Take, for example, the following email I sent a ward member about the topic of an assigned talk:
Dear Brother [X]: Thank you for accepting the invitation earlier today to speak in Sacrament Meeting in two weeks. As I mentioned in our discussion, the topic of the talk is 2 Peter 3:13-15. Could you please read this scripture as part of your talk (and use it in your preparation) and share with the ward your thoughts on what Peter wrote in those verses, especially verse 15 when he said “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation”?
Sister [Y] is speaking on patience through the Lord, and [recently baptized] Brother [Z] will be reading Colossians 3:8-15, which also relates to longsuffering and forgiveness.
Please plan to speak for 10 minutes.
We simply trusted that having been assigned such topics, these adults would work out what to say relying on the Spirit to guide them in their preparation and as to what sources to use in creating something meaningful specifically for our ward. I often really enjoyed hearing these Latter-day Saints’ own insights and understanding of the Atonement as they prepared and delivered these talks.
At the same time we were continuing to take this traditional approach, I had already been hearing for several years from friends in other wards, primarily on the Wasatch Front but also elsewhere in the United States, that a new approach to assigning adult Sacrament Meeting talks had been adopted in their wards. Instead of being invited to give a talk about a scripturally based Christ-centered Gospel topic, members were always asked to talk about a particular talk given in a recent General Conference. (At one point, two members of the Quorum of the Seventy both gave General Conference talks during the same conference about then-Apostle Eztra Taft Benson’s 1980 BYU Devotional Address “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” — shortly thereafter, I began hearing from friends that they or others in their wards had been assigned to give a talk about one of these talks, so a talk about a talk about a talk.)
This practice seems to be gaining cultural ascendancy — from my observation, more and more bishoprics are taking this approach to assigning Sacrament Meeting talks. Even bishoprics in the strongest wards with well-established members (members who have spent their lives thinking about the Gospel and immersed in scripture, faithfully attending General Conferences and Stake Conferences and who would have a lot to say about the Atonement and any Gospel topic) are assigning such members to talk about recent General Conference talks rather than prepare their own remarks about the Atonement or other closely related Gospel topic.
“I have been asked to speak today on Elder Scott’s talk in the last Conference. . . .”
Do General Authorities know that this practice is on the rise? That many (perhaps most?) bishoprics are now simply assigning members to talk about recent General Conference talks in their Sacrament Meeting talks?
It stands to reason that they possibly are not aware that this is happening. I would imagine that General Authorities both at the Apostle level and the Seventy level rarely attend a regular Sacrament Meeting where such talks are delivered. If such General Authorities do attend a regular Sacrament Meeting, they are often (always?) asked to speak, displacing the assigned speaker. If they attend and are not asked to speak and therefore hear such a talk, they might assume it is a one-off occurence, not realizing that this is how all talks (with the possible exception of youth speakers) are now being assigned in that ward, every single week, all year long.
If they are not aware of this relatively recent though seemingly ubiquitous practice (I estimate its life has been between the last 5 to 10 years), what would they think of it? Would it make them uncomfortable to know that this is now the standard fare for Sacrament Meetings? Would they be concerned that this approach shifts the preparation of talks from the member’s thoughts, experiences, and insights to a recapitulation of a General Authority’s thoughts, experiences, and insights about the particular Gospel topic?
Are General Conference talks meant to be used in this way, as the object of a derivative talk? Or would General Authorities think that their talks serve better as counsel in their own right, for consumption at the time of that conference and to be read by members in the following conference report for personal edification, then becoming one piece of potential support material for a member to choose to incorporate into his or her own future Sacrament Meeting talk (as the Spirit directs) when assigned to speak about a particular scripturally based Christ-centered Gospel topic?
Do we lose something significant about our low-church approach to our weekly Church meetings (Sacrament Meeting being our equivalent of a Mass where “Communion” is offered) if we members aren’t preparing our own remarks as talks analyzing an assigned Gospel topic according to our own minds, hearts, and experiences, and with reference to such materials as the Spirit directs us in our personal preparation (including recent conference talks if appropriate for the situation and audience)?
A potential concern might be that this practice communicates either (a) that members are no longer trusted — possibly as an extension of Correlation? — to teach each other the Gospel from their own perspective and as the Spirit directs as has previously always been the case in the Church, or (b) that members’ thoughts, insights, and teachings about the Gospel do not particularly matter and that all that matters is for General Authorities’ semi-annual thoughts, insights, and teachings about the Gospel to be reiterated during the weekly Sacrament Meetings. As to (b), it should be noted that members’ thoughts, insights, and teachings about the Gospel would likely always rely at least to some extent on the teachings of General Authorities on the given topic, and certainly would rarely be inconsistent with them given that both should be grounded in scripture, so it is not clear why this new approach is viewed as necessary.