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. Latter-day Saints (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 sometimes conspicuous. 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 Latter-day Saint general conference broadcast, I was struck by how many terms one would have to understand in the way Latter-day Saints 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, despite the temptation to be expansive.

Short Take: Old Law for New Times

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

The Law of Moses is a lower law, compared to the Gospels’ higher law, but the higher law’s highest principles are in the lower law, as well.

Jesus identified the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:35-40; see also D&C 59:5-6), quoting the Old Testament: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).

Other Mosaic verses add helpful insight.

“The Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love [him] with all your heart and … soul” (Deuteronomy 13:3). God also helps us to love him that much, “that thou mayest live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Besides loving our neighbors, we are to treat strangers and outsiders as our own. In Exodus we read, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him” – and, as if to show us that he doesn’t just mean fellow believers from out of town, the Lord continues, “for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (22:21). Leviticus adds, “The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (19:33-34).

These ancient commandments would surely serve us well in the 21st Century.

Short Take: Agency and the Alternative, Part Two

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

Note: We know the Book of Moses, mentioned below, as part of The Pearl of Great Price, but it comes from the Joseph Smith Translation version of Genesis.

(Continued from February’s newsletter.)

We often assume that Lucifer’s alternative to our Father’s plan was to compel everyone to do good, so that all might be saved. But there are other ways to damage or destroy agency, which the Lord said was Lucifer’s aim (Moses 4:3).

One way is removing consequences by saving everyone, no matter what they do – saving the people in their sins (Alma 11:34-37). Brigham Young and Orson Pratt taught (Journal of Discourses 13:282; 21:287-89) that this was Lucifer’s meaning when he promised, “One soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1).

His argument would have been quite seductive: “You, Father, profess to love your children, but your plan will save only the elect few. Most mortals will be too weak to win the rewards you offer. My plan is more loving, more merciful, and more just: I will save them all, whatever they may do.”

In truth, nearly everyone will rise to greater eternal glory than Lucifer could offer. And God is raising divine children, not feckless rabble. But the ultimate answer to the destroyer’s arguments is Jesus Christ. He is the guarantee and embodiment of our possibilities. He is the perfect assurance that justice, which cannot be robbed, will nonetheless be tempered with divine, abundant mercy. In him is the power and the will to save each soul to the limit of that soul’s desire to be saved.

Short Take: Another Side of the Atonement

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter. We focused on the Book of Mormon in 2013. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

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: “We Search the Prophets”

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter. We focused on the Book of Mormon in 2013. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

Nephi’s brother Jacob looks back on his life and writes, “We … had many revelations, and the spirit of much prophesy; wherefore we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come. … Wherefore, we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God. … We would to God … that all … would believe in Christ” (Jacob 1:6-8).

Later Jacob hopes that readers will receive his words “with thankful hearts.” He writes so “they may know that we knew of Christ … and had a hope of his glory” (Jacob 4:3-4).

Then he explains a key to their “many revelations and the spirit of prophecy”: “We search the prophets” (v. 6, my emphasis). He lists other happy results of doing this: hope, unshaken faith and the power which attends it, and, perhaps surprisingly, humility (vv. 6-7).

Touchscreens have replaced inscribed metal plates, and the prophets’ words are more available to us than they ever were to the Nephites. But some things are unchanged. Searching the prophets still leads to revelations and the spirit of prophecy, so that we know of Christ and can fix our faith, hope, and humility in him. Thus blessed, our work is as Jacob’s: to persuade others, by our labors and even by our writing, to come in faith, hope, and humility to Christ.