Towards a Traveling Conference #ldsconf

Shelly B. is a mother of two who works with university math departments to improve K-12 math instruction. We’re glad she shared these thoughts with us.

Could a traveling October General Conference help members around the world feel more included and valued?

When word spreads that a new bishop is going to be called, Mormon wards in the United States awaken with excitement and speculation. So it is not surprising that the excitement in the Mormon world over the calling of three new apostles in conference sent speculation soaring through the roof. With all the anticipation, there was bound to be disappointment among some members when their favorite seventy wasn’t called.

Much of the negative commentary on the choice of new apostles however all centered on a common theme. Some members felt disappointment that the new apostles weren’t more representative of the increasingly worldwide church. Whatever your view on the choice of apostles, it’s clear there is a desire from many members for the church to more visibly display its international status. So how do you help members around the world feel more included and represented? There’s obviously no easy fix. Even if three racially and ethnically diverse men had been called, that’s still 3 among 15. (4 if you count Uchtdorf) So it’s going to take a lot of little things to help those who feel hurt, concerned, or excluded feel more accepted and valued.

One interesting idea for a small, but meaningful change would be to hold October General Conference in a different location every year. Obviously, conference in Salt Lake City makes the most sense logistically. The church has an army of volunteers, a gigantic free facility, and all the necessary infrastructure. The Motab is based there as well as Church Headquarters. Most general authorities live there, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on flights and accommodations. Mormons around the world gather in Utah for mission reunions, family reunions, and more. The church already has an army of security personnel ready to go. For these reasons, keep Spring General Conference in Utah.

Imagine for a minute however if during the Sunday afternoon session of this last conference, Monson stood up and announced that the next October General Conference would be broadcast from Brazil or Japan or Nigeria. Members go ballistic if a temple they will never visit is announced. Imagine the excitement such an announcement would cause. More importantly however, think of the members from that country as they realize the whole church will be tuning into their country. Imagine the impact on missionary work it would have there. Imagine how loved and valued they would feel.

Fast forward a year and imagine an auditorium full of people who look and dress differently than the audience that gets panned over during broadcasts. Imagine all the prayers and choir performances being in that country’s language. Perhaps the choir would even sing hymns less common in America, but common in that country. Instead of an organ, instruments favored by that region might be used. Perhaps the meeting could even be conducted in the native tongue by whoever the highest ranking local authority is. A local leader could even speak if no general authorities are from that country.

Obviously, the list of logistic questions would be lengthy, but Mormons are great at organizing and solving logistical problems. The vast majority of speakers would likely not be able to speak the country’s language, but their talks could easily dubbed or subtitled the way that the recent foreign language talks are currently translated. Americans might have to watch a delayed broadcast due to time zones. Some authorities might not have the health to travel, but a prerecorded version of their talk could be shown. The church would have to limit travel to auxiliary presidencies, apostles, and select members of the seventy who are speaking. The church would undoubtedly run up quite a bill on security, facility rental, travel, and hundreds of other things.

With so many costs and issues, would it be worth it or would the purpose merely be to have one more thing to stir up Mormon member anticipation, wagers, and speculation? I contend that it would be worth the costs and that this is exactly the type of thing the church should be spending money on. When girls see only male engineers and math professors, they believe math isn’t something they can succeed at. Before Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters, how many black kids felt like they wanted to take up golf or tennis? How many would feel welcome practicing in a country club? Countless studies show that seeing people who look like you involved or leading a group is important to feeling like you belong. I’m not sure black kids are clawing to play tennis now, but it’s a start.

Having significant representation of members who share your racial, ethnic, or cultural background on television is not the equivalent of Mormons feeling excited when David Archuleta is on American Idol. It’s a symbol that you belong, are valued, and understood. It helps a little to dispel feelings that the church only understands Utah problems. It helps lessen feelings of exclusion stemming from blacks only recently receiving the priesthood or false doctrine about their righteousness in the preexistence. It is profoundly important.

