Thoughts after general conference

As many know, it was recently General Conference for the Church. It is always a vaguely surreal experience for me to, after I have heard conference, to see what some vocal members of the Church are then grousing about immediately afterwards. As Elder Maxwell put it:

Those who make demands of the Lord Himself (or His mortal leaders) to perform according to their criteria actually want a God who will serve them, not vice versa!

–          Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Deseret Book, 2008), 92.

I’ve often wondered why such people behave as they do. It seems so pointless, so self-contradictory. What is the point of a faith or religion that we can affect with political tactics and public pressure? Do they see religion as only—or primarily—an instrument of power, and are simply upset that they don’t wield it, or that it isn’t being exercised as they think it should? Worse, do they think everyone sees it as they do?

Some dismiss the Church out of hand for not being trendy in its theology and for being authoritarian. To such I say, better a true theocracy with a little democracy than a democracy without any theology. Yes, the kingdom of God is a kingdom; there is no “one man, one vote” rule between its King and its citizens.

–          Neal A. Maxwell, “All Hell Is Moved,” BYU Devotional (8 November 1977).

Isn’t the point, instead, to get something we couldn’t get in any other way? If the Church is merely to imitate whatever social or political priorities strike me as most wise, do I need it at all? Shouldn’t I be possessed of a radical humility that suggests that I don’t know the answers, I can’t see what’s coming, and the fact that the human track record for anyone weighs against me or anyone else doing something that isn’t disastrous? Human history is largely a march of folly, a tale of utopias turned to disasters, and sometimes-well-intentioned efforts to improve things foundering on the shoals of human nature and unintended consequences.

That type of humility, I think, explains why the Church is led by councils, and why it does not innovate without revelation:

Some chafe unduly at the carefulness in the Church. They think of themselves as being ready to go when it is being ready to follow that is the skill needed at the moment.

–          Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (Deseret Book, 2007), 106.

But, people with noisy advice and complaints are not typically inclined to follow. And, it is then not surprising that in their preoccupation with what the apostles and prophets “ought” to do, they ignore or disparage what they are told to do.

The critics of the Church, who are often those within the Church, frequently say, “Why doesn’t the Church do this or that?” or “Why does the Church do this or that?” Those who desire to make the greatest demands of the Church are usually those who make the fewest demands of themselves in terms of their discipleship.

–          Neal A. Maxwell, Wherefore Ye Must Press Forward (Deseret Book, 2009), 69

Leo Strauss had it right: “True prophets, regardless of whether they predict doom or salvation, predict the unexpected, the humanly unforeseeable. What would not occur to men, left to themselves, to fear or to hope.”

Anyone trying to use the public pressure tactics of identity politics tacitly declares that he or she simply doesn’t believe this. To use such tactics proclaims that we have made our decision—we have our answer, we are not seeking one.

For, if we truly seek revelation, why would we try to force or manipulate it? Do we think that God or his leaders need us shouting vocally? Can God not do his own work? Are his leaders so blind and deaf to private expressions of concern that they need the spotlight of publicity to force their hands?

And, why complain when we do not get what we want? Should we not rather acknowledge that we want to do God’s will? And, cannot we be humble enough to admit that despite our best efforts and brilliance, we might be very mistaken about what that is?

And, at the very least, ought I not to be wary when what I want God to do meshes so well with my own desires and with the world’s current sensibility? When his commands dovetail so nicely with my own power or interest? When I get what I want through lobbying? How, then, would I ever know that I am wrong?

I am far more comforted when God tells me to do things that make me uncomfortable.

Fortunately, this happens often–every general conference, at the least.

I presume he rarely needs to bother me about following my bliss.

Advertisements