Friday, April 9, 2021

Notes on the Saturday Sessions

This past weekend marked the third consecutive weirdly-social-distanced general conference.  It's now been more than a year since Nelson's two churchwide fasts against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and he's still forced to wear a mask while sitting six feet away from the nearest apostle as they listen to their colleagues give televised addresses without a live audience.

I guess that's what happens when God calls a former heart surgeon as prophet instead of a former virologist.

But anyway, on to the meat of this year's episode: 

 

Yes, the world is in turmoil, and yes, we have weaknesses, but we do not need to hang our head in despair because we can trust God....

—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Saturday morning session

But what, exactly, can we trust God for?  Plenty of people who have trusted God have suffered immensely and died horribly.  Joseph Smith froze his tuchus off in Liberty Jail and was later murdered.  Abinadi was burned to death.  The converted people of Ammonihah were burned too.  Mormon and Moroni watched their civilization decline into wickedness and, eventually, into extinction.  We're not going to pretend like those people didn't trust God, are we?

Many scriptural examples of righteous people suffering and dying involve their agonies serving a greater purpose.  Sure, God may have a master plan, and maybe it's safe to trust that he's moving all the pieces around just the way he wants to.  But comments like Uchtdorf's relay a demonstrably false impression that our physical comfort, emotional wellbeing, or mortal safety are central factors in the way God determines the execution of his plans.  His vision is eternal, and so the momentary suffering of us mere, myopic mortals doesn't necessarily affect what God is intent on putting into motion.


The Savior always teaches timeless truths.  They apply to people of every age and any circumstance.

—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Saturday morning session

Okay, Dieter.  So that means that when Bruce R. McConkie taught that black skin represents "the lack of Spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate" and when Mark E. Peterson taught that "If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom" but "he will go there as a servant" and when Brigham Young taught that the "law of God in regard to the African race" was that if a white man "mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot," those men were all teaching timeless truths that apply to people of every age, including the age after the church extended full temple access to members of African descent?

Before you answer, let's remind ourselves of Doctrine and Covenants 1:38, which is a popular enough scripture that it should spring readily to mind for someone who's dedicated so much of his adult life to the church:  "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

Those were the voices of God's servants.  They were teaching horrible things that may have been more common sentiments in their own ages but that should absolutely not be accepted by anyone as timeless truths and that should absolutely not apply to people of this age.


Instead, we value children and we do all we can to prevent the evils of abuse.

—Joy D. Jones, Saturday morning session

Nothing says a dedication to preventing child abuse like excommunicating the person who advocates for organizational changes that will help prevent child abuse.


It is our privilege and responsibility to help children get far enough in to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we cannot begin too soon.

—Joy D. Jones, Saturday morning session

Yeah, because the sooner you begin, the more likely it is that your child will grow up with the sense that these false beliefs are normal.  The sooner you begin, the more likely it is that your child will grow up with these false beliefs forming the foundations of their sense of personal identity.  The sooner you begin, the more you can brainwash your child into staying in a religion you've chosen for them.


We cannot wait for conversion to simply happen to our children.  Accidental conversion is not a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

—Joy D. Jones, Saturday morning session

That, of course, would be news to Saul of Tarsus, Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah, the household of King Lamoni, and some of the soldiers who were busily slaughtering the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.

In fact, conversion simply happening to a child is exactly how Alma the Elder might phrase his experience.  He was a faithful believer but his child was not.  One day an angel put his child into a coma and the child came out of the coma fully converted.  From the dad's perspective, a conversion simply happened to his kid.

So she's basically saying the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is not a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


For example, we can act it out and then talk it out as we ask children what they would do if they are tempted to break the word of wisdom, if they are exposed to pornography, if they are tempted to lie, steal, or cheat, if they hear something from a friend or teacher at school that disputes their beliefs or values.

—Joy D. Jones, Saturday morning session

I'm all for preparing yourself for tough situations as best you can, but there's something supremely disconcerting about roleplaying as a purveyor of pornography to teach your kid how to say no to smut.

And there's also something insidiously protectionist about teaching a kid what to do when they hear something that disputes their beliefs or values.  How about letting your kid grow up with a pluralistic mindset?  It's actually a good thing that your kid may hear conflicting opinions and it's good if your kid devotes a bit of thought to those opinions.  You don't have to go full fundamentalist and try to inoculate your child against—gasp!—different ideas.  If your worldview is so awesome, why would you be so paranoid that simple exposure to alternate approaches to life would get your kid to abandon what you've dedicated so much time to inculcating?

 

Now, he felt intense gratitude for what he [the drill instructor] had taught him and how he had prepared him for this critical situation.  The drill instructor had wisely equipped our friend and his squad with the ability to know what to do when the battle was raging.  He had, in effect, saved our friend's life.

