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47 Thoughts on April 2019 General Conference

7 April 2019 (updated 12 May 2024)

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47 Thoughts on April 2019 General Conference

Yesterday and today, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest Mormon denomination, met together for our semi-annual General Conference. I participated in the conference via webcast and Twitter, watching and considering the thoughts shared, and expressing some of my thoughts along the way.

Below is a list of the thoughts I shared publicly about April 2019 General Conference. They include both affirmations and criticisms, questions and elaborations. My intent, as always, is to promote real engagement with the messages shared at the conference, beyond the superficial cheerleading or indiscriminate ridicule that is so common among apologists and enemies of the Church. I welcome any feedback or questions you might have in the comments.

  1. I enjoyed listening to the Tabernacle Choir sing “Let Us All Press On:” “If we do what’s right, we have no need to fear.” Doing what we believe to be right doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen. But fearing what we can’t control isn’t practical.
  2. I love my Church. That’s particularly easy to do when the Tabernacle Choir is singing “Press Forward Saints.”
  3. Ulisses Soares mentions Paul’s teachings on human transformation in the New Testament. The next verse encourages us to participate in the Atonement, by taking up our call to the “ministry of reconciliation.” As God is in Christ, Christ is in us.
  4. Becky Craven suggests that we can’t find happiness in a $15 purchase. I share her esteem for more abiding things, but I’ve often also found happiness in a $15 purchase. Life just works that way.
  5. Becky Craven says, “there is not a right way to do the wrong thing.” I agree. But sometimes that actually does mean disagreeing with a leader, which we can do constructively. I wish she would acknowledge that.
  6. Brook Hales contemplates divine foreknowledge. I don’t know the capacity of superintelligence. But the exponential complexity of possible futures seems to limit even superintelligent foreknowledge, unless we’re more determined than we like to believe.
  7. Dieter Uchtdorf only has to mention “airplane” to get a laugh from the congregation. :)
  8. Dieter Uchtdorf wants you to tweet more. It’s a commandment. ;)
  9. Dieter Uchtdorf says, “some will never join the Church … that doesn’t change our love for them.” Amen, brother.
  10. So I have to admit that, ironically, this session of General Conference has been far more normal than I anticipated. What about all those rumors about a change to the official interpretation of the Word of Wisdom?!? I now expect the unexpected.
  11. I Am a Child of God” is among my favorite hymns. My parents sang it to me when I was young. I sang it to my children when they were young. It’s a beautiful expression of human potential in theosis.
  12. Henry Eyring comforts those who worry about their family not being together in heaven, suggesting that God will make more wonderful accommodations than we can presently imagine.
  13. When we recite the names of our Church leaders, it becomes painfully obvious that we need many more women in leadership.
  14. Oh, wow. I don’t remember ever hearing a vocal soloist in General Conference before. I like this.
  15. Russell Ballard amends his quote of the Book of Mormon text about joy to include “women.” I appreciate the implicit reminder that our scriptures can always be improved.
  16. Russell Ballard doubles down, amending his quote of the Pearl of Great Price text about the work of God to include “women.” It’s not just the Book of Mormon text that can be improved. All scripture is subject to improvement.
  17. Russell Ballard encourages us to observe the Sabbath in a way that “brings a smile to our faces.” That reminds me of Jesus’ comment in the New Testament: the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.
  18. Russell Ballard encourages us to keep the Sabbath simple, without unnecessary meetings. Unfortunately, this may not make much of a practical difference, as most Church leaders sincerely think that all the meetings they schedule are necessary.
  19. Neil Andersen says truth can be “painfully complex to the secular mind.” It seems to me that when we’re sufficiently honest with ourselves, if should be painfully complex to the religious mind too. We’re not the God in whom we trust.
  20. Neil Andersen says we celebrate the discoveries of science and medicine. Good. He also says religious truths go far beyond those. I’m not sure “beyond” is the right comparison. It’s not a competition.
  21. Neil Andersen acknowledges that there are good persons whose lives do not fit neatly within the prescriptions of the Proclamation on the Family. This is important. The Proclamation doesn’t actually say many of the things some assume it to say.
  22. Joseph Smith claimed that truth, “let it come from whence it may,” is a “grand fundamental principle of Mormonism.” In that spirit, I hope we can do better to ensure that we don’t cultivate the notion that religion is superior to science or medicine.
  23. Jeffrey Holland recounts the mythic narrative of Adam and Eve. In my experience, there’s inspiration to be found there. My experience also suggests it’s important to remember that the story doesn’t (couldn’t) disprove evolution.
