A week ago, as some of my readers know and others don't care, was the 188th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and although my enthusiasm for writing has been drained by the crappy events of this week, I will continue my tradition of posting about it a week late. I never had any particular emotional attachment to Russell M. Nelson before, but I do now, as I find him impossible to love in his new role. In an ironic and wonderful twist, our 93-year-old prophet has already injected a burst of freshness, enthusiasm, and progress into the Church. He seems eager to change everything he can get his hands on. He has more energy than I, nearly sixty-nine years his junior and evidently forbidden by the laws of the universe from ever getting a decent sleep. Neil L. Andersen said, "We hope he will be with us for another decade or two, but for now we are trying to persuade him to stay off the ski slopes." The ski slopes part wasn't a joke. Two decades is pushing it, but one more wouldn't surprise me in the slightest, knock on wood.
I wrote a post in January about how diversity has "trickled up" through LDS leadership, because some people have a hard time understanding that, and said that it would reach the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles soon. I even felt strongly that it would happen already in this conference, with the two recent vacancies, but didn't say anything about that for fear of jinxing it. But I was right. I mean, Gerrit W. Gong doesn't really count because he's still American, and Ulisses Soares (not Suarez) doesn't really count because he's still white, but it's a start. Kidding, kidding, I love and sustain them both and am just being facetious. It seems relevant to me God doesn't usually like to follow public pressure. Prior to the last set of Apostles being called in 2015, there was a lot of speculation and agitation and chatter about how they needed to diversify and they should call a Latino and a black person and an Asian. I believe that was actually a significant factor in why it didn't happen at that time. This time, most people just figured there would be two more white guys from Utah, and surprise! Of course, I won't be surprised if in a few years the anti-Mormon revisionist historians start claiming the LDS Church did this to avoid losing its tax-exempt status, and idiots keep repeating this lie as an unquestionable fact despite it being completely unsupported. Where have we heard that before? Hmm...
The first session was all it took to once again shatter my illusions of being a good person, but in an uplifting way. Larry Echo Hawk talked about forgiveness. I'm not a forgiving person by nature, and in fairness this applies to myself as much as anyone. When I accidentally broke the shift buzzer at work, everyone acted like nothing had happened, but that frustrated me because I wanted them to lynch me so I could atone for the inconvenience I had caused them. Elder Echo Hawk forgave a drunk driver who killed his brother. I already know that if a drunk driver kills one of my sisters in the immediate future, I'll rip his lungs out. So I can stand to improve. David A. Bednar talked about meekness, and along those same lines, I'm not meek. I act meek in person sometimes because I'm introverted and sometimes because punching people in the face would bring negative consequences for me. But frequently in my internet discourse I make little or no attempt to hide my contempt for people. So I can stand to improve on that true. I've already made great strides this week and then relapsed.
Lynn G. Robbins talked about the second, third, fourth, four hundred ninetieth, etc. chances that God gives us. I know his words are true. I should stand in daily awe for the grace of God in not abandoning me when I deserve to be abandoned. I've done some things a lot more than four hundred ninety times and would be screwed if God gave up on me. He has no reason to not give up on me, no reason other than inexplicable unconditional love. I have a couple people in my life that I will never give up on either and I've been dealing with them lately and it's given me a much better understanding of this principle, though the depth of God's love remains beyond my comprehension as it always will. So yeah.
I watched the three Saturday sessions alone and then listened to the Sunday morning session in the car with my sister and a couple friends as we went to Salt Lake where we watched the final session live. Although the conference attendees were predominantly white Americans, dozens of other ethnicities and nationalities were also present, which was a breath of fresh air and a reminder of our beautiful global brotherhood. I saw some cool people. Not my picture, but I hugged both of these guys. I wasn't sure what to do. Did I need to ask permission, or was that already implied by the signs? I settled for quietly standing in front of each of them until they initiated it.
