Sunday, April 1, 2018

Notes on the Sunday Evening Session

Nelson really has this Conference jam-packed with goodies for the members.  During this session, he announced seven new temples as well as a new "ministering" program that will replace home teaching and visiting teaching.  He seems to be taking full advantage of his first hundred days in office, although I'm pretty sure that's not a rule of thumb for prophets the way it is for presidents.  It's easy to see how some of these changes may energize the membership, and if the numbers reported on yesterday are any indication, he's wise to prescribe a shot of adrenaline to the church. 

But here are some of the doctrinal insights shared during this final session of Conference:

We have made the decision to retire home teaching and visiting teaching as we have known them.  Instead, we will implement a newer, holier approach to caring and ministering to others. We will refer to these efforts simply as "ministering."  Effective ministering efforts are enabled by the innate gifts of the sisters and by the incomparable power of the priesthood.
—Russell M. Nelson
I know I've made points about sexism several times in the last couple of days, but this might be the most important indicator during this conference about how women aren't actually equal in the gospel.

The sisters have innate gifts.  The men have incomparable power.  And that's straight from the prophet himself.  Just look at the differences in the language.  "Incomparable power" is a soaring, superlative phrase.  "Innate gifts" is respectful and complimentary, sure, but it doesn't have the altitude given to the men.

I bear my own witness that these adjustments [to the elders quorums and the home and visiting teaching programs] are examples of the revelation that has guided this church from its beginning.  They are yet more evidence that the Lord is hastening his work in its time. 
Jeffrey R. Holland
The Lord has been hastening his work since the middle of the nineteenth century.  We're closing in on the two hundred year mark.  When is he going to hurry up and hasten for real?

Simple as [the planned policy of quarterly interviews between bishops and ministering companionships] sounds, my friends, those interviews are absolutely crucial.  Without that information, the bishop will have no way to receive the information he needs regarding the spiritual and temporal conditions of his people. 
Jeffrey R. Holland
Really?  The bishop will have no other way to find out what the spiritual and temporal status of his ward is?  I mean, he could also ask other people.  Realistically, bishops have a lot to do, so it would be kind of unfair to expect him to hunt everybody down to ask about any important spiritual or temporal needs.  

But...didn't the Lord provide a way for bishops to receive important information directly?  I believe it's called revelation?  Bishops can receive revelation for those in their stewardships?  You know, that long-established teaching of the LDS church?  Not ringing any bells?

Breaking news—the thing that the prophet spent fifteen minutes teaching about in the previous session of conference doesn't actually work because bishops have no other way to gather information other than having people report to him.

She replied, "We discovered that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the closest to Jesus Christ's original church than any other church we know of."
Gérald Caussé
I call bullshit.

This was a mayor whom Caussé had been trying to convince to allow a new church building to be built in her city.  So she did some firsthand research, apparently, visited an LDS meetinghouse, talked with members and with people who lived next to the chapel, and then came back to Caussé and said this.

Come on.

First of all, it's really not that close, in my opinion.  Secondly, nobody alive has actually seen Christ's original church on account of it existing two thousand years ago, so how does this woman feel qualified to say something like this?  It just sounds like a faith-promoting story to make Mormons feel good about being Mormon (like the infamous "light in their eyes" anecdotes), and it sounds so much like that as to muffle any ring of truth.  The phrasing of her comment is so perfect.  What are the odds that this happened?  If it did happen, what are the odds that her reaction wasn't exaggerated upon retelling?

Where do we stand today in fulfilling these divinely appointed responsibilities?  First, with respect to Moses's restoration of the keys for the gathering of Israel, today almost 70,000 missionaries are spread across the earth, preaching his gospel to gather his elect.  This is the commencement of the fulfillment of the great and marvelous work Nephi foresaw among both the Gentiles and the House of Israel.
Quentin L. Cook
They're teasing the numbers again, kind of like when the church essay on polygamy said that Joseph Smith married a girl who was "several months shy of her fifteenth birthday" to avoid saying she was fourteen. 

The number of full-time missionaries in the report posted online yesterday is 67,049.  Yes, that is almost 70,000.  But when most people approximate a number like that, they'd probably round down to either 65,000—or 67,000 if they're being a little more precise.  And I don't think precision is what Cook is worried about because the number of missionaries is dropping.  He needs the number to sound high, so he rounds up to "almost 70,000" so it isn't so apparent how far the numbers have plummeted since 2014's peak of 85,147.  This is the third consecutive year that number has decreased.

Like many church critics expected and like some apostles did not predict, lowering the age of missionary service resulted in only a temporary swelling of the ranks.  The bubble has burst, Cook.  It's time to come back to reality.

It is commendable that non-consensual immorality has been exposed and denounced.  Such non-consensual immorality is against the laws of God and of society.
Quentin L. Cook
Very true.  So what is God and/or his church planning to to with Joseph Bishop, who has admitted to committing non-consensual immorality while serving in a position of priesthood authority?  Nice nod to the MeToo movement, sure, but...remember that that old saying about monies and mouths?

