General Conference BuffetBy: Guest
This is our first guest post from Kristine A.
I think that General Conference could be called Mormonism’s Golden Corral. Twice a year, every year, we are invited to a feast of words of counsel and guidance from our leaders.
The past two years since my faith transition I’ve been more acutely aware of a certain phenomenon I call GC bashing – in which we hear talks from leaders that by in large echo our previously held perceptions, and then we use quotes from those to figuratively bash each other over the head. Too often we hear something and think of how “others” need to hear this counsel, instead of finding ways to apply it in our own lives. It’s also popular these days to passive aggressively join groups or share quotes on the Internet that confirm our beliefs.
One of the results of my faith transition is a loss of certainty, realization that I was wrong before, and the lenses with which I viewed everything were not true reality. I still don’t think the lenses with which I view things now are true reality, because I don’t think there is a human alive who sees things as they really are. Only God knows. Thus the reactions of members over GC weekend prove to me that every single one of us is operating under the influence of cognitive bias. See if you can think of examples over the last month of the following: confirmation bias (loving to agree with those who agree with us), cognitive dissonance (avoiding individuals, groups, or sources that make us feel uncomfortable or insecure about our views), ingroup bias (fear, disdain, and suspicion of others we don’t know), gambler’s fallacy (believing a certain event in the past predicates a future outcome), status quo bias (fear of change), negativity bias (dwelling on the negative at the expense of good news), bandwagon effect (groupthink), projection bias (interpret our perceptions of universal, normal, or correct). Source
I think in truth we are all cafeteria Mormons at this buffet, not in the way that we reject what is being served, but that we all seem to prioritize and take seconds of our favorites. In a religion that, out of respect for the gift of agency, is organized upon the principle of “teaching correct principles and letting them govern themselves” we rely on the gift of personal revelation. The definition of how to keep the Sabbath day holy, pay a full tithe, be modest, or interpret the themes and messages of Conference varies widely, and it would be impossible to come to a perfect consensus.
As I reflected on General Conference, I thought of my own activities this past year. As a moderate Mormon feminist, I vociferously preach love and one-ness at the big table of Mormonism. I’ve sat and listened to my friend whose homosexual grandfather recently attempted suicide, and my heart broke while realizing Elder Oaks’ talk about Moral Courage last year could be use to bludgeon someone into feeling such hopelessness. I also listened to Elder Holland eviscerate the image of a “peace and love” type of Jesus; I uncomfortably agreed with him. Our Savior is not demand-less, He requires things of us. Yet, it just seemed like an incomplete picture of the Savior I know. Then Pres. Monson delivered a beautiful sermon on Christ’s love. Holland’s Christ, full of Justice, and President Monson’s Christ, full of Mercy, together teach us of the Savior. We cannot be obedient without caring and loving others, and we cannot love others unless we are encouraging them to obey. Partaking of one type of food at the buffet isn’t good for anyone’s health, perhaps we all need a more balanced diet.
What are your thoughts about General Conference? What challenged your thinking? Which biases do you have a problem with?