Thursday, October 28, 2021

Notes on the Saturday Sessions

Welcome back to the Conference Center, ladies and gentlemen.  Though it's eerily vacant past the first section of seats and the choir gallery is more sparsely populated than usual, we're back to the normal meeting place for general conferences a mere eighteen months after the churchwide fasts should have ended the pandemic.

Let's see what prophetic wisdom is on tap this time around.

One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth.
—Russell M. Nelson, Saturday morning session

He's not wrong.  What he is wrong about is that he doesn't have much in the way of truth to offer anyone.  He's also wrong for pretending to have the truth while his organization busily scrambles to obfuscate any truth that might prove him wrong.

With or without riches, each of us is to come to Christ with the same uncompromised commitment to his gospel that was expected of this young man.  In the vernacular of today's youth, we are to declare ourselves "all in."
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session

See how he took a Bible story about selling all that thou hast and giving to the poor and turned it into something that doesn't involve giving away the church's billions of dollars for the benefit of the poor?  Jesus was literally saying that this person should use his earthly treasures to help people in need because spiritual treasures are of more value anyway.  And Holland waves this idea away by starting his analysis with the phrase, "with or without riches."

Okay, but with riches, we should be giving it away for the benefit of others.  That's...that's literally what the man you worship as the savior of mankind actually said to do.  But sure, let's ignore that.

Also, I'm not exactly up on the vernacular of today's youth, but I'm pretty sure "all in" is not a saying that is unusually prevalent in the rising generation's parlance.

When difficult things are asked of us, even things contrary to the longings of our heart, remember that loyalty we pledge to the cause of Christ is to be the supreme devotion of our lives.
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session

So we're just flat-out saying that you shouldn't get the things you desire most in life if it means those things take precedence over your pledge of loyalty to Jesus?  We're not allowed to want things?

This is going to emerge as a strong recurring theme in this conference—the concept of honorable and willful subjugation of all other pursuits to the supremacy of our duties to the church.  Why is this something a loving god would expect from us? 


Of course we're speaking here of the first great commandment given to the human family:  to love God wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise—that is, with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength.  This love of God is the first great commandment in the universe.  But the first great truth in the universe is that God loves us exactly that way now—wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise, with all of his heart, might, mind, and strength.
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session

Hmmm...did we run this concept by President Nelson first? Since Jeff clearly needs a refresher, let's revisit the words of Nelson the Apostle:

While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional.

So, what exactly about "wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise, with all of his heart, might, mind, and strength" indicates that it's conditional?  Who are we supposed to believe?  Elder Nelson or Elder Holland?

If we love God enough to try to be fully faithful to him, he will give us the ability, the capacity, the will, and the way to love our neighbor and ourselves.  Perhaps then we will be able to say once again, "there could not be a happier people among all the people who have been created by the hand of God."
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session

We can't love other people or ourselves without loving God first?  Why?  Why is having genuine care and compassion and empathy and love for our fellow human beings all on our own such an impossible concept for these men to understand?

Atheists can love themselves and they can love other people.  If God helps someone achieve that capability, fine, but it's completely absurd to pretend that there's no other way to do it.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
—Bonnie H. Cordon, Saturday morning session

If nothing can separate you from that love, then there are no conditions to receive that love.  So that's two votes for unconditional and one vote for conditional, got it. 

One of Satan's most powerful weapons is to distract us with good and better causes which, in times of need, may blind and bind us away from the best cause—the very work that called us into this world. 
—Bonnie H. Cordon, Saturday morning session

Yes, absolutely.  Don't volunteer at the animal shelter, and don't organize campaigns for racial justice, because while those things are good, they aren't as good as the work of God.

If the world is really as bleak and lost and confused as the church leaders claim, they have no business trying to shame people who are anxiously engaged in good causes.  They should be applauding anyone who has the drive and the compassion to work toward any good cause, great or small.  They should be willing to link arms with anyone who's trying to push the needle toward good and away from bad.

And you know what?  Moroni probably wouldn't agree with Bonnie on this one:  "But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God."  Do you see Moroni gatekeeping which good causes are distractions?  No, to him good things are good and that's all you need to know about them.


Remember, the best way for you to improve the world is to prepare the world for Christ by inviting all to follow him.
—Bonnie H. Cordon, Saturday morning session

I'll be sure to reflect on this when our planet has been roasted to death after decades of sanctimonious self-serving idealogues like the Mormon leadership kept redirecting good people's energies away from worthy causes like climate change and toward causes like tithing, dead-dunking, and ecclesiastical colonialism. 


The expression of compassion for others is, in fact, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a marked evidence of our spiritual and emotional closeness to the Savior.
—Ulisses Soares, Saturday morning session

That should indicate that Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland (and others) are not spiritually and emotionally close to the Savior, then. 


