As we speak, Deseret Book interns are preparing stock images for memes. A General Authority has made up another catchy word for his son to profitize on. And Elder Oaks is getting his head shined.
General Conference is almost here.
And while true believing Mormons may find some nuggets of joy hidden in the boring talks, the rest of us will be subjected to veiled judgement and irrational thought. Normally, we just forget about it and move on.
But when your News Feed is filled with memes from Conference and your Gmail inbox has several messages sent by former ward members recommending talks to bring you back to church, there is no moving on. There is no scrolling past. Facebook turns into an endless stream of old Mormon men and C.S. Lewis quotes, and it can bring up a lot of bad memories. When my faith transition was still really raw, it could send me into a depression for a few days. While conference has lots of good messages (love! serve! be charitable!), it has plenty of hurtful ones to go around.
Members of the Church often can’t seem to grasp why it hurts to be surrounded by General Conference, so let’s explain: it hurts to watch leaders you used to venerate imply you are weak. It hurts to see quotes that imply your life is now less blessed, or that you don’t truly love your family. It hurts when your happiness is “so-called”, or that the love you feel for your partner is delegitimized because they happen to be the same gender. Normally you can ignore these things, but the Church makes a habit of making sure conference weekend is in all of our faces, pushing the “so-called” gospel of Jesus Christ into everyone’s lives, wanted or not.
Having been through a couple of difficult conference weekends myself, here is some advice I can give.
Turns out we don’t need the internet to function. The best way to avoid conference is put the internet down. Go on a weekend getaway. Go to the Religions Transitions retreat. Hike. Go to the movies. Read a book. Cook something delicious. Do anything. Even going to your local garbage dump and watching people get rid of their garbage is more productive than subjecting yourself to Elder Hollands jowls.
I watched last conference, and it was extremely depressing. Even though you know the things said aren’t reality, often times the people you love don’t. When Mormon family and friends take these men and (less often) women’s words seriously, it can lead to less healthy relationships. I kept having the recurring thought last October that no matter what I said, these men’s opinion, who those I love have never met, would always trump mine. That is a depressing thought, and unfortunately there are even more of those thoughts in store when watching conference. So if you decide to watch, you are forewarned. It will be frustrating. Like lying underneath a jackhammer level of frustrating.
Even though it is painful, sometimes we can’t help ourselves from watching conference. Perhaps we are hoping that this time it will be different. Perhaps we are simply fascinated in it as a case study and want to look how leaders frame messages in reaction to current events. Perhaps we are still in our faith transition and are hoping that God will finally tell us why the heck we still sing ‘Praise To The Man’ when Joseph broke God’s commandments about polygamy. Or maybe we just want to know what bull is being spewed so we can preemptively refute it. Regardless of your reasons for watching, make sure you have something the help mitigate the stress. Watch it with another ExMormon friend. Play a drinking game. Laugh at how much Elder Oaks look like the Grinch. Try to look at it like you look at the Jehovah’s Witness conference and the Scientology conference – just a bit of a disturbing joke.
In the face of all the madness, take a second and resolve to be a better person. Looking back at my own faith transition, Mormonism had a plateau. Ironically enough, the Church was the vehicle that taught me the morals I needed to leave it. It is understandable and justified to be bitter and angry towards the Church. But at some point, we need to pioneer a better way. When we see the flaws and hurt that is taught at conference, let’s resolve to make something better than that in our personal relationships. We can do better than that. The Church’s love is conditional. Ours doesn’t have to be.
All jokes aside, beware Elder Holland’s jowls. That dodo always means business.