Sunday, April 5, 2020

Notes on the Special Session

This wasn't a priesthood session or a women's session, so I guess this one is called a Special Saturday Evening session.  Special might be overstating it, but it was unusual in a way that at least inches us closer to the unprecedented experience promised to us six months ago.

Some thoughts:

You may be interested to know the original of this Harry Anderson painting hangs in President Russell M. Nelson's office, right behind his desk.

—Gerrit W. Gong
Was it a great idea to share that information?  Wouldn't a lot of people think it's perhaps an extravagance for someone who's supposed to be a humble servant of God to have an original piece of artwork hanging in his personal office?  This isn't something his granddaughter painted for him.

[Laudy and Enzo]
Unsurprisingly, I didn't really like everything these two kids had to say, but I'm not interested in criticizing them.  I'm here to criticize the church's leaders.  I thought both Laudy and Enzo did a commendable job as far as the oratorical delivery is concerned.  Knowing you're giving a speech including personal stories to an audience of millions while the prophet of God is breathing down your neck is probably a pretty high-pressure situation.  But I think the word "aplomb" might be appropriate.

Satan incites comparison as a tool to create feelings of being superior or inferior, hiding the eternal truth that men's and women's innate differences are God-given and equally valued.  He has attempted to demean women's contributions both to the family and in civil society, thereby decreasing their uplifting influence for good.  His goal has been to foster a power struggle rather than to celebrate the unique contributions of men and women that complement one another and contribute to unity.

—Jean B. Bingham
So, basically, feminism is Satanic.  Gotta hand it to Bingham—it usually takes a lot to convince me that Oaks didn't give the shittiest talk of any session featuring his measured, dulcet tones.

I almost don't know where to start.  Gimme a second here....

Okay, so I'm willing to accept as truth that men and women have innate differences.  But it's not going to break down into a column A and column B kind of thing.  Men may tend to have certain characteristics and women may tend to have certain other characteristics, and generally speaking, these qualities may be complementary.  But if you really think it's cool to try and split seven billion people into two distinct categories that have no overlap and require specific separate responsibilities, then you're going to be trying to shove millions of square pegs into round holes and millions of round pegs into square holes.  You're going to be disappointed.  You're going to be wrong.  One size does not fit all.  Two sizes do not fit all.  You're going to need to expand your paradigm a bit.

And, of course, this makes no accommodation for or acknowledgement of intersex people, but bringing that up might blow her mind, so maybe we'll save that for later.  One thing at a time.

I'm interested in how Satan has demeaned women's contributions to the family.  I'm assuming it's with how many women are part of the workforce these days and maybe something about abortion and something about late marriage ages and low birth rates?  The accusation that Satan has devalued women in civil society is particularly surprising, though.  We don't have groups who fund-raise specifically for female political candidates?  Our corporations don't have women's leadership groups?  We don't have a National Women's Day?  We don't teach our school students about Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony and Sally Ride and Molly Pitcher and Jane Addams and Rosa Parks?

And the power struggle comment really gets under my skin.  If she's talking about civil society, maybe someone needs to remind her that only about a quarter of her country's elected legislature is female.  Someone needs to remind her that we still haven't had a female president or vice president.  And for a secular government that isn't led by God the way the church supposedly is, that's a huge power disparity.  It's absolutely better than it once was, but pretending like women should be ashamed of spoiling a sense of unity in their struggle for equal political power is just...I don't know what that is exactly, but it's icky.

If her power struggle comment refers to the church, maybe someone should remind her that if this were a normal General Conference and all the general authorities were seated in the room, Bingham and her fellow sisters would be outnumbered 13 to 1.  You'd think that Bingham, as a woman who has risen through the ranks of Mormonism, would have had uniquely informative experiences about how much weight female voices are given in the church.  She can never be a prophet, an apostle, a mission president, a stake president, a temple president, or a stake patriarch, but she can be married to one or give birth to one.  Meanwhile, the types of decision-making positions men are excluded from in the church tend to be the ones whose scope is limited to women and children and which don't require the ever-important Priesthood Keys (TM) anyway.

I mean, whose idea was it for Bingham to speak in Conference?  Did she decide she was doing it because she has that kind of autonomy and authority, or was she told by a prophet or an apostle that she was being assigned to speak?  I'm guessing the topic and tenor of her address were priesthood-prescribed as well.

It's not wrong to want a voice, especially when your voice is being stifled and someone else's voice is being used to dictate policies that affect your life.  I submit that it is wrong to tell people who have not been given voice that they should be content with their position.

Although women are not ordained to a priesthood office, as noted previously, women are blessed with priesthood power as they keep their covenants and they operate with priesthood authority when they are set apart to a calling.

—Jean B. Bingham
One of the more irritating aspects of this whole argument is how much of it is merely playing with the semantics.  You can have the priesthood, you just can't hold the priesthood.  You have access to the priesthood, but you can't be ordained to the priesthood.  You're blessed with priesthood power but you can't hold a priesthood office.  Let's try to find as many ways as possible to make it sound like women have the priesthood without actually letting them have it.  We're not going to change anything, but we'll change the way we talk about it, and that's basically the same thing, right?

A few colorful sayings are coming to mind here.  Something about lipstick on a pig or polishing a turd.

Our wives are just as important today as they were then, of course they are.

—Russell M. Nelson

In a little video clip from another church historical site, Nelson tells Bingham about how important women were in the restoration.  I particularly enjoyed his comment about Lucy Mack Smith.  Why did Joseph go to the Sacred Grove to pray?  Because that's where his mother always went!  Look how important she was!  So what we're saying is that it was the location Joseph Smith chose for his prayer that was important?  If he hadn't chosen that spot because of his mother's example, God never would have been able to restore the gospel?  Surprising, but okay.

This last comment before we returned to the live feed was extra weird.  See, Nelson couldn't come up with an example of female leadership, so I assume he wanted to indicate that there are plenty of women who are important to the church today.  How are they important?  By being married to the men.  I don't think he really meant for this to come off the way it did, but I think it speaks to a fundamental misapprehension about the nature of the problem when he utterly fails to even frame his answer outside of a male perspective.  It's not just that he refers to the women as wives—it's that they're our wives.  As though no women are inherently of importance, but that they are imbued with value in their roles as wives to us, the important men who do the things.

A swing and a miss, big guy.

The captain, in front, has control over when to brake and when to stand.  The stoker, in the back, needs to pay attention to what is going on and be ready to give extra power if they lag behind a little or ease up if they get too close to other cyclists.  They must support one another to make progress and achieve their goal.

—Jean B. Bingham
I'm sorry, but this is an idiotic metaphor.