Jesus's admonition to Simon the Pharisee also made it clear that we should never make harsh and cruel judgment of our neighbor because we are all in need of understanding and mercy for our imperfections from our loving Heavenly Father.
—Ulisses Soares, Saturday morning session

I agree.  This is why the harsh and cruel judgments the church has leveled at LGBTQ+ members, people of color, women, Native Americans, apostates, intellectuals, feminists, and scholars are so egregious.


In this context, the Lord fixes judgment upon those who take it upon themselves to judge the supposed shortcomings of others unrighteously.  In order to qualify ourselves to make righteous judgments, we must strive to become like the Savior and look at the imperfections of individuals compassionately, even through his eyes.
—Ulisses Soares, Saturday morning session

Um, no.

Did we already forget about "judge not, that ye be not judged"? We're not supposed to judge, because that's God's job.  We shouldn't worry about whether the judgments we're making are righteous or not—we should worry about not judging.  

Soares is literally saying here that it's fine to judge people as long as you're above reproach.  That's Phariseeism.  The Pharisees judged people left and right and they thought they were righteous to do it, much like Soares is deluding himself into thinking that people can "compassionately" judge those with home they disagree.  Jesus had serious problems with the Pharisees.  He'd also have serious problems with what Soares is teaching here.

Because God's love is all-embracing, some speak of it as unconditional, and in their minds, they may project that thought to mean that God's blessings are unconditional and that salvation is unconditional.  They are not.
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session

Weirdly careful wording here.  It's like Christofferson knows about Nelson's claim that God's love is conditional and he also read Holland's talk from earlier that morning.  God's love is all-embracing but "some speak of it as unconditional."  He's using the passive voice.  He's not saying it's unconditional and he's not saying it's not unconditional, but if you already have an opinion one way or the other, you can easily interpret that sentence to fit your preexisting beliefs. 

He goes on to say that some people may project that thought to mean that blessings and salvation are also unconditional.  But notice he's not actually taking a position on the original thought.  He's stating very explicitly that blessings are conditional and that salvation is conditional.  But he still has neither confirmed nor refuted that God's love is unconditional.  Some speak of it that way and they may extrapolate incorrectly from that concept, but Christofferson refuses to say whether the initial concept is true.

We're all over the map on the subject of God's love.  You'd think that wouldn't be such a complex position for a Christian church to nail down.

The way of the world, as you know, is anti-Christ or anything-but-Christ.  Our day is a replay of Book of Mormon history, in which charismatic figures pursue unrighteous dominion over others, celebrate sexual license, promote accumulating wealth as the object of our existence.  Their philosophies justify in committing a little sin or even a lot of sin, but none can offer redemption.  That comes only through the blood of the Lamb. The best the anything-but-Christ or anything-but-repentance crowd can offer is the unfounded claim that sin does not exist, or that if it exists, it ultimately has no consequences.  I can't see that argument getting much traction at the final judgment.
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session

All dominion is unrighteous dominion, so I really wish we'd stop using that phrase.  It was stupid when Joseph Smith said it, so it's no less stupid now.

Christofferson scoffing at fictional characters' obsession with accumulating wealth is disgusting.  He's not wrong that accumulating wealth shouldn't be the object of our existence, but his moral outrage might be a bit more convincing if his organization weren't still sitting on a twelve-figure fortune by extracting a flat ecclesiastical tax from everyone, including those who can't afford it. 

Similarly, his disdain for those who justify committing sins should be turned inward at his own institution.  What kinds of horrible sins did Joseph Smith justify under the rationale of his new and everlasting covenant?  What kinds of horrible sins did Brigham Young justify under the rationale of racism, blood atonement, and prophetic privilege?  How many lies have present-day apostles told about church membership statistics, church history, church finances, and even church doctrine?  I'm not sure Elder Oaks can ever earn redemption after the LGBTQ+ youth driven to suicide because of his venomous rhetoric.

Ours is not a religion of rationalization nor a religion of perfectionism, but a religion of redemption—redemption through Jesus Christ.
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session

Not a religion of rationalization?

How many times have you heard a member of the church admit, "I don't understand [doctrine], but I have faith in the Lord.  His ways our higher than our ways."  Being a member of the church involves a lot of rationalization.  Don't like the idea of sharing your husband with multiple wives but you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?  You rationalize—there must have been a good reason, God will explain it to us in the hereafter, we can't prove Joseph had sex with any of the wives so it's totally fine, et cetera, et cetera.  Don't consider yourself a racist but the priesthood ban makes you uncomfortable?  You rationalize—Brigham Young was just a product of his time, God will explain it to us in the hereafter, we treat black people as equals nowadays so it's totally fine, et cetera, et cetera.  Rationalization is a skill honed better in Mormonism than in most other environments.

Not a religion of perfectionism?

