Sunday, October 6, 2019

Notes on the Sunday Sessions

When I acted and made my best decisions, it was then the strongest spiritual confirmations came.
Gerrit W. Gong
Oh, right, that's exactly what it says in Moroni 10:6—"But verily, I say unto you, the Holy Ghost will only manifest the truth of all things unto thee most strongly if thou wilt first make thine own decision and act upon it."  That must be why spiritual confirmation didn't work for me. 

That's also what it says in Doctrine and Covenants 9:10—"But after you have studied it out in your mind and asked me if it be right, I will only cause that thy bosom shall burn within thee most strongly if thou hast already made thine own decision and acted upon it."  I'd never noticed that verse before.

I'm so sick of the church trying to water down the simple instructions the scriptures offer for receiving confirmation and revelation.  They're always adding qualifiers that will explain why it still works even when it appears not to have worked.  At least this one is a little more creative than "your confirmation will come according to God's timeline, not your own."

 To help others is the path of discipleship.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I liked most of Uchtdorf's talk.  It was a cute little parallel drawn between the Plan of Salvation and The Hobbit.  In a similar vein of Sister Aburto's talk from last night, a lot of what he had to say represented what I wish more religions actually sounded like.  Including: 

If people decide the church is not for them, that is their decision.  It does not mean that you have failed.   
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I sure hope my parents didn't nod off and miss that comment.  There is one thing he said I want to criticize, though: 

God has appeared to men in our day.  We have a living prophet.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The fact that these statements are right next to each other sure makes it seem like he's trying to strongly imply that Russell M. Nelson has seen God face-to-face without having to say so explicitly.  I, for one, would like to hear some more information about this.  I'd like Nelson to relate his visionary experience seeing the face of God.  Scriptural prophets did it.  Joseph Smith did it.  If the fact that it still happens today is supposed to be evidence of the legitimacy of Mormonism, I think we deserve to hear some details straight from the horse's mouth.

The Lord, who knows the end from the beginning, knows the unique difficulties of our day.  Therefore, he has provided a way for us to resist challenges and temptations, many which come as a direct result of the deceitful influences of the adversary and his attacks.  The way is simple:  through his servants, God speaks to us, his children, and gives us commandments.
Gary E. Stevenson
Here's how Stevenson suggests that we learn to resist temptation:  by keeping the commandments.  Thanks, but that's not really helpful.  Generally the way temptation works is by getting us to do something we already know is wrong.  So he's really saying that you should avoid doing the wrong thing by always doing the right thing.  Let me tell you, if it were that simple, temptation wouldn't work very often.

He's saying you should avoid the thrill of driving really fast by reading the speed limit signs.  Okay, sure, but when a really catchy banger is blasting on the radio and you really really really want to put the pedal to the metal and accelerate up to 90 miles an hour, it's not like you're unaware the speed limit is 50.  You already know what you want to do is against the law.  How do we resist the temptation to drive at unsafe speeds?

Stevenson's answer:  by keeping the speed limits that are on the posted signs!

Thanks, I'm cured.

In addition, he [Satan] camouflages other dark, harmful content found online such as pornography, blatant attacks on others through cyber-bullying, and sowing misinformation to cause doubt and fear in our hearts and minds.  Cunningly, he whispers, "Just follow me and you will surely be happy."
Gary E. Stevenson
Just follow me and you will surely be happy?  Didn't he just tell us, more or less, that the secret to freedom from misery is to follow the prophet?  He's not so cunning about it, but he's doing the same thing he accuses the devil of doing.

Sure, cyber-bullying and sowing misinformation are bad things.  But let's not pretend like the Adversary-with-a-capital-A is the only guy camouflaging things as something they're not.

It would be impossible to calculate the amount of service that Latter-day Saints render around the globe every day of every year, but it is possible to calculate the church as an organization does to bless men and women, boys and girls, who are in need of a helping hand.  The church's humanitarian outreach was launched in 1984.  ...  This effort proved to be the beginning of what would later be known as Latter-day Saint Charities.  Since that time, Latter-day Saint Charities has provided more than 2 billion dollars in aid to assist those in need throughout the world.
 —Russell M. Nelson
Sure, that figure sounds impressive, but let's not forget that a lot of us weren't even born in 1984.  How impressive is the figure of two billion dollars over that time span? By my math, it's a little over 57 million dollars per year.  If we use the membership total from 1984, when the church hadn't yet hit the 6 million mark, that works out to a little over ten bucks per member.  2 billion is a lot of money, but when it's spread out over 35 years and the organization providing it requires a minimum of ten percent of the annual income of its members, it's really not that impressive.  It also means that the total amount of humanitarian donations over that 35-year period is just about on par with what the church spent to build a single shopping complex in Salt Lake City.  What does that say about the church's priorities?

To be fair, I have no doubt that the church has done plenty of good around the world.  But the fact that the funding put toward those projects pales in comparison with the funding put toward commercial ventures should indicate that these things are done to give the appearance of charity.  They're done so the church can pat its members on the back in speeches like this while taking more money to put toward less admirable endeavors.  Meanwhile, the individual members who actually donate the clothing and work in the bishop's storehouses and clean up disaster-stricken areas exhibit so much more compassion and Christlike love than the organization they represent.

To be fair a second time, Nelson does repeatedly give credit to the members for their generosity, their sacrifices, and their service.  I don't really trust this gratitude he expresses because I think he's only doing it to convince them to keep giving him money, but at least he did give credit where credit is due several times.  And I think that's important, because I think that the overwhelming majority of the good accomplished by Mormonism is due to the members, not the organization.

This assistance is offered to recipients regardless of their church affiliation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender, or political persuasion.
Russell M. Nelson
So, do you want a cookie, or what?

Congratulations for having some basic human decency when you're giving assistance to those in need, I guess.  Does Nelson expect that most charities will say things like, "I'm sorry you're starving, but since you're a Methodist, or Bangladeshi, or white, or bisexual, or a woman, or a member of the Labour Party, I'm not going to give you food"?

I'm sure that kind of thing can happen, but it's not like avoiding it yourself is something that deserves celebration.  It's like saying in casual conversation that you don't believe cannibalism is morally right and then expecting a standing ovation.  Who was suggesting otherwise?

The people of Laputa spent three years digging a one-meter-deep trench through rock and jungle.  By working together, the joyful day finally arrived when fresh, clean water was available to all in that village.
Russell M. Nelson 
Dude.  You gave them training materials so that they could build themselves access to fresh water and you let them work on it for three years?  What the hell is wrong with you??

You spent two billion on a mall, you have thirty-some-odd billion dollars in the stock market, you're throwing up multi-million-dollar temples around the world all the time—if you really wanted to help these people, I'm sure you could have managed an 18-mile aqueduct or committed your charitable efforts toward helping with the actual digging.  I get that there's value in a community coming together and for the people putting the work in themselves, but this is for access to clean water.  That's a basic human necessity.  Based on the gloomy picture you painted of this town before explaining the solution, there's no reason you should have expected them to wait three years for this. 