This is a perfectly acceptable example of teamwork, but it's not a good example of gender roles.  Is she saying that if they were to switch places, the bike would fall over immediately and they'd probably die?  Does she really think John and Allison have such specialized skills that if they got on the tandem bike in the opposite arrangement from usual, they couldn't make it work?  Who knows, maybe with some practice, it would actually work better that way.

I'm all for supporting one another to make progress and achieve a goal.  But I think an important aspect to that support is not to pigeonhole people into inhabiting the kind of role we've presupposed they're good for.

Bingham seems like the kind of person who will drive to a different mechanic because she doesn't want a woman rotating her tires.  She probably goes to a different salon too because she doesn't want a man doing her highlights.  What an exhausting way to live.  Different people have different things to offer.  Grow up.

Are we ready?  Will we strive to overcome cultural bias and instead embrace divine patterns and practices based on foundational doctrine?

—Jean B. Bingham
I know, cultural bias is the worst.  Religious bias is pretty bad, too, any chance we might overcome that one while we're at it?

The First Presidency had set a goal of reducing the duplication of ordinances.  Their major concern was our being unable to know whether a person's ordinance had already been performed.  

—Henry B. Eyring
Seriously, tons of people have had their temple ordinances done multiple times.  The fact that the church had to design software to figure out the problem kind of points to how sloppy God's master plan is.  A lot of temple goers have unwittingly performed salvific busywork.  I guess, theoretically, God knows when a person's work has been done, so you'd think he could have intervened and maybe given people inspiration to take different names to the temple or something, but no.  He's gonna let the duplicates pile up while the humans struggle to implement a very human, very imperfect solution.

The principle that priesthood authority can be exercised only under the direction of one who holds the keys for that function is fundamental in the church, but this does not apply in the family. 

—Dallin H. Oaks
Just to be clear, he's not in any way saying that women have the priesthood.

He's saying that men preside autonomously over their families without the need for directives from anyone holding priesthood keys.  This means the father can counsel family members, call family meetings, and provide priesthood blessings.  In situations without a father, the mother can do the same things—oh, except for the blessings.  Naturally.  

Is it crazy to point out that calling family meetings and counselling children are not things that anyone would need the priesthood for?  Non-Mormon families do this kind of stuff, so the distinction being drawn here is misleading.  Dads can do dad things and also give priesthood blessings because they have the priesthood.  Moms can do mom things but not give priesthood blessings because they don't have the priesthood.  There's no real women can exercise the priesthood power in their families thing here because the only things Oaks is giving them permission to do don't require the priesthood.

Great legalistic obfuscation, Dallin, as usual.  You're on your game tonight!

They [fathers] should cultivate loving family relationships so that family members will want to ask them for blessings.

—Dallin H. Oaks
This is almost word-for-word what he said during the March 2018 priesthood session, so I'll follow his lead and plagiarize myself too:
What. No. That is not why you should do that. 
I can't imagine how this guy must have treated his own children if he regards "cultivating loving family relationships" as part of his divine responsibility to exercise his Priesthood authority more fully in the home. Can children wanting to ask for a father's blessing be a good byproduct of healthy parenting? Sure. But presenting this as an actual reason for why fathers should have good relationships with their kids is...shocking? Appalling? Depressing? Laughable? Idiotic? I don't know, take your pick.
That was fun.  Moving on:

That is the best answer to many of the objections we hear against the church and its doctrines and policies and leadership.  Follow the test the Savior taught:  look to the fruits, the results.

—Dallin H. Oaks
I mean, if you have to brag about your fruits....

You know who brags about their fruits all the time?  Companies that want your business.  I've been getting weekly emails from my company's leadership telling us about all they're doing to donate toward efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, for example.  And it's on our public website, too.  And sure, those millions of dollars are helping, absolutely.  But the reason they're telling everybody about it is because they want the employees to feel good about working for a company that cares.  They want their customers to feel good about using the services of a company that cares.  It's about building loyalty.

As another example, there are plenty of people I'm nice to at work every day.  But it's not because I'm such a great guy.  It's because if I were to treat certain people like the insufferable daily irritants they are to me, the results would be more trouble than they're worth.

Good fruit can be cultivated with ulterior motives.  Good fruits are not produced solely by good trees.  It doesn't really work with the olive tree parable, but that's how it works in real life.  

With that growth, we have felt increases in the church's capacity to assist its members.  We assist in keeping the commandments, in fulfilling responsibilities to preach the restored gospel, in gathering Israel, and in building temples throughout the world.

—Dallin H. Oaks
I really, really thought Oaks was pivoting toward boasting about humanitarian aid and church welfare and the bishop's storehouses.  But no, when he's talking about how great it is that the church assists its members, he's talking about ecclesiastical matters.

Doesn't it kind of sound like most of those forms of assistance he cites actually assist the church organization, not necessarily the individual members?

The good this church accomplishes around the world to alleviate human suffering and provide uplift for humankind is widely known.  But its prime purpose is to help men, women, and children follow the Lord Jesus Christ, keep his commandments, and qualify for the greatest of all blessings, that of eternal life with God and their loved ones.

—Russell M. Nelson
And Nelson just proved my point!

This is the church's ulterior motive—we're not giving all this humanitarian aid to help alleviate human suffering, that's just a happy byproduct of our efforts to spread the gospel.  What a shitty thing to say out loud.  If you really had charity, you wouldn't be looking at providing disaster relief as an opportunity to push your religion further into the world.

To some people, this would look like good fruit.  But the tree is rotten.  So basically scratch out everything Oaks tried to say about this.

Now we still need help from Heaven.  So tonight, my dear brothers and sisters, in the spirit of the sons of Mosiah who gave themselves to much fasting and prayer, and as part of our April 2020 general conference, I am calling for another worldwide fast.  For all whose health may permit, let us fast, pray, and unite our faith once again.  Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic. I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10th, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.
 I know that he will respond to the pleadings of his people.  
 —Russell M. Nelson
Last Sunday's worldwide fast didn't seem to change anything, so we're...trying again?  Okay then.

Nelson's unequivocal confidence on this is interesting.  My hunch was that he knows he's not a prophet.  His apparent obsession with being revered as a leader, father figure, divine conduit—or whatever—has made me think he knows he's full of shit.  Who can say?  I have nothing but supposition and subjective observation to base this on.  But he really seems convinced this new worldwide fast will fix things.

I wonder if he's banking on the curve that these viral outbreaks tend to follow.  I'm obviously by no means the most informed person on this, but my impression from what I've read is that China is cautiously reopening now that the worst of it is over, Italy and Spain are showing signs that the curve may have turned a corner, and certain parts of the US are expected to reach their peak in mid-April before some models predict a decline in their infection rates.  If that's what he's doing, I think he's jumping the gun by scheduling it quite this soon, but maybe he's hoping that if the eventual decline in cases that's going to happen anyway coincides closely enough with his worldwide fast, his followers will give him credit for turning the tide.

