Why Should I Watch General Conference (or #ldsconf)?

Elder Cookie Monster will next address us.

People have lots of different ways of thinking about General Conference. For some, it’s the chance to expand their scriptural canon. For others, it’s an excellent vacation opportunity (generally, any Church meeting ending in ‘onference’ could serve that purpose). But I think I’m coming around, after decades, of enjoying the General Conference experience. I plan on listening to at least some of it. I’d like to suggest some of the low-hanging reasons why people might tune in (or turn out) to General Conference, and give some thoughts as to where I think the smart money lies in terms of maximizing the bang for your tithing buck. After all, you don’t want to watch every session like a sucker when you could just watch the ones where the good stuff happens, right?

Reason #1: Tradition [1]

Don’t underestimate the utility of family tradition. Watching General Conference is about as exciting to kids as… watching General Conference but that doesn’t mean the experience is without value. The kids are watching you, parents, to see how into this Church thing you really are. Feigning indifference (or really being indifferent) towards General Conference is not going to do your youngsters any favors. Do you really think they’ll turn out more interested in the Church than you? At least by watching General Conference as a family you’re laying a foundation for them, giving them a spiritual context which they can later reject if they choose — but if you never watch Conference then I guarantee you that your kids won’t either. Does that sound like a guilt trip? Welcome to parenthood. But think about those times when you watched General Conference as a kid with your family. Maybe you went to the Tabernacle; maybe you went to the Stake Center. But were those all a waste of time for you? I doubt it.

Now, if you don’t have kids, knock yourself out I suppose. But think perhaps of your own parents and what they would want you to do. Watching General Conference might be a nice thing to do to show some respect for the way they tried to raise you. Unless they didn’t do that sort of thing at all; in that case, watch General Conference just to stick some mud in their eye.

Reason #2: Living Scriptures [2]

I’ll be the first to admit this is a bit of a stretch. As a missionary I glued some talks into my scriptures, thus reinforcing my belief that General Conference was the living manifestation of the open canon. It’s been a while since the canon was enlarged in a General Conference session (though some might argue otherwise, unpersuasively). More likely we’ll hear leaders of our Church speak to present-day issues and attempt to apply the scriptures to us. We may hear some new parables or interpretations of latter-day events. But new scriptures? Unlikely. STILL — for you long-shot bettors this is a semi-annual finger-crossing moment. Will this be the big one where it’s announced that women finally will be ordained to the Priesthood? Yes it is, as a matter of fact. But I have bad news for you. [3]

Reason #3: Laugh them to scorn

If the BCC liveblog open threads are any indicator, there are hundreds of you out there just watching General Conference in order to get upset about stupid stuff. The choir went up an eighth AGAIN! [4] Hmmm, he looks like he’s really sick and will die soon [5]. I can’t believe they’re speaking out in favor of traditional marriage! [6] Gang, you could be right about each and every one of those whiny complaints, but you’d still be wrong. Watching General Conference to complain about it is like reading Playboy for the articles. Still, if I had my druthers, I’d rather have people watch General Conference and whine about it than not watch it at all [7]. There’s the chance that something good will sink into your cold, flinty hearts after all.

Reason #4: Hanging on

This is why I watch, really. I feel like I’m hanging onto the Church by a thread and I desperately want to love it and for it to love me too [8]. So I watch General Conference for that one moment where I feel like the speaker is talking right to me, right to what I love and to what I fear.[9] It means everything in the world and it’s happened every time I’ve watched General Conference. [10] In other words, General Conference is a chance for me to get what I crave but rarely get out of my weekly [11] churchgoing experience – a sliver of the Spirit and a sense of renewal. If you’re feeling desperate about your Church situation and you wonder if there’s anything left for you at all, General Conference might do the trick. [12]

