One of the things I enjoy about General Conference is studying the faces of my fellow congregants. I like to guess how they’re receiving “the word” from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Some stare vacantly, others seem enraptured, and a few appear to have tasted something disagreeable. Most are just mildly expectant.
Unless there’s a floor show — dissenters standing up and shouting some agenda — there’s not much in the way of excitement. Perhaps it’s intentional. Nothing keeps things steady quite like business as usual.
And with few exceptions — it is business as usual. There aren’t many surprise announcements in conference, though current church President Russell M. Nelson is trying his darndest to turn the gatherings into must-see TV with various policy reforms, name shifts, meeting changes, temple updates and more. But nothing truly alarming usually occurs.
It hasn’t always been like that. Before social media, before mass communication, before electricity, General Conference is where the latest interpretation of the word was revealed.
Might be interesting to see how conferencegoers would react if their views of the church took a sudden hit.
It’s a fair question, considering how some people react to minor changes. The recent announcement banning guns in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses had some members huffing about the church interfering with their “God-given right” to bear firearms.
A friend asked me for advice as to what she should say to her brother, who was ready to leave the church over what he felt to be an assault on his freedom.
Friend: “He really means it. He’s so angry.”
Me: “Tell him to calm down and do what I do.”
Friend: “What’s that?”
Me: “Whatever he wants.”
Sounds crazy, I know. Probably even a little defiant, but it’s true nonetheless. And it’s the same choice everyone makes, including you. You either go along with the counsel or you don’t.
Granted, it may be grudgingly. It might be enthusiastically. But, ultimately, cooperation with church mandates comes down to a personal choice. For most churchgoing Latter-day Saints, it isn’t a difficult one.
We all know how it works. OK, I’ll go on a mission. Yeah, I’ll pay tithing. Dress modestly, do my ministering, attend church, go to the temple often, accept callings, paint myself purple.
I just tossed that last one in to see if you were paying attention.
But it’s a good point. What if we all got a big fat surprise tossed our way this conference? It’s happened before.
One of my bigoted relatives left the church in 1978 when black males received the priesthood. He’s an idiot, yeah, but we all have our tipping points. For the rest of us, it might happen like this:
Major general authority: “Henceforth, brothers and sisters, all personal money and material possessions shall become the property of the church. All salaries, bank accounts, homes, recreational vehicles and Disney gift cards must be signed over to the Lord for the building up of Zion. Starting now.”
Congregation: “What the hell just happened?”
How would that grab you? Not so good, right? I’d be sensing a great deal of hesitation in the congregation, perhaps even a noticeable number of people headed for the doors.
Some would go along. Dedicating everything to the building up of Zion isn’t exactly a new concept for Mormons. But the United Order didn’t work out so well the last time we tried it.
What if it were announced that, by Friday, everyone had to be headed in the direction of Jackson County, Missouri? Suppose, polygamy were thrown back on the eternal table?
It’s easy for me. No, not a chance.
What about you? What would be your breaking point?
I bring this up as a reminder to pay attention during conference — especially when you’re asked to raise your hand.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.