Conference Theme: No Trouble Here, Move Along

Conference CenterAfter a turbulent six months, many were expecting some bold declarations at this weekend’s General Conference. That did not come to pass. Just a few weeks ago, Elder Ballard directed CES teachers to stop teaching folklore, stop evading tough questions from students, and start reading publications by faithful LDS scholars. In his Saturday afternoon Conference talk, Elder Ballard talked about … family councils. Late last year, President Nelson announced that what has become known as “the Exclusion Policy” was not a policy, it was a revelation and is here to stay. In his Priesthood session talk, President Nelson talked about … the role of men in the Church. Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian, talked not about one of the Gospel Topics essays that addresses a key issue in LDS history but about the LDS hymnal and humility. The theme for this Conference seems to be: Don’t rock the boat. Nothing controversial here. Perhaps it is a good time for a quiet, reflective Conference.

The closest a speaker came to pointed remarks was this passage from Elder Oaks.

Some of this opposition even comes from church members. Some who use personal reasoning or wisdom to resist prophetic direction give themselves a label borrowed from elected bodies — “the loyal opposition.” How ever appropriate for a democracy, there is no warrant for this concept in the government of God’s kingdom, where questions are honored but opposition is
not.

At least he carves out space for questioning, although I suspect many local leaders see loyal questioners as the loyal opposition Elder Oaks has just redefined as the disloyal opposition. “Questions are honored” more in theory than in practice. Furthermore, the biggest problem the Church seems to be facing right now is not a loyal opposition but a disloyal non-opposition — members who, rather than ask questions or express a desire for reform, just leave the building and look for other options for worshipping God or just getting on with secular lives. Didn’t hear much about that demographic this Conference. Maybe next time.

A couple of minor themes did emerge from this Conference. Priesthood keys are really important. I know it’s just a metaphor, but it is a foundational metaphor. The key point (catch that?) is that real women can never get metaphorical keys. Women can get real keys — to the car, to the building, to the library — but not metaphorical keys. They can do things that men with metaphorical keys can do, like teach and run church organizations and talk in Conference, but they can never hold the metaphorical keys. The other theme: The Internet is not a source of reliable information. Since you’re reading that last sentence on the Internet, you might now be stuck in a paradox. From President Oscarson: Faith comes “when we search the scriptures instead of the Internet.” Elder Ballard cautioned against “negative technology that can distract us from spending quality time with each other.” My advice: Let your blog so shine that they may see your good posts and glorify your Father and Mother in Heaven.

There was a gem hiding in Elder Kevin R. Duncan’s Saturday morning talk.

In our shortsightedness we may sometimes find it easy to develop resentments toward others who do not act or think the way we do. We may form intolerant attitudes based on such superficial things as rooting for opposing sports teams, holding different political views, or having different religious beliefs. President Russell M. Nelson gave wise counsel when he said, “Opportunities to listen to those of diverse religious or political persuasion can promote tolerance and learning.”

That’s us, not the other guys, that he is addressing, directing us to exercise tolerance toward those whose religious views differ from ours and endorsing learning as a means to help promote such tolerance. Deserved or not, Mormons and Mormonism now have a reputation as being intolerant. Collectively and individually, we need to avoid words or actions that reinforce that perception.

On Sunday morning, President Uchtdorf sounded a similar message.

During the Savior’s ministry, the religious leaders of His day disapproved of Jesus spending time with people they had labelled “sinners.” Perhaps to them it looked like He was tolerating or even condoning sinful behavior. Perhaps they believed that the best way to help sinners repent was by condemning, ridiculing, and shaming them.

President Uchtdorf’s rejoinder to that thoroughly inappropriate conduct was to recount the parable of the lost sheep. If you can’t rescue them, at least don’t engage in ridicule or shaming.

 

91 comments for “Conference Theme: No Trouble Here, Move Along

  1. Saturday morning was all about how life sucks but the atonement helps get over it. Not an insignificant theme.

  2. “where questions are honored but opposition is not”

    Well sure, if that mean taking time to listen and saying that it will all work out in the resurrection. Maybe he refers to that situation? However E Oaks really nailed it (his coffin) when he ended it by saying that

    “or he does blunt their effects [oppositions] as he did with the terrorist bombing that took so many lives in the Brussels’s airport but only injured our four missionaries”

    Or am I the only person who saw something way wrong with that statement?

  3. It’s possible that the topics which are of greatest interest to American bloggers do not correspond with the topics that matter the most to Church members around the world. Or to the Lord.

    But what’s truly insidious about the subtext of this post is that it’s militantly partisan. It’s one thing to have disagreements over particular issues. Doing so leaves open the possibility of a wide, uncontested middle ground. This seems eminently reasonable for members of an eternal Church who are speaking from particularly socio-historical contexts. But it’s quite another to disagree–as Dave’s post does–not only on specific issues but with a conference that dares to talk about anything else at all. To do so goes beyond mere advocacy of a collection of pet-peeves and enacts a shocking level of intolerance directed at anyone who wants to talk about anything at all, other than Dave’s particular set of issues. “How dare you talk about Christ and the Atonement and family councils and anything other than the hot-button, high-traffic blog issues!” It effectively burns down the middle ground in favor of total obsession with political issues that are not necessarily even relevant to the entire membership of the Church today, let alone across all of history.

    It’s immature. It’s dangerous. And it’s a waste of time.

  4. “Furthermore, the biggest problem the Church seems to be facing right now is not a loyal opposition but a disloyal non-opposition — members who, rather than ask questions or express a desire for reform, just leave the building and look for other options for worshipping God or just getting on with secular lives.”

    A perfectly worded and perfectly incisive insight. As someone a little unmoored by the policy change, but who overall has no beefs against church doctrine or history, who finds church a deadening grind devoid of worship or life, who wonders why even though I have yet to meet someone who enjoys our church services, and have met many who actively dislike, even “hate” them, including a current primary president and member of the bishopric, no structural changes to those services seem to be in the pipeline, who thinks that the slowest growth rate in membership since the 30s might warrant some shaking of things up, I hoped with this conference, as with all, for something bold to emerge. Something other than “all is well” when all does not seem to be well. Something for those who want to stay but find little life in the modern institution and are drifting away. Hope springs eternal and is eternally disappointed.

  5. Nathaniel, I agree that it would be silly to do what you say Dave’s post does, but I think you are probably over-reading it. I don’t think its in the high-dudgeon style of your straw man. I could be wrong. In which case Dave’s post is wrong.

  6. Nathaniel, I invite you to post a safe, mature, and worthwhile post reviewing the recent Conference. You will, no doubt, highlight themes that I missed.

  7. Greg, nice to meet you. I like our services and I enjoy going to Church. Now you’ve met someone who does.

    That is not to say that we can’t improve. In fact, my current calling amounts to “try to improve our classes” so I get that we have a ways to go in some places. But I don’t recognize my Church in your comment, just a caricature.

  8. @ Nathaniel

    I think Dave and others like myself would have been pleased to see *any* talks, any whatsoever, discussing *any* of these troubling issues. Your comment flips Dave’s post on its head in suggesting that he’s upset because anything else besides these issues were discussed. How you interpret his post in this way is beyond me.

    I do think you have a point that conference must address issues beyond those troubling (1) Americans; and (2) bloggers. The bloggernacle is a small slice of the pie, to be sure.

    At the same time, many of us see these issues as much larger than simply “political issues.” They involve fundamental issues of honesty and integrity vs. hypocrisy. These issues trouble plenty of people outside of America (recall the Swedish rescue a few years back). And they trouble plenty of people beyond the bloggernacle. You know that. If the people crying loudest about these issues happen to be American bloggers, who by virtue of their proximity to the Church HQ or education are privy to these issues, then so be it.

    As a Givens, I suspect you might agree that God’s voice is not heard only by “the Prophet” – and that you might agree that the truth of a message (whether Lehi’s, Abinadi’s, Paul’s, Peter’s, etc) is not judged by the number of people proclaiming it. Accordingly, I appreciate Dave’s courage to tell it like he sees it, and to act on God’s voice as he hears it. I also appreciate your courage to disagree with him and voice your dissent right here.

  9. Meh. I found this conference to be among the best in recent memory. I think it odd to parse the various conference talks individually or the general theme of the conference as a whole through the lens of a particular set of concerns held by Bloggernacle participants in the United States. And I say that as someone who shares some of those concerns.

  10. @Frank-
    I’m happy you enjoy church, but just because your church experience does not match mine, does not make mine a caricature. My experience, and the experience of others (who are again very faithful) is just as real as yours is.

  11. Is there any meaningful functional difference between “questions are honored but opposition is not” and “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.”?

  12. Good assessment, Dave. It was a rather run-of-the-mill conference. No really bold pronouncements. I think that church leaders wanted it that way. They had been in the news enough over the past six months.

  13. I live in a tiny branch in a remote corner of the kingdom, where only the wealthy transplanted members from Utah/Idaho have iPads or smartphones (too much poverty here for that) so hardly anybody is plugged in to the topics and controversies that were “trending” regarding the church over this past year. So, knowing that our leaders let the Spirit guide their topic choices, and not knowing much about the hoopla all those super-plugged-in-folks seem to expect a response for, the topics presented at this conference will all have made perfect sense to our humble, rural members. And when you consider how many million more such humble, third-world members without smartphones the GAs were speaking to, really, these topics were appropriate. We are a global church–I wonder how many members in Africa and South America expected to see those hot topics addressed? #FirstWorldGripes

  14. You’re really reading too much into Dave’s post (“militantly partisan”? “Total obsession”? Seriously?)

    At the same time it is disingenuous to say that the so-called hot button issues don’t matter to the LDS leaders and most church members and that all they care about it Jesus’ Atonement and family togetherness. Who is the one pushing the historicity question of the LDS scriptures? Why none other than Joseph Smith and subsequent LDS leaders. Who are the ones pushing the issue of male-only priesthood and well-defined gender roles? None other than the LDS leaders since Joseph Smith. Who are the ones saying that gays are evil (and even denying their existence) and that the legalization of gay marriage is one of the greatest evils of our time? The LDS leaders.