—Joy D. Jones, Saturday morning session

Okay, sure, but she said he had described the treatment the drill sergeant had inflicted on his unit as "inhumane."  Are we really sure this is the best parenting parable to share?  She's basically telling people it's okay to abuse and demean and torture your children as long it's all to their eternal benefit.

There's also something disgusting about the unspoken assumption that you won't be able to get through to your children without abuse.  Are we really supposed to do the spiritual equivalent of forcing our children to lay motionless for hours on end?  Is there really no other way we could teach them the gospel doctrines that are so precious to us?

If the message can only be received when it's delivered with completely unnecessary brutality, maybe you're just a shitty communicator.  And a shitty parent.


We've been heartbroken to hear of recent attacks on people who are Black, Asian, Latino, or of any other group. Prejudice, racial tension, and violence should never have any place in our neighborhoods, communities, or within the church.  Let each of us, no matter our age, strive to be our best.

—Gary E. Stevenson, Saturday morning session

On the surface, this is a good thing to say.

But it's pretty toothless.  Hey, guys, we've been heartbroken to hear about these bad things.  These bad things shouldn't happen.  Let's all try to be better.

 


This is the kind of subject matter that requires Jeffrey R. Holland's apostolic fury.  Yeah, Gary, a lot of us are heartbroken to hear about it.  But being heartbroken isn't good enough.  We should be furious about it.  As someone with a massive (though probably dwindling) audience, maybe you should use your influence not to dribble passive platitudes but to urge avid activism.  Tell your followers how outraged you are that someone would think to take another's life especially because of race.  Explain to them how your god is filled with wrath and sorrow over the racial discord in society.  Commit them to take specific actions to help turn the tide in your culture against violence and racism.

But instead, all you're doing is talking about how this stuff is a bummer.  Because if you don't at least acknowledge that it's a bummer, then you'll look racist, right?  And this is less about doing the right thing and more about not looking bad, isn't it?


As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are all equal, with no second-class groups.

—Gerrit W. Gong, Saturday morning session

Not since 1978, anyway.  Assuming you're not counting women and LGBTQ people as groups.

 

The house of the Lord is a place where, as with the wounded man on road to Jericho, the Good Samaritan can cleanse and clothe us, prepare us to return to God's presence, and unite us eternally in God's family.  His temples are open to all who live his gospel with faith and obedience.

—Gerrit W. Gong, Saturday morning session

A fascinating aspect of Gong's assertion that the inn in the Good Samaritan parable represents the church is that both the inn and the church require money in order for someone to receive their services.  The wounded man needed plenty of care to heal, so the Good Samaritan paid the innkeeper to look after him.  Similarly, we all need plenty of ordinances to return to live in God's presence...but in contrast, we have to pay ten percent of our own income to be eligible to receive those ordinances.  Our Good Samaritan doesn't cover the cost of our care.

So I guess Jesus couldn't even live up to his own parable.


Our standing before the Lord and his church is not a matter of our marital status, but of our becoming faithful and valiant disciples of Jesus Christ.

—Gerrit W. Gong, Saturday morning session

There are probably a lot of people in the church who needed to hear this.  It's been said before, of course, but when a huge element of our destinies in the Plan of Salvation hinges on our eternal marriage, not having the marital status we want can lead to some pretty uncomfortable feelings and a bit of a social stigma.  So this sentiment needed repeating.

 

A devout sister says, "Waiting faithfully upon the Lord for his blessings is a holy position. It must not be met with pity, patronizing, or judgment, but instead with sacred honor.  In the meantime, we live now, not waiting for life to begin."

—Gerrit W. Gong, Saturday morning session

Yeah...I mean, that's nice too, I guess.  We definitely shouldn't be patronizing or judging people who have not yet been blessed with a spouse.  But it kind of sounds like we're trying to dress up waiting as not-waiting in the meantime.  And we're teaching people to revel in the lack of something they desire.  It's one of the stranger appendages to Mormonism's fetishization of self-sacrifice.  How honorable it is to remain steadfast while blessings are withheld from us for reasons beyond our control or comprehension!


The only way you can have the feeling of that family embrace forever is to become worthy yourself and help others receive the sealing ordinances of the temple. 

—Henry B. Eyring, Saturday morning session

If you aren't worthy of the sealing ordinances of the temple, you will not have that feeling of your family's embrace forever.  And in case I haven't mentioned it in a couple of paragraphs, you are required to pay money to enter the temple.

This is a ransom demand.  He's not promising you the joy of eternal family connections.  He's telling you that you will be eternally separated from your family unless you pay your tithing and enter the temple.  You need to bring the money in an unmarked bag.  Come alone.  No cops or he'll shoot the girl.