That's a block paragraph of unfounded speculation, of course, but I'm just trying to make sense of a prediction Nelson made that I absolutely do not believe he has any ability to control.  Obviously, what I'd prefer is if cases dropped sharply tomorrow and nobody needs to even bother with the worldwide fast, but since I don't expect that to happen either, I'm just trying to figure out what kind of game the old kook is playing here.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Notes on the Saturday Sessions

Now we've begun the promised groundbreaking General Conference that was hyped by Nelson during the final moments of October's meetings.  The general authorities were set up in some kind of nearly empty anteroom in the conference center.  They also failed to practice social distancing as they could have high-fived each other when speakers approached the podium before waiting for the previous speakers to retreat to their seats.  And there was also a completely unnecessary handshake between Oaks and Nelson that may have been setting a terrible example for members in regions affected by COVID-19 around the world.

But anyway, here's what was discussed.

Little did I know when I promised you at the October 2019 General Conference that this April conference would be memorable and unforgettable—that speaking to a visible congregation of fewer than ten people would make this conference so memorable and unforgettable for me.
—Russell M. Nelson, Saturday morning session

Hardly thirty seconds into the first speech of the conference, the prophet admits that he didn't see the future.  Honestly, we could have ended the conference right here.  All credibility lost, step away from the microphone, sir.  

Nelson is sort of...trying to make light?...of the fact that he had no prophetic inkling of the global health crisis and the worldwide panic that would necessitate a drastic change in format to a meeting he'd announced would be extra special.  Ha ha, that's so funny that the person who has the most direct pipeline to heavenly knowledge was just as shocked as the rest of us by the pandemic gripping the world right now!  That Elohim, always the trickster!  Boy, you got us good this time!  What a prank, you ol' rascal!

I wasn't expecting him to grab the mic and try to claim he foresaw any of this, but it was a surprising admission couched as a joke.  I don't know why he isn't worried this weakens the legitimacy of his claim to a prophetic mantle, but whatever.

How can we endure such trials?  The Lord has told us that "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear." 
—Russell M. Nelson, Saturday morning session
There are a couple of problems with this.  Mostly because, in the current context, it's retroactive.  And this advice doesn't work retroactively.

We're already in the middle of this trial.  If we weren't prepared for it before it happened, how helpful is it to say that preparation prevents fear?  Also, I strongly suspect that when God said those words in Doctrine and Covenants 38, he wasn't talking so much about facemasks, non-perishable food, and telecommute-capable employment.  He was talking about spiritual preparation.  I have a feeling that most church members' fears are of a more temporal nature right about now.  We're glad that God is watching out for us because we were spiritually prepared and all, but we'd still like to know how to pay our mortgages and find toilet paper.

Also, since it's perfectly natural to be afraid during such times, I have to wonder how many people watching who are afraid interpret this scriptural reminder to mean that their fear is an indication that their spiritual devotion is insufficient.  That's gonna help.

We are blessed to have four primary accounts, from which I will draw.
—M. Russell Ballard, Saturday morning session
A little inoculation goes a long way?

Ballard casually drops in this factoid that many members may not have been aware of—Joseph Smith's First Vision story was written down more than once.  Without giving any indication that these accounts contradict each other, he goes on to retell the story we all know while sprinkling in a few quotes from sources we don't normally read so that it looks like the other three sources mostly align with the one many of us can probably quote from.  It was quite a deft dance with some very complex footwork for such an inflexible old man.

And also—wait, hang on a second...
...okay, now that my tin foil hat is securely fastened, I'll continue.

During Ballard's talk, I wanted to fact-check something because I couldn't remember if the 1835 account that mentioned the host of angels specifically excluded the presence of God or Jesus.  When I tried to look it up on the Joseph Smith Papers website, I was repeatedly given an error message that the site was down for maintenance.  It's back up now, but if anyone was trying to Google the unexpected detail that Joseph claimed to have seen angels in the First Vision, their best church-produced online source for clarification on this was suspiciously unavailable.

That's coincidence, right?  They're not that obsessed with balancing control of the information against the need to appear like they're making the information readily available.  Right?


I have often wondered why Joseph and Hyrum and their families had to suffer so much.  It may be that they came to know God through their suffering in ways that could not have happened without it.
—M. Russell Ballard, Saturday morning session
Okay, well they didn't have to suffer that much.  Maybe if Joseph had abandoned his fraud schemes and decided to get a real job or do some farm work or something, he wouldn't have had to pay such a high personal price in his efforts to maintain the house of cards he'd erected.

But let's look at some of the things that Joseph and Hyrum and their families went through in order to come to know their God through suffering:  multiple relocations, a dead brother, dead kids, repeated imprisonments, tarring and feathering, and, of course, getting gunned down in a prison.  I can't speak for anyone else, but if my mortal parents were to insist that I go through that kind of excruciating existence as a precondition to get to know them better, my reaction would be along the lines of, "thanks, but no thanks, I'll just have to use my friend's parents as mother and father figures in my life because they're actually good people."

God is a god of love.  Oh, but he may have to torture us so that we can become better acquainted with him rather than communicating with us like a mature fucking adult.

The glorious promise of the Savior's atoning sacrifice is that, as far as our mistakes as parents are concerned, he holds our children blameless and promises healing for them.  And even when they have sinned against the light, as we all do, his arm of mercy is outstretched and he will redeem them if they will but look to him and live.
—James R. Rasband, Saturday morning session
This is intended to be reassuring, I think, to people like my parents who blame themselves for their children's apostasy.  But there's a significant contradiction in here that renders it pretty much useless.

So, if we haven't done a good enough job raising our kids to be Mormons, God holds our children blameless, right?  But if they've sinned against the light, then...well, in the first place, if we're calling it a sin, then they're not blameless.  If they have to be redeemed from it, then they're not blameless.  If they have to take action to correct it, even if it's just looking to Christ, then they're not blameless.

Don't worry, distraught parents of wayward children, your kids get a free pass for your inability to brainwash them effectively!  I mean, they still have to do the same things you would do when you need to repent of your own behavior, but other than that it's totally a free pass.

I'm grateful to focus my remarks today on women's continuing role in the restoration.
—Bonnie H. Cordon, Saturday morning session
Look, of course women are more qualified than men to speak about the experience of women.  That shouldn't mean that they're unqualified to speak about human experience generally.  Considering how hard the church has been trying to show that it's not sexist, why do we still have women get up and announce that they're going to talk specifically about women?  I mean, to be fair, sometimes women get up in General Conference and announce they're going to speak to the children too, but that's also not great in dispelling claims of sexism.

