In the week since posting just a couple of things about the LDS Church's General Conference, I've become aware of church president Russell Nelson's closing talk, and like those other things, it pissed me off, and I didn't have much else in mind to write about this week. I'm not criticizing his remarks just for the sake of being negative or disrepecting my friends and family members who believe he's a prophet, but because I sincerely believe that these remarks and others like them are toxic and manipulative, and that's a lot easier to recognize from the outside and I wish I had been able to recognize it a lot sooner. So without further ado:
"Here is the great news of God’s plan: the very things that will make your mortal life the best it can be are exactly the same things that will make your life throughout all eternity the best it can be!...
"The Lord has clearly taught that only men and women who are sealed as husband and wife in the temple, and who keep their covenants, will be together throughout the eternities."
These quotes are a few paragraphs apart, but I juxtaposed them to highlight the absurdity of the first one. According to the church's teachings, in order to qualify for the eternities, gay people need to either marry someone of the opposite sex whom they aren't attracted to or remain alone and celibate until they die, at which time God will presumably fix them and let them marry someone of the opposite sex. Both of these options demonstrably make most gay people miserable, even suicidal. They do not make mortal life the best it can be. But I don't think Nelson is being disingenuous here, just thoughtless.
"Thus, if we unwisely choose to live telestial laws now, we are choosing to be resurrected with a telestial body. We are choosing not to live with our families forever."
The mention of telestial bodies reminded those who are familiar with obscure historical Mormon weirdness of Joseph Fielding Smith's assertion in the January 1962 Improvement Era that men and women who go to the telestial kingdom will probably lose their genitals to prevent them from having sex in defiance of God's eternal marriage requirement. "Is not the sectarian world justified in their doctrine generally proclaimed, that after the resurrection there will be neither male nor female sex? It is a logical conclusion for them to reach and apparently is in full harmony with what the Lord has revealed regarding the kingdoms into which evidently the vast majority of mankind is likely to go." Because of this hypothesis, the phrase "TK Smoothie" has entered the ex-Mormon lexicon.
"So, my dear brothers and sisters, how and where and with whom do you want to live forever? You get to choose."
I certainly don't want to live with the LDS version of God for any length of time.
"As you think celestial, you will find yourself avoiding anything that robs you of your agency. Any addiction - be it gaming, gambling, debt, drugs, alcohol, anger, pornography, sex, or even food - offends God. Why? Because your obsession becomes your god. You look to it rather than to Him for solace."
I wonder how many eating disorders this quote exacerbated. I wonder how many addicts now hate themselves even more. I wonder why God is offended by so many things. Maybe he should have listened to David A. Bednar, who taught, "To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else."
"When someone you love attacks truth, think celestial, and don’t question your testimony. The Apostle Paul prophesied that 'in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.'
"There is no end to the adversary’s deceptions. Please be prepared. Never take counsel from those who do not believe. Seek guidance from voices you can trust - from prophets, seers, and revelators and from the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, who 'will show unto you all things what ye should do.' Please do the spiritual work to increase your capacity to receive personal revelation."
So this is the part that I really and truly hate. For the sake of civility and precision, I've tried to refrain from calling the LDS Church a "cult," but quotes like this make it really hard. Anyone not already indoctrinated into the church would see it as a massive red flag. If you went to buy some kind of expensive product, and the company told you to disregard all the negative reviews and lawsuits because those people are deceived by Satan, you would run the other way. If you knew that the directors of the company had made several grievious errors of judgment that called their competence into question and been caught in multiple lies and scandals, and instead of apologizing or making restitution of any kind they just acted like that didn't happen and told you to trust them anyway, you would run even faster. Russell Nelson, with the rest of the First Presidency, knew about and approved the church's dishonest and illegal behavior that got it in trouble with the Securities Exchange Commission earlier this year. He's also misrepresented or stretched the truth a few times in his public utterances.