In the last few years, the church has released 3 new temple videos. Why so many? One likely reason is to prevent members from taking directorial choices to be the gospel truth. Seeing three different depictions of the events reminds viewers that we aren’t to confuse a director’s choice to cast a blond actor or decorate a scene a certain way to mean it was really that way. Separating the culture of the church from the eternal truth of the gospel is not easy as many things subconsciously become linked.

Since the only international broadcast each year is General Conference, many members’ only exposure to church leaders is through Conference. Members could easily associate common American dress, hairstyles, pulpit decor, music style, mannerisms, speaking styles, etc. as being THE correct way to do things in the church. Even if a member’s country was not chosen, seeing different cultural representations of Conference would help members realize that they don’t have to assimilate American culture to be a part of the church. Their own unique culture not only is acceptable but beneficial to the church as a whole.

Will this idea solve the problem of diversity in the church? Absolutely not. It would however be a step along that long path.

Comments

  1. .

    You could just broadcast one or two sessions from somewhere else. Two visiting apostles and some other folk then voila.

  2. The Other Clark says:

    I believe the Church tried this back in the 1970s early in Pres. Kimball’s tenure. Munich, London, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo, IIRC. THe plan was–in pre-internet and even pre-satellite-TV days–to give the scattered worldwide membership an opportunity to actually see the Church leadership. I would welcome any information others might have of why these were cancelled.

    As a child, I remember attending a giant regional conference for Southern California, with Pres Kimball and enough Mormons that filled the entire Rose Bowl. This would have been about 1980 or so.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I like it. The logistics could be made easier by, for example, not sending the MoTab at all, but using all local choirs/music, and instead of sending every GA known to man, send a much more limited delegation, and let those who do not make the trip speak remotely from a studio in SLC.

    Or, if this is too radical, maybe do something like the 1P Christmas broadcast from abroad rather than from the conference center. This could be a way to experiment with the logistics and work towards a full conference abroad.

  4. The Other Clark says:

    Here’s a reference from a 1974 General Conference talk

    “During the past four years, a great and marvelous miracle has occurred in the Church in the form of area general conferences—in Manchester, England, in 1971; in Mexico City in 1972; in Munich, Germany, in 1973; and only a few weeks ago, the conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Perhaps you’ve already heard that the First Presidency has called four area general conferences for next year—in Sao Paulo, Brazil; in Buenos Aires, Argentina; in Tokyo, Japan; and in Seoul, Korea—a quadrupling of effort in 1975.”

    I don’t believe the South American and Asian conference came to fruition. Again, I’d welcome correction.

    Quote source: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1974/10/making-conferences-turning-points-in-our-lives?lang=eng

  5. I love this idea. I imagine that the logistics would make it so that it never happen, especially with all the trainings and meetings associated with General Conference, but just having one session broadcast from another place would be wonderful.

  6. The area general conference in Seoul, Korea, did happen in 1975. I was there (as a missionary, on assignment). Why and how the area general conferences started and stopped would be interesting, partly because they would be a meaningful model and experience for a traveling general conference. I have (far too casually) just assumed the area general conferences were instigated by President Kimball, and stopped because his health and ability to travel declined.

  7. As a start, it might makes sense to have the Women’s Session be the traveling session. The women are in much better health for traveling because they are not called for life. Additionally, the fact that it is on a separate weekend means Uctdorf(the clear favorite pick for the Women’s Session) could still make it back to SLC to speak at the rest of conference and attend trainings. Also, having the Women’s Session be the leader in a traveling conference would be empowering to women.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    The rise and fall of area conferences is a topic I’ve wondered about as well. Here’s something that was done in 1980 for the sesquicentennial:

    “To commemorate this milestone in Church history, conference sessions originated from both Temple Square and Fayette, New York, where President Spencer W. Kimball and several other General Authorities flew following the opening Saturday, April 5 sessions.