Maybe I just don't know enough about how things work in the Congo, but it sure seems like an organization with the resources of the church should have been able to give something a lot better than this.

Side note:  in my efforts to learn more, I found a page on the church's website that should contain a video about this.  It doesn't load.  I know I'm putting my tinfoil hat on again here, but that's a little strange, no?  I can access other pages on the website just fine, but this one keeps timing out.

This kind of service provided by so many of you is the very essence of ministering.
—Russell M. Nelson 
Really?  Including those bright yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests you pointed out?  The essence of ministering isn't selfless service, it's service while advertising an organization that gives its devotees speeches about giving more money to the organization but doesn't guarantee them how that money will be used and doesn't show any details of its spending.  The essence of ministering is probably shit Nelson doesn't even know about because the Mormons who do it don't wear bright yellow shirts, may not even mention religion, and probably don't advertise what they did.  If you're worried about who's getting credit for the help you're providing, you're not helping the best way that you can.

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.  Or have we completely forgotten whose church this supposedly is?

I have also marveled as world leaders have visited the first presidency, expressing their hope for the church to be established in their lands.  Why?  Because they know that Latter-day Saints will help to build strong families and communities, making life better for others wherever they live.
Russell M. Nelson
You were worried I'd forget to use it this time, weren't you?
I have a hard time believing that this happens.

See, my original thought was that perhaps Nelson doesn't realize that world politicians have to be, well, politic.  When he said all the world leaders he's met with have remarked about how wonderful their Mormon citizens are and have thanked Nelson for the relief efforts of the church, I just thought he was naive.  Of course the heads of state will say things like that.  Even if they think Nelson is a cult leader, you don't welcome the head of a foreign religion and then tell him his followers are crackpots and he should go pound sand.  And it's very likely that Nelson's organization has helped numerous countries with disaster relief and humanitarian crises, so of course any world leader should express gratitude.  It's just good manners and good politics, and it doesn't necessarily mean these leaders would personally give a glowing five-star endorsement of the church behind closed doors.  I don't know why Nelson doesn't realize that.

But then we got to the above quote and I started to think Nelson wasn't naive, he was just making things up.  World leaders have visited the First Presidency?  Not the other way around?  So, like, for example, maybe President Xi Jinping of China would visit the United States and say, "Hey, let's make a stop in Salt Lake City on our flight back from DC so that I can visit the First Presidency of the Mormons.  I want to talk to them about establishing their church in our lands because that will help us build strong families and communities."

If this has happened, I'm sure it's not with China, but probably a much smaller country.  I would be really interested in the details of this, because it sure sounds like bullshit.  Nelson did refer to "world leaders" as a plural noun, so that means that there were heads of state of at least two countries in which the church is not established that have visited the first presidency.  

Please, Russ, tell us more.

But perhaps the greatest blessing for Job was to have increased in holiness through adversity and repentance.  He was qualified to have greater happiness in the days he had yet to live.  Greater holiness will not come simply by asking for it.  It will come by doing what is needed for God to change us.   
Henry B. Eyring
If you're miserable and suffering, this is a good thing!  Just like Joseph Smith in jail and Job when he hit rock bottom, this is all going to help you be even better than before!

Thanks, I'm cured.

We all know how we can do better.  There is no need to repeatedly remind each other.
—Hans T. Boom
Sure, right, okay, yeah, but what's the purpose of General Conference then?  If we all know how to be better, why do we need to have the prophets and apostles reiterate similar concepts every six months?

The same principles apply to those of you who are experiencing same-gender attraction and feel discouraged and helpless.  And maybe for this reason some of you are feeling that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not for you anymore.  If that's the case, I want to assure you that there is always hope in God the Father and in his Plan of Happiness, in Jesus Christ and in his atoning sacrifice, and in living their loving commandments.
Ulisses Soares
Did he drop his middle initial?

Anyway,  we need to stop saying things like "experiencing same-gender attraction."  These and similar phrases indicate that sexual feelings that diverge from what the church teaches is acceptable are temporary crises rather than deeply personal aspects of physical and emotional identity.
But assuring someone who is considering leaving the church because of discouragement stemming from their homosexuality that there's hope in the gospel of Christ is useless.  The church, through its backward positions, its exclusionary policies, and its bigoted sermons, is responsible for making its own gay members feel discouraged and helpless—but here Soares is crying out, "Wait!  Don't feel discouraged and helpless! There's still hope!"  He doesn't offer any solutions to the despair beyond that, but he sure hits that hope note as hard as he can.

Say it with me:  Thanks, I'm cured.

Sometimes we seek for a blessing and set a time limit for the Lord to fulfill it.  We cannot condition our faithfulness to him by imposing upon him a deadline for the answers to our desires.  When we do this, we resemble the skeptical Nephites from ancient times who mocked their brethren, saying that the time was passed for the fulfillment of the words spoken by Samuel the Lamanite, creating confusion among those who believed.
Ulisses Soares
I'm...sorry...is he blaming people who don't get their prayers answered quickly for the confusion of other people?  Stop whining, you're making my friends uncomfortable?

Some of these situations are literally life-and-death.  He's telling people who are in the final stages of degenerative disease that they should be patient when they're waiting to be healed?

Also, I don't like how he spins this to make it sound like people are only faithful if the blessing is fulfilled on their preferred time frame.  At the time the blessing is pronounced upon the head, there is no difference in faith between a person whose blessing will be fulfilled tomorrow and a person whose blessing will be fulfilled ten years from now.  By talking about conditioning our faithfulness, Soares pretends like there are people out there whose home teachers are about to lay hands on their head who are saying, "I have faith to be healed if it happens this week, but if it's going to happen next month I don't have faith in the healing power of the priesthood."  That doesn't even make sense.

Faith generally becomes conditional as the person exercising it fails to see the promised benefits of that faith.  And that is completely rational.  When you've been raised to believe in the healing power of God and God's representative blesses you and time passes and passes without the fulfillment of that blessing, of course it makes sense to adjust the conditions upon which your beliefs are predicated.  But the way Soares is phrasing it kind of makes it sound like when you get impatient waiting for a promised blessing, you never had enough faith in the first place.  

Which is shitty.

At that time, she told her bishop that she was ready to accept the Lord's will, expressing her faith to be healed as well as her faith to endure her illness to the end.
—Ulisses Soares
And here's the counterpoint to the previous quote.  Ah, of course, real faith is being cool with whatever happens.  With respect to the woman who was ill, I wonder if it's easier to have faith when you don't actually expect it to have any affect on the outcome of a situation.  At least it doesn't put people like Soares in the awkward position of having to explain why priesthood blessings still totally work even though she wasn't healed.