Reason #5: Community

Think of all those officemates smirking, smiling, lips curling insidiously as they talk about the Breaking Bad finale. Grrr, you swine! [14] I didn’t watch it! Well that’s what’s going to happen if you don’t watch General Conference – everyone will be talking about it and you will feel like an outcast, a leper, because you didn’t watch and you have no idea what that new 70 from Colombia said or the wackadoo analogy to gay marriage that someone else used. Okay, I admit that’s a pretty weak sauce reason to watch General Conference, especially since during the next six months you’re going to be bombarded every week with talks that are based on the General Conference addresses — heck, not watching might be the only way for your weekly Sacrament Meetings to preserve any novelty. But consider the community aspect of a gathering of the Saints. We all sit together to listen to our leaders, to be edified, to pray together [15] and sing together. Consider that millions of your fellow Mormons are bowing their heads [16] at the same time you are. That’s worth something, isn’t it?

So that’s the top 5 reasons I could think of to watch General Conference. None of them are dead-lock compelling, so if this was the weekend you were going to go ziplining in Costa Rica I don’t think you should change your plans. But if this was the weekend you were headed to Peppermill, yeah maybe you should change your plans. In terms of what session is most important, there are various theories. Until this year the Priesthood session always held some secrecy and forbidden nature so you’d think that would be the one to watch — only you’d be wrong, because nothing monumental has ever happened in a Priesthood session [17]. Others think that Sunday Afternoon is the one to watch because that the closing, the climax of the whole shebang, except they’re wrong too. Roughly 15 minutes of the Sunday Afternoon session is taken up thanking people for the stuff they said earlier. No, if you want the revelatory action I’m afraid Saturday is the day for you. Sept. 30, 1978 was a Saturday.[18] Anyways, good luck to you and pick the right session. Saturday is the day for experimental choirs, so that might be nice.

———————————————————

[1] see, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRdfX7ut8gw
[2] see, e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJTY8nHay_k barfffff.
[3] they’re being ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood.
[4] Apologies. Couldn’t resist.
[5] They’re all old! They’re all going to die soon! Get over it.
[6] C’mon, what else did you expect.
[7] It’s a close call though.
[8] Cue some schmaltzy song I suppose, but it’s fairly true.
[9] Especially Richard G. Scott LazerVision ™.
[10] Really!
[11] OK, maybe not weekly.
[12] Or it might finish the job and give you the resolve to leave for good. Either way.
[13] Intentionally Omitted Out of Superstition.
[14] see, e.g., http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/rb/cloister.html
[15] When they’re praying, are you supposed to close your eyes? I mean, it’s on TV. But yeah, you should probably pay attention at least.
[16] Seriously you’re supposed to pray along with them too. Just roll with it.
[17] Prove me wrong, WVS!
[18] But April 7, 1844 and June 16, 1844 were both Sundays, so I don’t know what to think anymore.

Comments

  1. If I remember correctly the Perpetual Education Fund was announced in Priesthood Seeion, and the 2002 missionary raising the bar. That’s all I can think of in terms of important stuff happening in Priesthood Session. Mainly it is the same kinds of talks as the other sessions.

  2. Mere policies!!

  3. You had me at low hanging.

    Seriously, though, I am excited to watch and/or listen to priesthood session with a group of wonderful daughters of God. Tradition with a twist!

  4. Maybe to you, but to the poor person in a third world education who gets an education it is pretty momentous I think.

  5. Stupid speech to text. It mangled my words. I think my point is clear.

  6. Mainly I just like knowing what other BCC readers are having for breakfast

  7. Sure, sure.

  8. Saturday morning is good for announcements like new temples, new apostles (when applicable), and policies like missionary age changes. Let’s hear it for the two hour block!

  9. Casey, watch this space.

  10. This is great. I’m personally excited to see how I feel in my rebellion watching the priesthood session at home with my wife: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsfaithblog/56921294-180/priesthood-lds-mormon-session.html.csp

  11. I think it is probably OK to not watch General Conference if you are instead going somewhere with the word “Zion” in the place name. Enjoyable reading.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    Laservision.

