Standing in the afterglow — or is it the guilty aftermath? — from watching another General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have some observations about the experience: Five things I would change about the whole deal and five things I liked.
What I would change
1. Church leaders get up in front of the congregation and the television cameras and give talks that don’t resemble a caring, fatherly or motherly ecclesiastical leader sitting down under a tree on a bench in a park somewhere with just you or me and passing along compassionate expression. Instead, they “put on” their talks, speaking in a manner that no real humans speak. This is true of many of the male and female speakers. More on the sisters later.
Seems authentic earnest talks would be more effective. Talk like real people, not automatons. And mix it up in tone and tenor instead of the way it’s done, as though somebody coached up every speaker, disallowing any variation of that form.
As for subject matter, it would be useful to address issues that are happening within the church, some of them serious. A good number of people have left or are leaving the fold. Speak to that, speak not just to age-old, established doctrines inside the faith, but honestly approach the problems and why they are occurring and how they can be better understood and improved upon.
As Desmond Tutu said: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the water. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
You can talk all day long, encouraging young people to go on full-time missions, but when there are issues regarding hanging on to people who are already onboard, but deeply hurt, confused and jumping ship, what good does the former do, other than simply replacing the jumpers.
2. Prohibit all church leaders from using identical phrases such as, “On the signal from the conductor …” before musical numbers involving the congregation. It comes across as awkward and rehearsed. How about just, “Coming up, we’ll all sing together ‘How Firm a Foundation.’”
3. If a church leader like Dallin Oaks is going to give a talk on God’s plan for happiness and that includes saying how much he loves everybody, but also that if you’re gay or transgender, there’s no place in the highest degree of glory for you in the afterlife, either find a kinder, less-corporate way of expressing it or skip it altogether. Or stress the love part more powerfully, more convincingly.
Not exactly sure how many young people who fall into either of those aforementioned categories heard Oaks’ words and felt more hopeless than they already did before the talk, but … pretty sure his words didn’t help them, surrounded as they are by deep grooves of rejection and vulnerability.
How about something like this, instead: “Hang in there, y’all. God does love you, more than you can imagine. He created you the way you are and thinks you’re beautiful, valuable, wonderful, indispensable, and we want you to be a part of our community.”
In a time of division in the church, a technical treatise on such a delicate matter might not have been the best way to go. Now, you have hard-liners out there on social media saying things like, “Awwwwrrriiiiiiiggghhttt, way to go President Oaks, spitting truth to all the unclean out there!”
You know, Christlike stuff like that. Cool-cool.
4. Love hearing from female leaders in the church. Let’s hear from more of them. They do make up over half the faith’s membership, after all. But also let them know they can talk in tones that don’t have to be sweet as peach pie, all sing-songy as though their words are lyrics in a Primary song.
Most of the talks I hear these sisters give tackle tough topics, so make it clear they can express them like women normally speak in everyday conversation.
5. Ease off the quoting of other general authorities from the pulpit. Go to the scriptures, instead, relaying the words of … you know, people like Jesus Christ. That’d be good.
What I liked
1. The material that is of real use in daily life. If the idea is to apply the church’s teachings to actual day-to-day existence, to make them meaningful, to make believers more faithful and better people, can’t get enough of that sort of thing. Some speakers do a fine job of that.
2. The emphasis on Christ. The reason this is so effective is because it allows listeners to examine what they’re doing with their lives and gives hope for a better tomorrow for them, both in this earthly life and through the eternities. Christ makes everything better, everything possible, everything healable, everything salvageable, everything obtainable.
He is the happy news. I like it when that’s made absolute from church leaders to all of us sinners out here. The church isn’t a sanctuary for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. Good to know.
3. Personal expression from church leaders that gives good hope. This is related in no small way to the previous item. Life is hard enough as it is, but when people in positions of authority speak of what might be, what can be, even when believers find themselves in great difficulty, what’s better than that in a setting like conference? Nothing.
Patrick Kearon’s talk was a fantastic example of this, strongly reestablishing in those who have been abused and/or oppressed that the sun will shine upon them again: “You are not defined by these terrible things that have been done to you. … Our merciful Savior, victorious over darkness and depravity, has power to right all wrongs.”
And: “Whatever has happened to you, [Christ] is not ashamed of you or disappointed in you. He loves you in a way you have yet to discover. And you will discover it as you trust in his promises.”
4. Tie between the flowers behind the lectern and Dieter Uchtdorf’s hair. Usually I only notice flowers on a golf course, such as the azaleas at Augusta National. But whatever those purple and green things were at this conference … spectacular. I wanted to pull out my driver and hit one pure, straight down the fairway 300-plus yards. As for the Silver Fox’s hair … now, that’s perfection.
5. Tabernacle Choir music. Inspiring almost every time. You’d think these folks might be able to establish a successful weekly radio broadcast through the years and sell some records, too. Oh, wait ...