Reducing arguments against the LDS Church's truth claims to "the adversary's deceptions" is especially ludicrous to me because the most damning ones are literally just quotes from its own "prophets, seers, and revelators" that we're supposed to trust. Is the adversary the one who inspires them to say those things then? Is the adversary the one who inspired Brigham Young to say on multiple occasions that Black people were cursed by God and unfit to hold political or eclessiastical power, that mixed race couples and their children should be put to death, that Adam was God, and that polygamy was the true order of marriage and a requirement for the celestial kingdom? If God's prophet can't tell the difference between God's voice and Satan's, he's not very trustworthy, even if he's honest. And I want to give Russell Nelson and the other LDS Church leaders the benefit of the doubt that they really believe in it, but now it sure seems like he's aware that it can't hold up under scrutiny. If it could, it would welcome criticism from all sides. This quote is a far cry from J. Reuben Clark saying, "If we have truth truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not truth, it ought to be harmed." (Though that quote was actually a bluff, because before he made it, Clark had abandoned his intellectual pursuits after they almost turned him into an atheist.)
As far as the Holy Ghost, the jury's still out on that as far as I'm concerned. I want to believe that God will direct my life. There have been times when I believed that God directed my life. I now know, however, that people in every religion, including suicide cults, receive "spiritual witnesses" of the correctness of their religion that, to an outside observer, look essentially the same. And I've learned for myself that feelings are not a reliable guide to truth. Russell Nelson isn't a prophet just because some people get powerful emotions when he speaks. He would be a prophet if he ever did anything prophetic.
"As you think celestial, your faith will increase. When I was a young intern, my income was $15 a month. One night, my wife Dantzel asked if I was paying tithing on that meager stipend. I was not. I quickly repented and began paying the additional $1.50 in monthly tithing.
"Was the Church any different because we increased our tithing? Of course not. However, becoming a full-tithe payer changed me. That is when I learned that paying tithing is all about faith, not money. As I became a full-tithe payer, the windows of heaven began to open for me. I attribute several subsequent professional opportunities to our faithful payment of tithes."
I was taught that the church needed money from American tithepayers to finances its operations in the developing world. That was woefully misinformed at best. I can't imagine why God would prefer, as a matter of principle, that people give a set percentage of their income to one specific organization that doesn't need it and won't use it ethically as opposed to, you know, actually doing good things with their money. And to paraphrase what I said last week, there's a vast disparity in the amount of faith being demanded here. It takes little faith for a millionaire to pay ten percent of their income. In order to really be changed, they should pay at least ninety percent. (I have nothing against millionaires, really. I hope most or all billionaires rot in hell, though.) The best part is this footnote to the quote that most members will never read: "This is not to imply a cause-and-effect relationship. Some who never pay tithing attain professional opportunities, while some who pay tithing do not. The promise is that the windows of heaven will be opened to the tithe payer. The nature of the blessings will vary." So again, the promise is so vague as to be unfalsifiable, and if you can't see the blessings, that's your fault. Just keep giving the church your money, no matter what.
Of course Nelson ended his talk by announcing twenty more temples that the church won't be able to fill or staff. At this point I really think he's just showing off and solidifying his legacy over Gordon Hinckley's like he did by turning "Mormon" from a badge of honor into a slur. On the other hand, I am glad that members in developing countries who already sacrifice ten percent of their income to be able to attend the temple won't have to make as many additional sacrifices in travel. So I'll end on that positive note. And you can forget everything else I said because it was just the adversary's deceptions.
Six months ago, I didn't watch the LDS Church's semi-annual General Conference for the first time in my life, and I experienced some anxiety over the disruption of routine and loss of comfort. This time I just enjoyed doing other things with those ten hours and almost forgot it was going on. Progress! A friend who had to watch bits and pieces because she hasn't yet told her parents she's an atheist filled me in on what I missed. Pay your tithing, wear your temple garments, use the full name of the church, stay on the covenant path. You know, fresh new revelation to address the real issues that people are facing.
The tithing part really pisses me off. My friend sent me this.
