I haven’t been quite sure how to write this (partially since the two opposing audiences would draw equal measure of skepticism from my use of ‘blessing’ and ‘curse’ to describe General Conference). One draft drifted into a discussion about female ordination (a worthwhile discussion, but not what I initially intended to write about), but I think I have something.
Conference has become a mixed experience for me, although it is net positive. Most reading this understand the basic reasons for watching (hear a prophet’s voice, chance to hear what God wants to say to you, etc.), but may not have considered the reasons that GenConf would be painful to some.
Having felt the pain of hearing myself and friends unfairly misrepresented and unnecessarily divisive language spoken from the pulpit, I wanted to share how there can still be value in spite of (and perhaps because of) such speech.
My framework for evaluating this differs from some (potentially useful thoughts I’ve shared before for understanding where I’m coming from here, here, and here), but I hope is useful. Anyway, here are my five reasons to watch and participate in GenConf despite the negatives.
1. A Tool for Examining Faith
Choosing to confront yourself with opinions and thoughts that differ from your own can be a way to grow your own faith. Conflict can be a pathway to reaching greater truth. By considering and hearing thoughts and perspectives that you disagree with, you are forced to counter the reasoning presented and can identify the flaws within your own thinking and potentially change your mind.
2. A Way to Start Conversations
The topics addressed in GenConf will be staples of conversation within Mormondom for at least the next six months. Therefore a familiarity with them can provide opportunities for thoughtful discussion with others that may not understand the potential harm in the language that was used or comments that were made. There are some land mines in this approach depending on how strictly those you are discussing with define ‘doctrine’ and hold to statements of each and every general authority as doctrine- so be warned.
3. A Means to Personal Revelation
I have found that watching GenConf leads to me receiving personal revelation, whether that aligns with what is being spoken or not, I feel the Spirit teaching me things and bringing questions and ideas to mind that I had not previously considered. The Spirit in which the talks are prepared and given facilitates this, regardless of the content that is being presented.
4. A Source of Wisdom (or Doctrine/Truth)
GenConf can present wisdom and insight that I have not considered, based on the life experience and perceptions of those that are speaking. There can be doctrinal pronouncements and the teaching of truths that strengthen my commitment to follow the Savior. Even with all the questioning, reading and thinking that I do, there will be things that I won’t consider that could be brought to my attention by GenConf and that is valuable.
5. A Place of Comfort (aka Pres. Uchtdorf)
Pres. Uchtdorf, the Silver Fox. What can I say more?
But, seriously, GenConf can be a place where hands are extended and healing begins to take place. These addresses seem to come largely from Pres. Uchtdorf, but there are always a few gems that provide a dab of the balm of Gilead.
It may help to remember that GenConf as a whole is intended for the entirety of the Church, so not every single talk may be of benefit to you. And that is ok. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m rolling my eyes at the cliché-filled remarks of some soon-to-be-forgotten member of the Seventy.
May we all be a bit more sensitive to the pain of others and try to find the silver lining, even when it’s buried in the dark, fear-mongering storm cloud of certain speakers (you know who I mean). There usually is a diamond in the rough (to cram clichés in here after I just bashed them).