Three Notes on President Uchtdorf (and His Wonderful Priesthood Session Sermon)

Dnews 20.CESUchtdorf.0113.chn Let me confess that I’ve become a little suspicious of the deep affection which seems to characterize so many discussions about President Dieter F. Uchtdorf amongst the Intellectual Mormons (use whatever definition your prefer) that I frequently associate with. I have a hard time buying the idea that this man is some kind of Great Liberal Hope for the church; there’s no way any person (even a non-American!) can get to the highest levels of church leadership and not be fundamentally at peace with–and have real faith in the divinity behind–the corporate Mormon institution which we all know and love. He’s a general authority, a man we give the title “apostle” to, and that ought to be more than good enough. There’s no need to look at him as one who has great and unique and needed insights which his fellow general authorities lack.

Except that, well, he keeps giving beautiful, thoughtful, wise talks after which I have to tell myself: “Honestly, I’m not sure there’s anyone else in the Church Office Building who would have said that.” His sermon in Priesthood session this past Saturday is a case in point.

First, his talk was titled “Four Titles“–and yet, he never actually makes reference to any current priesthood titles. Deacon? Teacher? Priest? Elder? High Priest? Apostle? Nowhere to be seen. He completely side-steps that whole framework–which doesn’t, I hasten to add, mean that he probably thinks such titles to be unimportant (would that he did, but it’s probably too much to hope for), but it does suggest that he thinks there are more important things to emphasize. Like, specifically, that all the men he was speaking to need to understand themselves as, and treat one another as, sons of God, disciples of Christ, healers of our fellow beings, and heirs of God’s love. None of those have any sort of specific institutional grounding; indeed, the closest he came to making reference to something connected to the institutional church was when he spoke of us man as “fellow-citizens of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). This was a call to love and respect and heal and preach that made reference to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, but was in no specific way tied to their offices. To put on my Protestant hat–I like to wear it sometimes; it’s quite comfortable–it almost had a Lutheran, “priesthood-of-all-believers” tone to it. I, for one, like that very much.

Second, his talk emphasized diversity–quite explicitly. The Atonement exists to enable us all to repent and received God’s grace; it does not exist to make us all the same. Here, he quite directly attacked the implied conformity so often communicated in the church:

Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads us to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold–that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God….It also contradicts the intent and purposes of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency–with all its for-reaching consequences–of each and every one of God’s children. A disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our social, cultural, and political preferences. The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.

This is not a unique message to hear at general conference–but it is a rare and needed and welcome one. I could also imagine President Chieko Okazaki (of Blessed Memory) speaking when he said it, and that is never a bad thing.

Third, speaking of Sister Okazaki, President Uchtdorf got stereotypically feminine in this sermon, and showed that it was manly to cry–and not cry over moments and impressions of great spiritual importance (that’s well established in general authority rhetoric), but to cry over the pain felt by other people–and not just over the “tender feelings” of women and children (that’s a well established pattern also), but over the feelings of men. That’s right, President Uchtdof feels the pain of men who feel “overlooked or unwanted,” that feel like they are a “nobody.” Getting teary-eyed, Uchtdorf said with great fervor something which is too often associated solely with the “lifting up” rhetoric of the sisters of the church–that every man in the sound of his voice was “special,” and was “needed,” and had their own their own “particular part to play,” their own “notes to sing” in God’s great symphony. I confess that I’m not big fan of therapeutic language in church….but then, I can’t remember the last time I’d heard it addressed to me. (And by that man! A pilot! With that tan! And that awesome hair!) It was silly….but I was moved by it. Even inspired by it. And that, of course, was President Uchtdorf’s intent. What a good intent it is! And how well he presented it.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the general authority that will save the church? That’s a ridiculous claim. But the general authority who, at this time, is saying the things that some of us really need to hear, so that we will let God save us, and so we can be part of His work in saving our fellows here on earth? That’s a claim I can believe.

Comments

  1. I must confess I am not the type to get emotional when hearing a GA speaking but when President Uchtdorf talks, he just says the right things, at the right moment and in the right way..