My personal admission today is that as a woman I didn't realize earlier in my life that I had access through my covenants to the power of the priesthood.
—Bonnie H. Cordon, Saturday morning session
Wow!  I wonder why that was!  Maybe it's because the church kept telling you motherhood was so great that you didn't need the priesthood!

She specifically cites Nelson's comments from last October's conference in her lead-in to this, so it kind of makes it sound like she didn't know she had access to priesthood power until the prophet told her she did six months ago.  Which begs the question of why the prophets haven't been saying this all along to avoid precisely this kind of misunderstanding.

45 years later, she recalled it as if it had happened yesterday.
—Neil L. Andersen, Saturday morning session
This is referring to a woman named Beatrice who once recalled how a prayer of faith helped her recover a lost pair of glasses in the ocean.  My question for Andersen is that if she can recall a spiritually affirming experience like this with such clarity after 45 years, why was Joseph Smith—who, I should note, didn't live long enough to recall anything from 45 years earlier—not able to consistently recount the details of his First Vision experience as if it happened the day before?

I knew that God knew that I knew that a window of heaven had been opened.
—Neil L. Andersen, Saturday morning session
Andersen's talk really irritated me, so I'm also going to take a moment to discuss what a shitty writer-slash-orator he is.  I knew that God knew that I knew?  The pointless repetition is unnecessarily redundant.  Besides, it's no secret that God is supposed to be omniscient.  Why would we have ever doubted that God was aware of what we did or didn't know?  Drop the first two verbs and speak like a normal human being.  

You knew that a window of heaven had been opened.  Great, let's move on.

President Dallin H. Oaks, in responding to a SINCERE MAN who claimed never to have had such an experience, counseled, "perhaps your prayers have been answered again and again but you have had your expectations fixed on a sign so grand or a voice so loud that you think you have had no answer."  The Savior himself spoke of a people with great faith who were blessed with fire and the Holy Ghost, but knew it not.
—Neil L. Andersen, Saturday morning session
His emphasis in the lead-in is obnoxious.  He really hits the sincerity bit hard so that members can understand the apparently shocking concept that people can be sincere when they say they haven't had their prayers answered.  Everybody in the audience has experience with this.  Even if we have had some answered prayers, we've all experienced the disappointment when it seems like one has gone unanswered.  The emphasis on the man's sincerity makes it look like Andersen is trying to pretend this is not the case and that people who struggle to receive personal revelation are the outliers.  

But his attempts to validate this man are watered down immediately.  The word "claimed" makes it sound like that corny line from tons of movies when one character is having trouble convincing people that something supernatural or incredible happened and another character tries to reassure them by condescendingly asserting that "I believe you think you saw something."  Andersen believes that we think we haven't had our prayers answered.  We're not lying about it, we're just wrong.  Oh, look, Andersen is going to pat us on our heads now.

And Oaks's quote is gross. Not many things are more arrogant than trying to tell someone else about their experiences.  And I wonder where people get the impression that we can have grand signs and loud voices when our prayers are answered.  Was it Joseph Smith?  Was it Nephi?  Was it Enos?  Was it the brother of Jared?  Was it the teaching that we'll feel a burning in the bosom if we're praying for something right?

And to add insult to injury, Andersen goes on to talk about people who were blessed with fire and didn't realize it.  Fire is a pretty strong image.  It doesn't sound like the kind of thing you wouldn't notice.  So is Andersen saying that not only was Oaks's guy expecting the wrong things, but he was also completely oblivious?

The bottom line is that when you think your prayers haven't been answered, it's your own stupid fault.

They will feel the joy of being willing to engage in and sacrifice for the cause of Christ.
—Douglas D. Holmes, Saturday morning session
Stop.  Fetishizing.  Suffering.

At more than one point in his talk, Holmes discusses in blissful terms the youth's opportunities to sacrifice for the gospel.  Sacrifice is not inherently noble.  I could pay a pretty high social price and lose friends and maybe jobs if I were to join a white supremacist group.  I would be sacrificing personally in my devotion to the cause, but that wouldn't make the cause in any way admirable.  Personal sacrifice in service of a reprehensible cause is sad.  It speaks to misguidedness, delusion, and wasted effort.  Sacrifice is only noble when it is in the service of something noble and when it is given freely rather than when it is requested or extracted.

Telling people they should expect to sacrifice and that they will feel happy about it is shitty, especially when it's coming from someone in a position of power who doesn't need to make those sacrifices.

The promise of President Russell M. Nelson that this conference will be memorable is already beginning to be fulfilled.
—Henry B. Eyring, Saturday morning session
I'm just glad he didn't say "prophecy."  

But other than the facts that there's no audience, the hymns are reruns, and that one little extra video clip of Nelson being weird to a bunch of kids in a church historical site was included, nothing about this conference is memorable in any way that a previous conference was not. And call me crazy, but I don't think small format adjustments like this, most of which were forced upon the church by non-heavenly circumstances they admit not to have foreseen, constitute anything that merits a pat on the back for a fulfilled promise.
Even an unbelieving world will recognize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and realize that the power of God is upon it.
—Henry B. Eyring, Saturday morning session
This just doesn't make any sense.

I'm not sure if "recognize" is supposed to modify both "the church" and "the power of God," or if he's saying that the church will be officially recognized in the way that the United States government recognizes the government of Germany, or if he's saying that the church will be peculiar in a way that will make them immediately identifiable to outsiders, or if he's just trying to drop some weird slang in here.

Please express your vote in the usual way, wherever you may be.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday afternoon session
Because it's the first day of General Conference, obviously we're going to do the sustaining of the general authorities and officers of the church, right?

Since there was pretty much nobody in the room with the actual speakers, Oaks explained that we're going to do things the way we always do it, even if there aren't any regular members present to pretend to vote.  He expected people to raise their arms to the square in the comfort of their own homes around the world and he expected this to count.  Although he did remind us that anyone opposed should contact their stake presidents, he then continued with the custom as though nothing were out of the ordinary.  And the YouTube audience watched as a handful of old white dudes sitting in a little room raised their right arms to affirm themselves as God's handpicked messengers.

Oaks wanted us to participate, but the outcome of the voting would have been unchanged regardless of whether anyone actually did participate.  If this doesn't drive home the point that the "sustaining vote" is a complete sham, I don't know what could. 

This sacred ancient record was not translated in the traditional way that scholars would translate ancient texts by learning an ancient language.  We are to look at the process more like a revelation with the aid of physical instruments provided by the Lord as opposed to a translation by one with knowledge of languages.
—Ulisses Soares, Saturday afternoon session
I think this is part of the effort to slide the understanding of Joseph's supernatural abilities away from translation and more toward revelation in the hopes that this will also one day be popularly applied to the Book of Abraham.

Also, it's interesting that the physical instruments that aided in this process were provided by God.  If that's the case, you'd think Joseph would have found the seer stone in the ground next to the plates and the Urim and Thummim instead of during a completely unrelated well dig years before.