I testify that this promise, at least the way the LDS Church takes it out of context, is bogus. I received no blessings for paying tithing and I lost no blessings when I stopped. Notice, however, the caveats that Andersen adds to make it unfalsifiable and set up the church's ever-popular blame reversal game: spiritual, subtle, easy to overlook, Lord's timing. In other words, when I paid tithing and nothing happened, the problem was with me for either failing to notice or being impatient. I was supposed to just keep giving my money to the church indefinitely regardless of whether God ever got around to keeping his end of the bargain. That kind of defeats the purpose of the promise in the first place. "[P]rove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." What part of that sounds subtle or easy to overlook? How am I supposed to "prove" God if he's too sneaky for me to notice?
But as I said, the LDS Church takes this verse out of context anyway. The preceding chapter begins thus: "And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you." Lacking any indications to the contrary, it would seem that the rest of the book of Malachi is addressed to these priests, and that the verses about tithing are actually a rebuke of religious leaders who hoard wealth. Hmmm. The LDS Church has hundreds of billions of dollars, and was fined by the Securities Exchange Commission earlier this year for breaking the law to hide that obscene wealth so its members would keep paying tithing, and of course it hasn't apologized or so much as acknowledged that incident in General Conference. Andersen has a lot of gall to exhort anyone to "be honest in their tithes" when he knows damn well that church leaders up to and including the First Presidency have not. He has a lot of gall to pretend the church still needs any donations when it could fund its operations indefinitely off the interest generated by its obscene wealth. And if tithing was really about personal consecration and putting the Lord first and whatever, it wouldn't be a flat rate for all members. Ten percent of my income was a sacrifice. Ten percent of Jon Huntsman's income is not.
This is the other thing I read about that pissed me off. Ex-Mormons on Twitter are not happy about it.
I really hope my parents are too smart to buy into this manipulative, emotionally abusive garbage. I left the LDS Church because it's not true and it's not good. I never questioned their faithfulness or their commitment to the principles that it teaches but doesn't live up to. For example, they taught me to be honest. The LDS Church is not honest. I have a problem with that. The problem is not with me or my parents. I don't see eye to eye with them on a lot of things, but they don't deserve to be guilt-tripped over their son making a choice that he has no reason to be sorry for. I won't likely have "a whole chain of descendants," but I kind of want to just so I can not raise them in the LDS Church, especially if they're female and/or LGBTQ. The "covenant path" is hardly worth staying on when the covenants and the supposed authority behind them are based on lies. I'm not interested in perpetuating "a legacy of faith" in a system based on lies. And I'm not interested in living with the monstrous LDS God for five minutes, let alone eternity. I guess my dad's going to be really lonely in the Celestial Kingdom. His dad and his five siblings and another of his kids were already "lost" long before I was. He did everything right to have an eternal family, but as usual, the LDS Church can't and won't keep its end of the bargain.
This weekend, for the first time in my life, I did not watch the LDS General Conference. Last time I found excuses to watch it because I desperately wanted to maintain some kind of connection to the LDS Church so I didn't feel that my heritage and my years of devotion to it were a waste, but now I'm ready to move on. Kind of. I followed the liberal and ex-member social media commentary on the Saturday sessions before losing interest on the Sunday sessions. Granted, they bring a certain bias, but it doesn't seem like I missed much. Some of the messages are downright toxic - it causes me some anxiety that my nieces will be taught them - and I think I can find the good ones elsewhere. And of course Russell Nelson announced fifteen completely unnecessary temples for random locations that lack the membership to support them, and of course nearly every other speaker worshiped him. Pass. Still, periodically I can't help worrying just a little bit that I may have missed out on a spiritual feast, like when I text a member friend to talk about it and she keeps saying she fell asleep or wasn't really paying attention, or when I see how absolutely riveted the live audience was by their prophets, seers and revelators.
