As part of my belated and substandard coverage of this month's General Conference, here's a critical look at Dieter Uchtdorf's address entitled "Learn from Alma and Amulek."
Uchtdorf begins by relating the Book of Mormon story of Alma the Younger and Amulek, interspersing his summary with direct quotations, such as the following:
I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not [believe]; therefore I went on rebelling against God.
Amulek here is conflating disbelief with rebellion. While I suppose it's true that people like me who don't believe in the gospel are in open rebellion against it, Amulek's characterization of his own spirituality sounds to me like he just simply never caught the Jesus Fever. His kind of disbelief is passive. Rebellion is active. He makes it sound like anyone who just doesn't have an interest in Mormonism is enthusiastically enlisting with the devil's legions. Considering he's giving an address that's supposed to extend a gentle arm of compassion toward those struggling with their faith, Uchtdorf has chosen an oddly unfair scriptural description of the faithless.
As he moves on to discuss the powerful missionary efforts of Alma and Amulek united, Uchtdorf glosses over an important part of the story. He mentions that "God was preparing Amulek." But he omits the fact that the preparation involved sending Amulek an angelic vision (although he does make a brief reference to this later). Which means that none of this crap is really relevant to the average modern-day Mormon.
How did Alma the Younger regain his faith? By being zapped into a coma by a very cross angel. How did Amulek regain his faith? By an angel appearing to him and ordering him to take care of the prophet of God. How can I regain my faith? By, um...waiting around for my angel to show up, I guess.
Uchtdorf then advises the leaders in the church to "find your Amuleks." What follows is a weak comparison between Amulek and any average ward member whose talents are not being utilized:
Deep down, many want to serve their God. They want to be an instrument in His hands. ...They want to build His Church. But they are reluctant to begin. Often they wait to be asked.
But that's not how it was with Amulek. It's not that deep down he wanted to serve God but was waiting for an opportunity. He was given a frigging vision of an angel of the Lord extending him explicit instructions. It doesn't matter whether you were waiting for an opportunity to serve, because that's just something you can't really ignore.
And it's a far cry from an angelic directive when your relief society president asks you to help with the preparation for the next ward potluck. Amulek must have been filled with a sense of importance, a sense of duty, and a sense of mandatory compliance. Those aren't necessarily the same things we can expect from people when we assign mundane tasks to those under our ecclesiastical stewardships.
Next, Uchtdorf encourages us to ask ourselves how we might be like Amulek, which leads him into the much-discussed story of "David."
Almost right off the bat, Uchtdorf is slyly presenting certain details of this reconversion story in a hugely biased light. For example, when David came across "information about the Church that confused him," this information is referred to in the very next sentence as "negative materials," as though such things can be assumed to be synonymous. Not everything that causes confusion about the church has to be negative, Dieter. It very well may be true, which, if you ask me, makes it positive material.
When "Jacob," a Mormon with whom David frequently debated on the internet, is introduced to the story, he does what many faithful Mormons with unfaithful loved ones have done—he prays relentlessly. He put David's name on the prayer roll in the temple. He found every way he could think of to beg God to "soften" David's heart.
Of course, since Uchtdorf is giving this sermon to a worldwide audience of followers, this story has a happy ending—David will return to the church after "more than a decade." It's been about eight years since I left the church. What does Uchtdorf's story accomplish other than giving my parents more false hope about my eventual return and convincing them to redouble their futile efforts of praying and fasting on my behalf?
Upon inexplicably feeling "the pull of the Shepherd," David prays for answers to his questions. Then he begins to "listen to the whisperings of the Spirit and to inspired answers of friends." But David's specific questions, and more importantly the satisfactory answers to them, are not discussed in any kind of detail. What good is the story for anyone doubting their faith if the central struggle is resolved off-screen? We saw the final showdown with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Emperor in The Return of the Jedi. Imagine how unsatisfying the ending of that movie would had been if we hadn't seen it and Luke had simply popped up on Endor to party with his victorious friends only to offer a casual explanation of, "Oh, yeah, Vader killed Palpatine, everything's cool."
To people like my parents, the specifics don't matter, it's the impossible hope Uchtdorf is offering that does. But Uchtdorf is apparently trying to speak to those who are like Amulek—those who have "become less committed in [their] discipleship," those who "have become disillusioned or even angry." And for those people, the story of David is pointless without specifics, because all it does is point back to the same tired doctrines that these people are starting to wonder about.
It's absurd to me how gingerly the apostles and prophets will dance around the issues, never mentioning what they may be and never addressing any of them directly—but all the while assuring us that there are answers. Who better than the anointed mouthpiece of the Lord to settle such troublesome questions? If reasonable explanations exist, Uchtdorf should offer us something better than Sunday School answers.
But he doesn't, because the reasonable explanations don't exist.