Tuesday, December 8, 2015

58 years of General Conference: What can we learn?/Messages on morality, religious freedom, and the Sabbath from 1971

<This post uses terminology that will be unfamiliar to an audience that is not very familiar with the LDS Faith.  Please contact me if you wish to learn more about my faith or visit mormon.org.>

So a group of bloggers have decided to read one session of general conference a week, beginning with the April 1971 Conference and going until they run out of conferences. The work product of such is a set of blog posts, which will be published once a week.  At the rate they have chosen, they will be able to post blog posts each week for the next 13 and a half years without repeating a session, posting thoughts on the April 2029 Conference in August 2029.

I am timidly joining the effort.  I say 'timidly' because I am mortal and will prioritize my family, my own spiritual scripture study priorities (email me if you want to know about those), and other related priorities over an ambitious goal of 716 blog posts in a row.  I also will periodically blog on other topics as I have done in the past week (see my posts on the First Amendment and Donald Trump supporters, American Universities, and Optimism as examples). Facing this plethora of priorities, I use the word 'timidly.' Links to the contributions of other blogs are included at the end of this post.

That said, today I have time to post, so here goes....

This week, I am focusing on a talk by Elder Mark E. Petersen from the Saturday Afternoon Session of the April 1971 General Conference" entitled "Warnings from the Past." My goal in this post is modest: I will pull out four quotes from it and elaborate on why they are applicable to our day. I will also draw on more recent talks to find parallels between his message and more modern messages. In Each example I illustrate-- morality, religious freedom, and the sabbath, the topics Elder Petersen raise are more apparent concerns than ever before.

1-"Our moral collapse is appalling, but surprisingly, many attempt to justify it. Within recent weeks one of the highest officials of a leading Christian denomination publicly announced that he favors premarital relationships between young people, and his speech was carried internationally by the Associated Press."

This first message-- about disregard for the law of chastity-- resonates well with our day.  In October, President Thomas S. Monson said  something similar: "We will certainly stand out as we make choices regarding morality—choices which adhere to gospel principles and standards."

Elder Petersen's talk emphasized how Latter-day Saints stand out among Christian denominations in our choices regarding morality.  We likewise stand out today: many religious and some Christian denominations openly support same-sex marriage, which is at odds with the LDS Plan of salvation, as well as most orthodox readings of the Bible. In addition, pornography (which is, in essence, digital satisfaction of the same desires that used to cause fornication or adultery) is widely viewed among Americans.  The problems Elder Petersen discussed have simply grown in the last 44 years.

2-Elder Petersen said: "[W]e virtually make a criminal of a schoolteacher who would bring a Bible into the classroom or who might ask the students to recite the Lord’s Prayer. So far have we lost our sense of values!

Some Americans protest reference to the Almighty in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, while others would eliminate “In God We Trust” from our coins."

Elder Petersen's reference to religious freedom concerns are messages we hear today.  In April 2015, Elder Hales talked about religious freedom in important ways:
"There are four cornerstones of religious freedom that we as Latter-day Saints must rely upon and protect. The first is freedom to believe. . . .The second cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to share our faith and our beliefs with other. .  .The third cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to form a religious organization, a church, to worship peacefully with others. . . . The fourth cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to live our faith—free exercise of faith not just in the home and chapel but also in public places."

It is interesting that each of the examples of religious freedom Elder Petersen talked about were regarding the Fourth cornerstone that Elder Hales talked about.  While, to be sure, most attacks on religious freedom are pointed at the first cornerstone, today some are not. For example, it took the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the right of churches to have the right to have full discretion in hiring their own ministers.

As Elder Hales is speaking to our day, it is possible we will see more attacks on other pillars of religious freedom in the future. While the message of both Elder Hales and Elder Petersen focus on religious freedom, Elder Hales talk is more specific.

3-"The Almighty provided that we should observe a sacred Sabbath each week. We have flouted this law to his face, and most of us have turned his holy day into one of pleasure or of “business as usual,” and yet the Sabbath was given as a symbol of allegiance to our Creator."

This third message by Elder Petersen is also emphasized in our day by all of the Apostles.  As then-Elder Russell M. Nelson put it last April, "[f]aith in God engenders a love for the Sabbath; faith in the Sabbath engenders a love for God. A sacred Sabbath truly is a delight."

While I'm not sure whether public sabbath breaking is much more common now than in 1971, I'm certain keeping our internal lives in harmony of the spirit of the sabbath is harder than ever with the many distractions we get from technology.

To sum up: each of the messages Elder Petersen spoke on remain applicable today.  The world may seem very different than 1971, but many of the problems remain the same.  Our Goal, as always, must be to reform our personal lives as a way of dealing with our changing world.  God's core commandments will not change as time goes on, so the answers to the world's problems will remain the same.

As always, these thoughts are my own, are intended to help, but do not reflect the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thanks for reading,

Other blog posts this week discussing the Second Session of the April 1971 General Conference.

Good Timber Does Not Grow At Ease
The Adiabolist, or Jihad of the Heart
LDS Conference April 1971 – The Sexual Revolution and Entertainment Media
Being Slow to Anger
Warnings from Warnings from the Past
"Satan" - Moral Agency and the Problem of Evil
Creativity and Celebrating Success vs. The D.F.T. File
The General Conference Project: Controlling the Hulk, Believing the Devil, and Cussing GAs

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