His fruit is plentiful and always in season.  It cannot be purchased with money and no one who honestly desires it is denied.
Neil L. Andersen
I mean, full benefits of the fruit have to be purchased with ten percent of your annual income.  And plenty of people who have honestly desired the fruit have been denied.  In the past it was blacks, more recently it's been children of gay parents (maybe in that case it merely wasn't in season), and even within the past few weeks, it happened to a former member who was excommunicated more than 25 years ago.

So is Andersen lying, or is he saying that these people were not honestly desiring the fruit? 

You may wish to begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph's account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price.
Russell M. Nelson
In his closing remarks, after announcing some revisions to the temple recommend interview questions—and then reading every single one of them—Nelson drops a big teaser about next year.  He's decided that 1820 absolutely had to be the year that the First Vision took place and that there's no need for any discussion of the conflicting historical data—and, of course, that's assuming Joseph Smith didn't just make it up.  So next conference will be completely different.  I'm thinking strippers.

Sometimes I wonder how the biggest evidence against the church for believing members isn't the frenetic pace of change that only began after the advent of new leadership. If the church has been led by the same God the whole time, why did it take Monson's death for us to shorten church, to introduce new home-study gospel manuals, to let sister missionaries wear pants, to create 11-year-old deacons, to dissolve high priest groups, to reorganize youth programs, and now to mix up the format of General Conference a little?  It's obviously Nelson doing this stuff.  Nelson the man.  Just a regular guy.

Honestly, the special conference he's hinting at will probably just involve more musical numbers, maybe a bit more supplemental multimedia, perhaps with a Donny Osmond or Gladys Knight type of character, and more thematic cohesion when it comes to the speakers' topics.  I guess we'll see how prophetic I am six months from now. 

Notes on the Women's Session

I'll probably be the three hundred thousandth person to point this out, but when general conference has a priesthood session, no women speak.  But here, at the women's session, the three final speakers are men.  Fifty percent of the people selected to address the congregation of women were guys.  And not only does that illustrate an inequity in how women are treated in the church, but it was also ill-advised because the overwhelming majority of awful stuff that came out of this meeting came out of the mouths of those three dudes.

Things started off pretty well:

Together, we realize there is hope and we do not have to suffer alone.
—Reyna I. Aburto
This talk was actually pretty wonderful and that sentence just seemed like the easiest way to encapsulate it. If I were ever to be interested in an organized religion again, I would look for one that sounded just like Sister Aburto.  She discussed pain, suffering, depression, and suicide in ways that were uplifting and not dogmatic.  She spoke of community, easing the burdens of shame, and removing stigmas.  She also talked about things I don't personally believe in, but when she brought God's love and the Savior's healing power into the mix, she conjoined it with individual needs for medication and professional therapy and she underpinned everything with our responsibility as a church community to act as a support network for each other.  To me, this is exactly the kind of thing that religion should provide.

If there is a god, I can almost guarantee that Aburto is far more in tune with him than Eyring, Oaks, or Nelson are.

 We are witnessing an outpouring of revelation that is both soul-stretching and exhilarating.
—Bonnie H. Cordon
This seems like such a weird turn of phrase.  My first thought was that stretching isn't the word she wanted because when you stretch something it keeps the same volume but becomes thinner and more prone to tearing or breaking.  What she means is that this is soul-expanding, right?  

Except maybe not, because since there's no such thing as immaterial matter (thanks, Joseph), our spirits probably have an actual physical size, so they're not going to grow.  So maybe when she says soul-stretching she means like a muscle—by stretching it, we're making it more flexible and less prone to tearing or breaking. But if that's the context she intended, does that mean that if we hadn't received this revelation, we'd have run the risk of snapping our souls like an un-stretched hamstring on the first play of a football game?  That doesn't make any sense either.

It feels like something that's supposed to sound cool but is actually meaningless.

Knowing your identity and purpose will help you align your will with the Savior's.
Bonnie H. Cordon
This is in no way specific to the women of the church, and it's not even that specific to Mormonism, but I really hate this teaching.  We're not allowed to want things for ourselves because we need to bring our will in line with God's will.  That might not be so bad if we could see how God's will is benefiting people, I guess, but when his will at the moment appears to be punishing people who want to stop child molestation, it can be tough to comprehend why we're supposed to stand behind what God's organization insists is his will. Sure seems weird that God would give us moral agency and not want us to use it.

The context of this quote is Cordon's explanation of how the Young Women's organization will change, including a shift in the theme from we to I, which she believes will help girls better internalize the principles.  She also announced that Beehive, Mia Maid, and Laurel classes are going the way of church roadshows and that each bishop should create and organize classes according to the specific needs of his ward.  This is a very small step, but I think it's an encouraging sign—if the church realizes that one-size-fits-all arrangements exclude people because they never actually fit everyone, they could make some substantively positive changes.  If they took this outlook and applied it to sexual identity, maybe we could finally welcome those who are not straight or not cisgender into the church in a way that is honestly inclusive instead of condescendingly inclusive and cosmetically inclusive.  I don't expect that to happen, of course, but the fact that the church is instituting a policy that admits that what works for someone may not be best for someone else does seem like a bit of a paradigm shift.

Now you might reasonably ask—I can just hear you thinking—how a man of any age can know what mothers need.  It's a valid question.  Men can't know everything, but we can learn from lessons by revelation from God and we can also learn much by observation....
Henry B. Eyring
Well...if nothing else, props to Eyring for having a little more self-awareness about things than the two guys who will follow him.

But our zeal to keep this second commandment must not cause us to forget the first—to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  We show that love by keeping his commandments.
Dallin H. Oaks
Apply that last sentence to any relationship you have with a human being and let me know if it sounds fine.  Even when you were a child and you didn't clean your room like your mother told you to, did that mean that by not keeping her commandment you were expressing a lack of love for her?  Don't be ridiculous!  Teaching that we show God love by keeping his commandments makes God sound like an emotionally abusive parent.  Don't we show love for God in many of the same ways we show love for our families and friends—by corresponding frequently, by defending him when others say disparaging things, by taking an interest in things that matter to him, and by giving of our time?

But regardless, these two commandments he's referring to aren't terribly difficult to follow, except perhaps when it comes to the magnitude of the first one.  Oaks is saying that in our zeal to love our fellow human beings, we shouldn't overlook our obligation to love God.  What he doesn't realize is that he's skewing things in the other direction.  To Oaks I would say:  Our zeal to keep this first commandment must not cause us to forget the second.  Because, as the scripture goes, the second is like unto the first.  These are of equal weight.  You don't get to prioritize the one you like more.

Because of that love [for one another] 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.
Dallin H. Oaks
Explain to me how loving a gay person supersedes the commandments and the plan and work of God.  