    You might as well be calling the LDS leaders and their actions “dangerous” and “immature.”

    In my online discussions, I often hear from believers that history doesn’t matter to them and that all that matters is Jesus Christ, or some generic issue like that. I then subject them to a challenge. I tell them that according to modern secular scholars of the Americas, horses in the Americas died out about 10,000 years ago and were not reintroduced until the arrival of the Spaniards. If there eyes glaze over or they have a puzzled look on their face, then I believe that history is not terribly important to them. But if they get defensive and claim that that doesn’t prove the Book of Mormon wrong, or that the Nephites believed tapirs to be horses, or that the question of horses is inconclusive, or that we’ll know the answers to these tough questions in the afterlife, then I stop believing that history and historicity don’t matter to them. They may want it to not matter, but they can’t help the fact that their very identity is invested in a particular historical narrative being correct.

    So if you are trying to claim that the hot button issues aren’t important to you or many LDS members, I’m going to call you out on that.

  15. You’re right that the majority of people who have ever been baptized in the LDS church aren’t plugged into the topics and controversies trending in the news cycle. At the same time, conference talks aren’t often addressed to them all that much, but instead the middle class Mormons who live in the Mormon belt. The LDS leaders consider the members who live in other parts of the world and in rural, poor, non-connected areas to be peripheral and simply not as important to the livelihood of Mormonism as the urban and semi-urban LDS folks in the areas of North America with large LDS concentrations.

  16. I live in a large ward in the center of the kingdom where everyone is plugged in even during meeting and I can also say that most of our meeting are less than exciting or profound but there are gems Gathering together faithfully provides fellowship with the saints and renewal of covenants. I would say that I have to agree with Jennifer even in our well-connected and first world ward the topics addressed were appropriate to us and our world wide membership. Can’t quite get my mind around the idea of the “hot topics” being of universal importance enough to address in general conference

  17. Elder Oaks did (also) say that the Church has made great efforts to be transparent about history with the records available, and acknowledged that that would leave questions that can only be addressed by faith. Thus addressing (his terms) “the Church history version of opposition in all things.” I know I’m extrapolating off this one data point–impossible, I know–but I came away with the sense that, in my own words, they’re already doing the best they can with respect to the issues and questions swirling around, including in the OP, and there’s just not going to be much more by way of answer or explanation.

  18. I think the refugee stuff–including talks during the first (Women’s) session and on Sunday–was rather bold, at least for people in the stakes of my very conservative corner of the Mormon Corridor. Perhaps it didn’t sound so bold to those living in less conservative areas.

  19. @Christiankimball –

    If the Brethren are already doing their best, then all the more reason for people to speak up with additional ideas, without having their loyalty questioned. The status quo isn’t working. It’s not ethical to proselyte to unsuspecting, uninformed people–present them with a white-washed vision of church history, Joseph Smith, etc–and to have them rely on that to uproot their lives and change churches. Not OK. Not acceptable. Not ethical. Same goes for indoctrinating our kids without letting them in on the game.

    The solution might be as simple as telling the truth. Failing that, perhaps we could add on a disclaimer such as, “What we’re teaching you here is only half the truth. You need to do your own research for the other half.”

  20. Not really interested in an argument, but that’s awfully cynical/negative/accusatory. There’s always been a lot of belief and faith involved. Always will be.

  21. I grew up in the Midwest in a ward that covered 5,000 square miles. I saw no sign whatsoever that Church leaders considered us to be less important than members in the “Mormon belt”. I often find the Sacrament Meetings I attend to be wonderfully good, and (without prompting from me) my friends and relatives living in other cities often report to me having similar experiences at Church.

  22. I would posit that among those who feel positively towards our church services, there may be one or more of these factors in play: 1) Grew up in the church and may be mistaking familiarity for efficacy and enjoyment, 2) Live in a ward that is functioning relatively decently, 3) Have not recently visited other Christian churches that are thriving and enjoying great growth and thus don’t have anything to contrast their experience with.

  23. @ ChristianK

    Omission of important facts is a form of lying. From Gospel Principles: “When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest…The Lord is not pleased with such dishonesty, and we will have to account for our lies.”

    The relevance of this to how we present our church to others shouldn’t be too difficult to ascertain.

  24. Dave, Like you I was disappointed by the lack of one talk that explained the policy on Gay Marriage. I have been waiting for this conference to decide whether to leave or stay.

    I am less concerned by history but whether I should continue to be part of an organization that persecutes people who are Gay. I have had personal revelation that if we refuse to love unconditionally, we are refusing to live as God wants.

    I do not see this as a hot button issue, and I am not in the US. I see this as a moral issue. If the church changed the handbook to return racism would that be OK, I don’t see the difference. The church I have been a member of for 55 years, been on missions for 8 of those, has chosen to behave in a way that I find immoral and in direct opposition to how Christ would act, and now chosen to not even defend that choice.

    I found talks like Elder Andersons about loving everyone to be hypocritical, and offensive. Had they not chosen to refuse love to a group they don’t like (for political reasons?) it would be worthy but in the present context no.

    They did not show any love or respect to those who have a problem with their policy (not Gods), They did not make us want to stay.

    I love the Gospel, but now have to decide whether that outweighs the policy. Can I continue to support a Church that in every outward way appears to be good, but refuses to even acknowledge that behind doors it has this hateful policy and is carrying it out.

  25. I can assure you as a member in England who participates in and appreciates the Bloggernacle and all the people from around the (mostly English speaking of course which is another issue) world who also contribute regularly to dialogues that the concerns about the state and direction of the Church locally and the messages from the top are of profound relevance and significance to our lives. I’m with the people crying out for some radical thinking – Church attendance all over Europe has stalled or fallen over the last few years and the entirely unrealistic and doomed bright idea from our Area Presidency was to set a goal a few years ago to double attendance in 10 years that they are still promoting. That is not going to happen, was never going to happen and indicates a disconnection from reality and our real situation that worries me deeply. Our missionary approach is fundamentally the same as it was 100 years ago and has seen a precipitous drop in converts per missionary over the last few years based on the stats announced in Conference. And the preoccupation of the top leadership through this disastrous decline has been to hypocritically obsess about gay marriage (despite our own history of redefining marriage in America), American culture wars and spread panic about the internet, which is the world’s medium for communication and a library, not an anti-Mormon conspiracy. Where is the actual respect and tolerance for freedom of choice if people choose what you don’t approve of?

    These messages are an impossible sell in countries that are doing a lot better at achieving respectful coexistence with diverse cultures. I have just been called as a ward mission leader again and am excited to experiment with new things, but how sad is it that at the moment I can’t imagine letting my normal, employed, educated middle class colleagues anywhere near at least 1/4 of the talks in every General Conference because they will think we are more out of touch with the world and paranoid than the Amish, and their jaws would drop to hear literally fascist totalitarian ideas like there can’t be a loyal opposition in the Church who ‘use personal reasoning or wisdom to resist prophetic direction’ – what on earth was Oaks thinking?! And I caught his little smirk after saying equality was part of Satan’s plan. We are meant to be communicating with and filling the world, not making ourselves into a toxic cult that noone rational will touch with a barge pole. This was a much tamer conference than the last one which was very fear-mongering, but it was still sabotaged by some really dangerous teaching. I’d like to feel supported in using my reasoning and wisdom to filter which bits of what the GA’s are saying to ignore or trust, not told that isn’t an option anymore….even though that talk started by telling the story of how lucky we are that Eve used her reasoning and wisdom to resist the direction she had been given by God not to touch the trees. Facepalm.

  26. I had trouble articulating what rubbed me the wrong way about this post. This describes it pretty well.

  27. I don’t think that someone providing a contrasting narrative invalidates yours. He’s just pointing out that your experience may not be representative.

  28. I had hoped to hear plans for a 360-degree live video streaming service in Oct. 2016 to give an ultimate front-row VR General Conference experience. I guess we’ll have to wait six more months.

  29. You don’t seem to be referring to, say, large Latin American cities, as those typically have many stakes; smartphones are quite common in those areas. As I understand it, they’re taking off in Africa as well. The divide you see is probably more urban/rural than first world/third world.

  30. I would be interested in seeing a General Authority quote on how we should love homosexuals less.

  31. They have nothing to say in response to the detractors. There simply are no good answers other than choose to believe. The children of same sex parent household fiasco and Nelson’s questionable double down simply did not work from a media and p.r. perspective. So, it seems unremarkable that they didn’t want to give the media another chance to point out their questionable conduct.

  32. Right now I just have an off topic remark. I really hate nested comments on blogs that get a lot traffic. With linear comments I can always find where I left off hours or days before by going to end of the string. With nested comments I have to go through the whole string to pick up comments replying to other comments. I find that instead of doing that I tend to read and visit less.

  33. I think Elder Oaks suggested that Satan’s definition of equality is not really equality at all, even though the outcome he proposed (no one would be lost) is 100% equal. The problem with this outcome-centric view of equality is that it directly works against God’s purpose–to allow his children to choose what they will become.

    I thought Elder Oaks remarks about equality were a gentle yet direct reminder that equality can be defined by both Satan and God.

    We get to choose whose definition we will trust.

  34. Would be curious to get some feedback from the readers on this point – according to what was taught in this Conference, are the “Priesthood Keys” metaphorical or actual? I don’t think the Brethren believe them to be metaphorical at all.
    Calling Priesthood Keys metaphorical is a subtle, yet telling, interpretation of what was shared.

  35. I’ll too am frustrated by the nested comments. It’s really hard to find new comments so that I can follow conversations.

  36. Geoff – Aus (comment 18), I hope you stay; you and your voice are needed. You note that the church “has chosen to behave in a way that [you] find immoral and in direct opposition to how Christ would act, and [has] now chosen to not even defend that choice.”

