The Sustaining of Church Officers, Henry B. Eyring
There isn’t much to say regarding this short 3 minute section where voting was being done to sustain church offices other than the observation that I doubt any (or at least very few) would be seen opposing in such an environment. I also couldn’t help being struck as how worn out Thomas S. Monson looked at the beginning of this session.
The Key to Spiritual Protection, By President Boyd K. Packer
Packer opens his talk with a recollection of a young couple who were sealed by him in the temple. He states that they were “pure and clean”. Immediately, the contrast of scripture came to my mind with the verse: ‘Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?’ Obviously no one is the answer to this rhetorical question! This is one of the reasons Jesus came, to be an offering for sin so that we can be justified in God’s eyes through Him, not our own worthiness or purity of which we have none.
Another thing that came to mind with Packer’s talk was that, in the numerous Bible passages he cites from Paul’s writings (which he calls “prophecy” and “accurate“), I was left to wonder how do Mormons decide what parts of the Bible are reliable and which are unreliable (for those who may not know Mormons believe parts of the Bible are unreliable but are cautious in pointing out where). I do get the impression that many Mormons cite verses that will back up their point as and when needed, but when they contradict, will assume it must be a part of the Bible that is unreliable.
The Moral Force of Women By Elder D. Todd Christofferson
I didn’t get too much from this talk by Chrstofferson other than from a story he recounts by a lady called Anna. This lady had volunteered at the Metuchen YMCA and within a year she was appointed president of the Mothers’ Auxiliary and eventually asked to run for one of the three women’s positions on the YMCA board of directors. Winning without opposition, “he joined the very council that only a few years before had refused to let the Saints meet in their building!” The YMCA is historically a Christian organisation. Things have sadly changed a lot as many have become very watered down and compromising. A YMCA that I personally know of asked a Christian group who regularly did Christian worship services for their residents to leave. On the other hand, the story that Christofferson tells is just another reminder of how the modern LDS Church is attempting to appear more Christian.
Hastening the Lord’s Game Plan! By Elder S. Gifford Nielsen
Again, I found little to comment o with regards to this particular presentation, other than the observation that Nielson was a very animated and enthusiastic speaker. The main aim of Nielson’s presentation appeared to be motivational in fact, reminding his listeners to take up the calling and for church members to be zealous and to work with the missionaries.
Small and Simple Things By Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela
The main theme of Valenzuela’s presentation appeared to be similar to Neilson’s in that it was to encourage and motivate the faithful. Stories were recounted to show that members should not give up with those who do not receive them well. This may work with some but I have personally known a number of people who have not wanted the LDS missionaries to come round any more yet they continue to call on them. I was reminded that merely being told not to give up on people is not the only motivating factor for missionaries as there are a number of factors in operation that cause them to pursue converts and maintain members who are faulting. I am sure that there are some missionaries who genuinely do feel they are doing the best for people. However, many are under great preassure to get results. Imagine for a moment being a young person going on a two year mission and everyone back home rooting for you to be successful. The missionary speaks to his relatives back home on the phone and they ask: “How many baptisms into the church so far?” Results are expected of the missionaries and this can come through in their efforts to reach people and appear as a nuisance to some.
Wilt Thou Be Made Whole? By Elder Timothy J. Dyches
As the title states, the theme of this presentation is to be made whole in Christ. Much of what is said here any Christian would say a resounding “Amen!” to such is the Christian sounding nature of what is presented. I doubt many outsiders looking in, however, would be aware that LDS are not really fully whole in Christ alone (as mainstream Christians would assert) as they can only be fully complete if they perform the many numerous works that they are expected to do during their lifetime (e.g. temple marriage, obey the word of wisdom, be a regular tithe payer, go through the temple endowment ceremony, baptise for the dead, etc. etc.).
The Christian sounding theme continues with reference to the well known Christian Corrie ten Boom and the amazing well known story of her forgiveness for a former Nazi concentration camp guard who was involved in atrocities against her loved one’s. The rest of Dyches talk is likewise peppered with various Christian paraphrases of biblical passages and themes. Again, I am reminded of the great efforts that the modern LDS Church appears to be going to to appear more mainstream Christian.
