Notes on the Priesthood Session

My summary and reaction to the Priesthood Session of General Conference:

Elder Nelson:

A very nice complement to President Monson’s remarks of the morning session. Elder Nelson focused on missionaries and missionary work, reviewing why we have missionaries and what members should do to forward missionary efforts.

  • He said that the Church has more than 52,000 missionaries serving in 300+ missions. FWIW, the number of missionaries has fallen for most of the past decade (probably due to the decline in the birthrate among members in the U.S.), and the Church has even had to reduce the number of missions as a result.
  • Elder Nelson also said that among his descendants and their spouses (children, grandchildren, etc.) 49 have served missions. Personally, I have only one so far, so I’ve got a way to go on this metric.
  • I found his promotion of the new mormon.org as a missionary tool very interesting.

Elder Kearon:

Told story about growing up on the Arabian peninsula and once failing to follow parents instruction to wear shoes. While wearing flip-flops instead, he was stung by a scorpion. The wound was very painful, and the drive to the hospital took two hours, but fortunately the type of scorpion that stung him was only leathal to infants and the aged. He compared this experience to our spiritual actions, when we disregard what we know is right because of laziness or rebellion, and suffer as a result.

  • The Arabian peninsula part of the story and clear British accent made me curious to know more about Elder Kearon (more about Elder Kearon here).
  • He made a fascinating observation about the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s in the Book of Mormon, who laid down their weapons, and then also “laid down the weapons of their rebellion.” Elder Kearon implied that these latter were different from the weapons of war, and instead were weapons of rebellion against righteousness, laid down in order to become more Christ like. I hadn’t picked up on this distinction before.

Elder Uceda:

(More about Elder Uceda here). Told a story of family relationships, about a daughter who didn’t want to participate in family scripture study and a father who over-reacted to the daughter. In the end both realize their errors and apologize to restore harmony. Elder Uceda uses this story to teach the importance of being submissive to the Lord.

Elder Uchtdorf:

In the best discourse I’ve heard so far this conference, Elder Uchtdorf remembered President Benson’s 1989 talk “Beware of Pride” and presented another witness to the destructive nature of this sin. While acknowledging that there is a difference between being proud and being prideful, he suggested that pride is a universal sin, “no one can avoid it, few can overcome it.” This talk was full of insightful comments and observations, and clearly struck at problems in today’s culture, such as Elder Uchtdorf’s comments on pride in sports, politics and religion.

  • Great self-depricating joke: “When I told my wife that this would be the topic of my talk, she smiled and said, ‘It is good that you talk about things you know so much about.'”
  • He observed that following President Benson’s talk in 1989, members almost found it “taboo to say they were proud of family or country or their work.” I have to admit, given today’s political attitudes, I wish Americans had a little less pride in their country, especially when that seems to come at the expense of other countries.
  • He said “pride is a sin of comparison,” suggesting that the problem with pride arises when we take our feelings of pride from focusing on accomplishments to comparing whether those accomplishments are better than those of others.
  • “When our hearts are filled with pride, we commit a grave sin, for we violate the two great commandments. Instead of worshipping God and loving our neighbor, we reveal the real object of our worship and love–the image we see in the mirror.”
  • “Perhaps there is no better laboratory to observe the sin of pride than the world of sports.” Wow. So true. While I’m a very big sports fan, I have to admit that the behavior of fans is often inexcusable. He also observed that this same inexcusable behavior has spilled over into politics and into religion. And, Elder Uchtdorf added, “all of God’s children wear the same jersey. Our team is the brotherhood of man.
  • He told a fascinating story about being taught (while in the car driving several hours to a stake conference) by President Faust. Noting how kind Church members are to General Authorities, Faust then taught him, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you… Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”
  • “Pride is a switch that turns off priesthood power. Humility is a switch that turns it on.”
  • “We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves.”
  • “There are so many people we can be thinking about other than ourselves.”
  • I can’t say enough about this talk. Truly wonderful, timely and very influential. One I’ll want to read over and over again.

