Sunday, October 4, 2020

Notes on the Saturday Sessions

The 190th semi-annual General Conference of TheChurchOfJesusChristOfLatterDaySaints comes to us in the midst of some unusual times.  But thankfully, our dear leader has some opening remarks about that.

Unusual times can bring unusual rewards.

—Russell M. Nelson, Saturday morning session

I'm all for looking on the bright side and not focusing on all the bad stuff that 2020 has thrown at us, but...the unusual rewards we're talking about seem to be churchy rewards.  Wow, look how our missionaries have adapted and how we're still building temples!  What wonderful rewards from a year of crushing isolation and bleak horizons!  

Thanks, I feel so much better! 

And we are glad to report that the church has provided pandemic humanitarian aid to 895 projects in 150 countries.

—Russell M. Nelson, Saturday morning session

Cool.  I mean, we also fasted twice to end the pandemic and six months later it's still in full swing.  I bet the church remains sitting atop a pile of billions of dollars.  And I'm also willing to bet that the 895 projects you're referring to tend to be things like local wards and stakes contributing members' man-hours to providing assistance.  I'm really uncomfortable with the central organization taking credit for that.  Good job, members of the Berlin 2nd ward or whatever, for helping out your community.  You did that.  Salt Lake didn't.

I pray that we as individuals and families are learning the valuable lessons that only challenging experiences can teach us.  I also hope that all of us will more fully acknowledge the greatness of God and the truth that he shall consecrate our afflictions for our gain.

—David A. Bednar, Saturday morning session

Look, I get that the pandemic is bad and that there's only so many ways to spin it, but I don't think all this "bad things can help us grow" stuff is really the kind of comfort the church membership is looking for.  The kind of comfort they're looking for, of course, is that they'll be protected for their righteousness.  And that's absolutely something that the apostles cannot promise.  And the apostles know this.

But at least God will consecrate our afflictions for our gain.  So we'll get blessings after we're done suffering like Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail or like the people of Alma living under Lamanite oppression.  But there will still be immense suffering.

Thanks, I feel so much better!

Frankly, we were afraid of opening some containers for fear of unleashing another global pandemic.

—David A. Bednar, Saturday morning session

Too soon, bro.

Were you also cracking jokes about hijackings while we were watching the World Trade Center collapse?  200,000 people in your home country are dead from this.  Surely there's a few members in your audience whose emotions are still raw from the loss of a loved one.  Maybe choose your words with  a bit more sensitivity, yeah?

Selfishly pursuing a gift from God will end in disappointment and frustration.

—Scott D. Whiting, Saturday morning session

There's a weird paradox in here that he's not confronting directly.

So, in order for us to get to the Celestial Kingdom, what manner of men ought we to be?  Verily, I say unto you, even as I—sorry, that's Jesus talking—even as I am.  Blah blah blah, five-to-ten minute speech about ways we can become like Jesus.

And then Whiting drops this chestnut: we don't want to nurture Christlike attributes in ourselves selfishly.  We have to do it with the desire to help others.  Which is something that I can applaud in theory, except how can we ever know for sure what our real motivations are?  The whole reason we're setting out on this journey to develop the Savior's characteristics is so that we can live forever in eternal happiness with our families.  Even though we're growing in love for our fellow human beings during this process, is it even possible to separate our motives thoroughly enough to know for sure that it isn't all still rooted in a selfish desire to achieve salvation?

You are good enough.  You are loved.  But that does not mean that you are yet complete.

—Scott D. Whiting, Saturday morning session

I like this.  This is something that needs to be said this directly from someone higher up on the Mormon food chain than this guy much more frequently.  You are good enough.  You are loved.  There is room for improvement, but you are valued as you exist in your current form.

Unity is enhanced when people are treated with dignity and respect, even though they are different in outward characteristics.  As leaders, we are not under the illusion that in the past all relationships were perfect, all conduct was Christlike, or all decisions were just.  However, our faith teaches that we are all children of our Father in Heaven, and we worship him and his son, Jesus Christ, who is our savior.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

Yes, our faith teaches that we're all children of God.  It has since it began.  Which should beg the question of how past relationships, conduct, and decisions coming from the prophets could have been so egregiously misguided.  

It's interesting that Cook doesn't use the word "equality" here.  Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect...and equality, too, right?  Because inequality has been an issue before in some of those past decisions that you bashfully admit weren't perfect.

The historical record we read in 4th Nephi describes a people where there were no envyings, strifes, tumults, lyings, murders, or any manner of lasciviousness.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

I just want to pause for a second and shout from the rooftops here:


That's it.  Continue going about your business, citizens.

With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity.  Unity and diversity are not opposites.  We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

All-inclusive doctrine.

The all-inclusive doctrine that teaches that dark skin was used as a way to distinguish the wicked from the righteous.  The all-inclusive doctrine which hasn't actually taught if or when that curse was removed, which means we could still technically view dark-skinned people as morally inferior.

The all-inclusive doctrine that demonizes apostates.  The all-inclusive doctrine that kept black people out of the temples and out of the highest degree of glory until 1978.  The all-inclusive doctrine that doesn't include women in the priesthood.  The all-inclusive doctrine that teaches that being gay or bisexual or transgender effectively means you are part of Satan's primary plot to destroy the Plan of Salvation.

That all-inclusive doctrine?

I wonder if he doesn't understand what "all" means or what "inclusive" means.  Because those are both words that I'm sure are well within his intellectual reach.

Race is not identified on membership records.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session


Prior to 1978 when it was a giant no-no to give the priesthood or a temple recommend to anyone with a drop of African blood, I'm sure there had to be a way of tracking race.  Especially since there were people who may have appeared caucasian who were excluded because of their mixed ancestry.

