As members of the church, we are often forced into cognitive dissonance. We hit that place again this year. Much of it seems to come from the untenable deification of leadership that seems widespread in our ranks.
Catholics claim that the pope is infallible
But no one believes is.
Mormons claim the prophet is fallible
But no one believes it.
The First Letter
Once again this past summer, we were pushed unnecessarily into the zone. This incident began with an official news released dated 7 June 2021.
First Presidency Announces Changes to General Conference
Saturday evening session will be discontinued; in-person attendance for October 2021 conference will not be available
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced changes to upcoming general conferences of the Church, which are held each April and October.
Beginning with October’s general conference and continuing thereafter, the Saturday evening sessions will be discontinued. Previously, a Saturday evening session was held for women (in October) and priesthood holders (in April). This change is being made because all sessions of general conference are now available to anyone who desires to watch or listen.
For the October 2021 general conference (to be held October 2–3), conference proceedings will originate from the Conference Center auditorium in Salt Lake City. Once again, the Conference Center will be closed to the public.
General conference is an opportunity for Church members and friends worldwide to receive messages about the Savior Jesus Christ from living prophets and apostles through ever-expanding technologies.
The Saturday evening session has been something of a discombobulation. This change was not disappointing to me.
To the best of my recollection, first it was male only. Then it was alternating male/female (when the women's session was deemed worthy of being officially included in General Conference, rather than being just an appendage). Girls from age eight and older were added with women. Boys could only attend from 12 and up.
Men's session was always 100% men in attendance and speaking. The church went to great lengths to insure this, even keeping the session from being broadcast on TV and allowing Ordain Women to make a public spectacle when trying to enter—even though the transcript was always printed in the conference issue of the Ensign.
Apparently men don't need insight from women.
Women's was mostly attended by women, but men were never barred. Speaking was alway divided, with men always being “keynote.”
Apparently men's insights are essential to women.
The reasoning given, above, for the change was “because all sessions of general conference are now available to anyone who desires to watch or listen.”
That's been the case for years and I'm not sure how anything has changed. But, whatever. Those in administrative leadership can make those changes for whatever reason they choose.
The Second Letter
Then, there was another official news release dated 27 July 2021. In fact, this time it was a full on first presidency letter.
The First Presidency Continues the Saturday Evening Session of General Conference
“Holding this session will allow for more gospel topics to be taught and permit more general leaders to address the conference”
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent the following letter today, July 27, 2021, to leaders of the faith around the world.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
A basic principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the blessing of continuing revelation wherein the Lord reveals His will, “giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:21). The Lord directs His work according to changing circumstances and needs. For example, the format and schedule of general conference have been changed many times over the years. Some sessions of general conference were designated for specific groups of members or leaders, such as the welfare session, the women’s session, the priesthood session, and other sessions designed to address topics pertinent to specific organizations of the Church.“We recognize the increasing challenges facing members of the Church worldwide in our day. An important way to fortify against these challenges comes through hearing the word of God (see Alma 31:5). Therefore, after additional study and prayer, we have felt impressed to continue to hold the Saturday evening session of general conference.”
In June 2021, we announced changes to the next general conference wherein the Saturday evening session would no longer be held. This decision was based on changes in technology that make it possible for all members and friends to view each session of general conference, including the women’s session and the priesthood session.
We recognize the increasing challenges facing members of the Church worldwide in our day. An important way to fortify against these challenges comes through hearing the word of God (see Alma 31:5). Therefore, after additional study and prayer, we have felt impressed to continue to hold the Saturday evening session of general conference, albeit in a different format than in the past.
Beginning with the October 2021 semiannual general conference, the Saturday evening session will be continued. All members and friends of the Church are invited to view this session. It will not have a specific theme, nor will it be intended for any particular demographic or leadership group. Holding this session will allow for more gospel topics to be taught and permit more general leaders to address the conference.
We thank the Lord for His direction in this matter. We express our deep love and appreciation for the faithful members of the Church throughout the world and look forward to general conference, when the word of the Lord will be imparted through His servants.
The First Presidency
Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring
Again, the administrative leaders have complete purview of decisions of this sort.
The Presentation Problem
The problem with this issue (and others like it) is in framing it as divine intervention followed by conflicting divine intervention—seven weeks later.
It's the same problem the church faced, collectively, when church policy changed to disallow baptism of children with a parent in a homosexual relationship and reversing the policy change soon thereafter.
Does God work that way?
What Seems Real
The most elegant and likely justification (to me) is that they made a reasoned and thoughtful change in June. Then, in July—with further information, feedback, changed circumstances, or something similar—changing again seemed the best idea.
Cool. Fine. We all change course regularly based on the information and situation at hand. I know I do. Completely understandable.
But that wasn't the reasoning given. Instead, it was “the blessing of continuing revelation wherein the Lord reveals His will.…”
Having been around LDS culture for 57 years (and counting), I've seen this kind of thing regularly. Many members seem to feel the “faithful” position is to defend the status quo to the nth degree, no matter what the status quo is. And then to defend the next (even contradictory) status quo in the same manner. The idea being that no matter what the current policy or position is, it is always 100% correct and perfectly God's will. And if anything changes, the exact, specific changes were also 100% correct and perfectly God's will, as well.
The faithful position seems to be that God directed the change in June and then redirected in July. Both changes absolutely, 100% served God's divine purposes. Both were absolutely necessary to follow the divine plan. Dropping the Saturday night session was 100% correct in June and putting it back was 100% correct in July—even though there had been no opportunity for any Saturday night sessions in the interim.
I've seen this myriad times before, with almost every policy or practice or program that ever changed. Someone asks why a church lead by God changes. “Faithful” members insist it's because things that were done in the past were completely right for the time in which they occurred—no matter how egregious. And things done today are also completely correct.
Yes, I do think some practices and rituals work better in some cultures than others. For example, many things that used to be in the temple ceremony are no longer. (Most of them, in my opinion, lost their meaning to the bulk of members (particularly young members) long before they were removed. Most of them, also, were troubling to many, given the current culture.) I welcome updates like those.
In addition, however, I think our leaders are human. I think they are doing the best they can given the information they have. I don't think they wait for heavenly poofing of ideas into their brains. Rather, I believe they think things through using their brains (however imperfect) and experiences (however limited).
Is this really a radical idea? Is there truly contrary doctrine on the matter?
If our leaders have everything directed straight from God, why:
- Do we have pilot programs?
- Do area authorities go to locations where new leadership will be called, and interview the current bishops, high counselors, etc?
- Do we sometimes call leaders who later abuse their positions or those under their stewardship?
If you're going to default to the idea that we needed pilot programs for the sake of pilot programs, or the area authorities didn't really need input on new local leadership (because God had already told them who it was) but it was a test of the local leadership, or that the abuse was supposed to happen as a trial for those involved—or something along those lines—please don't. The mental contortions required to do that are unfathomable.
Insisting that the leaders—who themselves claim fallibility—are not leading the church in a very human (if inspired) way, doesn't seem faithful to me. It just seems irrational. And the perfect recipe for mass faith crises.