I remember the excitement I used to feel right about now: it’s almost time for General Conference! A weekend hearing the Lord’s special and especial witnesses bear testimony of Jesus Christ. Every Conference I would come ready to receive revelation, hoping that this time it would be like Nauvoo or Kirkland, with a prophet declaring (instead of alluding) that he had a message from God to share with the faithful Saints.
Instead, I heard wise men share wise stories from their good old days, messages about being Christlike. Exhortations to do my home-teaching, pay my tithing and fast-offerings, and serve a mission. And of course, why our Church was so unique.
Why were we unique? Because we had living prophets on the earth today, to guide us with pure revelations directly from on high! These were true messengers, and I was always ready to receive them. I did what the prophets asked of me. I tried to be Christlike. I humbled myself. I prayed deeper, loved more sincerely. I forgave my neighbor. I paid my tithing. I served a mission. I accepted callings. If it was asked of me, I did it. All I had was my agency to offer God, everything else was his. And these men were His prophets—if I was to please God, I must obey His servants.
The thing is, there wasn’t any difference between these men and anyone else. I never heard a message that was more unique than a talk my Stake President could have given. Instead of hearing the words of Christ quoted, the Brethren would just quote each other. Christ’s words didn’t seem to be the focus, they seemed to be selectively chosen (often out of context) to prove the point of the speaker.
Instead of doctrinal insight, there were platitudes. Meat turned to milk, and skim milk at that. Conference the last few years became a watered-down affirmation meeting, a chance to tell each other that all is well in Zion.
As an example, here are some of the most shared quotes from the April 2015 General Conference:
“The family is the center of life and the key to happiness.”
“God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than what we once were.”
“Complete each other, don’t compete with each other.”
“When was the last time I chose to be happy rather than demanding to be right?”
“We come to Church not to hide our problems, but to heal them.”
“Joy comes after sorrow.”
These are the messages of God’s prophets? Tens of thousands of Saints struggling in a faith crisis, and we get this? And if we move out of our own little bubble, the world has serious problems – dysfunctional government, global warming, religious extremism, war, a refugee crisis, droughts, social inequality, and all God can give us regurgitated banalities? Scripture claims ancient prophets did more. Joseph Smith certainly claimed to do more.
And honestly, these messages are not unique. A simple search of uplifting quotes bring me just as much of an uplifting and comforting feelings as these men, sometimes an even stronger one. Here are some that I found, none of which come from LDS leaders.
“The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.”
“Stop determining your value by what other people say, instead of what the Word of God says.”
“If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.”
“The shortest distance between a problem and a solution is the distance between your knees and the floor.”
“The scriptures are given not to increase our knowledge, but to change our
“In our prayers, we talk to God, in our [scripture] study, God talks to us, and we had better let God do most of the talking.”
FURTHER READING: We Thank Thee O God For A Prophet?
If I would have told you that these quotes were from General Conference talks you would have believed me, because that is all this conference will be. Platitudes and tweetable snippets, with Deseret Book and LDS.org working overtime to creat shareable memes. The new apostles will be hailed as proof of revelation in absence of actual, literal messages from God. Over simplified sermons will mask the complex explanations for truth claims of the Church. Calls for Christlike living will echo from a shining marble conference center, across the street to a billion dollar shopping mall, and to the homes and hearts of Saints who could have saved their time and just read a C.S. Lewis book.
So what do I wish I could hear at conference, but never will?