  13. Also, L. Tom Perry talks like a pirate. Once you know that, you can never un-know it.

  14. We always attend Saturday morning session at the church building with the kids. Then we go out for hamburgers afterward. It’s a bribe, but it’s also a tradition. We just watch the Sunday sessions on the internet because bribing might be breaking the sabbath.

  15. marginalizedmormon says:

    I don’t know why I enjoyed this so much, but I did. Thank you–

  16. I thought it was well settled that the Sunday morming session was the best session? Music and the Spoken Word, ftw!

  17. *morning rather. Though morming is a fun typo.

  18. liz johnson says:

    I was really hoping for more footnotes.

  19. Antonio Parr says:

    Classic post. (And with footnotes!)

  20. We all attend the Sunday morning broadcast at a local church building as a family; always have, probably always will. It’s tradition, as Steve says. Going to church on Sundays is what Mormons do.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m on record as not being a big fan of conference:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/09/30/on-not-being-a-big-fan-of-conference/

    But this post was good; almost thou persuadest me. The reality is that I have probably paid more attention to GC in recent years than I used to because mediating the experience through the BCC coverage makes it far more interesting to me than it would be if I tried to watch it without that community aspect to it.

  22. “nothing monumental has ever happened in a Priesthood session” except for President HInckley challenging Elder Nelson to a duel, then Faust and Monson offering to be his seconds.

    Filtered out of the Ensign of course.

  23. It’s in an old video recording of the session though — but only available on Betamax.

  24. wheatwoman says:

    Steve, I really identify with number 4. I’ll never leave the church, but I sure miss liking it. GC can be counted on to provide spiritual bones to chew on for months at a time. The best is when my husband and I grin at each other and high-five across the table during a talk. It provides stark contrast to the way we look at each other during other meetings…

  25. I’m with you. I don’t mean to say that weekly worship is a wasteland, but GC can speak to people in unique ways.

  26. Why watch when every talk is regurgitated for the next six months in Sacrament meeting and Priesthood/Relief Society?

  27. Look, I already made that point, ok? If you’re gonna comment at least read the post.

  28. “The kids are watching you, parents, to see how into this Church thing you really are.” Well, crap.

    I think I agree with you, Steve, that I always get something out of it. The thing is it’s a lot like fossicking (which sounds dirty, but it’s not). We met a guy in NZ who fossicked for 3 years to get enough gold to make a wedding ring to propose to his girlfriend. That was either a really romantic story or a diatribe on procrastination. You decide.

  29. Why can’t it be both?

  30. Well given that he was a Kiwi dude who fossicks and does tours for a living, it probably has to be both, amiright?

  31. “The kids are watching you, parents, to see how into this Church thing you really are.”

    I believe that, Steve, and GC is about the only time my kids will get to hear the top leadership of the Church speak – to the memberships, generally, and to each of them, individually. That’s important.

    I enjoy a lot of the talks each time, but I especially like hearing from Pres. Uchtdorf live. Plus, my wife and daughters get to look at him, and they say that’s not a bad thing, in and of itself.

  32. Well, recent general priesthood meetings flatline in terms of big shifts or doctrinal innovation. I give you that. There is more fun in the 19th century before they called them “general priesthood meetings.”

  33. It was also the Priesthood session when the biggest change to the local organization of the Priesthood since 1978 happened. In October 1986 President Benson announced:

    In harmony with the needs of the growth of the Church across the world, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles have given prayerful consideration to the role of the stake seventies quorums in the Church and have determined to take the following action relative thereto:

    1. The seventies quorums in the stakes of the Church are to be discontinued, and the brethren now serving as seventies in these quorums will be asked to return to membership in the elders quorums of their wards. Stake presidents, in an orderly fashion, may then determine who among such brethren should be ordained to the office of high priest.

    This change does not affect the First Quorum of the Seventy, members of which are all General Authorities of the Church.