I did, however, go to a fireside last Sunday in the hope that someone I needed to talk to would be there, which they weren't. I had dinner with friends and tagged along with them at the last minute after they mentioned it. First surprise: the speaker was Jacob Hess. I am not a big fan of Jacob Hess. He's a proponent of mixed-orientation marriages for gay LDS Church members as an alternative to lifelong celibacy, and though he means well, that's just awful for everyone involved. His guest appearance at my institute class last year was the final nail in the coffin of my efforts to accept the LDS Church's position on LGBTQ stuff. He handed out a handout of quotes from mostly non-LDS thinkers to support the church's position - because almost all the men articulating this position have to support it is "God said so" - and it just made me decide that the position was unsupportable. A Catholic quote about how sexual orientation and gender identity aren't essential to our eternal identities made little sense in an LDS context where eternal marriage, procreation, and gender roles are supposedly at the core of God's eternal plan for all of us, and a Buddhist quote along similar lines was unhelpful because Buddhism teaches that we don't even have eternal identities because consciousness is an illusion.
Second surprise: the topic was "Mindfulness and Sexuality." I thought of leaving, but I could use a lot more mindfulness so I gave it a chance. And that aspect of the talk was really good and I had no complaints. Even the sexuality aspect wasn't so bad because he didn't talk much about sex per se. He talked about how romance in the last few generations has been blown out of proportion to be regarded as the most important thing ever that will complete us and fix all our problems and make us happy all the time. He gave a similar spiel in my institute class. At that time, he was clearly trying to downplay the significance of gay people's desire for fulfilling romantic relationships. But now he was applying it more evenly. On the one hand, I think this is true and useful counsel in general - albeit hypocritical coming from a speaker for a church that teaches marriage is the most important thing in this world and the next - but on the other hand, I don't know that it applies to me. I'm asexual and very ambivalent about marriage. If I'm going to make the seemingly astronomical sacrifices that it would require of me, then yes, I expect the other person in the equation to knock my socks off. I don't expect perfection by any means, but nor am I interested in finding just anyone to marry for the sake of being married. I realize I'm not such a catch myself, but if I'm not wanted by anybody I want - as has consistently been the case thus far - I'd rather stay alone than loosen my criteria.
Of course he also talked about the LGBTQ stuff and I still disagreed with him. He shared some quotes from Ty Mansfield and a few other gay and lesbian people who haven't left the LDS Church yet - the usual tactic to reassure straight members that everything is fine and they don't need to experience cognitive dissonances over this issue. For every person he quoted, I could think of a dozen others I'd read about or known personally who left the church because it made them miserable or worse. And that's why I believe the church is wrong. You simply cannot convince me that this pain is the will of a loving God. He also alluded to the recent controversy over Jeffrey Holland being Southern Utah University's commencement speaker despite his call for BYU faculty to defend the church's anti-LGBTQ doctrines with metaphorical "musket fire," and the Deseret News op-ed he co-wrote about why Holland shouldn't be canceled. He put a picture of the First Presidency on the screen and said, "You have to try really hard to make them the bad guys." Cue laughter. Yes, hilarious. Look, I'm not saying they're supervillains or anything, but this was a weird thing to say a month after the Securities Exchange Commission fined the LDS Church $5 million for several years of being dishonest and breaking the law with the First Presidency's approval. And Nelson and Oaks have lied publicly on other occasions. So, you know, they're demonstrably not the paragons of virtue that Jacob Hess meant to imply.
During the Q&A session, someone asked about how to befriend and love gay people without condoning choices that go against our beliefs. Such questions always kind of annoy me because I'm not in the business of condoning anyone's relationships, gay or straight. People are not lining up to ask for my approval of their choices of romantic partners. I've only gotten into it on those rare occasions when I could see that a friend was dating an abuser. Sometimes I check back on one friend to make sure she hasn't gotten back with him again. Well, I liked Jacob Hess's response, specifically how he broadened it. He said we need to rediscover the concept that being friends with people and loving people doesn't mean agreeing with them on everything. He said he's friends with gay people, atheists, Marxists, and evangelicals who are afraid for his soul, and he has lunch with them and stuff and they still disagree but it's fine. He said we should talk to people and listen to their perspectives and why they see the world how they do without trying to change their minds.
