Progressive Elements at General Conference

by: hawkgrrrl

April 5, 2011

First, I must start with a confession.  I haven’t yet watched General Conference.  Despite living in the future here in Asia, we are living in the past in terms of General Conference which will be aired at the local church next weekend (or alternatively, live on-line now).  However, I have read some of the recaps, including a live thread by good friend Ray at StayLDS.com.  Here are some highlights pointed out in that discussion as evidence of progress.

  • E. Perry spoke of the New Testament as the centerpiece of our religion, not specifically mentioning the Book of Mormon.
  • 2 female speakers (Sis. Allred and Sis. Stevens) were described as speaking in a “normal” voice (meaning not in a sickly sweet Mormon woman voice).
  • E. Gonzales spoke warmly and in sincered praise about all Christians, not elevating Mormons above other sects.
  • E. Cook’s otherwise controversial talk about women also stated that those who hadn’t served a mission sometimes feel like second class citizens, a possible first step in erasing prejudice in this area.
  • Pres. Eyring said “someone who needed to work to support his or her family,” effectively recognizing both scenarios equally.
  • Pres. Eyring also talked about providing assistance to those both inside and outside of the LDS community.
  • E. Oaks referred to an R-rated movie (127 Hours) without warning people not to see R-rated movies (it’s not R-rated here, and he was probably referring to the story, not the movie).  But still . . . any port in a storm.  He also referred to men as an helpmeet to women.
  • E. Uchtdorf endorsed the use of social media.  (I assume he’s reading this right now – hello!)
  • E. Johnson made a non-KJV reference.
  • Several talks referring to both parents as presiding in the home, not just fathers.
  • Less talks about porn.
  • More talks about Christ.

On the downside:

  • Pres. Packer’s talk was viewed as a not-very-subtle further attack on homosexuals.  However, he did mention that some members spend their whole lives offended over the mistakes of leaders.  Hmmm.
  • E. Nelson’s remarks about cafeteria Mormonism seems to have been a mischaracterization of that term, which he then sets up as a straw man.  He stated it’s wrong to pick and choose which commandments to follow; however, cafeteria Mormonism is usually used to describe leaving some of the unpalatable doctrines alone, not behavioral picking and choosing.  It’s unfortunate if the term is stigmatized among the so-called faithful as a result, since all doctrine is subject to interpretation and individual understanding and all members sin.  This seems like it will become an excuse for some members to judge others or to try to chase them out of the church.
  • E. Bednar’s talk was viewed by some as a backhanded insult to people of other faiths and to NOMs.

Overall, what did you think?  Was the conference effective at clarifying old misunderstandings?  Were there other statements or talks that you considered progressive?  Discuss.

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32 Responses to Progressive Elements at General Conference

  1. Joshua Whelpley on April 5, 2011 at 6:17 AM

    I agree that the talks were generally more progressive than in the past. There were no firebombs thrown.

    Elder Packer’s talk seemed to be a wrapping up talk. I wont speculate to say that he is not long for this world. But it seemed to me that he was trying to cover as many points as possible like a student writing a paper and listing a bunch of ideas in a conclusion. Anyone else get that feeling?

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  2. Bored in Vernal on April 5, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    E. Cook’s otherwise controversial talk about women also stated that those who hadn’t served a mission sometimes feel like second class citizens, a possible first step in erasing prejudice in this area.

    “it was decided that the men of the priesthood and the women of the RS would reach out to rescue these men and their wives… those involved in the rescue focused primarily on preparing them for the priesthood, eternal marriage, and the saving ordinances of the temple.”

    I’m not quite sure how I feel about the use of the word “rescue” for this work with inactive members. It was used in another talk as well. It seems at once condescending and heroic. Does this word strike anyone else as problematic?

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  3. hawkgrrrl on April 5, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    I think the word rescue is problematic in that it only appeals to the rescuers, not generally to the rescued. But I suppose it can motivate people to take actions that they might not otherwise take with a less dramatic urging.

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  4. Dan on April 5, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    don’t forget E. Cook endorsing LDS members being at the forefront of creating work environments that cater to the priorities of the family (i.e. maternity and paternity leave).

