Every six months, members of the LDS church gather together to listen to five-2 hours sessions of talks from our general church leaders.
I was especially excited for this Conference. I came looking for answers, assurances and understanding, which I received. Beginning today, the written talks are available online at LDS.org and I am eagerly going through them.
Here’s a recap of my favorite talks (and my thoughts on them):
Sister Carol Stephens
This was the third talk of conference and felt like it could have been address to me specifically. I’ve recently become intrigued by the cultural history in my church of women administering with power. However, in a church that believes in continuing revelation, sometimes it’s unclear when cultural shifts are based on doctrine and when cultural norms have no doctrinal foundation. I’ve been looking for clarity on my role in blessing, healing and administering. So, I was delighted when she quoted Elder Ballard:
When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power. … The endowment is literally a gift of power.
And then again:
Our Father in Heaven is generous with His power. All men and all women have access to this power for help in our own lives. All who have made sacred covenants with the Lord and who honor those covenants are eligible to receive personal revelation, to be blessed by the ministering of angels, [and] to commune with God.
I think that this is a different emphasis on Priesthood power than is normally made in our church (see Elder X’s talk below). It affirmed to me that I do not need to be ordained to an office within a Priesthood order (which is how we usually talk about Priesthood) to exercise that power when I feel so directed.
Finally, she reminded us:
We are beloved spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and destiny. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, loved us enough to give His life for us. His Atonement provides the way for us to progress on the path to our heavenly home, through sacred priesthood ordinances and covenants.
It is by living up to the covenants that we made that we have access to God’s power and that power is available to all of us.
President Dieter Uchtdorf
I loved the second half of his talk for one simple reason: His message is there is room for you. Sometimes, I feel frustrated by the culture of my faith. Sometimes, I have questions about church history. I regularly am annoyed by the lack of openness or neutral sources on some topics.
But Pres. Uchtdorf addresses these things beautifully:
It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions…
Your background or upbringing might seem different from what you perceive in many Latter-day Saints, but that could be a blessing. Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church…
…If you seek the pure doctrine of Christ, the word of God “which healeth the wounded soul,” and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost, then here you will find them… Come, join with us!
I cannot say enough wonderful words about this talk. Elder Christofferson’s talk is titled The Moral Force of Women and speaks once again to our power and authority. His introduction provides a perfect summary of his words:
I wish to express gratitude for the influence of good women, identify some of the philosophies and trends that threaten women’s strength and standing, and voice a plea to women to cultivate the innate moral power within them. Women bring with them into the world a certain virtue, a divine gift that makes them adept at instilling such qualities as faith, courage, empathy, and refinement in relationships and in cultures.
In kind, eloquent and thoughtful words, Elder Christofferson repeatedly asserts the value of women and the need the world has for “women who are tender. …Women who are kind. …Women who are refined. …Women of faith. [Women of] goodness … virtue [and] purity.”
He closes with this beautiful counsel
Dear sisters, we rely on the moral force you bring to the world, to marriage, to family, to the Church. We rely on blessings you bring down from heaven by your prayers and faith. We pray for your security, welfare, and happiness and for your influence to be sustained.
Elder Cook began his talk by explaining how his wife had negotiated early on in their marriage that for for every one paid sporting event, they would attend two “cultural” events. And then he said: “My purpose is to review many forms of bondage and subjugation.”
In reality, Elder Cook’s agreement to attend cultural events lead him to appreciate a particular opera who’s topic was the bondage of the Jews, inspired in part by the words of the Book of Jeremiah. After comparing some of the bondage that is found both in Jeremiah’s words and modern times, Elder Cook addressed “other kinds of bondage [that] are equally destructive of the human spirit.”
There was heavy emphasis on the degradation of family and of womanhood (sensing a pattern yet?). He warned:
There are many voices now telling women how to live…. Of particular concern are philosophies that criticize or diminish respect for women who choose to make the sacrifices necessary to be mothers, teachers, nurturers, or friends to children. … If we allow our culture to reduce the special relationship that children have with mothers and grandmothers and others who nurture them, we will come to regret it.
Speaking frankly, Elder Anderson said counseled all of the church on the power of the priesthood and specifically the addressed concerns raised by the Ordain Women movement that women are not “allowed” to administer Priesthood ordinances.
We sometimes overly associate the power of the priesthood with men in the Church. The priesthood is the power and authority of God given for the salvation and blessing of all—men, women, and children.
A man may open the drapes so the warm sunlight comes into the room, but the man does not own the sun or the light or the warmth it brings. The blessings of the priesthood are infinitely greater than the one who is asked to administer the gift.
He admitted that “When we speak of the priesthood, there are many things we do know” but emphasized that:
As surely as we know that God’s love is “alike” for His sons and His daughters, we also know that He did not create men and women exactly the same. We know that gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose. Sacred responsibilities are given to each gender.
Coupled with Sis. Stephens and Elders Christofferson and Cook, I feel like the the innate power of women was beautifully reaffirmed and that received assurance that I do not need Priesthood ordination but have a divine right to administer to my family and to others.
I also loved Elder Holland’s talk Like A Broken Vessel (an powerful read if you or someone you know suffers from mental illness), Pres. Eyring’s To My Grandchildren (whose stories about his parents gave me hope for “The miracle of becoming one” in my own marriage) and Pres. Monson’s “I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee” (a message of comfort in times of trials).
I loved this General Conference. As President Monson said, “This has been one of the most inspiring sessions of any general conference I’ve attended. Everything has been of the greatest and most spiritual nature.”
Over the next six months, these messages will be part of my study, along with the canonized scriptures. General Conference is one of the greatest blessings of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as we listen to messages specifically for us and for our time.
This conference was timely and uplifting and I’m grateful that these messages will continue to benefit me in coming months.