LDS General Conference to be business as usual, despite 'Mormon moment'

Published: Thursday, March 29 2012 11:52 p.m. MDT

"Treating this rising interest in the Mormon faith as a fleeting fad tends to shoehorn the subject into a confined timeframe and invite simplistic definitions and questionable conclusions," said LDS Church Public Affairs Director Michael Otterson in his "On Faith" blog for the Washington Post. "In their rush to render judgment in such a context, political journalists on TV talk shows generate shallow discussions about what is and what isn't relevant about a candidate's Mormon faith. Fundamentalist pastors, with little experience of Latter-day Saints and even less knowledge, pontificate on whether Mormons qualify to be Christian. A handful of bloggers seize on the moment to drive their own favored topics irrespective of how relevant or important those issues are to the great rank and file membership or, indeed, its leadership."

So Otterson took advantage of his Washington Post platform to invite "serious journalists" to "get to know us, properly." He invited them to "drop into our services, talk to our people, have dinner with a local leader, spend a family home evening with a family … Join with us on a service project."

"Examine the doctrine," he said, "not through the simplistic 'us and them' comparisons that we see so often, but in ways that explain how the doctrine of the church influences behavior."

Unfortunately, Otterson concluded, "these are aspects that few journalists have ever explored in their frenzied world of Internet-driven deadlines and 600-word limitations."

Which may explain why there are "about the same" number of requests for media credentials for this conference as there have been for past, pre-Mormon moment conferences.

"The 'Mormon moment' has simply become the cliché of choice, and it's time to move past it," he observed. "It's more than a Mormon moment. It's time for a new paradigm."

For Latter-day Saints, however, there is no need for a new general conference paradigm — momentary or otherwise. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during his April 2011 general conference address, it is the same as it has ever been: "If we (who are speaking in general conference) teach by the spirit and you listen by the spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance, sending a personal prophetic epistle just to you."

Elder Holland explained that except in rare situations, those who speak in general conference are not given assigned topics. Instead, "each is to fast and pray, study and seek, start and stop and start again until he or she is confident that for this conference, at this time, his or hers it the topic the Lord wishes that speaker to present regardless of personal wishes or private preferences."

General conference therefore is not a time for broad pronouncements and political statements intended to make headlines around the world. Rather, President Henry B. Eyring of the church's First Presidency said, it is a time to "pray and ponder, asking the question: 'Did God send a message that was just for me?'"

In other words, it is a time for a very personal, intimate Mormon moment.

"If you trust God enough to listen for his message in every sermon, song and prayer in this conference," President Eyring continued, "you will find it."

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EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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