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  5. Jeff Spector on April 5, 2011 at 7:10 AM

    If we think of the term rescue in the eternal perspective, it is a more appropriate term, I think. If we just think about it as a term to rescue people from their own choices, I am somewhat troubled by it.

    OTHO, if we give people the opportunity to come back to activity and they are trying to find a way to come back, that is another story as well.

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  6. Paul on April 5, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    “cafeteria Mormonism is usually used to describe leaving some of the unpalatable doctrines alone”

    Hmm. I learn something new all the time from you, Hawk. I have always heard it used in the way you report that Elder Nelson used it.

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  7. SilverRain on April 5, 2011 at 7:54 AM

    Agreed, I’ve never heard “cafeteria Mormonism” used as anything other than indicating it is picking-and-choosing what you want to do.

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  8. Jeff Spector on April 5, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    I didn’t think he used it in the same way as NOMs use it. Because he did not use cafeteria and Mormonism in the same sentence. He refered specifically to the commandments, not the policies or practices of the church.

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  9. shenpa warrior on April 5, 2011 at 8:06 AM

    Re: the cafeteria – I’ve heard LEADERS generally use it in the “I’ll pick and choose which aspects of the WoW I want to follow” for example, but I’ve never heard members justify their behaviors in that manner. I’ve only ever heard them say things like “I belief x and y, but I don’t believe in polygamy/racial curse/etc. etc.”

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  10. C. on April 5, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    Ha! I’m the wrong person to ask right now. Yesterday a coworker brought up conference and I mentioned that I found it interesting that Elders Cook and Packard could talk about the same subject using very different language, and that I preferred the former over the latter. I then sat dumbstruck as my coworkers proceeded to jump down my throat.

    “So you don’t even think the wording of talks is inspired, so you think that conference talks are false scripture, so you think that prophets are FALLIBLE, so you think that Joseph Smith made mistakes translating the BOM, so you’re a HERETIC!”

    My jaw was dangling by the end. I couldn’t even defend myself (couldn’t get a word in edgewise!).

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  11. shenpa warrior on April 5, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    C. – Yikes. I always try to remember that when people are jumping down my throat, it comes from a place of fear in themselves. Doesn’t make the jumping any more right or less annoying.

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  12. xenologue on April 5, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I am catching up on GC now – will try to listen to a talk a day for the next little while (we were at a childbirth class this weekend and I fell asleep during both Sunday sessions… I’m blaming the baby).

    This was the first time I think I ever registered anyone at church calling a woman by her husband’s name. That is, during Pres. Monson’s discussion about rededicating the Laie Hawaii temple, he mentioned that “President and Sister Henry B. Eyring” were there along with “Elder and Sister Quentin L. Cook”, etc.

    I’m not at ALL fond of this custom in general usage, let alone at church. I hate it when we get mail addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. [DH's full name]” or when I am referred to as “Mrs. [DH's full name].” It doesn’t happen often, but I find it really marginalizing, especially since I kept (and use) my maiden name, including at church. I’d be particularly irritated to be called “Sister [DH's full name]“, though. Am I overreacting?

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  13. BeansDude on April 5, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    I loved when Elder Uchtdorf said at the end of his talk on Sunday Morning:

    “I testify that the Lord speaks to his Apostles and Prophets in our day. He also speaks to all who come to him with a sincere heart and real intent.”

    It feels like he is putting personal revelation of individuals in all faiths (he didn’t single out just mormons) on the same level of importance as the revelation that church leaders receive. Maybe I’m reading to much into it, but it made me happy just the same.

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  14. jmb275 on April 5, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Hmm. I learn something new all the time from you, Hawk. I have always heard it used in the way you report that Elder Nelson used it.

    As one who absolutely accepts the label “cafeteria Mormon” and has associated with such for a reasonable amount of time, I assure you Hawk’s interpretation is most certainly a valid one (though perhaps so is E Nelson’s). I hold a TR, so my behavior is acceptable by Mormon standards, but I definitely “pick and choose” the interpretations of the doctrines I believe in.

