Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: E. Cook #ldsconf

The Vulcan IDIC symbol in Star Trek lore symbolizes the basic Vulcan philosophy:  infinite diversity in infinite combinations, referring to the vast array of variables in the universe.

Much ado has been made of E. Cook’s statement that the church has never been stronger and that there are not more resignations now than at other times, although he may only be referring to formal resignations.  Setting that point aside, the majority of his talk is about the importance of diversity in our congregations while recognizing the need for unity.  He talks about the inherent diversity in our wards and the value of that diversity.

In the Church, except for language units, our wards and branches are geographical. We don’t divide by class or rank. We rejoice in the fact that all races and cultures are mixed together in a righteous congregation.

And that diversity is not limited to economic, cultural, or racial differences:

We recognize that some members have questions and concerns as they seek to strengthen their faith and testimonies. We should be careful not to be critical or judgmental of those with concerns – great or small.

This seems like a theme of this conference, one that I’m excited to hear repeated by several speakers:  members can have our own views, our own doubts, and be at whatever place we have and still participate in our ward communities.  We should welcome all who want to come to Christ, regardless of their perspective or what aspects of the gospel most speak to them.

It is important for members to understand the gospel in the language of their heart so they can pray and act in accordance with gospel principles.

Stop trying to make #subsnotdubs happen! It’s not going to happen!

In keeping with this thinking, the last few conferences have featured more speakers in their native tongues, although my own view is that we should be using subtitles rather than dubbing (#subsnotdubs).  While language is something that unites and divides people, it seems to me that E. Cook is talking about more than language here; he also seems to be talking about the figurative language, noting that talks are understood and received differently by different people.  Words mean different things to different individuals.  We all have unique needs in our journey to live the gospel.  Understanding the gospel in the language of our own hearts means we can listen to the same talk and hear very different things.

E. Cook then talks about the diversity that is built in to our homes as well:

Husbands and wives are equal partners.  They have different, but complementary responsibilities. The wife may bear children which blesses the entire family. The husband may receive the priesthood which blesses the entire family. But in family council wives and husbands, as equal partners, make the most important decisions. They decide how the children will be taught and disciplined – how money will be spent – where they will live – and many other family decisions. These are made jointly after seeking guidance from the Lord.

Note that he doesn’t dwell on different yet complementary responsibilities, preferring to reference them in passing only.  His focus is on the process we follow to make decisions in our families, the most basic decision-making body in the church.  That process of seeking divine inspiration and then working with others to jointly decide is the same process followed by the church as a whole.

Another online kerfuffle this conference is related to the dissenting voices heard during the sustaining vote.  While it is not unprecedented, it is unusual.  Mormons are sometimes too quick to assume any dissent is “anti-Mormon,” that we must always be quiet and non-confrontational.  And yet, the voting process asks if there are any opposed for a reason.  For example, a stake member may have information about the worthiness of someone who is being sustained to a stake calling.  According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

Common consent is a fundamental principle of decision making at all levels in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In selecting new officers and making administrative decisions, Church leaders are instructed to seek the will of God. Once the Lord makes his will known and a decision is reached, the matter is brought before the appropriate quorum or body of Church members, who are asked to sustain or oppose the action. This process provides for direction of the Church by revelation, while protecting the agency of the members to verify in their own minds whether decisions have been proper and made according to the will of God.

Protecting the agency of church members to agree or disagree with the direction of the church is fundamental to this process, and shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to the body of the church any more than free speech is a threat to the country.  The two caveats E. Cook gives in his talk are: 1) that each of us seeks personal revelation in the process, and 2) that we are seeking to implement Christ’s teachings and gospel according to our best understanding.  Ever the consummate professional, Pres. Uchtdorf made note of the dissenting votes, and continued with the meeting.

At the beginning and end of E. Cook’s talk, he referred to sunflowers, which are able to thrive in otherwise barren places.

One of the remarkable characteristics of young wild sunflowers, in addition to growing in soil that is not hospitable, is how the young flower bud follows the sun across the sky.

He talks about the need for us all to keep our faces turned toward the light that is Christ, the light of the gospel, despite the quality of the soil in which we find ourselves.  I think he’s saying that the best way for us as church members to create unity is not through squelching dissent or making the ground more fertile or only allowing one type of flower, but through keeping ourselves facing the right direction, regardless of how nurturing the environment is.  If we are all trying to live the gospel, we will have valuable differences in perspective that will help us make better decisions.  Sharing that diversity is part of the process, so long as we remain focused on the light of the gospel.



  1. P. Henry says:

    I would agree… except in cases where those in opposition are wanting doctrinal changes. Policy changes are one thing, but doctrinal changes are another – and the group expressing opposition want doctrinal changes (Google them and read their FAQ and posts). This is where most of the division happens.

    Racial issues were policy, not doctrine. Paraphrasing Elder Sitati from this afternoon “Same sex marriages cannot replenish the earth.” This is not just doctrine, but biological fact. You cannot participate in a same-sex relationship and keep the commandment to replenish the earth.

    Having been a lifelong member, I struggle to see their side of the issue. What are “honest questions” that haven’t already been addressed in the scriptures or by modern prophets? If I disagree, then shouldn’t I pray to receive understanding then wait patiently for that understanding? Am I not the one who’s out of the way?

    The Gospel message is two-fold – first, surrender your will to the Father and second, learn Charity. I fail to see how those who dissent from the doctrine are making any effort to submit – for if they were, they would not clamor for change. Nor do I see most of them behaving charitably towards the rest of the Church. They are, for the most part, divisive, combative and contentious.

