among others in helping us becoming holier rather than the infaillible giants some claim to believe in. I can understand that not everyone feels the same.
I really enjoy this blog because of the different perspective it has regarding things church related. It is very thought provoking, despite some of the repetitive ranting one can find.
Thanks for the comments, everyone. What a strange and critical time we live in.
Elisa said, “I agree that this conference was much, much better than April’s.” I agree, even though I haven’t had a chance yet to circle back and listen to or read all the talks. Let’s not lose sight of what looks like a “two steps forward” Conference.
Taiwan Missionary said, “I thought the most noteworthy thing was that DHO condemned people refusing to accept election results that go against one‘s hopes.” Just another example showing how Covid and the present political election (political crisis?) loomed over this Conference. For once, Pres. Oaks’ comments were productive, it seems.
Eli said, “I do sometimes wonder why I still come here.” Because we have interesting discussions! Because your voice is heard and your comments published! Thanks for participating.
Dave F., all valid points. The only Big Vision of the Church at the moment is temples, temples, temples. Missionary work is no longer productive. In the public PR sense, it’s all defensive, trying to shore up the declining public image of the Church. In the internal PR sense, it’s all apologetics and it’s not a particularly successful initiative.
Guest said, “Like Eli, I like to come here every now and then to listen to varying viewpoints. However, I find it tiresome the tendency to always assume the worst from the Leaders of the Church.” First, comments are welcome and a commenter can always redress the perceived bias of the opening post. But it’s tough to assume the best about statements from LDS leaders when they are so habitually non-transparent and misleading in their statements. It’s just hard to take almost any substantive leadership statement at face value. So we discuss them here — in civil terms but with candor and an attempt to get at the facts of the matter. If we get to the point that it simply becomes unacceptable for Mormons to talk publicly about the facts of the matter on any point concerning the Church, well what would that say about the Church? “Truth will prevail” was once a motto of the Church. Lately, too often, it seems like the leadership thinks truth is inconvenient and even threatening; truth has to be managed. How did it come to this?
Elisa wrote “But I think when we’re talking about the “crazies” (a word I didn’t use, but understand) we’re talking about the extreme anti-science, pro-Trump crowd who seem to have abandoned all reason.”
I know some extremely rational people who support Trump. It seems like they often get lumped into this and it’s hard to see, but I totally understand where you’re coming from.
” (there is not – NOT – a legitimate debate about the effectiveness of masks anymore. They work. Full stop.)”
There are still a few very recent studies that say otherwise, but gun to the head, I’d say you’re more right than not. That’s not the question many anti-maskers are asking though. We’re talking about a disease that for most of the population symptoms will be much less serious than the flu, if any at all. There are thousands of physicians advocating for “Focused Protection,” in which we allow the at-risk and their primary caregivers to take every precaution, while the rest of us live life as we always have done and let the virus take its course. I personally think this is the most reasonable and most likely the most life-saving in the long run, and not just in terms of Covid.
John W writes “Yes. All the presidents most Americans can agree are heroes increased the size of the government. Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR. The size of the government went down after FDR, particularly under Reagan.”
I’ve heard Coolidge was the last President to see government downsized rather than just its growth slowed, but you’d know better than I would (advanced history degree if I remember, correct?). The more I study Coolidge, the more I like him. I fully realize big government isn’t a recent phenomenon.
“So much so that I highly question if you care about freedom at all.” Man, you always love to turn it around, don’t you? I think we’ve traded enough comments with each other that you’d know me better than that by now. I’m certainly willing to give you the benefit of a doubt, even if I disagree with you. I would just reiterate what I said to Elisa above concerning masks.
Dave B. writes “Because we have interesting discussions! Because your voice is heard and your comments published! Thanks for participating.”
Okay, that made me smile and reconsider the genuine worth of exchanging ideas. Thank you.
Eli, “‘So much so that I highly question if you care about freedom at all.”’ Man, you always love to turn it around, don’t you?”
