General Conf. – a Mental Health Perspective (Saturday Morning)

We find ourselves once again gathered like the people of Benjamin to listen to the spiritual leaders of our day.  I have found that these General Conference messages go on to color our spiritual lens in a variety of ways for the foreseeable future – in family, church, internet and many other settings.  And as I participate in this bi-annual Mormon ritual, I -like many of you- have a myriad of insights, thoughts, questions, spiritual experiences, and concerns come up in regards to the many aspects of my life (personal, relational, spiritual, cultural and professional).  Therefore, I thought I’d give you an inside look into the process that takes place for me in the hopes that we can further, and when necessary nuance and complicate, the dialogue in hopes that we may better incorporate correct teachings and principles in healthy and vibrant ways.  I would hope that regardless of our many varying opinions – this would be a common goal.  Please join me through the comment section to share your voice as to how this conference’s messages are affecting you.  What can we celebrate and feel “called” to incorporate into our lives in significant ways?  What lifts and edifies? What do we need to challenge or think through in different ways (understanding that it is difficult to cover any subject in complete depth within the framework of 10 to 15 minutes that these men and women are given)?  What might be healthy for some to hear while for others not so healthy (i.e. those managing depression, ocd, anxiety, etc.)?  How do we frame our ideas and thoughts in respectful ways – especially when we may disagree with one another?  How do we maintain the balance between trusting ourselves, offering our voice, and keeping our commitment to sustain our leaders (whom I believe only have positive and protective intentions)?

My comments will be italicized.

 

Right off the bat – I was blown away by the strength of spirit with which our Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings and the beauty of truth and principle within our hymns.  I felt the spirit strongly as they sang:

How firm a foundation is laid for your faith in his excellent word! In ev’ry condition – in sickness, in health, in poverty’s vale or abounding wealth, at home or abroad, on the land or the sea – as thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.  Fear not, I am with thee – be not dismayed.  For I am thy God and will give thee aid.  I will strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand.

The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow, for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.  Press forward with steadfast faith in Christ, with hope’s bright flame alight in heart and mind, with love of God and love of all mankind.  Find everlasting light.  Alleluia!

Lead, kindly light, amid th’encircling gloom; lead me on!  The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead me on!  So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on o’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone.

Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.  In the right the Holy Spirit guides; Let no spirit of digression overcome you.  Let wisdom mark the way before.  There is peace in righteous doing.  There’s safety for the soul.

We’ve waited long for thee, with healing in thy wings.  To set thy people free.  That Saints may tune the lyre with songs of joy, a happier strain.

A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.  By this will others know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

President Thomas S. Monson:

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

We are gathered together as a great family, united in our faith with a desire to learn and be edified.

Live true to the faith.

May we be filled with the spirit of the Lord and be uplifted and inspired as we listen and learn.

The call to inspiration, edification and learning are beautiful messages of our faith culture.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

There will be times when we will need to stand for our convictions.

Such moments will require courage and courtesy.

It is worth it to take a courageous moral stand.

Importance of sharing the Messianic message (which to me is the first two commandments Christ made sure to explain trump all other commandments).

If ye love me – keep my commandments.

Christ-like love is the greatest need we have on this planet!!!  AMEN!!

Love must be our watchword!

Take heart.

Pure Christ-like love can change the world.

Be strong.

Defend your beliefs with courtesy and compassion – but defend them.

A long history of inspired voices point you to the path of Christian discipleship – it can be thrillingly and successfully traveled with steadfastness in Christ, a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and all men.

You will find safety against ill winds that blow and you will feel the rock-like strength of our redeemer.

Messages I found to be needing of further nuance/discussion:

You could easily talk to those from the pro-life camp and to those from the pro-choice camp re abortion and they would all agree with the statements found above.  Just because we may disagree on values, morals or ethics – doesn’t mean we don’t all feel true conviction for our beliefs and wanting to make the world a better place in ways that make sense to us – and ways we want to fight for.  

Although I think it was wise for the sister missionary to walk away from a violent attack in the example he gave – there are times we need to defend ourselves more forcefully as well (this can mean pressing charges through appropriate authorities for example).  This is part of creating healthy boundaries and also standing for your convictions. 

When he speaks of prophets and missionaries not being accepted for the messages they were preaching – part of that story includes the fact that many of these efforts have not been done in a way that respected the cultural, racial, religious and ethnic aspects of the audiences being addressed. 

