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80 Thoughts from LDS Church General Conference (April 2018)



The April 2018 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) just wrapped up yesterday. The LDS Church is the largest Mormon denomination, consisting of nearly 16 million members. I'm one of them. During the semi-annual conferences, I often share some of my thoughts via Twitter and then share a lightly edited list of those thoughts here on my blog. As usual, the thoughts contain affirmations, questions, criticisms, and elaborations, aiming to cultivate more thoughtful engagement with the conference. I invite your constructive feedback, whether you agree or disagree, and whether you're LDS, or Mormon, or otherwise.

  1. I'm sad that we won't be hearing as much from Dieter Uchtdorf, now that he's no longer in the First Presidency. But I'm happy he's still alive and influential among Church leadership. 
  2. I wonder if any LDS Church leaders will address the topic of sexual assault, and the way that Church interview processes facilitate compromising situations. It's all over the news in Utah.
  3. This is the first general conference since the presidency of the LDS Church has changed. It will be interesting to see what the new president, Nelson, chooses to talk about as his first address.
  4. Some new apostles will probably also be announced during this conference. I don't like affirmative action, so I hope we'll stop using it to favor the calling of white American men. ;)
  5. Wow. Elder Gerrit W. Gong (Chinese ancestry) and Elder Ulisses Soares (Brazilian ancestry) are the new LDS apostles. There we go. Thus ends affirmative action. The Church is true. :)
  6. Here's the Wikipedia article on one of the new LDS apostles, Gerrit Gong, who is of Chinese ancestry.  
  7. Here's the Wikipedia article on one of the new LDS apostles, Ulisses Soares, who is of Brazilian ancestry.  
  8. Russell Ballard acknowledges the human weakness of Church leaders, and proceeds to explore how we might support them despite their imperfections. This is an important topic. Too many have inflated expectations of religious leaders. 
  9. Russell Ballard encourages wisdom in the use of technology. Already, I see some Mormons tweeting about how we should avoid technology. Meh. I suppose they all turned off their Internet connections right after they tweeted that. ;)
  10. Brian Taylor emphasizes the idea that all humans are children of God. Many Christians will say similar things, but few take this idea as seriously as Mormons. Children become adults. How many Christians acknowledge that in this case? 
  11. Although Mormons are relatively unique in our emphasis of divine origins, many other Christians have taught the doctrine of theosis and deification over the centuries.  
  12. Larry Echo Hawk takes up the subject of forgiveness. This subject often takes my thoughts to Jesus' observation that "the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins." I think he was talking about all of humanity.  
  13. Larry Echo Hawk shares an example of how forgiveness reconciles us to each other. Forgiveness is essential to atonement. And when we forgive, we are practicing atonement. Too many think such work is exclusive to Jesus. 
  14. Larry Echo Hawk encourages us to "partner" with Christ in forgiving others. In the New Testament, Paul describes this as "Christ in you." Jesus invited us to be one with him in Christ. Forgiveness is one way to do that, to be Christ with Jesus. 
  15. Larry Echo Hawk points out that an important aspect of forgiveness is to forgive one's self. Many suffer from debilitating shame. When we've done what we can to fix what we've broken, we must receive grace. We all need it. 
  16. Gary Stevenson discusses governance procedures related to changes in Church leadership, as happened recently when Thomas Monson died and Russell Nelson became president. In the early history of Mormonism, such transitions were fraught with schism.  
  17. Lynn Robbins quotes Edison, explaining that the invention of the light bulb was a process of a thousand steps -- not a thousand mistakes. Perspective can inspire us with tenacity. 
  18. Lynn Robbins tells about a teacher that allowed retaking modified tests on a subject until they received the grade they wanted. I wish more teachers taught that way. It motivates learning instead of crushing hope. 
  19. Lynn Robbins wonders how many mistakes we'll make until our "nature is no longer human, but divine." "Millions," he speculates. I appreciate his allusion to the superhuman aspiration. Humanity is not an end of evolution. 
  20. Lynn Robbins emphasizes trust in limitless grace combined with real intent for change. This is a powerful combination for personal transformation. 
  21. Neil Andersen calls the LDS Quorum of Twelve Apostles an "unparalleled brotherhood." I think he wants to emphasize the solidarity of the group. That's fine. But I feel like the expression will needlessly communicate denigration of other friendships. 
  22. Neil Andersen shows some beautiful images of the castle in Carcassonne, in France. I served as a missionary for the LDS Church in that city. It's remarkable. 
  23. Neil Anderson rejects "blind faith." He encourages use of logic and reason. But then he says inspiration may come without reason. And he seems to suggest we should follow that inspiration without question. I don't know how to make sense of this combination of assertions. 
  24. "Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone." (Apostle George Q. Cannon) 
  25. Religious leaders who work hard to channel inspiration into provocation for positive change will accomplish more than religious leaders who rely on appeals to authority. Authority can be and has been misused, even by the highest leaders. We need more than authority. 