  2. My favorite talk delivered in my lifetime is Elder Wirthlin’s “Concern for the One” – and I believe that talk influenced Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk in a very literal way. As I was watching him deliver it, I found myself leaning forward in the pew, focusing more intently than I normally do, absorbing the words, smiling as I listened, feeling tears form.

    It was a beautiful message, and it was needed so badly by so many members I love and for whom I am pained on a regular basis.

    “But the general authority who, at this time, is saying the things that some of us really need to hear, so that we will let God save us, and so we can be part of His work in saving our fellows here on earth? That’s a claim I can believe.”

    Amen – and Amen – and I am hearing his (and Elder Wirthlin’s) messages more and more from others as time flows on. That is a light to my soul.

  3. [with loud voice, that makes some gasp and look around to see who let in the evangelical] AMEN!

  4. President Uchtdorf’s talks always seem to focus upon the key to our salvation, Love for our savior, our fellow men and women and ourselves. He seems to have been assigned or taken the role of reminding us that Love is the answer. Bravo for him. May we learn from his words and treat each other with kindness and carry love in our hearts.

  5. My non Mormon, non theist husband is always struck positively by the tenor and message of Elder Uctdorf’s messages. This conference in between sessions he coined a phrase, that encapsulated his desire that all speakers in conference (he watches with us) should strive to be ”Like unto Uctdorf”.

  6. Make that Uchtdorf.

  7. You know how sometimes everyone raves about a movie, and you then go see the movie but are disappointed because your expectations were too high? That’s what I again expected to happen with Elder Uchtdorf on Saturday evening. The expectation is so high for him. And, yet, as I listened to his talk, I found myself spiritually elated, mentally focused, and moved to tears. It was amazing to me. (Yes, I was struck, too, that the only emotion he displayed was when expressing his love and concern for others, not in the stereotypical “look at me and how spiritual moved I am by my awesome testimony”.)

    For me, the thing with President Uchtdorf has very little to do with some Great Liberal Hope. Yes, I am hopeful that his unconventional messages will work a change in the culture of the Church. More, though, I see it simply as God doing a marvelous work through this man and his spiritual gift for teaching the Gospel. After the P-hood meeting, when I returned home, I told my wife, “Now THAT’S a prophet!”

  8. rameumptom says:

    I’m thinking that Pres Uchtdorf was addressing a world-wide Church, and not just an American one. He was encouraging the German males that it is okay to cry, as that is not something they would normally do, while encouraging the French not to cry over everything.

    Seriously, many of the GAs tend to speak to an American audience, and sometimes only a Utah audience. Most are from Utah/Idaho and would mostly relate there. Pres Uchtdorf would naturally relate to Europe and esp Germany, and so give a more universal speech.

    How’s that for interpretation?

  9. but to cry over the pain felt by other people–and not just over the “tender feelings” of women and children (that’s a well established pattern also), but over the feelings of men.

    It was so heartfelt. How could any man not be touched. Even if he doesn’t himself feel unwanted, surely we all know someone who does?

    In my eyes, the beauty of this talk was in how we, as men, might be compassionate towards other men. So often talks to men center around duty, service, obligations, etc. and our quorums may be referred to “brotherhood” but at least for me, there’s usually nothing “brotherly” about them. But here we see a man moved to tears by empathy for the EMOTIONAL pain of other men! Now that’s a message worth sharing!!!

    Somehow Uchtdorf continues to pull off masterpieces…and it’s not just to us “Intellectual Mormons,” it seems everyone relates! I think his messages are powerful because he’s pouring water into a dried up well, a well that desperately needs filling.

  10. I think that President Uchtdorf has the ability to convey an emotional and thoughtful sensibility that resonates with more modern, educated Latter-day Saints. Being a cultural European probably helps with that. In a sense, European and non-U.S. Latter-day Saints have seen similar political, cultural and social transformations to those that now beset the United States, and they have moved beyond that. They have found that the Church and Mormon theology are still relevant, even more relevant. I believe and hope that President Uchtdorf will become one of the new role models for the next generation of leadership in the Church.

