Starting this morning, I have 6 hours of time today set aside for watching TV and another 4 hours tomorrow. Since, I’m trying to have a more active lifestyle it might seem odd to dedicate a weekend to television watching, but this TV watching is for my spiritual strength. I’ll be watching the annual broadcast of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ General Conference.
I don’t think I’ve looked forward to a conference weekend this much since the Fall 1997 conference. That conference was the last one I would see before leaving on my mission. I had just had my mission papers finalized and I would be receiving my call within days (I ended up being called to the Philippines Bacolod Mission). What a General Conference that was! It was the year of the sesquicentennial Pioneer Day celebration, missionary enrollment numbers were exploding, and President Hinckley was really coming into his own as the leader of the Church after decades of serving as counselors to prophets with diminished health. President Hinckley in that conference energized me, I mean he challenged Elder Russell M. Nelson to a dual for crying out loud! (He repented a few talks later).
One thing that I specifically remember from that conference was in President Hinckley’s opening remarks. He was talking about the Pioneer Celebration and the favorable media attention that the Church had received throughout. As a segue from those comments to talking about the ongoing work of the Church, he said, “Now the sun is setting on our celebration and there is much serious work to be done.” In reading it in hindsight, it seems to be nothing more than a innocuous way of saying, “it’s been a good year, but still have work to do,” but I still remember when sitting in the basement of Deseret Towers V Hall, feeling like he was saying the sun was also setting on the era of favorable media attention the Church was receiving, like he was saying something prophetic. Looking back with 16 1/2 years of hindsight, I’d say my gut feeling back then that there was something prophetic in that statement has turned out to be true.
There has always been opposition to the Church. My parents often talk about the people who would pop up seemingly out of nowhere to dissuade them from joining in the early 1970s. I had to endure lunchroom banter against the Church throughout all of middle school and high school (I grew up in Park City, Utah, where exmormons and antagonists outnumbered active members almost 3 to 1, many of whom carried a grudge). I’ve had members of other churches try and convince me of my “error” out of concern for my eternal soul. All of that pales in comparison to a type of antagonism that has developed towards the Church since the early 2000s.
I remember in my undergraduate years discovering Google News. Thinking it would be interesting to see what articles pop up about the Church, I created a news alert. I was surprised by how little there was, 3-4 articles a week maybe. About half were simple, local stories in a local paper about a meetinghouse of temple being built. Surprising to me was that the other half were all unfavorable, and almost 100% of those were stories of LGBT individuals who were leaving the church. This was in 2000-2002, long before Prop 8. When I first noticed this, I had conversations with friends and family that in the future LGBT issues would become a foundation for a new wave of antagonism towards the Church on a major level. Since then, the Church’s media profile has grown thanks to things like Prop 8, Mitt Romney, Jodi Arias, etc. and it seems as though the media tends to be more skeptical of the good we try to do than it was during the 1997 coverage of the Pioneer celebrations. Indeed the sun has set on our celebrations.
The saddest thing to me personally, are the individuals who have reached a point in their skepticism that in their eyes the church does no good whatsoever. Every good act is considered nothing more than a camouflage for something far more sinister. Without disclosing too many details, this type of antagonism has entered into my family in an intimate way recently and has created a great amount of strife and pain. Trying to find a workable solution to keeping an extended family intact and loving in the face of this challenge is no longer an academic pursuit, but something real and urgent.
I don’t believe I am someone closed off to criticism of the Church, after all the Lord himself condemned the Saints in the Doctrine & Covenants on occasion. Of course we mess up and need to make corrections. For me though, the joy that enters my life through my commitment to this church, and the confidence I have that God wants me in THIS church outweighs the frustrations I have with church policy and culture by factor of 100 to 1. Yet, I have been so hesitant lately to express my occasional complaint publicly since it seems with certain people every problem within the Church becomes more ammunition with which to attack the Church. Also, seeing someone who uses every tool available to create a catalog of grievances against the Church with no balance of the good it does makes me feel anything but Christlike towards that person.
So, every member is challenged to have a purpose or a question going into conference weekend, with the assurance that we will hear an answer directly from one of the speakers or through guidance of the Holy Ghost. My question is this, “How can we openly discuss issues that need resolution within the church without giving more ammunition to our antagonists?”, and my purpose is to learn how to be more Christlike in the face of attacks on something I hold dear and brings so much joy to my life.