Tuesday, October 08, 2013

October 2013 General Conference, Controversy and Compassion

General Conference has always been a time of great controversy.  It seems that everyone who has a beef with the church or wants to push their own agenda onto it kinda comes out of the woodwork to make their statement.

 I’m not surprised, either.  It makes sense.  This is where the saints are gathered, with the authorities, and the media.  You’ve got the Ordain Women movement, and the Gay and Lesbian movement and the Mormons Are All Going to Hell movement, and they all have a place in the great wide “Supermercado de Dios” (“God’s Supermarket” - a phrase I learned in Honduras).

 This time, there were two talks that spoke directly to my own agendas, in very powerful and reaffirming ways.  They calmed the controversies that had been brewing for a long time in my soul, and left me feeling quite weightless at the end.  I wish I could find transcripts this soon after the event, but I haven’t been able to find them.

 The first, and probably the biggest (for me) was Elder Uctdorf’s talk on Saturday morning.  I was driving home from a book signing, and listening to it on the radio.  I ended up in tears.  Let me set it up for you.

 For a long time, as I’ve interacted with many different people who have many different ideas about the church, I’ve encountered many with negative things to say about the church.  Frankly, there’s a lot of material to draw from:  Polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Missouri wars, the Adam/God theory, the ERA, the Salamander letters, the political involvement by the church in many issues, including California’s Proposition 8, and even, on a small scale, the expansion of the Provo MTC.

 In my own mind, I had come to be (pretty much) at peace with most of these issues by arriving at a personal understanding that the leaders of the church (historical and current) are humans, and that God allows his human representativess to make choices.  Sometimes, those choices are good and wise, and other times, not so much.  In other words, I truly believe that God leads this church, but that sometimes we humans get in the way, and He allows that as a part of our growth.

 One thing that has consistently bothered me about these things is the way the church has handled the dissent.  Either they’ve ignored it, shouted it down, or simply excommunicated those that were dissenting.

 The tone of the talk by President Uctdorf was finally one with openness, compassion, reconciliation, and forgiveness.  And by “forgiveness”, I mean both extending it, and asking for it.  A member of our highest governing body (the First Presidency) stood up in General Conference and admitted that we have, now and in the past, made mistakes.  That was HUGE.  It confirmed all that I had been feeling, yet wondering about, for so long.  A massive weight was lifted from me. My spirit and mind are both still reeling from the lightness I’m feeling, even days later.

 Then, if that wasn’t enough, in the afternoon session, Elder Holland talked about mental illness, particularly depression.  He talked about how important it is to recognize it and to treat it, even with contemporary professional methods.  He said we wouldn’t send someone with appendicitis home to “study and pray”, but we’d send them to the hospital for an operation.  He called on everyone to treat those with mental health issues with compassion and support.

 While I don’t really know if I would be diagnosed with an actual clinical depression, I’ve been through long periods of “down” throughout my life.  I’ve gotten therapy from time to time and dealt with a lot of my issues.

 It was very nice to hear from that grand pulpit that I’m OK.  That I can be healed, and that I can take steps to be healed.  Another weight lifted.

So, say what you wish about the controversies and the agendas, my two big problems felt, if not resolved, at least at peace.


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his Dutch Oven blog.


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