    I am grateful none of the speakers defended the November policy change (either the first or the contradictory second, i.e. the “clarification” letter). As to the children it is indefensible. The addition to the definition of “apostacy” is (a) limited to “as used here,” i.e., “when a disciplinary council [but not its outcome] is mandatory,” and, may be seen as (b) an unnecessary, specific example of the first prong of that definition (“[r]epeatedly [or continuously] act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.”) In my view, what was needed, if anything, was a modification of the first prong of that Handbook definition to exclude same-gender marriage as a reason for a disciplinary counsel. Some believe that President Nelson misspoke in describing the source and confirmation of those Handbook changes. Though it preceded President Nelson’s talk, a more believable description of the origin of those changes is found here: http://www.themuss.net/articles/2016/1/5/mormon-lgbt-policy-prompts-anger-resignations-and-fresh-concerns-about-aged-leaders-1 . I regard the Handbook changes as a mistake. As several authorities have noted in past conferences, “there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes.” (President Uchtdorf’s words.) I struggle to have patience with this one because of its serious consequences for individuals and families, but from those of us who can manage it, patience may be called for. Given President Nelson’s comments in January, it may be very wise of the other leaders to remain silent on the direct subject for a time. I cannot find record of any publicly agreeing with him that they had received any purported spiritual confirmation of the Handbook changes as a revelation.

    You “found talks like Elder Andersons about loving everyone to be hypocritical, and offensive.” I heard them very differently. I heard them as subtle rejections of the unloving, hypocritical, offensive aspects of the Handbook changes and as encouragement to local leaders to be guided by such love in how they implement those changes, if at all. With the short time (about 2 ½ months) between President Nelson’s remarks and April conference, anything more direct (other than an explicit apology and self-correction from President Nelson) would significantly undercut President Nelson’s general credibility for a many members of the Church. With further lapse of time, more can be done hopefully without causing additional damage. I hope it will be.

  37. We at T&S are trying nested comments, but they might not last. They don’t seem to be too popular with readers.

  38. Dude, previuos conferences have had many talks on marriage and what mormon doctrine is plus it is in our scriptures, in DaC 132 where a man-woman marriage become Gods and no one else, not even the many believing and faithful angels. Then therevwere those press conferences, the letters from 1st presidency, the website the brochures and the face to face answers in those ysa events … So if someone had spoken again about gay marriage we would all be saying: not again!! Fortunately we heard about the refugeses instead

  39. Which Christian churches are “thriving and enjoying great growth”? From all of the data I’ve been seeing the only religious group that’s growing in any significant way is the unaffiliateds.

  40. I think this is right Christian. I noticed that in his talk as well. They may still make mistakes, but I think Oaks and probably started by Hinkley have been successful of putting out a high degree of transparency. Arguably far more than I’d have expected.

  41. FGH, no matter what you do you have to present a simplified version. Likewise you present what you think are the key issues (which in a discussion is personal revelation from God ala Moroni 10:4) It’s simply not being transparent or is a requirement for honesty to present the ideal anti-Mormon case against Mormonism. That’s silly. That’s like saying Creationism ought be taught in science class so students understand the controversy.

    At a certain point investigators have to investigate on their own. Indeed that’s the whole push missionaries should be giving. Don’t trust us. Find out for yourself. When they do that leads to far stronger members as well.

  42. I’m not sure I buy the idea that Europeans are doing better with “respectful coexistence with diverse cultures.” If you believe that fine. I just look at France, Brussels and Netherlands and think they’re failing pretty miserably. Canadians arguable are doing alright and find themselves in a kind of middle ground between Europe and the US. My sense is Europeans whether they want to admit it or not want a fully secularized society and have a hard time really grasping devout religious believers. They just simultaneously want their religious history as a kind of weird cultural artifact.

    There’s no doubt Europe is a struggle for Mormon growth. However do you really think that if the church got rid of its doctrine on homosexuality and allowed gay marriage that it’d grow? Upon what basis do you think that? The reason Europeans don’t find religions like Mormonism attractive seems more fundamental than just these social conflicts. Gay issues might be one obvious example people can point to, but the reasons they point to it end up being more about religious texts/traditions as a basis for ethical grounds. There’s really not much possibility of a common ground on those matters.

    3.

  43. I appreciated this post and comments, particularly Nathaniel’s remark and the subsequent replies. There are some good points on each side.

    I’d love to read some thoughts on Silfo’s question “Is there any meaningful functional difference between “questions are honored but opposition is not” and “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.”?” To me, they are disturbingly similar statements.

    I found certain aspects of this conference edifying and uplifting (I particularly liked the counsel to support and help refugees), but I also felt disappointed that the policy change about baptism for children of gays wasn’t mentioned– particularly after Elder Nelson called it a direct revelation and “the will and mind of the Lord.” If the reason for the silence is that all the speakers were directed by personal revelation to talk about other things, that would be fine and good. But if the reason for the silence is, as JR implies, a desire to avoid Elder Nelson loosing face– that’s troubling. Truth should matter more than the persona and reputation of a single person, even if that person is an apostle. Did Elder Nelson speak an opinion that is not shared by the majority of the 12? We have several general conference talks teaching that the will and mind of God is what the brethren (collectively) teach repeatedly. If Elder Nelson mis-spoke, then shouldn’t he save face better by self-correction rather than having the other church leaders tiptoeing around the issue for years to come?

    Mormonism needs to come to terms with the inspiration/agency paradox–the question of how we best sustain leaders who are fallible and able to make mistakes, particularly when our own inspiration is in conflict with their direction and instruction. This is the question that is at the heart of so many members struggles, including my own.

  44. I don’t mind nested comments – especially these where the nesting is limited to a single level. However it does admittedly make it hard to see recent posts if you go a few days.

  45. Jenny, I am unable to believe that “the will and mind of God is [determined by] what the brethren (collectively) teach repeatedly.” I hope the will and mind of God determines most of what the brethren (collectively) teach repeatedly. Yes, there is an inspiration/agency paradox, as you have named it. Yes, for some members, the brethren would do better saving face by self-correcting errors such as the one I’ve hypothesized for President Nelson. However, for some members, doing so would seem to be a greater challenge to testimony than leaving the error alone for a while.

    I have also been troubled by face-saving silence, but it is not new. E.g., it lay at the heart of what happened with respect to the publication of Bruce R. McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”. See:

    “How could [President McKay] regain control of the doctrinal exposition without destroying McConkie’s credibility and career? McKay summarized the problem in the same diary entry: ‘It was agreed that the necessary corrections are so numerous that to republish a corrected edition of the book would be such an extensive repudiation of the original as to destroy the credit of the author; that the republication of the book should be forbidden and that the book should be repudiated in such a way as to save the career of the author as one of the General Authorities of the Church.’ ” Gregory A. Prince, William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, University of Utah Press, 2005, p. 50.

    The result was a private, but no public, repudiation. Many claim that Elder McConkie was inspired and inspiring (not I, until his last conference speech). Others believe he did inestimable damage to the Church and its people by his writings and teaching. There are subsequent reports of private, but no public, “repudiation” by President Kimball of at least parts of Elder McConkie’s [in]famous Seven Deadly Heresies speech and of Elder Ezra Taft Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet speech.

    I am not sure a return to the Brigham Young/Orson Pratt “public” general conference dispute style would be helpful. I am old enough to remember learning a great deal as a young BYU student from Ezra Taft Benson’s and Hugh B. Brown’s contradicting each other (each without mentioning the other), but I am very glad I do not need to decide when public silence from the brethren about a mistake by one of the brethren is warranted.

    Here is another suggestion from one of the former brethren for your struggles:

    “You must work through the Spirit. If that leads you into conflict with the program of the Church, you follow the voice of the Spirit.” (Elder S. Dilworth Young, First Council of the Seventy, 1945; quoted in D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, Signature Books, 1997, p. 17)

  46. Clark, thanks for your thoughts. I don’t know where you are but it sounds like far from Europe – don’t confuse a random terrorist attack by foreigh or internet-indoctrinated islamic extremists as a symptom of the nature of society in that country. It’s ike saying New York must have been a civil warzone of fundamentalism Muslim conflict because 911 happened. Belgium has spats between the French and Flemish speakers but is otherwise seen as dull as ditchwater and certainly not seriously conflicted. Holland is similarly chilled, with both a very strong calvinist protestant religious tradition that is alive and well coexisting with the most liberal attitudes to sex and drugs in Europe. And America needs to learn from their start young, tell it all and focus on negociating relationships approach to sex education in schools because their teenage pregnancy rate is 1/4 of yours. France is pretty racist and not being nice to Muslims so has big issues in some areas, but jealusly protects a safe secular shared culture with values of liberty and brotherhood as well. Although we’ll see how Europe survives its shock at millions of refugees turning up recently, the general political and social scene is a love-in picnic in a sunny park compared to American politics and culture wars, which often have schools as their front line. We have adopted gay marriage in our countries without a collective nervous breakdown, we are not taking to the streets in huge mobs shouting about about guns, our murder rates and gun crime rates are staggeringly lower than the USA, although weirdly Belgium’s murder rate is nearly half that of the USA per 1000 people which is very high for western Europe. We wouldn’t dream in our schools (I’m a teacher) of suppressing religious clubs or telling our students that their religious beliefs are homophobic hate speach, but we are firm about disciplining specific homophobic or racist bullying. My pupils wouldn’t dream of getting their knickers in a twist about the stuff that kicks off in American schools and communities.

    My mostly unreligious pupils wouldn’t dream of treating their gay or Muslim peers differently or looking down on them in any way and the tragedy is that it is often the agnostics and atheists who exemplify living the gospel of unconditional love and compassion far better than the religously faithful who muddy the waters with a lot of baggage that labels groups of people sinful and treats them differently or cruelly because of that.

    The thing we have generally, outside France at least where the far right are gaining ground in mainstream politics, created is a non-religious secular politics and space which is respectful of religious beliefs but not beholden to them (in part because actively participating religious people are a small percentage of voters these days as you point out) where we do not feel threatened by other people living differently to ourselves in our community to the point where we assume our very family structures are being attacked by their existence and feel that obliges us to react aggressively and oppressively to those groups or subcultures. We mostly get the idea that freedom is indivisible and that we have no logical, ethical or moral high ground or justification in claiming tolerance for our beliefs and lifestyle if we are not prepared to allow and even actively support exactly the same for others who are different to us.