Messages I found to be harmful:

He speaks of a “world that is often hostile” to the commandments of God instead of speaking to individuals who make wrong choices.  I don’t believe this is an accurate portrayal of our world at large where there is more accountability than ever before (especially in developed countries) for criminal behavior, sexual rights and abuse, financial freedom, civil rights, healthcare availability and innovation, labor rights, etc.  We enjoy longer life spans and less likelihood of dying a violent death than ever before.  So he is using this type of  language to address social issues our church currently takes more traditional stands on (i.e. gay marriage rights, gender inequality, what constitutes “religious freedom,” sexual health, etc.).  And this rhetoric of an “evil world” is harmful because it unnecessarily and inaccurately influences those in our congregations through fear and anxiety when trying to engage in the communities we live in.   Throughout the talk he doesn’t really explain what the “law of God” is – just that we need to follow it.  And I understood the cultural implication that this means that those who currently take issue with some of the church’s policies are being labeled as not being followers of God.  This does not help us be inclusive in our congregations, families or friendships.  You can see what he is getting at when he states: We must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others.  Advocates of causes are not usually advocating for “transgression.”  They have equal convictions to ours about their beliefs.  And our beliefs may differ.  But there is no call here to find the similarities with those we may disagree with – which from a systems perspective, is usually the most successful way to effect change anyway. 

I found his comments regarding those amongst us wanting “comfortable gods” who “make us giggle” and would have us “picking marigolds” dismissive and offensive.  I don’t even understand who he is referring to.  I don’t know anyone in all of my dealings with all types of people who would categorize their God in this way.  And our congregation laughed as he stated this.  I see this behavior as a form of bullying and very discouraging to see in this type of sacred setting.  For example, members of ours who are involved in the Ordain Women movement or Mormons Building Bridges are not interested in an “easy way.”  They have faced family shunning and cultural judgment in ways that are not aligned to Messianic teachings from those who most preach them.  They have taken of their time, energy and money to fight for their causes.  They are doing extremely difficult things. 

He makes an argument for the love of Christ to be tied to measures of righteousness.  Although there are aspects of this I believe in (“if you love me, follow me), here it can be used as a way of separating “us from them,” which is quite contrary to the Messianic teachings he so readily refers to.  He is implying that our current understanding and interpretation of gospel doctrine when it comes to the topics I mentioned above are the teachings Christ would have been championing in our day.  When in actuality the New Testament presents a pretty different narrative – of Christ being quite a revolutionary against the church leaders of His time, prioritizing love OVER measures of righteousness (i.e. advocating for a prostitute against the legal punishment of her day, breaking the Sabbath rules by healing and providing service to those in need, etc.).  If Holland’s argument would have been directed towards fighting against things like human trafficking and slavery, the devastation of chronic poverty, bullying, etc. – I would have been much more on board.  But I think we all got the gist of what types of “advocacy” within our current church culture he was referencing. 

Elder Ronald A. Rasband

I loved this talk – it was so service oriented!!

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

They shall bear the burden of the people with thee that thou bearest not thyself alone.

We all have the wonderful opportunity of blessing the lives of others.

The storm tossed people need love, prayers and appreciation for helping hands.

To sustain our leaders is a privilege – it comes coupled with a personal responsibility to share their burden and to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, love, support, kindness…

We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth with the mandate to serve His children.

Will we respond with love when an opportunity arises?

Give to the poor and ye shall have treasure in heaven.

Spiritual treasures: using our times, talents and agency in service to God.

Come and Follow Me – selfless.

He continues to walk with us, stand by us and lead us.  To follow Him is to recognize and honor the Savior who has bourne all of our burdens trough His saving and sacred atonement – the ultimate act of service.

Take up the joyful burden of discipleship.

Reaching out to rescue one another under any condition is an eternal measure of love.

We each have the sacred responsibility to bear each other’s burdens so they may be light – to mourn with those that mourn.

How grateful the Lord is for the countless hours and acts of service, whether large or small, you so generously and graciously give every day.

When you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God.

When we serve it prepares us to value and love what the Lord loves.

When we are engaged in his work, we feel his spirit with us.  We grow.

May we all find the joy that comes from the sacred service that comes from bearing each other’s burdens.