Ah, I wish I could exemplify that noble principle. I used to be very conservative. I know what it's like to be very conservative. I want to be politically nuanced. I don't want to be part of the problem of political polarization and extremism in the US. I don't want to believe that most conservatives are truly awful people - and yet how can I not, when I can see how they behave and what they're doing to this country with my own eyes? It seems that for every person driven by legitimate concerns about liberty and limited government, a dozen are driven by selfishness, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and fear. Take their current mindless panic about transgender children and drag queens, for example, which besides being painfully stupid to watch is actively making a lot of people's lives worse. (The LDS Church's complete silence on this issue is just further proof to me that it isn't led by God.) The Republican Party was founded on noble principles. Now it's just a cancer hell-bent on dragging this country back to the 1950s.
Anyway, I survived the fireside. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been ten hours long like General Conference.
Edited to add:
I left the church but, as prophesied, I can't leave it alone. I watched General Conference for a few reasons - because I was curious how differently it would come across with my current perspective, because it's given me comfort and inspiration in the past and I was open-minded enough to see if it would still do so, because I have two nieces (so far) who will be raised in the church and I maintain an interest in the church's development for their sake if nothing else, because it gave some structure and purpose to my lonely weekend, and because I've written about every General Conference since I started blogging weekly on this platform and I might break that tradition but there's no need to do so yet. Here are my jaded, cynical, faithless observations and opinions.
Dallin H. Oaks talked about the monetary value of the church's humanitarian aid, which is being disclosed in unprecedented detail in obvious response to criticism about how little per capita the church gives in humanitarian aid. He gave a total of almost a billion dollars annually, which is almost one percent of the value of the Ensign Peak "rainy day" fund at the time whistleblowers leaked it in 2019. I'm not knowledgeable enough to criticize the church's financial priorities much, and unlike a lot of people I recognize that charitable donations are not the primary reason why religions exist, but I just wish members would recognize that context before jumping to the conclusion that almost a billion dollars is a lot of money. He talked about partnering with good people of other faiths, and the fact that God works through them because one church can't do everything alone. I liked that. I also liked that he didn't feel the need to remind everyone that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The For the Strengh of Youth pamphlet, which I critiqued slightly a few months ago, got an overhaul beyond what I ever would have anticipated. Dieter F. Uchtdorf discussed the new edition and totally threw all the previous editions under the bus. Since it first came out in 1965, it's been a list of do this, don't do that. Some of the this's and that's have changed in fifty-seven years but the overall approach has not. Now that's all been scrapped in favor of generic principles to guide the youth in making their own choices. For example, the sexist list of "immodest" clothes that girls shouldn't wear and the stupid injunction against multiple ear piercings have been replaced with, "Heavenly Father wants us to see each other for who we really are: not just physical bodies but His beloved children with a divine destiny. Avoid styles that emphasize or draw inappropriate attention to your physical body instead of who you are as a child of God with an eternal future" and "The Lord’s standard is for you to honor the sacredness of your body, even when that means being different from the world. Let this truth and the Spirit be your guide as you make decisions - especially decisions that have lasting effects on your body. Be wise and faithful, and seek counsel from your parents and leaders." Based on my anecdotal observations, I think this is the church's way of capitulating to the reality that its young female members are wearing whatever they want and getting as many piercings as they want anyway.
As I anticipated, the bit about homosexuality has been revised: "I am attracted to people of my same sex. How do these standards apply to me? Feeling same-sex attraction is not a sin. If you have these feelings and do not pursue or act on them, you are living Heavenly Father’s sacred law of chastity. You are a beloved child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Remember that the Savior understands everything you experience. Through your covenant connection with Him, you will find strength to obey God’s commandments and receive the blessings He promises. Trust Him and His gospel." This is a nicer way of saying that God expects you to be alone until you die or marry someone you aren't attracted to and will probably divorce, and that you're better off dead because God will make you straight in the next life. (Never mind that no human has ever said "I am attracted to people of my same sex.") I know or know of scores, maybe hundreds of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who were miserable in the church and became happy after they left. That's why I stopped believing what the church teaches about them. Why didn't they "find strength to obey God's commandments and receive the blessings He promises?" Am I supposed to believe that every single one of them just didn't have enough faith? Even the ones who still attend church with their same-sex partners?
