Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Notes on the Sunday Sessions

It's an unwavering requirement of Christian disciples and Latter-day Saints to show true love to one another. 
Sharon Eubank, Sunday morning session
I swear I'm trying to make this General Conference roundup more than just thirty-five entries of, "but what about how you treat gay people," but when the pitcher lobs a lazy change-up like this straight through the sweet spot, you don't just politely step back and take a called strike.

What about how you treat married couples who aren't heterosexual and cisgender?  What about how you treat members who point out problems in the church, even with good intentions?  What about how you treat doubters and rape accusers and depressed missionaries?  Please explain how this shows true love.

...President Hinckley put his hand on Otto's shoulder and said, "Otto, that's not good enough.  You ought to be a member of the church.  This is the Lord's church."
Quentin L. Cook, Sunday morning session
Hinckley had known this man less than twenty-four hours and thought it was okay to tell him how to live his life.  This was no mere "bring us your truth and let us add to it."  This was a full-blown "you're doing it wrong and you should do it my way because I say so."  Congratulations, Cook, you just made a prophet look like a dick.

This is not a sweet story.  This is encouraging people to ignore social boundaries and more forcefully push their religion on friends and on new acquaintances.  That could result in member missionary work becoming a bit more obnoxious and no more effective.

I promise that lovingly performing ordinances for ancestors will strengthen and protect our youth and families in a world that is becoming increasingly evil. 
Quentin L. Cook, Sunday morning session 

I found it a bit sad that Cook's talk was about how missionary work is an act of love and he spent what seemed like half of his time extolling the benefits of missionary work for dead people.  Aren't we going to be doing temple work nonstop in the Millennium?  Won't we save ourselves more time in the longrun by converting more living, breathing people in the present?   Won't someone please think of the living?

But I like how Cook decides to throw in a little fearmongering to seal the deal.  The world is becoming increasingly evil and your families need protection from it.  You can get protection by doing holy busy-work in the temple.  Guess what you need to do so your family can spend all that time in the temple?  You guessed it—give us money.

It's interesting that he uses the word "promise," too.  Normally, apostles will opt for something more grandiloquent, like "I testify," or "I bless you," or "I bear my apostolic witness" (looking at you, Holland).  The fact that he uses something plain and something bearing real-world familiarity makes me think he's not messing around.  He wants to pack people in those temples and he's worried that his highfalutin Mormon-speak isn't earthy or visceral enough to get the job done.

Like many of my more conspiracy-theory-esque, accusations-of-sinister-villainy arguments, this one really doesn't have much I can point to as evidence, but I'm fairly certain Cook chose the word "promise" very carefully to maximize the possibility of keeping the tithing flowing. 

Homes filled with love are a joy, a delight, and a literal heaven on earth.
Quentin L. Cook, Sunday morning session
That's not what "literal" means and you know it, you week-old sugar-free donut.

But it IS an infinite atonement because it encompasses and circumscribes any sin and weakness as well as every abuse or pain caused by others.
Tad R. Callister, Sunday morning session
I love this.

Because it's a perfect example of how Mormonism loves to make grand, earnest, inspiring statements that it knows are false.   It's not an infinite atonement, and we all know it.  It doesn't encompass any sin and we all know it.  I mean, sure, since few people are going to reach the level of knowledge and understanding required to properly deny the Holy Ghost, it's likely that any sin little old you or little old me can commit is going to be circumscribed by the atonement.  But the fact remains that there is a teaching in Mormonism about the dreaded unpardonable sin.  And that's not exactly a secret.  The unpardonable sin is not one of those things that nobody except church critics and church apologists know about.

That doesn't really matter as far as the meat of Callister's talk, though, because he's trying to tell us that Jesus suffered everything we suffered and can cleanse us of anything we might do.  And that's true—but there is one notable exception, which means there is a limit placed on the atonement, which means the atonement is not infinite.