In the Lord's church, the only culture we adhere to and teach is the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The unity we seek is to be unified with the savior and his teachings.  As we look at the primary purposes of the church, they are but based on equality before the Lord and following the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 —Quentin L. Cook
I really like that he denounced tribalism a second before this.  But the church really isn't based on equality.  The Bible has a lot of stuff about how Israel is God's favorite people and the Gentiles are lame.  The Book of Mormon parrots that as well and adds its own Nephite/Lamanite dichotomy.  Plus there's also that pesky teaching that God uses dark skin color to signify wickedness.  And I could get into the sexism stuff again but I think we're all tired of that.

The point is, the LDS church has a feeble grasp on the concept of equality.  And while American culture is almost certainly less unified than Mormon culture, all is not exactly well in Zion either.

With respect to missionary work, the principal qualifications for baptism are humbling oneself before God and coming forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  Education, wealth, race, or national origin are not even considered. 
Quentin L. Cook
Another qualification is denouncing your parent if he or she is currently in a same-sex relationship.  Look how egalitarian we are!

In the sacred sealing room, the eternal marriage ordinance is the same for everyone.  I love the fact that the couple from the humblest background and the couple from the wealthiest background have exactly the same experience.
Quentin L. Cook 
Wow, it sure wasn't the same for everyone forty-one years ago.  That's because before 1978, the eternal marriage ordinance didn't happen if you were black.  I mean, it's great that this is no longer in effect, but it takes a special kind of arrogance to preach to the world that your organization is a big welcoming tent that treats everyone the same when you have so much racism in your past, so much sexism and homophobia in your present, and your progress has lagged behind American society in a way that should be humiliating for an organization claiming to represent a benevolent god.
There has been a significant increase in the number of worthy adult temple recommend holders for many years.  Limited use recommends for worthy youth have increased dramatically over the last two years.  Clearly, the faithful core membership of the church has never been stronger.
Quentin L. Cook
I can't believe it took me until the final minutes of the closing session of General Conference to dust this old classic off, but...
Half-seriously, maybe the next person shouting from the audience during Conference shouldn't yell "Opposed!" or "Stop protecting sexual predators!"  Maybe that person should yell "Citation needed!"  Not really though.  The sexual predator thing is a much more urgent issue that the church needs to fix.  We can worry about fudged numbers later.

But this was strikingly similar oral excrement to Cook's performance in General Conference two years ago, when he explained that not very many people resign and that "the Church has never been stronger."  He was, perhaps a little less defensive this time, but it was still a bold assertion easily challenged by anecdotal evidence.  And it was an assertion that can't be proved or disproved by any old schmuck off the street.  Who has the statistics for the number of adult and youth temple recommends?  The same organization who has the church financial records!

By which I mean:  not you.

You just have to take his word for it.  Because he's been totally honest in the past and has no reason lie, so I'm sure the numbers that he didn't give us are completely accurate.

One interesting note is that he seems to be retreating from his 2015 comment a little, because here he's focusing on the "faithful core membership of the church" as opposed to the church membership as a whole.  Maybe the apostles are finally starting to see the writing on the spreadsheet.

Our message to the world is simple and sincere.  We invite all of God's children on both sides of the veil to come unto their savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life.
Russell M. Nelson 
Well...not all of God's children.  Not the disfellowshipped or excommunicated ones who've apostatized or criticized the church or decided to marry someone who happens to share the same kind of genitals, right?  And not the younger ones who won't denounce their parents' homosexual lifestyles, right?

But all of God's other children are welcome.  At least, as of 1978. 
And there you have it.  It was a surprisingly eventful series of broadcasts.  General Conference is usually referred to as a historic event, and this one at least may have lived up to the usual hype.  It will be interesting to see how the church adapts to the changes Nelson announced and it will be fascinating to see if he continues pushing more changes to try to keep the "faithful core membership of the church" engaged.


  1. I wonder how the YW are going to take to ministering. They may have felt left out not getting to pass the sacrament, but they have no idea how much it sucks to go home teaching and to gather fast offerings even when you live in a ward that spans about 4 blocks by 4 blocks in Utah. Then if the family they're visiting doesn't do so well or their companion isn't so faithful, they're going to get the added guilt. This could backfire.

    "Nonconsentual immorality", huh? Is he trying to shield the ears of young people who may be listening by using coded words? It's sexual assault, rape, molesting, forced and unwanted sexual contact, etc. The way the church has handled sexual abuse is one of the main reasons why my wife, my children, and I no longer attend church. I've heard people bear testimony and say that even if it weren't true, they would still go, because the teachings are good for their family. I disagree on both points. Well, the teachings of the church are NOT true, and a church that provides cover for sexual predators is NOT good. I could give you at least a dozen separate examples right now of family members and friends that have suffered because of the church's unwillingness to take on this issue. It's abhorrent and inexcusable.