    Acceptance needs to go both ways. Right now, both in and out of the Church, it’s fashionable to not be accepting of the traditional point of view (or better put, doctrine of the family and human sexual relationships in and out of the context of marriage). Those who defend it based on prophetic statements and scripture are still called intolerant, bigoted, name-your-put-down, in an effort to bully them, and the Church, into submission.

    It’s easy for those on the “other side” to see Elder Cook’s address as a message to the general body of the Church, but his message is equally directed at those who dissent – they also need to be accepting and understanding that the body of the Church accepts the doctrine and teaching of the Church as it has been revealed so far.

    The last thing to say on this is that those who organized the opposition did so for publicity – to draw attention to their cause. I might feel differently about about them if not for their web site, press release and effort to publicly make a spectacle. Their grievances with the Church are either a) settled doctrine, or b) issues that the Church has already addressed. Their choice to do this wasn’t unifying or something that would help draw the Church together. It is another hammer blow to the wedge that is being attempted to be inserted to divide the Church.

    “If we are all trying to live the gospel, we will have valuable differences in perspective that will help us make better decisions” is only true if we’re debating doctrine (remember Christ’s gentle rebuke when they were arguing about the name of the Church). Yet that is exactly what is wanted by many who do not consent to sustain the Prophet and Apostles. It is not very unifying.

  2. 3dperuna says:

    Edit: “If we are all trying to live the gospel, we will have valuable differences in perspective that will help us make better decisions” is only true if we’re debating doctrine (remember Christ’s gentle rebuke when they were arguing about the name of the Church). Yet that is exactly what is wanted by many who do not consent to sustain the Prophet and Apostles. It is not very unifying.

    Should have read: “If we are all trying to live the gospel, we will have valuable differences in perspective that will help us make better decisions” is only true if we’re NOT debating doctrine (remember Christ’s gentle rebuke when they were arguing about the name of the Church). Yet that is exactly what is wanted by many who do not consent to sustain the Prophet and Apostles. It is not very unifying.

  3. Read the interchanges between the First Presidency and Lowry Nelson regarding the priesthood ban and see if you still think the leaders saw the racial priesthood ban as “policy”. We have, in retrospect, cast the ban as a “policy” but that in and of itself was a huge shift before there was even real consideration of lifting it. The boundary between policy and doctrine isn’t as clear and simple as you make out which complicates these discussions around dissent.

  4. Jason K. says:

    Hugh B. Brown thought the priesthood ban was only a policy. but his was a minority view. Pres. McKay tried pretty hard to foster the diversity that existed within the leadership of the Church during his presidency, with mixed success: he’d send Brown down to speak at BYU to balance Elder Benson’s conservative rhetoric, but Elder McConkie still managed to publish Mormon Doctrine even though McKay disapproved. Still, I honor him for the effort.

  5. Just to beat the dead horse here, get and read W. Paul Reeve’s book, Religion of a Different Color. Because priesthood ban.

  6. I did not hear what group it was that made the dissent. Was it OW?

  7. Angela C says:

    Sharee, the group was not OW, but a newly formed group called anyopposed. They have a website.

  8. This was a good talk and although I was slightly distracted by his “all is well in zion” approach that contradicted Marlin Jensen’s “people are apostatizing at a rate not seen since Kirtland”

    1) I think different metrics were used
    2) that still doesn’t count faith transitions/crises who stay
    3) whatever, who cares

    I loved the topic of diversity. Unity does not require uniformity. Amen.

  9. We are not divided by class…only geographically? The reality is that the neighborhoods are already a class divider, the Church simply follows those borders.

  10. Angela C says:

    “The reality is that the neighborhoods are already a class divider” This is really the case in areas like Utah where a ward may be only a set of 2 or 3 streets. In all the other places I’ve lived, we’ve had quite a bit of economic diversity. Even in SLC, apartment buildings and houses are in the same wards, and older neighborhoods along with newer houses often in the same ward.

  11. For common consent to mean anything, then there must be room for real dissent, whether that dissent is considered doctrine or policy by others. (I have not read any of the things put out by the group we voiced their dissent at conference, but I recognize their rights as membersince of the church to voice their dissent.)

    When I read early church hisry it seems obvious to me that the process of revelation was not seen as something that happened only between the prophet and apostles. Most of the time not all of the church leaderships understood a particular revelation or policy in the same way. There are much better historians than I am here at BCC, who have written about many of the more famous and infamous examples. Those kinds of disagreements continued after Joseph was martyred and still exist today.

    As my grandmother almost left the church over two issues, she hated the priesthood/tresidetemple ban, and she didn’t want Elder Benson to become prophet. She felt that his politics had been shoved at the youth of the church, (awwhile her children were growing up) and she was sure the Lord would make sure that he would die as an apostle so that he would never have the bigotry and communist scare tactics legitimized.

    I think that for many of us who struggle with the model that pits doctrine against policy, is the fact that while we have a living prophet, he can’t possibly address each individual circumstance that arises. Which is why I think it is especially helpful to be aware that young people need to hear how you came to a thought or decision. There are several talks from late-Primary to early-YW, that shared non farming and non dairy stories. These kinds of tasks occasionally happen at Generals Conference, but are it is most meaningful when shared in small groups and small* classes. (More than 30, and it is much harder to get the members of the class to feel free to discuss tough and potentially divisive.

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