What Mormons Mean: Translating General Conference (into English)

Every church or religion has its own vocabulary, which can easily make its meetings seem strange to outsiders. The Mormons are no exception.

Oh, boy, are we not an exception. We even think friendship is a verb; the ripples from this barbarous pebble are conspicuous at times. It’s a good thing the Lord is merciful. He gives us excellent, beautiful languages, and we insist on . . . But I digress.

A year or two ago, as I watched the first minutes of a Mormon general conference broadcast, I was struck by how many terms one would have to understand in the way Mormons do, in order to get just ten or fifteen minutes into a two-hour meeting. So this week I went back and watched the first 15 minutes of two previous conferences, making a list as I did so.

Here are some words and phrases you might have wanted to know, if you had been watching with me. The vocabulary will be approximately the same tomorrow, if you watch the first general session of the October 2014 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The definitions are brief, though the temptation is to be expansive.

Short Take: Another Side of the Atonement

Author’s Note

In the garden and on the cross, Jesus suffered the penalty justice demands for our sins, so that we can be redeemed if we repent. This gift is incalculable, and our need for it is absolute. But Jesus suffered more than this. Isaiah and Paul mention it (see Isaiah 53:4-5; Hebrews 4:15-16); Alma explains it.

Jesus somehow took upon himself all our sicknesses, pains, temptations, heartbreaks – everything we suffer. He now knows them all from the inside, “according to the flesh” (Alma 7:11-12.).

He not only knows generally how it feels to struggle with addiction, or to be chronically or terminally ill or love someone who is, or to be caught up in divorce and its aftermath, or to doubt or disbelieve or fear. Because of Gethsemane and Calvary, he knows exactly how these experiences feel to each of us. He not only walks the proverbial mile in our shoes; he walks every mile, and he knows exactly how our shoes feel on our feet.

Alma explains that this qualifies Jesus to judge us with mercy in the end. This experience also fully qualifies him to help us through all our difficulties. This part of the atonement, too, is a wondrous gift to us, from both the Son and the Father.

Short Take: 2 Nephi 2

Author’s Note

I once heard Elder Jeffrey R. Holland say that, if you could keep only one chapter in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2 would be the chapter to choose. It explains moral agency and shows it in its central role, connecting it to the fall and the atonement. Agency is the power inherent in all human souls to choose between good and evil, knowing which is which, and understanding that moral choices come with consequences.

Here Lehi also teaches something most of the religious world does not yet understand: The fall of Adam and Eve was no accident or surprise. It was part of God’s plan. Its ultimate results, because of the atonement, are life and joy: “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed . . . they have become free forever, knowing good from evil. . . . And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life . . . or to choose captivity and death” (2 Nephi 2:25-27).