So is that why Jesus's Biblical instruction to be perfect was repeated in the Book of Mormon?  That's why the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon both teach that God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance?  That's why the Prophet's wife publishes a children's book called The Not Even Once Club?  Sure, there are lots of mitigating teachings about becoming, about making progress (later in this same conference), and redemption, but the fearmongering strikes deep.  For too many members of the church, life as a Mormon is a life of hopeless and fruitless attempts at perfection.

Because they [God and Jesus] love you, they do not want to leave you just as you are.  Because they love you, they want you to have joy and success.  Because they love you, they want you to repent, because that is the path to happiness.  But it is your choice—they honor your agency.  You must choose to love them, to serve them, to keep their commandments.  Then, they can more abundantly bless you as well as love you.
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session

Because they love you, they do not want to leave you just as you are.  What a lovely thing to say that couldn't possibly used to marginalize LGBTQ+ members.  We love you.  That's why we won't let you be who you are.

If God is a perfected being, why did he create such an utterly imperfect species?  Why did he build us broken and then tell us that he needs to un-break us because he loves us?  Why couldn't he have built us better in the first place?   

And why do Christofferson and so many others think it's okay to frame this as a simple, binary choice?  Not only does this create an implicit threat for failure to accompany the explicit promise for obedience, but it also opens the door to victim-blaming.  See, we get blessings (of joy and success) by choosing to love God, serve God, and keep God's commandments.  Therefore, when someone does not experience joy and success, we can dismiss their suffering as the consequences of their own choices.  

You deserve to be unhappy because you didn't choose God.

That kind of flies in the face of some of the themes of compassion we'll hear in this conference.

"We began looking forward to our visits with this dear family because of our love for the Lord—we were doing it for him.  He made the struggle no longer a struggle.  After many months of our standing on the doorstep, the family began letting us in.  Eventually, we had regular prayer and tender gospel discussions together.  A long-lasting friendship developed.  We were worshiping and loving him by loving his children."
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session

I wonder if this family knew that they were being regularly contacted because of someone's love for God.  Because if someone keeps trying to help you and you know it's not because they care about you, that shit gets real old real fast.

This is another theme that crops up multiple times in this conference.  We do things for other people because we love God, not because we love our fellow human beings.  While it's great that they're trying to get people to serve others, forge interpersonal relationships, and form long-lasting bonds, it's not great that they're framing all of this without regard for the individual.  The "loving his children" is an afterthought to loving God.  Whatever happened to helping people because you care about people?


Here is the solution for our incessantly quarrelsome times:  love of God. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland observed just a moment ago, in the golden age of Book of Mormon history, following the Savior's ministry, it is reported that there "was no contention in the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people."
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session

How idiotically reductive.

First of all, people who claim to love God can often be the instigators of many of these incessant quarrels.  Obviously religious people don't have a monopoly on this and there's certainly no dearth of it among the irreligious.  But I think it's naive, unintelligent, and out of touch to pretend there's any one solution to the problems in the world—and it's especially absurd to claim that panacea is something as vapid and patently problematic as "love of God."

And it's also worth pointing out that the golden age of the Book of Mormon came immediately after massive, unprecedented destruction, days of impenetrable darkness, and the descent of the Son of God himself in a beam of light accompanied by a disembodied voice from the heavens.  Maybe the solution for our incessantly quarrelsome times isn't love of God, it's divine destruction followed up with direct divine intervention. That might scare the world straight for a while and also provide the doubters with some solid evidence of the gospel.

Our future will be determined far less by our starting point and far more by our slope.
—Clark G. Gilbert, Saturday morning session

Okay, but that means it's partially determined by our starting point and not entirely determined by our slope, which means God is playing favorites.  If it's not just about the slope and about how much progress you make, that means that part of our judgment is still based on where we started, which we have no control over.  We're at least partially judged by where God chose to set us down.

It would be wrong to ignore your circumstances—they are real and need to be addressed.  But overfocusing on a difficult starting point can cause it to define you and even constrain your ability to choose. 
—Clark G. Gilbert, Saturday morning session

While I may kind of agree with this, I don't think it's the kind of thing that should be stated publicly from an authorized representative of the Lord.  Because it shouldn't be universally applied.  Depending on the difficulties of the starting point we're talking about, this could be someone who doesn't understand someone else's experience telling them to stop focusing on the trauma or injustice that has characterized their environment.  On a case-by-case basis, this might make sense.  Therapist-to-individual-patient, it's probably good.  General-authority-to-worldwide-church, it's not good.

We shouldn't ignore our circumstances.  They are real and they need to be addressed.  Why couldn't we just leave it there and avoid alienating people with some really critical circumstances that maybe we don't fully understand? 