In our doctrine, we believe that in the host country for the restoration, the United States, the US Constitution and related documents written by imperfect men were inspired by God to bless all people.  As we read in the Doctrine and Covenants, these documents were established and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

This is not the last time today we'll hear about how wonderful America is.

Okay, yes, from my historical understanding, I would agree that the US Constitution was groundbreaking in its day.  And I would very much like to see characteristics of the government it established to be implemented in, say, North Korea.  But the Constitution being an awesome idea in the 1780s doesn't impose that its principles should be exported to every nation in the world in 2020.  And I think it's really dangerous to tie one specific form of government in one specific country to any concept of eternal truth.

It's weird to me that the founders of the United States wanted there to be a separation of church and state so that the government didn't stick its grimy fingers too deeply into religion but that leaders of several religious groups don't seem interested in implementing a separation of state and church in their organizations to prevent religion from sticking its grimy fingers too deeply into government.  Religions seem to think it's not okay for the government to exercise influence on them, but religions still want the right to exercise influence on the government.  That feels like a double standard.

Two of these principles were agency and accountability for one's own sins.  The Lord declared, "It is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.  And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land by the hands of wise men whom I raised up under this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood."

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

Okay, well, God doesn't know the history of his own promised land.  Because the Constitution of this land enshrines the concept of human bondage.  It took almost a century to remove that from the Constitution, and even afterward, human bondage continued in other forms.

Yes, Quentin, bondage exists in forms other than formal slavery.  In fact, that might have been what the Lord was actually declaring about.  If we give God the benefit of the doubt for understanding history, the bondage he's referring to could have been the colonies' subservience to the British crown and its concomitant taxation.  But if we assume that's what God meant, that would also be problematic because it would mean that God thinks unfair taxes are a more urgent humanitarian crisis than literal slavery.  But still—people can be in bondage in the United States in the year 2020.  People are.

So maybe that means that there are wise men who God is raising up right now for the purposes of redeeming the land by the shedding of blood.  Holy shit, is God sponsoring a violent revolution to overthrow capitalism?  The guillotine-the-billionaires crowd is gonna love this.

In contrast [to Missourians in 1833], our doctrine respected the Native Americans, and our desire was to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

But does ecclesiastical imperialism really count as respect, though?

Our desire to teach them the gospel was to redeem them from being the savages they became after their ancestors rejected the gospel and exterminated the believers.  That's really really not cool.

With respect to slavery, our scriptures have made it clear that no man should be in bondage to another.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

Have we forgotten that the Bible is part of our scripture too?

While we rejoice in distinctive cultures, we should leave behind aspects of those cultures that conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

—Quentin L. Cook, Saturday morning session

We welcome people from all cultures, but there are some things they may need to fix about their cultural background to be welcomed into the fold!

Brits have to give up their tea, Germans have to give up their beer, and Africans have to dress themselves completely differently, because God wants everyone around the world to wear neckties to church just like they do in the United States.  That's totally fair, right?

Your temple recommend opens the gates of Heaven for you and others with rites and ordinances of eternal significance, including baptisms, endowments, marriages, and sealings.

—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday morning session

The unspoken corollary to this is that if you don't have a temple recommend, the gates of Heaven are closed to you.  This is a good time to remind everyone that you can't get a temple recommend if you don't pay your tithing.

Money unlocks the gates of Heaven.

A limited-use recommend will set a clear path for our precious youth.

—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday morning session

Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he shall not depart from it, am I right?  Practice justifying your value to a non-relative male authority figure behind closed doors at an early age, and when you grow up you'll still feel obligated to attend regular worthiness interviews to remain under the thumb of an organization that wants your unconditional obedience in addition to a minimum of ten percent of your salary.

Nothing insidious about that.

As followers of Christ, we must forgo the anger and hatred with which political choices are debated and denounced in many settings.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Okay, buckle in, I'm about to quote almost this entire talk.

Old white wealthy straight American male Dallin H. Oaks is about to lecture us from his position of obvious privilege about how people should conduct themselves during the racial reckoning in his home country.  His basic thesis:  anger is bad, love your enemies.

Spoiler alert:  he doesn't understand shit.

Loving our enemies and our adversaries is not easy.  Most of us have not reached that stage of love and forgiveness, President Hinckley observed, adding, "It requires a self-discipline almost greater than we are capable of, but it must be essential, for it is part of the Savior's two great commandments to love the Lord thy God and to love thy neighbor as thyself.  And it must be possible, for he also taught, 'Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find.'"

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Bednar mentioned earlier that we live in a time of extreme polarization.  Does anybody think it helps soothe the wounds in a polarized society to talk so much about enemies and adversaries?  Let's normalize passionate disagreement between two parties who don't think of each other as enemies, please and thank you.

It's interesting—and mildly infuriating—that Oaks is preaching about love and specifically citing the two great commandments, considering last year he explained that the second great commandment should not be kept at the expense of the first.  A quick review:

Because of that love [for our loved ones], we cannot let our love supersede the commandments and the plan and work of God, which we know will bring those we love their greatest happiness.

Now, that talk was given specifically within the context of LGBTQ+ issues, and he was essentially making the case that, when push comes to shove, we should choose our love for God over our love for our LGBTQ+ friends.  In the current context of race, Oaks seems to be indicating that, unlike with gay people, loving God and loving our political opponents is actually a feat that can be pulled off.  Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased to see that Oaks isn't completely unevolved when it comes to racism, but doesn't this tell any transgender member watching General Conference that they are specifically less valued than people of color?

