Thursday, 10 October 2013

Thoughts on General Conference.

I always look forward to listening to the prophets and apostles of God at General Conference.  I listen for the messages that are specifically suited for my own life, but I also listen for repeated messages and themes as a way of discerning the state of the world at large.  A kind of reverse engineering of the inspiration that was given so I can get an idea of where things are headed.  (Go back and review the October 2008 General Conference assuming they knew Obama was going to become President)  Here are the messages I noticed being repeated and what I think it means:

Missionary Work
Right off the bat the announcement of the church reaching the 15 million members mark was followed up with instruction from the prophet himself that members need to step up and meet the challenge of hastening the work of salvation.  Other speakers repeated the plea. 

To my mind, 'hastening the work' is a nice way of saying that we are near the end of the marathon, time is short, so it is time to move into a sprint to the finish.  Hence the change in the age of service was made making the missionary program rapidly increase in size in a single year.  I won't be too surprised if soon sisters will have the option of serving for a full two years as well.

Marriage and Motherhood
The emphasis on the importance of marriage and women fulfilling their traditional roles as mothers came up again and again, also warnings against the politically correct ideas that would push women to put family aside for career or abandon femininity and traditional gender roles for popularity and acceptance.  There were times I was sure I could hear a legion of feminist Mormon housewives grinding their teeth. 

I think it is fair to conclude that true daughter-of-God womanhood is increasingly unpopular with the world and the women and youth of the church are at risk of being influenced by that.  The Lord`s ideas of valuing each of his children without reference to what status or role they play and the divinely appointed roles of men and women laid out in the gospel run counter to the world`s focus on status and what constitutes gender equality.  The recent push by some activists for the ordination of women shows these worldly ideas have attracted some members.

Faith in the face of uncertainty
Elder Uchtdorf's 'Come join with us' talk ties directly in with Elder Holland's 'Lord, I believe' talk in April.  Both were messages directed at those members who are struggling to understand or come to terms with aspects of the gospel or church history that they find difficult.  I expect that the need for this arises from the increased attacks against the church as it's profile has risen due to current events.  Also as the world drifts further away from accepting gospel principles a larger and larger gap is opening up between the church and the secular world.  That gap can be hard to deal with and pose a challenge to one`s faith, especially for a youth or new member.

Elder Uchtdorf's statement that church members and leaders have at time made mistakes seemed to make a lot of waves in some circles.  The New York Times trumpeted the headline: A Top Mormon Leader Acknowledges the Church ‘Made Mistakes’ when that isn`t what he said at all, and every activist member latched onto it jumping to the conclusion that they are right to point fingers, accuse or attack the church, and lobby for whatever their pet issue is.

Nevertheless, there are many people who have honest struggles to come to grips with things they find hard, and what Elders Uchtdorf and Holland said serves to shield them from unrighteous judgement and encourage them to press on and reach the point where their faith is stronger and their understanding better. 

Nothing they said undermines the divinely inspired doctrines of the church or it's policies.  It was not a license to try and sort through and cherry pick what you think the church is right about and reject what you think the church may be wrong about.  It was a call to forgive those who have failed to live up the level of Christlike behavior the church promotes.  Rather than leave the church when a Bishop or other leader slips up in some way, forgive their weakness as you would wish your weaknesses forgiven.

Legal does not mean moral, and religious liberty must be upheld
Another recurring message was the constancy of the Lord's moral standards, even when the world standards change.  I think same sex marriage was specifically mentioned but I could be mistaken on that, but still the vibe I got from this was that we are going to face living in a world where same sex marriage is legalized, and we will need to be prepared to stick to our moral guns in that environment.

Together with that were references to standing up and fighting to preserve religious liberty, and even be prepared to endure infringements on that right.  As I pointed out before, same sex marriage and religious freedom are not compatible with each other.  I think this is the motivation behind the church`s big thrust in defending religious liberty.  I`ll have more to say on religious liberty in another post soon.

Other thoughts
Elder Holland's talk in support of those struggling with mental illness was a moving act of compassion that is very welcome.  Challenges of this nature have touched the lives of some people close to my heart and I know they (and I) were very grateful for the message.

I chose to watch the Priesthood session at home with my eternal companion.  Our 10 year old son sat and watch with us too.  Now they both know the prophet told me to make sure I do my home teaching.  I suppose this is a good thing.  I need to go make some appointments now...

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