Beliefs Columns Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Changes for Mormons: 12 takeaways from LDS General Conference

Latter-day Saints participate in Saturday morning 's solemn assembly during general conference in the Conference Center, March 31, 2018. ©2018 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Latter-day Saints participate in Saturday morning ‘s solemn assembly during general conference in the Conference Center, March 31, 2018. ©2018 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

The LDS General Conference that took place on March 31 and April 1 may well be remembered as a watershed moment in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as incoming leaders emphasized Mormonism’s international diversity, focused attention on improving lay ministry, and restructured its all-male priesthood.

Here are 12 main highlights.

  1. Two new apostles brought international and racial diversity to the Quorum of the Twelve. The religion got its first-ever apostle from the Southern hemisphere in Ulisses Soares, 59, of São Paulo, Brazil. California native Gerrit Gong, 64, became the first apostle of Asian descent. The Quorum of the Twelve previously had only one member who was not an American (Dieter Uchtdorf of Germany) and no one who was not white. (See full coverage here.
  2. New President Russell M. Nelson was sustained by solemn assembly, and women’s role in the ritual was slightly changed. Nelson, 93, effectively assumed the reins in January after he was set apart as president, but on Saturday he was officially “sustained” by the religion’s rank-and-file members in a ritual that dates to 1880, in which members stand as part of their respective groups and vote to support the new leader. This time, adult men who hold the Melchizedek priesthood sustained the prophet first, followed by adult women, Aaronic priesthood holders (who are typically teenage boys), and Young Women (teenage girls). In the recent past, women were only permitted to vote after teenage boys; before 1995, women did not vote at all except at the end with the entire congregation. (See here for an account of a solemn assembly in 1986, when women did not vote; in the two most recent solemn assemblies in 1995 and 2008, they voted after the Aaronic priesthood.)
  3. New Seventies were called, again with a strong international focus. The new leaders hail from Australia, Portugal, Chile, Japan, and Brazil as well as the United States. Dallin Oaks notes that there are now 116 general authorities of the Church, and almost 40% of them were born outside the United States. The conference’s strong international focus was also evident in which leaders spoke and gave each session’s opening and closing prayers. As President Nelson prepares to leaves next week for his tour of eight nations, it seems clear that one focus of his presidency is going to be the LDS Church’s reach in the world.
  4. A protestor disturbed the proceedings, shouting “Stop protecting sexual predators!” three times. This seems to have been related to the Church’s unfolding scandal concerning Joseph Bishop, a former president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo who is accused of sexual misconduct with at least one sister missionary in the 1980s. During the conference weekend, Salt Lake City television station KUTV ran a story suggesting the LDS Church’s attorney may have provided documentation that contained sensitive information about the female victim’s history to the accused man’s son Greg Bishop. No speakers overtly referenced the MTC controversy during the weekend, though one did speak out strongly against “nonconsensual immorality.”
  5. There was a focus on teen girls. Sister Bonnie Oscarson, the outgoing Young Women president, gave a heartfelt plea for the Young Women to have important responsibilities in church and to feel that their contributions are valued. “They want to be of service,” said Oscarson. “They need to know they are valued and essential in the work of salvation.” Her theme was picked up the next day by Relief Society President Jean Bingham when she described a strengthened role for Young Women in ministering to others in their wards (see #8). Neither president portrayed this expanded role for Young Women as a stepping stone to them being better wives and mothers in their adult lives; instead, the focus was on helping girls become better disciples of Christ right now, full stop.
  6. LDS growth has decelerated in recent years.

     

    The Church’s rate of growth has dipped below 1.5%. The LDS Church is still growing, but not with the robust speed it enjoyed in the 1970s through the 1990s, when growth rates often ranged between 4 and 8 percent. In 2012, the Church had a growth rate of 2.3%, and it has been steadily falling a bit each year to the 2017 numbers announced this weekend show it to now be 1.47%.

