SALT LAKE CITY — The 182nd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will open Saturday morning, beginning two full days of conference sessions that will feature sermons, prayers, music and a little church business.
General sessions will be held both Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (MDT), with a priesthood session for male members of the church 12 and older Saturday evening at 6. More than 100,000 church members are expected to participate in weekend conference sessions in the LDS Church's Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, while millions more will watch or listen to conference proceedings via television, radio, satellite and Internet broadcasts.
In other words, LDS general conference business as usual — "Mormon moment" notwithstanding.
Coined by the media and referenced consistently for almost a year, the Mormon moment phrase refers to a period of time during which the LDS Church, its people and its teachings have been front of mind in a variety of public and social contexts, from Broadway to academia to presidential politics.
It would stand to reason, then, that with all of this attention, national news media outlets would flock to what is semiannually the most momentous of Mormon moments: general conference. It is here, during these two days of conference sessions, that church President Thomas S. Monson – a man that Mormons believe is God's living prophet – and other church leaders speak to Latter-day Saints everywhere with words that Mormons believe are "the will of the Lord … the mind of the Lord … the word of the Lord … the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation" (Doctrine & Covenants 68: 4).
But evidently, the media is not flocking. According to church officials, they have had "about the same" number of requests for media credentials for this weekend's general conference sessions as they usually do.
Which may come as a surprise to some who may have anticipated that several controversial news threads that played out during the past six months might elicit more national scrutiny of this general conference — particularly in exploring how church policies, practices and teachings relate to the presidential candidacy of Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.
For example, a number of news outlets wrote during stories during the past six months about the LDS practice of proxy baptisms in its temples, noting that the names of a number of well-known victims of the Jewish Holocaust had either been submitted for temple proxy ordinances, or had actually been baptized by proxy. Because of agreements made with various Jewish and Holocaust organizations, the LDS Church apologized for those baptisms, which were performed contrary to church policy, and reiterated the policy to members in hopes that they would comply with the prescribed guidelines for submitting names for temple ordinances.
There have also been a significant number of news stories about LDS practices and policies regarding race , along with a strongly worded statement from the church condemning "any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the church." There were also a number of stories about the LDS doctrine of tithing following the release of Romney's tax documents, which included millions of dollars in tithing payments. And there have been a host of stories about whether or not Mormons — and Romney — are Christians.
That's a lot of headlines in one six-month news cycle — enough to suggest that this Mormon moment may be something more than that.
"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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