Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Notes on the Sunday Evening Session

We do not strive for conversion to the church, but to Christ and his gospel, a conversion that is facilitated by the church.
D. Todd Christofferson
If only that were true.  How often do members knock on inactive members' doors to make sure they're still converted to the gospel of Christ?  How often do members knock on inactive members' doors to try to convince them to come back to church?  My recollection of quorum presidency meetings and bishops youth councils is that we were always focused on getting them to show up on Sunday mornings.  We never just stopped in to see if they still believed in Jesus and wanted to follow Jesus's teachings.  Never.

That's because the leadership, despite what Christofferson tries to tell us, wants us to be dependent on the church far more than it wants us to be converted to Christ and his gospel.

But together, in the church, the ability to care for the poor and needy is multiplied to meet the broader need and the hope for self-reliance is made reality for very many.
D. Todd Christofferson 
I could use this in response to basically every conference talk.
 Here's what I've seen the church do with the pooled resources of its membership:  It's spent billions of dollars building condominiums, constructing a massive mall, peppering the globe with more than one hundred needlessly ornate temples, buying huge properties, operating ranches and a game preserve, and probably some other expensive stuff that I can't think of.  What does any of that have to do with helping the poor and needy?

Sure, there's the bishop's storehouses, which (if I recall correctly) can supply free food to those on church welfare.  However (if I also recall correctly), it's usually difficult to qualify for church welfare.  The storehouses and welfare opportunities are generally a good thing, but it only helps the needy within the church's own ranks.  The church also frequently responds to natural disasters, sending its members out to help, sometimes dressing them in bright shirts that identify them as Mormons.  And that's generally a good thing, except that the church offers photo-op-ready members and not much in the way of much-needed cash.

If the church really were concerned about helping the poor and needy, the temples would be less extravagant, the City Creek Center wouldn't exist, and the Salt Lake headquarters would be busily shipping AIDS treatments to Africa, setting up soup kitchens and homeless shelters in cities worldwide, sponsoring after-school sports programs for kids in areas with high gang activity, and plenty of other things like that.

I suppose, to be fair, Christofferson only said that the church's ability to help the poor is magnified.  He didn't say anyone was actually gonna do it.

With the keys of the kingdom, the Lord's servants can identify both truth and falsehood and once again authoritatively state, "Thus saith the Lord."
D. Todd Christofferson 
 You know how many different bishops I lied to?  You know how many of them called me on it?  None.  You know how many of the General Authorities who were involved in the purchase of Mark Hoffman's artifacts stepped up to say they were forgeries?  None.  Let's not pretend that the leaders of the church have BS detectors that work any better than the average person's.

And more to the point, when's the last time a General Authority said "thus saith the Lord" when not quoting scripture?  When's the last time one of the Twelve explicitly claimed that a specific subset of his words was the exact will of God?

I invite you to "ponderize" one verse of scripture each week.
Devin G. Durrant 
Plenty has already been said about this.  So I'll just skip the criticism of his greatly overused wordplay and just link to an article about his son's attempt to cash in on Durrant's newly propagated catchphrase.

"Don't be too critical of the barrier," he said.  "It's the only thing that's keeping you from being devoured."
 —Von G. Keetch
Yay!  More fear-mongering!

Keetch's speech focused on an experience he had in Australia, which he used to compared a net in the ocean to the ostensible restrictions of the commandments.  The above quote is from a wise old Australian surfer who was reminding the young Americans that even though it seemed like the barrier was totally harshing their mellow, it was actually providing an essential protection from shark attacks.

I'm pretty sick of the closed-minded, one-sided dogma.  I'm not saying the church should tell people it's cool to do whatever, but when the commandments are collectively compared to protection against being devoured, it makes kids grow up thinking that having a glass of iced tea is the spiritual equivalent to diving into a shark tank holding a bucket of chum.  Perhaps the argument could be made that encouraging experimentation is just as irresponsible, but I think that, at the very least, experimentation shouldn't be actively demonized.

When specific rules of varying magnitude aren't explained as being protection against specific consequences of varying severity because every rule is lumped in together as homogeneous protection against homogeneous consequences, it should be clear that it's a matter of control, not safety.  Keetch isn't trying to help people, he's trying to utilize fear to keep them in line.