    1. No, it's okay because they have a hotline for bishops to call!

      Just, kidding, obviously. I think the way church hides abuse is worse than the way the church hides its history. Lying to people about how Joseph Smith translated the plates is one thing, but trying to protect those who abuse, blame those who are abused, and pretending like the whole thing never happened hurts real people emotionally, psychologically, and physically who are IN THE CHURCH, RIGHT NOW. There's no "you should have read the article in the Ensign 20 years ago that mentions the rock in the hat" kind of excuse. If you claim to speak for God, you shouldn't protect your moral authority by covering up abuse. You should protect it by uncovering abuse, punishing it, and leading the charge to make sure it can't happen again.

  2. The marriage experience is NOT the same for everyone. I get what he's trying to say about the words of the ceremony itself, but the experience is and should be more than that. It should include being surrounded by family and friends, ALL of them. When my wife and I were sealed, none of her siblings, friends or cousins were allowed to attend, because they were too young to hold temple recommends. I was too young to attend my sister's wedding. I had to wait outside. I have a mentally disabled son who will never get a temple recommend and should not attend anyway. The whole endowment would freak him out, and he would probably never stop talking about it. He has been old enough to go for several years and worthy as well. He is not allowed to attend sealings which means he missed his uncle and aunt's wedding as well as multiple cousin's weddings. He is being excluded not because he is unworthy but only because he has a disability. That's wrong.

    1. That's something I hadn't considered.

      I waited outside during both my sister's weddings, too, although that's because I was an apostate, so I understood why. Not that it should be okay to separate families on one of the most important days in a family member's life, but I get where they're coming from.

      Your son, though, is a different story. Can I ask...does he understand? Like, I wasn't thrilled about being left out, but I get why it happened. And obviously his exclusion is unfair, but does he understand why he's being excluded, or at least the doctrinal rationale behind it? If he doesn't, that seems even more cruel.

      ...especially considering the teaching that those with mental disabilities aren't accountable for their actions and are headed for the Celestial Kingdom. You'd think that would make him more worthy to be at a sealing ceremony than anybody else.

      I apologize if any way I worded that was insensitive. It wasn't meant to be!

  3. Amen to your earlier comments.

    No you weren't in any way insensitive. He would totally understand except we don't bring it up. We also don't go to the weddings. We've missed several. I hadn't told anybody that was the reason, because it's only one reason. We couldn't stand paying the church money anymore and also can't stand attending, so we no longer have recommends. If you don't pay, you can't go. I actually just recently told told my brother we wouldn't be going to his daughters sealing because the church won't let my son attend.

    When my son turned 19, he really wanted to go on a mission but obviously couldn't. We mentioned to the ward that he would love to serve as a ward missionary, but the stake president said no. He had some bad experiences in the singles ward he started attending, so we eventually stopped having him go. Unless parents are fairly demanding to militant, I've found kids with disabilities are typically left out of things in the church.

    Yes, you would think he would be the most worthy to go. I agree. I'm glad you brought up the Automatic Celestial Kingdom teaching. Can you imagine how hurtful it can be when the parents of a child with some severe disability hears from another member about what a blessing it is that the child will automatically go to the Celestial Kingdom? Some believe that the valiant spirits were born disabled so Satan can't get to them. Some, like President Harold B Lee taught, that those less valiant in their previous life were penalized with "physical limitations" which I read as disabilities.

    "This privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valient, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations...." (Decisions for Successful Living pp 164-65)

    Am I reading it wrong when I think it says if you weren't as valiant in the pre-existence you would be born with racial limitations, physical limitations, or geographical limitations? So you may be born with cursed skin, a disability, or in a crappy country? This is BS. Now let's suppose he was "speaking as a man" when he said that. Do we really want to follow a "prophet" who personally believes crap like that?

    1. Well, I certainly have no interest in following that kind of prophet!

      I'd forgotten that Harold B. Lee quote referenced disabilities because it's usually cited as racist or America-centric. Not that any of that is okay either. I think church teachings have evolved positively since those days. In my home ward, we had a mentally disabled adult who was eventually permitted to bless the sacrament, and the only discussions I ever heard about the reason for his condition was the free-pass-to-heaven thing. That's much, much kinder than what Lee said generations ago.

      Not that it makes it any less wrong for disabled children to be left behind in the church. Not that it makes it any less rude for someone to tell a parent of a severely disabled child how blessed they are that their child is automatically destined for exaltation. I think Mormonism has a big problem with a perspective that's so eternal and so forward looking that members can so easily overlook the needs and the struggles of the present.

      I wonder what the rationale was behind the stake president not allowing your son to be a missionary. A volunteer is worth ten pressed men, right?