  7. Priesthood meetings will now be combined at the ward level. In a surprising announcement at the priesthood meeting Saturday evening, the Church revealed that elders quorum members and high priest group members will be meeting together from now on as a single elders quorum. At the local level this avoids duplication of callings, freeing up more available priesthood holders to serve in other ways. It also will allow priesthood holders “of all ages and backgrounds to benefit from the perspective and experience of one another and of those in different stages of life,” Elder Todd Christofferson said.
  8. Home and visiting teaching give way to “ministering.” Sunday was also a day for surprise announcements. While in recent months the LDS Church has rolled out changes to home and visiting teaching (see here), on Sunday President Nelson announced the program’s demise. “We have made the decision to retire home teaching and visiting teaching as we have known them,” he said. “Instead, we will implementing a newer, holier approach. . . . We will refer to these efforts simply as ‘ministering.’” Details of the new program are available at the Church’s website.
  9. Women spoke in three of four sessions. For most conference weekends in recent memory, only two women have addressed the faithful in mixed-gender general sessions. (This does not include the now-annual women’s meeting, which usually has several female speakers, or the now-annual men’s meeting, which has none.) And sometimes the ratio for general sessions is even worse than that. In the April 2017 conference, which featured thirty total speakers over four general sessions, only one woman—Primary president Joy Jones—spoke. (For an excellent brief summary of women’s up-and-down history of speaking in General Conference, see this Juvenile Instructor post.) One LDS viewer suggested on Twitter on Saturday that it would be great to hear from one woman during each general session, bringing the ratio of male to female speakers to something more like six or seven to one. For this modest entreaty she received significant hateful pushback from some on Twitter as well as support from others.
  10. Easter! Several speakers noted the coincidence that General Conference was taking place over Easter weekend and took the opportunity to testify about Mormon beliefs in Christ’s atonement and resurrection. Elder Uchtdorf looked at various historical events that have changed the world, but concluded that nothing can “compare to the importance of what happened on that first Easter morning.” (On a side note, Elder Uchtdorf should earn an award for most effective and natural use of hands while speaking. NO CONTEST.)
  11. There were very few mentions of the traditional family when compared to other recent conferences. Themes of the weekend included the importance of prophets, the vitality of personal revelation and cultivating an ability to discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and how to minister more effectively to others in the ward. With only a couple of exceptions, few speakers doubled down on the traditional family. There were pieces of advice for parents, and gratitude expressed to individual speakers’ spouses, but a relative dearth of references to the family being “under attack.” No one discussed LGBT issues or same-sex marriage.
  12. There will be 7 new temples. President Nelson pulled off a Steve Jobs “one more thing” moment near the end of the last meeting by announcing new temples to be constructed in Richmond, VA; Layton, UT; Salta, Argentina; Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; Managua, Nicaragua; Bengaluru, India (which was known as Bangalore until 2014); and “a major city yet to be determined” in Russia. These will be the first temples to be constructed in Nicaragua, India, and Russia. President Nelson urged Mormons around the world to attend the temple more frequently. “Identify those things that you can set aside so that you can spend more time in the temple,” he said.

Related posts:


Update 4/3/18: An earlier version of this story said that a “heckler” had disturbed the Conference, which has been changed to “protestor.” The Oxford Dictionary defines a heckler as “A person who interrupts a performer or public speaker with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse.” That does not accurately describe the actions of the person who interrupted the conference, who was neither derisive nor abusive.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

40 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • The only take away worth mentioning is that the LDS is still and will always be a business cult fronting as a religion and controlled by male AARPIEs and a fortune teller.

  • Jana, did you make note of how many women prayed in General Conference? I understand that no women prayed last October, so I was wondering how many prayed in April’s conference.

  • “nonconsensual immorality”? So does that mean the church considers the victim to be guilty of immorality? Or maybe that was just the best euphemism for a G-rated broadcast. You just can’t tell anymore.

    Jana, I reviewed past posts. It doesn’t look like you’ve posted much about Sam Young and the protect the children movement that culminated in 2k or so people protesting at church headquarters on March 30. It’s your blog. I just found that curious. It seems like a noteworthy matter.

  • tt seems that LDS moves in the direction of more and more practicing good manners. The most obvious example is the rule against slurring other religions. In the recent past it stopped slurring African-Americans and Native Americans. Now it just might be that LDS is moving away from slurring LGBT people. And even women. … P.S. I am not now, nor have I ever been, Mormon. I evaluate a religion by how well it creates good communities and does not work to undermine govt policies aimed “to provide for the general welfare.” Mormonism as far as I can see creates good communities (even if conformist and very very conventional). As long as Mormons who want to can flee from its conformity to more open communities, Mormonism is on the whole a contributor to the creation of good communities. It could do a lot better with its conservative to right wing politics. Of course that’s just my opinion. Lol, I have had long convos with young Mormon missionaries but they were about the young peole’s families and interests outside religion, and certain stories from my worldwide extended families where unusual experiences are plentiful. I steered the convos away from religion itself. The missionaries seemed lonely and glad for human contact that did not require preaching. Of course they wanted follow-up but that has never happened.

