After yet another historic LDS General Conference, I’m here today with my take on Conference, high/low style.
High – I’m shocked to report that Andersen’s talk was probably a high – not usually a fan at all. But it was a weak session overall, and I appreciated his shout-out to the Church working on LGBTQ legislation in Arizona (even though I’m well aware that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, was never going to pass, and that the Church gets involved in this so that it can ensure it has a religious exemption … Anderson just saying that in Conference is still nice), and his focus on being peacemakers and reaching out to people no matter their religious background: “Jesus taught us in the parable of the good Samaritan that those of different beliefs should sincerely reach out to help everyone in need, being peacemakers, pursuing good and noble causes.”
Honorable mention – I am glad that Nelson opened the conference by talking about the war and the pandemic; this seems an improvement over previous conferences that seemed ignorant of global problems. I thought Aburto did a good job trying to be inclusive, but this is not her best talk by a long shot IMO.
Low – Eyring’s talk was based on the idea that the world is getting worse and worse, and more and more wicked (a sentiment that was echoed in many talks, including Nelson’s Sunday talks). Ditto Bednar, which is not surprising. This idea bothers me. First of all, if you are a woman, the world is actually better than it ever has been. We only got the vote in the U.S. 100 years ago! The same could probably be said for other marginalized groups, but I’ll let them speak for themselves. Second, it seems overly pessimistic and self-defeating – like, the world is getting so bad, can’t wait till Jesus comes and burns it (which doesn’t give us a lot of motivation to try to improve things). Anyway, I could do a whole post on why I don’t like this attitude (which I hear a lot at Church). The rest of Eyring’s message might have been fine, but his Debbie Downer start and framing wrecked it for me. Also, I want someone to acknowledge that for many people, the Church is their biggest storm in life, not their refuge. Wishful thinking.
Dishonorable mention – I did not appreciate Nelson’s injunction that every man needs to serve a mission (I haven’t really heard that lately, I thought we were coming around to maybe missions aren’t the best thing for everyone, especially kids with mental health problems), nor did I appreciate the continued “but it’s optional for girls!” distinction as it continues to suggest that women are more suited to marry and have babies than to preach the gospel. Ditto the same sentiment in Ballard’s talk. Missionary work was a heavy theme; missionary numbers are down about 20k from pre-Covid numbers (and I have also heard more women are serving than men). I wish they would just own and acknowledge that problem instead of pretending like everything is great.
High – Kearon’s talk on abuse was the best of all of Conference (Wright was a close second). And it was probably the best talk on abuse I’ve heard in General Conference ever. He gave hope and talked of healing from abuse, but without the spiritual bypassing that we see in a lot of these kinds of talks. Some favorite quotes:
“You can survive. You have, in fact, already been rescued. You have already been saved — by the One who has suffered the very torment you are suffering and endured the very agony you are enduring. Jesus has overcome the abuses of this world to give you power to not only survive, but one day, through Him, to overcome and even conquer.”
“God does not now, nor has He ever, seen you as someone to be despised. Whatever has happened to you, He is NOT ashamed of you or disappointed in you. He loves you in a way you have yet to discover.”
“Jesus specializes in the seemingly impossible. He came here to make the impossible possible, the irredeemable redeemable, to heal the unhealable, to right the unrightable and to promise the unpromisable. And He’s really good at it. In fact, He’s perfect at it.”
Honorable mentions – the new General Relief Society and Primary Presidencies are pretty awesome. They include a black woman and several career women, a widow and a cancer survivor, single women and married women, younger women and older women. Great diversity of background and experience. I also appreciated that Gong’s talk on family history was more than just temples but actually learning the stories of and connecting with ancestors, which is a refreshing approach.
Low – Hamilton’s talk, which jumped on Nelson’s “conditional love” bandwagon. He analogized God to a “computer program” that, like software, operates with conditional statements. Umm, did that characteristic of God-as-computer come by way or reason or revelation? “Even God’s love, though infinite and perfect, is also subject to conditions.” Yuck. He also told a story about his wife’s grandfather who strayed from the covenant path only to get back on it and totally turn his life around in his old age. While perhaps privacy concerns prevented Hamilton from sharing more, it seems like a lot of these stories suggest that simply not attending Church makes someone a bad person and then attending again makes them good again. It’s not like he was a wife-beater as far as one could tell.
Dishonorable mention – not a single woman prayed or spoke; Holland’s talk addressing suicide missed the mark for me. I am glad someone addressed suicide and agree it is a problem worth addressing, but just telling people “don’t commit suicide” without addressing underlying issues like mental health and–in our Church–homophobia rang a little hollow, especially since Holland heaped abuse onto our most vulnerable population (with no apology) just a few months ago. He also said that problems not resolved by Church leadership might be “our cross to bear,” which again smacked me as incredibly insensitive to all the LGBTQ folks bearing a cross that Holland himself made heavier in August. (The CDC recently came out with a report stating that nearly 1 in 4 LGBTQ teens attempted suicide in the first half of 2021.)
High – Porter’s talk was focused on Jesus’s New Testament teachings, and I liked her analogy of salt, light, and leaven: “Even in very small amounts, each affects everything around them. The Savior invites us to use His power to be as salt, leaven and light.”
Honorable mention – A woman “conducted” the meeting (I believe that is a first) and there were (just barely) more women speakers than men, which hasn’t happened since Nelson became prophet and the First Presidency commandeered women’s session. [4/7/22 correction: someone let me know women have conducted this meeting before; I think what was new was a female voiceover announcing the conference.]