We are, however, facing a kind of third World War that is not a fight to crush our enemies, but a conscription marshalling the children of God to care more about each other and to help heal the wounds we find in a conflicted world.  The Great Depression we now face has less to do with the external loss of our savings and more to do with the internal loss of our self-confidence with real deficits of faith and hope and charity all around us. 
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday afternoon session

No.

I was really concerned we were actually going to hear him say the phrase "spiritual Holocaust."  He didn't, thankfully.

I'm not a fan of religious war metaphors in the first place, but it seems absurd to compare actual, legitimate, literal World Wars to the conflicts with the intangible unseen enemies Holland fantasizes about Zion's Army crossing swords with.  Sure, we should all have more charity.  Sure, the world might have experienced a dearth of hope of late.  And sure, it seems that religious faith has taken a hit recently and that secularism has been on the rise.  But it's not like being hunched in the trenches along the Somme.  It's not like trying to stave of starvation with your family in the 1930s Dust Bowl.  

Dial it down a notch with the dramatics, dude.


In no case are we to be guilty of any form of abuse or unrighteous dominion or any any coercion, not physical or emotional or ecclesiastical or any other kind. 
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday afternoon session

I know I've said this before, but specifying unrighteous dominion implies that there is a righteous way to hold dominion over another person.  Considering that the phrase "unrighteous dominion" is inseparably connected with a certain well-known passage about exercising the power of the priesthood, this sure sounds like a low-key way of reminding the men that they should be in charge of the women but they shouldn't, y'know, flaunt it too much.

Holland's final example of what we should never be guilty of shows a particular lack of self-awareness—or a particular lack of scruples.  Mormon theology is essentially one massive eternal crucible of ecclesiastical coercion.  Want to be joyously reunited with your family in the hereafter instead of being miserable and alone forever?  Better jump through our hoops and pay the amount of money we tell you to so that you'll be eligible for all that hoop-jumping.  

Holland condemns ecclesiastical coercion while speaking for the same organization that owns BYU, where you can get expelled for apostasy.  This is the same organization that put a policy in place that required children of gay parents to disavow their parents' lifestyle before being eligible for baptism.  And, of course, this is the same organization founded by a man who convinced 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball to marry him by insisting that the union would guarantee her whole family's eternal salvation.

So I think it's fair to say that this particular denunciation of abuse rings a bit hollow.


Everyone has the right to be loved, to feel peaceful, and to find safety at home. 
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday afternoon session

You ever wonder why the apostles don't get up in General Conference and give speeches about how it's wrong to hunt unicorns, to urinate in Wal-Mart dressing rooms, and to use arsenic as a pizza topping?  Because there isn't a widespread problem in the church with any of those things.

I wonder why it is that Holland feels it's necessary to proclaim something that should be so patently obvious.  I wonder why it could be that Mormonism has developed a tendency to make people feel unloved, uneasy, and unsafe.  I wonder if it's because it has such a long history of denigrating minorities, fomenting anxieties, and spreading its dogmatic, half-formed philosophies.


Mortal life is inherently unfair. 
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

You don't say.

Isn't it wonderful that we have prophets and apostles on the earth today so that we can hear them reveal the deepest mysteries of God?


Different types of unfairness can merge, creating an overwhelming tsunami of unfairness. 
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

He got so close to almost acknowledging his own privilege in this talk only to basically double down on his own useless ignorance.  

See, he's not wrong here.  Different types of injustice (a word he seems weirdly unwilling to use) can indeed combine their effects to put people, communities, and entire countries into a cauldron of calamity.  But unlike Renlund, once I'm done waxing poetic, I'm not just going to move on to simple, pat answers that callously ignore the complexity and emotional impact of real-world injustices.

His address is built around an experience he had in an airport in Kigali.  He relates a conversation he had with a man who had lost family members in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  And he decides to publicly proclaim a simple, brutally reductive, intangible solution to a complex, brutally violent, visceral injustice from which he cannot possibly parse out the totality of the emotional toll...all because he once talked to a guy who lived through it.


In unfair situations, one of our tasks is to trust that all that is unfair about life can be made right through the atonement of Jesus Christ. 
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

What he's saying is that eventually, in the afterlife, everything will be fine.  Which isn't really much consolation to people who are forced to life through crushing unfairness for the rest of their lives.  And I think recent events in Renlund's home country should be a poignant reminder that telling people that injustice will be corrected eventually isn't good enough.  After generations of unfairness, it's certainly unfair to expect people to simply continue tolerating unfairness.  

It also takes a lot of ignorance, balls, malice, or some ungodly overwhelming tsunami of the three for a wealthy straight white American male to speak with such pedagogic confidence about how we should all deal with unfairness.  I'm sure Renlund has faced plenty of unfairness in his life, but what he's faced surely shrivels to nothing beside the experiences of that stranger in the Rwandan airport.  His pretending that he not only fully comprehends but even possesses the remedy for the injustice visited upon that man is simultaneously hilarious and loathsome.