And why don't prophets use physical instruments to aid their revelation anymore?  We've had seventeen presidents of the church—why have numbers two through seventeen refused to bust out the seer stones or the spectacles?  Is that why there's so little scripture from after Joseph Smith's death?

Please note that Lehi did not leave the Tree of Life.  He stayed spiritually with the Lord and invited his family to come where HE was to partake of the fruit.  The adversary would entice some to leave the joy of the gospel by separating Christ's teachings from his church.  He would have us believe that we can stay firmly on the covenant path on our own through our own spirituality, independent of his church.  In these latter days, Christ's church was restored in order to help Christ's covenant children stay on his covenant path.  In the Doctrine and Covenants we read, "Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church."
—John A. McCune, Saturday afternoon session
So now we're learning that our faith is so fragile that we want to be passive and terrified when we're trying to save our friends and relatives?  When Jesus taught about leaving the ninety and nine and going after the one who was lost, do you think he was advising that we should stay with the flock and beckon so that the wandering sheep would return?  Of course not.  That isn't going to work.

But the grossest part of this talk was how hard McCune hit the point that we absolutely need the church.  You can't separate Christ's teachings from his church, apparently.  I think that's a tough argument to make, considering Christ's church wasn't really formalized during his lifetime.  He wasn't building temples and setting apart area authority seventies and putting out correlated materials and making policy changes.  Christ was focused on the teachings, because Christ was smart enough to realize that while an organization can be useful, it's the concepts of the gospel that are vital.  The modern church, which has become distantly removed from Jesus's actual teachings, hungers for tithes and its leaders crave the status and adulation granted to them by their divine position.  So of course they don't want you to try and separate the doctrine from the organization.  They need you to need the church.  Or, as Neil L. Andersen would say, they need you to need the church needing you to need them.

Did Jesus teach that you can't reach the highest degree of glory without paying ten percent of your income to perform secretive saving ordinances in a fancy temple?  No.  The LDS church teaches that, though.  Did Jesus teach that if you don't attend worship services every week you're going to Hell?  No.  But the LDS church teaches that poor attendance can make you unworthy of a temple recommend, which might mean you won't get to perform those secretive saving ordinances in a fancy temple.  Did Jesus teach that you should be meek, merciful, pure in heart, and that you should hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Yes.  The LDS church teaches, apparently, that those things are not good enough on their own and that you need their organization in order to really follow Christ.

And then, bafflingly, McCune immediately contradicts his own point by citing D&C 10:67:  "whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church."  I don't think he understands that verse.  God's saying here that his church is not a physical building or a chartered institution.  He's saying that if you repent and you come unto him, then you're numbered among his church.  The church, in this context, is not an officially organized body.

It's also worth pointing out that the very next line of that section of the Doctrine and Covenants says, "Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church."  One of the General Authorities declared more than repenting and coming unto Christ as conditions for being considered part of God's church.  And the sitting prophet let this happen.  I think it's safe to say, on this point alone, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in a state of open apostasy.

When was the last time you felt the sweet influence of the Savior's atonement in your life?  This happens when you feel an exquisite and sweet joy come over you that bears witness to your soul that your sins are forgiven.  Or when painful trials suddenly become lighter to bear.  Or when your heart is softened and you're able to express forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.  Or it may be each time you notice your capacity to love and serve others has increased, or that the process of sanctification is making you a different person, patterned after the Savior's example.
—Gérald Caussé, Saturday afternoon session
This was a weird run.  The crux of Caussé's address was that the atonement is a gift given freely, that it is intimate and personal.  It sure seems weird that we'd have to set aside time to think about how we've experienced something that intimate and that personal.  You know what else is intimate and personal?  Romantic love.  When's the last time you felt your wife's love in your life?  If you have to  take a few minutes to think about it, I may have some bad news for you.  

But if the atonement is what he says it is, we wouldn't need these exercises to recognize it.  And many of his examples are things that I have felt during my time as a committed apostate.  Apparently, the sweet influence of the Savior's atonement in your life should feel pretty much the same way it feels to work on becoming a kinder, emotionally healthier person.

Our Heavenly Father wants us to recall his and his beloved son's goodness, not for their own gratification, but for the influence such remembrance has on us.
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session
It's very strange to me that Renlund goes out of his way to make sure we don't think God is an egomaniac.  No, no, he doesn't want us to think about how great he is so that he gets any pleasure out of it!  Of course, he still requires that we worship him, but he's not full of himself, I swear.

We can be reverently joyful as we realize that without Jesus Christ, we're doomed, but with him, we can receive the greatest gift Heavenly Father can give.
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session
What a weird thing for someone who's trying to comfort us to say.  We can be reverently joyful as we realize that I'm not stabbing you in the neck right now, too, because then you'd be doomed, but if I were to walk into a room and say that to you, suddenly you'd be very uncomfortable and wondering if there's actually a risk that I might stab you in the neck.  

Thanks, Dale.  Very reassuring.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Prophetic Track Record

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many critics of the church are evaluating the prophets' abilities when it comes to prophecy and leadership in a time of crisis.  Since we all know that the prophets and apostles are supposed to be watchmen on the tower, you'd think there would be plentiful evidence that they have been able to see things the rest of us cannot, warn of things that are ahead, and offer protection from these catastrophes.

You'd think.

I wanted to look back at a few historical calamitous events to see what kind of track record Mormon prophets have when it comes to this kind of thing.

Spanish Flu Pandemic
We'll start with a global health crisis that many people are using as a point of comparison or contrast to the tragedy unfolding in the present.  What I found most interesting about Mormonism's response to the influenza outbreak is the difference in how two prophets approached it.    From this week's Salt Lake Tribune article:
“Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency had been reluctant to abandon the use of the common goblet for the sacramental water,” historian Justin R. Bray wrote in the Journal of Mormon History. “They allowed the use of individual cups for six years (1912-18) but did not strongly encourage it, and the use of individual cups seems to have been mostly confined to the Salt Lake Valley.”
So the old prophet kind of wanted to keep the same tradition for the Sacrament, even though it was hygienically ill-advised, especially in a time when an easily communicable disease was ravaging the world.  But the incoming prophet after Smith's death in 1918 felt differently.  And why did he feel differently?
Smith's successor, senior apostle Heber J. Grant, was more hygienically minded.
Not only was he slated to become the faith's next "prophet, seer and revelator," Grant served on the Utah Public Health Association's board of directors.  He understood that the pandemic wasn't finished with Utah and that only extreme measures would prevent greater spread. 
So, basically, President Grant took important steps that his predecessor didn't—not because of any kind of revelation or prophetic knowledge, but because Grant's secular understanding was superior to Smith's.  Which is exactly the kind of thing that can happen in organizations that operate purely on human decisions without any connection whatsoever to the divine.