Elder Eyring:

Discussed the need to qualify for the spirit in order to make our service as God would have it be. Told how the priesthood had influenced the lives of two of his ancestors, who each recognized the spirit in the missionaries they met. Stories like his are repeated around the world, with the common theme of the power of the priesthood made manifest. His point: “Let us do whatever is required to qualify for the Holy Ghost as our companion and then let us go forward fearlessly that we will be given the powers to do whatever the Lord calls us to do.” Told two additional stories. One about a deacon assigned to visit an inactive fellow deacon and invite him to come back to Church. 20 years later, though still inactive, the young man invited to return still remembered the visit (and his grandfather asked Elder Eyring to find the deacon who did the inviting to thank him for his influence). The last story was about a visit that President Kimball made to Elder Eyring’s father, who was in the hospital and seemed to be dying. Elder Eyring, thinking to learn what it meant to comfort the ill from this visit, was disappointed when President Kimball said and did little during the visit. When his father later said the visit was the most comforting he recieved, Elder Eyring realized that it was the power of the priesthood that President Kimball brought that made the difference.

  • While I enjoyed Elder Eyring’s story about his ancestors, I wish he had named names — I prefer stories that are a bit more concrete.
  • The story of President Kimball’s visit to his father was great. Very illuminating and instructive (especially given the people mentioned). And it was concrete!

President Monson:

Gives what he calls the 3 R’s of Choice: The right of choice, the responsibility of choice and the results of choice. Covers some of the same ground that Elder Hales covered in his discourse in the Saturday Afternoon session, but in President Monson’s inimitable style. After covering each of these three areas, he told the story of Elder Clayton Christensen’s choice to go to church instead of playing in a championship basketball game for Oxford in the U.K.’s equivalent of the final of the NCAA championship.

  • President Monson seemed to make his delivery a bit more dramatic than usual, adding voice inflections that sounded a bit like a parent reading an adventure story to a child. I’ll have to get used to this style.
  • President Monson continues as one of the most likely general authorities to use outside, non-Mormon references in his talks. This time he cited “Alice in Wonderland,” looking at Alice’s attempt to figure out where to go when she asked the Cheshire Cat for advice.
  • He also quoted Brigham Young, “Salvation is an individual operation.”
  • In talking about Elder Christensen’s story, and how the decision to play on Sunday could have been seen as an exceptional circumstance, he said that in retrospect Elder Christensen see that “his entire life has been an unending stream of extenuating circumstances” and “its easier to keep commandments 100% of the time than it is to keep them 98% of the time.” Elder Christensen’s talk on this story can be found here.

On the whole a very enjoyable session. Especially, dare I say it again, Elder Uchtdorf’s talk.

I look forward to tomorrow’s sessions.

19 comments for “Notes on the Priesthood Session

  1. Last Lemming
    October 3, 2010 at 9:57 am

    OK, I’ve got a theory that I suspect is going to be slightly unpopular, but here goes.

    I have long suspected that one reason conference talks are delivered in such a boring manner (even by people whom we know are otherwise good public speakers) is that conference is the prophet’s show and nobody should upstage him. Then along comes Dieter Uchtdorf, who is leaving the average conference speaker in the dust. And President Monson starts feeling the pressure and tries to step up his performance a notch. Doesn’t work so well. I don’t know what the answer is, but last night made me just a bit uneasy.

    Not as uneasy as having the 14 Fundamentals dredged up in two consecutive sessions, mind you. But still…

  2. October 3, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Uchtdorf’s talk was definitely the highlight. President Monson’s talk annoyed me somewhat, especially the story of Clayton Christensen. I was left wondering what Monson thought of professional athletes like Steve Young, Danny Ainge, Chad Lewis and Dale Murphy that had obviously not decided as a 16-year-old that playing sports on Sunday is taboo. Dale Murphy was called to be a mission president after having played sports on several hundred Sundays, so it would have been nice (and intellectually coherent) for Monson to provide some nuance. Instead he followed Christensen’s lead (as recounted in the link above) and spoke *against* nuance, noting that it’s “easier to keep the commandments 100 percent of the time than it is 98 percent of the time.”

    First of all, this begs the question of whether playing sports on Sunday is a failure to “keep the commandments”. (Do Christensen and Monson figure that Dale Murphy repented of his choice to be a professional baseball player? Or do they think the church sends non-repentant people who publicly violate God’s commandments to serve as ambassadors of Christ?)

    Second, of course it’s easier to be rules-based — the behavior of mindless and lazy government bureaucrats the world over prove that it’s easier to enforce rules than to make decisions* — but since when should our moral decisions be based on what’s EASIEST? I would imagine that if I were to press Christensen (and perhaps Monson) they would agree that our objective shouldn’t be to find the easiest decision, our objective should be to find the right decision, and that in many cases making the right decision is not easy. Otherwise, why study it out in our own minds and then ask God?

