1. President Packer’s talk, with its focus on the atonement. It was also remarkably inclusive, quoting a woman’s spiritual experience, emphasizing that the gospel is for everyone, with references to the body of Christ and the importance of each member. It was difficult for me to see him appear to be in physical distress.
2. I think having speakers speak in their native languages is a great move. Every time I see evidence of the truly international nature of the church, it strengthens my testimony.
3. President Uchtdorf, as usual, knocked it out of the park. (I should probably re-title my Monday-morning-after-conference post series “Four Things I Liked Plus Whatever President Uchtdorf Said.” I hope “stranded on the raft of our own biases” enters the Mormon lexicon. And “your testimony must be this tall to enter.” He has a gift for giving talks that are welcoming to everyone while at the same time challenging everyone to do better. That is not an easy combo to pull off–most people tip too far to one side or the other. His message that while truth doesn’t change our ability to perceive it can change is very important. As for his priesthood meeting talk, I loved the idea that we need to stop thinking about what other people need to learn and look inward at what we need to learn ourselves.
I think it would be interesting to try to analyze “The Uchtdorf Formula for Amazing Talks” because it is more than just charm, good looks, and an interesting accent. I think the key is that he takes a big, deep concept and presents it in an analogy. All of his humor is either self-deprecating or Mormon-culture-deprecating. Then he speaks in general terms (leaving the audience to determine their own personal application) about how to live the gospel more fully. He’s always completely inclusive and welcoming of everyone–there’s no effort to draw boundaries and push some people out. He’s also big on conveying God’s love for everyone. (Did I miss anything? Is there a better way to describe what he does?)
4. Elder Holland’s talk. Go listen to it. His powerful testimony about the importance of helping the poor is not to be missed.
I am going to make a prediction: as these issues become better known and as gay marriage becomes legalized, our concern with attacks on the family will morph into concern over income inequality as an attack on the family. (That said, I don’t see General Conference talks attacking the 1%–I see an increased emphasis on education and practical solutions, such as BYU-I Pathways and the Perpetual Education Fund. Dare I also point out that if we moved away from traditional gender roles, it might help with this problem?)
5. Elder Bednar’s talk. I see it as a model for how to share the gospel in a way unlikely to cause offense and likely to be most appealing to those investigating the church.
Bonus: this article was full of feminist win. I know there is an ongoing debate within the LDS feminist community regarding whether we should be happy with or dismayed by minor changes, but I’m coming down on the side of being happy at the notion of a Stake Relief Society President picking up general leaders in her police car, a general leader saying “If I choose to work [=have a career], that’s great,” more frequent references to Heavenly Parents, and stake presidents calling female leaders “mouthpiece[s] for the prophet.” This paragraph in particular is more than small change, more than window dressing, more than marketing:
“This [=Elder Oaks’ April GC talk that women use priesthood authority in their callings],” Sister Oscarson said, “is language we haven’t heard before, and we need to teach it to our young women. We spend a whole month of Sundays each year now on lessons about the priesthood. They need to be not just ‘how do you sustain men in the priesthood?’ We need to teach them that when they go out as a class presidency to visit a young woman, they are acting with priesthood authority.”
Separate issue: (not) counting the General Women’s Meeting as part of General Conference per President Eyring’s intro on Saturday morning (but perhaps President Uchtdorf thinks differently per his statement at the GWM? And the opening prayer for the priesthood session said something about the “fourth” session of conference). Considering the GWM as part of GC is precisely the kind of change that the church should make. There is, obviously, no doctrinal barrier to counting the GWM as part of GC, but not doing so sends the message that women don’t “count” in the church.
(Also, I was a little surprised that there were no references to the Meet the Mormons movie. Probably makes sense since it is not an international release.)
And: I think we need to talk more about faithening our strength. (That’s serious–not snarky.)
My penultimate observation: If Person A accuses Person B of living in a bubble, Person B’s assurances that s/he does not, no matter how vehement, will not convince Person A, because no one thinks that they live in a bubble–that’s the consequence of living in a bubble. The only way to prove that you are not living in a bubble is to show evidence of your awareness of the world outside of the bubble. I saw lots of evidence of speakers who are not living in a bubble. (I have on other occasions seen scary evidence of leaders living in bubbles, but not this weekend.)
One more thing: I wish people would quit kvetching about President Monson “recycling” his talks. If there is anything timeless about his talks (and I believe that there is), then it is well worth him repeating them from time to time. He’s got good scriptural precedent on this one: Jesus repeated his sermons, too.