Nothing compares to the unfairness he endured.  It wasn't fair that he experienced all the pains and afflictions of mankind.  It wasn't fair that he suffered for my sins and mistakes and for yours.  But he chose to do so because of his love for us and for Heavenly Father. 
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

So, there's a really crucial difference between what happened to Jesus and what happened to the man Renlund met in the airport.  Jesus chose to take on his suffering.  The man in the airport assuredly did not.  It's a lot easier to endure something you knowingly signed up for.  

I think that in many cases, a huge factor that makes unjust suffering that much more distressing is that there isn't a good explanation for why the suffering has happened.  Jesus knew the plan going in, he agreed to it, and he understood the mechanisms that led to his ultimate sacrifice.  The man from Rwanda was not part of any plan, did not agree to what was done to his family, and he's clearly still questioning the mechanisms that could have caused or prevented what happened.

So, on top of his ignorant co-opting of another person's story to serve his own ecclesiastical rhetoric, Renlund is also trying to minimize people's legitimate, intense, personal griefs and sorrows and subordinating all of that beneath the suffering of a willing icon of perfection.  Does that...really...help anyone?  Hey, man, I'm real sorry you lost a bunch of family members in that horrible genocide and all, but what a relief it must be for you to know that this perfect dude who walked on water two thousand years ago had a life that was even more fucked than yours!

That's what it sounds like to me, anyway.


When it comes to how and when [unfairness will be corrected], we need to recognize and accept—as did Alma—it mattereth not, for God knoweth all these things and it sufficeth me to know that this is the case. 
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

What a weirdly cherry-picked verse.  Just in case nobody remembers off the top of their head what Alma was talking about, he was admitting to his son Corianton that he doesn't know if there will be one round of resurrections after the Second Coming of Christ or multiple rounds of resurrections (Alma 40:5).  That was one that I would have agreed with as a faithful Mormon—I'm not really bent out of shape wondering if there will be multiple phases of resurrections.  If God knows, that's good enough for me.

But how and when devastating injustices that have deeply negative affects on people's daily lives will be corrected...that's a different story.  Depending on the type of unfairness we're talking about here, these can be crucial issues.  Telling people that it literally does not matter is fucking despicable.

Also—and I almost hate to be that guy—Alma was absolutely writing these words from a place of privilege.  He was the leader of a large religion and at one point he was also the chief judge.  The way Renlund is using this quote, it's the Nephite equivalent of a Pope who happens to be a former president of the United States telling everyone that we need to put up with the injustices we suffer because God will eventually put everything right.


For us to insist on knowing how and when is unproductive, and after all, myopic. 
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

Apparently "myopic" is becoming the calling card for callous apostolic douchebaggery

While I would perhaps agree that sometimes raging too much against the machine might not cause anything more than increased frustration for the rager, it's really not on us to dictate how people should deal with the unfairness in their lives.  There are some obvious limits to that—don't purge your frustration with fits of spousal abuse, for example—but it's really shitty to say to someone, "I don't like the way you're dealing with your problems, so you should deal with them in a way that's more comfortable for me," especially when that judgment doesn't reflect an understanding of the problem or even a sympathetic desire for a solution.

It's also repugnant to characterize real-world problems as myopic as though the blackboard of post-mortal existence is obvious to everyone but some people just aren't willing to focus on the writing properly.  Myopia is a poor optical metaphor.  It's more like we've each been placed at a random point in a dark underground cavern with nothing but a match to light a tiny area and Renlund is trying to make those of us who have landed hundreds of yards from the cavern walls feel bad for not being able to see them.


I returned to the question posed by our fellow passenger in Kigali when he lamented the unfairness of the Rwandan genocide and asked, "If there were a God, wouldn't he have done something about it?"  Without minimizing the suffering caused by the genocide and after acknowledging our inability to comprehend such suffering, we replied that Jesus Christ has done something about infuriating unfairness.  We explained many gospel precepts concerning Jesus Christ and the restoration of his church.  Afterwards, our acquaintance asked, with tears in his eyes, "You mean there's something I can do for my dead parents and uncle?"  
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

This.  Did.  Not.  Happen.