It was tempting to confuse my empathy and concern for their situation with a desire to lower God's standards. I eventually realized that the most powerful way to show my love was to never lower my expectations.  With everything I knew to do, we focused together on their potential, and each of them began to elevate their slopes. 
—Clark G. Gilbert, Saturday morning session

Strictly speaking, I don't think "elevating" a slope really works with the mathematical metaphor here.  The goal is to make your slope steeper.  Since slope is just an expression of how a line's y-values increase as its x-values increase, you don't elevate the slope.  The numerical value representing the slope should be increased.  You can elevate the line or you can raise the y-intercept (which would change your metaphorical starting point, not the metaphorical measure of your progress), but that doesn't affect the slope.

But maybe that's just nitpicking.

The most powerful way to show our love is to never lower our expectations.  Wow.  What if your expectations are unreasonable, unattainable, or toxic?  Note that this isn't God's expectations he's refusing to adjust, so he's not really even hiding behind some kind of doctrinal bullshit like using the Proclamation on the Family to condemn transgender individuals.  He's saying that because he loves someone he should express that love by refusing to budge on his own, personal, internally generated expectations.  If a parent refused to change their expectations that their child be a straight-A dean's list four-point-oh student even though they're well aware that their child has a severe learning disability, wouldn't we consider that poor example of parenting?  I'm all for relentlessly supporting people in their efforts to change and improve, but we shouldn't be intractably imposing our own expectations for those changes and improvements if we really love people.  

We are concerned that attendance in all of these [churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.] is down significantly nationwide.  If we cease valuing our churches, for any reason, we threaten our personal spiritual life and significant numbers separating themselves from God reduces his blessings to our nation.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

What nation are you talking about, Dallin?  You wouldn't be giving yet another America-centric sermon to the worldwide church, would you?

"For any reason" really bothers me here.  What if we cease valuing our churches because the leadership is abusing children?  What if we cease valuing our churches because they support extravagant lifestyles of brazenly un-Christlike televangelists?  What if we cease valuing our churches because they teach us bigotry against marginalized members of society?  There are very good reasons to cease valuing some churches.  I think his inclusion of "for any reason" speaks to his desperation—he feels the tide of LDS membership growth turning and he's couching his call to action in broad, non-denominational language even though some of those denominations are absolutely deserving of some serious public devaluation.

He's also trying to equate institutional loyalty with individual spirituality.  Someone who's fully committed to their religious beliefs shouldn't need a formal organization to continue having those beliefs.  Not going to church does not mean separating from God.  Religious institutions may need their members to attend regularly and donate money regularly for the perpetuation of the institution, but that has nothing to do with the perpetuation of an individuals convictions or actions.

Does he really think people can't see through his "don't leave church" speech to see that what he really wants to say is "don't leave my church"?

Without those associations [from church attendance], especially between children and faithful parents, research shows increasing difficulty for parents to raise children in their faith.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Research shows...that parents who don't attend church...have difficulty raising children in their faith?  Who asked for this research?  If your religious dynamic is built around formal church attendance and public worship ceremonies (as many are), but you don't take your children when you attend church formally or when you participate in public worship ceremonies...who's surprised that those children would grow up with a disinterest in church attendance and worship ceremonies?

My dad likes basketball.  He took me to a few basketball games when I was a kid and that made me want to join intramural basketball teams when I got a little older.  My mom likes literature.  She talked about books a lot, took me to the library regularly, and as I grew up I continued to pursue reading as a hobby.  Neither of my parents had much interest in, say, lacrosse, so they didn't make an effort to make it part of my life.  As a result, no one is surprised that I currently have no interest in lacrosse.  If my parents had wanted lacrosse to be an important part of my life, logic dictates that they probably would have thought to introduce lacrosse into my childhood activities.

Not sure why we needed research to quantify this phenomenon.

Their [inspired helpers'] purpose, even in membership councils, is not punishment, like the outcome of a criminal court. Church membership councils lovingly seek to help us qualify for the mercy of the forgiveness made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Okay, so we're saying that the purpose of a disciplinary council (or a membership council, if you're keeping up with the sanitized corporate PR terminology) is not punishment, like a criminal court.  That's a really strange statement to make for two reasons.

First, Oaks has a modicum of experience in the legal field.  Is it really accurate to say that the purpose of a criminal court is punishment?  Isn't that kind of putting the cart before the horse?  Isn't a criminal court supposed to operate (in theory) under that adage of "innocent until proven guilty"?  The purpose of a criminal court is to determine whether the defendant is guilty so that he can be acquitted if he's not and punished if he is.  This seems like the kind of thing Oaks should know better than the average person.  If his whole legal career was built around the idea that the purpose of a criminal court is punishment, I'm glad he's been out of the law game for a long time.