    Americans, particularly the religious right, seem to have given up on that idea or never understood it in the first place, so their is precious little safe neutral space for them to coexist in in their schools, politics, law enforcement and personal attitudes and behaviour between the uber-religious and uber-secularists. We have always assumed Americans were mostly gun nut crazy psychos who keep proclaiming that they have the best and most free society on earth without seeing that their country is a basket case compared to many of ours where we have managed to provide universal healthcare without rioting and are not shooting each other and immersed in gun ownershop and culture and so on. We were starting to get over that cliche, but you can imagine how our jaws have dropped watching Trump and his mobs – its even worse than we ever imagined. I was born to Brits in Provo and have dual citizenship and served a mission in Alabama so I think I have some expertese on which to base my comments.

    I’m not saying the Church needs to adopt gay marriage – and your assumption that that was what I meant if you are an American seems to prove my point about not understanding the concept of neutral ground. I’m saying we can tolerate and support it in our societies as part of a concept of real freedom and equality without theocracy and thus be attractive to other freedom loving tolerant people i.e. the vast majority of our countrymen and colleagues.

    Mormons in Europe already have to live with the extra hurdle of tolerating shed loads of dumb American sentimental emotional blackmail cheesiness in almost every General Conference talk, Church magazine and particularly advert or film, which is normal for Americans but unbelievably painful for the European mindset which far prefers common sense and rational thought over irrational emotional manipulation. We’ve had our propagandised ideological Nazi mass hysteria phase and mostly learnt the lesson from that.

    Having really intolerant and totalitarian attitudes and practices increasingly imposed and proclaimed by our leaders again after we had made so much progress during our lifetimes until now in leaving racism and unscientific homophobic bigotry behind is making it impossible for us to promote these apotles to our friends as sources of spiritual truth and wisdom. Our normal non-member friends will think we are out of our minds respecting and following people who say such things and think like that. It’s hard enough bringing friends to church because you just know one of the ward eccentrics is going to say something crazy, but when it’s the Apostles saying crazy totalitarian paranoid cult stuff like don’t use your reason, wisdom or use the internet to educate yourself, that’s game over for missionary work in Europe except among the ignorant and desperate, which is increasingly our convert demographic. It’s not a sustainable model. And mainly because these messages are not reflecting even the basic principles of christianity, not because they are politically incorrect to us pinko liberal socialists (which I’m not…) Europeans are generally extremely alert to hypocricy and absurdity. We absolutely abhor and distrust salesmanship, which is the second national religion in American culture.

    There is loads of common ground we could have with educated employed potential converts all over Europe, and this should be our best of times as we have a lot to say that is relevant to their scientific understanding of the vast scale of the universe and we still have pretty functional close knit religious communities in our wards with things to offer every age group, which is pretty rare in Europe now. But we are being sabotaged by old white Utah born and bred leaders who are VERY disconnected from our real lives however much they protest otherwise and are running screaming in the wrong direction back to 1950’s midwestern worldviews, and think these lovely people (‘the world’) have irredeemably gone to hell in a handbasket because they can cope with gay people raising children.

    I hope that explains where I’m coming from a bit, and please forgive me if I’m inaccurately associating you personally with the trends in American and American Mormon culture I’m addressing in what I have written. I’m just heartbroken that I’m 45, in my prime, experienced, I’ve devoted my life to building the kingdom in Europe and I can see all the potential, but the the men sitting on top of the spiritual power pyramid I’m trying to get my friends to join are sounding like Big Brother redefining words so we don’t even have the language left to think things they don’t approve of, and Goebells spouting hate-filled propaganda dressed up as sensible healthy patronising kindness.

  47. Yes, that sentence in his talk made me sit up with a shocked look on my face!! So God didn’t care about the other people who died in Brussels, Paris or how about the 6 million Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, etc who died in the Holocaust? Maybe it just came out wrong but it sure sounded terrible!

  48. “don’t confuse a random terrorist attack by foreigh or internet-indoctrinated islamic extremists as a symptom of the nature of society in that country.”

    That’s not the part I was referring to. Rather it was the news after those events of how poorly assimilated these groups are. It’s not too indescriptive to call these areas ghettos with all of the overtones that carries. When 70% of the prison population are muslims and only 12% of the population is, that’s a sure sign something is very off. One can point to unemployment rates, class, and a lot else.

    Again, I think the analogy to blacks in America is apt. The difference is that I think most Americans recognize we have a problem. Europeans seem in denial about it.

  49. BTW – Peter I think you might have a bit of a hyperbolic view of the US. While Americans like to debate these issues and there’s certainly civil disobedience tied to issues of civil rights, I don’t think the change to accepting gay marriage as the law of the land has led to particularly bad upheaval. We may disagree on the issue. There may be varying attempts at dealing with conflicts between the perception of religious rights and gay rights. But by and large I think the nation adjusted quite well and with little commotion. The violence here is higher, but again the reasons for this are more complex than I typically see discussed by Europeans. Not to derail the discussion mind you.

  50. I remember thinking they were bold in explicitly stating who the watchman on the tower is and that it’s a wonderful blessing. Other than that, there is nothing more to be said–it’s all been said. Get on with preaching the Gospel.

  51. Fair points, and I’m not going to deny that hyperbole is my middle name sometimes!

    My experience growing up
    In the Church here has been of being in many ways treated as a colony and an afterthought in the Church, although major strides have been made in removing Utah American cultural norms and scenarios from lesson materials and so on. We used to get quite cynical as teenagers working through moral dilemma scenarios involving modesty at proms and how to fortify yourself against the opportunities to do rude things with the captain of the dootball team and so in. That attitude persists subtly and persistently in a lot of what was said and presented in the talks and inter-session films about church leaders visiting and interacting with poor brown people abroad so that needs some work and won’t really change until the poor brown people are amongst the visiting leaders.

    The general ‘Everyone is so lucky to have me visit them’ things came across several times and we have experienced that in Britain. We have had major conferences with apostles where more than half the air time was spent being told how lucky we were to be able to sit at apostles’ feet and hearing them go on and on about their missionary experiences among our people and how much they love us and our countryside like visiting tourists and very little of spiritual substance that was any use to us.

    We understand that the leadership are physically based in the USA but a lot more effort needs to be made to bring the majority of members outside the USA into leadership and not to see the whole world through the lens of their local politics.

  52. If Pres Monson dies before Elder Nelson, does he have any credibility left? My idea would be to bring in a retirement age, such that Uchtdorf is next Prophet, as he seems least damaged. There being so many egoes, (who believe their beliefs about gays and women are Gospel) this is not likely to happen.

    I have little hope for the Church growing to fill the whole earth, as we used to believe, for the reasons Peter explained, unless there is some change in the culture of the Leadership. We had a new mission president tell us we were part of the wicked world, and he was here to help us. Our part of the wicked world is so much more loving and respectful than Utah. An example of Utah culture.

  53. @ Clark

    The defense that things “need to be simplified” is a red herring. Why *only* present the positives, and not present *any* of the negatives, to unsuspecting investigators? (We know the reason – numbers! converts! People wouldn’t convert if they knew the whole story) In the process of simplification, you need to preserve the basic integrity of the actual thing. We’re not doing that.

    It’s also a bad argument to say that people need to do their own research. That’s true, but it doesn’t justify our use of propaganda. In addition, investigators place a high degree of trust in missionaries. We shouldn’t betray that.

    Converts will eventually find out the truth in this information age, and most will go inactive. In the meantime, they will have changed religions, broken family ties, and “broken their mother’s hearts” – to use an image of Elder Holland. It seems that the most humane thing to do would be to present a more complete picture up front, so that people really know what they’re getting into.

  54. Does President Nelson have any credibility left? Yes, among many. In November 2015, before his January 2016 speech, there were wards in which people concerned about “The Policy” were reassured that they needn’t be because God had revealed it to President Monson. Some in fact felt reassured. Others simply never have the question presented to them; they lead busy lives untroubled by the possibility that their understanding that the brethren will never lead them astray may be too broad.

    [Others recognized the reassurance given about The Policy as rank speculation — President Monson has not been heard to claim revelation on the subject. In fact,, the November 13 “clarification” letter implies there was no such revelation. Note the difference between what it says had been revealed (very little and not apparently a reference to anything recent) and what it says is the obligation of the brethren or their concern: “Revealed doctrine is clear that families are eternal in nature and purpose. We are obligated to act with that perspective for the welfare of both adults and children. The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council. Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment.” Similarly, in the early November “interview” with Elder Christofferson he made statements about the brethren’s concern and motivation, but made no claim of revelation in the process of adopting the Handbook changes.]

    I have been concerned with President Nelson’s attribution of inspiration to President Monson and his assessment that each of the brethren “felt a spiritual confirmation.” All of that doesn’t even rise to the level of hearsay because he did not say that any of them told him so. It is significantly inconsistent with the hearsay reported by R.B. Scott in the article I pointed to earlier. Because I believe President Nelson has a good and honest heart, and because he did not distinguish between the ill-drafted Handbook changes and the contradicting November 13 letter (both cannot be attributed to revelation from the Lord unless the Lord is fickle enough to change his mind within two weeks as a result of public outrage), I attribute President Nelson’s assertions on the subject to his misperception of what happened or his over-stating his own perceptions.

    Assessing credibility is intensely personal. My concerns and my inability to believe something is no indication that others will be similarly incapable. E.g., the same mock trial presented to multiple demographically identical juries can lead to wildly different results. In one lawyer acquaintance’s example, the decisions ranged from zero liability to a multi-million dollar award.