  • I am pretty confident the “nonconsensual immorality” comment referred to an abuser forcing him or herself on someone else, and not to the abused.

  • From: lds-mormon.com/time.shtml

    “The first divergence between Mormon economics and that of
    other denominations is the tithe. Most churches take in the greater part of
    their income through donations. Very few, however, impose a compulsory 10%
    income tax on their members. Tithes are collected locally, with much of the
    money pas-sed on informally to local lay leaders at Sunday services. “By
    Monday,” says Elbert Peck, editor of Sunstone, an independent Mormon
    magazine, the church authorities in Salt Lake City “know every cent that’s
    been collected and have made sure the money is deposited in banks.” There
    is a lot to deposit. Last year $5.2 billion in tithes flowed into Salt Lake
    City, $4.9 billion of which came from American Mormons.”

    “The Mormons are stewards of a different stripe. Their
    charitable spending and temple building are prodi-gious. But where other
    churches spend most of what they receive in a given year, the Latter-day Saints
    employ vast amounts of money in investments that TIME estimates to be at least
    $6 billion strong. Even more unusual, most of this money is not in bonds or
    stock in other peoples’ companies but is invested directly in church-owned,
    for-profit concerns, the largest of which are in agribusiness, media,
    insurance, travel and real estate. Deseret Management Corp., the company
    through which the church holds almost all its commercial as-sets, is one of the
    largest owners of farm and ranchland in the country, including 49 for-profit
    parcels in addition to the Deseret Ranch. Besides the Bonneville International
    chain and Beneficial Life, the church owns a 52% holding in ZCMI, Utah’s
    largest department-store chain.

    All told, TIME estimates that the Latter-day Saints farmland and
    financial investments total some $11 billion, and that the church’s nont-ithe
    income from its investments exceeds $600 million. ”

    “Members of the church celebrate the Lord’s Supper with water
    rather than wine or grape juice. They believe their President is a prophet who
    receives new revelations from God. These can supplant older revelations, as in
    the case of the church’s historically most controversial doctrine: Smith
    himself received God’s sanctioning of polygamy in 1831, but 49 years later,
    the church’s President announced its recision. Similarly, an explicit policy
    barring black men from holding even the lowest church offices was overturned by
    a new revelation in 1978, opening the way to huge missionary activity in Africa
    and Brazil. ”

    The leaders of the Mormon
    Church/”Cult” are not paid? Actually, they are paid via being
    executives of the large Mormon-owned businesses:

    past examples:

    e.g. http://207.224.220.202/excerpts/hier2.htm

    “The Quorum of Twelve’s
    president Ezra Taft Benson was a director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co.
    Apostle Howard W. Hunter was president of the Polynesian Cultural Center
    (Hawaii), and director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co., of Continental Western
    Life Insurance Co., of Deseret Federal Savings and Loan, of First Security Bank
    of Utah, of First Security Corp., of Heber J. Grant & Co., of PHA Life
    Insurance Co. (Oregon), of Watson Land Co. (Los Angeles), and of Western
    American Life Insurance Co. Apostle Thomas S. Monson was president and chairman
    of the board of Deseret News Publishing Co., vice-president of LDS Social
    Services and of Newspaper Agency Corp, and director of Beneficial Life
    Insurance Co., of Commercial Security Bank, of Commercial Security Bankcorporation,
    of Continental Western Life Insurance Co. (Iowa), of Deseret Management Corp.,
    of IHC Hospitals, Inc., of Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co., of
    Murdock Travel, of PHA Life Insurance Co. (Oregon), of Pioneer Memorial
    Theater, and of Western American Life Insurance Co. Apostle Boyd K. Packer was
    chairman of the board of Utah Home Fire Insurance Co., while also director of
    Murdock Travel and of Zion’s First National Bank. Apostle Marvin J. Ashton was
    president of Deseret Book Co., chairman of the board of ZCMI, and director of
    Beneficial Development Co., of First Security Bank of Utah, of First Security
    Corporation, of Laie Resorts (Hawaii), and of Zion’s Securities Corporation.
    Apostle L. Tom Perry was director of American Stores Co. (which operated Skaggs
    Drugs and Alpha Beta supermarkets), of ZCMI, of Zion’s First National Bank, and
    of Jewel Companies, Inc. (Chicago), and trustee of LDS Social Services and of
    Nauvoo Restoration. Apostle David B. Haight was director of Bonneville International
    Corporation, of Deseret Management Corporation, of First Security Bank of Utah,
    of First Security Corporation, and of Valtek, Inc., while also a trustee of
    Deseret Management Corporation Foundation. Apostle James E. Faust was
    vice-president of Deseret News Publishing Co., director of Commercial Security
    Bank, and of Commercial Security Bank Corporation, while also a trustee of
    Ballet West and of LDS Social Services. Apostle Neal A. Maxwell was director of
    Mountain Fuel Resources, Inc., of Mountain Fuel Supply Co., and of Deseret News
    Publishing Co. Apostle Russell M. Nelson was director of Zion’s First National
    Bank. Apostle Dallin H. Oaks was chairman of the Public Broadcasting System
    (national), while also director of O.C. Tanner Jewelry Co. and of Union Pacific
    Railroad.”