    * While examples of bureaucrats insisting on easy, rules-based standards are legion, the first that came to mind during the conference session was of the New York zoning authority that refused to allow a charity to use a building without an elevator as a homeless shelter, due to a city ordinance (rule) about access for the disabled, even though the charity had another homeless shelter on the same block that had an elevator, and said that they would have anyone needing an elevator stay at that shelter. The homeless of New York have fewer options and the world as a whole is worse off because rules like “no occupation permits for buildings with public access unless they have an elevator” make decision-making for bureaucrats very easy to make 100% of the time.

  3. Jeremy
    October 3, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for this summary. Yes, I agree. Elder Uchtdorf’s talk on pride was excellent. I liked his “don’t inhale it” comment. Pride is something that we all have. He made some excellent points about how to conquer it. President Monson made some excellent points about choices. Overall, the speakers gave me plenty to think about.

  4. Mark D.
    October 3, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Who’s conception of keeping the Sabbath day holy is so broad that sports on Sunday is anything more than an unfortunate compromise? If sports on Sunday is perfectly legitimate, it is hard to see anything that would not be in keeping with the commandment.

  5. October 3, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Mark, I don’t usually play sports on Sunday myself (though my brothers and I will shoot hoops or throw footballs when our families get together for Sunday dinner) and am happy that BYU doesn’t, either, but given that people who choose to play sports many or even most Sundays (especially professional golfers and baseball players), and to do so in very public ways, are held up as exemplary Mormons shows that the church does not make a big deal about playing Sunday sports.

    What I find interesting is the implicit syllogism we can infer that President Monson thinks its okay to break the commandments in some circumstances:

    1. Playing sports on Sunday is a failure to keep the commandments
    2. Steve Young, Danny Ainge, Chad Lewis, Bruce Summerhays, et al, play sports on Sundays
    3. Therefore Steve Young et al do not keep the commandments, and also violate the commandments publicly in front of millions of people and tens of thousands of Mormons
    4. Rather than tell professional Mormon athletes to give up sports that require Sunday play, President Monson and other GAs implicitly endorse the career choices of professional Mormon athletes by allowing the church to use the athletes for publicity purposes, and for firesides, EFY, etc.
    5. We can therefore conclude that President Monson and the GAs think it is okay to break the commandments in some circumstances

  6. October 4, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Matt,

    Clearly one of the virtues that President Monson highlighted in the story of Brother Christensen is that he made a commitment at one time, and then later he honored that commitment. Further, I remember as a young man listening to sports legends speak in Gen’l PH meeting and wondering how they could do that and still play on Sunday. I’m grateful for the highlighting of some who made a different choice.

    As was taught clearly throughout the conference, we will all make our own choices. There is nothing wrong with a standard.

  7. Kristine
    October 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Matt, I think the other thing about Clayton is that _he_ wouldn’t say it’s always wrong to play on Sundays. He is humble enough to have known that playing basketball was not going to be his contribution to the kingdom (as it arguably is for the professional athletes you mention, who bring attention to the church in this way), so that for him, it wasn’t right to play on Sundays as it might be for someone who had the “calling” of basketball. My guess is that Clayton sees the basketball example as just that–an example to illustrate a larger principle. The story was not about basketball as he told it.

  8. Chet
    October 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Holy schadenfreude Batman !!

  9. Allan Thompson
    October 5, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Last Leming,

    First of all, I’m glad your still on the top of the cliff.

    To the topic of your post, I think a basic fundamental for a good gospel teacher is the ability to deflect attention from the teacher to the message and/or the divine source of the message.

    What you perceive to be boring delivery appears to me to be but excellent applications of the charge to deflect focus from the messenger and apply focus to the message, and thereby, the ultimate author of the message.

    While certain teachers, on a local or non-local level, may be more animated and therefore more exciting than others, the substance of what is said is so much more important than the form of delivery. This is because the only way a message delivered will benefit people is if they apply the substance of the message. While being enraptured during a meeting may be more exciting, this doesn’t, in itself, make someone more apt to apply the principles taught. The Holy Ghost testifies of truth whether conveyed by a “boring” speaker or an animated one. It is not the form of the message that people can apply to their lives, it is the substance. In agreement that our Deutschlander freund’s talks rock. But I find the substance of this talks to be compelling and consider the non-“boring” factor to be nothing more than a nice touch.

