We still have several weeks until the October General Conference, and given what’s happened in the meantime, many Mormons like me are concerned it could be gloat-mageddon. If I were putting together a General Conference, here are the things I would include and what I would cut. Of course this is already unrealistic because there are over a dozen speakers, each of whom has his or her own areas of focus and points of view. But this is my list; YMMV. I’ll start with the Fears and end with the Hopes.
- Anything that smacks of gloating or otherwise whips up the base (or the basest instincts in our fellow Mormons) against liberals, feminists, intellectuals, gay people, or Millenials.
- Strawman arguments or caricatures, use of stereotypes and slurs to define groups of people the speaker disagrees with. E. Holland used these kinds of slurs against liberals in his talk last General Conference. He was definitely not the first to do it, but let’s hope that talk was the last.
- Arguments equating motherhood with priesthood. Enough already.
- Talks praising women or putting them on a pedestal; please understand that nearly every woman sees right through this, and those who don’t should know better.
- More harping on gay marriage; let it be already. These talks aren’t actually changing people’s minds either way, and if you are gay or have gay loved ones, they do damage.
- Anecdotes that imply men are not equal partners in marriage or in domestic duties (e.g. inept at caring for their own children or incapable of cooking or sewing or ironing). These stories really rankle. I’m reminded of the one in which the speaker’s mother had a physical ailment that made it difficult to iron, so her husband saved up for several months and bought her an ironing machine. Here’s a thought: iron your own damn shirts. Wouldn’t that have been a simpler solution? I also am not fond of the stories that imply men can’t handle their own kids or grandkids. Tending children is not easy. Women just don’t usually get a pass. Quit talking about it like you should get some sort of medal for helping out. It’s not babysitting; it’s parenting!
- Black & white talks that imply you should get on board with 100% of whatever the speaker says or get out; too many are choosing the latter. People we care about. People I care about.
- Anything anti-science: jabs at evolution, the big bang, global warming, or any other anti-science digs that make us sound like home-schooled evangelicals from Texas. Nothing drives Millenials out faster than this. That sound is the collective eye roll of everyone under 25 and several of us over 40.
- Talks that elevate the Proclamation’s gender roles as eternal and inherent; let’s quit being the dream crusher for women; motherhood’s as fine and noble as fatherhood, but women are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time (and of course, not all women are mothers, and not all women are nurturing). Being lectured by men on how to be a woman is long past its expiration date. Let’s just talk to men & women as people who are trying to be like Jesus. We can all learn more about being Christ-like.
- Any sort of Fourteen Fundamentals nonsense; leader worship / thinking is done stuff.
- Talks about scriptures that reveal that the speaker knows nothing about Biblical scholarship (e.g. attributing to Paul or Moses what wasn’t actually written by them). This one’s a personal pet peeve.
- Speaking of pet peeves, I don’t care for pioneer stories. Haven’t we done anything of interest since the mid-1800s? What I dislike about them is that many of them have been retold so many times and sometimes they are really just a humblebrag about the speaker’s pedigree. I know I’m in the minority in not worshiping the pioneers. So sue me.
- References to Satan as the impetus of all the ills in the world; people do plenty of damage using their agency. The image of Satan pulling the strings is less compelling, at least to me, than seeing that human mistakes create the misery that exists. If it’s the doing of people, then people should be responsible to counter it and remedy it. If it’s unseen beings, that feels more fatalistic.
- A real olive branch toward women and equality and female authority, including women in charge of men as well as women and children. Talking about women as whole people, not just in terms of our reproductive or nurturing capabilities would sure help. Please no stereotypes! I enjoyed E. Cook’s talk that sounded like he actually worked with some real women in the real world, not just in the domestic sphere.
- Talks that are positive about the state of the world. Things have never been better in many ways. I’ve noticed that the more educated the ward I’m in, the more this is acknowledged.
- Talks that reveal our leaders are tech savvy and connected to the world younger generations inhabit – there have been several of these in the past few years, and they usually make me hopeful.
- Words that help create a viable space within our congregations for our gay members and their families; E. Christofferson’s family appears to be modeling this one. Let’s hear about it.
- Talks about strengthening marriage that actually talk about strengthening marriage, not about how gay marriage is wrong. Marriage is important. We have been light on addressing how to really create better marriages lately. Again, let’s avoid stereotypes in the process if possible. Good marriages aren’t just founded on being heterosexual and Mormon and breeding a lot while mom stays in the home vaguely nurturing. Those are very superficial characteristics. Real marriage is much harder than that. There’s a lot more to it.
- References to modesty that are about the virtue of being non-materialistic and unassuming, not strictly about female dress codes and inches of skin exposed.
- Talks and speakers that celebrate the diversity within our global congregation. I love speakers from other parts of the world (exotic accents are a treat for us all!), and I love hearing how the gospel applies in situations that aren’t as American and familiar.
- Talks about personal revelation – these are always my favorites; I loved E. Scott’s talk on this from a few years ago.
- Elevating individual accountability and prayerful choices over the drum-beat of obedience without articulated caveats; let’s create thoughtful individual spiritual strength among the members, not knee jerk order-takers.
- Words of understanding for parents or family members of those who are disaffected, without making it sound like their children are bad people or lost souls.
- A higher representation of female speakers and great talks from the same. I do feel bad, though, that the weight of expectations is on those few, modestly-covered female shoulders.
- Ending the meeting 15 minutes early again. This is a new trend, and I like it. But it hasn’t yet caught on at the local level for some reason.
Unrealistic or outside-the-box hopes that I have nonetheless
- At least one female speaker at the Priesthood session.
- The announcement of the 2 hour block. I keep my fingers crossed on this one.
- A replay of the talks with sports commentators discussing the various plays.
- A one hour “best hits” reel published after the conference (maybe a month later), just little snippets of the best sound bites from the talks. Of course “best” is subjective, but as a former English major, I like the Cliffs Notes.
What are your hopes and fears for the upcoming General Conference?