Monday, October 6, 2014

Notes on General Conference, Part II

Either I was getting tired of listening, or I didn't catch as much awful stuff during the Sunday sessions.  At least, it didn't feel that way until I finished typing this up and realized I'd used exactly the same number of quotations from Sunday as I had from Saturday.  Anyway...let's jump right in:

Prophets testify of Jesus Christ, of his divinity, and of his earthly mission and ministry.
--Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
Oh, so that's all they do?  They just tell us that Jesus is real?  Because that explains why Monson didn't do any prophesying this Conference.  I guess if you're going to define "prophet" as "one who testifies of Christ" instead of "one who prophesies" then yes, Monson is definitely a prophet.

No prophet or any other leader in this church, for that matter, has ever called himself or herself.
--Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session 
What about Alma?   With no access to Priesthood keys, he took it upon himself to start his own little church, prayed for the authority to baptize and got right on dipping people into the Waters of Mormon.  He didn't ask God who should be in charge of the church and he wasn't ordained by anyone who had authority (which is a direct contradiction to a quote Nelson reads later in his talk).  He just knelt down and said, "Hey, gimme some authority so I can start baptizing."

You and I do not vote on church leaders on any level.  We do, though, have the privilege of sustaining them.
--Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
This is because it gives us confidence and shows faith, as he explained earlier.  It's such a smarmy way of wording this, though.  If we have zero choice in the matter, how is it anything other than someone else emphasizing their control over us by giving us the "privilege" of signing off on it?  It's like coming home to a note on your door that says, "I stole your TV.  All those in favor, please make it manifest by the raising of the right hand.  All those opposed, by the same sign."  Maybe you'd been meaning to get the TV replaced anyway and it doesn't really bother you or maybe it was brand new and now you're out five hundred bucks.  But either way, it just feels like a massive and unnecessary taunt by the person who is in control and knows you can't do anything to change what has already been decided. In the church, it's supposed to make us feel more involved, but if we were really involved we'd have had a say in it in the first place.  Physically sustaining leaders when they're announced isn't a privilege, it's gesture of compliance, voluntary disenfranchisement and willful subjugation.

As President J. Reuben Clark explained, he [the prophet] alone has the right to receive revelations for the church or change in any way the existing doctrines of the church.
--Carol F. McConkie, Sunday morning session
Boy, that was a poorly selected citation.  I wonder how many red flags this set off.

What do you mean, change the existing doctrines?  I thought God's word was the same yesterday, today and forever and that our church is the same exact church teaching the same exact principles as the church that Jesus established during his ministry.  Why would the prophet ever need to change a doctrine if we already have the fullness of the gospel?

We're not out of touch, brothers and sisters, with your lives.
--M. Russell Ballard, Sunday afternoon session
As part of his soon-to-be-quoted-in-Sunday-School speech on "staying in the boat" instead of jumping ship when you start to have doubts, Ballard reassures us that he's rubbed shoulders with people all over the world.  While I doubt he's ever shared a meager meal in a filthy hut with a malnourished family in the wilderness of a third world country, he seems to think he has a pretty good grasp on the common man.   He may not be out of touch with our lives, but he's out of touch with reality if he thinks this "stay in the church at all costs" shtick is actually working.  I think it may delay the inevitable, but if members are really looking for answers that the church isn't giving them, there's always going to be a point at which staying in the boat simply because you've been warned to stay in the boat by someone who's never left the boat himself won't be enough.  Despite Ballard's extended metaphor, people will still take their chances with the water.

Sometimes Latter-Day Saints and sincere investigators begin to focus on the appendages instead of on the fundamental principles.  That is, Satan tempts us to become distracted from the simple and clear message of the restored gospel.
 --M. Russell Ballard, Sunday afternoon session
Because there's nothing about the restoration that's suspect.  You can worry about the Kinderhook Plates and the  Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Evergreen Program all you want, but if you don't keep your focus on the fundamental principles of the gospel, like how the Plan of Salvation is inane and cruel, or how the Book of Mormon contains exact quotes from flawed translations of the King James Bible or how the first modern-day prophet married dozens of wives while publicly denying it despite a clear condemnation of such a practice in the book he supposedly translated by the power of God a few years earlier...wait, what was I saying?

Oh, yeah.  If you focus on the basics of the gospel instead of getting bogged down in troublesome appendages, you'll see there's absolutely no reason to leave the boat because it's all wonderful and makes perfect sense.

Of course having questions and experiencing doubts are not incongruent with dedicated discipleship.
--M. Russell Ballard, Sunday afternoon session
This is one of those times when I feel like the church hires professional speechwriters to comb through these talks beforehand and tweak some wording.

He could have just said "having questions is congruent with dedicated discipleship."  But instead, he opted for "having questions is not incongruent with dedicated discipleship."  It's subtle, but I think this was worded in a way calculated to make questions and doubts sound negative and undesirable, like a frustration you must abide because there's simply no way to completely eradicate it.  Like pests in a garden or having to get an oil change.  Here, Ballard is saying that having questions and experiencing doubts shouldn't happen, but you don't need to feel too awful about it when it does.