Not that people of color should be less valued than anyone else, of course, but in his discussion of racial equality, Oaks is employing similar language to an earlier discussion of sexuality and almost assigning priority to social issues.  And he's saying that navigating the discussion of racism is a priority for him (which is good) and that, by contrast, navigating the discussion of sexual orientation is not a priority for him (which is awful).

We are to follow the laws of men—"render unto Caesar"—to live peacefully under civil authority and to follow the laws of God toward our eternal destination.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

When Jesus said "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," he was talking about paying your taxes, not about letting Caesar's police murder people who look like you with impunity.

Oaks mentioned earlier that a good way to engender love for our fellow men is by getting to know them.  He's later going to mention that we should be willing to learn from those with whom we disagree.  I don't know if Oaks has actually gotten to know any living, breathing people of color, but the black people I've talked with about this subject are angry and exhausted.  It's very easy to tell people to live peacefully under civil authority when the civil authority doesn't affect you negatively.  

What is more difficult—and what Oaks clearly hasn't taken the time to do, despite his own advice—is to care about things that don't affect you personally but that have massive effects on others.  How are you supposed to live peacefully under civil authority when you feel like you're under constant attack from civil authority?  And more importantly, why should any person be expected to live like that?

How quickly Oaks has forgotten his own church history.  Back when Mormons were the ones oppressed by the civil authorities, they did their share of fighting back.  They also did their share of fighting back when they were oppressed by mobs and the civil authorities failed to intervene.

I agree with Oaks that violence is bad.  But it takes a supreme, apostolic form of ignorance to tell people whose experiences you do not understand that they should sit down and accept the injustices being heaped upon them.  Considering he's a citizen of a country that's proud to have been founded on violent revolution, he should be sensitive to the idea that when other options have been exhausted and severe grievances remain unaddressed, it should be at the very least understandable that violence is on the table.

The devil is the father of contention and it is he to tempts men to contend with anger.  He promotes enmity and hateful relationships among individuals and within groups.  President Thomas S. Monson taught that "anger is Satan's tool, for to be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan.  No one can make us angry.  It is our choice."

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

So, when Jesus kicked out the moneylenders at the temple, that wasn't anger?  Or maybe when Elder Holland expressed that he was furious with people who leave the church, that wasn't anger?

I kind of like the idea that it's our choice to be angry.  I like the idea of taking that power upon ourselves.  But anger isn't inherently wrong.  Anger can have value.  There are some things—like, say, gross injustice—that we should be angry about.  Anger spurs us to action.  Anger helps us follow through.  Anger doesn't have to be violent and unfocused.  It can be passionate and targeted.

But the worst part about this is how unbelievably fucking dismissive he is about protests for racial justice.  He's being pretty blunt about his claim that if you're angry, you're working for Satan.

So, how, exactly, does he expect people of color to petition the government to end systemic racism?  "After centuries of slavery, after Jim Crow, after segregation, after mass incarceration, after Tamir Rice and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many others, we respectfully request that you make sure these kinds of horrible things don't happen anymore.  We're not mad or anything, but if you could get around to making sure we're safe from our own government, that'd be great.  Hope to hear from you soon, have a great weekend!"

This is basically the racist version of the hysterical woman argument.  "Oh, I can't deal with you guys when you're angry.  Let's talk about this when you've calmed down."  Telling people to calm down when they're literally dying is incredibly callous.

And, for the record, when you love your fellow men, you don't treat them so dispassionately.  So way to go on those two great commandments.

Anger is the way to division and enmity.  We move toward loving our adversaries when we avoid anger and hostility toward those with whom we disagree.  It also helps if we are even willing to learn from them.  

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

This is coming from Oaks, who hasn't consulted any protestors to learn from them before publicly criticizing them.

But the worst part about this is the way he's placing the blame on the angry people.  Wildly unjust things have happened and continue to happen.  People have been killed.  People have been marginalized.  People have raised their voices for generations and yet the problems persist.  But if that pisses you off, you're the bad guy.  Because anger is bad.

Could we maybe worry more about the injustice than the response to it?  Could we perhaps focus on treating the disease instead of the symptoms?

Though Jesus's teachings were revolutionary, he did not teach revolution or law-breaking.  He taught a better way.  Modern revelation teaches the same:  "Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.  Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be."

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

That's nonsense.  There are times when the laws of the land contradict the laws of God.  Remember polygamy?  What did we do then, when we were commanded to live the law of polygamy, which was outlawed by the civil authority?  We practiced polygamy anyway.

And what about the times when the laws of the land are patently unjust?  It's easy for Oaks to tell us to be subject to the powers that be.  He doesn't have to ward off an anxiety attack whenever he's pulled over by a police officer.

And our article of faith, written by Joseph Smith after the Saints had suffered severe persecution from Missouri officials, declares, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Joseph Smith wrote the Articles of Faith in 1842, when he'd been illegally practicing polygamy at God's command for—[checks watch]—almost ten years.  So nice try.

This does not mean that we agree with all that is being done with the force of law.  It means that we obey the current law and use peaceful means to change it.  It also means that we peacefully accept the results of elections.  We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

I hate to admit it, but this comment might have been helpful.  At least some of the more vehement Trump supporters in the church will have been previously instructed not to riot if Trump loses in November.  I'm not sure how much it will help, but it's good to hear him say it.

But more importantly, it's completely unfair of him to tell us we need to use peaceful means to change the laws.  With most laws, I would completely agree.  But racial equality has been an ongoing problem in this country since forever.  Dr. King tried to change the laws peacefully.  Progress was made, but he's been dead for more than fifty years and we still have these kinds of problems.  If someone's been asking nicely for more than fifty years and the government still hasn't given them what they're rightly requesting, telling them to continue asking nicely is just...awful.  It's awful.  It's an awful thing to suggest.

