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Kirby: General Conference seating, like eternal home hunting, is all about location, location, location

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Church leaders and a choir show their support for the leadership of the church at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

What if seating at General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were based on some abstract notion of personal worthiness?

It’s a stupid idea, I know. But it came to me during a moment of quiet reflection — known to others as “evil influence” — regarding one hierarchical picture of senior church leaders dressed completely in white at the Rome Temple dedication.

President Russell M. Nelson said God commanded him to have the entire 15 members of the church’s highest-ranking authorities present at the dedication — dressed exactly alike for at least one photo.

I wasn’t there during the commandment, of course. So I don’t know exactly what was said. But clearly some instruction was received/given to have them look like an eternal version of the ’60s soul group The Temptations.

Anyway, the white suits did give rise to some thought about the manifestation of hierarchy within the church to which I belong.

Another overt example of this hierarchy would be the red seats the general authorities occupy in the Conference Center.

It may be that the color for the G.A. seats was simply a designer choice — meaning that it would look better on TV or in photographs. But there are already comments about who’s sitting in the “red seats.”

All of this makes sense, given that the LDS Church is one of the most hierarchal-appearing faiths in the world — outdone perhaps by only Catholicism and one or two others.

It’s a trickle-down form of who’s the boss, reaching congregational levels where the bishop and counselors also have assigned seating.

Lamentably, it’s possible to take this spiritual caste system too far — which I propose to do now by suggesting that entrance to General Conference might be dependent upon a series of ecclesiastical interviews. Hey, we already do this with temple admission.

What if Conference Center seating were divided into Celestial, Terrestrial and Telestial sections, each with its own colors?

It’s already set up that way. There’s the rostrum level — where the red seats are — which are symbolic of the refining fire of the “Judgment Bar,” followed by the plaza, or “Celestial seating,” where the chairs are all snow white.

Parent • “Listen up. Our tickets are Celestial Level, Row E, Seats 6-21.”

Kid • “This sucks. I want to sit up in the Terrestrial section with my friends.”

Parent • “I’d tell you to shut your yap, Tommy, but we have to be on our best behavior in this section.”

The Terrestrial Level seating is, of course, the spotted, off-white seats on the terrace level, where the less worthy are obligated to sit.

Terrestrial seating is not entirely awful, but it lets everyone else know that you haven’t quite made the cut yet. Consequently, everyone will be watching to see if you’re actually paying attention.

Then there’s the dark gray seating in the Telestial Level, which is restricted to the balcony. From there, you’re able to look down on the Celestial and Judgment seating with a sense of loss, while simultaneously going largely unnoticed by them.

It gets worse. Behind the Telestial seating is Outer Darkness seating for the media. It’s a vast distance between the glory of the red seats and Outer Darkness, but it’s simply to remind media members to get it right if they want to move any closer. The seats there are black folding chairs.

Me? Well, it’s perfectly clear by this that I’ll be sitting somewhere in the parking lot.

Robert Kirby

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.

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