But it just doesn't lift your spirits the same way when you say the atonement is almost infinite, so even though probably just about everyone in the Conference Center knows he's lying, he lies anyway because it sounds better.


If we feel the spirit, that is our witness that we have been forgiven or that the cleansing process is taking place.
Tad R. Callister, Sunday morning session
This is his explanation for how we can tell we've been forgiven.  And he basically says, "you can't be sure."  People asking this question are asking because they want to be free of the worry.  They want to have the peace of knowing they've been absolved.  And Callister tells them that when they feel the spirit, that's their sign that they've been forgiven.  Or that the cleansing process is taking place.

Wait, so if I feel the spirit, it's a good sign, but it doesn't necessarily mean I'm done?  How do I know when I'm in the clear?  How do I know the cleansing process is completed?

When I was a teenager struggling to repent of masturbation, this would have been a spear to the heart.  I would never be sure if the presence of the Holy Ghost was confirmation that I had done my penance or a reminder that my penance was ongoing.  Callister is really telling us that the guilt and stress and worry and self-loathing and self-doubt and longing for peace should never really stop.

Wow, that's shitty.  The church makes rules, shames people who don't follow them, and then keeps them in that state of shame for as long as possible.

Some have asked, "But if I have been forgiven, why do I still feel guilt?"  Perhaps in God's mercy, the memory of that guilt is a warning, a spiritual stop sign of sorts, that at least for a time cries out when additional temptations confront us, "don't go down that road, you know the pain it can bring."  In this sense, it serves as a protection, not a punishment.
Tad R. Callister, Sunday morning session
And this is a classic example of Mormonism's tendency to present things that are damaging as things that are beneficial.  And a classic example of how general authorities like to change the question so they can answer it the way they want.

Guilt and the memory of guilt are not the same thing.  The question is about current guilt.  The answer is about the memory of guilt.  I remember lying to my mom about how late I stayed up reading in bed on a school night.  I remember feeling guilt for that.  But it's been fifteen years or so, so I'm over it.  I no longer feel guilty.  But I remember how bad I felt knowing that I was lying to my mom.  The question Callister presents is asking, "why do I still feel like shit for being dishonest with my parent?"  He pretends that the question is "why do I remember what it was like to feel like shit?"

Not the same thing.

But he pretends it is, and if a repentant member is listening and doesn't realize he's changed the question before answering it, they'll consign themselves to continued guilt because he's told them that their emotional suffering is one of God's mercies.

That's kind of shitty too.

I understand why God weeps.  I also weep for such friends and relatives.  They're wonderful men and women devoted to their family and civic responsibilities.  They give generously of their time, energy, and resources, and the world is better for their efforts.  But they have chosen not to make covenants with God.  They have not received the ordinances that will exalt them and with their families [sic], and bind them together forever.
Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
Why doesn't God care that much about whether the world is better for our efforts?

Why does he place such a high premium specifically on people who make covenants?  An omniscient, benevolent god really gets more excited about rituals performed and loyalty pledged than about improvements made and suffering ameliorated?  If these people are wonderful and devoted and generous, what's the problem?  If God sees into our hearts, why can't he look at these people and say, "Wow, they're wonderful, devoted and generous.  The world is better for their efforts.  They should be greatly rewarded for exhibiting these characteristics."

When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God, right?  Covenants can be coincide virtue, but they do not create virtue.  It's weird that the Mormon God doesn't see that.

The Savior said, "In my father's house are many MANSIONS."  However, as you choose not to make covenants with God, you are settling for a most meager roof over your head throughout all eternity.
—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
So this is one of the things that doesn't really make sense about the doctrine of eternal progression:  progress is only eternal for some people.

If you sided with Lucifer in the War in Heaven, you'll never progress past that point.  If you don't make covenants in this life, your future progress is also limited.  If our whole purpose is to become more and more like our Father in Heaven, why are there brick walls between who we are and who we're supposed to become?  If this church stresses forgiveness through the atonement and talks about how the sins of your youth don't need to taint your life forever, why do sins in your mortal estate inhibit your ability to grow in the hereafter?  This is similar to putting a toddler in a time-out for life because of a tantrum—only infinitely worse, considering that the hereafter is eternal.

