With General Conference hitting this weekend, I’ve been thinking about my best and worst General Conferences experiences. Note I said “experiences” because I don’t really mean favorite / least favorite talk. Rather, I mean the way I experienced that talk in the moment. It would be hard for me to pick a favorite talk (I have plenty) and it would also be hard to pick a worst (I have plenty). But it’s easy for me to remember my best and worst experiences. Here they are.

Best: President Hinckley delivering his talk The Times in Which We Live in October 2001. This was weeks after 9/11, and I was living in Washington, D.C. as a college student. This was, needless to say, a stressful time to be living in D.C. far away from family. I had classmates who lost family members in the attacks and I watched them scream and cry on campus as we watched smoke pouring out of the Pentagon. I couldn’t reach my family for most of the day because phone lines were jammed, and I had friends who had to walk for miles to get back to campus because public transportation shut down (and, in the meantime, I couldn’t reach them either). D.C. turned into a tense and unsettling place in the wake of the attacks, with military vehicles filling the quaint streets of Georgetown and armed military and law enforcement at every corner–it was pretty surreal to pass navigate through that kind of military presence just trying to walk into J. Crew or Benetton on M Street. I lived right under a flight path into Ronald Reagan National Airport and, while flights were grounded for a time after 9/11, once they resumed it was unsettling to hear the air traffic above and wonder if we were safe. To top it off, there was also a set of anthrax attacks via mail to several D.C. locations (we stopped getting mail for a while as a result).

I was anxious in a way I’d never been anxious before and eager to hear some comfort during General Conference–which I was watching, incidentally, in a friend’s apartment across the street from the Pentagon where we could see the wreckage of the attacks. When President Hinckley opened his talk by announcing that he had just been handed a note stating that a United States missile attack in response to 9/11 was underway, we realized this explained the flurry of overhead activity (military jets) that had been building in the airspace over Virginia and D.C. while we had been watching conference.

I recognize, now, problems with that talk. The American exceptionalism; the prosperity gospel; the idea that we earn blessings by obedience. But there were also some really beautiful things–including a call to reach out to our Muslim neighbors and not to blame or mistreat them. Most of all, in that moment, for me, it was supremely comforting to hear someone I believed was a prophet of God and trusted with all of my heart specifically address the attacks, the pending military conflict, the economic and other uncertainty we were facing (recall it was also the dot.com bust). He didn’t try to minimize that, but he did tell us we could feel peace anyway. And for the first time in a month, I did.

These closing paragraphs in particular still brings tears to me 21 years later remembering how relieved I felt when he delivered them:

Now, brothers and sisters, we must do our duty, whatever that duty might be. Peace may be denied for a season. Some of our liberties may be curtailed. We may be inconvenienced. We may even be called on to suffer in one way or another. But God our Eternal Father will watch over this nation and all of the civilized world who look to Him. He has declared, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12). Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God.

Let us be prayerful. Let us pray for righteousness. Let us pray for the forces of good. Let us reach out to help men and women of goodwill, whatever their religious persuasion and wherever they live. Let us stand firm against evil, both at home and abroad. Let us live worthy of the blessings of heaven, reforming our lives where necessary and looking to Him, the Father of us all. He has said, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes. We can be an influence for good in this world, every one of us.

May the God of heaven, the Almighty, bless us, help us, as we walk our various ways in the uncertain days that lie ahead. May we look to Him with unfailing faith. May we worthily place our reliance on His Beloved Son who is our great Redeemer, whether it be in life or in death, is my prayer in His holy name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

For me, it was a talk I turned to over and over during times of turmoil. I think it’s a pretty great example of real spiritual leadership during a time of crisis (and I couldn’t help but compare it to the General Conference in April 2020, which did an absolutely terrible job of addressing the Covid crisis).

Worst: There are some good candidates for this one, but I would have to say that Boyd Packer’s Cleansing the Inner Vessel wins. This talk was delivered in October 2010, six months after I found out a close personal relation was gay. Although I had always been uncomfortable and confused about the Church’s position on homosexuality and gay marriage, I did not really, truly wrestle and grapple with the issue until that time when it became a lot more concrete and immediate to me. I was trying so hard to reconcile Church teachings with my personal feelings about homosexuality and (still limited, but suddenly expanded) experience with gay people. I didn’t know much, but one thing I knew without a doubt: this person had not chosen to be gay. I had known them their entire life, and I knew that as certainly as I knew the Church was true (which I strongly believed at the time).

During the live version of this talk, Packer said the following:

“Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.”

I was thunderstruck, because for the first time–ever–I knew that what was being preached over the pulpit in General Conference was wrong. Absolutely, dangerously, tragically wrong.

I wasn’t indignant like I would be in a similar situation now; I was crushed. Devastated. I wanted to believe these men spoke for God. I needed to believe these men spoke for God. And none of the usual “it’s not doctrine” excuses to previous Church mistakes help up because this was a General Conference talk by the person next in line to be prophet!!! If that’s not doctrine, what is?

It was somewhat comforting when this talk was (infamously) altered in the printed version to say:

“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.”

This, unlike the original spoken version, gave wiggle room to argue (as other Church leaders had equivocated) that people may be born gay (we just don’t know! was the line at the time). It also showed that perhaps if an apostle goes crazy in a talk, measures will be taken to address (although of course no apology or explanation was given–just a quiet change in the printed version).

Still, it was a painful, watershed event for me. It was many years of wrestling before I got comfortable with the idea that prophets can be wrong, about anything, any time. I still get mad when they teach harmful things because I believe it’s harmful to my community. But that moment stands out as the very first moment that I disagreed with something said by a living Church leader, and it was terrifying to me. I could and would never go back to the kind of faith I had then, but boy, it was pretty cozy while it lasted.


  • Who remembers those talks and did you have similar or different experiences?
  • What are your best and worst General Conference experiences?
  • Are there talks that you no longer really agree with because your beliefs have shifted but for which you still feel a lot of nostalgia over?
  • Does the distinction between “experiences” vs. “talks” make sense? Do you have a favorite or least favorite General Conference “experience” that is different from your favorite or least favorite General Conference “talk”?
  • Do you plan to watch this weekend? I listened last time and my summary post was really fun and generated great comments. (It’s also my most-read post, which is funny because it was pretty quick to write–although I suppose listening to 10 hours of conference in order to do so means it wasn’t actually that quick to write.). But I don’t know that I’ll listen this time around. We’ll see.