In this world of increasing fear, distraction, adversity, and anger, we can look to [the Quorum of the Twelve] to see how disciples of Jesus Christ filled with charity look, sound, and react to issues that could be divisive.  They testify of Jesus Christ and respond with charity, the pure love of Jesus Christ, whose witnesses they are. 
Carole M. Stephens
Was Dallin H. Oaks responding with charity when he smacked down the divisive issue of sexism in the church?  Were Christofferson, Marriot, Oaks and Holland responding with charity when they turned a statement about LGBT discrimination into a complaint about religious freedom?   Was Andersen responding with charity when he used a quote in which Neal A. Maxwell compared the church's detractors to Judas?  Was the church leadership responding with charity when they fought tooth and nail against Proposition 8?  Was Brigham Young responding with charity when he taught the blood atonement?  Was he responding with charity when he barred black men from holding the priesthood?  Was Joseph Smith responding with charity when he ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor?

Isn't your purpose for being on this earth to experience this trial? ...Don't you think that this problem will be resolved when you're resurrected?
 —Koichi Aoyagi, quoting his former mission president
After a car accident in the line of duty (so to speak) left him with chronic pain, young Elder Aoyagi went to his mission president about his problem.  The above is what the guy told him.  This doesn't seem like a particularly useful piece of advice for someone suffering from a condition he hates living with yet can't seem to ameliorate.  Aoyagi came to him for a solution and all he got was a reassurance that he's supposed to be in agonizing physical pain and it will all be taken care of after he lives sixty more years, spends some time in the spirit world, and is eventually resurrected.  What a relief!

While watching this address, I immediately came up with things that I, an apostate without the spirit and without the priesthood stewardship over those missionaries, would have said in that situation.  What amused me was that, later in his talk, Aoyagi mentioned some of the exact things that I came up with—suffering helps us develop empathy, suffering helps us learn how to help others, and although Aoyagi was in a lot of pain, he was lucky to have escaped his car accident with his life.  Sure, none of these things would have solved the problem, but I think they're much more useful than what the supposedly inspired mission president actually said.

Physical restrictions can expand vision, limited stamina can clarify priorities, inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance.  Some people have suggested younger more vigorous leaders are needed in the church to address effectively the serious challenges of our modern world.  But the Lord does not use contemporary philosophies and practices of leadership to accomplish his purposes.  We can expect that the president and other senior leaders of the church will be older and spiritually seasoned men. 
 —David A. Bednar
This whole talk was just slimy.  It was an old guy spending fifteen minutes explaining to his millions of followers why he and people like him were supposed to be in power. But this part in particular was infuriating.

How old was Nephi?  How old were Peter, James, and John?  How old was Alma?  How old was Joseph Smith?  I thought God called imperfect men to accomplish his work, made weak things become strong unto them, and allowed them to exceed their inborn capabilities.  I thought people were given their callings as an opportunity to serve, not to accommodate their talents or wisdom or whatever else.

In a secular organization, older people at the helm might make some sense.  Although age and wisdom do not enjoy a perfect correlation (which I think I've said already within the last few days), generally speaking, more experienced people have had more opportunities to learn.  But the church isn't supposed to be about that.  God calls whom he calls and the capacity for achievement belongs to the office instead of the person who fills it.  This is what I have always heard and always been taught.

If Bednar were being honest, he wouldn't have given credence to the claim that younger leaders would be more capable to address modern challenges. He should have pointed out that anyone called of God at any age is qualified to fulfill his or her calling.  But, of course, if the Quorum of the Twelve really cared about that stuff, they wouldn't have just added three more old dudes to their ranks.

And there you have it.  It's always fascinating to me to see what direction the church is heading in.  I don't know the three new apostles very well, so it will be interesting to see their contributions to the leadership and their takes on the church's current issues.  As with April's broadcast, there was a lot of time devoted to doubt and apostasy.  I found the several references to "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" surprising, though.  I was expecting a certain amount of pontificating on things like gay marriage and social media and pornography, but none of those subjects was addressed to the extent that I expected.  Also, Monson looked like he was really struggling during the Sunday morning session, so it's possible we may have a new president of the church by the next General Conference.

I guess we'll see what happens with all of that.


  1. When I hear made up words like "ponderize," the first thing that comes to my mind is how will the poor translators translate that word. It's probably not as bad as "at-one-ment" but really! At least the translators get a few days to prepare.

    1. Haha, yup. A former GC translator posted a rant on reddit basically explaining that this kind of stuff is why the general authorities are idiots. For a supposedly international church to give a worldwide broadcast involving speeches so heavily steeped in this kind of un-translatable stuff speaks to its leaders' America-centric headspace. And I'm sure there are a lot of metaphors and object lessons that third-worlders struggle to relate to as well.

  2. Alex, thank you so much for doing this. I enjoyed your analysis of the talks my family and co-workers found so inspiring. You're words made much more sense to me, and were easier to sit through.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate that. It's pretty boring to sit through it all, but writing about it is really cathartic!