    Also, GC is not the prophet’s show. He knows it, we know it, and he constantly acknowledges that the church is Christ’s. If he feels upstaged by the sheer awesomeness of other speakers, I have no doubt that he sees such a feeling as a failing, and is seeking to serve the Lord with the right intent. He acknowledged himself that he has many miles to go before he sleeps and many promises to keep. I seriously doubt he is referring to his skills as a speaker as the subject of his needed area of improvement, but rather his Christ-like attributes.

  10. Cameron Nielsen
    October 5, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Guys, I think we’re getting pretty myopic with our vain imaginations here. If President Monson wants GC to be ‘his show,’ then why does he never conduct (President Uchtdorf usually conducts 3 sessions and Pres. Eyring 2)?

    One of the few talks of Thomas Monson’s I actually remember from my childhood was when he told the story of how Dale Murphy hit two home runs for a kid with a terminal disease. I don’t think GAs need to qualify every doctrinal point with its balancing counterpoint. There is duality in almost every single aspect of the Gospel. I understand it can be frustrating sometimes, but our journey was meant to be tough, right? =)

  11. October 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Kristine, but at least in the talk that Dave linked to above, Christensen made the “easier to keep the commandments 100% of the time” comment immediately after sharing his story about not playing basketball on Sunday, so while he may have intended his basketball story to merely be a metaphor that helped him learn the value of keeping the “real” commandments, and simply not a rule that applied only to him (whatever that means), his wording suggests that he thought his refusal to play sports on Sunday was an example of his choosing to keep the commandments. And if it’s truly wrong to play organized sports on Sunday, the Sunday athletes aren’t building the church, they’re preaching the message that it’s more important to be successful according to the world than to God.

    Cameron, I agree that teaching the gospel is challenging, but we should still hold out hope that if anyone should be able to do it well without teaching false ideas at the same time, that it would be the prophet and apostles! Given his talk, and the fact that Monson’s sharing a story about Dale Murphy of the kind you mention is an implicit endorsement of Murphy’s career choice, I still do not know whether President Monson would agree or disagree with the statement, “Playing organized sports on Sunday is not keeping the commandments.”

  12. Allan Thompson
    October 6, 2010 at 12:34 am

    We embrace everything that is true. It doesn’t matter what the source. Dale Murphy performed a charitable act by reaching out to a child with a terminal disease. That is the true principle that President Monson was teaching when he made reference to that event. He said nothing of Murphy’s Sabbath observance.

    If President Monson must refrain from finding good in the lives of high profile members of our faith, simply because there is some aspect of their life that is not fully in line with the commandments, that makes it nigh unto impossible to embrace truth wherever it can be found. Every one is lacking in some way. If we couldn’t embrace truth wherever it is found simply because the person whose life or words exemplify that principle is a flawed person in one or more ways, President Monson would thereby be constrained to refuse to acknowledge any word of truth taught by Mother Teresa simply because one or more aspects of her life were not compliant with the restored church. http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-39,00.html. For example, she has not received baptism by one having authority.

    President Faust would have been prevented from using the Amish as an example of the application of the principle of forgiveness, simply because one or more aspects of their lives were not compliant with the restored doctrine of the church. http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-39,00.html. For example, they have not been baptized by one having authority.

    I LOVE the fact that our church embraces truth where ever it can be found, whether the source or example of the truth is Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, the Amish, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Joseph Smith, Martin Luther, the Book of Mormon, Dale Murphy or Joe Shmoe. But if high profile members of the church such as Steve Young and Dale Murphy can’t be recognized as examples of persons who are embracing certain true principles by way of their membership in the church, who can be recognized as such? Does not everyone have some aspect of their life that is out of line with the teachings of the gospel? I fully sustain President Monson in endorsing any person who lives a true principle, with regard to that principle, even if other aspects of their life may be lacking in some way. We should be discerning enough to acknowledge that the purpose of using members as examples is to teach truth to the extent that they have embraced it, not to replace the unique role of the Savior as our true example.

    Are we to refuse to applaud the application of any true principle in a person’s life, simply because one or more aspects of their life are not fully in compliance with the gospel? I hope not.

    Are we to refuse to acknowledge the great faith exercised by Clay Christensen, simply because there are other good members of the church, who have not followed the same path? I hope not.

    The prophets and apostles have consistently taught the benefits of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. With respect to the Sabbath, the crucial inquiries are as follows: Are the promises made by the Lord fulfilled when the Sabbath is observed or are they not? Are the promises made by the Lord fulfilled in our lives when we observe the Sabbath or are they not? Has any apostle or prophet every taught or implied that the blessings associated with the Sabbath are not available to those who keep the Sabbath day holy, or that they should not be sought with great earnestness? I think not. The fact that someone who has chosen a career that requires them to work on Sunday has been used as an example of a person who has embraced certain true principles doesn’t change this fact.