Good thing a prophet died during the flu pandemic so a new prophet could act based on scientific knowledge?

World War II
I've pointed out before that President Grant chose to use his time in the November 1938 General Conference to warn about car accidents multiple times but not to warn about World War II or the Holocaust.  But there's more to discuss when it comes to the prophet's behavior during the various crises of the late 1930s and the 1940s.

On the church's website, it proudly proclaims at the beginning of its timeline that all missionaries were evacuated from Europe by order of the First Presidency more than a week before Hitler invaded Poland.  That's great, but the actual text below that quick-reference timeline indicates it's a little messier than that.

See, missionaries were evacuated from Germany and Czechoslovakia on September 14, 1938 and remained in neighboring countries for about two weeks [p. 5] until things were deemed stable enough for them to return.  And it doesn't seem that the continent was fully emptied of missionaries by a First Presidency order on August 24th like the church article says.  Instead, Czechoslovakia and western Germany were evacuated to neutral European countries [pp.14-15].  But even considering that it seems the LDS missionaries got out before an official war declaration, that still means that there were missionaries actively proselytizing in Europe during Italy's invasion of Albania, Hungary's invasion of Carpatho-Ukraine, and, of course, Germany's infamous Kristallnacht in November 1938.

I don't have any documentation that indicates any missionaries died during this time, but it sure seems reckless and perhaps not prophetic for the church to keep missionaries in a continent that was seething with wars and rumors of wars and that would shortly see upheaval, violence, and even many civilian deaths before the historically-agreed-upon start date of the Second World War.

Once the international conflict really got going, though, the prophets didn't seem to offer much leadership.  There was a special fast Sunday in January of 1942, which the Deseret News describes as "in conjunction with a national day of prayer called by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt."  Not only does this make it sound like the prophets were aligning themselves with secular leadership instead of providing their own leadership, but it also doesn't indicate much as far as the efficacy of fasting.  After all, it would be another three years and seven months before peace was reached with Japan.  The fact that a lot of soldiers and civilians died in this intervening period is not really a matter of historical debate.

Good thing we had a prophet to tell us to fast on the President's national day of prayer?

September 11th
The mouthpieces of the Lord gave no warning of the most devastating act of terrorism that has ever occurred in His Promised Land.  The April 2001 General Conference gives no indication that any of the fifteen apostles had an inkling of what would happen.  There was one reference to terrorism in that conference—a line from Hinckley's dedicatory prayer requesting that God preserve the new conference center "from conflict and acts of terrorism".  Arguably, I guess, that sort of works, since God made sure that the closest attack on 9/11 was a couple thousand miles away from his precious conference center, never mind the thousands of people who died and the countless lives that were forever changed.

In another display of lackluster prophetic leadership, the church organized a special assembly in the Tabernacle on September 14th, which the Church News described as being "held in response to U.S. President George W. Bush’s call for a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance."  Once again, a prophet of God took his leadership cues from the government in a time of crisis.

Even faithful Mormons struggle to point to an indication that the prophets had foresight regarding these terrorist attacks.  The best that this thread could come up with to demonstrate that Hinckley knew anything was that he gave a CES Fireside on September 9th titled "Be Not Afraid; Only Believe," which doesn't make any reference to terrorism that I can sniff out.

Good thing we had a prophet to prepare us by telling a portion of the church's young adults not to be scared for their futures without any hint at the national trauma that would grip them 36 hours later?

Russell M. Nelson, like the prophets before him, has given us no reason to believe that he foresaw the current global catastrophe.  That's not to say that there aren't people who would disagree with that statement, of course.  At the conclusion of last October's conference, Nelson did indicate that the upcoming one would be unusual, but I don't think that counts, because that statement was directly related to the 200th anniversary of the First Vision:
Thus, the year 2020 will be designated as a bicentennial year. General conference next April will be different from any previous conference. In the next six months, I hope that every member and every family will prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.
The shift toward the "home-centered, church-supported" spiritual education has also been considered prophetic and I think this claim has a bit more substance to it.  But when the church was framing its release of this update, it was still stressing that Sunday church services were a big piece of the puzzle—meaning there were no stated plans to go without Sunday services for any period of time.  And if the church really was making changes to better adapt to the sudden need to worship from home, then you'd think they wouldn't have waited until after the crisis erupted to advise bishops to "determine how to make the sacrament available to members at least once a month."

In a departure from previous examples, President Nelson invited the world to join him in a special fast scheduled for March 29th.  The reason this is a departure is because unlike Hinckley, who held his 9/11 service on Bush's Day of Remembrance, and unlike Grant, who held his special fast on FDR's National Day of Prayer, Nelson was behind the curve.  President Donald Trump announced March 15th as a National Day of Prayer.  Nine days after that, Nelson jumped on the bandwagon and decided the world should fast for relief from the effects of the viral pandemic.  Are the prophets actually starting to fall behind the secular leadership when it comes to organizing a response to crises?

I'm not sure why anyone should have bothered with a special fast anyway.  They don't seem to help.  The fast on December 22, 1918 didn't seem to prevent the third spike in influenza fatalities the following year.  The fast on May 15, 1932 [p. 321] didn't immediately improve the Great Depression.  Even though GDP started to rise and unemployment started to drop the year after, it took a decade and an international conflict involving millions of deaths for things to really get back on track.  The fast on January 4, 1942 similarly didn't seem to precipitate a speedy end to World War II.  

Good thing the prophet can tell us to starve ourselves and donate money so that God won't solve the problem?

Climate Change
So how can we expect the church to behave in future crises based upon its behavior in current and historical crises?  Not admirably.

A concern for the environment does not seem to be one of the foremost issues in the apostles' minds, since men marrying men is clearly more of an existential threat to society than the suffocation of our atmosphere and the poisoning of our water and the melting of our ice caps.  There are some head nods toward ecological responsibility, though.  For example, this nice little article by Elder Snow is about how God expects us to "act as good stewards of the land He created."  Of course, you'll notice that this was given by Elder Snow of the Seventy at a Utah State Symposium and not by a prophet or apostle in general conference.  

Go ahead an search the collection of general conference addresses to see how often the apostles spur the membership of the Lord's church to action to prevent what scientific consensus deems an impending crisis.  Search for "warming" or "climate" or "environment" and tell me if there are any examples in the last ten years in which the prophet has demonstrated leadership and prescience and urgency on this subject.

In coming decades, we may see another notable example of prophets failing to be prophetic and failing to provide proactive, inspired leadership in troubling times.

Good thing we have prophets who don't do what they're supposed to be able to do?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

D&C 17: Can I Get a Witness?