I would further entreat to my reticent friends, pour out your heart to God.  As him if these things are true.  Really study.  If you truly love your family and if you desire to be exalted with them throughout eternity, pay the price now through serious study and fervent prayer to know these eternal truths and then to abide by them.  If you're not sure you even believe in God, start there.  Understand that in the absence of experiences with God, one can doubt the existence of God.  So, put yourself in a position to begin having experiences with him.  Humble yourself.  Pray to have eyes to see God's hand in your life and in the world around you.  Ask him to tell you if he is really there, if he knows you.  Ask him how he feels about you and then listen. 
 —Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
Oh, cool, that makes sense.  If someone is "reticent" about the gospel, that simply means they have not yet put in the work to find out that the church is true.


I poured out my heart to God and asked if these things were true.  I really studied.  I humbled myself and prayed to see God's hand in my life.  I even asked God if he was really there. And I listened.

Crickets, man.

This guy doesn't know what he's talking about.  He hasn't walked a mile in an apostate's shoes or an agnostic's shoes or an atheist's shoes.  Initially, I thought he was being compassionate here and trying to destigmatize atheism a little, explaining that atheism isn't an indefensible stance.  Reading more carefully, I realize that while he's talking about doubting the existence of God, he's not talking to the active members—he's still talking to his reticent friends.  So what he's really doing is trying to explain people's atheism to them.  "I know why you doubt the reality of God," he's telling people.  "It's because you haven't  had experiences with him yet."  Jesus Christ, that's condescending.

It's kind of like that time I sat my sister down and explained that I understood why she believes in Mormonism.  "Understand that in the absence of critical thought," I told her, "one can be brainwashed into believing all kinds of manipulative nonsense."  Oh, wait, I didn't do that, because I try to avoid being an asshole.  But the prophet of the Lord isn't concerned with such trivial things as whether he's an asshole, so he's given himself more freedom to talk down to those who disagree with him and to tell them how they feel.

But even when he's doing all of this, he still can't really bring himself to admit that atheism is real.  He presents it as a passive matter of doubt or uncertainty, instead of an active disbelief in the existence of God.

He's got no clue.

Then he asked me, "Once I die, please do the necessary temple work for my wife and me so we can be together again."  Thankfully, I am not this man's judge.  But I do question the efficacy of proxy temple work for a man who had the opportunity to be baptized in this life, to be ordained to the priesthood and receive temple blessings while here in mortality but who made the conscious decision to reject that course. 
Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
This was a laugh line.

The prophet of God is cracking jokes about someone's cavalier attitude toward exaltation.  That doesn't seem very becoming of the Lord's mouthpiece.  God's work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  This is serious business.  Why are we pretending like this man's misguided attempt to find a loophole in the Plan of Salvation is less dangerous than it is funny?

Also, why is the Lord's anointed using such weak-ass wording as "I question the efficacy"?  Isn't this a doctrinal question that he should have an answer to?  Because it sounds like he's leaving it in a gray area.  What's the point of a prophet who uses his pulpit to question the efficacy of temple rituals under specific circumstances?  Isn't that something he should have brought to the Lord first to receive revelation before he discussed it with the membership?

Now as president of his church, I plead with you who have distanced yourselves from the church and with you who have not yet really sought to know that the Savior's church has been restored—do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please, do it now.  Time is running out.
 —Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
Fear is only a powerful motivator among people who are afraid of you.

Also, many of us did do the spiritual work to find out for ourselves, and that's exactly why we've distanced ourselves from the church.  Of course, now that you've given a relentless fearmongering speech to the worldwide membership, loved ones who are consumed with panic that we'll be separated from them in our benevolent Father in Heaven's kingdom will try to drag us back to the church kicking and screaming, so thanks for respecting our precious free agency.

