Conference Talk Makeover (Thanks a lot, Ensign)
What is the most important information to glean from a conference talk by an apostle? Is it what he actually said or is it information that he excluded from the talk? Which part of the talk should we focus on–the talk’s thesis statement or the talk’s endnotes? And what can you do if you don’t like a talk by an apostle? Maybe you think that he should have said something else? Can you just go ahead and rewrite the talk? And if you want to critique an apostle’s talk, is it necessary to sign your name? Is it okay to hide your critique in an official church publication and pretend that you’re just summarizing the talk, not critiquing it?
An anonymous staff person at the Ensign answers all of these questions with a new series titled, October 2013 Conference Notebook, in which he/she takes talks from General Conference that he/she apparently did not approve of, deletes out the objectionable parts, and replaces them with items from the endnotes that the anonymous staff person likes better. The first installment of this new series includes this creative rewrite of Power in the Priesthood by Elder Neil L. Andersen.
Prophetic Words on Women and the Priesthood
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles asked: “Why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men? …
“As surely as we know that God’s love is ‘alike’ for His sons and His daughters, we also know that He did not create men and women exactly the same. We know that gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose. Sacred responsibilities are given to each gender.
“We know that from the beginning, the Lord established how His priesthood would be administered.”
In endnote 12 of this talk, Elder Andersen referred to other prophets who responded to this question. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) said, “It was the Lord who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood.” Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “The Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has.”
So, in Andersen’s talk, he asked a question about why only men administer the priesthood. Then, he responded that it’s because God said so?
No. That is what the anonymous Ensign staff person wishes Andersen had said. Here is what Andersen actually said:
Some may sincerely ask the question, “If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?” When an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered honestly, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
So Elder Andersen, an apostle of the Lord, does not claim to know the meaning of the women’s priesthood ban but there’s an anonymous staff person at the Ensign who feels confident about blaming God for the ban. Whom should I trust?
Why didn’t Andersen blame God for the female priesthood ban? How could he express uncertainty about the priesthood ban on women when he had access to such a quote by Hinckley?
Maybe it was just a thoughtless oversight on Andersen’s part. Maybe he forgot to make a statement blaming God for the female priesthood ban. Maybe he appreciates this wise, anonymous staff person for correcting him.
On the other hand, perhaps Andersen was being thoughtful and intentional in choosing his words at conference.
In a conference address in April 2012, another apostle, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, said (in the actual text of his talk, not the endnotes):
At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.
It is possible that Andersen sees the Hinckley quote as Hinckley’s well-considered opinion, rather than doctrine. Considering that there is no scripture banning women from the priesthood, it seems wise to be cautious about blaming God for the ban.
Elder Andersen’s recent expressions of uncertainty about the women’s priesthood ban may be cause to hope that some apostles are questioning assumptions about women and the priesthood and seriously seeking insight from the Lord about this important topic.
An anonymous staff person at the Ensign can’t dash my hopes. I read the original talk, not just the rewrite.