Four Takeaways From This Weekend's Mormon Conference
Much of this weekend’s bi-annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was business as usual. There were earnest sermons from top church leaders, interludes from the (newly renamed) Tabernacle Choir, polite jokes without outsized laughter, etc. But, the twists and turns included the confirmation of a rumor that has persisted in Mormon circles for years.
Since 1980, Mormons worldwide have adhered to the same three-hour Sunday worship schedule. Now, that schedule has been trimmed by an hour in order to create what church officials are calling a more home-centric rather than church-centric Mormon culture.
“As Latter-day Saints, we have become accustomed to thinking of ‘church’ as something that happens in our meetinghouses, supported by what happens at home,” Church President Russell Nelson said Saturday.
The idea of a two-hour shortened church meeting has been rumored for years and the news came with a lot of excitement, including from Utah Lieutenant Governor, Spencer Cox:
Others saw benefits and possible downsides.
“For my own family, I think it will be both easier and harder,” Rachel Hunt Steenblick said. Steenblick, a Mormon author and mother, said her young son loves his time in “nursery” — Sunday daycare — and she appreciates the child break and the opportunity to fellowship with other adults. “But three hours also feels long, and it will also be nice that it's briefer.”
This may be seen as an effort to entice Mormons who don’t regularly attend church to come back. But Kurt Francom, a former bishop and creator of the nonprofit Leading LDS, is skeptical of that being the case.
“I doubt it, since nobody was ever restricted from leaving after two hours of church before,” Francom said. “If anything entices people back to attending church regularly, it will most likely be the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Perhaps those who saw the most immediate benefit were those who placed bets on the rumors being true:
What’s In A Name?
In August, Russell Nelson announced that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be distancing itself from the nicknames “LDS Church” and “Mormon,” opting for the Church’s full name and “Latter-day Saints” as the term for church members. This weekend, he elaborated on that choice with rather strong language.
“If we allow nicknames to be used and adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, [Jesus Christ] is offended,” Nelson said.
“When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the ‘LDS Church,’ the ‘Mormon Church,’ or the ‘Church of the Latter-day Saints,’ the most glaring omission is the absence of the Savior’s name,” Nelson continued. “To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan.”
“Weeks ago when I first heard of this invitation the marketer in me really wrestled with it; however, I started from that point to remove these titles from my vocabulary,” Francom said.
Now, after hearing Nelson speak, he said the change feels right.
Very Little From The Female Perspective
During the four general sessions over the weekend, in which all LDS Church members are encouraged to attend regardless of age or gender, there was only one female speaker compared to the 25 male leaders who spoke.
“Over half of the members of the church are women,” Steenblik said, “We matter. And representation matters.” She added that she’d like to see more diversity represented as well, both in skin color and nationality. “I sincerely believe they can reveal and teach different things about God from their experiences.”
No Sign Of Budging On LGBTQ Views
Dallin Oaks, first counselor in the LDS Church’s first presidency and second most senior leader, has made a habit of doubling down on hardline stances toward gender and homosexuality in his general conference addresses.
“Some are troubled by some of our Church’s positions on marriage and children,” Oaks said Saturday. “Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan.”
Oaks’ message sent ripples throughout Mormon social media circles. Many LGBTQ Mormons and allies said this kind of messaging continues to reopen old wounds.