Wow, I never even considered trying to change the laws peacefully!  What a great idea!  I wish we'd thought of that back in the sixties and then none of this ever would have happened!

The Savior's teaching to love our enemies is based on the reality that all mortals are beloved children of God.  That eternal principle and some basic principles of law were tested in the recent protests in many American cities.  At one extreme, some seemed to have forgotten that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.  That is the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices in the content or administration of the laws.  And there have been injustices.  In public actions, and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

It's nice to hear that acknowledgement.  He's not exactly saying "systemic racism is real," but at least he's admitting injustice exists.  Although, calling them "grievances" feels like he's minimizing them.  It's such a diplomatic, toothless word for characterizing what's happening. 

In a persuasive personal essay, the Reverend Theresa A. Dear of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has reminded us that "Racism thrives on hatred, oppression, passivity, indifference, and silence."  As citizens and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism.  

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Okay, so at least he's read some things from people of color, that's an encouraging sign.  But throughout this speech—like right about here—it seems like he comes sooooo close to getting it, but then he'll veer away into focusing on why people shouldn't be angry.

I think it's also telling that his talk is about how to protest correctly and how we shouldn't be angry and how we should love our enemies.  He at least gives us a blatant directive to root out racism, but it's almost a passing comment in an discourse on a different subject.  If ending racism were really that important to him, this speech would be about racism and he might make a passing comment about not looting.  He's got it backwards.

At the other extreme, a minority of participants and supporters of these protests and the illegal acts that followed them seem to have forgotten that the protests protected by the Constitution are peaceful protests.  Protestors have no right to destroy, deface, or steal property or to undermine the government's legitimate police powers.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Okay, but what if the whole point of the protest is that the government is exercising illegitimate police powers and protecting police who exert excessive, murderous—illegitimate—force?  And then what if the government sends in police to illegitimately quash protests that are not violent?  The stuff you're saying isn't technically incorrect, but it's also not that relevant.

The Constitution and laws contain no invitation to revolution or anarchy.  All of us, police, protestors, supporters, and spectators, should understand the limits of our rights and the importance of our duties to stay within the boundaries of existing law. 

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Name me one constitution or codified set of laws from around the world that contains legal procedures for overthrowing the government.  The whole point of a constitution is to provide a stable rule of law that prevents the need for another revolution.  What a monumentally asinine statement for a legal scholar like Oaks to make.

And while his advice for all of us to stay within the boundaries of existing law is reasonable in a vacuum, the whole point of this particular movement is that the existing law isn't good enough—it's allowing agents of the state to kill citizens without facing acceptable consequences, among other things.

His comments also place higher importance on government authority than on citizen rights.  Let's say the First Amendment got abolished and now we have no right to assemble and protest.  What are we supposed to do then?  Continue to abide by our duty to stay within the boundaries of existing law under which the problem will never be fixed?

Sometimes the laws are wrong or inadequate.  I'm not really a Molotov-a-car-and-storm-the-Bastille kind of guy, but let's be realistic.  Some laws and some regimes need to be overturned.  The Founding Fathers of Oaks's country were revolutionaries and outlaws.  I'm all for being a good citizen, but sometimes being a good citizen means helping to change your country and sometimes your country's power structure will resist any changes initiated through peaceful or traditional means.

You know Oaks got under my skin when he has me basically condoning violence.

One reason the recent protests in the United States were shocking to so many was that the hostilities and illegalities felt among different ethnicities in other nations should not be felt in the United States.  This country should be better at eliminating racism, not only against Black Americans, who were most visible in the recent protests, but also against Latinos, Asians, and other groups.  This nation's history of racism is not a happy one and we must do better.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

This nation's history of racism is not a happy one.  Wow.  In addition to his ability to rock an extra-shiny dome, he's also got a knack for understatement.  Lest we trust Dallin too much on this subject, let's remember that Mormonism's history of racism is also not a happy one.

In a way, he's right, though.  It can indeed shocking to learn that racism is still a thing in the country we love.  But why does he phrase this like we're just now learning about it?  For me, it was more an education of the magnitude—I knew it was bad, but was it really this bad?  For Oaks, it sounds like he had no clue.  You'd think an apostle of Christ would be better informed about the presence of evil in the world.

Knowing that we are all children of God gives us a divine vision of the worth of all others and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Learning not to be an asshole gives you that will and ability, too, but hey—whatever it takes to get you there, I guess I'm cool with it.

I think we would all agree that those who profess no religious belief can be and often are good, moral people.  We would not agree, however, that this happens without divine influence.  I'm referring to the light of Christ.

—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday afternoon session

Wow.  He just figured out a way for his church to take credit for the goodness of people who have nothing to do with it.


Nevertheless, when secularization separates personal and civic virtue from a sense of accountability to God, it cuts the plant from its roots.  Reliance on culture and tradition alone will not be sufficient to sustain a virtuous society.  When one has no higher god than himself and seeks no greater good than satisfying his own appetites and preferences, the effects will be manifest in due course.

—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday afternoon session

Yep, as an irreligious person, I am my own god.  My only desires are to satisfy my own appetites and preferences.  That's exactly how it works.

I also have no concept of a greater good.  I don't advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, gender equality, or human rights.  Well, I mean, I do, but I guess the only reason I do that is because I'm actually a gay black woman being held captive at the Mexican border.  Otherwise I would absolutely not care about these issues because I don't care about the greater good.  Without religion, the only thing I'm capable of caring about is myself.

And my appetites.

