Scattered Thoughts on Conference

Asking and seeking are clearly not the same as demanding. The former is Joseph Smith at 14, the latter is Martin Harris with the lost pages, and I think this distinction is evident to most people who watched the talk in good faith. 

Earlier I talked about how it seemed that many of the brethren came from inactive households, now there are two more that I didn’t know about until their conference talks: Elder Cook and President Ballard. Again, something to buoy up people who feel otherized because their family situation doesn’t match some ideal template.  

I also see some chatter on why the brethren keep hitting the Proc. “Everybody knows what the Church’s position is, can’t they move on?” Yes,  I don’t think anybody is unclear on the Church’s position, but some are still promoting the “hold on and the Church will change” perspective on Proc issues, which I think does more harm than good (I would believe this just as much if I was on the other side of the issue), whereas the more times the Church hits this the harder it is to walk back. In international relations this is called “costly signaling,” and I suspect it’s intentional. The sooner this point gets across the sooner people can stop halting between two opinions and make their life decisions accordingly.  

It does look like growth rates are starting to rebound. As I’ve mentioned before, some of this growth is an artificial rebound from delayed child-blessings and the like that won’t be captured in the next set of numbers. Ultimately, the test for the extent to which the pandemic simply delayed growth from “tempo effects” or actually reduced it will come with the first full set of pandemic-less numbers, so we’ll be able to do a fuller pandemic post-mortem on Church growth next year. 


11 comments for “Scattered Thoughts on Conference

  1. I’d guess there’s actually a fairly large population of church members who aren’t entirely clear on what the church teaches on any given issue, including newer members, people who haven’t attended regularly for a while, and children and teenagers, including in active families. And anyone not fluent in English could miss a lot as well. Clear statements in General Conference on issues of high relevance seem like a good way to reach the people who need to hear them. I’ve recently taught the Family Proclamation in Sunday School and we’ve discussed it at home, but I’m still glad my kids are hearing a clear statement of doctrine.

  2. My wife and I noticed a lot of encouragement for the youth to serve missions. We wondered if this a response to the declining number of full-time missionaries during the pandemic. I looked up the official numbers and saw what looked like a larger trend, from 83-85k in 2013-14 (following the Oct 2012 lowering of the missionary service age) to 52-54k in 2020-21. Over those nine years, this amounts to an average annual decline of about 3,900. When I plotted the trend line, I got an R squared value of 0.8995. How would you evaluate this drop in the number of full-time missionaries, which started well before the pandemic? Would you attribute it to declining birthrates, falling retention rates, or some combination of the two?

  3. @Sterling: Fascinating analysis. I’d guess it’s both age structure effects as well as lower rates per person. Exactly how much is one vs. the other is impossible to know without access to the Church’s population pyramid. Age structure effects are kind of an unstoppable freight train, so the more it’s the latter instead of the former the more likely we’ll continue to see declines regardless of what they do.

  4. I have to say- pushing missionary service without talking about how things are back to normal after COVID was ballsy. COVID missionaries had a terrible time- being cooped up in companionships for months on end, unable to work.we were truly worried for the missionaries in our area- how little they were socializing, how stuck they were, how alone they were.

    While some missionaries were mellow about home-based MTC, I would have found working 10 hours a day alone in my bedroom (online) trying to feel like a missionary who was transforming my life to be nearly impossible. Imagine trying to feel that you are changing the world and having the experience of a lifetime while cooped up in your bedroom (with all your childhood mementos grounding you to your past). You overhear your family bustle about with their average lives. You are involved in the finance problems, the lost car keys, the dog running loose, the fight between your younger brother and dad over gaming time. And then, your mom (who still sees you as a high school “kid” not a grown-up, interrupts your language lesson to nag you to clean your room and take out the garbage. Sounds like the seventh circle of h-e-double-toothpicks to me.