Oh, no!  I'm expressing appreciation for the existence of a person who identifies as a different gender than their biological sex at birth!  Suddenly the commandments don't apply and my expression of love has made the work of God meaningless!  

As if the only things God makes plans or devises work around are sex and gender. You can offer love, emotional support, and friendship to an intersex person and also spend hours every week indexing names for the temple, serving as a stake activities director, and raising children with the expectation that they will serve missions.  Being a good person to a marginalized member of society and an especially marginalized member of the church does not mean you're prioritizing your relationship with that person above the work of God.

And I like how Oaks's reasoning here is based on the idea that we know what will bring people their greatest happiness.  Okay, sure, but that doesn't mean you treat them like crap to get them to see your way of thinking.  That doesn't mean you try to force them to be happy on your terms.  I "know" that abandoning the church will bring those I love their greatest happiness, but you don't see me treating them like who they are is inherently wrong because of my superior knowledge of what they should really want.

This is like if you visit a doctor and he starts talking about the importance of good nutrition.  He insists that you eat almonds.  Almonds are good for you.  Almonds have protein.  Almonds taste good, too.  Before you know it, your doctor has you pinned down on the examination table and he's literally cramming fistfuls of almonds into your mouth.  If he'd just shut up and listen for a second, he'd know that you have a nut allergy and that even though he's right that almonds are healthy, they're not healthy for you.

Modern revelation teaches that God has provided a plan for a mortal experience in which all can choose obedience to seek his highest blessings or make choices that lead to one of the less glorious kingdoms.  Because of God's great love for all of his children, those lesser kingdoms are still more wonderful than mortals can comprehend. 
Dallin H. Oaks
Okay, so chill out, then!

You're not even trying to save these people from destruction and eternal torment, you're trying to save them from being a little less deliriously happy in the afterlife.  That kind of takes a lot of the moral urgency out of your crusade against the "distortion" of marriage and the "confusion" of gender.  It also means that your claim in last October's conference that these are the primary methods Satan uses to destroy the work of God doesn't make any sense.  If he can distort marriage and confuse gender but all the people he's succeeded in convincing still have an eternal glory more wonderful than mortals can comprehend...what is Lucifer's big win here? 

Further, we must never persecute those who do not share our beliefs and commitments.  Regretfully, some persons facing these issues continue to feel marginalized and rejected by some members and leaders in our families, wards, and stakes.
—Dallin H. Oaks
Wow, I wonder how that happened.  It's not like the church teaches that breaking the law of chastity is a sin next to murder and that the Proclamation on the Family clearly states that gender is an eternal characteristic and that those who try to change their gender or try to love someone of the same sex are helping to destroy the work of God.  It's not like the church tried to punish children of gay parents for marriages those children had nothing to do with.  It's not like Elder Packer taught that you might need to slap the gay out of someone or President Kimball taught that homosexuality leads to bestiality.  It's not like gay marriage was treated as apostasy and rape was not.  It's not like the church leaders have repeatedly used abusive, dismissive, trivializing, or denigrating language to talk about people who don't fit their narrow strictures of human sexuality.  
it doesn't follow the meme format exactly, so sue me
Meanwhile, we must try to keep both of the great commandments.  To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love, keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path while loving our neighbors along the way.  This walk requires us to seek divine inspiration on what to support and what to oppose and how to love and listen respectfully and teach in the process.
—Dallin H. Oaks
This entire address seems to be structured around Oaks's premise that the first two great commandments may seem mutually exclusive when it comes to LGBT people.  He's spending ten minutes explaining that you actually can love gay people and God at the same time—it's tricky, but it can be done.  Which is just ridiculous.  Loving God and loving your neighbor regardless of your neighbor's sexual identity should not be difficult.  It doesn't require walking a fine line, it just requires love.

He might as well have started his talk by saying, "I know it looks like a Logitech mouse and an HP laptop aren't compatible, but let me explain a few troubleshooting steps you can take to get them to work."  Meanwhile, any normal person is sitting in the audience thinking, "Well, I just plugged mine into the USB port and it worked right away.  Why are we spending so much time explaining a problem that doesn't exist?" 

I'm not sure Oaks has ever listened respectfully to a LGBT member in his life.  If he had, maybe he'd be less of a dickhead about this stuff.  And I think the fact that he believes teaching should be part of the listening process is a good indication that he's not realllllly going to listen.  When you're listening respectfully, you're open to the possibility that maybe you're the only one who needs to learn something.  If you start listening with the presupposition that you'll also be setting the speaker straight on a few things (a regrettable unintended pun that I'll just leave in there because it's oddly on-the-nose), then you're not actually planning to absorb the information the speaker is going to give you.

Also, "while loving our neighbors along the way" is Oaks changing one of God's commandments.  The second great commandment is to love our neighbor, therefore loving our neighbor is an integral part of the covenant path.  It's not something we merely do along the way.

Our walk opposes recruitment away from the covenant path and it denies support to any who lead people away from the Lord.
—Dallin H. Oaks
An important distinction was not made here.

If you really loved your neighbor as yourself and loved God, what you would have said would have been more along the lines of "and it denies support to the efforts of any who lead people away from the Lord."  You don't stop supporting people because they're trying to influence others to leave your religion.  You stop supporting their philosophies, perhaps, but you don't stop offering emotional, material, and spiritual support.  If you have a lesbian daughter and she tries to talk her girlfriend into stepping away from the church, maybe you'll have some stern conversations with her about how she's jeopardizing someone's eternal salvation, but you're not going to kick your daughter out of the house or withhold love from her.  You can support your daughter as a person even if you aren't supporting  some of the actions she's taking.  

This is exactly the kind of statement that can subtly reinforce members' feeling of justification when they do marginalize and reject people.  Oaks is usually pretty careful about his language.  I have a hard time believing he unintentionally failed to draw that distinction. 

Little did we who heard that prophecy [from President Kimball] 40 years ago realize that among those the women of this church may save will be their own dear friends and family who are currently influenced by worldly priorities and devilish distortions.
Dallin H. Oaks 
He's talking about how women are supposedly going to fix the LGBT crisis in the church, but that's not the part I care about.  I want to zoom in on those last two words:  devilish distortions.

Check your stopwatch, folks, how many minutes have ticked by since Oaks lamented how LGBT members feel marginalized?  Well...when you refer to their identities, their deeply personal struggles, and their choices as devilish distortions, how the fuck do you expect them to feel?  Is your alliteration really worth further alienating a mistreated and demoralized portion of your population with reprehensible rhetoric? (See, I can do it too.)  These people feel marginalized and rejected because your bigotry and your hateful words have convinced too many your followers that marginalizing and rejecting them is not merely acceptable but advisable.  Instead of expressing your regret, instead of talking about how we all need to be kinder and more civil, instead of giving advice about how carefully we need to balance love and law, start expressing your personal apology, start talking about how we all need to be more loving and more aware, and start giving advice on how we can burst the fetters of our Puritan prejudices.  Because right now, you're adding fuel to the fire you're claiming to be dousing.