(he means sex)

Adultery, promiscuity, elective abortion, and out-of-wedlock births are but some of the bitter fruits that grow out of the immorality sanctioned by the sexual revolution.  Follow on consequences that work against the sustainability of a healthy society include a growing number of children raised in poverty and without the positive influence of fathers—sometimes through multiple generations—women bearing alone what should be shared responsibility, and seriously deficient education as schools—like other institutions—are tasked to compensate for failure in the home.

—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday afternoon session

[Note:  "Follow on" in the above quote is probably transcribed wrong, but I listened back to it several times and those are the closest existing words I can come up with that in any way match whatever he said.  Second note:  I realize I'm not exactly one who should be pointing fingers in this regard, but I'm noticing the last few years that Christofferson has a thing for run-on sentences.  It's really tough to choose the correct punctuation in my transcriptions to capture the way his inflections partition off the different sections of his thought processes in the vast distances between periods.] 

Interesting that he has a problem with both abortion and children being raised in poverty.  I mean, one of those things could help prevent the other.

The main problem I see with this line of reasoning is that the sustainability he wants doesn't actually come from eliminating the bad things he lists.  If we get rid of adultery, promiscuity, elective abortion and out-of-wedlock births, we're still going to have tons of children raised in poverty, we're still going to have children raised without the positive influence of fathers (and a present father is not necessarily a positive influence anyway), we'll still have single parents and dual parents overburdened with responsibility, and we'll still have institutions struggling to compensate for these problems.  A healthy society adapts to address these things instead of imposing moralistic standards that seek to apply homogenous puritanical solutions to a diverse population with varied needs.

But the church has always been a don't-be-silly-one-size-absolutely-fits-all kind of organization, so Christofferson's approach isn't particularly surprising.

Miraculously, he recovered for a short time, but then his cancer returned.

—Steven J. Lund, Saturday afternoon session

Okay, it's horrible and tragic that Lund's child died of cancer, especially at such a young age.


This is a story to add to Radio Free Mormon's "General Conference Death March" episode, in which he meticulously makes the case that General Conference speakers routinely tell "miraculous" stories about gravely ill people who die anyway.  In this case, the miracle was that the death of Lund's son was delayed somewhat.  But he was still twelve years old when he died.  And it's certainly not my place to criticize Lund in his grief—especially if his belief in the miraculous nature of the brief recovery helps give him comfort—but I really wish the church would stop this.  The scriptures have many examples of miraculous healings but the modern prophets and apostles seem to speak only of miracles that don't actually prevent death.  I mean, Bednar infamously even went so far as to instruct us all to develop the faith not to be healed.

If the priesthood power Mormonism is always bragging about actually had the ability to heal, it sure would have come in handy for the Lund family.

Oh wow.  Um, that pun was unintentional.  Y'know, come in handy?  The laying on of hands?  Anyone?

His once indomitable deacon's body was itself a little bruised and broken and torn, willingly suffering to serve by bearing the emblems of the savior's atonement into our lives.

—Steven J. Lund, Saturday afternoon session

I think I have to say this every time, but can we please stop fetishizing suffering

Lund's son, in the midst of his debilitating cancer, was determined to go to church because it was his turn to pass the sacrament, despite the facts that he was struggling to get dressed, that he had to lean on a fellow deacon while standing at the sacrament table, and that he was covered in sweat while performing his duties.  While this can be seen as heroic on the child's part, it's not something we should be glorifying.  

With so little time left to live, the boy chose to exert himself to perform a duty that could have easily been performed by someone healthier.  This was not something that he had to drag himself out of bed to do because no one else could.  This was not some crucial need he was volunteering to address.  This was an ordinance that takes place every week that can be performed by any number of priesthood holders in his ward.  Although the dedication this displays is admirable, Lund is publicly touting his son's capacity for self-sacrifice for the sake of self-sacrifice.

Please don't let anyone else get cancer and then decide that they should torture themselves like this boy did out of some sense that suffering is inherently ennobling.  Please stop teaching people that this kind of thing is so wonderful.

Yet consider how the prophecies God gives his servants are fulfilled.  Some are fulfilled earlier, some later.  But all are fulfilled.

—Gerrit W. Gong, Saturday afternoon session

Gong has the Coronavirus and so his talk was pre-recorded.  Perhaps that's the most prophetic thing we've seen from the apostles recently.  Unless it was recorded in isolation after he tested positive.

Anyway, on the the substance—the above statement is false.  When you make a claim so broad and so absolute as "all God's prophecies are fulfilled," all I have to do is find one example that indicates otherwise.

When God prophesied, through Joseph Smith, about the American Civil War, basically the only things that he got right was that the South would be divided against the North and that South Carolina would be where it starts. Among the things prophesied that didn't happen include Britain joining the war and calling upon other countries to join thereby causing war to be poured out upon all nations, mass slave revolts, Native Americans attacking the Gentiles, famine, and earthquakes.  So I guess that's more than one prophecy that was not fulfilled.  And it's still scripture!

A now-respected international business consultant in Central America says before he discovered God's restored gospel, he lived aimlessly on the street.  Now, he and his family have found identity, purpose, and strength.

—Gerrit W. Gong, Saturday afternoon session

He was homeless but now he's financially successful!  Thanks to the church!  This is totally a healthy thing to teach people!


A young boy in South America raises chickens and sells their eggs to help buy windows for the house his family is building.  He pays his tithing first.  He will literally see the windows of Heaven open.

—Gerrit W. Gong, Saturday afternoon session

Let's add this to the list of shitty things taught by the church about how poor people should pay tithing before they pay for anything more important.  We should pay tithing before eating [Lynn G. Robbins], before paying for water or electricity [Aaron L. West], before buying food for your children [Valeri V. Cordón], and now before putting windows on your house.

