Flunking Sainthood

lds_general_conference.jpgI admit that I have a love-hate relationship with General Conference. I dislike the passive format of it all, the stark and depressing maleness of all those dark suits, the conspicuous absence of women from public leadership. The conference often feels too long. I’m probably too bothered by the small things, like that this weekend, a couple of GAs trotted out the wonderful “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” quote, but attributed it to Harold B. Lee without mentioning its original source: Reinhold Niebuhr.

I’m just being honest here. I prefer my Mormonism at the grassroots level; large institutions frighten me even when I believe they are inspired. Conference can be difficult. I question how much of what comes out of a prophet’s mouth is timebound, culturally conditioned, and fallible — and how much might possibly be divine.

Apparently I’m not alone, judging from Peggy Fletcher Stack’s excellent Salt Lake Tribune article on the Mormon tendency toward apotheosis of general authorities. Readers of this blog already know that I find it deeply troubling that some Mormons seem to unquestioningly regard everything that emerges from leaders’ mouths as timeless gospel truth. I’m reminded of the old joke of someone who had converted to Mormonism from Catholicism and reported, “You know, the Catholics officially believe in papal infallibility, but no Catholics act as if they believe it. We Mormons are expressly told that the prophet is not infallible, but no Mormons act as if they believe it.”

So Conference can be hard for me, and apparently I’m not the only one with this unease: over at Exponent II today, a poll is being taken about this very issue.

Do you believe the prophet is always acting as a prophet, seer, and revelator when he speaks to the church?

As of this morning, the poll was running about 60% “no” with the other two responses getting about 20% apiece.

So, Conference can be a mixed experience. But the music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is always beautiful, and every once in a while a talk stirs my soul so deeply that it makes any ambivalence that Conference conjures almost disappear. When a church leader speaks authentically to the power of faith, or shares a personal story that is relevant to my own troubles or anxieties, it feels incredibly affirming.

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