Don’t take it personally. What I mean is that do you care about the larger issues of personal freedom and ways to achieve it, or are you just concerned about the size of the government? Because the way I see the coronavirus crisis is that likely greater and long-term freedom is on the horizon if we sacrifice a few freedoms in the short term and do so by trusting public health officials with the levers of government. Second, government power and personal freedom aren’t at opposite ends of a spectrum. Personal freedom does not automatically decrease when governments increase in size nor does personal freedom increase with a smaller government. Large governments have been and can be instrumental in increasing personal freedoms. With all sorts of environmental and resource crises looming in the future, massive economic and social reorganization, which will inevitably necessitate large governments, will be necessary. I believe it is our best way to optimizing personal freedom.
Hmm. I think we had a similar conversation months ago, but I’d still have to disagree. I’d rather a virus or the environment take a figurative gun to my head and force me to make sacrifices in order to achieve a better lifestyle than have government do so with a path to upgrading that gun to a literal one. Your view sounds very optimistic. I feel like mine places optimism in the individual and his or her ability to collaborate, innovate, and willingly sacrifice when needed. I think freedom will generally find a way.
You’re confirming what I wrote. Your concern is only a very narrow freedom from the government. Not any larger freedom that can be achieved through the government. An Imperial College study from its biostatistics department showed that tens of millions of people would have died from COVIS-19 by now had governments around the world not intervened through various forms of lockdown. The ultimate freedom is life and health for as many people as possible. Having order and good planning is the only way to achieve that moving forward. And order and planning can only only come from a large central body.
Lastly, the ironic thing about libertarians is that they are too gripped by government-phobia (which is clearly what your suffering from) to actually do anything about the size of the government. This, I believe, is why the Libertarian Party is not winning any elections. To reduce the size of the government you have to be in the government. And libertarians have too strong an aversion to the government to do anything about it.
PS, stylistic note. It is preferable to write ‘the’ government, governing bodies, or have an adjective in front (I.e., local government, federal government). If you write “government” without an article or adjective preceding, it comes off as conspiratorial and paranoid.
Eli do you see that collaboration, innovation and willing sacrifice taking place? I think if I did I’d feel very different about the issues.
And wearing a mask doesn’t stop any of those qualities being exhibited. It may show your commitment to your fellow human as being greater than your commitment to your own convenience.
I live in QLD Australia, which is a state with a population of 5 million. Utah and Idaho combined) We had a strict lockdown and interstate and national borders closed. If you came in you were quarinteened in a hotel for 2 weeks(at your expense). We have not had a new case for 3 weeks, have 4 active cases, and have had a total of 6 deaths. Everything is back to normal except travel, and tourism. This is what can be achieved with all people working together. That is what some governors are trying to do, but cannot achieve, because Americans are so divided.
What is all this about small government? An example that struck me. In Florida very few beaches open to the public, all privately owned, by wealthy. When we were there we asked where we could go on the beach, 30 minutes down the road 100 yards of public beach. In Australia all beaches are open to the public, there are lifeguards on the beach, there are showers as you come off beaches, and picnic areas behind the beaches with toilets, and free BBQs. Small government in Florida, and big government in Australia. Why is Florida preferable?
I’m sure it must be frustrating having to explain things to a simpleton like me. It’s a good thing you’ve got me completely figured out. 😉
In all seriousness, studies aside, I think the reality in some countries is showing otherwise. I won’t be too quick to dismiss those studies, however. I’ll weigh it out with other data.
Although I do have a lot of libertarian leanings, I can’t bring myself to use the label entirely. There are a few things I disagree with them on. I certainly won’t rule out more involvement in THE government at a later time, but at this time in my life, aside from exercising my rights and responsibilities as a citizen, I leave it to others I’ve come to trust.
As I’ve studied our founders, two things that have stood out to me are. 1. They were actually more politically diverse than many realize, and 2. They were paranoid men and women. Doing my best to study World and American History objectively, having a small and non-debilitating paranoia with the government seems a reasonable, appropriate, and healthy position to have.