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  15. allquieton on April 5, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    #1–
    I’ve never seen anything in GC I would call a firebomb. Compared to scriptural preaching, it’s all tame. At what point can we say people are being overly sensitive?

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  16. Joshua on April 5, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    @Allquieton– I would say that President Packer’s talk last year was a firebomb. The gays are tired of being told that we chose to be something that the Church and society are largely against.

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  17. Jacob S on April 5, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    I haven’t gone back and looked at it again yet, but I liked Bishop Burton’s talk about helping the poor, and I hope the Church continues to put renewed emphasis on it. I think we as a church should be doing much more in this regard.

    The one part I remember being slightly uncomfortable with was the emphasis on self-sufficiency. That should be our individual goal, of course, but I wish he emphasized: 1) not everyone is going to get there because of differing life circumstances and that doesn’t mean they are unworthy of our charity, and 2) we are required to be self-sufficient ourselves but whether we help someone else should never be based on whether we perceive them to be self-sufficient. That’s not our call to judge.

    Overall, I thought it was a very good talk, though.

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  18. allquieton on April 5, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    Packer’s words were exceedingly mild. Some people just disagree with the words. But can’t you disagree without being offended? Isn’t being offended just a way to dishonestly manipulate the situation?

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  19. Joshua on April 5, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Of course I can disagree without being offended. It happens all the time when I have political discussions with friends. But I am damn well offended when I am told: “No you are wrong. You chose to be gay. You chose an orientation that may preclude you from the Celestial Kingdom.” I find that offensive.

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  20. mapman on April 5, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    Elder Packer’s talk was an attack on homosexuals? Huh? Care to explain how you came to that conclusion? because I completely missed that.

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  21. Joshua Whelpley on April 5, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Not this years talk. It was his talk in October 2010.

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  22. mapman on April 5, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    The first bullet point for “on the down-side” says:

    “•Pres. Packer’s talk was viewed as a not-very-subtle further attack on homosexuals. However, he did mention that some members spend their whole lives offended over the mistakes of leaders. Hmmm.”

    I don’t see how people thought it was an attack on homosexuals. I didn’t think his last one was either (neither of them even mentioned homosexuality). I guess I need to get better at reading people’s minds (or perhaps just get more cynical).

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  23. hawkgrrrl on April 5, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    The comment in my post about Pres. Packer’s talk comes from ‘nacle chatter. As I said, I haven’t yet watched conference. But after October’s controversial talk that required some rewrite on publication, I’m sure there was heightened sensitivity when he got up to speak. Having said that, I do believe it’s his personal agenda to pound on this idea in whatever time remains to him.

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  24. Franz on April 5, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    Re: Cafeteria Mormonism

    What I didn’t like about Nelson’s talk – and the ramifications locally – is that Nelson specifically related the Cafeteria mindset to commandments, God’s commandments. The problem I have with that is that often what is done in the church as a matter of policy (i.e. earrings, white shirts, flipflops, WoW, etc) is seen by leaders to be a commandment of God. Therefore, if I disagree with any (or all) of the policies listed above, then Nelson’s talk can and will be used against me to conform my behavior. It’s my experience that precious few members acknowledge – let alone discuss – these potential differences. As such, everything that comes down from HQ is seen as a “commandment from God” and is to be acted upon as such.

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  25. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    #17: Jacob S

    Bishop Burton’s talk on welfare would have been more helpful to me if humanitarian work was his primary goal. The business community in SLC is praising him as a businessman for spending $3 billion of our money on a the SLC mall. In contrast, the Church spends $15 million a year on humanitarian needs.

    When his business focus out strips his humanitarian focus by a ratio of 200 to 1, I get a bit skeptical.

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  26. jks on April 5, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    “spending $3 billion of our money on a the SLC mall”

    Maybe the church spent that money on safeguarding the environment around the temple and the Lord’s church headquarters.
    Also, calling it “spent” is problematic. It is more of an investment (meaning it is an asset that can be spent later). There is a different between spending money on food and investing money for retirement. Some people might prefer to have the church spend everything and be broke. Perhaps the Lord has directed that some assets be held in reserve for his future purposes. Real Estate is an asset (and I believe the church doesn’t own a lot of stock like they used to, they invest heavily in real estate).