The pamphlet also includes this gem: "Is it wrong to have questions about the Church? How can I find answers? Having questions is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. In fact, asking questions can help build faith. The Restoration of the gospel started when 14-year-old Joseph Smith asked questions with faith. Seek answers in the scriptures, in the words of God’s prophets, from your leaders and faithful parents, and from God Himself. If answers don’t come right away, trust that you will learn line upon line. Keep living by what you already know, and keep seeking for truth." I never heard this kind of stuff as a youth, but it's all over the freaking place now that the church is facing an unprecedented retention crisis (especially among the youth). I like that questions are framed as a positive thing, but also the constant emphasis on "questions" per se has really started to irk me. I didn't leave the church because of my questions, I left because of the answers. A big question I had was "Why did the church tell women not to have careers and then quietly stop telling women not to have careers?" And the answer was, "Because its past leaders were sexist and attributed their sexism to God, and its current leaders can't admit that its past leaders were ever wrong about anything because that would call their own reliability into question." The church promotes a circular assumption that the answers to the questions will always vindicate it and put it in a positive or at least tolerable light, and that simply wasn't the case for me.
Tracy Browning, the first black woman in a general presidency, became the first black woman to speak in General Conference. For those who say it doesn't matter, yes it does, for reasons I know you know, so shut up. She talked with a normal voice instead of a patronizing General Conference voice. I liked that. She hasn't been assimilated yet.
Russell M. Nelson spent much of his first talk condemning abuse. While he didn't directly allude to the recent Associated Press articles and child rape scandal that obviously motivated his remarks, it was nice to see the prophet kind of respond in some capacity instead of continuing to hide behind anonymous PR employees. It really annoyed me that the First Presidency delegated this issue to them while taking the time to write a letter about changing the name of tithing settlement to tithing declaration. He immediately went on to talk about truth and how we need to be careful about who we trust, which seemed to be a way of calling into question the integrity of Pulitzer-winning journalist Michael Rezendes in a way that won't get him sued for slander.
Kristin M. Yee's talk resonated with me the most, as she spoke about the difficulty of forgiving people who never apologize or accept responsibility for wronging you, a category that might, hypothetically, include ex-neighbors, police officers, so-called healthcare workers, deadbeat parasites, and/or elementary school administrators, hypothetically. In the absence of justice, my resentment feels like the closest thing I have. Giving it up feels like pretending that what happened was okay. I know I need to reorient my thinking for my own mental health. It kind of helps and kind of just pisses me off when I remember that many, many people have been abused and discriminated against far worse than me and never received any justice. This planet needs to burn.
Ulisses Soares spoke about the equality of men and women that doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church, throwing in the obligatory patriarchal language to obfuscate the church's drastic evolution on this topic in the last fifty years. In all seriousness, I think he's a great guy who means what he says, I'm just annoyed at how the church teaches different things and then pretends it's always taught the same things. D. Todd Christofferson spoke about belonging and inclusion and diversity, which again doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church but I guess that's why he needed to speak about it. The church would have less work to do in this regard if it had started rooting out racism in 1830 instead of 2020.
Gérald Caussé spoke about our need to use resources wisely and be good stewards of the Earth. Though not unprecedented, this kind of environmental message is almost unheard of within the church. It hasn't been a priority at all and it directly contradicts the political views of a majority of its American members. He said that left His creation incomplete and gave us the opportunity to contribute with art and music and I don't remember but I'm going to assume he said writing too. This came dangerously close to contradicting the political views of a majority of the church's American members, namely that artists and musicians and writers should have majored in something useful and don't deserve to afford to be alive. But this concept of being co-creators with God is a really great one. It first occurred to me in 2013 when I got chills from a slideshow of stars and nebulae set to the David Arkenstone track "Stepping Stars." God had left space silent and David Arkenstone had filled the silence with the sort of thing that we all somehow know space should sound like. That particular video is gone but this one is close enough. (EDIT: It's private now. I guess the uploader hates my blog.)
Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about why Latter-day Saints don't (usually) use the cross as a symbol. He made the interesting claim that because the earliest Christians didn't use the cross as a symbol, this is an evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the original Christian church. Actually, Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century often wore or decorated with crosses. They became less popular in the twentieth century and were made officially taboo by David O. McKay in the late 1950s, in part because he felt they were "purely Catholic." Holland expressed empathy for several of the various struggles that people face, including the struggles of LGBTQ people that are caused by the church.
David A. Bednar gave a talk that came across to me as a thinly-veiled passive-aggressive condemnation of the increasing number of members who don't wear their temple garments every day, mostly because he shared a parable about a guy who wasn't wearing garments and he said the word "garments" over and over. I thought the church was lightening up about that sort of thing.
Russell M. Nelson spoke again. I don't buy the narrative that the world is the worst it's ever been. I recently read a history of the 1970s, and talk about a decade that I'm grateful I didn't live through. I don't buy the teaching that the 0.2% of people in the world with access to temple ordinances in mortality have a degree of access to God's power that no one else does. That would make God a respecter of persons. And then I didn't pay much attention to the last session so I'll skip ahead to his final talk where of course he announced 18 new temples. I used to get so excited about new temple announcements because they meant that the church was growing and expanding throughout the world. Nowadays most of them mean nothing of the sort. Nelson keeps announcing them for areas where active membership isn't even large enough to staff them, let alone use them in appreciable numbers. The church will be scrambling to find a lot of senior missionary couples in the near future. At this point it feels like he's just showing off. He didn't announce 18 new temples because the church needs 18 new temples, he announced 18 new temples so the church can boast that it now has 300 temples operating or in planning stages, even though its annual membership growth has fallen from 2.19% to 0.85% in the last decade. But at least none of them were in Utah.
General observations: A higher percentage than usual of women (which isn't saying much) spoke and prayed, obviously in reaction to criticisms about the low percentage of women who speak and pray in General Conference. Bonnie H. Cordon was announced with her proper title of "President," not "Sister," which is such a small thing that shouldn't have taken until 2022 to implement but here it is and it's good. Most speakers continued the disturbing trend of quoting and fawning over our beloved prophet President Russell M. Nelson to a degree that I never observed with his two most recent predecessors. Neil L. Andersen was the most egregious. This prophet worship, coupled with the reality of how many things past prophets have gotten wrong that we're supposed to just not care about, was a big part of why I left.
Things that Stood Out to Me in the April 2022 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The conference opened with a big emphasis on full-time missionary service, obviously in response to the big drop in missionary numbers that hasn't yet rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. It reminded me that my last love served a mission once. So that was a depressing note to start on.
Reyna I. Aburto asserted on Saturday morning, "The Church is more than the buildings and the ecclesiastical structure; the Church is us, the members. We are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with Christ at the head and the prophet as His mouthpiece." I loved to hear her say that because for a few years I've been responding to the false and annoying cliche "The Church is perfect, but the people aren't" with "The Church is the people." This cliche is as nonsensical as "The body is perfect, but the cells aren't." The last time I brought this up, the other person insisted that the Church is Christ. And I said no it isn't, because without the people, it would be nothing more than an idea in Christ's head, and also, the Bible describes it as the bride of Christ, and I'm not sure what kind of weird modalist reading could twist that into saying they're the same entity. Anyway, most members are more likely to listen to Sister Aburto than to me.
Patrick Kearon, I mean Jeffrey R. Holland was on fire during the Saturday afternoon session with his candid recognition and denunciation of abuse. "The abuse was not, is not, and never will be your fault, no matter what the abuser or anyone else may have said to the contrary. When you have been a victim of cruelty, incest, or any other perversion, you are not the one who needs to repent; you are not responsible. You are not less worthy or less valuable or less loved as a human being, or as a daughter or son of God, because of what someone else has done to you." I think Elder Kearon should be an apostle.
