What to watch for in this weekend’s Mormon General Conference

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© 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was at that time second counselor in the LDS First Presidency, addresses the audience during the Saturday morning session of general conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, October 1, 2016. ©2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Ye Olde Mormon Internette has been abuzz in recent weeks with rumors about possible changes or even revelations coming at this weekend’s Mormon General Conference, which will be the first semiannual churchwide meeting under the leadership of new president Russell M. Nelson.

I’ve now read several times that visiting general authorities have hinted when speaking to local Mormon leaders that some big announcement would be coming a the conference, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday and will be streamed live from Salt Lake City.

“President Nelson is receiving revelation” is the phrase that keeps coming up as people recap what was said at these meetings.

When Mormons hear the R Word, our ears perk up. So either the prophet really is receiving revelation and it will be announced this weekend OR the church is totally punking its members into watching every minute of General Conference, which does not appear to have high viewership among younger Mormons in the United States.

Well played, church leaders. Well played.

But since we’re speculating, I’ve come up with some of my own crazy-eyed guesses about what could happen this weekend. These are just speculations and are not based on any inside info about things going on at LDS Church HQ. I’m serious. This is just me, sitting here with my dog and a bottle of Sprite, wondering what could happen. Here goes.

  • We’ll finally get an apostle of color. Wishful thinking on my part? Maybe. Certainly I was ridiculously disappointed the last time the Church had the opportunity to diversify its leadership—there were not one, not two, but three spots open in 2015, but the Church appointed three white men, all from Utah. I’m hoping that this weekend the Church will start living up to its claim to be a global religion, rather than an American church that has some outposts abroad. Maybe it will be Elder Joseph W. Sitati of Kenya, who has been a Seventy since 2009. The Middle Ground possibility: The Church appoints Elder Gerrit W. Gong for one of the two open positions. As an Asian American, he adds diversity to the quorum without challenging its Amerocentric sensibility. He’s also come up through the ranks of the Seventy and is of comparable age to recently appointed apostles (64), both of which are common qualifications in this hierarchy.
  • We’ll see a further deceleration of LDS membership growth, but not an actual decline. At each April conference, the Church releases its membership statistics from the previous year. In 2015, the Church had growth of 1.7%, while in 2016 it was 1.59% around the world and just .93% in the United States. I would speculate that we’ll remain around 1.5% globally, and possibly a bit lower, but dip to something more like three-quarters of a percent in the US. You’ll know we’re in trouble when: the Church stops publicly releasing its annual country-by-country membership numbers.
  • We’ll hear more about recent changes to the home and visiting teaching programs. We’ve already seen that there are no more monthly messages from the First Presidency in the Ensign or the Liahona, starting with the current issue. (This seems to be a nod to changing media; announcements and news are shared on lds.org in real time.) But home and visiting teaching are changing in focus—moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach of teaching a lesson and more toward being a friend. If you share a message, it should be one tailored for that person, like you would with any friend. The smugness factor: This is how a lot of us have been doing our home and visiting teaching for years, y’all. Just saying.
  • Much will be made of the vitality of 93-year-old President Nelson. He skis! He drops in on local stake conferences as a surprise guest! And he’s about to kick off his “global ministry tour”! He’s visiting eight nations in eleven days, which would be taxing for someone half his age. It’s been a very long time since Mormonism had a leader who was healthy enough to be jet-setting, so this is a breath of fresh air. Also coming along: Elder Holland, Patricia Holland, and Wendy Nelson.
  • The elephant in the room will be very, very quiet. Sex abuse scandal? What sex abuse scandal? Let’s move along . . . did we mention that President Nelson is in excellent health?

Many other things are possible, like that President Nelson will double down on Mormonism’s commitment to a particular configuration of the family. This is the man who, as an apostle, raised the status of the Church’s 2015 LGBT policy from a handbook rule to a revelation from the Lord. I don’t think it’s at all likely that he’s going to back down from that, or from the Church’s doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. In fact, it’s possible that he’ll propose elevating the Proclamation on the Family to the status of revelation. I dearly hope not, but it’s possible.

Another possibility is that we’ll see positive incremental changes to the status and visibility of women in the church. Over the past few years the Church has implemented small measures such as:

But these are tiny changes, and should have happened long ago. What if the new LDS prophet received revelation that truly expanded women’s roles and possibilities? So, so much could be done to expand women’s leadership even without priesthood, as Neylan McBaine’s book Women at Church has suggested.

That would be a revelation worth tuning in for.


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