Five Things I Liked from General Conference

Note that I did a separate post on the General Women’s Meeting here and posted notes from the Saturday afternoon session here. Some things I liked from conference:

1. President Packer’s talk, with its focus on the atonement. It was also remarkably inclusive, quoting a woman’s spiritual experience, emphasizing that the gospel is for everyone, with references to the body of Christ and the importance of each member. It was difficult for me to see him appear to be in physical distress.

2. I think having speakers speak in their native languages is a great move. Every time I see evidence of the truly international nature of the church, it strengthens my testimony.

3. President Uchtdorf, as usual, knocked it out of the park. (I should probably re-title my Monday-morning-after-conference post series “Four Things I Liked Plus Whatever President Uchtdorf Said.” I hope “stranded on the raft of our own biases” enters the Mormon lexicon. And “your testimony must be this tall to enter.” He has a gift for giving talks that are welcoming to everyone while at the same time challenging everyone to do better. That is not an easy combo to pull off–most people tip too far to one side or the other. His message that while truth doesn’t change our ability to perceive it can change is very important. As for his priesthood meeting talk, I loved the idea that we need to stop thinking about what other people need to learn and look inward at what we need to learn ourselves.

I think it would be interesting to try to analyze “The Uchtdorf Formula for Amazing Talks” because it is more than just charm, good looks, and an interesting accent. I think the key is that he takes a big, deep concept and presents it in an analogy. All of his humor is either self-deprecating or Mormon-culture-deprecating. Then he speaks in general terms (leaving the audience to determine their own personal application) about how to live the gospel more fully. He’s always completely inclusive and welcoming of everyone–there’s no effort to draw boundaries and push some people out. He’s also big on conveying God’s love for everyone. (Did I miss anything? Is there a better way to describe what he does?)

4. Elder Holland’s talk. Go listen to it. His powerful testimony about the importance of helping the poor is not to be missed.

I am going to make a prediction: as these issues become better known and as gay marriage becomes legalized, our concern with attacks on the family will morph into concern over income inequality as an attack on the family. (That said, I don’t see General Conference talks attacking the 1%–I see an increased emphasis on education and practical solutions, such as BYU-I Pathways and the Perpetual Education Fund. Dare I also point out that if we moved away from traditional gender roles, it might help with this problem?)

5. Elder Bednar’s talk. I see it as a model for how to share the gospel in a way unlikely to cause offense and likely to be most appealing to those investigating the church.

Bonus: this article was full of feminist win. I know there is an ongoing debate within the LDS feminist community regarding whether we should be happy with or dismayed by minor changes, but I’m coming down on the side of being happy at the notion of a Stake Relief Society President picking up general leaders in her police car, a general leader saying “If I choose to work [=have a career], that’s great,” more frequent references to Heavenly Parents, and stake presidents calling female leaders “mouthpiece[s] for the prophet.” This paragraph in particular is more than small change, more than window dressing, more than marketing:

“This [=Elder Oaks’ April GC talk that women use priesthood authority in their callings],” Sister Oscarson said, “is language we haven’t heard before, and we need to teach it to our young women. We spend a whole month of Sundays each year now on lessons about the priesthood. They need to be not just ‘how do you sustain men in the priesthood?’ We need to teach them that when they go out as a class presidency to visit a young woman, they are acting with priesthood authority.”

Separate issue: (not) counting the General Women’s Meeting as part of General Conference per President Eyring’s intro on Saturday morning (but perhaps President Uchtdorf thinks differently per his statement at the GWM? And the opening prayer for the priesthood session said something about the “fourth” session of conference). Considering the GWM as part of GC  is precisely the kind of change that the church should make. There is, obviously, no doctrinal barrier to counting the GWM as part of GC, but not doing so sends the message that women don’t “count” in the church.

(Also, I was a little surprised that there were no references to the Meet the Mormons movie. Probably makes sense since it is not an international release.)

And: I think we need to talk more about faithening our strength. (That’s serious–not snarky.)

My penultimate observation: If Person A accuses Person B of living in a bubble, Person B’s assurances that s/he does not, no matter how vehement, will not convince Person A, because no one thinks that they live in a bubble–that’s the consequence of living in a bubble. The only way to prove that you are not living in a bubble is to show evidence of your awareness of the world outside of the bubble. I saw lots of evidence of speakers who are not living in a bubble. (I have on other occasions seen scary evidence of leaders living in bubbles, but not this weekend.)

One more thing:  I wish people would quit kvetching about President Monson “recycling” his talks. If there is anything timeless about his talks (and I believe that there is), then it is well worth him repeating them from time to time. He’s got good scriptural precedent on this one: Jesus repeated his sermons, too.



20 comments for “Five Things I Liked from General Conference

  1. President Hinckley also recycled a large number of his talks. I remember hearing his “5 Be” talk on several different occasions, including regional conferences and general conference. I expect that when you’ve been a general authority for 50+ years, giving at least a talk a week (at various conferences, meetings, and other events) for a total of more than 2500 talks, you shouldn’t be expected to come up with something completely unique every time.