This section is the preamble to the revealing of the Gold Plates to the Three Witnesses.  And there's some juicy manipulative language in here.

Say Anything
Verse 4 says that the witnesses will need to testify publicly of what they're about to see so "that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed...."  That's an odd thing to say.  Why would a prophet be destroyed because three other people failed to follow instructions?  Whatever happened to "we believe that men will be punished for their own sins"?

Also...Joseph Smith was destroyed.  I mean, it took 15 years for it to happen, so maybe God slowly became frustrated with the degree to which the witnesses were promulgating their affirmation of the plates' authenticity and he eventually decided it was time to let Joseph get murdered as the penalty.

Verse 8 promises that if they keep the commandment to testify of the plates, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against [them]."  Nothing motivates the troops quite like extravagant promises, right? Imagine being told that if you follow this one simple instruction to tell people about something you saw then you'll be pretty much guaranteed to triumph over the influence of the devil and have everlasting joy in the kingdom of Heaven.  Sign me up.

Totally Not a Scam
Verse 6 seems to hint at Joseph's desperation to prove that he was legit: 
And he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.
Sounds like God is a little too obsessed with vindicating Joseph.  Shouldn't God be saying, "this book is a true record of my dealings with ancient Americans and contains the fullness of my gospel" instead of "Joe totally translated this, guys, just like I told him to."  If God's ways are higher than our ways, why is he more concerned with propping up Joseph than with promoting the gospel of salvation?

But, of course, neither God nor the golden plates have been proven to exist, so God swearing on his own existence to support the truth of the Book of Mormon is like me swearing on my mother's grave that the check is in the mail.  My insurance company doesn't know I haven't written a check yet and they don't know my mother's still alive.  Swearing to it doesn't make it true, especially considering your collateral isn't verifiable.

The Eye of Faith
The last thing I'd like to point out about this section is the really peculiar language used to describe the nature of the experience the witnesses were about to have.  Because it kind of sounds like Joseph Smith was prepping them to have a non-physical view of the plates.  The strange wording first jumped out at me in verse 2:
And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.
Of course it's entirely possible that I'm using the norms of modern language to misunderstand the meaning of nineteenth-century language, but...

The use of the word "by" here is notable, I think.  The way I'm reading it, it sounds like the witnesses will see the plates by means of their faith instead of due to their faith.  In D&C 10:47 and 10:52, God makes promises that will come to pass "according to their faith" and in D&C 31:1, Thomas B. Marsh is blessed "because of" his faith.  In these examples, when God is indicating that one thing is directly caused by another—as opposed to one thing merely facilitating another—he opts not to use the preposition "by."

And, more famously, in D&C 88:118, God advises us to "seek learning, even by study and also by faith."  Clearly, in this context, the word "by" indicates that the learning should be sought by means of study and by means of faith.

With those other examples of God's word choice in mind, it seems more and more likely to me that when this section says the witnesses will see the plates by their faith, it's saying by means of their faith.  The faith is a vehicle to obtain the view.  

Call me crazy, but you don't need faith as a vehicle to see physical objects.  After all, Alma taught us that if you have faith, you hope for things which are not seen, so if faith was the method by which the witnesses were able to see the plates, then maybe their definition of "see" in this case isn't the same definition you and I are accustomed to using in daily conversation.

This is also supported, I think, by verse 5:
And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith.
This is an important contrast.  Joseph Smith never claimed to have seen the plates with his spiritual eyes—as far as his contact with the plates was concerned, they were a solid, physical object observable with the natural eye.  The word "because" is used in Joseph's case because his faith was not the method by which he was able to see the plates, it was the catalyst for his possession of them in the first place.  Although, to be fair, the word "by" is used as well, but it seems to me that when God is saying "it is by my power that he has seen them," he's not talking about the act of seeing the plates, he's talking about the state of having access to them.

I think this wording helps bolster the quote attributed to Martin Harris that "I did not see [the plates] as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith."  It further muddies the waters when it comes to determining just how literal the witnesses' testimony is.

And if the testimony of the witnesses can be muddied, then the legitimacy of Joseph's narrative of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon may need further examination.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Nelson's State of the Union

The new Ensign for April 2020 has a bizarre little article by our Dear Leader that tells us all how great the end of times are.  I found it to be peppered with problematic language and I thought its thesis was ultimately self-defeating, so I wanted to review some highlights.

President Nelson starts off in very optimistic terms:
You and I get to participate in the ongoing Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is wondrous! It is not man-made! It comes from the Lord, who said, “I will hasten my work in its time” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:73). This work is empowered by a divine announcement made 200 years ago. It consisted of only seven words: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17).
First of all, it strikes me as odd how quickly he assures us that this isn't a fake thing.  This is in the very first paragraph.  The third sentence of the entire article is "it is not man-made."  Wouldn't it make you kind of leery if a salesman were to begin his pitch with, "I swear this isn't a scam, but...?"

Also, was it really those seven words that "launched the restoration" of the gospel?  Because the first words Joseph Smith attributed to God in his 1832 account of the First Vision were "Joseph my son​ thy sins are forgiven thee."

Nelson continues:
Why? Because our living God is a loving God! He wants His children to gain immortality and eternal life! The great latter-day work of which we are a part was established, on schedule, to bless a waiting and weeping world.
Our God is a loving God!  He wants His children to gain immortality and eternal life, but not so much that he won't impose arbitrary and inscrutable impediments to those goals!

Also, why was the world waiting and weeping?  Because the God who loved us so much allowed the world to exist without his gospel for a couple of millennia.  Isn't it great how God creates a problem and then claims his solution to it amounts to a critical spiritual largesse?

And how confident should we really be that the restoration of the gospel was completed on schedule?  I mean, we know that there was a theoretical schedule in place for when Christ would come if Joseph Smith had lived to the age of 85, and that got derailed and apparently delayed by at least 176 years, so can we really take Nelson's word for it that God's timelines always unfold precisely as expected?
Today, the Lord’s work in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is moving forward at an accelerated pace.
This isn't an important criticism, it's more an amusing observation.