If God exists and he is a loving god, he absolutely wants you to make sure your children are fed, clothed, and properly housed before giving a cent to his church.  That should never even be up for debate.

The Lord has declared, "It is my purpose to provide for my Saints."  This revelation is a promise from the Lord that he will provide temporal blessings and open the door of self-reliance.  Accepting and living these principles will better enable you to receive the temporal blessings promised by the Lord.  We invite you to diligently study and apply these principles and teach them to your family members.  As you do so, your life will be blessed because you are a child of our Father in Heaven.  He loves you and will never forsake you.  He knows you and is ready to extend to you the spiritual and temporal blessings of self-reliance.

—W. Christopher Waddell, Saturday afternoon session (quoting the First Presidency)

It is my purpose to provide for my Saints.  But I'm going to use the term "self-reliance" ad nauseum because I don't want those lazy bastards draining my massive coffers.

If the church's purpose really were to provide for the members—even while trying to get them to a point of self-reliance—then there would be no poor members of the church.  Or at least very, very few poor members of the church.  With the church's huge resources and its billions of dollars saved up, if the church really wanted to, it could make a huge difference in the lives of its most indigent followers.

But come on.  It doesn't want to.

Key principles to manage your finances include the payment of tithes and offerings....

—W. Christopher Waddell, Saturday afternoon session

I hate this.

The best way to improve your financial situation is to immediately give away ten percent of your paycheck without question.

If that worked, then there would be no poor tithe-paying church members, but that's obviously not the case.


Guard against the Satanic whispering that if you were a better person you could avoid such trials.

—Matthew S. Holland, Saturday afternoon session

I kind of liked this part of the Jeffrey R. Holland Mini-Me's talk.  This is another thing along the lines of Elder Whiting's "you are good enough" that I think more Mormons need to hear more frequently.  Your suffering is not a commentary on your character.  Bad things do happen to good people, so don't blame yourself.

An over-fixation on one's cultural identity may lead to the rejection of worthwhile, even godly, ideas, attributes, and behavior.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

This was perhaps not the most objectionable talk of the day, but it was the silliest.  Jackson is, apparently, in love with the culture of Mormonism, except he doesn't really know what culture is—but he knows that ours is definitely the best.

Here, he's telling us that we shouldn't be too focused on the secular cultures we come from because that may be holding us back.  Cool.


To [my Indian friend's] way of thinking, he would be denying everything his family taught him to be—his very Indian heritage.  Over the next few months, we were able to talk about these issues.  I was awed—though not surprised—by how the gospel of Jesus Christ was able to open his eyes to a different viewpoint.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

Good for the Indian guy for opening his eyes to a different viewpoint, but something tells me Jackson didn't open his own eyes to a different viewpoint.  There's something very sleazy about forcing your culture on someone from a different background because of your assumption that yours is superior.  This wasn't a cultural melding, this was a cultural hijacking.

Sure, cultural diversity is a thing within Mormonism, but this talk is basically boasting of how inclusive we are because we invite people from all cultures to bring their cultures with them—except not that part because it's grody and not that part because we don't do that and not that part because that's just not really in harmony with our vibe, but everything else, absolutely, by all means!  That's not being inclusive, that's just gatekeeping other people's identities.  That's saying that the square peg is wrong, the round hole is the way it's supposed to be, and we welcome anyone who's wise enough to sand off their corners.

There is no prejudice or us-versus-them mentality in the greatest of all cultures.  We are all "us."  We are all "them."

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

What a ludicrous thing to say.  We talk so much about "the world" and "the way of the world" and being "in the world but not of the world."  Oaks just talked about our enemies and adversaries.  Christofferson just explained that the days when we could comfortably keep one foot in the world and one foot in the church were vanishing.  We talk trash on apostates, our scriptures talk trash on Catholicism, we talk trash about other faiths all the goddamn time.  The culture of the church is entirely wrapped up in the concept of us-versus-them.  The mentality is utterly pervasive.

Talk about false advertising.

In the culture of Christ, women are elevated to their proper and eternal status.  They are not subservient to men as in many cultures in today's world, but full and equal partners here and in the world to come.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

Yes, that's why we've recently had to give so many talks about how great women are.  Because our culture has already taught them they're equal to us.  That's why we feel the need to keep telling them.

It's bold to assert that women are full and equal partners in the culture of Christ.  If they're equal, that's probably why only men can hold the priesthood.  That's why only men are supposed to preside over the family.  That's why we talk about our Father in Heaven all the time but we don't really know much about our Mother in Heaven.  That's why polygamy, which will be practiced in the Celestial Kingdom, only involves men having multiple wives, but women can't have multiple partners without committing adultery and being destroyed.

[The culture] comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and explains the why, what, and where of our existence.  It is inclusive, not exclusive.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

The gospel is inclusive, not exclusive?  Show, don't tell.  I dare you.

The gospel seems pretty exclusive to me.  I mean, sure, we let black people into heaven now, but we still teach people that they may have to interrupt familial relationships with LGBTQ+ loved ones.  We excommunicate feminists (Kate Kelly), historians (Fawn Brodie, D. Michael Quinn), and critics (Jeremy Runnels, John Dehlin, Sam Young).  I mean, excommunication is by definition an exclusive event.  It shouldn't exist in a truly inclusive culture.

You also need to give up alcohol, pornography, tattoos, and who knows what else to join the church, which means you're excluded if you don't abide by baptismal requirements.  Oh!  And then you have to pay your tithing and continue to do all the other stuff that got you into the church in the first place if you want to qualify for a pass to the exclusive temple, where you learn the secret signs and tokens that will get you into the exclusive VIP rooms in the Celestial Room.

