Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Top 5 Mormon rumors about this weekend’s General Conference

Your General Conference Rumor Bingo card, courtesy of Jenny Dye and Brandt Malone at the Mormon News Report Podcast.

 

It’s that time of year again, when Mormons spend almost as many hours speculating in the days leading up to General Conference as they do actually listening to General Conference! This year, the rumor mill has been grinding away at a fever pitch like I’ve never seen, so there’s a lot to cover.

Here I’m choosing the top five rumors that I think are the most credible. If you’d like to go deeper and hear some others, listen to recent podcast episodes on Mormon Matters, Mormon Land, and The Mormon News Report. (My favorite completely bogus online rumor: “the Word of Wisdom will be revamped to sanction medical marijuana if it is dispensed and blessed by Mormon bishops.” Oh, honey.)

1. Rebranding

I’m expecting that August’s announcement about using the full name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will find its way into many, many talks. Already we are hearing that the Mormon.org domain name is becoming—wait for it—becoming.org.

I’m not quite sure what the vague “becoming” language is intended to accomplish, since the reasoning given for the name change has been to emphasize the role of Jesus Christ in our religion. “Becoming” could mean just about anything, and is not necessarily Christocentric.

In any case, there are signs that the Church is doing what it can to rid itself of the words Mormon and Mormonism, and the acronym LDS. The hashtag is no longer #LDSConf but #GeneralConference, by the way. #SorryNotSorry, Methodists. (Related rumor, apparently substantiated by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland when speaking to a Draper, Utah stake in September: we should even prepare ourselves for the “Mormon” name to be dropped from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Ouch.)

2. Two-hour church

I didn’t believe it would really happen. In July, I blogged about my skepticism and annoyance that this particularly optimistic rumor just would. Not. Die. In fact, I went so far as to say that I would eat my hat if two-hour church ever became policy.

If the two-hour rumor is true, I’ll have to eat this cake. Actually I think I will do so in any case, because if the rumor turns out NOT to be true, I will be so sad about the prospect of continuing three-hour church that I will be obligated to eat my feelings.

Fortunately, I also added a codicil stipulating that maybe I would instead eat a cake in the shape of a hat. I say “fortunately” because since then I have encountered enough evidence to convince me that this may actually happen, possibly as soon as January 2019, and I will have to consume said hat. (I have been Pinteresting hat-shaped cakes. What do you think of this one?)

Anyway, I’d give pretty good odds now that two-hour church is the real deal. It’s unclear whether the new schedule would involve lopping off Sunday School entirely, shortening each of the blocks to forty minutes, or alternating weeks between Sunday School and Relief Society/priesthood. I’m hoping for the 40/40/40 option myself.

3. Changes in missionary service

I don’t have any official intel on this (or on anything from here on out in the post), but just to repeat the rumors, the scuttlebutt is that missionaries may be able to choose whether to serve for a shorter length of time than two years (men) or eighteen months (women).

I certainly hope it’s true. As I wrote last week, one surprising finding of the Next Mormons Survey was how many Millennials had come home early from a mission. Flexibility in length of service could help with this, and also enable more young people internationally to serve.

I’ve also heard that missionaries may be given more humanitarian service options, or even the choice of serving an entirely humanitarian mission rather than a proselytizing one. That would be fascinating.

I would also love to see an end to the silly policy of women automatically serving a shorter length of time than men. There’s no obvious up side to that particular dose of institutional sexism.

4. Home-based programs

If this is true, let the people say Amen. One of the things Elder Holland said in Draper was that church leaders often hear from members, “Why doesn’t the church [fill in the blank with desired program]?” And that the Brethren’s answer is, “This is your church, so why don’t you?”

He said that coming changes would focus on making the faith “home sponsored and church supported” rather than “church sponsored and home supported.” I am entertaining wild hopes that this is true, because in my research about Millennials I’ve learned that the most exciting ways to engage them in faith are through small local initiatives, not massive generic programs that are supposed to be the same everywhere. The Church needs to let people start their own programs locally—scripture study groups, dinner fellowships, Friends Home Evenings, whatever—and then not co-opt those local initiatives when they are successful in one place.

5. A focus on temples

This is my wild-card entry. I don’t know that we’re going to hear any jaw-dropping announcements about new temples—certainly nothing as gasp-worthy as last conference’s unexpected announcement about a temple in Russia. (Though if there’s going to be one in Independence, MO, that would certainly get folks excited.)

Rather, I expect we’re going to start finding out why President Nelson chose to announce his First Presidency choices while in the Salt Lake Temple. In the press conference that followed in the Church Office Building, he said he wanted to begin his new presidency “with the end in mind”—the end being that people would be “endowed with power in a house of the Lord.”

Whatever focus there will be on temples this conference weekend, it will be about steering members toward that end. I know that Church leaders are very concerned about poor temple attendance, particularly among young adults, so I would not be surprised to see, in addition to the usual rhetoric about the blessings of the temple, more concrete changes that will actually help drive traffic.

Postscript

And here’s a final rumor I would love to be true: for something exciting to be announced in the Saturday evening women’s meeting. I can’t tell you how many times the Church has made an announcement in the priesthood session that actually also affected women. Wouldn’t it be nice to for once have the women’s conference session be the site of something newsworthy? (But do NOT let it be a canonization of the Proclamation on the Family. I just can’t even.)

 

 

This story is available for republication.

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.

ADVERTISEMENTs