  26. In my estimation, some of Joseph Smith's most inspired words were those addressing the difference between religious authority and religious power. It's easy to over-emphasize authority. It's difficult to over-emphasize power.  
  27. Joseph Smith said, "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood." Do Mormons still believe that? Many of us speak and act as if we don't. Many of us speak and act as if authority should be sufficient for obedience. 
  28. Dallin Oaks points out that about 40% of general authorities were born outside the United States. 
  29. Someone in the conference center just yelled something three times. I couldn't make out what it was. Anyone catch it? 
  30. Apparently the person who yelled three times in LDS general conference was saying, "Stop protecting sexual predators." I hope that's not the only time and way that this subject will be addressed in this conference. 
  31. David Bednar points out that meekness is an expression of strength, not weakness. I think that can be true, although it's not always true. 
  32. David Bednar quotes the Bible, which described Moses as the most humble person on Earth. I suppose that might be true, if, contrary to tradition, he didn't write the book of Numbers, where the claim is made. :) 
  33. Taylor Godoy wonders how he would take care of his body, if he only had one more day of life. I don't think this goes the direction he intended. When we think only of the present, we tend to care less about the means of life. 
  34. Dallin Oaks admits he forgot to share two general authority names for sustaining vote. The First Presidency of the LDS Church makes mistakes, even in general conference. Sometimes apparent trivialities can teach us too, if we'll pay attention. 
  35. Bonnie Oscarson asks if ward leaders are sufficiently considering how young women can contribute to the needs of a ward. The implication is that we're not. There is, in the Church, a long history of giving lopsided attention to young men. 
  36. Bonnie Oscarson encourages young women in the Church to rise up and volunteer. Of course, they'll need our help. We can't ignore or marginalize them. Otherwise, they'll tire of trying. 
  37. Taniela Wakolo jokes that he's more nervous about what top Church leadership will think of his talk than about what millions of other people watching will think of his talk. Many a truth was told in jest. How can we decrease fear of leadership in the Church? 
  38. Mormons, as Christians generally, talk about Jesus saving us. But if asked HOW Jesus saves us, our answers tend toward hand waving appeals to magic. Don't misunderstand. I heartily embrace the Christian doctrine of Atonement. But many fear effort at reasoned explanation. 
  39. Devin Durrant encourages us to consider what we're teaching our children by our actions. Good advice. Our actions probably teach more than our words. 
  40. Dale Renlund points out that family history and proxy rituals are not merely for the dead, but also for the living. That's important. In fact, such rituals may inspire us, step by step, toward that which will enable us to raise the dead, literally. 
  41. When the secular person hears a Christian say that Jesus saves us from the consequences of the Fall of Adam, her eyes just glaze over. And rightly so. To her, it's a made up solution to a made up problem. We need to interpret into language and concern she actually has. 
  42. Douglas Holmes encourages us to participate in the work and glory of God, to bring about the immortality and eternal life of humanity. I hope we'll take that more seriously and practically. Ritual is a start. And to be fully effective, it must lead to action. 
  43. Russell Nelson starts his first message in general conference as president of the LDS Church with encouragement to all to speak and act in the name of God. I like the democratic appeal. 
  44. It sounds like Russell Nelson just combined Elders and High Priests (two levels of LDS priesthood) into a single quorum, with details to follow in coming talks. Interesting. 
  45. Todd Christofferson explains that High Priest quorums are discontinued, and High Priests will now join Elders quorums. High Priests and Elders may both serve in the quorum presidency. 
  46. Todd Christofferson would like persons to stop talking about being "advanced" in the priesthood. This is a fascinating exercise in Church governance restructuring at the local level. 
  47. I suspect a major driver behind the changes in the priesthood quorum organization for local congregations is an interest in establishing greater perceived equity with the woman's organization. 
  48. Ronald Rasband reminds us that priesthood authority may come by ritual, but priesthood power comes only through "righteous living." Amen, brother. That can't be emphasized enough, I think. 
  49. Ronald Rasband announced that PEC meetings, which consisted only of male leadership, will no longer be held. This is a good step toward increasing the influence of women in a ward. 
  50. Dallin Oaks doesn't like it when people refer to men in the Church as "the priesthood" and the women as "the women." He prefers the "holders of the priesthood and the women."  But how does this square with the notion that women also perform priesthood functions? 
  51. Dallin Oaks says fathers preside in the home, and then he says that they function as equal partners with mothers. That's not a newly proposed distinction, but it remains a difficult distinction to understand. 
  52. Russell Nelson expresses concern that priesthood holders are giving ritual admonition but not ritual blessing. Imaginations are running wild right now. How many are wondering whether they could have cured the cancer of a dead loved one with the right blessing? 
  53. Larry Wilson encourages spiritual self-reliance, receiving inspiration for one's self without relying excessively on others, such as Church leaders. This is important advice in a culture that too often engages in leadership worship. 