    It may be worth noting that as President McKay’s health worsened there was a lot of worrying about Joseph Fielding Smith becoming president of the Church and furthering his anti-science fundamentalism “ex cathedra.” As president, he repeated none of that sort of opinion that he had adamantly championed earlier. As Spencer W. Kimball’s health worsened there was a lot of worrying about Ezra Taft Benson becoming president of the Church and furthering his extreme right-wing political agenda “ex cathedra.” As president, he repeated none of those personal political opinions. In this case, I continue to counsel myself to patience (not my strong suit). Those who cannot exercise the necessary patience or accept a lack of perfection in others might find the Church toxic to them, but that would not be entirely attributable to recent events.

  55. The most relevant portion of the whole conference was the stats, revealing that a daunting number of brothers and sisters resigned. This in light of the fairly vanilla topics said a lot. And if paying attention, while fairly subdued, nearly all the talks from apostles had anti-doubter themes.

  56. So many decades have passed since Church leaders have experienced a revelation worthy of publication that a revelation is now redefined as whatever the 15 agree upon. Hence BKP’s conference statement regarding the family proclamation and RMN’s regarding the handbook change. In the absence of real revelation, we muddle through, doing the best we can with the best thinking of mid-20th Century mountain America, and denying all other sources of knowledge. Alas, “prophet, seer, and revelator” has become a job title, rather than a functional description.

  57. BKP’s conference statement regarding the Proclamation on the Family – that it “meets the definition of revelation” – was edited out in print. In print, the Proclamation was demoted to good advice for members of the Church to follow. The PR response to allegations of censoring BKP was to the effect that he did it himself. So, the signatures of all 15 meeting the definition of revelation was either a misstatement or BKP’s belief at the time but quickly corrected. There has been no correction of RMN, but he also didn’t use the word “revelation.” There has also been no public agreement by the other 14 with RMN.

  58. Paul (32) I don’t think that’s a fair statement. For one inspiration is revelation. So I think you are suggesting revelations only matter if they are highly textual and significant. But if you look there have been many major changes of late, all requiring revelation. They are real revelation. Second even if you buy the more textual view, looking at the New Testament, especially the Pauline letters, there’s little there you’d probably call revelation. Yet they are pretty significant in terms of scripture. By that standard a lot of conference talks are on par with the NT.

    Andrew (31) in 2014 there were 15,372,337 members of record and they reported 2015 was 15,634,199 with 114,550 children of record added. That’s a YoY growth rate of 1.7%. That’s low I’ll fully admit but is still growth. I confess I don’t see that as a “daunting number of brothers and sisters resigned.” What was surprising to me was the huge increase in CoR baptisms. Until 2015 the number was between 60,000 and 70,000 more or less. Then last year there was a huge jump to 114,550 which is pretty unexpected.

    From what I can tell most of the problem was with convert baptisms. They were down to 257,402 from 296,803. However that later figure was high due to the change in mission policy. As noted at conference the mission population has now stabilized. However the converts was down significantly compared to any time in recent decades. (You have to go way back to 1988 to get an equivalent figure) My sense is that this means the shift to 18 year olds is having a significant impact on the quality of missionary work, as I feared.

  59. Jenny (28.1) said:
    “Mormonism needs to come to terms with the inspiration/agency paradox–the question of how we best sustain leaders who are fallible and able to make mistakes, particularly when our own inspiration is in conflict with their direction and instruction. This is the question that is at the heart of so many members struggles, including my own.”

    I share your concern and believe that our redefinition of the term “prophet” is having, and will continue to have, grave consequences for our theology. I believe we should stick to the idea that a prophet is a messenger from God (the meaning of the Greek root of the word), who is not to freelance, add to, or subtract from the message he (or she) receives from God. A prophet speaking for God will state explicitly that they are doing so in order to clarify when they are delivering the message from God and when they are speaking from their own wisdom. They produce these fruits that then must be judged by the hearers, who then have the obligation to use that fruit to determine for themselves whether the prophet is false or true. In other words, to paraphrase Joseph Smith, a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such. If they do not do this, then they are not prophets and are simply leaders – potentially wise and experienced, but not prophets.

    I’d also add that their ability to speak for God (their authority, in other words) is derived from their message – full stop. The message is their authority, for someone can sit in Moses’ seat but not have authority from God. Only God himself can give that authority.

    I also find it odd that we now equate the wisdom of councils as revelation from God, flying in the face of years of commentary from church leaders that such thinking led directly to the Great Apostasy. Evidence for the Great Apostasy was that of the Catholic Church leaning upon the wisdom of men rather than direct revelation from God. It seems we are determined to repeat that same mistake.

  60. But…does any of that matter? Even a little?

    1.) How could you possibly judge who is or is not “mistaking familiarity for efficacy and enjoyment”? If you can judge someone else’s enjoyment, you clearly have a leg up on, well, everyone else.

    2.) Functioning decently depends greatly on one’s point of view. Also, is there a point of comparison? Also, is this a bad thing? I’ve been in wards that I would say function well and others that do not function quite as well. I’ve enjoyed my time in all of them. Because the ward is important, but the gospel is essential. And my enjoyment depends largely upon me. If I wait on others to determine whether or not I enjoy something, I feel that I’ve missed a large portion of the point of living.

    3.) Though I have indeed visited other churches and many people attend them and seem to be having fun, why do I care about that? Popular churches change over time and are often based on many factors that have nothing to do with the Lord. Indeed, why would I seek to compare or contrast my experience with other churches if I have a testimony of the gospel of Christ? What possible good could it do?

  61. That’s the message and the overriding mindset of church leadership at this point in time. I’m surprised that this is not a greater topic of conversation. Can the inquisition be far behind or is it already here?

  62. Again though it simply does not seem like the problem with Church growth in Europe is about American culture. I know Europeans point to that and they may indeed not like it. But does anyone really think that if those elements were removed the Church would suddenly (unlike any other religion in the region) experience growth?

    I think if you point to Asia then those sorts of criticisms have some bite. But that’s because other Christian groups are growing in that region much faster than we are. For Europe the region is just becoming irreligious. Further many of the elements of American culture that are disliked really are a result of that social evolution to extensive secularism.

    Likewise I’m skeptical that having “poor brown folk” among the leadership would change things significantly either. This seems to me to be looking at fairly superficial elements while neglecting the core reasons people leave or join.

    To make a substantial point, even if the recent controversies over gay marriage were eliminated but the law of chastity was kept in place, do you really think things would be significantly different? And if one was to eliminate the normative beliefs of practice (chastity, etc.) do you think people would join then? Lastly, there’s the question of how many of those elements are “American” given their prominence in the scriptures. Yet the types of Christianity seeing the largest drops in membership are precisely those that do remove such elements from the religion. So comparisons would suggest that would end Mormonism in Europe far faster than the status quo would.

    None of this is to say all is well in Zion. I think we can and should do better. But let’s at least be clear about what’s going on.

  63. It’s humorous to watch Nathaniel roam back and forth trolling this site like the second coming of Adam Greenwood.

  64. “I also find it odd that we now equate the wisdom of councils as revelation from God, flying in the face of years of commentary from church leaders that such thinking led directly to the Great Apostasy. “

    Are we significantly doing that? I confess I just don’t see that. I’ll fully admit that the Proclamation on the Family seems a proclamation taken out of the revelations to clarify some doctrine. But I don’t see people really disputing that. At best the question is whether the inferences regarding premortal gender/sex are accurate. However let’s be clear that there is nearly 200 years of doctrine on that. Even if it might go beyond what’s in clear revelations it doesn’t go that far. Further given the nature of continuing revelation it could be corrected. It’s that element of correction rather than adherence to the creeds that seems most problematic for the apostasy. After all we have things like the Articles of Faith, Lectures on Faith, lots of First Presidency letters, and so forth. But how they function is fundamentally different from how the creeds functioned historically.

    Further there have been in my lifetime some fairly big changes. The blacks and the priesthood nearly everyone involved stated was a clear revelation. While the other changes aren’t as clear in terms of revelation (adding things to the canon of scripture, changing the Seventy, etc.) it seems plausible to interpret them as such. And if we’re wrong, well, OK, we’re wrong. I don’t see how that’s the thinking that led to the great apostasy.

    I think the problem in the history of the apostasy, beyond the functional role of the creeds, was the loss of authority. That is the Church was taken away along with the higher ordinances. Secondarily the church, especially after Augustine, created some pretty significant additions to the scripture by interpreting them in a fairly neoplatonic fashion (with some significant additional doctrines like creation ex nihilo and original sin.)

    I’d add that anyone who’s been to hear Apostles in other contexts than conference or official interviews have heard them talk in the spirit, make prophetic statements and blessings, and the like. So from a personal level many of us just think the idea that there is no revelation to be false. Now not as much is done publicly but again that’s not uncommon. There are tons of scriptures saying that’s the way it is supposed to be.

    A prophet speaking for God will state explicitly that they are doing so in order to clarify when they are delivering the message from God and when they are speaking from their own wisdom.

    While that sometimes happen it’s not a requirement. I’d say it’s by far the exception than the rule. (Going back to Joseph Smith) It’s true a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such, but the idea there’s some way independent of the spirit to tell that in most cases just seems false.

  65. I hadn’t realized Adam Greenwood had had a second coming (or are you projecting the future). I’ll have to ask him about it.

  66. Recently, the youth in our ward participated in a virtual discussion with Elder and Sister Bednar. One of the questions asked had to do with how to recognize the holy ghost. Elder Bednar said that he thinks that we overthink this question and that it really just boils down to whether you are prompted to do something good or have an idea that is good. If so, then those prompted actions or ideas come from the Holy Ghost. It is not difficult to draw a line from that concept to the notion that “good ideas” produced by those who hold priesthood keys become revelation. Of course, to tie this to the OP, this logic all depends on our concept of what are good ideas or good actions.

  67. Clark Goble (35):

    I appreciate your comments but there have been multiple comments by leaders indicating that they decide things by all 15 being in agreement. Elder Ballard has referred to the decisions of councils as revelation. Elder Nelson’s description of the process behind November’s policy change sounded an awful lot like a decision by council. Our leaders have made similar comments about how they, if all 15 are in agreement, cannot lead us astray.