Second, if the purpose of a membership council is not punishment, then why is punishment an option?  If the purpose is not to punish a member, then why is the council able to disfellowship or excommunicate that member?  Sounds to me like he's saying that the outcome of membership councils is frequently contrary to the council's purpose, which, of course, would be nonsense.  I realize the argument here is that the council wants to help people, but if one of the primary ways that you're planning on helping them is by delivering punishment, then....  And if these membership councils are only convened in cases that may require some form of punishment to be exercised but you're claiming that's still not the purpose, then....

Saying it doesn't make it so.  Reframing an ugly truth in a more attractive but disingenuous way doesn't make you honest. 

Our members' religious faith and church service have taught them how to work in cooperative efforts to benefit the larger community.  That kind of experience and development does not happen in the individualism so prevalent in the practices of our current society.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

I'll be the first to say that our society's individualism is crippling good people's efforts to benefit our communities.  But I'm not about to pretend like there aren't some fantastic secular people and some fantastic secular organizations making some crucial positive impacts on the world.  This is another weird and obviously false claim that's trying to pretend like Mormonism has a near-monopoly on some virtue or another. 


Latter-day Saints are renowned for their ability to unite and lead in cooperative efforts.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session


That tradition originated with our courageous pioneers who colonized the inter-mountain west and established our valued tradition of unselfish cooperation for the common good.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

He could have at least said "settled" if he wanted to sidestep a bit more carefully.  Colonization implies supplanting an existing population and establishing your own society and culture in its place.  Colonization is not a nice thing.

It should be no secret that relations between Mormon pioneers and populations native to the Utah region weren't always good.  I'd be impressed at Oaks's transparency in calling it colonization rather than settlement if I thought for a second that he did this intentionally.

Most humanitarian and charitable efforts need to be accomplished by pooling and managing individual resources on a large scale.  The restored church does this with its enormous humanitarian efforts worldwide.  These include educational and medical supplies, feeding the hungry, caring for refugees, helping to reverse the effects of addictions, and a host of others.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Pooling individual resources you do pretty fuckin' well, sure.  That's why you've got a hundred-billion-dollar-plus pool of resource just sitting there not being used for educational and medical supplies, feeding the hungry, caring for refugees, and helping to reverse the effects of addictions.  But sure, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back for providing just enough humanitarian aid that you can brag about all the humanitarian aid you provide without dipping into your nest egg. 

Independent of a church, we see millions supporting and carrying out good works.  Individually, Latter-day Saints participate in many of them.  We see these works as a manifestation of an eternal truth that "the spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world."  Despite the good works that can be accomplished without a church, the fulness of doctrine and its saving and exalting ordinances are available only in the restored church.  In addition, church attendance gives us strength and enhancement of faith  that comes from associating with other believers and worshiping together with those who are also striving to stay on the covenant path and be better disciples of Christ.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Well, thanks for admitting that people can do good things without churches.  It's preposterous that something like that even needs to be said, though.

It's not as great to follow that up immediately with your compulsive urge to have your religious paradigm take credit for other people's altruism.  Why can't you just let people be good people?  Why do you have to claim that the only reason they're good is that they got some spiritual mojo from your version of God?

And lastly, why does church attendance enhance our faith?  Why does it make us believe more strongly when we're associating with other believers and worshiping together with like-minded people?  Is it because of some nebulous spiritual reason or is it because of some psychological phenomenon?  If we should be building strong testimonies, maybe we should avoid attending church so that we're forced to construct our faith on a foundation of prayer and scripture study instead of getting caught up in the feelings of social confirmation and belonging with weekly visits to an echo chamber.

Note that he loved the Lord and wanted to serve, and yet he could not for reasons he struggled to understand.

—Erich W. Kopischke, Saturday afternoon session 

This was good to hear.  Kopischke is referring to his son, who returned early from his mission due to severe anxiety.  In a religion that so often minimalizes mental health issues and prescribes spiritual remedies to fix them, taking time to note that inability to follow the roadmap is not due to lack of faith or lack of virtue is important.


Gratefully, our son survived, but it has taken a long time and much medical, therapeutic, and spiritual care for him to heal and accept that he is loved, valued, and needed.

—Erich W. Kopischke, Saturday afternoon session

Medical, therapeutic, and spiritual care.  Spiritual care is last because it's least important.  The medical and therapeutic care is what helped him heal.  Including spiritual care in the list doesn't actually mean your religion resolved your child's mental health problems.


We nevertheless need to care for our children by helping them learn to be content with their sincere efforts as they strive to meet appropriate expectations.

—Erich W. Kopischke, Saturday afternoon session

It's almost like we teach our children some kind of perfectionist standards or something.

Appropriate expectations probably doesn't mean the same thing to Kopischke as it does to me.  Yes, we should set appropriate expectations for our children and reward sincerity of effort more than we reward results.  But I don't believe that the expectations set by Mormonism are appropriate and I don't think Mormonism has traditionally done a good job of rewarding sincerity over conformity.


Again, educating ourselves about mental illness prepares us to help ourselves and others who might be struggling.