    All of that said, I think that Elder Oak’s discourse of the existence of “exceptions” is a key concept to this whole discussion. http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-39,00.html (toward the end of the talk).

  13. Foobaritron
    October 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Nice article. So, Allan Thompson, are you actively engaged in the dating game or happily married with kids? If neither then I obviously can’t take you seriously!!

    President Monson’s delivery was very distracting and at times sounded like a person with questionable sanity. It made me extremely uncomfortable. When I got home my wife asked about the Meeting and I told her about it, leaving out how I felt about Pres. Monson’s talk. But she specifically asked me about how he had given his talk. I asked why and she described to me how he had delivered his talk at the General RS meeting. Apparently he did the same thing there. I know it is my own failing but it is a big enough issue that I don’t really remember what he talked about just that he seemed uncharacteristically strange. He didn’t used to talk this way!

  14. October 7, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Allan, the problem with President Monson’s making mention of Dale Murphy is that the ONLY reason we know of Dale Murphy at all is due to his career choice that required him to play organized sports on Sunday, so by simply speaking of Dale Murphy as someone we should know, President Monson implicitly condones his career choice that made him famous. This shows that playing organized sports on Sunday is not a big deal to President Monson.

  15. Allan Thompson
    October 7, 2010 at 5:45 am

    I believe that the only thing Murphy being made mention of shows is that someone who has made a career choice that requires them to work on Sunday might still be mentioned as a person who has done something worth mentioning, even if that thing worth mentioning wouldn’t have happened but for their career choice, particularly if the person is a high profile member of the church. This would extend to more careers and persons than just professional athletes. It would extend to commercial pilots, taxi drivers, newscasters, emergency room doctors, hospital employees, firefighters, policemen, presidents of the united states, military personnel, and so on, which are all careers that require work on Sundays either regularly or often.

  16. October 7, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Foobaritron, I agree with you. I found his delivery quite distracting. I’m not sure who the delivery was intended for exactly, but it didn’t help me at all. Yes, it called attention to parts of the talk. But it called more attention to the technique than to the talk.

  17. Allan Thompson
    October 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Matt, It’s not that I don’t understand where you are coming from. I used to gripe (at least in my head) about President Monson speaking so glowingly about King David in his encounter with Goliath. I reasoned: Doesn’t President Monson know that David didn’t endure to the end? Why set David up as an example?

    I took umbrage with the fact that he would often quote the Music Man: “you pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.” I reasoned: Doesn’t President Monson know that the motive of Harold Hill in pulling out that line was most likely along the lines of “eat, drink and be merry” and less likely along the lines of being “anxiously engaged in a good cause”?

    I know there have been other similar references that annoyed me at the time I heard them that are not on my radar at the moment.

    But I’ve since concluded that President Monson cherry-picks truths and examples of good where ever he finds them, even if it’s not a completely seamless example or reference. And I not only have no problem with that, I think it is appropriate, for the reasons I wrote in my previous post, and because of Article of Faith 13, which I believe expresses the foundational principle behind our quest to find truth everywhere it can be found. The ability to embrace the truth without everything that might be associated with it necessarily requires reliance development of our ability to discern and rely on the Spirit.

  18. Foobaritron
    October 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Matt,

    Your logic is flawed. If the only method for knowing of Dale Murphy was by watching him play exclusively on Sunday then you might have an argument. I have never seen him play on Sunday or any other day of the week for that matter, yet I have heard of him. When Pres Monson mentioned him I didn’t even make the connection to Sabbath day observance.

    Further, Pres Monson can point out a famous person without needing to justify, explain, or accept that persons methods for becoming famous. Using the good attributes or acts of a famous person in no way implies entire or partial acceptance with the way that person became famous. Your argument that using Murphy constitutes implicit approval of playing baseball on Sunday could be extrapolated to anything. He used Murphy so he implicitly condones Baseball. He used Murphy so he implicitly condones watching baseball. He used Murphy so he implicitly condones Sports Illustrated for helping make Murphy famous. He used Murphy so he implicitly condones beer that is consumed at MLB games. And on and on …

    By your logic, referencing Dale Murphy amounts to implicit approval of everything, both good and bad, that the man has ever done in his life. This is simply not true.

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