Also, I like how we're calling it a prophecy even though we don't really have any indication that it's being fulfilled.

Every woman and every man who makes covenants with God and keeps those covenants and who participates worthily in priesthood ordinances has direct access to the power of God. Those who are endowed in the house of the Lord received a gift of God's priesthood power by virtue of their covenant along with a gift of knowledge to know how to draw upon that power.
—Russell M. Nelson
So if women have been given a gift of the priesthood power, then what's the big deal?  If they already have the power, why can't we just start ordaining them?

Since the priesthood is the power and authority of God, if women really had direct access to it, they'd be able to be ordained as priesthood holders.  If the concept of a priesthood "holder" still means anything in Mormonism, then to draw upon this power of God, women still need to go through a man.  Which makes it indirect access.  So either holding the priesthood doesn't mean anything anymore or Nelson is flat-out wrong.

Now, a little word of warning.  There are those who would undermine your ability to call upon the power of God.  There are some who would have you doubt yourself and minimize your stellar spiritual capacity as a righteous woman.  Most certainly, the Adversary does not want you to understand the covenant you made at baptism or the profound endowment of knowledge and power you've received or will receive in the temple, the house of the Lord.  And Satan certainly does not want you to understand that every time you worthily serve and worship in the temple, you leave armed with God's power and with his angels having charge over you.  Satan and his minions will constantly contrive roadblocks to prevent you from understanding the spiritual gifts with which you have been and can be blessed.
Russell M. Nelson
If you still think you haven't been adequately blessed with priesthood power, you just don't get it.  Satan is deceiving you.  If you'd stop listening to Satan, you'd understand and everything would be fine. 

It thrills me when I learn of priesthood leaders that eagerly seek the participation of women in ward and stake councils.
Russell M. Nelson
Which means that he hears about it happening, not that he instructs his subordinate leadership to ensure that it happens.  Isn't it great when there are situations in the church that aren't as sexist as the other situations we haven't lifted a finger to prevent? 

I praise that man who deeply respects his wife's ability to receive revelation and he treasures her as an equal partner in their marriage. 
Russell M. Nelson
I'm not sure "treasures" was the best word to choose here.  It has connotations with the concepts of possession and ownership, and that's really not what we should be going for when we're talking about a woman as an equal partner.
   
From the dawning of time, women have been blessed with a unique moral compass - the ability to distinguish right from wrong.
—Russell M. Nelson
Now he's just making shit up.  First of all, Russ, you've used the word "unique" in a way that completely contradicts its definition.  If fifty percent of the world's population has this moral compass, this moral compass is not unique.  Look it up.

Secondly, this is doctrinally nonsensical.  Because everyone has the knowledge of good and evil, ever since that fateful snafu way back in the Garden of Eden.  And every member of the church has access to the Holy Ghost, which can tell you all things that ye should do.

So this whole platitude is meaningless.  Not only does he try to make it sound better by calling it unique when it's not unique, but he forgets that men have the same thing anyway, which actually moves it even further away from being unique.

Also, if women have better moral compasses than men, why aren't we putting women in charge?  I'm sure this is absolutely not what Nelson is saying, but if we had some female prophets somewhere down the line, would we have ended the racist ban fifty years sooner?  Would we have completely avoided the November 2015 policy and its concomitant messes?  Would Sam Young have been spared excommunication and would his suggestions have made their way into church handbooks under a female president of the church?  If Nelson is right about women's morality, it sure sounds like God has made some awful decisions by continuously putting men in charge, thereby providing more possibilities for his church to screw things up.

Let me be very clear about this:  if the world loses the moral rectitude of its women, the world will never recover. 
Russell M. Nelson
Again, meaningless.  Women make up about half the population of the planet.  If half the population of the planet loses its moral rectitude, it doesn't matter which half we're talking about—we're toast. 

If these are the best ideas you can come up with to convince women that they're important in Mormonism, that's not great. 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Notes on the Saturday Sessions

Considering that this general conference is seeing Sam Young and his followers host a protest march and also follows on the heels of the announcement that women and children are now permitted to serve as ordinance witnesses, I thought perhaps we might hear some more interesting topics discussed this time around.  I was correct, at least so far.  Here's what I've noted from our first few sessions:

In matters of faith and conviction, it helps to direct your inquiry toward those who actually have some.  "Can the blind lead the blind?" Jesus once asked.
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session
Okay, so we're like thirty seconds into the first talk of the first session and we're already telling people not to listen to doubters.  Sure, that seems super-healthy and totally open-minded.  

Faithless people aren't necessarily blind.  They may not have wonderfully complete doctrinal answers, but they may have other insights.  Just because someone doesn't see things the way you'd like to see things doesn't mean they're blind.

And plenty of people have faith.  So perhaps if you're doubting Mormonism, you can direct your questions of faith to someone who has conviction in a different religious system and they may provide you with more satisfying answers.  Elder Holland is advising you to go to your Catholic, Muslim, and Bahai friends to resolve your concerns—not just your Mormon friends.

Protesters shout from their favorite soapbox.
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session
The audience laughed.  How wonderful it must feel to be able to shrug off your detractors as ridiculous and have thousands of people validate your humorous dismissal.  Look, there's a reason Sam Young has a favorite soapbox.  He sees an issue that has negatively affected numerous people and the organization that has permitted the issue isn't taking the proper steps to address it.  Even if you disagree with what he's suggesting, you should be able to see that his passion comes from a place of sincere concern for other people.  It's too bad this church's teachings aren't structured around a central deified figure who was renowned for showing concern for his fellow human beings or anything like that. 

 What we need here is less WiFi and more Nephi.
—Terence M. Vinson, Saturday morning session
Catchy. 

This is attributed to an unnamed missionary and while it's a clever turn of phrase, I really don't like how it implies that a connection to the internet is a negative thing.  Sure, you can be too obsessed with social media and you can waste a lot of time on the internet, so it can be a bad influence in people's lives, but so can Nephi.  If the church isn't true, obsession with it is unhealthy and it's also a huge time waster.  Plus, the book of Nephi teaches us that it's cool to kill people because God says so. 

It's not our successes, but rather our sacrifices and our efforts that matter to the Lord. 
Terence M. Vinson, Saturday morning session
God, this is fucking toxic.  Our successes don't matter to God—the level at which we have personally suffered in our effort to conform to his commandments is what matters.  