Messages I found to be needing of further nuance/discussion:

How do we interpret this notion of “protection” – sharing a story where a young girl feels blessed and protected by implying that angels or God himself stopped a stop sign from harming her fragile body.  What of those children in which the debris was not stopped?  An easy question many in these situations begin to ask then is why did angels or God not intervene in their behalf?  These types of examples of innocent and righteous people being harmed are a constant in our mortal world.  So why do we not speak of “spiritual” or “emotional” protection as it claims in the opening hymn – thy troubles can be blessed and sanctifited – instead of having the focus be on physical protection? If we don’t teach or understand this principle correctly – it can give false hope, and it can drive an unintended wedge between an individual and their relationship with God (anger and a sense of betrayal that the expected protection was not forthcoming) or with self (I must not have been worthy of the physical protection; there must be something wrong with me or I must be deserving because of the sins I have committed).  If you are in the midst of an assault (physical or sexual) for example – you may wonder where the “protection” is.  Rasband cites: “I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left and my spirit shall be in your hearts and my angels round about you to bear you up.”  This can easily speak to the protection of spirit and mind – not always body.  I’m concerned of how the message Tory received that she was protected physically while others were not might be interpreted as she herself has some important trauma to recover from.

Not mentioned in this talk, but as we teach from this talk and look for personal revelation – how do we balance the call to serve with the self-care many of us need to prioritize in order to be able to serve in the first place? 

Elder Carlos H. Amado

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

Christ’s ministry always consisted of blessing people one by one.

I Love Him!!  A pure testimony of Christ.. 

The message to bear glad tidings of redemption.

May we serve with joy and dedication and remain faithful to Him.

Enjoyed the stories recounting the miracles, love, relationships, timeline and sacrifice of Christ and his simple yet pure and heartfelt testimony of Christ.  It reminded me that we preach of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we testify of Christ, ….

President Linda S. Reeves 

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

(Sex) is meant to be a beautiful, loving experience that binds together two devoted hearts, unites both spirit and body and brings a fullness of joy and happiness as we learn to put each other first.

I was so grateful that (my daughter) would confide in me so that I could soothe her innocent and aching heart and help her know how to get relief through the Savior’s atonement.  I like that she uses the word “innocent” even though inappropriate images have been seen.  This is a good example of how behavior does not need to define us and how we can clearly give that message.  She also lends a template for parenting that is sympathetic and not anger or fear driven.  

How grateful we are when they are willing to confide in us, or a leader.  We would be wise to not react with shock, anger or have a negative reaction which may cause them to be silent again. Super important!!  This starts addressing the breaking of the shame/fear/secrecy cycle I often write about.  

Importance of listening with love and understanding.

They need to know the dangers of pornography (importance of frank sexual education).

The call to have a family plan was useful advice (example of using filters on family computers and hand-held devices).

Remember how merciful our beloved Savior is.

Do you realize how deeply the Lord loves and cherishes you, even now?

Advice to parents/spouse: You can feel compassion – yet you should not take responsibility for those acts (of another).

It’s ok if the house is a mess and some responsibilities are left undone – spiritual and relational responsibilities trump.

I like that she admits to not always consistently being on top of daily family spiritual rituals.  This is pretty common amongst our membership to struggle with and she is helping to normalize this. 

We can petition the Lord for help.

I like that she indirectly advises not to get into unnecessary power struggles with older children who may not want to join family rituals – we can focus on doing them ourselves instead.  Giving time and patience an opportunity to possibly bring about different responses in the long run. 

Take responsibility for your own spiritual wellbeing.

Ask for help.

Given some recent approaches towards sexual teaching that I have addressed on a previous post – I will say that this talk was MUCH healthier, much more focused on an empathic approach, much more reassuring of Christ’s love and much more focused on atoning power. 

Messages I found to be needing of further nuance/discussion:

A deep testimony won’t necessarily stop compulsive or unhealthy behavior – especially when trauma, and mental illness are part of the equation.  Often times pornography use is a coping mechanism for underlying symptoms that have nothing to do with the actual porn or one’s testimony. However, I do agree that engaging/exploring our core values/ethics and focusing on becoming healed, authentic selves can begin to address some of these issues – and why spiritual concepts are such an important part of addressing mental health and are often considered in professional counseling settings.    

Wanting to change our desires doesn’t always follow suit behaviorally – in fact, this is usually the case.  Most of us can think of things we would like to be doing differently – so the intention is there.  It’s much harder to develop the habit of consistent behavior to follow our intentions.  This is just a commonly shared human experience. 