    2. Particular emphasis is to be given in stake missions to cooperating with the full-time proselyting missionaries by finding, friendshipping, fellowshipping, and fostering member participation in all missionary activities. A missionary-minded elder or high priest will be called as the stake mission president with his counselors being selected from among the elders or high priests.

  34. Ray, the last time a GA spoke to me individually, bell bottoms were in style. The nature of a General Conference talk is a message to the entire membership, and must be generalized.
    On the other hand, I have individual interactions with my local leaders quite often, and the counsel they offer me is intended to meet my specific needs. Relevant or not, I’m still watching conference .

  35. Good call.

  36. Caffeine Drinker says:

    Bell bottoms actually had a renaissance in 1998-1999.

  37. I know I’m supposed to gush breathlessly about modern day scripture and sitting at the feet of the prophets but I find General Conference to be as boring as the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. It’s too long, it’s too formulaic, it’s too pale, it’s too soporific.

  38. Thanks, Steve. This is my first year to watch conference as an empty nester. Actually, I don’t watch conference. I listen, while cleaning my house. I think I’ll pull up rugs this time and get ready to re-do my floor. I miss preparing Conference Bingo cards.
    I’m with you on that one talk that speaks directly to you–or to me. It’s not always who I think it will be. One year, Elder Hales gave the talk I needed, and I’ve re-read it several times since.

  39. I’m a footnote fan! Good job mr. evans.

  40. Aw shucks.

  41. I bribe my young men (and many of the older ones) to attend priesthood meeting by organizing a trip to a local BBQ joint right beforehand. It’s completely twisted that teenage boys who don’t even come to church will sit through a two-hour meeting of old white guys on a Saturday night in exchange for a pulled-pork sandwich — a $7 value. Completely twisted.

  42. Doug Hudson says:

    Never underestimate the power of free food. Jesus provided free food for his sermons; how can we do less?

  43. It was also the priesthood session- April 2006 when President Hinckley boldly decried racism “How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?” Oh wait, I didn’t hear it until I read it in the Ensign because I wasn’t attending due to my gender, and thus, don’t hold the priesthood.

  44. “If the BCC liveblog open threads are any indicator, there are hundreds of you out there just watching General Conference in order to get upset about stupid stuff. The choir went up an eighth AGAIN! [4] Hmmm, he looks like he’s really sick and will die soon [5]. I can’t believe they’re speaking out in favor of traditional marriage! [6] Gang, you could be right about each and every one of those whiny complaints, but you’d still be wrong. Watching General Conference to complain about it is like reading Playboy for the articles. Still, if I had my druthers, I’d rather have people watch General Conference and whine about it than not watch it at all [7]. There’s the chance that something good will sink into your cold, flinty hearts after all.”

    Oh, holy hell, that was awesome.

  45. Melanie, I’m so glad you cited that quote! Few people remember it. I heard about it almost immediately, as my phone started ringing the second the meeting ended. But I think people remember Pres. Hinckley for his statements on tattoos, piercings, and for the brilliant “small temple” idea. I wish everyone had the first part of the talk you quoted (“Show Greater Kindness”–April 2006) memorized.

  46. “You had me at low hanging.”

    “Also, L. Tom Perry talks like a pirate. Once you know that, you can never un-know it.”

    EdwardJ FTW.

  47. John Taber says:

    I keep referring to one part or another “Show Greater Kindness” since it covered so much ground and for me, put many things in perspective. Hopefully it’s that sort of thing I’ll remember President Hinckley for as time goes on.

  48. “I think it is probably OK to not watch General Conference if you are instead going somewhere with the word ‘Zion’ in the place name.”

    Mathew, I agree wholeheartedly. That was my weekend plan until it closed.

  49. Mat, if I ever see you again it’ll be Zion to me! Therefore let’s go get waffles.

  50. Steve, you may just have surpassed EdwardJ.

  51. I’m EdwardJ and I approve this message. :-)

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