I feel like, more and more, it's becoming necessary to point out how unloving our Father in Heaven is by comparing him to mortal parents.  My parents are always happy to hear when I've succeeded at something.  My parents are circumspect about sacrifices I make.  They would react with concern when I'd complain about the long hours I've worked at previous jobs, and now they frequently ask about my much longer commute to my current job.  Because they worry that my sacrifices are outweighed by the successes, even though my efforts to provide for myself and further my career are goals that they absolutely support.

Once again, God is a terrible father.  Ordinary, imperfect, human parents perform far better than this on a routine basis.

It is possible for young people to be raised in a Latter-day Saint home, attend all the right church meetings and classes, even participate in ordinances in the temple, and then walk away into forbidden paths and become lost.  Why does this happen?  In many cases, it is because while they may have been going through the motions of spirituality, they were not truly converted. They were fed, but not nourished.  In contrast, I have met many of you young Latter-day Saints who are bright, strong, and faithful.   
 —Stephen W. Owen, Saturday morning session
Okay, first of all, screw you.

He's sort of right in that there's a difference between being fed and being nourished.  There's a difference between going through the motions and fully committing.  But to state that "in many cases" people who leave the church were never really converted to it is extremely unhelpful.  I'm sure sometimes this is the case, but when this is the only explanation he offers and he implies that it happens commonly, he's encouraging his followers to ignore the complexities of why most people leave.

It also twists the knife a little bit to praise the faithful by contrasting them as bright and strong—so you're saying that the people who have left the church are dim and weak?  Wow, thanks.  I'm sure that won't color the way members see us. 

Whether you are a leader, a neighbor, a quorum member, or simply a fellow saint, if you have the opportunity to touch the life of a young person, help him or her connect with heaven.  Your influence might be exactly the church support that young person needs.
Stephen W. Owen, Saturday morning session
If it's support coming from an individual who's not in a leadership position, then it's not church support.  It's personal support.  The church is decreasing its support by shortening church and pushing more of the burden of religious instruction onto the parents.  If a ward member reaches out to a struggling youth to touch that person's life in a positive way, don't let the church minimize the virtue of that member by calling it "church support."    

In a remarkable night vision, she was shown two buildings: a chapel, and what she now realizes was a temple. 
D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
This was just weird.  A remarkable night vision is called a dream, Todd.  It's right there in the dictionary.   

To be fair, he calls it a dream later on, but his phrasing sounds like it's meant to play up the miraculous nature of someone else's unconscious experience.  This is a fun miracle because there is absolutely nothing we can actually cling onto as evidence for it except for the word of the missionary herself.  The miracle had an audience of one and she wasn't even awake.  But it sure was remarkable.

Maybe my dreams just aren't lucid enough, but I find it pretty hard to believe that the architecture of the temple building would be distinctive enough in a dream for her to identify it in real life without ever having seen one before.

I think the point is that if our faith is strong that when bad things happen—which they will—we'll be able to deal with them. 
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
This is a quote attributed to a man who was paralyzed after a surfing accident.  That accident sounds tragic and anyone would need help coping with something like this.

But there are a variety of coping mechanisms.  If your religion helps you deal with something that drastically and unexpectedly affects your quality of life like that, great.  That doesn't mean your religion is true, though.  Some people attribute their success in dealing with personal setbacks to other religions, familial relationships, creative outlets, therapists, or meditation.  We all need ways to keep ourselves keeping on.  We all find things that are valuable to us.  But they're not necessarily valuable to everyone.

People deal with bad things that happen to them all the time.  Mormonism is not the only way to do that.

I believe that the ultimate joy of the Saints comes in knowing that the Savior pleads their cause.
D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
So after all this talk about finding joy through the gospel, it ultimately comes down to something that is in no way unique to Mormonism.  Basically any Christian denomination can lay claim to this.

Why do we need Christofferson and his friends, then?

No matter who you are and what you're dealing with, you are invited to the Lord's table. 
Michelle Craig, Saturday morning session
Then explain why excommunication is a thing.  Explain why Holland just laughed off protesters and soapboxes.  Explain why ordinances were postponed for children of gay parents.  Explain why ordinances were restricted from black people.

It's easy to say you're inviting everyone and I know the church likes to present itself as a big tent, but the fact is that it's only welcoming to specific subsets of humanity.  The tent is bigger than it once was, but it's still pretty small.

The only way faith grows is for an individual to act in faith.  These actions are often prompted by invitations that are extended by others, but we cannot grow someone else's faith or rely solely on others to bolster our own.  For our faith to grow, we must choose faith-building actions such as praying, scripture study, partaking of the sacrament, keeping the commandments, and serving others.
Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session 
This line of reasoning is such a mess.  This is a chicken-and-egg thing.  You need to act in faith to get more faith, but where does the original faith to act in faith come from?  How does someone with zero faith start building it if they need to use it to get more?

What makes it more confusing is that the faith-building actions he lists don't require any faith whatsoever.  I have done every single one of those things faithlessly.  But let's say for the sake of argument that they only count if they're done by a faithful person in the spirit of faith.  If that built faith, then how could I possibly have lost mine after doing all that stuff over and over for 20 years?  My faith should have been massive and formidable by that point.

My answer is that faith can indeed grow by repeating the cycle of confirmation bias, but if the foundation of that faith is a fraud, then it doesn't take a whole lot to topple it.  Isn't there some obscure object lesson about building houses upon foundations of rock or sand and the disparate stability of those two structures?  Well, anyway, the church is sand.  And not the luxurious tropical paradise kind.

Our commitment to keep our covenants should not be conditional or vary with changing circumstances in our lives.  
Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session
Okay, again, God is a terrible parent.

Have you ever had a friend or family member so demanding that they will not understand if a circumstance arises that precludes your keeping of a commitment?  If anything, a perfect being should be more prone to understanding the restrictions of circumstance.  A perfect being would not expect unconditional observance of his imposed requirements in lives that have so many variables.  

A good parent knows sometimes you won't do your chores the way they wanted but they also know that doesn't mean you aren't committed to keeping the house clean.  A good math teacher knows sometimes you won't get an A on your tests but they also know that doesn't mean you aren't committed to learning.  A good boss knows sometimes you'll call out sick but they also know that doesn't mean you aren't committed to your job.   But a good Father in Heaven, apparently, doesn't understand any of that.

They knew that baptism in the restored church of Jesus Christ would have consequences.  They would be stripped of their scholarships, their visas would be revoked, and they and their two young children would be required to leave Switzerland.  They chose to be baptized and confirmed in October 1979.
Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session 
Stop glorifying this shit.

Yes, let's all marvel at the pioneers of the church in Zaire who accepted the gospel at huge and likely devastating personal cost.  Let's all engage in this sort of self-sacrifice porn so that we can fetishize the concept of suffering for the good of the organization.

