Over a year ago I wrote a post about why diversity takes a long time to "trickle up" through top leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and why it isn't the systemic problem some people think it is, so I'm not going to rehash that here, but if you bother to read it you'll see that subsequent events have further vindicated everything I said. Of course, though it "doesn't matter", I remain a huge fan of diversity and I'm very pleased that none of the ten General Authorities called this past Saturday were born in Utah. They were born in Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, California, Chile, New York, California, Washington, Hong Kong, and Argentina, respectively. And let's be honest, we all know that while ostensibly the same country, for most intents and purposes Washington, California and New York are separate planets from Utah. This diversity will retroactively be amplified even further when Trump sells California back to Mexico.
Peter Johnson got some attention for being the first African-American General Authority - not the first black one, which happened in 1990, but the first black one from the United States. And this has some significance because the Church has struggled a lot more in making headway among black people in the United States than in many African countries. Black people in the United States have a history of systematic discrimination and persecution based on skin color that most black people in Africa, excluding South Africa, don't, so they understandably tend to have a harder time forgiving the Church's own historical hiccups in that area. Also, they tend to be less than impressed with our bland music (but then, so are plenty of white people). I know and/or have listened to several African-Americans online and in person who are members of the Church who still have a problem with both of these issues. Of course these are just general trends that explain the disparate growth trends we see, and not meant to be taken as stereotypes that apply to everyone everywhere.
Peter Johnson, in any case, is even more interesting than that. He is also the first former Muslim General Authority (having converted to Islam before he converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and more than likely the first former rapper General Authority (having been part of a rap group during his preteen years that performed at community events). If he raps his first General Conference talk and quotes the Quran, I will officially bestow upon him the coveted title of Coolest Person on Planet Earth. So yesterday was a good day. It also happened to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 189th birthday and my soon-to-be-missionary sister's nineteenth birthday but, contrary to what many Latter-day Saints believe based on a misreading of D&C 20:1, probably not Jesus Christ Himself's birthday.
Today, I had the privilege of attending the final session with some guy I just met who had a car. He wondered why we had to leave so early, and I said traffic would probably be pretty bad as we got close, and he expressed his surprise that traffic was pretty bad as we got close. Honestly, General Conference must be the Salt Lake Police Department's least favorite four days of the year. But we got there and then we just had to drive around for another ten minutes looking for a place to park, and in the process got to stop at six traffic lights. As I looked up the hill to the Capitol Building I was reminded of my participation in a protest march a couple years ago, and I made the mistake of mentioning that, and the guy asked what for and I had to tell him and I'm very sorry for bringing up politics during a church event. But you can read my account of that protest here on your own time.
We did eventually find a place that we hopefully wouldn't get towed from, and got out and walked, and I saw a mural that was new since my last visit and it was so compelling that I had to stop and take a picture. My name for it, which I'm sure is superior to whatever name the artist has for it, is "The Owl Who Ate a Rainbow and Had Explosive Crystalline Diarrhea". It should be part of a Skittles ad campaign if it isn't already.
As we waited at a crosswalk, two young ladies dressed for Conference walked up behind us and assaulted even my virtually non-functional nostrils with some kind of lotion and/or perfume stuff. After a few moments of hesitation, I rationalized that I would not likely ever see them again and could safely seize this opportunity to practice being smoother than the cream cheese on your bagel.
Me: One of you smells really nice.
Them: *giggle* Thanks. *giggle*
Me: Maybe both of you, I don't know.
So the guy I just met and I walked a couple more blocks, lost the young ladies and reached the Conference Center. Last year, Blaire Ostler and Peter Moosman stood outside by the Conference Center with signs that read "Hug a Bisexual Mormon" and "Hug a Gay Mormon", respectively. I was pleased to see that this year they a. did it again, b. followed the prophet's counsel to refer to themselves as Latter-day Saints, and c. increased their numbers by 150%. Blaire Ostler was busy talking to someone, so I hugged the two before her and the two after her and came back to her and said, "I missed you," and she might have taken that completely the wrong way but I guess she was cool with it. I hope these people will come back year after year and continue augmenting their numbers. Maybe they'll even let me join them when the Church is ready to acknowledge that asexual people exist. Their faith and fortitude is mind-blowing and augments mine. Few people or experiences of my life have touched my cold, dead heart more than the transgender woman who hugged me today and said, "Welcome to Conference."