—Erich W. Kopischke, Saturday afternoon session

Yes.  Definitely yes.  This needed to be said too.


We are distinguished as a church to be led by prophets, seers, and revelators, called of God for this time.  I promise that as you listen and follow their counsel, you will never be led astray.  Never!  We live in a time when we are "tossed to and fro," when spirituality, decency, integrity, and respect are under attack.  We have to make choices.  We have the voice of the Lord through his prophet to calm our fears and lift our sights, for when President Nelson speaks, he speaks for the Lord.

—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session

If we follow the counsel of the prophets, we will never be led astray?  Are you sure about that?

If we had followed the counsel of the prophets before 1978, we might have been led astray by believing that black people only reach the Celestial Kingdom as servants, or that they were born black because of premortal fence-sitting.  We might have believed in Blood Atonement or polygamy in the days of Brigham Young.  We might have believed that the nickname Mormon was good and that homosexuality was a choice in the days of Gordon B. Hinckley.  The claim that the prophets can absolutely never lead us astray is ridiculous.

Also the structure of this paragraph is concerning.  We live in a time when spirituality, decency, integrity and respect are under attack—that's establishing the problem with a a hefty dose of fear.  We have to make choices—that's introducing a solution.  We have the voice of the Lord through his prophet—that's reinforcing that the solution is only accessible to us through the church.  We have the prophet, therefore we have the solution to this confusing world under assault.

That's not manipulative or anything.

The account of Naaman reminds us of the risks of picking and choosing the parts of prophetic counsel that fit our thinking, expectations, or today's norms.  Our prophet continually points us to our own River Jordans to be healed.  The most important words we can hear, ponder, and follow are those revealed through our living prophet.

—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session

Yes, the reason Naaman bristled at the instruction to cure himself by washing seven times in the River Jordan was because the concept was in direct contradiction to the norms of his day. 

Naaman's story has a lot in common with the story of the brazen serpent.  It was not difficult for Naaman to wash himself seven times in the River Jordan.  It was not difficult for the Israelites to look at the serpent and be healed.  But the advice seemed counterintuitive, so they were hesitant to follow such simple instructions.  In contrast, what the current prophets ask us to do often tend to be difficult.  We are required to abstain from many things, we are required to sacrifice time, money, and personal pursuits.  We are required to stand against some societal norms on key issues.  What our prophets ask of us today are things that require much more effort and sacrifice.  Using the story of Naaman this way, intentionally or not, dismisses and diminishes the magnitude of prophetic commandment and offers a misleadingly simplistic solution to life's troubles.  It can be a shaming device for members of the church who struggle to follow some of the more demanding apostolic instructions.  

It's not all as easy as washing in a river seven times.

His mother and his younger brother had passed away in tragic accident.  The mission president offered this elder the option to return home for the funeral. However, after speaking with his father on the phone, this missionary decided to stay and finish his mission.

—Moises Villanueva, Saturday afternoon session

Add this to the growing list of immoral pressure to keep missionaries from attending family funerals and disgusting praise for missionaries' capitulation to that pressure.  Recent examples include Andersen in October 2015 and Soares in April 2017

This has to be one of the most blatant cult-like manipulations in modern mainstream Mormonism.  No mission president or apostle has any business telling a missionary that they should not be allowed to return home to attend a family funeral.  And they definitely should not be stating explicitly or intimating implicitly that declining to attend the funeral is evidence of firmer faith.  You can believe in the gospel all you want, but you should still have a right to mourn with your family.  It doesn't matter if you're convinced you'll see your departed loved ones in the afterlife, it still should be considered appropriate to mourn your temporary separation from them as you continue your mortal life without them.

Even the father may be to blame here.  Of course we don't know exactly what the father may have said, but no parent should be telling a missionary that their commitment to serve a mission supersedes their family obligations during a time of tragedy or supersedes their own emotional needs during a period of mourning.

Let's allow the members of the church to be human beings rather than worker drones, okay?

While the more than 1500 Covid-19 projects are certainly the largest focus of the church's relief over the last 18 months, the church also responded to 933 natural disasters and refugee crises in 108 countries.

—Sharon Eubank, Saturday evening session

Okay, sure.  So with at least 2433 different projects and with at least one hundred billion dollars at its disposal, the church could have thrown $41 million dollars at each of these projects.  But did they?

I don't think anyone expects them to spend their entire fortune all at once, but considering the church's colossal financial resources, this kind of bragging is sickening.  Because the church didn't spend a dime on many of these projects, it's simply taking credit for things that local members have done.  If the bishop organizes an effort to rebuild a community after a hurricane, if LDS families choose to shelter refugees, if Relief Society sisters unite to produce hundreds of homemade masks, these are not humanitarian efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  These are the humanitarian efforts of good people who have learned to do good in spite of their religion's focus on merely appearing to do good. The church has no right to appropriate that altruism and reflect it back on its followers as evidence that the organization they belong to is a humanitarian organization.