    Bottom line: Mormonism is a business cult
    using religion as a front and charitable donations and volunteer work to
    advertise said business.

  • Can’t say I’ve seen him around today, but if Moroni is helping me today, I thank God for that help. I always appreciate heavenly help.

  • Given that tithing is not used to support the Church’s for profit investments (they pay both taxes and tithing) most of which have been sold over the years, General Authorities stopped serving on corporate boards in 1996, and their stipend was only increased to $120K in 2014, I don’t think you have a very strong case.

  • Why do you recycle the same crap over and over? I know that I have responded to this specific drivel before, and I’m sure others have as well. And yet you keep on posting as though it’s new or fresh or even relevant.

  • Profit companies have been sold? Please provide a list. And I assume tithes are tax deductible.

  • That is why there is a scroll function on your mouse. And by way the said comments are more relevant than your mythical angel and golden tablets.

  • ZCMI most recently(1999), Primary Children’s Hospital as well(1974), Beneficial Financial is being unwound slowly.(https://www.ksl.com/?sid=6836506&nid=148)

    There were a lot of project in the late 19th and early 20th century sold or closed by the 50’s, the remainder (held by Deseret Management Corporation) all have some relation to the actual work of the Church.

  • Tis a great business model i.e. charge your Mormon employees/stock holders
    a fee/tithe and invest it in ranches, insurance companies, media outlets, canneries, gaudy temples, a great choir and mission-matured BYU football and basketball teams.

    And all going back to one of the great cons of all times i.e. the Moroni
    revelations to Joseph Smith analogous to mythical Gabriel’s revelations to the
    hallucinating Mohammed !!!

  • Mormons will be the biggest supporter of gay people in less than 10 years. The reason: gays have money.

  • What other religion requires that you give 10% of your income or you don’t get to go to heaven? Mormonism is a cult that removes money from it’s followers.

  • Mormons own the majority of land in my county and I don’t live in Utah. The county gets no taxes from the Mormon cult.

  • He recycles the same ‘crap’ over and over again because you’re in a cult and don’t have full use of your brain. Hopefully you and others will see the light before you die.

  • “Easter! Several speakers noted the coincidence that General Conference was taking place over Easter weekend”. Funny how real Christians observe Easter as the most important day in the Church Year …. NOT and NEVER a coincidence.

  • So, who’s profiting from this? When we’re talking about a corporation, the profits go to shareholders. We know that the Apostles of the LDS Church receive roughly $120,000 as a stipend. So who’s raking in the money? Who’s getting rich off of this supposed racket?

  • This is almost certainly false. What county do you live in? Where the Church owns large tracts of land, it owns them in the form of a taxable entity (probably Agreserves).

    You know there’s a guy out there actively trying to demonstrate tax fraud by the Church? He’s been working on it for about a year; he even took out ads asking for inside information to prove tax fraud. Do you know what he has to show for his efforts so far? Nothing.