A while later I also saw Kwaku from the web series "3 Mormons" talking with one of the anti-Mormon protesters. I wanted to say hi, but he was busy and I was shy, so I didn't. I regret that now. Here are some pictures of me instead.
Temple announcements are my favorite part of conference. There were no announcements this time around during the times that they would normally happen, but since President Nelson had shaken up everything else I thought he just might be saving some for the very end. And my ears figuratively pricked up when he said, "Eventual exaltation requires our complete fidelity now to covenants we make and ordinances we receive in the house of the Lord." And further when he said, "At this time, we have 159 functioning temples, and more are under construction." And when he said, "We want to bring temples closer to the expanding membership of the Church", I knew he was either about to announce some or he was being a jerk. To my elation he continued, "So we are now pleased to announce plans to construct seven more temples." And they are:
Salta, Argentina - A city that, if my rusty Spanish serves me, means "Jump". I have a friend in Rio Gallegos way down by Antarctica, so I hoped for a temple closer to her, but no such luck this time.
Bengaluru, India - As I've recounted elsewhere, my heart overflows with love for the people and cultures of India. With just about 13,500 Mormons spread out through a nation of 1.3 billion, I didn't anticipate a temple in India for some time, but I couldn't be more grateful for it. Currently they have to travel well over a thousand miles to the temple in Hong Kong, which will soon be a substantially reduced but still insane distance to Bangkok. This announcement had me like
Managua, Nicaragua - The only Central American nation left without a temple. Well, okay, there's Belize, but it doesn't count. The people also tend to be pretty impoverished and Costa Ricans hate them, so traveling to the temples outside their country is presumably a bit of a challenge.
Cagayan de Oro, Philippines - The Philippines currently has only two temples, with two more announced, to service nearly a million members and over a hundred stakes and scores of districts, so this will be a welcome addition.
Layton, Utah - Why the crap did this elicit a loud gasp from most of the people in the conference center? I'm thrilled for Layton, really, but I see nothing surprising or amazing about yet another temple in Utah. Especially compared to some of the others on this list.
Richmond, Virginia - The united state with the most Mormons without a temple. Washington DC recently lost a good chunk of its temple district, and will lose a lot more with this one, and it's not a small temple, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep it well-used afterward.
A major city yet to be determined, Russia - I believe it's without precedent to announce a temple for a country without even knowing the city yet. And Russia is not a small country. Which city they choose will make a big difference for the people trying to get to it. Moscow seems like the obvious choice, being the capital and having the most Mormons, but it's way over by the western border and would leave a massive expanse of un-templed Russia trailing behind it. I didn't expect Russia to get a temple anytime soon, given the Church's struggles with growth and retention and currently not being able to proselyte at all.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, in his talk, made a passing reference to the asteroid strike that most scientists believe wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs. On the drive home, I turned this reference into a discussion of one of my passions: evolution. I was pleased to discover that nobody in our car had a problem with evolution. I shared my opinion that God set up the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc. to run and inevitably bring about the results He wanted with little or no direct intervention. Most Christians don't believe that God feels the need to directly control, say, weather patterns, and I believe evolution is the same way.
We had a small point of disagreement, though I think we were mostly on the same page and just talking past each other. My sister and one of her friends said you can't take God out of the origin of life, and I would agree with that, but I also said "God of the gaps" argumentation makes religious people look stupid and just because scientists don't currently know how the first cell originated from non-living matter doesn't mean they never will. I believe that happened according to materialistic natural laws as well, not by God going "poof" or something, but that He's the one who set up those laws just right in the first place. I suppose my enthusiasm was at least partially to blame for getting my sister's friends so engrossed in conversation that at first they didn't notice we were no longer driving back the way we had come. The discussion quickly changed topics.
"We're on the wrong interstate?" asked the driver.
"No, we're on the right interstate," said the other navigator as she checked her phone. "We just missed our exit... thirty minutes ago."
We turned out to be in the wrong town and the wrong valley. I could have been upset. But I decided to follow Elder Echo Hawk's counsel on forgiveness.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, 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.