As I attend the opening session of the 184th Annual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is hard to collect and categorize all the thoughts that have been swirling in my mind. (I’m actually writing this about fifteen minutes before the session begins.) Among those who frequent the Mormon-related corners of the Internet, the lead-up to this annual conference has been more boisterous and anticipated than normal.
The reason, of course, is the media spotlight on an organization known as Ordain Women, which plans to march tonight from City Creek Park to the Tabernacle on Temple Square, in hopes of being permitted admittance to a meeting traditionally reserved for male members of the Church.
In response to the media attention received, the Church has announced that reporters and photographers will not be allowed on Temple Square this conference. This is unprecedented in a generation or more, and many see the move as an attempt by the Church to “control the story.” The Church, on the other hand, counters that the purpose of conference sessions—including the all-male priesthood session—is to help people feel the Spirit as they receive guidance, admonition, and instruction from leaders.
Personally, I tend to side more with the Church’s reasoning. If you are attending general conference, you generally want to mingle with Saints, not be distracted by reporters seeking comment and feedback about the latest cause-de-jour. Reporters long ago stopped asking conference-goers what they thought about the myriad protesters—of all religious stripes—that festoon the free-speech zones immediately outside of Temple Square.
Another reason that I tend to dismiss assertions that the Church is trying to somehow control the story is that it is impossible in this day and age to do so. Those who want to post pictures to social media outlets will do so, and no doubt there will be dozens or hundreds of such photos published this evening. The Church’s leaders aren’t stupid; they are well aware that such will happen, so it doesn’t make sense that they would try to “control” anything in this manner.
Of course, the activities of Ordain Women aren’t the only thing planned around Temple Square this weekend. American Athiests has announced that in preparation for their annual conference (which will be held in Salt Lake City later this month) they will be planning a “mass resignation” on Sunday.
Of course, outside the conference venues, in the free-speech zones, are the normal cadre of those seeking to have their voices heard. Street preachers, disgruntled ex-mormons, those condemning conference-goers to hell, those wanting other changes less fashionable than gender equality, those staging counter-protests, those offering free hugs, a bagpiper or two, and a veritable brigade of police and security personnel will all be converging on the area.
So, the slate holds exciting events in addition to the normal hubbub of general conference—a women’s group marching with demands on Saturday and atheists shepherding people out on Sunday. What more could one want?
The answer, of course, is that one could want solace in troubled times. It is anticipated that there will be 100,000+ people attending conference, and no doubt there will be genuine spiritual seekers among those throngs. It is not unreasonable that thousands will be seeking answers to questions, hope amidst despair, guidance in their lives, and the consoling effects of the Spirit.
In my experience, such answers, hope, guidance, and Spirit are not to be found among those who come to general conference in any frame of mind other than as a seeker. I wish well to all those who seek and pray they will find answers to the righteous desires of their hearts.
I anticipate an interesting conference, indeed.