  24. Kim Clark says we have priesthood power. That may be true. But that depends on more than priesthood. As D&C 121 emphasizes, no power may be maintained by virtue of the priesthood. Power comes from how priesthood is applied, with love.
  25. Henry Eyring quotes my double-great grandfather, George Q. Cannon, claiming that God reserves the right to find fault with Church leaders, and members should not. Sorry grandpa. I disagree. And I still love you. And I still feel the Spirit saying so.
  26. Dallin Oaks shares some practical thoughts on prioritization. We don’t have time to do everything that’s good. We have to choose, seeking to do what is better or best. He’s right, of course. Such is life.
  27. Russell Nelson is going into Greek etymology again. And he’s pointing out that repentance is change, even physical change, not an event but a process – transformation! I love it.
  28. Russell Nelson says we should better honor women by giving them more attention. I agree. And I hope the Church will do more to set a clear example on this subject.
  29. I love how the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” puts the vocalist in the position of speaking the words of God. It is an under-recognized ritual through which persons take on Christ and speak the sublime words.
  30. Dale Renlund shifts, in one sentence to another, from a discussion of the science of combustion to a discussion of fiery flying serpents in the Old Testament. I have to admit that was a bit jarring for me.
  31. Dale Renlund says “sometimes we need to make tools before revelation comes.” By extrapolation, sometimes we need to engineer technology before revelation comes.
  32. Sharon Eubank points out that many stories about Jesus depict him reaching out to persons who were not broadly accepted in society. What is the implication, for those of us who aspire to take the name of Christ with Jesus?
  33. Quentin Cook encourages us to a divine partnership that cultivates love rather than generates guilt in our interactions with others. Is it hypocritical to point out that some general authorities should give greater consideration to this advice?
  34. Todd Christofferson repeats the prophecies of the Millennium: beyond traditional notions of enmity, poverty, suffering, and death. And he encourages us to prepare for that time.
  35. Todd Christofferson quotes NT Wright, claiming that the resurrection of Jesus was the seed of ultimate hope.
  36. Todd Christofferson says that the Church is a community willing to work and prepare for the Millennial world.
  37. Todd Christofferson recounts the prophecy that we must construct Zion on Earth, and that we must make it our greatest object, before expecting fulfillment of prophecies regarding the Millennium.
  38. Todd Christofferson says God is hastening the work, employing our contributions, to join Zion on Earth with Zion above. I enjoyed his reminders of the scriptural vision of global transformation.
  39. I could listen to Sharon Eubank’s speech again. Her emotional delivery, cultivation of hope, and encouragement to persistence were moving.
  40. When we talk about Atonement, it’s often mystery rather than comprehension, and magic rather than work. By contrast, per Paul’s account of Atonement in the New Testament, we are each called to participate in it, in comprehensible and practical ways.
  41. Russell Nelson says that everyone will be resurrected but all relationships will end if not sealed in covenant. Consider that the function of covenant doesn’t always require ritual. In the Bible, some receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost without baptism.
  42. I disagree with President Russell Nelson’s claim that salvation is an individual matter. Unless there’s someone who can and desires to live in solitude, salvation requires at least some extent of relationship.
  43. Nice, Gerrit Gong. Now I won’t be able to think of counting sheep to fall asleep without thinking about Jesus’ parables about sheep. Thanks for that.
  44. Gerrit Gong tells a story about how a woman comes to understand the Atonement of Christ by saving another person. This is a key observation. Atonement is a work we can and should all participate in, reconciling with and saving each other.
  45. I’m deflated by memes advocating: “salvation is an individual matter.” I sympathize with interest in supporting President Nelson. But I think the phrase, unintentionally, cultivates misunderstanding. Nothing in the Gospel is only an individual matter.
  46. Exaltation is a family matter, for sure. And it’s also a friend matter, and a community matter, and a global matter. We’re all in this together. The function of covenant is that which binds us together in aspiration for better worlds without end.
  47. There’s a sense in which it’s true that salvation is an individual matter, but in that sense it’s also true that exaltation is an individual matter. In both cases, we have both individual and communal responsibility.

More Thoughts on General Conference

If you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you might also enjoy reading my thoughts on other general conferences. Here's a list, in reverse chronological order, of the conferences for which I've published thoughts:

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