I think maybe God doesn't understand love.  See, when you love somebody, you try not to inconvenience them.  If you need a loved one to do something and it requires them to set their personal goals aside and run the risk of never being able to achieve them, then you withdraw the request until a time at which less will be at stake.  And if this person steps up and offers to make personal sacrifices of their own free will, you don't go parading it around like this so that other people will do similar one-sided favors for you.

If God really loved us, he would not have his chosen apostles preaching things like this.  He'd accept these Congolese members' sacrifice if they were willing to make it, perhaps, but he wouldn't spread this around and imply that what they did is a desirable pattern of behavior we should all follow.  The fact that he is spreading this around should indicate to us that our relationship with God is toxic and is designed to feed his ego and his needs. 

Would she be able to have her own house in the next life, or would she have to live with her husband and his first wife? [laughter from audience]  I just told her to trust the Lord.  [more laughter from audience]
 —Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
This shouldn't be funny.  The church claims to offer the real answers about what happens when we die, but it leaves a lot of gaping holes when it comes to details that people with atypical situations will be concerned about. And then the church laughs at them when they ask questions about how their families will be impacted by the structuring of the afterlife.  Listen, you're promising these post-mortal rewards and expecting people to dedicate their lives to attaining them, so I think it's completely understandable for them to want to know what the promises you're giving will entail.  If you're not able to answer their questions, at least pay them the respect of taking those questions seriously.

After hearing the reasons for their objections, which focused on conditions and relations in the spirit world or in the kingdoms of glory that follow the final judgment, this leader said, "You are worried about the wrong things.  You should be worried about whether you will get to those places.  Concentrate on that.  If you get there, all of it will be more wonderful than you can imagine."
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese.

This is essentially a non-answer with a heavy dose of fear.  Don't worry about whether the destination will be worth it, just worry about making sure you're good enough to get there.  Okay, point taken, but let's say I get there...then what? 

Many members of the church have had visions or other inspirations to inform them about how things operate or are organized in the spirit world, but these personal spiritual experiences are not to be understood or taught as the official doctrine of the church.
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
So, basically, members' personal revelations are wrong.  Because if we receive accurate personal revelations, then that should match official church doctrine, right?  If the Holy Ghost can tell us the truth of all things, why should we not share further light and knowledge with our fellow Saints?

And why can't the church leadership just, y'know, find out what these answers are?  What we know about the spirit world was revealed in scripture by God to a prophet.  God still exists, right?  We still have prophets, right?  So why doesn't one of them do the whole prophety thing and get revelation?  Nelson keeps talking about how the restoration of the gospel is ongoing, so let's keep things rolling by learning a little more about the Plan of Salvation from our Father in Heaven.

I think the real reasoning here is the issues are too sticky to have solid answers and it's all too weird and metaphysical for the church to take a public stance on, so they want the members to keep their crazy shit to themselves.   

For all questions about the spirit world, I suggest two answers.  First, remember that God loves his children and will surely do what is best for each of us.  Second, remember this familiar bible teaching which has been most helpful to me on a multitude of unanswered questions:  "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths."
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session 
Let's be clear—these two answers are the same answer.  Advising us to remember that God loves everybody and will do what's best is another way of advising to trust him.  I suspect Oaks is trying to make it sound like he's giving more answers than he actually has.  

For all questions about the spirit world, I suggest two answers.  First, trust God.  Second, don't not trust God.

But let us not teach or use as official doctrine what does not meet the standards of official doctrine.  To do so does not further the work of the Lord and may even discourage individuals from seeking their own comfort or edification through the personal revelation the Lord's plan provides for each of us.  Excessive reliance on personal teachings or speculations may even draw us aside from concentrating on learning and efforts that will further our understanding and help us go forward on the covenant path. 
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
So, you're telling me the processes by which people are receiving personal revelation meet the standards of official doctrine, but that sharing what they've learned through these divinely approved processes does not?  Excessive reliance on the personal revelation that we're so frequently advised to obtain may draw us aside from concentrating on efforts that will further our understanding?  Isn't that exactly what personal revelation is for?  What's the point in God allowing us the ability to receive knowledge this way if we're supposed to ignore that knowledge and focus on the officially correlated church doctrine that stubbornly refuses to fill all the gaps?

Talk about mixed signals.  Oaks is basically saying personal revelation doesn't actually work, so if you happen to think you've learned something about the deeper doctrines, you'd best keep it to yourself. 

There is so much that we do not know that our only sure reliance is to trust in the Lord and his love for his children.
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
In case you didn't believe me before that Oaks pretended like one answer was actually two, this should seal the deal.  If there's only one sure reliance on the issue, then there really isn't a dual answer, is there?

One more thing before we move on to the next session—you don't get to talk about how wonderful and perfect the Plan of Salvation is if you don't actually know how it works.  A car can look gorgeous from the outside, but you won't find out it's missing a spark plug and functionally useless until you actually pop the hood and start looking around.

In a paradoxical period when violating the sanctity of human life is heralded as a right and chaos is described as liberty, how blessed we are to live in this latter day dispensation when restored gospel light can shine brightly in our lives and help us to discern the adversary's dark deceptions and distractions.
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Bro, have you even read the Book of Mormon?  Quit grandstanding about the sanctity of life just because you don't like the way the abortion discussion has shifted in your home country.  Four chapters into your favorite divinely inspired text, God commands his servant to end a human's life.  The prophet Alma personally ordered the execution of Nehor as a sentence for murder (God, apparently, has a fight-fire-with-fire policy on capital punishment).  And let's forget that one of the most righteous men in the Book of Mormon, the illustrious Captain Moroni, spent chapter after chapter threatening to kill people, executing prisoners, and orchestrating battle victories that didn't actually need to be as bloody as he made them.  But yes, continue harping on the sanctity of human life.

Rasband is later going to tell a cute story about advising a child not to eat too much candy.  The moral of his story is that one's advice is only of sufficient power when one practices what one preaches.  I'm not sure I agree with that, but the reason I bring it up is that Rasband should, theoretically, not stand behind Bednar's words.  Because Bednar believes in a book riddled with divinely sanctioned bloodshed and avoidable human death and wants people to take him seriously as an authority on the sanctity of life.

Spiritual thoughtlessness invites great danger into our lives.  Nephi described how, in the latter days, Satan would attempt to pacify and lull the children of God into a false sense of carnal security, that they will say "All is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth, all is well.  And thus the devil cheateth their souls and leadeth them carefully away down to Hell."  
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Uh-huh.  Compelling stuff, Dave.  Tell me, how similar is the phrase "all is well in Zion" to the phrase "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been stronger"?  Are you calling out your fellow apostle on his spiritual complacency? 

All day, every day, a cheetah is a predator. 
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
I've been hesitating to condemn Bednar's talk as fearmongering because I feel like I use that word too frequently, but at this point, what else can you call it?  In his savanna-themed extended metaphor, the cheetahs represent the Adversary, or the Deceiver, or the Destroyer, or whatever ominous appelation we're using for Satan at the moment.  All day, every day, an unseen entity of ultimate evil is stalking you.