    How is this any different than the Catholic Church, which could trace its “keys” to Peter in an unbroken line of succession? Did the people in their councils not pray beforehand? Have you read some of the accounts from some of those councils? They sound a lot like those described by our leaders. Spiritual impressions, an unbroken line of authority, honest attempts to gain wisdom by discussion, etc. Those things were all described as present during the old councils, yet we dismiss them and claim ours are different. Why?

  68. The idea of agreement is significant of course. I’m just speaking for me as I’ve not seen a convincing argument that they think it revelation. But I’ll fully confess I’ve just not read the comments you are referring to (or have read and forgot them). So I’m just speaking to my knowledge or ignorance. That said I clearly do think that when the brethren are united on a decision it is far more likely to be correct.

    Could you link to the comment by Elder Ballard you are thinking of?

    As to how it is different than the Catholic Church. In what sense do you mean? What counts is whether they are receiving revelation ultimately. Certainly Catholics can make a claim for authority as can Protestants. Fundamentally we are Mormon because we think both claims are wrong.

  69. When you come to your final decision, could I make a request? I would love it if you turned on the links to individual comments. I often bookmark them, and when you have the links turned on, this is much easier for me.

  70. To add, really what you are asking is a basic epistemological question. How do we know? What I sense some wanting is some clear evidence of what is or isn’t revelation independent of their own revelation. I just don’t think there are good markers for that. I’m not even convinced when a GA thinks something is revelation it is revelation since what gets spoken is typically mediated. That is a GA might have a dream that is a revelation but what he remembers and how he interprets it might not be. And how they phrase it when they speak it may also be flawed and introduce errors. So I just don’t buy the idea of infallible revelation as a practical matter.

    That’s not to say I deny revelation. Far from it. And I tend to give the brethren the benefit of doubt because I think there’s a presumption they are inspired on most matters. (Which again is not to say they actually are) Typically this doesn’t matter because few of their decisions seem to matter ultimately that much in the sense of really making things significantly worse. They are trying their best and, like the Brother of Jared, I assume God gives general commands but they’re expected to figure out implementation on their own typically. Since Joseph Smith often screwed up implementation of many principles I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize the current brethren more. (Think the Kirtland bank for instance)

    Many people want things to be clear and I personally think that goes against what God wants us to learn in this life. In my personal life I’ve had what I’ve revelations that at the time were given were very clear. I’ve had some that I only recognized as spiritual guidance looking back at what happened. And I’ve had some where clearly I screwed up and misinterpreted things. I’m sure the brethren are similar even if they undoubtedly are far more spiritual than I am and better able to discern.

  71. “I think that church leaders wanted it that way.”

    Or perhaps the Lord wanted it that way. I’m a believer, so I’m accepting the notion that it’s the Lord’s church and He inspires the leaders regarding topics to address at conference. I know, call me naive.

  72. That’s grand. “The church leaders are lying through their teeth to people all over the world, and I for one won’t stand for it”!”

    I’m with you. Let’s take our blocks and go home.

  73. Yes, Geoff – Aus, there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation. Our prophets hate gay people. There is simply no possibility whatsoever that the Lord has inspired them to teach a principle that is difficult for people to accept. Right?

    “The gospel Christ taught was spectacularly designed to unsettle and disturb, not lull into pleasant serenity. * * * As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, the Savior did not preach ‘comfortable doctrine, easy on the ear.'” Terryl Givens, Crucible of Doubt.

  74. FGH as I said I think the analogy is to things like teaching silly criticisms of Global Warming or evolution. Why would you teach those things when teaching a science class? You wouldn’t.

    Further if we are to model ourselves on the scriptures, we follow their approach.

    Finally, I suspect these things come up more than you think. My investigators certainly all encountered anti-Mormon materials. So I certainly don’t mind discussing such issues if they come up. However I’m not sure the typical young missionary is capable of dealing with those issues usually in a fair fashion. I’m fairly well informed, but I certainly wasn’t capable of doing that sort of thing on my mission.

    What converts is teaching investigators to go to the Lord and listen to the spirit. That’s the key thing. If you can teach people to find out for themselves then they can grapple with all these issues. Typically with my investigators back in the day if I was able to reach the 3rd discussion before the anti-Mormons got to them they’d understand finding out enough they’d be baptized. Before then though that basic spiritual way of knowing wasn’t in place and they weren’t prepared to engage with such issues in what I’d term a fair way. (I’m sure you’d disagree on all the matters)

  75. @ Clark

    These things aren’t “anti-Mormon materials” as you continually refer to them. They are facts. They are included in the essays, for example. As such, they are *Mormon* materials, not anti-Mormon materials (unless you think that the Brethren are now anti-Mormons, which I’m sure you don’t). It would be appropriate to at least make potential converts aware that the essays exist, and potentially address some of the issues in them.

    You are a highly intelligent person, but your analogies are off the wall. Won’t even bother responding to them.

  76. FGH, I was relating my experiences on my mission. In those cases the things they encountered most explicitly were presented in an anti-Mormon fashion.

    I certainly do think members should engage such thing in a faithful fashion. So I was a big proponent of what the Church has been doing the past couple of years and wish they’d done it years earlier. I certainly don’t advocate hiding from such matters. I think people should be exposed to them. How to do it I’m still not entirely sure on. The Church has made some great important first steps, but there’s still a lot more to do on this.

  77. JR, I appreciate the clarification about ‘determined by’ vs. determined. The latter is what I understood and intended – that we hope the collective teachings of our leaders stem from God’s will.

    The example of Elder McConkie’s teachings and private –not public– repudiation is an interesting example. While in college I had an institute class at a university in Utah that used, as its text, 12 general conference talks and/or devotionals that the instructor presented as being “on par with scripture” in terms of their importance and truth. The Seven Deadly Heresies speech and Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet were two of the talks.

    I like the quote from S. Dilworth Young. Thank you for sharing.

  78. Thanks again for your thoughts Clark. Much appreciated. If you can cope with what follows I think I’ve refined my definition and explanation of what it is about American culture and other factors that are specifically sabotaging growth in places like Europe and the rest of the developed world, and I would argue pretty much everywhere.

    I agree that it has generally been the christian denominations who have watered down their expectations of traditional christian ‘righteous’ behaviour in areas like sexual activity and religious observance in the home that have seen plummeting attendance. I have for decades very closely watched the Church of England dwindle to irrelevance in my country because it lost confidence in its own beliefs, its senior clergy became too politically focused and stopped speaking the language of the gospel in ways that ordinary people could resonate with and understand, and dropped the prostelyting ball so most of their congregations went into an exponential tailspin where they aged fast and were not replacing the members they were losing. Many congregations have been snuffed out entirely and a LOT are about to reach that point. Some ‘Evangelical’ C of E groups decided to save the day, creating a set of missionary discussions called the Alpha Course based around more traditional fundamentalist beliefs which is now used by a lot of denominations (I used the youth version when running a Christian Union at the school I teach at) combined with more ‘charismatic’ worship, which has propped things up a bit. I have a friend applying to train as a vicar and she is finding that the big emphasis is on counselling skills and grass roots pastoring in what they look for in trainees. But the overall trend is rapid decline for them in the developed world while increasingly the bishops and clergy of the developing world call the shots, not always in ways the liberals like as they are inclined to be very socially conservative and that tension has threatened to split the Church several times. If more forward thinking senior leaders had focused more on staying relevant to ordinary people and speaking their language instead of obsessing about party politics and very public struggles with the government about social issues they would still have a much bigger membership base to give them influence today. I see our leaders spending alot of time shmoozing politicians and pressure groups, which is also the Public Affairs priority here and globally now, and adopting assumptions and language they have perhaps naively borrowed from the more extreme family values groups like ‘the natural family’ (hypocritical on so many levels bearing in mind our polygamy – I’m a very reluctant temple polygamist myself).

    While I don’t think we should lose confidence in our faith and doctrines and Christ-focused best bits and unique selling points of temple and deification, we are at extreme risk now of the other major mistake the C of E leadership made which was giving up the ambition to convert everyone and shifting mentality in the 1980s to managing decline. They concluded that their day in the sun had passed and converting the world is too difficult and unrealistic and reframing themselves as the lone voice in the wilderness, a small conscience for the nation, not an essential and significant part of the future of the nation and the world. It feels like something similar has snapped in Deseret, triggered particularly by losing the battle over gay marriage, and the leadership are hunkering down, disconnecting from the cheerful and confident ambition to fill the earth and the belief that every person in every country needs and wants what we can give them that was so positively embodied on Gordon Hinckley’s attitude and approach.

    Now a massive hopeless cloud has descended and everything outside the Mormon bubble is being presented as even more dangerous and sinister and threatening than ever when in fact a lot of trends like teenage pregnancies are moving in more positive directions. I think President Hinckley would have noticed that. These guys don’t seem the type to let facts get in the way of or in any way compromise what they have decided reality is. The current apostles have taken a LOT of specific measures in their teaching and excommunications and policies to pull up the drawbridges and dig a moat around the borderlands of the Church where there used to be gay Mormons and intellectual Mormons and uncertain Mormons and politically liberal and socialist Mormons and feminist Mormons and reforming ‘loyal opposition’ Mormons. And their children for goodness’ sake. It’s as if they’ve turned a flame thrower on all the family tents clustered in the distance but still pointing towards King Benjamin’s farewell sermon and blessing because they are too far away and they can’t be bothered any more to send his messages of hope and comfort that far.

    Despite all the recent begrudging opennes about embarrassing Church history they are finally prepared to associate themselves with publicly, step by step a new version of a very old system is being constructed at the same time where the only people welcome now seem to be those who keep their questioning to a minimum, who don’t challenge the leadership and how they have defined their authority and power in any way, who don’t put blind or at least very short sighted faith above ‘reason and their own wisdom’ to quote Dallin Oaks. The ideal young Mormons of the new Reich / Year Zero are completely uncontaminated by everyday things like pornography and learning by researching what different sources say about something on the internet (like we used to check out a range of books on a topic from the library.) It is literally the opposite of good educational practice to only look at one source of information when researching anything, particularly of that source is clear about having a biased agenda, yet as a teacher I am hearing Apostles of God telling the Church’s teachers and entire membership over and over to only trust or look at their own propaganda.