Although modern Mormonism is making great efforts to appear like other Christians in many respects, and the frequency of negative comments against other churches has subsided very considerably over the years, they cannot get away from the negative statements that still appear in their own Standard Works:
The first reference is very important as it is from the Book of Mormon itself:
“Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the Church of the Lamb of God [i.e.. the Mormon Church] and the other is the church of the devil [i.e.. the Christian Church]; wherefore whosoever belongeth not to the church of the lamb of God belongeth to that great church; which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 14:10).
The following source is also very important as it is a key belief of the Mormon Church and is one of the first things that the Mormon missionaries will teach prospective converts. In the first vision, when Joseph Smith went out into the woods to pray to ask God which Christian denomination he should join, he explains that God allegedly commanded him:
“…I must join none of them [Christian Churches], for they were all wrong…that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight” (Joseph Smith History 1:19).
The Mormon Church sees itself as the “only true Church”, with membership being essential to salvation. By implication, in the eyes of Mormonism, all other churches must therefore be false:
“And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth…” (Doctrines and Covenants 1:30)
Like a Broken Vessel By Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Again, the Christian theme continues with regards to the subject of a basic quality that all Christians should manifest, that of compassion. Holland urges his listeners be especially compassionate for those with mental disorders such as chronic depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia, etc.
Holland urges those who suffer in this way to seek spiritual help as well as professional medical help if necessary. Interestingly, past LDS leaders like Bruce R. McConkie appeared to express some caution to psychiatric practices. In his section under Psychiatry in Mormon Doctrine, page 610, although opening with some praise for this practice when used how he feels is correctly administered, McConkie expresses concern that some psychiatrists may try and dissuade members away from the Church. From this section of psychiatry he also links it to the section in his book entitled “Church of the Devil”
But along with many of the messages delivered at general Conference there was much in this presentation that other Christians and non-Christians alike would no doubt agree with. Many points covered appear to be very general common sense life issues that throw a broad net with little of the distinctive or controversial doctrines unique to Mormonism.
Put Your Trust in the Lord By Elder M. Russell Ballard
Ballard opens up his presentation by stressing the need to “preach the gospel”. Again, this is all very Christian sounding to those who may be unaware of LDS doctrine and terminology. Mormons tend to use the term “Gospel” in two ways: How orthodox Christians use it (i.e. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus), but also in the wider sense of the work of their founder Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, the restoration, and the practices of Mormonism such as baptism for the dead, eternal marriage, aiming to become gods, etc. In my experience, Mormons tend to primarily mean the latter rather than the former when they use the term “gospel”. This actually shows itself later on in Ballard’s presentation where the word gospel is preceded by the qualifying word of “Restoration”:
‘It is good, brothers and sisters, to reflect on the teachings of the prophets from the time of Joseph Smith to today. They have encouraged and called upon the leadership and the members of the Church to be anxiously engaged in bringing the message of the Restoration of the gospel to all of our Heavenly Father’s children in all of the world.’
Like what was said earlier in Nielsen’s talk, there is also continued emphasis for the average Church member to work alongside the missionaries so there is a definite pattern emerging here. One wonders whether we will see more of the average chapel going Mormons accompanying full time LDS missionaries on the doors soon? If so, this would be an excellent opportunity for those of us who are keen on reaching our Mormon friends with the genuine Christian message. In my experience, Mormon missionaries are a bit like the monks of the Mormon world. They are on their mission for two years and during that time they more or less eat, sleep, and drink Mormonism. They are always accompanied by their companion and everything is very rigidly structured with little time to think on anything that may pose a challenge to their belief structure. Any dent that may be made in their armour will probably be quickly hammered back out. However, for the average chapel going Mormon may well be much more open to pondering information that Christians could provide them with concerning the problems of the Mormon Church and truthfulness of the biblical message.