Of course, there are also projects that the church does donate large sums of money to—large to you and me but miniscule in proportion to the church's total wealth.  These donations are needed and they've surely made a positive impact in people's lives, but the church is not averaging $41 million per project.  The church is merely donating as much as it feels it needs to in order to nurture a reputation for humanitarianism.  

But, of course, it's difficult to prove any of this when the church is so curiously tight-lipped about its finances. 

Why did some families receive a miracle, but our family did not?

—Brent H. Nielson, Saturday evening session

He's talking about his father's death.  And this is a crucial question to ask.

Watch how he turns his own personal tragedy into an explanation for how healing doesn't mean healing and miracles don't mean miracles, which is why we still have miraculous healing in the church today. 

He can heal our eyes and our ears and our legs, but most important of all he can heal our hearts as he cleanses us from sin and lifts us through difficult trials.

—Brent H. Nielson, Saturday evening session

When a sick person receives a priesthood blessing of healing, nobody is under the impression that this will be a blessing of healing through cleansing from sin.  We're not here to heal your sin, we're here to heal your cancer.  And notice that even though God can heal us physically, it's most important that he can heal us in emotional, spiritual, and other decidedly non-physical ways.  It's a clumsy bit of misdirection.  It's great that God can "heal" us by lifting us through trials, but when you put your hands on my head and bless me to be able to walk again, that blessing should quite obviously be about healing my legs. 

I understand now that my father's passing was expedient to God's plan.  Now, as I lay my hands upon the head of another to bless him or her, my faith is in Jesus Christ, and I understand that a person can and will be physically healed if it is expedient in Christ.

—Brent H. Nielson, Saturday evening session

Okay, but if people only get healed from priesthood blessings when it's expedient to God, then the blessing itself is completely irrelevant.  If it's expedient to God that this person be healed, isn't it going to happen regardless of whether someone anoints his head with oil? 

That means that when Nielson uses his priesthood he is one hundred percent pretending that he has the authority to direct the authority of God toward the physical mending of a person's body.  And he knows that he's pretending because he knows that his role in the process is unimportant, and yet he's still managed to convince himself that he's not pretending and that blessing the sick is a deep honor and a solemn responsibility and an expression of true divine power.

I had mistakenly believed that the Savior's healing power had not worked for my family.  As I now look back with more mature eyes and experience, I see that the Savior's healing power was evident in the lives of each my family members.  I was so focused on a physical healing that I failed to see the miracles that had occurred.

—Brent H. Nielson, Saturday evening session

Don't focus on physical healing, right?  When the blessing to heal your dad failed to keep him from dying, what you should have realized was that the healing referred to in the blessing wasn't about the subject's body, it was about the spectator's spirits.  Of course, if the whole purpose of the blessing was to heal people other than the person upon whose head the hands were laid, then why wasn't anointing the other people part of the ritual?  Who lays their hands upon someone's head to pronounce a prayer of healing on other people?

But he's still trying to hit that point hard—don't expect miracles the way you've seen them in the scriptures.  Redefine the term so that you can always find miracles, even when what you find is in direct opposition to what could fairly have been expected as a miraculous resolution to the situation. 

His leader responded, "You're not a hypocrite because you have a bad habit you're trying to break.  You're a hypocrite if you hide it, lie about it, or try to convince yourself the church has the problem for maintaining such high standards."

—Bradly R. Wilcox, Saturday evening session

This is objectionable for two separate reasons.

First, the church is a hypocrite because it tries to hide its flaws and lie about them.  And it's super-deluxe hypocrisy to use preaching to the world about not hiding your flaws as one of their methods of hiding their flaws.  Because the tail end of the sentence clearly implies that if there's a problem between your behavior and the church's standards, it can never be the church's standards that are wrong.  The church isn't flawed—you are.  These are not the droids you're looking for.

The second reason is that ugly, ugly ending.  There's so much going on here that makes it gross.  It plays into a tired stereotype of opposition to the church stemming from an inability to keep its commandments.  It dismisses the possibility that the church can be wrong.  It minimizes the suffering of people who have been hurt and traumatized because of the church's actions.  And the "such high standards" closer is almost funny.  What high standards are we talking about here?  Is homophobia and transphobia a high standard?  Is resisting the implementation of safety procedures to protect children in ecclesiastical interviews a high standard?  Are scripturally-sanctioned racism and doctrinally-imposed misogyny high standards?  Is the expectation of serving in a time-intensive, high-stress church calling and spending less time with your family a high standard?

Sure, he means things like not drinking alcohol or having premarital sex, but he clearly believes that the church's standards are high and honorable across the board and that people who have problems with the church often are unable to meet those standards.  The church has set a lot of standards that are limbo bars instead of pole vault bars.  He shouldn't get to pretend like people who step over the bar of homophobia are less than the people who get down in the dirt and shuffle under it.