  54. Reyna Aburto references Matthew 18: 20, which explains that Christ is present as soon as we come together in the name of Christ. As Jesus invited, we are called to be Christ with him.  
  55. Massimo De Feo focuses on the core message of the Gospel of Christ, which is love. My favorite Bible passage on this subject is 1 John 4: 16-18, which describes how love cultivates confidence that overcomes fear or shame in religious judgment.  
  56. Claudio Zivic discusses spiritual endurance throughout difficulties and in work. This principle can apply to everything in life that requires perseverance. I like how the Book of Mormon describes the balance of strenuous endurance.  
  57. Henry Eyring appeals to emotions ("the Spirit") that the story of Jesus' resurrection might evoke in us. For me, an important next step is to consider why and how such emotions can have practical value. What power comes from certain kinds of esteem for such experience? 
  58. One of the major challenges of appeals to emotion ("the Spirit" or otherwise) is that they are not in themselves dependable. They can be dangerous. I don't think Henry Eyring would have encouraged the Lafferty brothers to follow their inspiration.  
  59. Dallin Oaks talks about the power that accumulates from persistent small actions. I suspect such is how a world that we would describe as "heaven" may ultimately be created. 
  60. Dallin Oaks suggests it's possible "never to partake" of pornography, "even once." For someone who lives on a deserted island? I'd be skeptical if he claimed that he's never seen pornography. And given its visual nature, seeing is partaking. We need a different strategy. 
  61. Russell Nelson says that immortality is a reality for all of us because of Christ. I think that's true only in the same way that hearing the Gospel is a reality for all of us. It doesn't mean there's no work to do. And it doesn't mean all the work is done. 
  62. Russell Nelson talks about how he, as president of the LDS Church, receives revelation. He describes it in the same way that many members of the Church would describe it: as an experience with the Holy Ghost. How many assume he receives revelation in some other way? 
  63. Russell Nelson says, "good inspiration is based on good information." Exactly. This is a notion that we probably cannot over-emphasize. Emotion is NOT enough in itself. Add information, reason, and science to that emotion, and then you have a recipe for inspiration. 
  64. My friend and cousin, @blaire_ostler, just reminded me that Russell Nelson is, by Mormon standards, a polygamist. He is "sealed" (the Mormon word for eternal marriage) to two women. Only one is living, presently, so it's secularly legal. 
  65. Two things I'm missing at this year's LDS general conference: (1) women offering prayers; and (2) speakers in non-English languages. 
  66. Gerrit Gong just sang from the pulpit in general conference! Excellent. Keep changing us. :) 
  67. Gerrit Gong just extended the scripture, referring to the "natural man," to be a reference to the "natural man and woman." Again, well done. I'm already a fan. 
  68. Russell Nelson retires home and visiting teaching. He says we'll replace them with "ministering." Many changes to local Church governance and practice. It will be interesting to watch the effects. 
  69. Jeffrey Holland starts by cracking jokes about all the local governance and procedural changes, as well as Russell Nelson's ability to solve any heart problems that may result. 
  70. Often, when I listen to Jeffrey Holland speak, I feel substantially renewed hope for the future of the Church, and renewed will to contribute to that future. Thank you. 
  71. Jeffrey Holland says we should give God a helping hand with the staggering task of consoling and healing others. Amen, brother. 
  72. Jean Bingham asks, What better way to prepare to meet God than to strive to be like God? As the scripture says, when Christ appears, we will be like Christ. Perhaps that's the most important, most purposeful, meaning of the prophesied Millennial Return of Christ. 
  73. Jean Bingham explains how young women will now be formally involved in the new ministering program of the Church. This is an excellent, long over-due change. 
  74. Dieter Uchtdorf says the resurrection of Jesus Christ is more important than life-changing scientific breakthroughs. I wonder if he has considered that future scientific breakthrough that enables us to comprehend and emulate such resurrection? 
  75. Dieter Uchtdorf says we will all die. He may be right. But the scriptures say the day will come when many of us will not die. The scriptures also tell us to raise the dead. I think we should take that seriously.  
  76. Gerald Causse says the mayor of the Paris suburb in which an LDS temple was built investigated Mormonism and concluded that it is the closest Christian sect to original Christianity. It would be interesting to hear why the mayor thought that. 
  77. If Christ can be with us, whenever two or three of us are gathered in the name of Christ, clearly our full conception of Christ needs to expand beyond only Jesus as an individual. After all, he wasn't jealous. Humbly, he invited us all to be one with him in Christ. 
  78. Quentin Cook says family history work has been "heaven blessed by technology." Exactly. And we'll continue to see technology empowering our visions of the future. We've only seen the beginning. 
  79. Quentin Cook says revelatory guidance for the whole Church comes only via the Church president. That's the usual position, and wise. Sadly, some LDS disparage me for disagreeing with their claim that guidance for the whole world also comes only via the Church president. 
  80. Russell Nelson announces the construction of new LDS temples in various locations, including Russia. 
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Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement
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