Either that or this is such a super-condensed, over-simplified, and probably entirely misunderstood interaction that Renlund's version of events has very little to do with what actually took place.  Let's analyze the sequence of events here:

  1. The man in the airport asks why God wouldn't have done something about the thousands upon thousands of people being raped and murdered in his country.
  2. Renlund explains that God already did something about it by having a man on a different continent get executed two thousand years ago and then by having a man on another different continent start a church two hundred years ago.  And this means that even though God didn't prevent shit, he's already pre-solved the problem.
  3. The man is overjoyed to learn that God didn't lift a fucking finger to help his country and that the only solutions available to him will be implemented after his own death.
I mean, maybe, depending on this man's specific grief, he could find some solace in performing religious rituals that make him feel like he'll be able to see his family again in the next life.  But that doesn't change the fact that Renlund didn't answer the goddamn question.  If there were a God, wouldn't he have done something about it?

The answer is no.  Renlund tried to spin it to make it sound like God has done something, but everyone reading the answer carefully should be able to see that God did not directly address the Rwandan genocide or what happened to this man's family.  Clearly, the man meant that God's action should have been more about prevention than indemnification.  And considering the restoration of this man's family will not happen in his lifetime, it's sure a thin little thing to hang a claim of divine intervention on.

Also, how fucking gross is it to turn someone else's personal and national tragedy into your missionary opportunity?


Don't let unfairness harden you or corrode your faith in God. 
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday afternoon session

Translation:  Don't let observations from your personal experience change your conclusions about the world unless you're changing to a conclusion I agree with.

Alternate translation:  My religion is more important than your feelings. 


Let us share our deep feelings about the sanctity of life with those who make decisions in society.  They may not fully understand what we believe, but we pray that they will more fully understand why, for us, these decisions go well beyond what a person wants for his or her own life. 
—Neil L. Anderson, Saturday afternoon session

Man, if you really cared about the sanctity of life, you'd also be preaching about the evils of capital punishment instead of just the evils of abortion.  

And it's a tough sell for the religion with this particular founding book of scripture—which features God explicitly ordering his prophet to murder someone, includes multiple prophets who were simultaneously military commanders, glorifies the deaths of the righteous (Abinadi, the people of Ammonihah, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies), glorifies violent men (Captain Moroni, Ammon, Teancum, Coriantumr), and glorifies the concept of armed conflict in general—to claim any moral authority whatsoever when it comes to defending the sanctity of life.

Also, there's something that really bothers me about Anderson specifying his or her when he's talking about people choosing whether to have abortions and I just...can't...put my finger on precisely...why.


If an unanticipated child is expected, let us reach out with love, encouragement, and when needed, financial help. 
—Neil L. Anderson, Saturday afternoon session

Unanticipated.  This offer of aid doesn't apply to people who choose to have children while unmarried, then, I take it? 

Although the love, encouragement, and financial help part is all well and good, this again begs the question of why on earth Anderson would feel the need to instruct us in quite this way.  Is there something about Mormonism that has given its members an increased tendency to punish, ostracize, or otherwise mistreat parents of unanticipated children?

Could it be because no failure can compensate for failure in the home and we should raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is older he shall not depart from it and sexual immorality is most abominable above all sins save the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?  Gosh, one wonders how such a cocktail of toxic teachings might make people prone to toxic, emotional reactions in certain unexpected situations.


The First Presidency recently announced an additional 20 million dollars to assist UNICEF in their global efforts to administer 2 billion vaccines.  Children are loved by God. 
—Neil L. Anderson, Saturday afternoon session

Wow, that's so generous.

For anyone who hasn't done the math at home, 20 million dollars is 0.02% of the 100 billion dollars alleged to have been in the Ensign Peak Advisors fund near the end of 2019.  That's not two percent, by the way—that's zero-point-zero-two percent.  As someone of considerably less material wealth than the church, if I were to donate ten dollars to the American Red Cross, that would constitute donating a higher percentage of my net worth to charity than the church did with its UNICEF donation.  And you know what's a fun detail?  This additional 20 million dollars is a follow-up donation to a mere 3 million reported last year.  The previous 3 million wasn't even a pandemic-related donation because the funds were collected during the holiday season before there were any reported cases of Covid outside of China.  Anderson didn't explicitly say the original donation was for vaccines, but I'm betting he used the word "additional" to let faithful members fill in their own expectations that would be far more favorable than reality.

And you know where the church got the ?  Not tithing dollars.  Not a disbursement from the Ensign Peak fund.  It was additional donations provided by church members—on top of their tithing and fast offerings—during the Light the World campaign.

Obviously, I'm glad money is going toward organizations that are helping to organize the distribution of vaccines, but you shouldn't get to brag about it when you have billions of additional dollars at your disposal—billions that could literally save lives—and you've decided to keep them to yourself.  Especially when you didn't actually use your own money, you simply collected donations from other people and put your own name on the card. 


It is concerning that even in some of the most prosperous countries of the world, fewer children are being born.  God's commandment for his children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.  When to have a child and how many to have are private decisions to be made between a husband, a wife, and the Lord. 
—Neil L. Anderson, Saturday afternoon session

Notice that the private decisions are when and how many, not if and how many.  If a husband and wife (and the Lord, I guess) were to make a private decision to have zero children, that's clearly not okay.  And of course, there's absolutely no inherent contradiction here with his previous assertion that a decision to have an abortion should be based on public policy.