But, mathematically speaking, the work can be accelerating and still not be an encouraging attribute.  For example, the total membership of the church is accelerating, but the rate of acceleration is declining—which is not the kind of victory Nelson is trying to claim here.  At a certain point, the rate of acceleration may even drop below zero.  The membership total will still have a rate of acceleration then, but that acceleration would best be expressed with a negative number.  So while he may be technically correct regardless of the circumstances, I don't know that the numbers really support the point he's trying to make.  Especially if we're measuring the acceleration of the Lord's work by the missionary force, because that actually has seen negative acceleration numbers.
Remember that the fulness of Christ’s ministry lies in the future. The prophecies of His Second Coming have yet to be fulfilled. We are just building up to the climax of this last dispensation—when the Savior’s Second Coming becomes a reality.
The line he's trying to walk throughout this article is weird.  He's trying to get people to panic just enough to hang on to his organization for dear life while getting them to calm down just enough not to cause problems.  We're in the end of days, guys, so hunker down.  But don't worry, we're not that close to the end.  So don't do anything crazy, but definitely keep paying your tithing.
Mercifully, the invitation to “come unto Christ” (Jacob 1:7; Moroni 10:32; Doctrine and Covenants 20:59) can also be extended to those who died without a knowledge of the gospel (see Doctrine and Covenants 137:6–8). Part of their preparation, however, requires the earthly efforts of others.
Right, that makes sense.  Jesus spent a lot of time telling us how we needed to rely on other people to make sure we could be saved in the kingdom of his father.  And it still seems disingenuous to talk about how merciful it is that we can extend the invitation to people who never received it during their lifetimes.  Whose fault is it they didn't receive it?  Could it be—stay with me here—the perfected omniscient being who designed a system in which it would be so common for people to live their entire lives without hearing of his gospel, let alone having the opportunity to learn it?

No.  Blame always flows downward, not upward.  And that way the guy in charge can pretend like he's doing us a solid when he shoddily patches up the innate flaws in his master plan.
Families are to be sealed together for all eternity (see Doctrine and Covenants 2:2–3; 49:17; 138:48; Joseph Smith—History 1:39). A welding link is to be forged between the fathers and the children.
I'm guessing that his reference to fathers and children is a nod to Malachi 4 and the turning of the hearts of the fathers to the children, blah blah blah.  It still strikes me as incredibly tone deaf phrasing, though.  If we're trying to claim that Mormonism isn't skewed unfairly toward patriarchy and that women still have "direct access" to priesthood power, maybe it might also be a good idea to make sure that women are explicitly included in our descriptions of eternal families instead of implying that eternal families are connected through the men?

The way someone speaks about an issue when that issue is not a central part of a discussion tends to be very indicative of their true attitude on the subject.  You can give a seminar to your coworkers about the importance of equal employment opportunities, but if you're using the n-word in private, you might need to admit you still have a blind spot when it comes to racism.  You can tell women how valued they are and how closely connected they are to the priesthood, but when your unrelated speeches value scriptural allusions over inclusive language, you might need to admit you still have a blind spot when it comes to sexism.
The time is coming when those who do not obey the Lord will be separated from those who do (see Doctrine and Covenants 86:1–7). Our safest insurance is to continue to be worthy of admission to His holy house.
Our safest insurance isn't to maintain contact with our Heavenly Father through daily prayers?  Our safest insurance isn't to feast upon the words of Christ with frequent scripture study?  Our safest insurance isn't to develop faith as a family or to partake regularly of the Sacrament or to seek personal revelation?  Of course not.  None of those things require our money.

Also, it's interesting that Nelson cites separation as our main concern in the context of the parable of the wheat and the tares, which involves the tares being burned.  It's more of his tightrope walk—he's stressing the urgency, but not explicitly mentioning the really scary part about the burning of the wicked.  If we frighten you too much, you'll get completely turned off, but if we don't frighten you enough you won't listen to us.  Be afraid, guys, but not too afraid, okay?
He will govern from two world capitals: one in old Jerusalem (see Zechariah 14) and the other in the New Jerusalem “built upon the American continent” (Articles of Faith 1:10). From these centers He will direct the affairs of His Church and kingdom. Another temple will yet be built in Jerusalem. From that temple He shall reign forever as Lord of Lords. Water will issue from under the temple. Waters of the Dead Sea will be healed. (See Ezekiel 47:1–8.)
I know I've been out of the church for a while now so I'm sure my sensibilities have been drastically recalibrated, but how does this stuff not sound batshit crazy?  Jesus will govern from two world capitals?  Why does he need two capitals?  Actually, why does he even need one?  Can't he direct the affairs of the kingdom remotely?  Or in some kind of itinerant fashion?  A capital location of centralized power just seems like a very human thing to implement—something an omnipotent creator of the world or a perfect savior of the world wouldn't have much need of.

And what's the deal with water issuing from under the temple?  How is that important?  How will that affect our lives during the millennial reign?  How is some nebulous and probably metaphorical prophecy about a holy site's groundwater model relevant to our salvation?
Meanwhile, here and now, we live in a time of turmoil. Earthquakes and tsunamis wreak devastation, governments collapse, economic stresses are severe, the family is under attack, and divorce rates are rising. We have great cause for concern.
Weird that a prophet who should have had foreknowledge based on his communication with an all-knowing deity didn't think to include pestilence or viral outbreaks in his list of causes for concern when he was writing this article for future publication.

But yeah, divorce rates are rising, that's what everybody is losing their minds over as we're heading into April.  Absolutely. 
Do whatever it takes to strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ by increasing your understanding of the doctrine taught in His restored Church and by relentlessly seeking truth. Anchored in pure doctrine, you will be able to step forward with faith and dogged persistence and cheerfully do all that lies in your power to fulfill the purposes of the Lord.
"Relentlessly seeking truth" is obviously lip service.  If we were so committed to people's relentless searches for truth, we'd stop demonizing them when they come to unapproved conclusions about truth.  We'd applaud them for their courage to follow the truth (insofar as they have learned it) even if it took them away from the social structure and the organizational loyalty they once valued.  Really, though, it's only okay to relentlessly seek truth if the search brings you to the determination that the Mormon church is the manifestation of that truth.  

And I have another amusing though not crucial criticism when it comes to Nelson's use of the word "anchored."  See, an anchor keeps a boat from drifting away.  The whole point of an anchor is to restrict movement.  So when you're saying we should be anchored in something as we step forward, you're really not hoping that we'll get very far forward, are you? 
However, I promise you that as you follow Jesus Christ, you will find sustained peace and true joy.
Sustained peace, even though I'm hinting at a lot of scary things that might happen before the Second Coming.  True joy, even though I just warned you that those who do not obey the Lord will soon be separated from those who do and some of your loved ones may be burned with the tares.

What a comforting promise.

I don't understand how he expects a promise like this to be comforting when it comes with so many underlying threats.  Let's review some of the key phrases he uses when telling us what to expect:

  • those who do not obey the Lord will be separated from those who do
  • we have great cause for concern
  • difficult days are ahead
  • each of us will be tested
  • persecution can crush you into silent weakness
  • your friends will betray you

To me, this entire piece sounds a lot like, "You'll be really happy, but it's gonna suck."  And while happiness isn't the absence of adversity, happiness at the very least should be the absence of doom and gloom hanging over your head.  Which means that this article, which is ostensibly about the Future of the Church, is telling us to expect more of the same:  failing to deliver on promises, manipulating people into paying tithing, and maintaining hopelessly mixed messaging.