The April 2017 General Conference season is upon us. Having started last weekend on March 25th with the Women’s session, it continues April 1st and 2nd with four general and one priesthood session. For many who have undergone (or are undergoing) a shift of faith, engaging with general conference can sometimes be a difficult experience. Because of new perspectives we’ve gained, it’s impossible to avoid certain changes in attitude toward conference talks and proceedings. For many of us, these are healthy shifts, emerging from spiritual growth and increasing confidence in what we believe God is calling us toward. Yet it takes quite a while to “normalize” in this new way of viewing conference and the role and abilities of prophets in guiding the church or serving as God’s mouthpieces. We can listen respectfully, yet with eyes wide open to the human beings called to these roles and the mixture that is their words and ideas in conjunction with what they sense God is leading them to speak about. But for others of us, especially those in the early years of a faith shift, or for whom some very large change has come into their life or who have become quite activated about certain topics, conference talks that don’t match what we’d ideally like to hear can be very upsetting.
In this episode, we are treated to thoughts about conference from Carol Lynn Pearson, Patrick Mason, and Mark Crego, three wonderful, experienced church members and conference watchers whose experiences over the years have matched those of many listeners. Along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, each of the folks here have at times felt in great harmony with what is shared in conference, at other times quite devastated by it. But through continued striving and efforts to push through they have gained good awareness of what conference is and is not, what we might reasonably expect from it, and how to celebrate the wonderful talks and not over-react to the ones that disappoint or can even feel to them spiritually dangerous.
We hope through listening you can have an engaged and constructive conference weekend. And please share your own experiences and reactions in the comments section below!
I wish I could have running side commentary from this group going through this Conference. Thank you all for the encouragements and thoughts.
Dan i loved your ‘pastoral’ advice at the end, particularly the part where you said even Elder Oaks said that when he speaks in general conference he is giving general advice. Do you have a source for that? I tried an internet search for those words or similar but couldn’t find much.
Also, I love the genuineness as you respond to your guests– “thank you brother”, “good stuff”, “glad we’re friends”. It’s made me think, how often am I expressing appreciation to my friends? Love that about you, thank you.
Cynthia! Thank you for the question about the Elder Oaks’ comment about “general authorities” giving “general counsel.” I had to go digging, and am glad to report that I think I found the one that had stuck with me some time ago. My guess is he’s also said it in other places, too. (I have a vague memory of possibly reading something like this in his book, The Lord’s Way.)
Anyway, here is one spot with that connection. In 2005, he gave a talk to LDS young adults called “The Dedication of a Lifetime.” Toward the end, here is the key section on this:
“I’ve learned that the kind of direct counsel I have given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to confirm that the things I’ve said just don’t apply to them in their special circumstance. I will explain why I can’t offer much comfort in response to that kind of letter by telling you an experience I had with another person who was troubled by a general rule.
I gave a talk in which I mentioned the commandment, thou shalt not kill. Afterwards, a man came up to me in tears, saying that what I had said showed there was no hope for him. What do you mean, I ask him. He explained that he had been a machine gunner during the Korean War. During a frontal assault, his machine gun mowed down scores of enemy infantry. Their bodies were piled so high in front of his gun that he had is man push them away in order to maintain their field of fire. He had killed a hundred, he said, and now he must be going to hell, because I’d spoken of the Lord’s commandment, thou shalt not kill.
The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I’ve said. As a general authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on you’re exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the same thing in another way when he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints. He said, I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves. In what I’ve just said, I’m simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon those principles by governing yourself.”
Here is link to talk. You can also view a transcript. https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2005-05-03-the-dedication-of-a-lifetime?lang=eng#p3s:2338830&p3e:2487820
Thanks, so much, for listening and your kind words!
All my best!