But excluding those examples, we're very inclusive.

The prophets have taught that it is necessary to leave behind anything in our old cultures that is not consistent with the culture of Christ.  But that doesn't mean that we have to leave behind everything.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

Again, we're not exclusive.  You'll just need to exclude certain aspects of your cultural identity or we'll exclude you. 

The church of Jesus Christ is hardly a western society or an American cultural phenomenon.  It is an international church as it was always meant to be.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

That explains why the picture Elder Renlund shared earlier of his visit to Africa showed a bunch of Africans dressed in their western Sunday best.

It's also really disingenuous to pretend like Mormonism isn't an American cultural phenomenon when it was born out of American Protestant traditions, its headquarters is in America, every single one of its presidents was born in America, more than half of its membership was in America for the first 166 years of its history, its founding book of scripture is set in America, it teaches America is the promised land, it claims that the Garden of Eden was in America, and it upholds that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will occur in America.

Other than that though...

[The Indian friend] has found that there is no problem incorporating the best of his local culture into the greatest of all cultures.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

Again, there's something really sleazy about saying, "hey, come join my culture, but only bring the cool parts of your own and leave the icky parts behind."

Who are you to say there are icky parts of my local culture?

We can indeed all cherish the best of our individual earthly cultures and still be full participants in the oldest culture of them all—the original, the eternal culture that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

—William K. Jackson, Saturday afternoon session

We are retconning all of human history here.  The original culture wasn't, like, Mesopotamian or whatever.  It was Mormon culture.  We were here first. 

But I think it's important to point out that, as he's singing the praises of the gospel culture, I don't think he knows what culture is.  Some of the things he cites as cultural features include faith, prayer, revelation, learning, ordinances, forgiveness, repentance, and missionary work.  These are doctrinal teachings, not cultural artifacts.

Now, if we're talking about guilt-based existential dread, if we're talking about sexual repression, if we're talking about green Jell-O and layering a t-shirt under an otherwise immodest tank top and pronouncing "contrite" with the emphasis on the first syllable, then we're talking about the culture surrounding the gospel.

The speed limit on the main street in my home town is 35 miles per hour.  I'm guessing Jackson would use 35 miles per hour as an example of my local culture.

There are still a lot of unknowns about this virus.  But if there's one thing I do know, this virus did not catch Heavenly Father by surprise.

—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Saturday afternoon session

Thanks, I feel so much better!

Our Heavenly Father knows that we suffer and because we are his children, he will not abandon us.

—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Saturday afternoon session

Okay, that sounds nice, but please define "abandon."

Because Mormons die all the time—surely he's not saying that God will not abandon us to illness and death. Mormons lose their jobs all the time—surely he's not saying that God will not abandon us to unemployment and eviction.  Mormons get divorced, lose children, and suffer all kinds of personal tragedies—surely he's not saying that God will not abandon us to those situations.  He's not saying any of that because everyone watching knows that suffering will still happen.

So what does that line of comfort, "he will not abandon us," actually mean?

It doesn't mean anything.  It's a meretricious platitude.  He's saying it because it sounds nice and he's hoping no one realizes that God and the church actually have no protection to offer us. 

I believe the change we seek in ourselves and in the groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another.

—Sharon Eubank, women's session

This feels like it's a response to something specific.  The pants-in-church thing was ages ago and the Ordain Women buzz has mostly died down, I think.  But for some reason, she's telling us (or her fellow Sisters in Zion, at least) not to lobby for changes, just to understand one another.

While I agree that it's always good to try to understand people—especially those we disagree with—knowing why someone feels a certain way or comprehending what makes that person tick doesn't magically solve a problem or a dispute or a disagreement.  And the term "activism" isn't usually employed for interpersonal misunderstandings, so I don't think disputes and disagreements are what she's referring to.  

Whatever the impetus for this comment, Eubank wants women to look laterally for change instead of upward.  That seems like a largely futile method of problem-solving in a hierarchical organization. 


I am blessed to speak during this wonderful time in the history of the world.

—Henry B. Eyring, women's session

Yeah, that was his opener.

He meant that this is a wonderful time because we're drawing closer to the Second Coming of Christ every day.  But considering that such a statement has been true every day since the beginning of time and considering that previous speakers have acknowledged the pandemic and the unique challenges of the current moment in the history of the world, this was a really strange way to start. 

You brought with you into mortal life a spiritual capacity to nurture others and to lift them higher toward the love and purity that will qualify them to live together in a Zion society.

—Henry B. Eyring, women's session

Since this is the women's session, these remarks are directed specifically at the women of the church.  Who have an extra capacity to nurture others.  

That Jackson dude explained how inclusive we are like three hours earlier.  Can we not impose a blanket definition on womanhood?  Some women aren't nurturing or aren't interested in nurturing and that doesn't make them any less female.  So I really don't think it's helpful to tell the sisters how special they all are for some supposedly inherent nurturing characteristic that they don't all possess.

Besides, this whole thing sounds patronizing.  The three men who speak tonight seem to shower women with compliments like that will stop people from realizing that women hold almost no power in the church and almost no ostensible role in the afterlife beside birthing spirit children.  Oaks was probably the best out of the three about not laying it on so thick, and I gotta tell you, it feels really strange to be holding that guy up as an example of how to do anything right. 

In the midst of hardships, the divine assurance is always, "Be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.  The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours."

—Dallin H. Oaks, women's session

There's an argument to be made that there's really not a whole lot you can say to provide comfort during some people's current predicament.  But I sure did get tired of hearing "be of good cheer" over and over.  This is the spiritual equivalent of someone telling a person with clinical depression that they'll feel better if they just look on the bright side of things. 