This has got to be one of the silliest and yet most invasive commandments.  The decisions of child-bearing, including if, when, and how many are private decisions to be made between partners, period.

Why is it concerning that some birth rates are dropping?  Because the apostles know that the best way to maintain their positions of authority over a strong base of faithful tithe-payers is the brainwashing of children born in the covenant.  Missionary work has been a bust in many parts of the world for ages and retention rates of new converts haven't been stellar either.  All of the faithful Mormons need to have a bunch of kids, otherwise the church will wither away into nothing after a few generations. 


My dad heard my comments.  I remember his reaction as he lovingly but firmly taught me, "As long as you're being in this house, you will pray, pray, pray." 
—Thierry K. Mutombo, Saturday afternoon session

So much for free agency.

Considering this was Mutombo's father and therefore the presiding priesthood authority in the home, doesn't this mean he was exercising unrighteous dominion? 


Waiting upon the Lord does not entail biding one's time.  You should never feel like you are in the waiting room.  Waiting upon the Lord implies action. 
—M. Russell Ballard, Saturday afternoon session

To steal a favorite aphorism from my dad, how many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg?  Still four—it doesn't matter what you call it, the tail is still a tail.

Ballard is doing his damnedest to explain how waiting is actually not waiting at all.  You'd think there'd be a different word for it if it didn't fit the definition of "waiting," but apparently there isn't.  While there's certainly value in trying to remain proactive even when circumstances limit the amount of progress you can make without some expected outside intervention, I don't think it's helpful to simply dress up a particular concept as its exact opposite and pretend we've scored a rhetorical victory. 

Waiting upon the Lord implies action.  Holding your breath implies respiration.


To you stake presidents, bishops, and quorum and sister leaders, I ask you to consider every member of your stake, ward, quorum, or organization as members who can contribute and serve in callings and participate in many ways.  Every member in our quorums, organizations, wards, and stakes has God-given gifts and talents that can help build up his kingdom now.  Let us call upon our members who are single to serve, lift, and teach.  Disregard old notions and ideas that have sometimes unintentionally contributed to their feelings of loneliness and that they do not belong or cannot serve.   
—M. Russell Ballard, Saturday afternoon session

Again, this is a good thing to say, but it's important to think about why it was deemed necessary to say.  Maybe you wouldn't have to chastise people for being racist, tell people not to be shitty to unwed mothers, remind people that everyone deserves to be loved, or dispel misconceptions about single adults if your organization hadn't had such a heavy hand in the increasing prevalence of those unacceptable mindsets.


Allow the bishop to be your friend and counselor. 
—Quentin L. Cook, Priesthood session

This is the priesthood session, so he's talking to people as young as eleven.

There's nothing inherently bad about an eleven-year-old boy being friendly with a non-relative adult, of course, but when one of God's anointed who doesn't actually know the first thing about any specific bishop's moral character issues a blanket statement to children that their specific bishop is absolutely someone they should be close to and confide in and the parents trust that too because God's anointed is speaking for God and God wouldn't put anyone rapey in charge of a ward in his church, it sounds like a possible recipe for some very disgusting and very tragic outcomes.

At the very least, Cook could have publicly mentioned that parents are now empowered to be present at any formerly private interviews between their child and the bishop.  Anderson just said children are loved by God.  Holland just said that in no case should we be guilty of abuse.  Jones just said we do all we can to prevent the evils of abuse.  In this case, what wasn't said may speak louder than what was said.


Knowing you overcame Satan by the word of your testimony before will help you love, share, and invite now and always. 
—Ahmad S. Corbitt, Priesthood session

That's circular logic, only he's using his own crayons to color in half the circle for you. Corbitt is making the point that since you're here on Earth, that means that you resisted Satan and chose God once, therefore you should feel up to the task of doing it again.

But, dude...we don't remember that.  Maybe this is just how my mind works, but when I'm facing a difficulty that's similar to a previous difficulty that I navigated with success, I walk through the process I followed last time around.  What I experienced before informs not only my confidence against new obstacles but also my skills and resources to help me overcome these new obstacles.  None of that is an option for me in this case because I don't remember anything before I passed through the veil at birth.  I don't know where my head was at when I sided with Jesus in the War in Heaven, so I can't get myself into a similar headspace to make sure I side with Jesus during my mortal life.


Similarly, before you noble spirits were born, you learned to see Christ's promises in this sure way and you tasted of his salvation. 
—Ahmad S. Corbitt, Priesthood session

...but then I forgot the promises and I forgot the taste because God made me forget.  Why are we pretending like it makes any sense to hold ourselves spiritually or experientially accountable to something that's as real to us as the landscapes of Middle-Earth?