I wanted to take a picture of them. I didn't because I was afraid it would be dehumanizing somehow, but now I think that concern was stupid and I wish I had and if I had this is where I'd put it.
So those wonderful LGBT Saints provided diversity, and I provided neurodiversity, and other people provided more obvious diversity by coming from all over the world with their different languages, skin colors, grooming and fashion. I especially love to see the Polynesian men who wear these - I know they're not dresses, but I don't know what they're called, and I don't want to be disrespectful at all, but they kind of look like dresses made of dress pants material, but anyway my point is I love that they wear these as their Sunday best instead of feeling pressured to follow American norms. The line went surprisingly fast but then our tickets didn't work and we had to go to a special door where they fixed our tickets or something. Because this problem was addressed, we were only a couple minutes late and I won't leave a terrible Yelp review for the Conference Center. We sat on the terrace in the very back with several Latino Saints who talked to each other in Spanish while I rudely eavesdropped to brush up on my rusty Spanish skills. Most of them put on headphones to listen to an overdub of the talks.
I took off my suit at one point, and then tried to put it back on at one point without getting in anybody's face, but one sleeve slipped out of my grasp and hit the man next to me. Not so it would hurt, of course, but I presume he was trying to pay attention to Elder Rasband's talk and I had just jarred him out of it, and I felt very bad and without thinking I blurted out "Sorry." In a whisper, so as not to distract everyone else too. Now I'm not sure if this particular man even knew English, because when they filed in the usher said something and this man asked another guy what the usher said and the guy repeated it in Spanish for him, so I just hope he at least knew what "Sorry" meant. With lightning-fast reflexes and without a word he held my sleeve up so I could put my arm in. "Thank you," I said, again being instinctively stupid, but I'm sure he knew what that meant because every English speaker on the planet knows what "Gracias" and "Merci" mean.
I would not have been surprised by any number of temple announcements. There could have been zero, after a whopping nineteen last year, but President Nelson doesn't strike me as the type to slow down and I was thinking anywhere between three and eighteen. We got eight, which was decent. In these announcements we see the continuation of President Nelson's priority to bring temples to Latter-day Saints in all corners of the Earth even if their numbers don't quite seem to justify it on paper. Most of these temples were anticipated by those of us who have no life and think about these things to be announced within a few years, but none of them were the highest on most of our lists. I will not be directly affected by any of these temples anytime soon, but I rejoice for those who will, which I'm sure included several in the audience. After the closing prayer, the man who'd helped me with my jacket turned around and embraced the man behind him, who said in Spanish with moist eyes, "Such emotion, brother... such emotion. Antofagasta."
Then the guy I just met took a picture of me to prove I was there and help me someday plead my case for why I should pretty please be allowed into heaven just this once please. Unlike most pictures of me, this one came out not looking like something that I want to kill with fire, so that's just one more evidence that the Church is true.
What did I actually gain from the actual messages in the actual talks, one may ask? Mostly just that I need to change the things that I already knew I needed to change and had every intention of changing someday when I get around to it, if I have to, I guess. I hope to gain even more insight by rewatching the talks at a later date (which of course I would encourage anyone else to do as well by following this link) when I'm no longer so tired that it's painful to keep my eyes open. These, however, were a few refreshing tidbits:
President Uchtdorf's reality check re: unwarranted triumphalism about the growth of the Church
Elder Andersen's acknowledgement that he doesn't understand my circumstances re: the Family Proclamation, but the Lord does
Elder Gong's disclosure of his struggle with insomnia that makes me a little less angry with God about mine
And that's all I have to say about this weekend right now but I hope we can do this again sometime.
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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.