  11. Gilgamesh says:

    I have a friend (a convert) that is considering leaving the church because we don’t emphasize Christ. Every time I hear President Uchtdorf speak, I think of this friend and wish he would listen to President Uchtdorf’s talks. His talks focus on what it means to be a Mormon Christian. When he shares messages about Holy Week or Advent it brings us into the larger Christian community. His talks tend to focus on what it means to be followers of Christ. This one stood out as a wonderful reminder that our titles should tell us we are Christians first, priesthood holders second. I hope we have more and more truly Christ based messages from the GA’s as they follow President Uchtdorf’s example.

  12. Name (required) says:

    the other thing is that he is so doggone POSITIVE.

    so many talks are doom-and-gloom, it’s-the-last-days, the-world-is-awful … I can take only so many of those (looking at you, Saturday 4pm session)

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Excellent, Russell, thanks.

  14. CS Eric says:

    Whenevet I hear Pres Uchtdorf speak, I think to myself, “I want to be a member of the church the way he preaches it should be.”

    I have been that man in the corner, and this talk gave me courage to not go back there.

  15. JennyP1969 says:

    Wow, thank you for expressing your feelings about this. It’s enlightening and uplifting. I’ve been a little blue because my husband is visiting his parents and he is currently a bishop. I know his plate is very full, but his response to women praying for the first time was, “Who cares?” I’ve been swelling on that response perhaps a bit too much……thanks for the post and comments to pull me out of myself. I, too, am trying to come out of my corner.

  16. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen quite a few leaders of the church cry/weep/choke up in public. A surge of the love of God for our brothers and sisters and/or the sweet witness of the Holy Spirit often does that. Elder Eyring chokes up fairly frequently in conference. I watched Bruce R. McConkie’s last testimony last week on YouTube and saw him choke up as he spoke of himself kneeling before Christ in coming days (10 days before he died) and bathing His feet with tears. It was quite moving.
    On the other hand “keeping a stiff upper lip” and “taking it like a man” was taught quite vigorously in Western Culture in the not too distant past. I suspect that philosophy was crucial to surviving the horrors of the World Wars. One of my great uncles was one of 4 survivors among the 1000 Marines of his division that went ashore early in the invasion of Iwo Jima. He *never* talked about his experiences there. I believe the pain was too deep. I believe that the atonement of Christ will eventually heal all such wounds, but in the meantime, patience, forbearance, and even silence have their uses.
    I was personally inspired by Elder Uchtdorf’s Priesthood Session talk to remember that I should be serving vigorously whatever I am called to do and wherever I see a need. I don’t need (and shouldn’t look for) any position or rank for that. I expect that other people who needed different lessons may have perceived it differently.
    I also loved the general cheer and encouragement of this talk and many others in this conference. The World is clearly waxing in iniquity, but the Church as a whole will keep moving forward loving and blessing the lives of our fellow men in so many ways. I know that we are led by actual prophets of God. The train of the Lord’s church moves on as Elder Glenn Pace spoke of some years ago. I just hope and pray that I and my family stick with it and don’t wander away.

  17. LiteralHipster says:

    If you aren’t sure exactly what Vince was referring to with his “AMEN!” comment, watch the last 10 seconds of the video of Elder Uchtdorf’s talk:

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/watch/2013/04?lang=eng&vid=2282562352001&cid=7

  18. Sharee Hughes says:

    On Sunday morning, before Conference began I went online and took a look at the Saturday night Priesthood session. I decided I had time to watch one talk and I selected Pres.Uchtdorf’s, partly because he’s so nice to look at and partly because I always enjoy his talks. I belong to a neighborhood study group where from time to time we review and discuss the talks from the previous Conference We haven’t quite finished with October Conference yet and I have an assignment from that for this Wednesday, but I’ve decided I’m going to do two talks. None of the other ladies ever read there talks online, anyway, so they can hear from me about what Pres. Uchtdorf said before next month’s Ensign comes out. I thought it was a truly awesome sermon. It’s too bad they don’t broadcast the Priesthood session. It’s not like they’re saying things that are too “secret” for the rest of us.

