Before we watched #ldsconf, we were still Mormons

Mormons in my neck of the woods first saw live General Conference broadcasts around 1993. A few members of the church had satellite receivers powerful enough to pick up a very poor reception of conference. It got better over the next few years. By the end of the 90s, most stake centres had dishes. Now everyone watches it on the internet.

Prior to the 90s, conference here was not a big thing at all. Sometimes we watched taped versions but without a huge amount of zeal. There was, of course, the printed version in the Ensign.

We knew that there were prophets leading the church but they were distant. The big stuff got through — like President Benson’s talks on pride and the Book of Mormon — but mostly the leaders who mattered were local. No-one hung on every jot and tittle of every word of every speaker of conference as if it were all big stuff. This was ok. We were still Mormons.

Comments

  1. cookie queen says:

    Precisely.

  2. Convert says:

    The same could be said about scripture. The scriptures and the words of the prophets lead us on the path of true conversion that leads to Christ like discipleship.

    Looking from outside (or even inside) one could make the mistake that there is a type of idolatry in how the scriptures (or conference) is approached by traditional members.

    But that mistake comes from lack of understanding of the path to discipleship.

    True, some people watch conference and read the scriptures regularly without “getting it”, but equally a true disciple would recognize the importance of both sources of truth (conference and scriptures) and eagerly look to them on their pathway of discipleship.

  3. @ RJH – Thanks. How astute. I hadn’t thought about the impact of the telecommunications revolution. And now with digital technology, we can have the pleasure of listening and watching the talks over, and over, and over, and over again, FOREVER. And don’t forget the memes and made up words. I’ll #ponderize that.

    @ Convert – It sounds like you’re on the “path to discipleship” and lucky to not be making the mistakes that afflict me and many others. Here I thought that Jesus was the Mediator between God and man, with another deity–the Holy Ghost–allowing us to access Christ’s personal message for us. How silly for me to not recognize that there are 15 others to go through first. I’ll just “follow the prophet” and be quiet.

  4. Ronan, exactly.

  5. Well, we sure were… but isn’t it wonderful that thanks to such an easy, almost immediate access to the words of the Lord through His servants, we can be better mormons, or better Christians, better people, and draw closer to the Lord through His living and current words of counsel?

  6. And we’re still Mormons when we stop watching as well.

  7. And you’re still Mormons if you watch every second. But I’m not sure you’re guaranteed to be a “better” Mormon. You will, as Andrea says, have easy, almost immediate access to their words. Whether or not that actually means anything depends on a lot of factors. #ponderize

  8. I remember my righteous anger when as a missionary in Northern Europe, I was in a ward that skipped conference and had their Easter program instead. I had a Very Serious Talk with the bishop, who was patient enough to listen to a 19-year-old American tell him how the church works. He was a good man.

  9. During my mission to Europe I only saw conference once. They played the tapes (3 months after conference) over two days. But mostly, conference was something that was occasionally mentioned but rarely a big deal.

    Somene told me about the good old days before satellite when they would sit in the chapel, dial in and listen to conference over a phone link. Zzzzz.

  10. Yes. Yes yes yes.

  11. Quandmeme says:

    I remember the sabbaths–not held on Sunday there– where we would gather months after conference when the VHS tapes would make it to our branch. In addition to normal meetings held earlier we would have a string of evenings where we gathered to watch conference tapes. It was a welcome connection to a remote gospel home and identity.

  12. eponymous says:

    I feel like this is merely a modern perspective taking a slant at how life has been impacted with the onslaught of always on media whether it be satellite or internet delivered. When many race to create and share the an instant meme or post their personal perspective on the latest greatest talk of any import. Does what we post on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram define us as whether or not we are Mormon?

    But if we step back, the talks were published in the Improvement Era before they were published in the Ensign and there was a heavy push to encourage members to subscribe. There was encouragement that every member be subscribed to magazines that were relevant to their age and the programs in which they were involved because that was part of what funded those organizations in the era prior to Correlation. One could subscribe to the Conference Reports and receive them twice annually. Even the foreign magazines such as l’Etoile and the Millennial Star provide abbreviated coverage and summaries of important talks.

    I grew up East of the Mississippi and lived for some time in Europe as well. We couldn’t watch conference on TV as my cousins did and yet even still when it was available my parents would spend Saturday and sometimes Friday sitting in a chapel listening to audio through the phone when it became available. Kids were not required to participate fortunately. They packed us up and we sat through conference on Sunday morning all spit and polished on the bench where I dutifully fell asleep and snored as a young boy. And if the Ward building was far enough away we would bring a picnic lunch and sit out on the lawn and share with friends while we waited for the afternoon session.

    Sometimes, especially in Europe, conference wasn’t available and then we would listen to audio tapes during a sacrament meeting or an evening fireside some weeks later.

    Otherwise we shared and discussed key messages that came out of the magazines and these might be incorporated into a Family Home Evening or a Home Teaching lesson.

    I agree there seems to be an overwhelming fetishization in the last 10 years or so and especially as conference has become even more available online. The call was made to see the conference talks as next to scripture and the Ensign should sit on the shelf next to your scriptures and be referenced as frequently. I find those messages inspiring but we take it too far when suddenly every single talk that is assigned has some General Conference talk attached to it for topical reference. I blame lazy Ward Councils and Bishoprics who take a shortcut to finding how to define a particular talk topic for this one. And then every month the High Councilor is assigned to speak on – often read verbatim – a particular conference talk.

    It reaches a point of frustration and wondering to what extent people have personal relationships with the gospel and to what lengths they are willing to open their hearts and speak with one another concerning the welfare of their souls without depending on a general conference lens to interpret how they see the gospel today.

    General Conference is a good thing, even an inspiring insight given by the Lord’s leaders to help me improve my life. But I’ve also learned that it can have peculiar messages that are directed only to local members such as the message President Kimball once shared encouraging members to clean up their yards. My mother-in-law took that message to heart even though her yard was a pristine landscape. It wasn’t until she visited Provo some years later that she understood to whom the message was directed.

    My point is there has always been a connection to conference talks and sermons as an important part of our culture. But we’re pushing the limits in the era of always on and overly social media.

  13. Perhaps. I can only speak from my own memory. Conference was certainly available but the live marathonning was not.

    I am certainly with you on the fetishisation thing. We even do it here at BCC, whether it was the live threads or the now almost-instant commentary. I have found it exhausting. Such things are best enjoyed with a mug of cocoa once the noise has stopped.

  14. Great thoughts Ronan, and others!

    A slightly different but related angle: before people could watch on the internet, in Europe, conference provided an amazing reason for a whole stake or district to travel to the stake center, which had a satellite dish, to watch conference together. In stakes where members were far flung around whole sections of a country, this was a really nice break from the normal routine of Sunday worship and a chance to see Church friends and acquaintances who lived too far to visit with any regularity. It was a very good community builder.