My preferred way of listening to conference is to gather with my ward at the Lake Nokomis meeting house. They have a wonderful tradition of having conference potluck lunches in between sessions that goes back to the days when people had to travel extremely long distances to get to Church, and didn't want to go home in between sessions. Those potlucks are not to be missed, and I love spending time with my ward family. I feel loved and safe with them. I guess I am lucky to have so much family.
Nevertheless, recorded or live, conference was a powerful experience. After I finished listening to the last session I was filled with peace, that stayed with me the entire evening.
So, I don't think I imagined it. I didn't count actual numbers of talks, or number of minutes devoted to the subject, but it seemed to me there was more discussion of same-sex marriage at this conference than in any preceding. Talk subjects are assigned only by "impressions of the Spirit," as Elder Oaks put it in his first session talk. So the increasing number of talks explicitly mentioning this subject could mean that "God is trying to tell you something." At the very least, it means that this issue is a growing concern among Church leaders.
I listen very carefully to what Church leaders have to say at conference. If something strikes me as challenging or difficult, I make sure to write it down. I've found in the past that avoiding or ignoring the stuff we don't like generally only postpones an inevitable reckoning. So I prefer to go there, to the hard place, and sit with it and listen.
In looking over my notes from Elder Packer's first session talk, I found I had written an inadvertently rhyming couplet. It could even be a street rap:
Love is not a temptation / I am not a mutationAt moments in conference, I wrestled with the sense that many of our leaders just don't understand same-sex attraction. I wondered if those who were most vocal in speaking about it at conference had actually listened to the experience of LGBT Mormons in a way that wasn't filtered through their pre-existing biases. A lot of my LGBT LDS friends are just getting turned off or are tuning out, and I don't think it's because they're particularly egregious sinners. Some of the folks I know who are most turned off/tuned out are the ones who are actually living all the Church's standards or are in mixed-orientation marriages.
Listening to conference, I had the very puzzling experience of hearing statements that (from my admittedly limited perspective) missed the mark in terms of what it means to be gay, yet finding myself nodding in hearty agreement with the fundamental principles underlying the talk. One of the best examples was Elder L. Tom Perry's talk. Having been involved with the foster care system for a number of years, I am aware that there are forces at work in society, particularly related to substance abuse, sex out of wedlock, and poverty (which, often a factor for single parents, leads to parental absence/neglect). The phrase "disintegration of the family," oft repeated at conference, points to a real phenomenon. Though I'm still not sure how same-sex marriage is implicated in it, or even in the same category with it. In my firsthand experience, same-sex couples who are marrying are shoring up and strengthening disintegrating families. Very often, our marriages are a stable peg in a tent that might otherwise collapse. We take care of kids and aging parents. We show up at family reunions, even when we get distinctly non-welcoming vibes there. We love our families. We married because we believe in commitment and we believe in family. Most married same-sex couples would heartily applaud Elder Perry's words against "the poisonous mentality of temporary." In fact, oddly enough, Elder Perry actually appears to have quoted an article by columnist David Brooks applauding same-sex marriage on the grounds that it represented a voluntary relinquishing of personal freedom in favor of obligation and relationship.
But the puzzling or difficult experiences were there with profound spiritual experiences of reassurance and comfort and that enduring peace.
Last Tuesday (a week ago today!), I met with my stake president and he ministered to me. Many of the things he said to me have become touchstones for me, things that I remember when I risk feeling discouraged. He did not say anything to me that is out of harmony or out of line with the teachings of our general authorities. To the contrary! But my stake president knows me personally. He spent almost an hour and a half with me, asking questions, listening to me, getting to know me better. That means that he could counsel me with a knowledge of the peculiarities of my personal situation. And he helped give me perspective and hope.
My experience with my stake president combined with my conference experience helped me to understand something fundamental. The ministry of the Church is and was always designed to be personal. That's how Christ ministered. And that's how Christ's ministers minister. That's how my bishop and my stake president have ministered to me.
If I had not had the context of a relationship with Church leaders like my bishop and my stake president, who know my name, who know my husband and our son, who love us and pray for us, I wonder if it wouldn't have been more difficult for me to experience the kind of personal growth that ultimately conference provided for me.
There were key moments in conference, when leaders reiterated specific principles that I had discussed with my stake president, and that made conference much more deeply personal than it might otherwise have been. Consequently, I am so grateful for the whole, entire Church, from the lowliest usher to the Prophet, and everyone and everything in between. And especially, right now, for my stake president. Without going into detail about my discussion with him, I felt it would be appropriate to share those statements in conference that took on special meaning and significance for me thanks to my stake president's ministry to me.
Elder Bednar's entire talk about fear was a balm to me. I loved his insight that our fears are not hushed when leaders tell us not to be afraid, but when leaders teach us correct principles and, embracing those principles, we hush our own fears. As Elder Bednar put it, "Correct knowledge of and faith in the Lord empower us to hush our fears, because Jesus Christ is the only source of enduring peace." Three things he then said perfectly paralleled things my stake president said to me:
- Ordinances and covenants are the building blocks we use in building on the foundation of Christ
- We should remember and honor sacred commitments
- We should press forward with faith in Christ
Three statements of Elder D. Todd Christofferson also paralleled things my stake president told me and that were particularly comforting to me:
- “Everyone can contribute to the unfolding of the divine plan”
- “When you who bear the heaviest burdens of mortality stand up in defense of God’s plan to exalt his children, we’re all ready to march”
- “The atonement of Jesus Christ has anticipated and in the end will compensate all deprivation and loss for those who turn to him. No one is predestined to receive less than all that the Father has for his children.”
- "Many of the things you can count don’t count, and many of the things you cannot count do count"
- "Why do we serve? Why are we here? ...I’m here because I love my Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ"
Wilford W. Anderson I think summed up my experience with conference most beautifully in his story about a Native American elder who taught an ER doctor that "I can teach you to dance, but you have to be able to hear the music."
Without the context of personal ministry I had received from local church leaders who hold the keys to minister to me, and without an openness to and a desire to learn through the Spirit, I think conference would just have been a (frustrating!) experience of getting dance lessons without the music.
I don't think that's what God intends.