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Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Compassionate Conference

Many critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like to paint its leadership as a group of intolerant bigots that are ill-informed and ill-equipped to handle the modern world. This characterization has always felt false and grotesquely cartoonish to me, especially growing up, as I did, carefully watching and listening to the leaders of the Church. Even when occasionally I have disagreed with certain policies in the Church, or felt that certain rhetoric was unhelpful or even harmful, I have usually believed, earnestly so, in the basic honesty and integrity of the men and women within the various quorums and auxiliaries of the LDS Church, and believe that they are striving to live by the spirit of prophecy and revelation, to which God responds. Like many other leaders of world religions--Pope Francis, whom I really admire, comes to mind--they have heavy burdens and responsibilities, not the least of which is to petition God on behalf of their people.

I know many may see that as hopelessly naive--I know because I have read the books, papers, blogs, and Facebook posts of such skeptics. I have listened to their podcasts. I have sat down with them and heard their grievances. And I have had my own dark nights of the soul when a certain article, a particularly troubling historical tidbit, or what seems to me a benighted and backward policy rears its shadowed hooves to try and stamp my faith out of me. I do not take doubt or skepticism lightly, nor do I judge or condemn my friends and loved ones when they have left the faith... or stay, but stay in a constant state of intellectual and spiritual tension. I believe I understand them on certain levels, I believe I am at times part of their fellowship. If I had made a different turn here or there, if I had given way to a particularly bad attack of despair, it could have just as easily been me who abandoned ship.

Today, however, is not a day of doubt. Today is not the labyrinth of questions. I felt the Spirit of God burn peace in me as I watched a very remarkable group of spiritual leaders speak against many of the troubling trends popping up in our present-Trump, post-Truth, fake news, alt. right, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, Nordic Sunrise, Twitter-happy world. Instead of dodging troubling practices about women; or pushing policies against innocent children who should never be pushed away, should never be required to deny their parents, especially since the Church has no doctrine about original sin; instead of obstructing our faith with such distractions, I saw the leaders of the LDS Church rise to the occasion of the times and fulfill their calling in a way I have not witnessed since I was in high school and was continually invigorated by the likes of Neal A. Maxwell, Gordon B. Hinckley, James E. Faust, and a younger Jeffrey R. Holland.

Today current Mormon leaders like Dieter F. Ucthdorf, Thomas S. Monson, Dale G. Renlund, and an older Jeffrey R. Holland rallied to give us a spiritual feast with messages of kindness, love, tolerance, and forgiveness. When the political and secular world is on an unnerving precipice, but still dances on with an inebriated din of prejudice, conflict, fear, and wrath; when even those within our own community in Utah have disgraced themselves by turning away the poor in Draper; or when Jason Chaffetz turns a blind eye to corruption when he has been called as a political guard on the watchtower; our own prophets, seers, and revelators seem to have woke on their own watchtowers and tried to rouse the rest of us to a heightened sense of light, despite a dark world.

I do not believe in prophetic infallibility; neither have the modern prophets, starting with Joseph Smith. As the greatest Prophet of the Restoration said, "I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities" (History of the Church 5:181).

Yet just because I don't believe in prophetic infallibility, doesn't mean I don't believe in prophets. From a young age I felt a strong connection to the Church leaders I saw on TV. I felt the Spirit when most of them spoke, I felt as if they were receiving responses from Heaven, I felt that they were generally accomplishing their missions, I felt like they were good people whose lives were guided by the Spirit. I believed that God is in the Church, and that the Church is in God.

Today I came off of Conference feeling that belief vindicated. With messages about caring for the poor like Christ did; messages decrying intolerance, bigotry, bullying, homophobia, and racism; and messages privileging love and charity over fear mongering; it felt like a Conference that was truly trying to make us more like Jesus.  I will include quotes below that I found particularly powerful when the texts become available, but for now I will point you to the conference talks on Although there were an inordinate number of really good speeches, I recommend particularly the talks by Elder Dale G. Renlund, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (both his priesthood session talk and his Sunday morning session talk), President Joy D. Jones, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

It was so encouraging to see the leaders of the Church step out boldly in love; lift up kindly in compassion; and lead out into the light. People can say all the negative things they want about these men and women... today I saw the light of God in their eyes and I know Christ is with them, purifying them, leading them. They may stumble occasionally, but Christ is there for them when that happens. And He is there for us, too.

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