    Even if you limit it to just General Conference talks, he’s given at least 160 of them (as a member of the Quorum of the 12 for 20 years he’d give 2 conference talks a year, and as a member of the First Presidency he would give at least 4). At some point, you are going to have to expect him to start repeating stories, topics, and quotes.

  2. Thank you Julie for your comments. They are helpful to me, and possibly to many others as well.

  3. Thanks for the analysis, Julie. It seemed like Saturday’s talks were warm, welcoming, and inclusive, then Sunday’s talks swung to the far side of the spectrum, toward familiar conservative themes of obedience to leadership directives and the infallibility of senior leaders. One would think Saturday’s agenda was directed by Elder Uchtdorf but Sunday’s sessions were organized by Correlation, if not the SCMC. But we are told each speaker chooses their own topic and there is no coordination.

    One might also reflect on what was *not* addressed in Conference. No mention of the Meet the Mormons movie. No mention of the new essays at Topics. No talks that seemed directed at the ongoing Ordain Women issues that trouble thousands of LDS women. There were several talks that seemed to direct counsel, either welcoming or reproving, to faithful but doubting Mormons or to those who have left the Church (“jumped out of the boat” may be our new metaphor for this), but no references to specific resources that are available and might actually help such people: the new Givens book Crucible of Doubt; the Gospel Topics essays; No Weapon Shall Prosper, a Deseret Book publication with essays by LDS scholars on troubling faith issues. It’s like when someone actually falls out of the boat, they will pick up a megaphone to shout reproof and warn those still in the raft to avoid that fate, but they won’t throw a flotation device or lifeline to the person struggling in the current.

  4. Throwing out a flotation device is something one person does for another person, not one person to millions. Only so much can be done generally. Many of things that you mentioned as not being addressed in conference are things that I believe should not be addressed generally, as they do not necessarily have general utility and can sometimes lead to greater confusion.

    “One size fits all” only works with the atonement.

  5. In light of the Supreme Court’s action this morning, Elder Oaks’ talk becomes particularly pertinent, especially this line:

    “When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously, and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, and differences in sexual orientation.”

    It’s almost like he’s prophetic or something. ;)

  6. Thanks for this. I also agree that the Deseret News article was a definite win. I did feel a bit more uplifted on Saturday compared to Sunday, but figured this was due to the fact that I so desperately wanted to hear President Eyring mention that mothers as well as fathers receive revelation for their families. He was quoting Pres Packer, but I would have loved to hear mothers mentioned, or even parents, as an addendum of sorts.

  7. There seemed to be a lot more male speakers quoting female leaders than in past conferences. But I am sure that Ziff will provide more light and knowledge at some point:)

  8. RE Julie M. Smith’s comment. It doesn’t take much of a prophet to recognize when the Titanic has struck the iceberg that the ship is going to sink. :)

    I had mixed emotions. I kept reading between the lines and seeing a “circle the wagons” theme. But then, perhaps I am simply “stranded on the raft of ]my] own biases.”

  9. I noticed this morning that the General Women’s meeting was in the church iPhone app under October General Conference. Perhaps there is more clarity on it being included?

  10. I was especially uplifted by the singing at the Saturday Afternoon session, but perhaps the fact that I was in the choir loft at the time had something to do with that. ;-D

  11. Another essential element of an Uchtdorf talk: his stories are self-effacing, if not outright self-deprecating (though with good humor). Eyring does this too. They are never the heroes of their own stories.

  12. Uchtdorf doesn’t say you should or you must do this or that he just offers it invites . He is popular even among the most conservative members.

    He should be the next Prophet if we want to (can’t remember the expression) progress.

    I was heartened by the much softer more welcoming Packer and Oaks, on Saturday

  13. Thank you for the link the The Atlantic article, Julie. I just skimmed it briefly, but I’ll read it tonight when I have some more time.

    Conference …

    (Confession–I was making bee “candy boxes” during conference, but I did listen to some of it.)

    Even a hard-hearted person like me could feel the spirit whisper that we Mormons are genuinely, sincerely passionate about following Jesus Christ. That was my take-away. And … and God does help us in this endeavor.

    After the spirit softened my heart a wee bit, I went right back to kicking against the pricks. “If by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” surely does not mean what some people think it means. Why does that give me an ulcer? Good heavens, there are plenty of people who hear that and feel inspired. Hmmmpf.

    And the music touched my soul, as always.

    Thank you for the post. It got me thinking about something holy during lunch.

  14. Thanks for the reference Julie

    If Elder Oaks had some inkling of the Gay Marriage decision and the softer more loving Elder Oaks is the consequence, then even those of us not in Utah benefit from the decision.

    Hopefully this will be the end of that unpleasant chapter.

  15. I liked the “faithen our strengths” prayer, also. I might include it in my next talk.

    I get the feeling that we are seeing a transition in including the Women’s meeting as part of conference. About a year ago, I sent a message asking that the General RS meeting be included under General Conference in the Gospel Library app. I received a response that I should look for it under “Other Broadcasts.” However, after the next conference, I saw it was included. While it can take a while for new habits to form, I suspect that it will not be more than another conference or two before the Saturday morning session is called the 2nd session.

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