    “Presiding at the conference sessions was President Spencer W. Kimball, and conducting were his counselors, President N. Eldon Tanner, first counselor, and President Marion G. Romney, second counselor. Sessions originated from Salt Lake City on Saturday. The Sunday morning session opened at the Tabernacle then switched, via live television, to the interior of a replica of the Peter Whitmer farmhouse in Fayette, New York. The session then subsequently switched to a new meetinghouse which is part of the visitors’ center on the Whitmer farm. Following ceremonies and addresses from these two locations, the proceedings switched back to the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. A similar procedure occurred in the Sunday afternoon session when the live television coverage again switched to the Fayette farm meetinghouse for further proceedings and President Kimball’s closing remarks.”

  9. eponymous says:

    Regional conferences continued into the 90’s. President Hinckley came and spoke in Chicago in 1998 at the United Center and along with him came Elder & Sister Pinnock and Elder and Sister Hales:

    http://www.comportone.com/cpo/religion/christian/articles/hinkley1.htm

    In fact President Hinckley did a series of these in 1997 and 1998 early in his Presidency:
    http://www.ldschurchnewsarchive.com/articles/37409/-Excerpts-from-addresses-given-by-President-Gordon-B-Hinckley.html

    I wouldn’t expect anything similar until we have a more vigorous President again.

  10. Frankly the women have always been the leaders when it comes to considering global perspectives too. Sis. Okazaki was really active in this, and the RS presidencies have been more diverse than the 15 (single women, women of color, etc).

  11. The Other Clark says:

    You won’t see a single guy as an apostle because single men cannot be bishops (or higher) or even senior missionaries (although once you’re an apostle, you’re in for life, so several, including Pres. Monson, are single). Oddly, single women can be relief society presidents. Sometimes Church policies can be byzantine

  12. whizzbang says:

    I agree that church policies are byzantine. A single guy can’t be a Bishop, a divorced guy remarried can’t be a YSA Bishop but if either get married and make it to the celestial kingdom then they can be a God but not a Bishop. If being a Bishop or callings don’t matter then why not call a single guy or a divorced guy?

  13. The Other Clark says:

    Sorry for the threadjack. I was trying to point out that sometimes Church policies actually allow women leaders to be more progressive than men.

  14. I like this idea a lot. Is hosting a general conference more work than putting on a youth temple jubilee? I doubt it, and those all seem to go off well – not just well, but they’re memorable and spectacular experiences for the participants. And if you leave the MoTab at home and use local choirs, you’ve eliminated a huge chunk of the travel budget.

  15. Left Field says:

    As a missionary, I attended the Area Conference in Rochester, just a week after the General Conference in Fayette. I think not long after that, Area Conferences were phased out, replaced by more modest “Regional Conferences.” I attended on in Texas in the late 1980s.

    General conferences did go on the road from time to time when general authorities were hiding from the Law. I believe that the Provo, Coalville, and Logan Tabernacles were sites of general conferences. And general conference was held in the St. George Temple in conjunction with its dedication.

  16. Do you really care? Seriously? These are men tasked with a life-long calling to teach Jesus Christ to the world. They will fulfill their assignments. Most of us will never see them let alone meet them in person. The CHURCH is US – It’s acting on a prompting to call someone and tell them you love them. It’s helping with moves, deaths, births and charity. It’s strengthening each other and caring for each other on a personal level. It’s a testimony of Jesus Christ and wanting to live a Christ-like life which will impel us to uncalled and silent service. There is no calling needed for that. It doesn’t matter if the Quorum of the Twelve is made of 4 parts white bread, 4 parts non-North American Utah dudes and 4 parts Martian. Regardless of where General Conference is held or the make-up of church leadership you can serve. Stop with the wringing of hands and feeling guilty about the Church of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t need our apologies it only needs US.