Anyway, sweet dreams!  Don't have any nightmares!

Because of his rebellion, Lucifer has denied himself all of the mortal blessings and experiences made possible through a tabernacle of flesh and bones.
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Lucifer didn't deny himself shit.

God asked for ideas, Lucifer had the one that God didn't like, and when Lucifer stuck to his guns, God decided to condemn him for eternity over one philosophical disagreement.  Regardless of whether Lucifer was wrong, the punishment does not fit the crime.  God took those things away and God decided he would never give them back.  Lucifer got shafted by his daddy's arbitrary, draconian sense of justice.  No wonder the dude is so pissed off.

One of the ultimate ironies of eternity is that the Adversary, who is miserable precisely because he has no physical body, invites and entices us to share in his misery through the improper use of our bodies.  The very tool he does not have and cannot use is thus the primary target of his attempts to lure us to physical and spiritual destruction.  
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Wow, that's such a juicy irony, Dave, that's a really fascinating insight.  Should we be comforted to know that God's plan has such a developed sense of irony?  I feel like that should be concerning.  These are his children's eternal fates he's playing with.  Irony is better suited to fiction.

But if anyone needed more evidence that Mormonism is weirdly obsessed with sex, here it is.  The harm that you can do to other people through greed and dishonesty—and, oh yeah, murder—is secondary to the harm that you can do with sex.  To be fair, it might not just be all about sex since Bednar also used a quote from Nelson that references eating and drinking bad things.  But it sure sounds to me like Bednar is saying that if you're a pyramid-scheme running misogynistic white supremacist with a couple of armed robbery convictions under your belt but you avoid coffee and premarital sex, you still have more moral character than those filthy tea-drinking masturbators.

I enjoy Come Follow Me as it provides an opportunity to testify of the Savior to my children. 
Mark L. Pace, Saturday afternoon session
The dude could have been reading the five-star section of Amazon reviews.  He read ten of them in a row.  This was the first example of a member's reaction that he shared, and it's my favorite because it seems so unnecessary.  Why does the father Pace is quoting here need an opportunity to bear his testimony to his children?  If you spend time with your kids and talk to them, how are you not able to work your most closely held beliefs into the conversation?  If you're holding Family Home Evening, how are you not able to mention that you know Jesus died for our sins?  If you're driving your kids home from church, why were you not able to discuss with them what they learned in their classes?  If you have any relationship with your kids whatsoever, why were you not talking to them before Come Follow Me came out?  It just seemed like a baffling response.  But, okay, ten people really like the new program, so that's nice, I guess.

To parents with children who have left the covenant path, gently go back, help them comprehend the gospel truth.  Start now.  It's never too late.
Jorge M. Alvarado
It's never too late!  Wow, that's really reassuring, because my understanding was that time is running out.  The reason I felt that way is because that is the exact phrase that was used by the prophet in the very last general conference.  If time is running out, that means eventually there will be no time left.  Please explain to me how it will not be too late after the time has run out.  Because it's really confusing when two people pretending to be messengers of the same God directly contradict each other.

When we keep promises to one another, we are more likely to keep promises to the Lord.
—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session
This sounds like one of those clickbait headlines:  "Studies show people with shorter hair are at lower risk for malaria."  The article can't really say there's a cause-and-effect link between the two things, but it points out one study that found a correlation.

I think what he's saying is that we should keep our promises to each other...so that we'll be better at keeping our covenants with God?  Okay.  I mean, or we could just try to keep our promises to people because that's a nice thing to do, but I guess if you're trying to trick people in honoring their commitments by implying it will make them better at securing an eternal reward, then, sure, go for it, I guess. 

Reflect with me on examples of promises in the scriptures.  Ammon and the sons of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon committed to preach the word of God.  When Ammon was captured by Lamanite forces, he was taken before the Lamanite king Lamoni.  He committed to the king:  "I will be thy servant."  When raiders came to steal the king's sheep, Ammon cut off their arms.  So astonished was the king, he listened to Ammon's message of the gospel and was converted.
—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session
Does...does he...does he seriously think that Ammon keeping his word is why the king listened?

Read the chapter.  King Lamoni was first astonished because this dude cut the arms off a whole bunch of other dudes all by himself and lived to tell the tale.  This led him to believe that Ammon was some kind of god.  When Ammon went to speak with Lamoni, he asked the king if the reason his marvelings were so great was "because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants."  Verse 18 indicates that King Lamoni was gobsmacked that Ammon had read his mind.

So, no, although Lamoni was astonished in part by the fact that Ammon was attending to other servant tasks after the slaughter, the reason he was ready to listen was the impressive level of violence Ammon was capable of.

Rasband tries to make this into a scriptural story about how keeping one's word can be so important, but honestly, that kind of teaching should speak for itself anyway.  We shouldn't need any tall tales about maiming and amputating to learn something so simple and so obvious.

The Gathering is the most important thing taking place on the Earth today, President Nelson has said.
—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session 
Yes, Nelson did say this only a few minutes earlier.  The talks in this conference show an unusually high amount of blatant pre-correlation.

Rasband and Nelson are not talking about the card game.  They're talking about the Gathering of Israel.  They're saying missionary work is the most important thing happening right now.  Which strikes me as either ignorant or dense.  

I don't know what the most important thing taking place on the Earth today is, but I'm not convinced it's one religion's conversion efforts.  We have wars, refugees, genocides, poverty, disease, nuclear threats, and plenty of other problems.  We have movements for equality, for peace, for human rights, for medical advances, for alleviation of poverty and homelessness, and for plenty of other crucial causes.  Sure, if Mormonism is true, missionary work is important.  But just this morning, Oaks reminded us that people will have the chance to accept the gospel in the spirit world.  Since there's a built-in backup for people's spiritual fates, doesn't it make sense to try and help with people's mortal lives—for which there is no built-in backup?  When a child starves to death, they get a second chance to receive the gospel but they don't get a second chance at a mortal life.  Once again, we're focusing on the eternal and ignoring very real human suffering happening around us.

These men have no sense of perspective.

Which, perhaps, explains how excited they were to announce their new changes to youth programs.  Cook explained that ward young men's presidencies will be dissolved, apparently putting more responsibility on the up-and-coming youth and allowing the bishops to focus more attention on the kiddos.  He also announced that the ward budgets for youth organizations will now be "divided equitably" between the boys and the girls, which is probably a big win for harried leaders of the young women.

The whole thing had a very corporate, bureaucratic vibe to it, including not just talk of budgets, but also talk of designating ward and stake officers and talk of who is a direct report to whom.

And, at this point, we'll await the women's session of conference tonight to find out more about how this affects their organization.