Low – Renlund repeating fallacious and harmful talking points about how our teachings on Heavenly Mother are unique (not really, the feminine divine has been around for ages, this just seems an attempt to claim ownership of Her), how we “don’t know” anything about Heavenly Mother” (if all he knows is what’s the in the essay, then he’s a pretty bad theologist because there’s a lot more out there than that …), how “speculation” is harmful (women’s theological work and experiences aren’t speculation, sir), and how it’s “arrogant” to demand revelation (I was under the impression Jesus told us to knock, seek, and ask). More here if you’re interested (written before Conference but based on talking points that pre-date Conference–Renlund has already given a nearly-identical response on Heavenly Mother, at least twice, so still relevant).
Dishonorable mention – I’m trying to keep to one generally but there are too many: Oaks making it bizarrely clear that the men are in charge of the women’s meeting; Craven demonstrating total cluelessness about what we and our kids are struggling with (trotting out modesty examples as her best examples of “temptations” and “righteousness”) and emphasizing the same toxic perfectionism she’s emphasized before; the opening song being “We Listen to a Prophet’s Voice” (not a good sign of things to come); and repeated, emphatic references to “Heavenly Father” instead of “Heavenly Parents” (which many noted was a theme during conference and a departure from recent trends towards the use of Heavenly Parents—text is not available yet but when it is I imagine there will be an analysis of the decline of the use of “Heavenly Parents” this session.)
High – Wright gave the other best talk of the weekend – a beautiful talk about healing and reconciliation in relationships: “He is the source of healing all that is broken in our lives. As the great Mediator and Advocate with the Father, Christ sanctifies and restores broken relationships.” Her talk was totally based in scriptures and the word of Jesus instead of just quoting of general authorities as way too many other talks do. She talked about forgiveness, but also recognized that forgiveness can take time, and told beautiful stories about her cancer ordeal. “There is nothing in your life that is broken that is beyond the curative, redeeming and enabling power of Jesus Christ.”
Honorable mention – I liked Nelson’s call for us to end personal conflicts: “I plead with you to do all you can to end personal conflicts that are currently raging in your hearts and in your lives.” I know I personally have felt the need to move on from some hurt feelings and conflicts over my ward’s handling of Covid and all the Trump flags flying in the neighborhood, so this was a good reminder.
Low – Rasband’s talk on religious freedom. A wealthy, white, privileged, powerful man whining about persecution is not a good look. While there are certainly religious freedom issues in the world – like the Uyghers in China, for example – and it is entirely possible there are pockets of the world where LDS folks can’t worship the way they want to, for the most part the persecution talk is overblown and really means “stop getting after us for being sexist and homophobic.”
Dishonorable mention – I’m really tired of the “covenant path” catchphrase. I’m not totally sure what it even means – is that just shorthand for “obey every single commandment ever”? Seems like a poor way to prioritize. I don’t like that it suggests that going to Church and attending the temple is the sum total of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and has little to do with being a kind or loving person. Come to think of it, I don’t like that it fundamentally ties people to the Church (since the Church is where we obtain covenants) instead of Jesus. Would way prefer we talk about being a disciple of Christ. Also, as some have noted, studying the Old Testament this year has shown that the Abrahamic Covenant literally did not obligate Abraham to do anything. God fulfilled both ends of the bargain! Try that on for size Nelson.
High – This was not a great session. While I didn’t love most of the talk, I did like the concept of being “in awe” of Jesus from Soares. I wish there were more awe-inspiring moments in Conference but I find plenty in other places.
Honorable mention – Uchtdorf’s talk was fine, but I feel he’s gone downhill the last couple of years.
Low – Oaks was the worst talk all weekend – and that’s saying a lot, when you had a talk like Renlund’s. It may also have been Oaks worst talk ever. Also saying a lot. Kind of like a “worst of” highlight reel. Since 2017, he has been operating like a judge trying to lay a line of precedent that will make it hard to undo anything in the Proclamation on the Family. In 2017 and 2018, he gave a talk that elevated the proclamation as doctrine even though it isn’t. In this weekend’s talk, he characterized the Proclamation as “unchangeable doctrine.” In 2019, he started on his “two great commandments” train to explain that we can’t love LGBT folks too much and let us know not to worry – that our LGBTQ siblings will be super happy in the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms (a theme he repeated this weekend, and worthy of its own post, so more to come there). And now, he’s not only elevated the Family Proclamation to doctrine but claimed multiple times in his talk that Church policy comes from God. That’s right folks. Time to add the Church Handbook of Instructions to our Come Follow Me curriculum. We don’t know a darn thing about Heavenly Mother, yet God has chosen to reveal hundreds of pages of instructions to us about how to run a Church and what God thinks of vasectomies and surrogacy.
Dishonorable mention – no women spoke or prayed, and Klebingat’s talk was total D*zN@t fodder. If I summed it up, it would be “it’s ok if we have to be jerks to live the gospel – that’s just part of the path of discipleship. If you’re not offending people right and left, you’re not following Jesus.”
“Today it is almost impossible to courageously live faithfully without opposition and scorn. But faith in Christ means one need not fear the reproach of men.
We can accept and respect others without endorsing their beliefs or actions that do not align with the Lord’s will. There is no need to sacrifice truth on the altar of agreeableness and social desirability.”
A real missed opportunity, too, because Klebingat was a mission president in Kyiv and could have talked about relief efforts or something uplifting instead.
And that’s a wrap, folks.
- What were your Conference high/lows? Anything I should give another shot at listening to (for better or for worse)?
- Any topics or talks that you’d like to see a whole post on?
- Any trends you’ve noticed this Conference (or the last few)?