Why start a talk on a negative aspect of sexuality versus a positive one?  If I was going to talk to my children/grandchildren about what “I wanted them to know” within the sexual realm – I would begin with the many pro-sex doctrines we have within the gospel.  Then as a side note and from an educational perspective I would begin the piece she provides re pornography and why it is problematic to our sexual development and spirituality.  I think this is a common mistake we make within our sexually anxious culture – start with or focus on the scary stuff instead of the amazingly positive teachings she eventually brings up (but again most of the talk was focused on the negative possibilities – not the positive doctrine of sexuality in general).   

Her take on the propensity for growing “addiction” is not necessarily accurate and lends to discussion on correct terminology when we address this problem.    The percentage of people who fall into behaviors that can be correctly considered “sex addiction” is low compared to those who view pornography at some level or another (and that’s considering that sex addiction is not even a diagnosable condition in the medical arena).  However, she is correct in that there are serious problems with pornography viewing (many more people are viewing pornography, we have easier access to it than ever before, there are huge ethical/moral implications in the pornography industry including sex trafficking/slavery/criminal use of minors, etc., it offers unrealistic and pretty awful sex education, it can cause relational and sexual developmental issues, and for some it can become compulsive/problematic behavior).  I’d rather we focus on that type of language than loosely throwing the word “addiction” around. 

Neil L. Andersen

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

There is a powerful force that will subdue the winds of sin: It is called repentance.

Not all whirlwinds in life are of your own making; some come because of the  wrong choices of others and some come just because this is mortality. (Important for those especially who suffer depression, anxiety, etc. – symptoms of mental illness usually have nothing to do with sin).  

Gave examples of women leaders struggling – not just male apostles.  I always appreciate when we teach about our women leaders.  

Our responsibility is to love!

Everyone deserves our kindness and consideration independent of his or her decisions or beliefs.  AMEN!  I wish we practiced this more than we seem to preach it.  

The Savior taught us to love those who disagree with us and even those who repudiate us.

Beware of self righteousness and to enlarge our hearts towards all men and women.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ there is no place for ridicule, bullying or bigotry.  ABSOLUTELY!!!

If you have questions about counsel from leaders of the church please discuss your honest concerns with your parents or leaders of the church. I like the invitation for us to be able to question and have deeper conversations about things we may not fully understand or have legitimate doubts about.  

The Book of Mormon is a powerful witness that Jesus is the Christ.

Treasure more completely Christ’s incomporable life and teachings.  Follow more diligently his example and commandments.  Embrace more deeply his love his mercy and grace and the powerful gifts of the atonement.

The spiritual rock under your feet – Jesus the Christ.

I will not leave you comfortless – I will come to you (Christ’s promise).

Messages I found to be needing of further nuance/discussion:

Families are the treasure of heaven.  Agreed!  Do we realize that many family systems are taking place in the context of homosexual partnerships and marriages around the world?  And that they value their family systems tremendously??  Do we realize that many homosexual spouses are heavily involved in foster care and adoption of children who desperately need homes and stability?  Do we realize that heterosexual couples who bring children to the world are tragically often not deserving of these children – and are abusive and neglectful and part of the problem we have with children needing homes to begin with?  Why, instead of a call for the California members to donate of their time and money to support Prop 8, do we not have a call for all members to become foster parents if possible? If families are so important, why are we not spending more time and energy supporting community partnerships where there is such great need? 

You are infinitely precious to God.  He made your spirit strong and capable of resiliency.  I like this and there is absolute truth in this.  I just want to point out that resiliency is not necessarily an unlimited resource.  There is good research to support that those who have been through chronic trauma in their lives, their resiliency gets worn down and the likelihood of mental illness goes up.  

We have a right to our beliefs for sure, including the belief in marriage between a man and a woman – but that’s different than pushing our beliefs through a legal system where now those who do not share similar beliefs are affected by the choices they are or are not allowed to make.  With our Mormon history being what it is, I would think we would have better understanding of “religious freedom” issues.  

Messages I found to be harmful:

(Sin) has never been so accessible, insatiable and acceptable. Like I mentioned in the discussion of Holland’s talk – I just don’t think that we can back this up.  It is true that pornography has never been as accessible as before – but criminal accountability for sexual assault (for example) is better than ever and continues to improve.  It’s like we have certain hot topics in the church that then we allow to define the world around us – which leads to a very inaccurate lens to look through.  “Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible (??? Slavery, marriage rape or sexual coercion, child physical abuse as a norm in many homes, women being treated as property, just to name a few???), now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”

Power of Satan rising.  The rhetoric is fear-based. I never like when we give so much airtime to Satan/devil.  Especially for those with anxiety disorders – they often relate walking away from talks like this and having physiological responses to them that can be present for the next few days, weeks and even months.   