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  27. David on April 5, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    JKS:

    Do you think that the Lord can protect his “sacred” places by his strength alone?

    I’m put off a little by some of the rhetoric that has flown around the CCC, justifying billions of dollars in spending as a way to “create a shield,” “protect” the sacred places, etc. It seems very, very odd to me – as if dabbling in Babylon is how we protect spiritual edifices.

    That being said, there’s a parable in the D&C that I found strangely comparable to this situation (D&C 101:44-54):

    44A certain anobleman had a spot of land, very choice; and he said unto his servants: Go ye unto my bvineyard, even upon this very choice piece of land, and plant twelve olive trees;

    45And set awatchmen round about them, and build a tower, that one may overlook the land round about, to be a watchman upon the tower, that mine olive trees may not be broken down when the enemy shall come to spoil and take upon themselves the fruit of my vineyard.

    46Now, the servants of the nobleman went and did as their lord commanded them, and planted the olive trees, and built a hedge round about, and set watchmen, and began to build a tower.

    47And while they were yet laying the foundation thereof, they began to say among themselves: And what need hath my lord of this tower?

    48And consulted for a long time, saying among themselves: What need hath my lord of this tower, seeing this is a time of peace?

    49Might not this money be given to the exchangers? For there is no need of these things.

    50And while they were at variance one with another they became very aslothful, and they hearkened not unto the commandments of their lord.

    51And the enemy came by night, and broke down the ahedge; and the servants of the nobleman arose and were affrighted, and fled; and the enemy destroyed their works, and broke down the olive trees.

    52Now, behold, the nobleman, the lord of the avineyard, called upon his servants, and said unto them, Why! what is the cause of this great evil?

    53Ought ye not to have done even as I commanded you, and—after ye had planted the vineyard, and built the hedge round about, and set watchmen upon the walls thereof—built the tower also, and set a awatchman upon the tower, and watched for my vineyard, and not have fallen asleep, lest the enemy should come upon you?

    54And behold, the watchman upon the tower would have seen the enemy while he was yet afar off; and then ye could have made ready and kept the enemy from breaking down the hedge thereof, and saved my vineyard from the hands of the destroyer.

    I admit, it’s not a perfect fit (but a lot better a fit than most members would be comfortable with).

    But, the opening verses of this selection discuss how the servants of the nobleman built a hedge (a natural protection, which relies on the processes of nature to grow and become vital) around the vineyard for protection. The servants also began to build a watchtower. However, once started they started questioning the nobleman, and reasoned (verse 49) that the money spent on the watchtower would be of a better use if given to the exchangers (i.e. Babylon). And, as a result of their slothfulness, the “enemy” came in and usurped all the planning of the nobleman. Verse 57 suggests that a wall (manmade way of protecting things, the work of men), a tower and the enemy’s watchmen had replaced the servants the nobleman set up.

    So, contrast in this example how the Lord built up an hedge for protection, versus how the enemy built up a wall. What are the differences? How are they different and, if they are different, how does that apply?

    I once went through an incredibly long project on the Hopi indians and Mormon relations to the Hopi down in Arizona. In that write-up I did, I draw further parallels to Burton’s rhetoric on why CCC needed to be built. I might invite you to read that, though it takes a while to read and get into.

    In that article, I discuss one John Boyden (a lawyer and Mormon bishop) who used similar rational (i.e. develop land for monetary purposes) to justify stripping the Navajo and Hopi of billions of dollars worth of coal down on the Black Mesa in Arizona. His story is a shocking one in that it shows just how far some go to develop land in order to make a cool million or more.

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  28. hawkgrrrl on April 5, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    I have to assume the mall project was viewed as:
    1 – a good financial investment with a specific set of projections on returns. I would assume it was 99% a financial business decision.
    2 – a way to attract people to an area where they will be exposed to the church and potentially join. This seems like a potential side benefit that would appeal to leadership on a more emotional level.