  19. Thank you for sharing and expressing your insights so well. I love President Uchtdorf talks. I find myself reading all his messages over and over again. I love his honesty, directness and courage to say what needs to be said. He always seems to speak in a way that everyone understand and relate and said things that need to be said with and compassion. He have the gift That make you feel love and understood. He told men It is okay to show emotions, It is Okay to be compassionate towards other men! it is okay to care! That they are important, That they are needed it in our heavenly father plan. His compassion and empathy was felt. He cares and you knew that he was sincere and REALLY CARE!.

  20. Justin Williams says:

    President Uchtdorf’s talk was exactly what I needed to hear on Saturday. I almost didn’t want to go to Priesthood session after hearing about the “tolerance trap” and four hours of how wicked the world is getting (with a few exceptions of talks that were positive). I definitely got a little emotional during his talk.

  21. Can we add “genius” to God’s list of attributes?

  22. President Uchtdorf is a shining light . . .

    The brutal truth is that most of the 12 are tone deaf to needs, concerns and attitudes of most members under 50.

  23. Brian F. says:

    Steve, Why do you think so? I’m under 30, and I feel like almost all of them care about my needs, concerns, and attitudes. Yes, I may disagree with them, and sometimes I question if they understand my situation, but it doesn’t matter. God understands, and if there is something important, he’ll tell them what they need to know.

  24. Geoff - A says:

    Yes he is a fantastic example of what an Apostle should be and believe.

    I really think that the leaders need to retire at 80. This would remove the 10 above Uchtdorf, and also allow 10 more like him to be called (surely there are 10 who share his view of the church and the world).

    Can you imagine a church with 10 Uchtdorfs, Perhaps it might be possible to roll forth and fill the world.

    How can this be encouraged?

  25. Brian F —

    I don’t know about you but messages about the end of the world, women solely as mothers, the world constantly getting worse, etc. really don’t resonate. My daughter is in her 20s. She tuned out after about an hour Saturday morning. She was turned off by the general negativity. Today, I talked to a working mom who was in tears about the constant brow-beating about the role of women (she has to work to support her family).

    When President Hinckley was around, I always enjoyed his positive attitude. Elder Holland’s talk was really excellent. But, far too many are just too negative, too disconnected from most people’s issues.

  26. Thanks Russell. I was touched to the core over his diversity dialogue coupled with the idea that we place too much value on leadership trajectory. It still stays with me. All are equally valued by God and all have a high-value mission in life. Don’t wait for a formal call. Go out and do it.

  27. Brian F. says:

    I can see your point, but I disagree slightly. It seems to me that General Conference addresses are to speak to the macro level, and that specific personal issues are best addressed on a micro level. Believe me, I get tired of all of the brow beating about single men being evil, shiftless people who don’t want to get married. That does not apply to me, but there might be many people out there that need to hear that message to spur them to action. I am not saying that about your friend or family.
    I’m not sure on the negativity, it seems that most of the addresses I heard were about hope, the power of the Atonement, faith, love, and geing good people. Yes there were warnings about sin, but that is the job of an apostle, to warn about sin. Perhaps I listened to a different conference.

  28. Brian F. says:

    *being

  29. “Honestly, I’m not sure there’s anyone else in the Church Office Building who would have said that.”

    That’s probably true. I appreciate President Uchtdorf’s perspective, and like one of the posters above, I appreciate his Christ-centered messages.

