General Conference is coming up in 9 days! It will be held October 1-2, and will have morning and afternoon sessions on Saturday and Sunday, along with an evening session for everyone on Saturday. More information is available here.
In preparation, we are doing a daily countdown with posts from different people explaining how they feel about General Conference, how they prepare, tips for getting the most out of it, how to deal with associated social media posts, etc.
About Those Conference Predictions
by Benjamin Pacini
Anyone who is making conference predictions is probably just trafficking in conference-mania.
Ask me how I know.
Okay, okay, I’ll tell you: A few years ago I started making conference predictions, and I haven’t been able to quit. I love general conference, and making predictions is a fun, light-hearted way to amp myself (and others!) up for conference.
How much do I love conference? When my wife found out that I wasn’t into sports, she was excited until she realized that I have two Superbowls, one in April and another in October–and yes, the World Report is my half-time show. The audit report? Scintillating. The sustainings? Transcendent. The tie-game among apostles? Riveting.
There are also excellent talks.
I kid–the talks are rather the point, and I guess that’s just it: for all that I love the ceremony and ritual and fun traditions (pancakes!) it’s not really about all those things. General Conference scratches all my favorite itches: organizational changes, administrative details, and big events. (If we had Temple-Square-watchers like there are Vatican watchers, I would be the first in line for the job.) I like making General Conference predictions because they can be a fun way to get excited and prepare my heart for General Conference–but they can also distract from what really matters.
How to balance the two? How to get excited without crossing the line into irreverence–or even offending the spirit? As the guiltiest party, let me offer a few thoughts on what I have started trying to do to keep my predictions thoughtful.
1 – Prepare Your Heart.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with advertising your love of Conference (I certainly hope not!) but one protection is to ensure that your style is outmatched by your substance several fold. If you’re having fun posting on social media, make sure you’re reading old talks, spending time with God, and recommitting to the life He would have you live. If you’re enjoying the Facebook likes more than you’re edifying yourself with personal devotion, you might want to look at your priorities.
I don’t think the Lord minds a little fun, or I wouldn’t do any predicting to begin with (and maybe that’s the holier path–I know some who feel that it’s the right thing to tread somewhat more carefully, and I appreciate them for it). If you do decide to engage in predictions, I’d recommend carefully looking inward to see what your intentions are. The point is to prepare yourself to hear the words of prophets–not to savor those sweet, sweet dopamine hits from likes, ha-has, or retweets.
2 – Contention is Not of Him.
I have many friends who are former members, liberal members, conservative members, you name it. We get along for the most part, and it’s something I want to do well. Part of the answer to that conundrum is to explicitly and deliberately give people space: if someone complains about the Church online, I recognize that it’s not an invitation for my to debate them. They know what I believe, and I know what they do, and it’s easy to get along with others with a good dose of common respect–and a touch of old-fashioned pluralism. I try not to be preachy to them, and only ask that they give me a little space too.
And there’s a handy reciprocity involved when I ask the same of them: when I frame my Conference social media excitement, people tend to be respectful and kind. I’ve started making posts that show my enthusiasm while also clarifying that the goal is to help like-minded folks do something fun together–even if I sometimes love a good debate, this isn’t it. My friends appreciate the clarity, and I enjoy getting to still enjoy something meaningful to me.
3 – Commandments Not A Few.
If you’re looking for the kind of Conference predictions that make me uneasy, consider how many of them are “9% tithing” types: predictions of how much easier the Lord needs to make things. It’s not a perfect rule: two-hour church has fewer logistics involved than three-hour church, for example–but I tend to find that there are far more 9% tithing takes than there are 11% tithing takes.
Given the increasingly difficult and wicked times in which we live, I suspect that the Lord has more demanding commandments in mind for us, not less. It has been my experience that coming closer to God always comes with a greater set of expectations, not a lowered one. As I get better at hearing Him, my thoughts change from “give unto me to sit on thy right hand” to “what lack I yet?”
4 – Avoid Pre-Sniping.
I remember an apocryphal story of a senior church leader enjoying lunch between sessions when the topic came up of a talk that was somewhat less-than-stellar. The church leader supposedly responded, “that man is my brother, and I cannot be present for such talk of my brother.” He then quietly stood and left the room.
I don’t know if the story is true, but the principle certainly is. There are some who use Conference predictions as a way to set their hearts against a certain speaker or topic. I call this “pre-sniping,” setting yourself up to be angry if a given thing happens (which often will). I would warn folks away from such a path.
You can reverse it for rich dividends, however: a list of speakers you look forward to, for example, or a list of topics you’re eager to hear about; most vulnerably, a list of things that you need to be told but might not want to hear.
5 – Beware Idolatry.
Be wary of making General Conference in your own image. I’ve seen some who always seem to predict all the things that they would do if they were in charge. (I’m quite grateful that they aren’t–and even more grateful that I’m not.) If your first thought is how church leaders are enlightened to the degree that they think like you, you might be a little less enlightened than you think.
This is particularly true in terms of your political leanings. We’re in a time of polarization, and God is not so neat as to fit into a contemporary political party. If God happens to be a sturdy, staunch Republican just like you–or a compassionate progressive as the case may be–then you aren’t making predictions, you’re performing mental idolatry.
Again, the fix is with some deliberate inverting of the framing: rather than seek the things that would validate your leanings, seek the things that would overturn them–and open your heart to them.
Benjamin Pacini is faculty at BYU-Idaho in Elementary, Early, and Special Education. He’s a husband, father of four, general conference aficionado, and occasional writer. Tends toward the “obnoxiously happy” extreme of humanity. Really kind of insufferable about it. Talks too much about economics at dinner parties. Has aspirations to be a muppet.