    There’s also a “picket fence” mentality that might be at play. When your front yard looks good, you look good.

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  29. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    #28: hawkgrrrl

    I agree with this absolutely. I just run it to its natural conclusion. If this progressed for another 2000 years, I bet SLC would look a lot like the Vatican, as I’m sure Popes, etc have used the same arguments over the centuries.

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  30. Ryan on April 6, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    Hawkgrrrl and Mike:

    Burton’s own words from a few years ago:

    “…the Church should seek to do a better job parlaying Temple Square visitors into downtown cash. … Obviously one of our strengths is to get people downtown, and we ought to leverage that strength … We ought to encourage them to come down an hour early and have dinner.” ”

    In the Book of Mammon, Daymon Smith points out the following (using that quote from Burton):

    “The same developer that so successfully brought to Utahns their Gateway to luxury commodities with much‐adjectivized names, sporting famous international brands, would also head up this exciting development: Brother Kem Lardner. (His name actually is Kem). Then head of The Boyer Company, and now head of Gardner Properties, Lardner had “developed” thousands of acres in Utah into commercial enterprises, land just sitting around and waiting to be put to work and churn out Capital. Not yet honored with the office of Presiding Bishop that usually attends such energetic capitalization of God’s creation, Lardner nonetheless sank his great girth in the seat of the executive committee of the Corporation’s for‐profit Bonneville International Corporation (BIC).

    Owner of many radio and television properties throughout the U.S., BIC sometimes competes with AVD for production work.
    The new 22‐acre development Burton was announcing would be called City Creek Center, in honor of the now tiny strand of “water‐like liquid” that long ago as actual water rushed by Brigham Young’s Beehive House and provided him with sweet cold water to wash down his favorite meal: boiled potatoes, topped only by salt, like the Palace made for the Jazz. Honestly, you can’t make this up.

    The City Creek would survive eponymously, forever, as an even more upper‐scale “mixed use” facility than even The Gateway offered its satisfied patrons. Let’s all build to suit the richest among us, to paraphrase Jesus in the Sermon on the Flout. Everyone was happy, grinning, counting the gold in their pockets and rubbing it across their delightsome, shining faces. According to a Nordstrom agent, “Taubman pulled together a project that we were overwhelmed with.” Lardner and other developers and interested parties pulled together a coalition branded “Downtown Rising,” a powerful branding and messaging campaign that no doubt cost millions to create. It was said, often and loudly, though without evidence, to be the largest city redevelopment project in the history of the U.S. “It” thrust a record $10 billion behind the machines that would destroy and rebuild a ten‐block perimeter around Temple Square.

    In an earlier article in the Deseret News, published before the initial purchases, Burton claimed, entirely sincerely, “the Church should seek to do a better job parlaying Temple Square visitors into downtown cash.” With a billion, or ten billion dollar investment, that conversion of visitor to capital was sure to come about more efficiently. Burton continued, “Obviously one of our strengths is to get people downtown, and we ought to leverage that strength…We ought to encourage them to come down an hour early and have dinner.” The report suggested that Burton “seemed keen on virtual reality,” and he felt that “Simulation and things like that are all part of what we’re anxious to look at.” As part of our striving for simulation, the new mega‐mall would be enclosed. But Burton pointed out, “We can do a lot of things architecturally to give you a feeling of openness so you can see the blue sky and the snow falling in the wintertime.”

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  31. Jacob S on April 6, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    Mike S, 25

    I agree as far as that goes, but I remember the focus of the talk being about what we as individual members should be doing to help the poor, which is a focus that should make a lot of our rich members a little uncomfortable.

    But, yes, think what the church could have done in Africa, Central America, or even right here in the U.S. of A. if it had put $3 billion dollars into helping the poor.

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  32. Rigel Hawthorne on April 6, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    I really love Elder Cook’s enthusiastic, “RLDS women are incredible!” Of course, he used the older name of the RLDS church rather than the contemporary “CoC” initials, but it was still an awesome gesture to give the women of the CoC a shout out. ;) You know what I mean?

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