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I’ll review the recent LDS General Conference session by session this week, starting with the Saturday morning session. The Mormon Times provides an index with links to summaries; LDS.org has now posted full transcripts. As expected, the impact of the recent and continuing economic crisis received a lot of attention, including two contrasting talks in the Saturday morning session.
Taking the bad cop approach, Elder Hales (of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve) likened debt to an addictive behavior and told us that if we’re having a tough time, it’s all our fault. Here’s a quote from his talk:
Today I speak to all whose freedom to choose has been diminished by the effects of ill-advised choices of the past. I speak specifically of choices that have led to excessive debt and addictions to food, drugs, pornography, and other patterns of thought and action that diminish one’s sense of self-worth. All of these excesses affect us individually and undermine our family relationships. Of course some debt incurred for education, a modest home, or a basic automobile may be necessary to provide for a family. Unfortunately however, additional debt is incurred when we cannot control our wants and addictive impulses. And for both debt and addiction, the hopeful solution is the same–we must turn to the Lord and follow His commandments.
He does mention tithes and offerings later in his talk, but I detect hardly a hint of gratitude toward those who, despite financial difficulties, continue to make substantial financial contributions to the Church. Perhaps you came away with a different impression, but this didn’t strike me as what most Church members hoped to hear from the first talk at Conference.
Later in the same session came the good cop approach. President Eyring (a counselor in the First Presidency) also addressed adversity, but with a bit more encouragement to the downtrodden.
With all the differences in our lives, we have at least one challenge in common. We all must deal with adversity. There may be periods, sometimes long ones, when our lives seem to flow with little difficulty. But it is in the nature of our being human that comfort gives way to distress, periods of good health come to an end, and misfortunes arrive. Particularly when the comfortable times have gone on for a while, the arrival of suffering or the loss of material security can bring fear and sometimes even anger.
President Eyring’s counsel seems to be that we should just tough this out, doing all we can to make ends meet but retaining confidence rooted in our faith in God. He relates this anecdote as an example.
I spoke recently to a young father who has lost his job in the recent economic crisis. He knows that hundreds of thousands of people with exactly his skills are looking desperately for work to feed their families. His quiet confidence led me to ask him what he had done to become so confident that he would find a way to support his family. He said he had examined his life to be sure that he had done all he could to be worthy of the Lord’s help. It was clear that his need and his faith in Jesus Christ were leading him to be obedient to God’s commandments when it is hard to do.
I don’t think this good cop, bad cop approach was orchestrated. I think it reflects the different personal views and attitudes of the speakers. I’m sure there are senior citizens out there with living memories of the Great Depression who stood up and cheered during Elder Hales’ remarks, probably reminding everyone in the room how they’d been telling their kids and grandkids for years to put their money in a trustworthy savings account rather than those risky, improvident mutual funds. And I’m sure there are others who felt Elder Eyring’s sympathetic remarks hit the mark for them. LDS General Conference offers something for everyone.