Changes in General Conference: some big, some small, some not at all

Is your head spinning from all of the changes and announcements made at General Conference last weekend? Elder Holland’s joke about how “some of us have weak hearts!” got a big roar of laughter from the crowd.

It’s nice to have the progress of the church running at full throttle again. May it be a sign of many more good things to come!

In case you missed it, here is a summary of things our readers may be interested to know:

  • President Nelson sustained as prophet. In the solemn assembly, Melchizedek Priesthood holders make their sustaining votes first, but Relief Society sisters get to vote before the Aaronic Priesthood holders this time! Young women are the last group to vote.
  • Two new apostles were called, Elder Gong and Elder Soares. This marks the first time a person of color (or two!) has been ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve apostles.
  • President Oscarson and her YW general presidency were released and Sister Bonnie Cordon was made the new president. She was serving as a counselor in the Primary General Presidency. (She was a working mom of 3! She has a cool bio!) (Bye, Sister Oscarson! Your Pinterest was awesome.)
  • High Priests groups are disbanded at the ward level and all Melchizedek Priesthood holders will meet together as one Elder’s Quorum.  (Like RS already does with women of all ages)  A new Elder’s quorum president will be called to lead the group of men as a whole.
  • The Home and Visiting teaching program has been retired. It’s been revamped and rebranded as “Ministering” with fewer reports, no official message,  and less stringent guidelines about what “counts”
  • Young women ages 14-18 will be able to serve as ministering sisters, like their male counterparts do as ministering brothers.
  • Each family will get a set of ministering brothers. Additionally, each woman will get a set of ministering sisters. ( So no changes there. Men get men only. Women get both.)
  • No more reporting your monthly numbers to a supervisor. The only statistic reported is how often the leaders meet with ministering companionships in interviews to discuss the needs of the members they serve.
  • Important improvement to the new ministering system: husbands and wives may be assigned to be companionships together, and may report to either Melchizedek Priesthood or Relief Society leaders.
  • Three (3!) sisters spoke across the 5 sessions. No women spoke during the Saturday morning or Priesthood sessions.  No women offered prayers.

I noticed improvements in the way women’s roles were referenced by the women speakers:

Sister Oscarson:  “As we consider the roles that our young women will be expected to assume in the near future, we might ask ourselves what kind of experiences we could provide for them now that will help with their preparation to be missionaries, gospel scholars, leaders in the Church auxiliaries, temple workers, wives, mothers, mentors, examples, and friends.”


Sister Bingham: “This opportunity to participate in building the kingdom of God will be a tremendous benefit to young women, helping them better prepare to fulfill their roles as leaders in the Church and the community and as contributing partners in their families.”

Sister Aburto: “Girls and boys, young women and young men, sisters and brothers, we are on this journey together.”  (plus she gets extra point for referring to “Heavenly Parents.”)

A great comment about teaching young men consent regarding young women’s bodies:

Brother Durrant (Ponderize!): “Dad looked me in the eyes and said, “You have strong hands, Son. I hope your hands always have the strength to never touch a young lady inappropriately.” He then invited me to stay morally clean and help others do the same.”

A confusing comment about consent with reference to the #metoo movement:

Elder Cook: “During my lifetime, worldly issues and concerns have moved from one extreme to another—from frivolous and trivial pursuits to serious immorality. It is commendable that nonconsensual immorality has been exposed and denounced. Such nonconsensual immorality is against the laws of God and of society. Those who understand God’s plan should also oppose consensual immorality, which is also a sin. The family proclamation to the world warns “that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring [or, for that matter, anyone else] … will one day stand accountable before God.”

Non-consensual immorality? You mean rape and sexual harassment? Perhaps difficult to speak plainly when Primary ears are listening.  To put it right next to “consensual immorality” and cite that as “also” a sin casts some confusion on who is at fault for “non-consensual immorality.”  I really appreciate that he’s trying to address sexual consent in this paragraph, but this one has me scratching my head.

A little bit of pedestalizing:

Elder Holland, describing a bumper sticker: “It read, “If I honk, you’ve been home taught.” Please, please, brethren (the sisters would never be guilty of that—I speak to the brethren of the Church), with these adjustments we want more care and concern, not less.”