Dale G. Renlund gave the concluding remarks in the women's session on Saturday evening. He talked about the Young Women theme. Just a couple weeks ago, a former church member in my poetry class shared a poem about the sexism that was drilled into her in the Young Women program, and it excerpted the pre-2019 version of the theme. A current member recited the theme from memory and a never-member beatboxed along with it, which didn't really work but was funny. The current member mentioned the 2019 revision from "Heavenly Father" to "heavenly parents," and acknowledged, "It's not much, but... it's not much." I respectfully disagree; I think any phrasing in a thing that gets repeated every week and memorized for life is significant. Elder Renlund also fixated on that phrasing and talked about Heavenly Mother. After rumors and reports about him and other leaders, I had some idea what he would say. "Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject. I wish I knew more. You too may still have questions and want to find more answers. Seeking greater understanding is an important part of our spiritual development, but please be cautious. Reason cannot replace revelation."
A lot of people are very upset about that. Personally, I think he did the best he could and I choose to focus on the postiive that he discussed Heavenly Mother at all. I don't think any reasonable person will be able to interpret him as saying that we shouldn't talk about Her or that she's "too sacred" and needs to be "protected" by Heavenly Father. (By the way, I've seen Elder Renlund and his wife relentlessly tease each other in a smaller and less formal setting, so I'm pretty sure he wouldn't relate to that ridiculous and sexist hypothesis at all.) Granted, many members of the church are not reasonable people. But I don't think this talk would have the same chilling effect on discussion as President Hinckley's similar talk in 1991 even if that were Elder Renlund's intention, which I'm sure it is not. The culture is very different. The essay is on the website. And right after the caution that "Demanding revelation from God is both arrogant and unproductive" came an implied openness to receive it anyway: "Instead, we wait on the Lord and His timetable to reveal His truths through the means that He has established."
On Sunday morning, Russell M. Nelson referred to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and actually mentioned the two countries involved by name this time. He said, "None of us can control nations or the actions of others or even members of our own families. But we can control ourselves. My call today, dear brothers and sisters, is to end conflicts that are raging in your heart, your home, and your life. Bury any and all inclinations to hurt others - whether those inclinations be a temper, a sharp tongue, or a resentment for someone who has hurt you. The Savior commanded us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who despitefully use us." And that phrasing really stood out to me because everyone over the age of two without a severe mental disability has wanted to hurt someone else at some point, but we're not supposed to admit it. Only dangerous and scary people admit it.
Dallin H. Oaks' Sunday afternoon talk was so repetitive of his previous talking points that I really and truly thought I was watching an old conference by mistake, and I would have said so, but I was watching at someone's house and switching between a laptop and the TV as the latter kept failing to work, and I realized it was unlikely that she had brought up the wrong conference on both devices. I've been uncomfortable with Oaks' anti-LGBTQ+ talks for years but now my conscience leads me to straight-up disagree on at least one major point. Even granting "that exaltation can be attained only through faithfulness to the covenants of an eternal marriage between a man and a woman," I do not see how legalized or socially accepted same-sex marriage "oppose[s] progress toward exaltation." Most people aren't choosing same-sex marriage over opposite-sex marriage, they're choosing it over being alone until they die, which wouldn't get them any closer to exaltation either but would probably make them a lot less happy in this life. If same-sex marriage can't be sealed in the temple, then it ends at death and is moot in the long term. I see no reason why the Church needs to keep worrying about it at all. I know that if it does, it's going to continue pushing out its younger members and shrivel up to a shadow of its former self as the older ones die off.
New children of record during 2021: 89,069
Converts baptized during 2021: 168,283
Wards and branches: 31,315
Full-time teaching missionaries: 54,539
Church-service missionaries: 36,639
Temples in operation: 170
Temples dedicated during 2021: 2
Temples rededicated during 2021: 1
Growth has started to rebound from the catastrophe of 2020, but not all the way, and it was in steady decline for thirty years before that anyway.
Following President Nelson's trend, most of these temples are clearly not warranted by membership numbers alone (which have actually gone down in the UK and California in recent years) but will be more convenient for nearby members to attend. Breaking from the trend, one wasn't announced for Utah. Oh no, whatever shall we do? How will we get by with only 28 temples?
Good for Ohio though. Some of my favorite people in the world live in Ohio.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.