    That is such a betrayal of all the messages I have been taught growing up in the Church that valued intelligent understanding and education ajd what the temple endowment teaches about all truth being part of a divine whole. And now Elder Oaks has, hopefully naively and not intentionally, announced the final phase of any dangerous cultic totalitarian take-over of a community – having disconnected the core membership from the rest of society or the world, you then have a refining purge of those that remain in which you create a membership of totally devoted and unquestioning obedient people by proclaiming, as Oaks literally did in his talk, that the biggest remaining problem is the enemy within – the fifth collumn, the secret traitors. They are not a loyal opposition – they are your enemies and God’s enemies. Unless they submit completely to the leaders’ will in every way, if they dare to think for themselves or apply wisdom and common sense from their own experiences instead of completely believing whatever the current party line is, they must be rejected and expelled. That’s basically What Elder Oaks said in his talk, and then confirmed that he has turned into a pharisee losing his grip on the spirit of the law with his insensitivity towards non-Mormons killed or made homeless in the terrorist bombings and Fiji cyclone. Only God’s chosen tribe counts and only their prayers for safety matter or get heard.

    It’s like he’s evolving into a spiritual Donald Trump – hence my concern about the trainwreck these people are making of my once increasingly incusive and compassionate and cheerful Church from their right wing American subcultural paradigm which they apply now to the whole world and to me personally. I’m loyal opposition. Everyone who believes we are still on a step by step journey towards perfection individually and collectively that we are still far from completing should be loyal opposition. We are loyal to our Church and our Lord, and we are constantly looking for ways to Serve him and buld His kingdom more perfectly and more effectively, which HAS to include constant critical analsyse of everything. That’s what they used to teach us anyway.

    The Purpose of the Book of Mormon is to salvage the credibility of the Bible and its message in the modern age. This is the moment for us to come to the rescue. We could be the people stepping into the breach as the unambitious Protestant denominations decline into oblivion. The churches that are still thriving in the developed world are both doctrinally fundamentalist and confident in their principles and expectations, and have lively, involving worship and communities in which much is required and much is given. But many good people who would join a church are put off that because they are not at all comfortable with happy clappy and over-emotional irrational preaching and worship styles, and by the sad fact that many of these megachurches are led by people making a fortune from their members in very corrupt ways like the worste of the televangelists. We can offer the world a rational faith, a mostly unembarrassing worship style AND inclusive, demanding and fulfilling supportive faith communities. We have the best of both worlds, but these atitudes and behaviours from the top are creating a major obstacle between us and the people who need and would respond to what we could give them. And they are even chasing many of our best and brightest members who everyone has invested years of effort and time in developing out of the Church they should be helping to lead confidently into he 21st century.

    So I’m not saying that traditional bible-based values are the American or toxic thing in Europe putting people off joining our Church (and although it took a while to start, America is rapidly going the same way Europe did in the 1980’s regarding church attendance generally which has put the wind up the religious right there.) I like to think that if I can be a Mormon so can anyone else. It is that too many of our leaders are being totalitarian and sinister in their demands of members’ minds and freedom to think for themselves.

    They oversimplify and wrap that message up in passion and emotional blackmail. They wake up with tedious regularity convinced that they have a bright new problem-solving idea or solution (Did ANYONE say ‘hasten the work’ in this conference?…) that will fix everything and if they work hard and convince all of us it’s right they can change the world without needing to pause and consider the collatoral damage that will ensue because they were too prideful to learn from history or consult with people on the frontline or make contongency plans for failure. THAT’s the culturally American bit, as spectacularly demonstrated in the Gulf War aftermath. Americans used to be good at that, like the plan to reconstruct a democratic western Europe after World War 2, but they seem to have lost the skill since and replaced steady hard work with get rich quick short sighted strategies.

    Added to that particularly culturally American over-optimism and over-simplification is the more universal totalitarian script of one size fits all specifications regarding what is acceptable in thought and dress and who we associate with, just like the pharisees used to insist upon. All this adds up to what is repellant and toxic. Anyone with any sense will see that for the dangerous cultism it is very quickly and want nothing to do with us. Lots of people in my country have reached that conclusion long ago (thankyou very much for that, baseball baptising morons….) It is completely out of step with the times in free societies where the internet empowers everyone who has online access (i.e. pretty much everyone, even in Uganda where there are far more mobile phones than lightbulbs http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35883649 ) with information and power to understand and choose things for themselves without a very bossy nanny telling them what they should think and do. In trying to scare people away from the internet the GA’s promoting this message (which is not all of them, but they include some very powerful probable future presidents of the whole Church) are in effect trying to diminish members’ ability to think, be informed and resist their totalitarian control. I don’t know to what extent they realise this, but neither naivety or guile are attractive qualities in world leaders.

    It is also out of step with everything Mormonism is meant to be about – trusting individuals to think for themselves, and teaching (as ironically quoted TWICE from D and C 121 in different talks this Conference) not through assertions of priesthood authority and fear and control and manipulative guile, but simply through patient gentle persuasion. PERSUADE people of truth and good, in open minded debates with alternate points of view if necessary because truth will hold up to any opposition. ‘Fear not!’ Win the argument, don’t forbid the conversation! Paul taught that we all have things the Spirit has prompted us to teach each other and we all have essential perspectives and gifts. Oaks and Bednar and others are relentlessly shutting down that philosophy and principle by reframing everything they can get their hands on into pharisaism. I see no indication that they believe they can learn anything from us that isn’t just reinforcing their existing mindset. That crucial depth of humility seems to be compromised or missing.

    We are only allowed to learn from their ‘prophetic direction’ and the most freedom we are allowed is to ask faithful and safe questions, which they will then answer for us because they give prophetic direction. Well, that’s not how you help future gods stand on their own feet and grow until they are independently the equals of God because they have the eternal glory of knowledge and priesthood power distilled on themselves like dew, not given to them by a priesthood official. I’ve just found this excellent blog by Anonymousbishop while tracking down Bednar’s infamius ‘I am scripture’ statement which says what I’m trying to really well:

    http://anonymousbishop.com/2015/08/10/i-am-scripture/

    I’d also recommend the latest Infants on Thrones analysis of Elder Ballard’s talk telling the CES people to get educated and not avoid difficult questions. (https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/evening-with-a-general-authority/2016/02/the-opportunities-and-responsibilities-of-ces-teachers-in-the-21st-century?lang=eng) This discussion is much less sweary than their usual fare ;) If you can cope with some vigorous derision and a somewhat freewheeling approach I find that they are always a hoot as well as intelligent and perceptive in their ‘smackdown’ analyses, and if you understand satire their Conference parodies and similar are cathartic works of genius.

    http://infantsonthrones.com/an-evening-with-elder-ballard/

    I’m about halfway through it. One thing that’s really interesting they have picked up on is how Ballard still went on to demonise the internet and those who partake in it by explaining that really ‘pure’ and faithful students won’t need all this intellectual information stuff because they will just have super-faith without it – testimony bearing is enough for the really elect (backed up with 3 stories about this). It is the impure children and teenagers who because they are exposed to the internet will of course have all been inevitably poisoned by pornography who will require additional measures like rational persuasion and answers to questions to get to the same faithful place. Apart from being patently wrong and an arrogant over-simplification of the complexities of real human experience and development, this message emphasises to the Church’s professional educators a hierarchy where the gullible or easily emotionally/spiritually persuaded are the best humans and students, and the the kids asking questions and researching as rational learners are all by his definition impure pornography-addled symptoms of a fallen world. I must try that message in some teacher training at school….

    And that’s the thing. When you start sifting and pay attention to what the Apostles are actually saying in their often rambling way there is a bizarre mash up of great gospel stuff and pure satanism these days which is very revealing and alarming. We have been raised in the Church to be wary of heresy and philosophies of men mingled with scripture and that’s tragically become a very apt description of General Conferences. (By satanism I mean: Thought control. Obedience prioritised over personal analytical pondering and insight and autonomy to choose how to live. Offering over-simplified solutions or short cuts on the journey of eternal progression. Tail wagging the dog – symptoms treated as causes of our pain and problems, and side effects treated as the medicines to fix us. E.g. The existence of money is not the root of evil. Love of it is.) The Christianity Jesus promoted involves acting on personal spiritual promptings to step out of manmade boxes and rules and have the flexibility to choose from the many good things rather than the one good thing in the Talmud, thus enabling us to minister to all the people around us and bring Christ into their lives through our service and love, no exceptions and noone left behind. When you run the Church the hyper-controlling and inflexible Pharisee way you can only save one tribe as long as they all follow exactly the same religious AND cultural rules and stay away from everyone else. The apostles need to reach outside the tribe and drop the obsessive crusades for lost causes which blow things like campaigning to deny other people non-monogamous non-heterosexual marriages, or calling any degree of pornography exposure an ‘addiction’ or ‘disease’, out of all proportion and become a fatal distraction from the far more urgent things that need dealing with. They need to raise their game urgently and promote the things that will actually save and grow our Church. Some like Uchtdorf are clearly trying to with some very bold statements about some things our prophets have done being indefensible and crushing the flower of the gospel with well-intentioned sediments over the last few years, but it’s hard to hear them over these Pharisee big guns and they will be in charge before he is.

  79. Wow. That’s really long Peter. A few brief thoughts.

    I should note I did not grow up in the United States. So I’m not sure I’m quite biased by the American view although I think people outside the US tend to disparage US culture too much. Admittedly sometime it is the problem.

    Having been at BYU in the early 90’s during the so called September Six and warning of alternative voices I kind of wonder at the portrayal of the present being worse. This seems the most open the church has ever been. It’s publishing documents, engaging with difficult history and more. I just don’t see the embattled stance with feminists or intellectuals. That’s not to deny a certain conflict at times, but there are reasons for that on both sides.