Oh, come on. I may not have honked at my Visiting Teacher sister, but I’ve probably counted my facebook or instagram like as her visit for the month. As surely as there are some men who slack off in their activity-formerly-known-as-home-teaching, women have slacked off just the same. No need to make a joke at our expense or poke fun at the men.

We’re reminded not to equivocate Men = Priesthood:

President Oaks:  “We should always remember that men who hold the priesthood are not “the priesthood.” It is not appropriate to refer to “the priesthood and the women.” We should refer to “the holders of the priesthood and the women.”

But then we see an example of it in the form of this gender essentialist doozy:

President Nelson: “Effective ministering efforts are enabled by the innate gifts of the sisters and by the incomparable power of the priesthood.”

Since men are not specifically mentioned, there is a reading of this line that makes it sound like the sisters use the incomparable power of the priesthood, but I think he means for it to refer to the abilities the men bring to the ministering efforts.

Many conversations will yet happen about what the “innate” gifts of sisters are, and whether or not it is fair to ascribe every member of a gender that same gift. What about those of us to whom nurturing or ministering does not come easily, but by grit and determination? Does it make our hard work less important if everyone else can just do it naturally?  What about men who are not ordained? Do they not have innate gifts as well? Or do their gifts only kick in by virtue of their priesthood?   Gifts are individual, not something that can be broadly generalized across a wide demographic.

For those of us who do recognize and cherish our innate gifts, do they really only take 2nd place to the incomparable power of the priesthood found in ordained men?

Hint: to avoid making generalized gender essentialist remarks, remember this format:

Instead of : “All ___________ [sub-demographic of any population)] (Young Women, Women, Young Men, etc) ARE naturally/innately  more _________. (loving, patient, nurturing, hard-working, spiritual, etc.)

try this instead:

“(some)_______[Sub-demographic of population] CAN BE _______, or can develop the ability to ______.”

By large majority in the speakers at this conference, men almost exclusively quoted other men and scripture stories of men. Women quoted more women and used stories of women.

What stood out to you this conference? 


Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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7 Responses

  1. Great summary Violadiva! Thanks for the wrap-up!

  2. Ziff says:

    Thanks for hitting so many high (and low) points, Violadiva. One thing that stuck out to me was that even with Presidents Nelson and Oaks at the helm, we heard quite a bit less of the gender essentialist nonsense that you point out, and far fewer references to the Family Proclamation, than I had expected.

    Also, Elders Gong and Soares not being white men from Utah feels like a gigantic win to me, and certainly not something I expected out of a Nelson presidency.

    • Violadiva says:

      I loved all the Easter, forgiveness, and Jesus messages!

      I prophesy that we’ll see a return of the Family Proc when we don’t have a new prophet, a new announcement, a new program and Easter Sunday to talk about. 😬

  3. acw says:

    Nice. Not gender related, but I also noticed quite a few Second Coming references.

  4. Jan Signore says:

    I loved conference, manna for my soul. Particularly the statements that value women first as leaders, scholars, etc. before listing the possibility as being wives and mothers. Thank you Sister Oscarson, Sister Bingham and Sister Aburto. And two men of color and diversity became Apostles, joy!

    However, I was saddened to hear Elder Cook’s reference to “non-consensual immorality”. The “non-consensual” clearly refers to a victim of sexual abuse, so it follows that the “immorality” also refers to a victim. This is counter to the church’s statement that an abuse victim has not committed a sin. If we can’t call it by it’s name how do we stop it? I do not think a child is hurt by the term sexual abuse. If a child is old enough to comprehend the term they certainly should be told about it at an age appropriate level. I do believe Elder Cook was trying to be sensitive, but our words have power, and we should be aware of what we say, particularly in an international conference broadcast the world over.

    May a woman say a prayer in a General Conference session? Please.

    Finally, I was on the edge of my seat, hoping the next announcement was that of a two-hour Sunday block, still hoping and dreaming!

  5. Marilyn Hawes says:

    best conference yet

  6. Laura says:

    I did notice that one of the male speaker began his talk with a quote from Sister Bingham. A man quoting a woman!!! Small steps but important to notice. I also noticed that President Nelson referred to women almost as a quorum group in their own right and that there was reference made to our leadership role in the general councils of the church. While not perfect, I felt the leadership did make a concerted effort to do better and be more conscientious in how they referenced women.

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