Wayfarer writes “Eli do you see that collaboration, innovation and willing sacrifice taking place?”
If I were to look at things purely through your eyes, I could see how the answer would be no, but you’re still working under the assumption that all anti-maskers do this for their own convenience. I see a much more diverse crowd.
There are those you mention, who couldn’t care less about others. They’re admittedly quite a loud group and probably get the most media time.
There are those I’ve mentioned, who actually feel letting this disease run its course among the healthy will save more lives in the long run.
There are those who adore masks but come across as anti-mask only because they don’t feel it right that they should be mandated by the government under any circumstance.
Maybe the majority feels indeed that we should all be wearing masks. Fine. Should they be inflicting that view through the government onto those who don’t? I don’t think so. Not when it’s the government’s job to protect the rights of the individual. I’m all for educating the masses, but not inflicting majority rule. Majorities can often be wrong. If not so, we’d likely be having this discussion in a Catholic Forum.
For the record, I’m not a jerk when it comes to masks. I’ll even wear it in my own home if someone wants to see me but would otherwise be uncomfortable coming over. I respect the rights of businesses and employers to request it. Truth be told, I generally just avoid situations where wearing a mask would remotely make any sense whatsoever which, as it turns out, isn’t hugely different from how I lived before this pandemic started (currently re-evaluating whether I’m an even bigger introvert than I thought I was).
General Conference – I caught about half of it:
1 – Greatly dislike “Covenant Path” – it is undefined and feels like one of those belovedly ambiguous terms that can be used to judge and bully.
2 – Racism condemnation may not have gone as far as I would like, but it does give us the license to talk about in church meetings. I found that most members are willing to engage this topic but are very hesitant to initiate a discussion.
My youngest is Black. There wasn’t a Sunday that passed without some sort racist or white supremacist comment or attitude. At age 13, she couldn’t bring herself to attend anymore.
3 – “Recommended to the Lord” – We’ll start hearing this a lot. On the surface, it is silly that we need the signatures of two men to be recommended to God. “Who’s this “BeenThere fellow? Well, a Bishop and a Stake President recommended him to me, so I guess he’s OK.” I know from friends and family that temple events (sealings, live endowments, etc.) often drive getting a recommend — which requires full tithes. So someone may be paying for three months to get a recommend and then take off paying for a few years until the next event. “Recommended to the Lord” puts pressure for consistent temple recommend “worthine$$”.
4 – People look to GC for solace. Having lost two sons (ages 12 and 15) to cancer, I have sat with hundreds of grieving parents in support groups both as a “client” and as a facilitator. A few years back, Elder Shane Bowen told of the tragic death of their baby. He was frank in describing their grief and the comfort their family received. In the meeting the Monday after conference weekend, parents wept at how they felt supported and “seen” and that their grief was affirmed.
Contrast that with a talk by Elder Eyring a few years later in which he said that his father didn’t cry when his mother died because of his sure knowledge of God’s plan. The same sentiment expressed this time by Pres. Nelson: “Myopic”. Where is the mourning with and comforting (part of the covenant path?) in that? We had one TBM family with 10 kids whose baby died choking on a balloon. Dad didn’t attend the group with the family. He came to a service project and I made a point to meet him. Almost immediately he said, “I have such a strong testimony that I don’t grieve.”
The message that is usually sent to the grieving and unconsolable is that they are doing it wrong. A bishop untold my wife that it had been long enough and she should get over it. “Everyone’s lost someone.”
5 – “Bitter Fruit”. When I heard this I wretched. My youngest is adopted. She was born out of wedlock. Born as beautiful and innocent as any baby. I surely hope that Elder Christopherson did not intend for that sentence to carry such an ugly inference. I’m not sure how it passed the proofreaders. I hope to God that no one feels the need to share this with my girl.
6 – There are 4 operating temples in Utah Valley – 2 under construction – and now #7 announced for Lindon. I assume the numbers support this or they wouldn’t spend the money.