This is our time. 
—S. Gifford Nielsen, Priesthood session

Yeah, I mean, literally, this is our time.  The time we're alive is the time we're alive.  Points for an extremely concise tautology, I guess, but I don't see how you're really going to get an audience on their feet by passionately declaring to them, "You exist at present!"

Weirdly, this might actually be a weaker sentiment for anyone with an eternal perspective.  For those of us without any belief in life after death, his statement was already our assumption.  This is all we get.  This isn't our time to merely make huge strides in our eternal progression, this is the totality of our existence.  I think the motivation to make the best of it jives a bit better if you don't expect to be doing missionary work in the Spirit World, then getting resurrected, and then creating worlds after your time is over.


It happened once in a hospital when impatient doctors urged me—more than urged me, ordered me—to hurry and get out of the way as they wanted to do their work rather than giving me an opportunity to give a priesthood blessing.  I stayed and I did and that little girl I blessed that day who the doctors had thought would die lived. 
—Henry B. Eyring, Priesthood session

This man is actually salty that doctors tried to push him aside so they could provide medical assistance to a hospital patient.  How dare they not respect his magic powers! 

But apparently he stubbornly resisted—possibly threatening the child's life, depending on the severity of the situation—and pronounced his mystical incantation upon her head.  And, without providing any details that can be used to perhaps verify this story, he claims that the doctors thought she would die.  

The correlation between the number of little girls blessed by Eyring that day and the number of recovering little girls the doctors thought would die that day is one-to-one, therefore Eyring was the reason she lived.  There can be no other explanation. 


In addition, the promise that the resurrection can include an opportunity to be with our family members—husband, wife, children, parents, and posterity—is a powerful encouragement to fulfill our family responsibilities in mortality.  It also helps us to live together in love in this life and it comforts us in the death of our loved ones. 
—Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood session

Oaks put not one but two qualifiers on the promise of eternal families here.  It's not that resurrection allows us to be with our family members, it's that it gives us an opportunity to be with our family members.  Actually, it's not that it gives us an opportunity to be with our family members, it can include an opportunity to be with our family members. 

Which is pretty much the same kind of language I use at work when a client requests a refund.  Look, I can't promise anything so I don't want to give you a false impression, here, but if it can be done, the person who might be able to do it is that guy.  Let me give you his number and you can see if he's able to help. 

Doesn't it just fill you with appreciation for our Father in Heaven that he puts carefully worded legalistic distance between us and the possible promise of maybe being able to have an opportunity of hypothetically being reunited with some of our family members after the resurrection?

And this is the third time that I've noticed Oaks saying something about how the knowledge of the gospel helps us maintain basic familial relationships.  In March 2018, he said, "Fathers should also cultivate loving family relationships so that family members will want to ask their fathers for blessings."  In April 2020, he said, "They [fathers] should cultivate loving family relationships so that family members will want to ask them for blessings."  And now he's saying that an eternal perspective reminds us to be good parents and love our families.  What kind of husband and father needs a gospel incentive to maintain good relationships with his spouse and children?  It's weirrrrd that he keeps saying stuff like this.


This atoning sacrifice offered the ultimate good, the pure lamb without blemish, for the ultimate measure of evil, the sins of the entire world. 
—Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood session

Why aren't the combined virtues of the entire world the counterweight to the combined sins of the entire world?  Why does sacrificing purity atone for other people's depravity?  Doesn't that just create more injustice by punishing someone who isn't at fault?  Why would punishing the wrong person absolve us of anything?  Why is punishment necessary if mercy and repentance are real concepts?

I feel like the lofty laws of justice and mercy in Mormon theology only work because we say they work.  They feel like they'd belong less in a solemn volume of scripture than they would in a Douglas Adams novel or a Red vs. Blue storyline or a Samuel Beckett play.  I can respect the symbolism and the sense of balance, but I don't think any of this actually makes any kind of logical sense. 


"What has Jesus Christ done for me," that sister asked?  Under the plan of our Heavenly Father, he created the heavens and the earth so that each of us could have the mortal experience necessary to seek our divine destiny.  As part of the Father's plan, the resurrection of Jesus overcame death to assure each of us immortality.  Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice gives each of us the opportunity to repent of our sins and return clean to our heavenly home.  His commandments and covenants show us the way, and his priesthood gives the authority to perform the ordinances that are essential to reach that destiny.  And our savior willingly experienced all mortal pains and infirmities that he would know how to strengthen us in our afflictions.  Jesus Christ did all of this because he loves all the children of God.  Love is the motivation for it all and it was so from the very beginning. 
—Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood session

So, nothing?

