How Will Latter-day Saint Leaders Address The Moment In October’s General Conference?
This weekend is the October General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the midst of civil unrest and a pandemic, some members are wondering if the Church’s leaders will address these issues with its worldwide audience.
James Jones is an active member and a Black creative entrepreneur in Boston. He said he’s looking forward to the event. But, in studying the teachings of Christ and New Testament leaders who spoke out against difficult topics, he said he wishes today’s leaders would do the same when it comes to condemning racism and white supremacy.
“I think the older I get and particularly the more messed up the world gets, the more I am looking for the brethren to give us something — a way to use our faith to heal the world's social ills,” said Jones, who is a co-host of the podcast “Beyond the Block” where he discusses marginalized communities within the faith.
The Church has released a few statements related to race in recent years, notably this summer it published a joint statement with the NAACP on Medium. The statement came out two weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and said the answers to racism and hate won’t just come from the government.
“Solutions will come as we open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, as we work to build bonds of genuine friendship, and as we see each other as the brothers and sisters we are — for we are all children of a loving God,” the statement reads.
Jones said he was disappointed in the delayed reaction and that the letter didn’t specifically condemn racism or police brutality.
“As members of the Church, members of the Lord’s restored church, we should have been the first people to make these statements,” Jones said. “We should’ve been the first people to do that, like we should be the groundbreakers in this stuff.”
Church leaders have taught there will be turmoil in the time leading up to Jesus Christ’s second coming. President Russell M. Nelson addressed the “last days” in a magazine article published in April, though didn’t give specifics. He said the problems in the world are a cause of concern and to combat fear, people should strengthen their faith.
But the way the current Church president talks about the end times is much different than leaders in the 1960s and 70s, said Matt Harris, a professor of history at Colorado State University Pueblo. Harris focuses on Church history and said leaders used to drive home the point of saving money and food to prepare for Christ's return. Now, they’re careful not to be as extreme, Harris said.
“[Nelson’s] focus on the end times is more subtle. It's more spiritual [preparation],” he said.
Though Utah has seen a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, Harris doubts Nelson will issue any kind of statement directing members on public health guidelines. Utah area leaders issued a statement in June asking people to wear masks and there are reopening guidelines for Church activities, but nothing directly from the president. Harris said that likely won’t happen because of the politicization of face coverings now.
Harris said he thinks leaders will at least acknowledge race and the pandemic, but avoid taking a strong stance. Though, he hopes he’s wrong.
“They always speak in general terms,” Harris said. “They very rarely speak specifically, which is extremely maddening. But they do that because they don't want to offend people.”
The Church released a statement on Sept. 17 saying the focus of this virtual conference will be on hope, inspiration and love.