If we engaged the leaders of the world on subjects such as chronic poverty and sex trafficking with a fraction of what we do on the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage – I think we could make some big changes.  What about fighting the pornography industry with the monies we have used as a church against homosexual causes?  I think there are a lot bigger, more important fights we could be engaging in – that affect many more people than whether or not 5% of our population should be given the right to marry. I think it’s pretty clear from scriptural study that Jesus was much more focused on taking care of the poor and loving our neighbor than on how we were acting sexually – teachings that both heterosexuals and homosexuals readily agree on and could join forces for significant change.  Why do we continue to focus on these divisive parts of our belief systems when we have so much potential for good to be done when we focus on our similarities!!???  This is continually flabbergasting to me – especially when so many of our own members suffer to the point of suicidal ideation when we have these types of speeches against the “gay agenda” over and over and over again over the pulpit.  We know that LGBT youth in the church are at a very high risk of suicide and yet Andersen chooses to give this type of talk, only praising those LGBT members who “choose to be faithful” (i.e. celibate).  This type of rhetoric towards our gay members is dangerous.  The civil rights movement in regards to the LGBT community is moving on with or without us on a global level – that is obviously clear.  And most people understand the LDS church does not agree with same sex marriage.  So why continue to bring this up?  It does nothing but hurt people on both sides of the equation.  And divide us instead of unite us on the many things we have in common.  Disappointing to say the least. 

As the world slips away from the law of chastity – we do not.  Again, I’ve addressed the many ways that we share sexual values with many in our communities – and there is much work to be done to join with our communities in the areas of sexual education, sexual protection, and holding sexual criminality accountable.  Just because people dress differently than us, and there are more sexual freedoms that people exercise in the areas of pre-marital sex – there are many community leaders, policy makers, mental health professionals that are concerned about sexual accountability and sexual health.  Again, let’s join forces truly important projects with the world around us!!  In fact I see more coming from leaders in my community for example in re to sex trafficking (a pretty big problem here in Wichita for example) than from members of my own church.  Sex trafficking and prostitution rings affect the global community at a much higher rate than homosexual marriage.  Did you know that every time there is a large sports event in our country, sex traffic rings are brought in to that particular city at an alarming rate in order to meet the demand for this type of service!?  Are we aware that the homeless rate in Utah for youth has a largely disproportionate rate of LGBT youth?  Are we aware that homeless youth are in huge danger of being enslaved into these types of sex trafficking rings I mention?  Where are the General Conference talks addressing a call for us to address these issues!?  Are we truly addressing the needs of our disenfranchised youth with talks like these – especially since he is specifically addressing the youth!?

President Henry B. Eyring

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

You hold in your hands the happiness of more people than you can now imagine.  How we are all interdependent in so many different ways.

Every day and every hour you can choose to make or keep a covenant with God.

Leave an inheritance of hope to those who might follow your example. Daily rituals such as prayer, scripture study and the sharing of our testimony and beliefs are important in all sorts of family structures. 

The happiness of eternal life comes through family bonds that continue forever.

We have hope, faith and charity to guide us.

The Lord wants the best for us and for our families.

They never force righteousness – because righteousness must be chosen.  It’s fruits are delicious.  I like the parental implications of this, especially as many find themselves in heartbreaking power struggles with their teens.  

God makes it attractive to choose the right by letting us feel the effects of our choices.

We will find happiness or sorrow in time.  I think this is good for us to discuss further so that we don’t fall prey to what I call “equational expectations” – if I do good I will have good (for example the many people that come into my office confused that they married worthily in the temple and yet are struggling with very serious marital difficulties).

Messages I found to be needing of further nuance/discussion:

I think it’s important to recognize that there’s a difference between leaving one’s religion and choosing to forsake commandments.  In other words, I know many within my religion that break all kinds of commandments (some very serious dealing with parental abuse, etc.) and I know many coffee or alcohol drinking non-Mormon members of our community who spend countless hours in volunteer service and fighting for social justice.  So we need to be careful to not make the mistake that “gospel followers” are only to be found in the membership of our church.  We are a small group in the grand scheme of things – and yet like Eyring says, we are all born with an inner light of Christ directing us to “choose the right” and that inner divinity is found throughout the world regardless of race, ethnicity, social class, religion, etc. 

Due to family dysfunction and abuse, I often have clients tell me they don’t want to be with their families forever.  This is an important reality to validate for many of our members – and not dismiss lightly.

 

 


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