If everything someone has done for you constitutes a series of imperceptible, intangible, behind-the-scenes machinations that you'll have to take someone's word for, how does that feel any different to you than if this person hadn't lifted a finger for you?

What has Joe Biden ever done for you?  Well, there was that time he prevented an earthquake by holding the ground together with his bare hands, there was the time he beat the Zombie Space Nazis, and he actually wrote the Declaration of Independence because it's a little-known fact that he's a time traveler and Thomas Jefferson was actually Joe Biden in a powdered wig.  I mean, sure, you didn't know about any of this, and there's no way of corroborating any of it, but trust me when I tell you it all happened and we owe ol' Joe a lot.

This is a terrible way to try and convince someone.  Especially when the original question was probably rhetorical.


Difficult trials often provide opportunities to grow that would not have come in any other way. 
—Russell M. Nelson, Priesthood session

He's talking about the pandemic, folks.  All this horrible shit is actually a blessing in disguise.  While there can certainly be silver linings to tragedies, I think pointing those out is only helpful when the silver linings are unintended consequences.

When you're saying that God is in control of everything and that he specifically allowed the pandemic to happen and that one of his objectives was to allow people to grow in otherwise impossible ways, that's not reassuring.  That's immoral.

Let's transpose God's parenting style into a paradigm of mortal parenting.  Son, I really need you to build some character, so I'm going to make you watch your mother die slowly and painfully while you become more and more isolated from the world around you and maybe lose your job.  But without these difficult trials, you just wouldn't grow the way you should!

I fully understand that we can strengthen ourselves through adversity and that if life were a cakewalk we might not fully develop the kinds of attributes we should have.  But nobody fully develops all their best attributes.  And if the only solution God has to this obvious fault in his grand plan is to sadistically heap pain and tragedy and abuse onto us, then he's bad at his job and he needs to be fired.  And then indicted.

Humanity has a long history of misery.  From the bubonic plague to the slave trade to the trenches of World War I to the Holocaust and Hiroshima and through all the poverty and disease and abuse and genocide and injustice before, after, and in between, it's been wall-to-wall suffering.  After millennia of difficult trials, how are we doing?  Not too great.  We're still pretty shitty overall as a species.  But one more difficult trial, God decided, that's the ticket!  We'll unleash another plague and that will finally allow my beloved children just the opportunity they need to grow!

Isn't the definition of insanity supposed to be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome?


Between now and the time the Lord comes again we all need our homes to be places of serenity and security.  Attitudes and actions that invite the Spirit will increase the holiness of your home.  Equally certain is the fact that holiness will vanish if there is anything in your behavior or environment that offends the Holy Spirit, for then the heavens withdraw themselves. 
—Russell M. Nelson, Priesthood session

Yep, the Holy Spirit can't stand to be around sinners.  Jesus hung out with sinners a lot, but it's not like the godhead is supposed to be united in purpose or anything.  

Honestly, if the Holy Ghost is so easily driven off, it seems unlikely that it's in anyone's home.  Especially not any home where a teenager with internet access resides. 


So I ask, has this shared trial drawn you closer to your neighbors, to your brothers and sisters across the street, and around the world?   
—Russell M. Nelson, Priesthood session

Literally the exact opposite has happened?  That's kind of the whole point of social distancing? 


Quorums are in a unique position to accelerate the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil. 
—Russell M. Nelson, Priesthood session

Unique?  Quorums are in a unique position to accelerate the gathering of Israel?  As opposed to what?  What other organizations are in any position to be involved in this?  The Relief Society?  Young women's classes?  Why would men being organized into specific units make people join the church faster or make people perform ordinances for the dead more quickly?

This is a strange thing to say.  I think it's designed to sound important but there's no real substance behind it.  


The Lord will increasingly call upon his servants who worthily hold the priesthood to bless, comfort, and strengthen mankind and to help prepare the world for His second coming.  It behooves each of us to measure up to the sacred ordination we have received.  We can do this. 
—Russell M. Nelson, Priesthood session
He unironically used the word "behooves."  If not for about twenty different people using the word "succor," I might have made "behoove" my word of the day.

And yet, his well of purple prose ran dry when his soaring speech approached the unprecedented heights of its elevated peroration and, drained of all his most grandiloquent compulsions, our beloved prophet, even Russell M. Nelson, was forced to avail himself of such a banal platitude as "we can do this."

Maybe he was just looking for a punchy line to close the paragraph or maybe his writing is naturally more passionate when he's stressing the slightly threatening impending expansion of his followers' responsibilities to the organization he runs.  

You decide.

2 comments:

  1. I really look forward to your conference reviews. This one does not disappoint. So many good points.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, that's kind of you to say. I'm glad someone other than me gets something out of them from time to time!

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