We should not expect the church as an organization to teach or tell us everything we need to know and do to become devoted disciples and endure valiantly to the end.  Rather, our personal responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become who the master would have us become.  And our homes are the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming. 
David A. Bednar, Sunday afternoon session
I feel like this may be a rare example of the church leadership actually planning ahead with a degree of sense.  Twisted, manipulative sense, perhaps, but sense nonetheless.

Twenty years from now, when you find out that the priesthood ban wasn't just a priesthood ban but also banned faithful black members from the temple, think how much stronger the argument that you should have known this already will be.  By shifting the responsibility for doctrinal education onto the members, the church will be better equipped to absolve itself of wrongdoing when someone learns something unsettling and accuses the church of hiding the information.

I wonder if this will backfire in some ways, though.  Because if the church isn't supposed to tell us everything we need to know, what is the purpose of the church?  If we're now supposed to be responsible for our own gospel learning, why do we need a religious institution?  Will this be used in the future for members to try to pay their tithing in the form of actual charitable offerings instead of donations to the church itself?

Bednar's approach was also a little confusing because moments after he was telling us to take responsibility for our own learning, he was directing us to the church website for videos we can use to explain temple garments to our children.  Did you want us to take charge of our own education, or did you want us to absorb official, correlated material?  Make up your mind.

When the Lord or his servants say things like, "not many days hence" or "the time is not far distant," it can literally mean "a lifetime or longer."  His time—and, frequently, his timing—is different from ours.  Patience is key.
Kyle S. McKay, Sunday afternoon session

Wow. That's good to know. God created us and made sure we could have his ancient words translated into modern tongues, but he can't be bothered to translate his eternal perspectives into words that stay true to their human definitions.

"Patience" shouldn't mean "wait for it to happen after your lifetime." That's not requesting patience, that's passing the buck further down the historical timeline. Basically, accepting that God may be completely ignoring you is key.

The immediate goodness of God comes to all who call upon him with real intent and full purpose of heart.  This includes those who cry out in earnest desperation when deliverance seems so distant and suffering seems prolonged, even intensified. 
 —Kyle S. McKay, Sunday afternoon session
Man, "earnest desperation" is a pretty apt description of my prayerful struggle to gain a testimony. I called upon God with real intent and full purpose of heart. Doesn't the "immediate goodness of God" sound like there should have been a feeling of peace or love or warmth as soon as I ended my prayer? Because that didn't happen.  Which makes sense, because normally church leaders advise us that we shouldn't expect to receive immediate answers to these kinds of prayers.

This is an empty promise.  It contradicts what we hear in Sunday school classes all over the world.  But it sounds better than the truth and it comes from a general authority, so I'm betting this sentiment will be parroted in innumerable sacrament meetings, even by those who have cried out with real intent when suffering seemed prolonged and did not receive comfort or deliverance.

We should have integrity in all that we do.
Ronald A. Rasband, Sunday afternoon session 
Yes, Rasband, let's talk about integrity. Integrity includes, by most people's definitions, a willingness to be accountable for your actions and the capacity to admit your mistakes.

Does the church behave with integrity?

The church doesn't offer apologies—Oaks said so. The church doesn't acknowledge its institutional flaws and failings—just look at how it treated Sam Young and McKenna Denson. The church doesn't admit that after so much dehumanizing anti-LGBT rhetoric that it's contributing to an epidemic of suicide. The church refuses to show financial transparency so that its members can hold it accountable for its spending. And, of course, it regularly gaslights its adherents by pretending it has been blameless throughout its history.  It's presented itself as above reproach when it comes to depictions of the translation process, the character of Joseph Smith, divinely sanctioned racism, excommunications it insists are handled on a local level, and of course the November 2015 policy and its glib reversal.

This is the church saying, "do as I say, not as I do." Because the church has no integrity left.

What a terrific beat to end on.

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