  17. While I think this is an interesting concept, I chuckled at the line about how “easy” it would be to dub or subtitle the talks. I never thought much about it myself until my husband became a translator and interpreter for Conference. I was then privy to the truly massive effort that goes into General Conference as we know it, particularly with regard to the translation and interpretation of the talks. I almost choked when Bro. Durrant started “ponderizing” yesterday and I said a little prayer for the hundreds of unfortunate language interpreters in that moment. Regional conferences and jubilees etc. are significantly less work in many regards, but especially in terms of language translation. The talks there are only translated from one language into one other language. The talks at conference may now be translated from several languages into dozens of others. This is done by a huge volunteer army of translators (who translate the written talk texts in advance of conference) and even more interpreters who read/listen/speak live during the talks to accommodate changes to the text (or the total absence of text – like Rasband, Stevenson, and Renlund’s talks would have been). Maybe technology will catch up soon so that all of the interpreters could work out of the Conference Center (the language interpretation booths take up an entire floor beneath the Conference Center) while the G.A.’s were speaking live elsewhere but even then, due to the massive number of other people and the highly specialized equipment involved at so many levels of its production, we may be waiting a long time to see this particular show on the road.

  18. Mark, feel free to go about your not caring life elsewhere. Yes, we do care here.

  19. The Other Clark,
    For what it’s worth, I was living in Argentina in 1975. The conference happened in Buenos Aires as scheduled.

    Erika.
    Point very well spoken.

  20. Expressing disappointment on this issue might be human nature, but the gospel calls us to reach higher.

    Receiving the Lord’s servants, which is integral to the ultimate goals of our faith, cannot be accomplished by wishing the Lord’s servants would be more “like us”.

    Interestingly or saddeningly, what rubs people the wrong way is the possibility that what the Lord feels the world needs is more of the strong foundation of faith out of Utah and not less. Is it a condemnation of the trees of faith that are being nourished and growing all over the world? No. But the Lord called the leaders of the restoration out of the world to Utah in the early church days, and from there went the restored gospel seeds to the world.

    This should be a clear sign that the hoped for revocation of all things Utah* is not going to happen as long as the Lord is at the helm. You can’t express disappointment in a call and sustain the Lords chosen servants at the same time.

    Gently calling someone to repent of such misunderstanding is the proper approach.

    *No, I’m not a Utah native, and I live abroad, and yes I was perplexed about what planet that sister was from the other day in church when she practically bore her testimony in a comment about “the things coming out of Salt Lake that will need to change in the future as the church grows up” in an ever so enlightened, progressive way. If there is a cancer spreading out of Utah and the US church, it’s not the from the traditional sources.

  21. Gerry, well said.

  22. Arthur Ashe. And Calvin Peete.

    That is all.

  23. I don’t know how you expect the GAs to place General Conference in another continent when they can’t even stand talks not given in English. This made me really, truly sad: https://kutv.com/news/local/lds-church-no-conference-talks-in-native-languages-this-time

  24. I’d think this would cause much the same effect as the Olympics or World Cup; lots of prestige for the place but a serious drain on local resources that could be better used elsewhere.

  25. John Mansfield says:

    And the bribery scandals surrounding site selection would be ugly.

  26. Gerry, what are you even talking about? Did you read the post at all?

  27. I really, really like this idea. This would be a great way to send a message about the importance of people in all places, and not just in the US or in Utah. I particularly like your vision of the camera panning across a group of people who might actually look different than the usual conference center crowd.

    I was, like many people, disappointed that the new Q12 members weren’t more diverse. It appears that the current church leaders were not comfortable with the idea of issuing a lifetime calling to a person of color. Given that situation, the rotating conference location might be more palatable to them because it wouldn’t require the same long-term commitment. It doesn’t send as strong a message, but it would still send some message.

  28. My first thought was that it would be another thing where people would say “Look how they spend all this money doing X instead of caring for the poor.”