This young man finally stopped looking down in shame or looking sideways for excuses and rationalizations.  He looked up for divine help and he found it.  Damon said, "The only time I had turned to God in the past was to ask for forgiveness, but now I also asked for grace—his enabling power.  I had never done that before.  These days I spend a lot less time hating myself for what I had done and a lot more time loving Jesus for what he has done."

—Bradly R. Wilcox, Saturday evening session

The theme here that worthiness is not flawlessness is nice, but it's not well-executed.  Sometimes there are legitimate excuses and legitimate rationalizations for things.  While we shouldn't wallow in shame, we shouldn't be shamed for not looking to God for all of our emotional needs.  Implying that we cannot properly process our past failings without divine help is not only incorrect, but it also can help drive those who struggle to connect spiritually further into their shame.  If you struggle to look up for divine help to find solutions and that's the only place to look for valid solutions, what hope do you have?

If you hate yourself and your religious beliefs help you adopt a healthier self-image, that's great.  But your religion should also teach you that your loved ones, your doctors, and your therapists can also help you adopt a better perception of your own value.

When I explained how highly improbable it would be for an accident to produce such beauty and order, he was quiet for a time, and then good-naturedly said, "You got me." 

—Marcus M. Nash, Saturday evening session

Get a load of present-day Alma over here, confounding the atheists on his airline flight.

I think there's really two likely possibilities here.  Either this conversation never happened or the atheist replied with "you got me" because he realized Nash would not be convinced and he was trying to politely drop the issue.

Here are my problems with this argument.  While I find it improbable for an unguided process to lead to the phenomena of life and self-awareness, improbable is what it is.  It's not impossible.  It's improbable and there have been yawning eons of time to allow the possibility for improbable things. 

Beauty is a subjective concept, and I think people tend to see their native environments as beautiful anyway.  People transplanted into different parts of the world often feel a draw to the natural aesthetic of their homelands.  We become accustomed to our surroundings and we come to appreciate them, but finding beauty in our environment does not mean that the environment was created by someone who shares our sense of beauty.

Order is an interesting judgment to impose upon the world.  On a larger scale, species and ecosystems can fail, weather events can devastate large portions of the globe, and the constant grinding of tectonic plates causes seismic chaos.  If the world had been created by a being who valued order, why do different sections of the earth's crust continually shift?  Why are chaotic meteorological phenomena like hurricanes, tornados, monsoons, and lightning storms at play in such a carefully ordered system.  Why are rainforests and river deltas and remote island ecologies so fragile?  Why is the extinction of a species a possibility?

On a smaller scale, in an ordered system, why do humans have appendices?  Why to men have nipples?  Why can bones heal but not teeth?  Why are allergies, birth defects, and hereditary degenerative illnesses even a thing?  If our world had really been designed by someone who meticulously crafted it with an eye toward order, why are there so many elements of our existence that so easily introduce chaos into the equation?  Why are there so many elements of our existence that seem like symptoms of chaos in the development of our lives and our species and our histories?

While surveys report that Gen Z is turning away from God, our stripling warrior elders and sisters are turning people to God.  And increasing numbers of members of the church are uniting with the missionaries in sharing the gospel, helping more and more friends to come unto Christ and his church.

—Marcus M. Nash, Saturday evening session

Calling the missionaries "stripling warriors" wouldn't be, like, promoting a spiritually militaristic worldview, would it?  It's also unrealistic because the stripling warriors magically all escaped death.  Missionaries in the present day can experience physical death and can lose their faith in the church, and neither one of those really feels in keeping with the comparison to the stripling warriors.  

Also Nash is bragging about another supposed statistic that no one can possibly verify—is the strength of the church now measured by the number of members who go to teaching appointments alongside the missionaries?  Seems like we're scraping the bottom of the barrel when we're looking for the church's vital signs as its breathing slows. 

To avoid this tragic error, it is crucial that any personal revelation we receive be consonant with the teachings of the Lord and his prophets.

—Henry B. Eyring, Saturday evening session
Okay, but what if we receive personal revelation that is dissonant with the teachings of the Lord?  Because if we've received a burning in the bosom after praying in faith, then the revelation we receive should be coming from the Lord.  So if the infallible Lord tells us something that contradicts what fallible men have told us...why should we side with the fallible men?

These fallible men want to teach us to ignore the revelation they've taught us to receive because they don't actually want us receiving communication from God—they want us receiving communication from them under the guise of God's inspiration.  Allowing members of the church to put credence in all divine messages would undercut the authority of the men who want us to believe they speak for God.  Which is why they try to gaslight members into doubting their own revelations, even when the only evidence that the revelation might be wrong is that it contradicts the teachings of men.

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