  • When you recycle thoroughly debunked “facts”, you’re not using your brain. RC has repeatedly tried to support his assertion that LDS leaders make a lot of money by stating that they serve on the board of multiple entities. He has been so irresponsible with the facts, that the list above (recycled over and over) includes non-profits (e.g. LDS Social Services, Pioneer Memorial Theater, Ballet West, etc.), boards the named LDS leader was a member of prior to being called as a general authority (e.g. Elder Maxwell and Mountain Fuel), some where both cases apply (e.g. Elder Oaks and the Public Broadcasting System). The rest of the examples primarily deal with for-profit (and taxed) entities owned by the Church include a member of the governing organization of the Church on its board, which is standard practice for for-profit entities owned by non-profit organizations. See, e.g. https://www.americanbar.org/publications/blt/2014/06/03_levitt.html

    I’ve already gone through this in more depth with RC in the past, and yet he still recycles this garbage without refutation of my original criticisms.

    So, who’s using their brain here?

  • Mormons celebrate Easter on years that it doesn’t coincide with General Conference too. Mormon tradition generally gives a lot less (to virtually no) importance to the liturgical calendar, but I don’t think that makes them any less Christian. But it’s important to note that in Mesa, Arizona, the Church draws tens of thousands of visitors for its annual Easter pageant, which is one of the largest Easter events in Arizona.

  • I remember you. You used to make the same comment on Real Clear Religion articles. When I pointed out RCR’s coverage was actually proportionate to its U.S. membership, you quit talking and one of the RCR mods agreed.

  • $120,000/yr plus benefits is a salary most would be quite pleased with especially when said apostles do little work. Then there are all those Mormon company ceo’s etc.making big bucks.

  • Apostles do little work? Are you kidding me? They travel on assignment more weekends than they don’t.

    $120,000/yr is a decent living, but it’s less than almost all of the current 12 made prior to their call. It’s about equivalent to a tenured professor at a University (so no change for Elder Gong). But most importantly, it doesn’t account for the size of the assets you continually complain about. So it doesn’t answer the question of who’s getting rich.

    “Then there are all those Mormon company ceo’s etc.making big bucks.” Who? Sheri Dew of Deseret Book? You’d have to come up with a strangely complex conspiracy to argue that Sheri Dew is really pulling the strings and getting rich.

  • See my reply to Springer. Your information not only irrelevant, but it is false, and you know it (because I’ve pointed it out to you before).

  • http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

    Keeping things in perspective

    Religion…………………………Adherents

    Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion

    Islam…………………………… 1.5 billion

    Irreligious/agnostic/atheism…… 1.1 billion

    Hinduism 900 million

    Chinese traditional religion 394 million

    Buddhism 376 million

    Animist religions 300 million

    African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million

    Sikhism 23 million

    Juche 19 million

    (Mormonism 16 million

    Spiritism 15 million

    Judaism……………………………………..
    14 million

    Baha’i 7 million

    Jainism 4.2 million

    Shinto 4 million

    Cao Dai 4 million

    Zoroastrianism 2.6 million

    Tenrikyo 2 million

    Neo-Paganism 1 million

    Unitarian Universalism 800,000

    Rastafari Movement 600,000

  • If the lds church wants to make real change they need to take charge and admit all past mistakes and teachings that were wrong then either rethink the book of mormon the book of great price. Doctrine and covenant and any other works of joseph smith and dump them or make them subjected to being tested to the old and new testament and in that light judged on their truthfulness just like the restored church of latter day saints have done and they have gotten away from the controversy of their past and moved closer to biblical. Christianity to find more acceptance but without the women or gay acceptance that they have gone that is a tad too far would the lds church be worse off if you declared the other works of joseph smith his own and distant yourself from them and just keep the bom as a historical writting and use the bible old and new as a critique to the interpetation of the book of mormon and maybe a name change like the church of jesus christ of living saints

  • Plus get rid of the temple rituals and turn temples into places of open worship
    And any of the any odd beliefs left over from the past considered non christian
    And i bet you will have many more converts if you say that you have restored the church
    But you do not have any of joseph smith past baggage and strange teachings and just teach the bible and as i said you use the book of mormon as a church history and biography
    and you could see a 50% increase the lds has 10 to 12 million what if you had 20 to 24 million or 30 million members isnt it worth that to rethink joseph smith and all the prophets of the past and their teaching and pronounments they added over the years

ADVERTISEMENTs