  30. Good talk. Very heartfelt.

    Jim

  31. LOVED this talk and appreciate your notes here.

    I texted my notes in real time to my wife. They capture my personal feelings from the beginning of the meeting and how they changed when President Uchtdorf spoke:

    “So don’t prefer the ‘we live in perilous times’ rhetoric. We are living in the greatest era of time ever. Lets be optimistic! So much negativity when people take the “us against the world” mentality
    Here we go again: “Satan desires to have you”. Why so much fear mongering?! Lets get edified, not afraid!…

    Uchtdorf now
    Speaking of titles like “son of Heavenly Father”
    And living up to that, and not getting discouraged when we come up short. YES! A message of hope!
    Uchdorf on not thinking that because others are different they are less pleasing to God
    And the myth that members must be made from the same mold
    Awesome
    “We are diverse in our social, cultural and political preferences”
    Title for Christ: “healer of souls” and how we should follow his example and mourn with those who mourn and bind up wounds, etc
    “We should be dedicated healers”
    This is a great talk
    Not just talk the talk but walk the walk
    Other titles: “disciples of christ” and “joint-heirs”
    Uchtdorf FTW!
    He got emotional and said “I’m sincerely sorry” to those who have felt they are not needed
    Wow
    For. The. Win.
    Way to go
    Such a focus on the positive and encouragement
    Actually heard someone yell “amen!” Over the satellite
    After complaining about negativity, his talk was redemption! Water to a parched soul. “Ask and you shall receive”

  32. Raymond Takashi Swenson says:

    Pres. Uchtdorf lived in totalitarian East Germany and escaped with his family. As a Mormon in Germany, he grew up in small congregations and was called when still young to travel widely to serve the dispersed Saints. When he spent a year in pilot training in the US, he attended a small branch in Texas where he helped build a meetinghouse. While he was a senior executive in Lufthansa, a major company, his Church experience was with struggling congregations where every member was several percent of the ward or branch, and indispensable.

    I look forward to seeing more of the international members of the Seventy called into the 12.

  33. Thanks for sharing that, Clean Cut.

  34. Sharee Hughes says:

    Just wanted to add a note. I mentioned earlier that I was planning to share this talk with my neighborhood study group. I did, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. The things Pres. Uchtdorf said were valuable to women as well as priesthood holders.

  35. McKay smith says:

    I don’t think the author of this article understands the church and where it’s at very clearly. What is all this talk about the church needing to be saved? Sure we have our problems, but that’s only because imperfect people is all god has to work with. The church isn’t out to conform everyone into some kind of institution. This is Christ church, not just some institution.

  36. McKay smith says:

    I’m pretty surprised from the sound of individual apostasy in a lot of these comments.

  37. McKay Smith,
    You do realize that this is the Internet right? Where nobody knows that you are a dog, so people feel free to write stuff they’d never say face to face.

    I am certain that some comments really were written by apostates and others by professional anti-mormons. The comment by “Steve” to the effect that Elder Uchtdorf is the “only one of the Twelve” who is not totally out of touch with those under 50 is frankly a dead giveaway on several levels.

    I still generally like LDS blogs, but as they said about the now dead USENET: the signal to noise ratio is getting pretty poor.

  38. Tom D and McKay Smith,

    Your attitude is what Pres. Uchtdorf was addressing when he pointed out that,

    “Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads us to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold–that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God..”

    Why must you belittle and judge those who think differently than you? What I appreciate about Pres. Uchtdorf is his focus on the Gospel according to Christ rather than the Mormon Culture of the Western US. Forget the rules and regs and focus on love and service. The rest fall in line. Btw, yours are the first negative and hateful comments I’ve seen in this line.

  39. AM, After rereading my last comment I have to confess that it was cynical and hurtful. It was certainly not intended to be hateful, but singling out Steve was stupid and rude.

    Steve, I apologize for being rude and cynical. I didn’t mean to be personally hurtful.

    I am still wary of those who praise one leader and say that all of the rest are out of touch. That does not sound right to me, but perhaps I am just misinterpreting them. I was quite surprised when so many commenter here piled on heaping praise on Elder Uchtdorf and condemning most (or all) of the rest of the speakers. I enjoyed most of the conference speakers. I wasn’t much moved by a few talks, but I don’t doubt that even the most boring (to me at least) speakers were delivering worthwhile talks and advice for somebody.

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