By following prophetic guidance, the Lord has said to the women of today, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us," the Lord said by revelation in April of 1830.  "Yea," he said, "the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you and cause the heavens to shake for your good and his name's glory."

—Dallin H. Oaks, women's session

A little trouble with the teleprompter, there, chief?  How many times did we say the Lord said this?

What's weird is that God didn't really say this to the women of today, and I don't just mean because he said it in 1830.  I mean because he said it in 1830 and he didn't specify an audience—it was a general revelation to the church, which at that point consisted of six people.  All six of those people were men.

So while there's nothing stopping a woman in 2020 from reading those words in Doctrine and Covenants section 21 and taking comfort from them, it's a little misleading to introduce that quote as something God told today's women.

If we need to use something like this when teaching women about women in women-centric meetings, maybe we've scraped the bottom of the barrel when it comes to God's words of wisdom to his spirit daughters.  I feel like that should tell us something.

The temple—the house of the Lord—is a place of security unlike any other.  There, you sisters are endowed with priesthood power through the sacred priesthood covenants you made.

—Russell M. Nelson, women's session

He's harkening back to his address at last October's conference, when he clumsily tried to make the case that women have the priesthood without actually having the priesthood because they have the power of the priesthood due to their time in the temple and that gives them the same access to priesthood power to what men who walk around holding the priesthood 24/7 have.  If we tell women they have priesthood power over and over, maybe they'll forget they can't actually become priesthood holders, I guess?

But the other thing he's doing here as he speaks peace to us all during difficult days is trying to herd us into the temples.  If you're looking for security, a place of unparalleled security is the place you have to pay us a buttload of money to be able to enter.  

But I'm sure there are no ulterior motives there.

Our faith increases every time we exercise our faith in Him.  That is what learning by faith means.  For example, each time we have the faith to be obedient to God's laws—even when popular opinions belittle us—or each time we resist entertainment or ideologies that celebrate covenant-breaking, we are exercising our faith, which, in turn, increases our faith.

—Russell M. Nelson, women's session

That's not faith, though, that's checking a box.  This, obviously, is not a new approach, but the way faith in God and obedience to the organization are intentionally conflated is disgusting.  Nelson is really just framing faith in a way that reminds us to do what he says. 

Side note:  I know what he means by entertainment that celebrates covenant-breaking, but that was such a weird phrase that now I kind of want someone to produce a sitcom about Mormons who get their rocks off participating in loud laughter, selling their signs and tokens for money, and failing to mourn with those that mourn.  Y'know, just totally flaunting their covenant-breaking.

The Book of Mormon is our latter-day survival guide.

—Russell M. Nelson, women's session

That sounds like it'll be cross-stitched above a few end tables.  

How, though?  Oh, right, we're using the example of Captain Moroni fortifying his people against Lamanite attack as a road map for how we can fortify ourselves against Satan's attacks.  That's great and all, but what about all the things the Book of Mormon teaches that might influence us to do really bad things in these latter days?

For example, what about the time when Captain Moroni was convinced that Chief Judge Pahoran wasn't responding adequately to the wartime crisis so he threatened to march into Zarahemla and overthrow him and very strongly hinted that Pahoran would be killed in the process? If the Book of Mormon is really our survival guide, does that mean President Nelson is calling upon members in the areas hit hardest by the pandemic to rise up and assassinate their inept government leaders?  I mean, it's hardly a stretch for God to command violence, what with the fourth chapter of the whole Book of Mormon featuring a divinely-ordered beheading.  And then there', pretty much the entire book Book of Alma.

Mormon coup.  You heard that one here first, too.  That's two revolutions the apostles have called for in the span of a single day.

Life without God is a life filled with fear.  Life with God is a life filled with peace.

—Russell M. Nelson, women's session

Well, that's an idiotic claim from a guy who's only tried option B. 

Korean barbeque is horrible.  American barbeque is fantastic.  I mean, I've never had Korean barbeque, but trust me when I tell you, it's the worst.

Also, right about now, pretty much every life is filled with fear, godless or not.  And speaking as someone who's tried option A and option B, I have much greater peace without the Mormon god in my life than with.  The impossible standards are gone, the constant fear that I'll fall short of super-duper-ultra-Heaven is no longer an issue, and I don't feel the need to repress certain parts of my personality.  It's got it's drawbacks, sure, but overall my godless existence is a much smoother ride.

The adversary never stops attacking, so we can never stop preparing.

—Russell M. Nelson, women's session

Eyring:  You guys are awesome!

Oaks:  Be of good cheer!



Dear sisters, you are adept at creating places of security for yourselves and those you love.

—Russell M. Nelson, women's session

That's a wordy way of saying that women are excellent homemakers.


I'm not saying that the days ahead will be easy, but I promise you that the future will be glorious for those who are prepared and who continue to prepare to be instruments in the Lord's hands.

—Russell M. Nelson, women's session

I don't know why you're required to prepare for a glorious future.  Is he saying the future will be glorious but it'll suck for the people who haven't prepared, or is he saying the people who haven't prepared won't make it to the future?  Either way, that's kind of dark.

There's an interesting contrast, tone-wise, between this conference so far and the one in April.  There doesn't seem to be any pretense this time around about our ability, the church's ability, the apostles' ability, or God's ability to end or even mitigate the pandemic.  So far we've heard a lot about preparing for disasters (after the fact—or before the next one, gasp!), finding comfort in difficult times, and hoping for the future.  Haven't heard anything about fasting to end the pandemic or miraculous healings or anything of the like.  It's almost as though the apostles know they have no power to affect what will happen in the world.

But, hey, we have two more sessions left.  Maybe one of them will say something different.

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