The best paths in life are rarely the easiest.  Often, it is exactly the opposite. ... Are we willing to pay the price for our decisions?  Are we prepared to leave our comfort zones to reach a better place?
--Carlos A. Godoy, Sunday afternoon session
It's like he's in my head.  This is brilliant.  Except that he's saying it from a believer's perspective, which is a little problematic for me, but other than that, this might be the best quote from the entire conference.

He intends this to mean that staying faithful and enduring in the gospel will take hard work and sacrifice.  But its parallels to my disaffection from the church (and countless other stories like mine) are uncanny.  I was willing to do what I knew was right, despite the cost.  It was difficult and I suffered, but I reached a better place.

 Why would I turn away from that which had brought me such great comfort?
--Larry S. Kacher, Sunday afternoon session
It depends on your priorities in life.  If you value comfort over truth, then you'll stay in the church.  But if you value truth over comfort, you'd follow Godoy's advice and leave your comfort zone, pay the price, and reach a better place by leaving the church.  I don't believe life should be so miserable that what you desire above all else is comfort.  If feeling warm and fuzzy is what gets you through the day, I think you should probably take a look at your life and figure out what it is that makes you so desperate for comfort.  It could be a mental health issue.  It could be something amiss in your lifestyle.  Or it could be stress brought on by submitting yourself to an oppressive religion.  But if comfort is what you crave the most, you're dragging some kind of dead weight and you owe it to yourself to shrug it off.

Still, there were many questions I could not answer. How would I address the uncertainty they created?  Rather than allow them to destroy the peace and happiness that had come into my life, I chose to set them aside for a season, trusting that in the Lord's time, he would reveal all things.
--Larry S. Kacher, Sunday afternoon session
You think he coordinated his message with Neil L. Andersen's address from yesterday?

This infuriates me.  If you come into possession of some new piece of information that could threaten the foundation upon which you've built your life, the materials with which you've structured the way you see the world and the guidelines you've used to direct virtually every action you take, don't you owe it to yourself to investigate this information as thoroughly as possible?  Is it really wise to discard possible evidence of a large-scale fraud perpetrated against you onto a shelf and cross your fingers that it works itself out?  The uncertainty is uncomfortable, sure, but it beats the hell out of devoting yourself to an organization that manipulates you and lies to you.

When we invite you to listen to the missionaries or to learn with us, we are not trying to sell you a product.  ...We are not seeking simply to increase the numerical size of the church.  And most importantly, we are not seeking to coerce you to believe as we do.
--David A. Bednar, Sunday afternoon session 
Ho boy.

We're not seeking to coerce you to believe as we do, but we're pretty sure you're going to miss out on the pinnacle of eternal happiness if we can't convince you to join us.  And we might be wracked with guilt for not giving you a fair shake if we don't take every conceivable opportunity to convert you, but at least we're not going to twist your arm.

We're not trying to increase the numerical size of the church, but we do kind of stress our legitimacy partially based on the notion that we're rolling forward to fill the whole earth and the numbers have been flagging lately, so we could really use a few more wins on the board right now.

We're not trying to sell you a product, but if you're interested in being involved with the non-product, you'll have to pay ten percent of your annual income to get the full version.

Absolute truths exist in a world that increasingly disdains and dismisses absolutes.
--David A. Bednar, Sunday afternoon session
Well if you can't demonstrate your proposed truth as being truth, much less absolute, what business do you have getting pissy when people dismiss it?

This line is short and sweet and the way he said it made me think he wrote it specifically to be that one kickass quote from his talk that everybody would be sharing on Facebook. But mostly all it does is sound cool.

Personally, I find a world that dismisses absolutes to be preferable.  Some great examples of things that tend to be absolute?  Racism and other forms of bigotry.  Capital punishment.  Religious fervor.  Zero degrees Kelvin.  I'd be totally fine without those things in my life.

Sure, I know he's talking about absolute truth, but I'm also happy to live in a world that admits it doesn't have access to all truth.  Scientific exploration can build upon truth we've already learned and broaden our opportunities in a way that the church's claim to a monopoly on truth cannot.  So if it's all the same to you, Bednar, I'll be over here in my corner, disdaining and dismissing.

In closing, I'm a little worried about all the discussion about questioning and leaving the church.  I said after the last conference that I was expecting a flurry of concerned emails from my family.  It didn't happen, but I feel like the chances of it this time are slightly greater.  My dad texted me during the first session to remind me that it was on, suggest that I watch it, and tell me that "it might also be good for [my girlfriend] to hear what the church teaches."

My girlfriend and I had a good laugh about that one.  Because in four and a half years, I've never brought up anything about what the church that I used to belong to and now have an active hatred for teaches.

Anyway, it was an interesting weekend.  A couple of these talks in particular will probably be popular in Sunday School discussions for a while (STAY IN THE BOAT).  I guess we'll see what happens.  Thanks for reading!

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