Well its that time of the year again, I think for me general conference has always seemed a bit of a boring prospect. Nothing really doctrinal taught anymore, a load of guys being repeatedly told not to look at pornography and so on.
However since a certain admission from a Church Historian about the effects of google on the LDS Church , and more recently a previous general authority from Sweden undergoing a crisis of faith , its become clear that the emphasis has changed to dealing with this significant issue. I am just going to comment on a couple of the talks with some observations of what struck me from a Biblical perspective but also in light of these recent events.
The first talk is from President Monson, announcing that the LDS Church membership has now topped 15 million worldwide, I think being so upfront with this is likely intended to be a slap in the face to this idea that the LDS Church is really struggling with numbers. However it has been estimated that only around 30% of that number are active. The reality is many people that leave do not remove their details from the Church records and so are still classed as a Mormon Member even if they have not believed it for years. Also all children under the age of 8 born of Mormon families are included in this number even though they are not baptized, see here. So while this new membership number may satisfy the faithful that would never dream of digging a little more into it, all is not as it sounds.
As well there are now 80000 missionaries worldwide. This is an impressive number, in years gone by I believe the number of missionaries was going down, this is well and truly not the case now. More than ever you are likely to come across Missionaries in your home area, this is a great witnessing opportunity for Christians that I hope many will take.
The third talk was from Elder Ulisses Soares of the 70.
Interestingly he quoted Moroni 10:32 which is a verse from the book of Mormon often quoted by people like myself to show the extent of the expectations on Mormons, it says this:
32 Yea, acome unto Christ, and be bperfected in him, and cdeny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and dlove God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may beeperfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
The underlined part here is key, when you deny yourself of all ungodliness, His grace then becomes sufficient. The speaker here misquotes this a little and skips the “then His grace is sufficient part” and skips to the grace. However the message in this talk still gives the message of the verse. Shortly afterward Soares says “It is our duty to try and be perfect, improve each day,” Quoting Lorenzo Snow.
For me this is the common issue of the Mormon Church placing impossible expectations on its members, literally telling them to strive for perfection. Studies have shown that Utah has the highest rate of depression in the US. Is it not at all possible Mormons that the 68% Mormon Populated state having the countries highest rate of depression is not down to being constantly told how perfect you need to be?
Biblically we see this in Jeremiah 31, speaking of the New Testament Covenant to come:
31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
If you are truly in Christ then your desires will be changed to the point where you naturally desire to serve Him. You wont need to be constantly told to be perfect, you wont need to sit with a bishop once a year going through a checklist to see if you are worthy enough to go into Gods Holy temple, by virtue of being in Christ you will be worthy and righteous to be in Gods presence always, because He lives in you.
16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
You enter the Holy place which is no longer a building anyway, by the blood of Jesus, not by your so called, impossible to attain anyway “perfection”. So here is a challenge, at your next temple recommend interview, quote this verse and say its by the blood of Jesus that you are worthy to go into the temple. If that’s not enough for them, your in the wrong Church.
There is lots that I could say about Carole Stephens talk too, but for the sake of time and not bombarding you all too much, I will skip to the talk thats got everyone talking. I may come back to that another time.
So finally we heard from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf 2nd Counsellor of the First presidency, meaning he is the third highest guy in the LDS Church.
Now as an Evangelical Anti-Mormon as we are often called, I am not sure if I am allowed to like a Mormon leader, but either way I do like Uchdorf, He strikes me as a genuinely good man that is doing what he sees as the best thing for his fellow LDS members, and that comes through a lot in this talk. For anyone reading this who has not watched this session I would genuinely ask that you at least watch or listen to this talk. You can find it here.
This talk has been picked up on in the New York Times, Because Uchtdorf makes a significant admission. He said this:
“We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of church history — along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable and divine events — there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question,”
It does not take much internet searching to see that the Mormon Church is losing many members right now because of the historical issues of Mormonism. This is a significant admission that says actually there are things that migh cause people to question. This is good, because hopefully those that are in relationship or contact with ex Mormons but are still faithful Mormons themselves will see that there is some validity to why they left. As well as this Uchtdorf also said something which I thought was very significant and very positive.
“However there are some who leave the church they once loved. One might ask if the gospel is so wonderful why might anyone leave, sometimes we assume its because they have been offended or lazy or sinful, actually it is not that simple. In fact there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.”
For years I have heard the assumption again and again that these are the reasons that people would leave the Mormon Church. I think Uchtdorf saying this will break down a lot of barriers between ex Mormons and Current Mormons. While this is likely his intention with the goal of drawing people back to Mormonism, I would hope this opens up a dialogue both ways., and could also help heal the relationships of many families that have been torn apart as a result of people leaving Mormonism.
Going back to the admission of the admission of the Church doing things in the past that could cause people to question. The issue I still have with this is that these things are totally unnamed. There is still the breathing room left for LDS Apologists to say that any and every reason someone might question Mormonism is still invalid. There is no way of knowing from this what Uchtdorf sees as questionable and what is not. I appreciate that there is not the time for this in his talk but in a way this seems like progress in the Church admitting its faults but in another way there has been no admission at all. Even in the last month we have seen Denver Snuffer excommunicated from the LDS Church because he wrote a book detailing what he sees many of these questionable things to be. So while Uchtdorf can say there are questionable things and be applauded, we see another Mormon detail what he sees these things to be and get excommunicated. The ridiculous position of the LDS Church hiding from its history still very much stands.
On a more amusing note, a podcast called Infants on Thrones recorded a 9 minute episode detailing what they think Uchtdorf should have said in the interests of being more honest, check that out here. Its very good.
Finally Uchtdorf said one other thing that really interested me,
“Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true (Alma 32:21),” he said. “Therefore, please, first doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith.”
As I said right at the beginning of this article the Mormon Church is on damage control right now, you can expect all the more of this in time to come, the message that you should doubt yourself and your perceptions and interpretations of information you might find out, before you doubt the Church. For many this is simply not sufficient anymore, this is the same Church whose leaders have said this:
In the Imporovement Era, June 1945 contains the following quote as part of a Ward Teachers’ message:
When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.
Dont let this be the case for you, think and question and make your own decisions. As a Christian I know that doubts can happen in all faiths including mine so I am not saying that Uchtdorfs comment has no validity, however don’t have blind faith, test all things hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess 5:21) and search the scriptures to see if what your leaders are telling you is true. (Acts 17:11) Even the Apostle Paul had to pass the test of the Old Testament with his teaching, do your leaders pass the test of the New Testament?
To finish here is a great story of an LDS Missionary that took that challenge