    The idea that Mormons aren’t to question I confess just seems crazy to me. I just don’t see it and have never seen it. Admittedly now I live in Mormon central in Utah county. And this is much more a peer pressure thing that will vary from ward to ward. However just as I’m loath to extrapolate to the whole Church on the basis of a few wards in Provo, perhaps the opposite is true too.

    My sense from the rest of your comments is that you just have a pretty distorted view of what life in the US is like. Perhaps because most of it comes from newscasts focused on the most sensationalist elements? (Americans tend to have distorted views of Europe for the same reasons – with some thinking that terrorists are blowing things up left and right) It’s hard to say much beyond that what you portray just isn’t my experience. And I’ve lived in some of the highest crime ares of the country.

    When you talk of a one size fits all totalitarianism, well again you’re getting into extreme hyperbole again. I am probably not the typical person but I really don’t feel any pressure to conform and certainly don’t see anything akin to you describe. I’m not saying that’s not how you feel. I’m sure it is. Just that it’s hard to say much not knowing the details of what caused you to feel that way. I can but say I’m skeptical. Of course people feel what they feel regardless of what’s going on. I’ve been in wards where I felt disconnected at the same time other people in the ward thought it the best ward ever. That didn’t make me feel any better.

    My sense is Mormonism is completely about thinking for ones self. However what some people mean by that is attempting to reformulate the church in their image so they feel more comfortable. (Note – I’m not saying you’re doing this – just that it’s a phenomena I’ve noticed) Of course the church and members will react against that. Can the Church be all things to all people? Well ideally what counts is the core, and we love those around us who think differently from us. Imagine how Christ must have felt being in the primitive society in 1st century Palestine. If you learn much about what society was like in such times it’d be shocking to us. If Christ could come to love people in such a mysogynist, racist, horribly violent culture how can I not easily love those who come from a quite enlightened culture? If I need the church to be the society I feel most comfortable in to be a part, what does that say about me? (And here I’m critiquing myself and not others – when I feel somewhat disconnected from people in my ward as I sometimes do I ask myself what I can do better to serve them)

  80. You’re a fast reader Clark! I promise to be more succinct from now on…..or I’ll try and probably fail. It’s all too interesting and important :)

    I really appreciate what you said about Jesus coping with 1st century Palestine – it perfectly represents the shock I have been experiencing losing a lot of the naive trust I used to have in the Apostles as generally reliable and facing a future where it looks like I am going to have to live with a much more conflicted and frustrating but perhaps much more healthily realistic experience of how things really are and how life is for most people without absolute certainties like those I’ve been used to. That’s a very healing and encouraging perspective to offer – thankyou.

    I don’t think we are yet in a fully totalitarian system and I agree with you that our experience of the Church and its core values has been mostly very much the opposite, as I hope I have acknowledged – that’s why I am so flabbergasted that experienced apostles have gone so off-message. Hopefully the overall trajectory is still towards openness, but by really digging their heals in to resist key aspects of these reforming trends they are forcing previously harmonious wards and families to polarise and turn on each other, and it has been happening in a bad way for several years now. In my circle of acquaintance and friendship that has included 2 bishops, 2 bishopric councillors, 2 gay missionary companions and members of my family. Spend some time in the bloggernacle and there are countless tales of families torn apart because of the legacy of lying about Church history and treating the loyal opposition who habe served faithfully in the church all their lives as enemies. (This is a phrase Oaks made up by the way as far as I can tell – I’ve never ever heard members describing themselves with that label, but I’m happy to adopt it now! Must get a T-shirt made…By definition a loyal opposition whose loyalty is not questioned is the most essential defense against tyranny and madness in any organisational leadership, most of all in the Church. If you start looking for it, there is loyal opposition all over the place – Nathan the prophet to King David, Jesus to the Sanhedrin, Paul to the First Presidency of Peter, James and John.

    My alarm is that actions follow words like the Third Reich followed ‘Mein Kampf’ and we have some key apostles slipping into their teaching and guidance to the whole Church membership specifically totalitarian concepts. I have already experienced the consequences of the anti internet mantra in the last Conference in the thinking and teaching of some people at church who got that message loud and clear. Just as we liberal futurists clutch on to any phrase or teaching by GA’s that protects our world view, I can only imagine what overt and subtle impact these words are going to have:

    ‘Some of this opposition even comes from Church members. Some who use personal reasoning or wisdom to resist prophetic direction give themselves a label borrowed from elected bodies—“the loyal opposition.” However appropriate for a democracy, there is no warrant for this concept in the government of God’s kingdom, where questions are honored but opposition is not (see Matthew 26:24). (A scripture about Judas! JUDAS!!)

    This sounds a lot like the infamous Improvement Era article in 1945

    (http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/when-the-prophet-speaks-is-the-thinking-done)

    that said “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.”

    I’m with George Albert Smith who wrote the following to a local minister concerned about that statement:

    ‘The leaflet to which you refer, and from which you quote in your letter, was not “prepared” by “one of our leaders.” However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.

    I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith once said: “I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please.” This liberty he and his successors in the leadership of the Church have granted to every other member thereof.

    On one occasion in answer to the question by a prominent visitor how he governed his people, the Prophet answered: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

    Again, as recorded in the History of the Church (Volume 5, page 498 [499] Joseph Smith said further: “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.”

    I cite these few quotations, from many that might be given, merely to confirm your good and true opinion that the Church gives to every man his free agency, and admonishes him always to use the reason and good judgment with which God has blessed him.

    In the advocacy of this principle leaders of the Church not only join congregations in singing but quote frequently the following:

    “Know this, that every soul is free
    To choose his life and what he’ll be,
    For this eternal truth is given
    That God will force no man to heaven.” ‘

    So Elder Oaks has retrenched back as far as 1945. Ironically the year we defeated the Third Reich. No wonder the members were freaking out having risked their lives fighting Nazis and coming home to that as the hometeaching message of the month. You couldn’t make it up!

    I would argue that this is a lot worse than the Septenber Six situation because Oaks’ focus is not on identifying insidious threats in the rarified world of Mormon academia. He’s saying they are everywhere. They are in your ward! And they are Judases. And if they protest that they are loyal they must be lying because ‘there is no warrant for this concept in the government of God’s kingdom’ – like Judas they will betray you to the Romans to be crucified. I’m not looking forward to being potentially seen as a Judas-like threat with no warrant to consider it ok to use my ‘personal reasoning and wisdom’ to be selective about agreeing with direction from the prophets, specially when they are telling me it’s helping rather than harming children and teenagers to forbid them from receiving the covenant-making saving ordinances of Jesus Christ and the companionship of the Gift of the Holy Ghost while they sit through years of primary and youth lessons insisting these things are essential for happiness, or maybe people with a single drop of african blood in them cannot have the priesthood or go to the temple. Or Adam is Elohim. Or Civil Rghts were a communist conspiracy. Because they are infallable aren’t they, therefore there is no reason to even think that their government gets anything wrong when they speak in General Conference. ;)

  81. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Peter (#19.8 and the entire #19 subthread) I am sure it is tougher outside the Mormon core, where at least the liberal side of Mormon thinking is available in scattered conferences and certain geographical enclaves. Overseas Mormonism tends to represent a narrower range of Mormon views. But LDS leadership as well shows a narrower range of opinion these days, at least in public statements. Once upon a time (like the 1970s) comment sense and reasoned discourse was mainstream Mormonism. It’s not dead yet, but things have changed. And the recent emergence of something like a siege mentality among the leadership is not helping. I wish I could be more optimistic.

    The JSPP and the gospel topics essays are positive moves. Let’s hope for more moves like this.

  82. I still remember the first time I heard of the church essays on times and seasons. I went to the LDS website expecting a huge advert that would take me to the source. After searching the website, googling the internets, and still coming up empty handed, I had to go back to times and seasons and use the link. They are buried quite deep.

    I live in Southern California and recall going to UT to visit my family, who all live there. I tried to initiate a conversation on the essays but they had literally no idea what I was talking about. I sent them the link. They never read them.

    Similarly, as a Gospel Doctrine teacher I also mentioned the existence of these new essays in case anyone was interested in them. Maybe three members came up to me afterward to express joy that someone else had read them. No one else asked me how they could learn more.

    My guess is that there are plenty of members that similarly have no idea what happened last November either.

    I think the Church is doing its best to share new information with those that are asking for it, but is not particularly interested in the average member getting involved. So General Conference has, and will, continue to ignore all of this stuff for the sake of the average member. I really don’t think the Church is at all interested in the average member becoming invested in all of this.

  83. Today, it’s lds.org>Scripture and Study> Gospel Topics. I don’t find them hard to get to, but the Church’s online presence has really exploded in the last few years, both in terms of what is under the lds.org umbrella, but also other websites.

  84. Clark, while the quality of missionary work may have worsened (though I doubt it’s that much worse than having 19 year olds teaching the Gospel), I think that the (perhaps unexpected) decline in baptisms is more due to the fact that so many of the “Surge” missionaries wound up being packed into state-side missions where baptismal rates don’t match those in developing countries (for various reasons that have been catalogued on this website previously). Here in Virginia, several of the wards in our stake have two sets of missionaries with very little missionary work going on.

    I understand the difficult logistics of setting up a new mission or rapidly expanding a mission in a high baptism (and likely developing status) country (e.g., sub-Sharan African countries seem to be areas of growth but I’m sure they aren’t the easiest places in which to organize a mission), and I don’t criticize the decision. However, had we the ability to funnel those additional missionaries into new missions in high baptizing areas or expand existing missions, I think you would have seen significant convert baptism growth. Mission growth and corresponding convert baptism gorwth may simply be a few years away as the Church expands its ability to rapidly deploy the increased missionary workforce to places where they can be most effective.

  85. Right but the surge is over, from what I understand. So the 296,803 baptisms the prior year was likely tied to the surge as the age changed. This is a drop as the imbalance shifts, but isn’t a drop to the levels one would expect. It’s a significant drop. I’m not sure most of the surge ending up stateside would explain this.

    As to age, I think there’s a pretty significant difference is maturity between 18 and 19 – especially for that subsection who simply mature socially later that others.

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