    Qualitatively, these missions have been abysmal for the missionaries and for the communities they serve. We were all doing our best to muddle through, but sheesh. I can see prospective missionaries looking at the COVID mission experience and wondering whether we’ve turned a corner and the service will be worthwhile (to others and yourself). It didn’t appear that those issues were addressed in conference, just the message “keep ‘em coming”.

  5. “Age structure effects are kind of an unstoppable freight train”
    Fifteen years ago, Elder Oaks spoke in my stake’s conference and told of another stake he had visited. From memory, “There were a hundred children in the Primary. For the WHOLE stake. Do you know what that means? That stake is in liquidation. It won’t still be there in twenty years.”

  6. Mortimer, that hasn’t been my daughter’s experience at all. Home MTC was great, for her and for us. She’s been out for nearly a year now, and she’s having a really amazing experience as a missionary – even with periodic quarantines and a mission president who was out with Covid for a while. In some ways, Covid forced the mission program to modernize its approach (like with social media) in ways that were probably overdue.

  7. Jonathan Green,
    I’m delighted to hear your daughter and family had a positive experience with home-MTC. I’m also glad for forced mission updates, realizing many more are overdue.

  8. Interesting that your scattered thoughts on conference didn’t include a discussion about helping Ukrainian refugees, supporting the abused, or mention of Jesus Christ and how we can follow Him.

    Instead it criticized members who want a connection with the feminine divine and using thought-stopping tactics for those that aren’t interested in Oaks hobby horse; a topic, I might add, that Jesus Christ showed no condemnation for during his mortal ministry.

  9. Chadwick, I thought Elder Oak’s talk was wonderfully thought provoking. Framing the church’s teachings on marriage and family within the scope of exaltation lends power to the meaning and purpose of those teachings.

  10. Jack: It added no insight into the purpose of single, faithful, LGBTQ Latter-day Saint lives — the lives the Church teaches we should live — but reiterated that we’re still unmentionable in Conference and that members of the Church will remain unhalted in their defamations against us.

    Unless, perhaps, you count it an insight that, unmarried, we might miss exaltation, but still land in a degree of glory, not in hell. (It *was* the most anti-hell talk I ever remember hearing.)

    You *can* talk about the Proclamation *and* give attention to where it leaves LGBTQ Saints *and* call out false witness being borne about us *and* model ways of engaging with us in a Christlike manner. These aren’t mutually exclusive.

  11. I’m tired too–really tired. I’m among those who are — with the possible exception of Native Americans — at most risk of committing suicide: white middle aged males. I live with constant suicidal ideation–and if I’m not careful I could become one of the 30 thousand or so of that group who take their own life every year.

    And so, having watched, over the course of my 60 years, the destruction of those basic mores that keep folks like me grounded and tethered it is a wonderful breath of fresh air to hear the Lord’s anointed reaffirm those foundation precepts. It helps me to reestablish my footing and stand firm for another day or two.

    That said, I’m not trying to “one up” you–I don’t want this to turn into a pity party. But what I do want to suggest is that there are a lot of people suffering for various different reasons–and the best the prophets can do (IMO) is to share the gospel with as much compassion as possible without compromising the truth.

    That and that said, I’m of the opinion that identifying as children of Christ places us in a position to relate with each other regardless of how deep our differences may be. IMO, children of the covenant can have more in common with each other than they do with their own siblings. And so, my hope is that folks like you and I — who seem to be at opposite ends of the sociopolitical spectrum — will be able to embrace each other as siblings in Christ–in spite of our differences.

    Finally, I love President Nelson’s analogy of the acorn–that we barely bud in this life–and that it is in the next world that we will grow into a might oak. And so, with that in mind–even though I’m of the opinion that Adam and Eve are eternal archetypes–I’m also of the opinion that there’s a lot we don’t know about the future. And on top of that, when we are motivated by perfect love toward one another — which (IMO) will be the standard MO among those who inhabit the exalted realms — it changes the game completely. Our personal proclivities will be swallowed up in the joy of considering the welfare of others.

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