15 A Mormon in the Cheap Seats: The BEST Talks Ever

A few weeks ago I posted a list of the The WORST Talks Ever. This post is its mirror image.

In no particular order (and with a little commentary), here are the 10 BEST Talks Ever (for Open Mormons or cheap seaters):

1)  The Gospel and the Church, Elder Ronald E. Poelman, First Quorum of the Seventy, October General Conference, 1984.

This talk was nominated by a larger percentage of respondents. Note: It’s the ORIGINAL talk, as delivered in General Conference, that was nominated, not the revised version that was published in the Ensign, or the version that was retaped a few days later in an empty conference center and subsequently distributed and archived.

So why did the church go all George Orwell on this talk? If you want the full story (or you want to read or watch the original talk), follow the links below. Here’s my attempt at a condensed answer.

Poelman begins by distinguishing between the gospel and church (so far so good, right?), but then has the audacity to imply that the hierarchical order of things is God-Individual-Church, not God-Church-Individual. In his view, the gospel is the substance, the church merely the delivery system.  The church exists to support individuals in their quest for personal salvation and exaltation–and individuals not only have the right, but also the obligation, to evaluate and question church policies. He goes on to state that “as individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.”

The Best Conference Talk You Never Read
Episode 104: The Poelman Conference Talk
Side by Side Comparison of Original Talk and Edited Talk
Original Talk, Part 1 (Youtube)
Original Talk, Part 2 (Youtube)
The Ensign Version (currently on LDS.org)

2) The Great Commandment, Joseph B. Wirthlin, General Conference, October, 2007.

Here’s a quote: “At the final day the Savior will not ask about the nature of our callings. He will not inquire about our material possessions or fame. He will ask if we ministered to the sick, gave food and drink to the hungry, visited those in prison, or gave succor to the weak. When we reach out to assist the least of Heavenly Father’s children, we do it unto Him. That is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

3) Doctrine of Inclusion, M. Russell Ballard, General Conference, October, 2001

Here’s a quote: “Here in Utah, a group of concerned citizens formed the Alliance for Unity. This effort has been endorsed by our Church as well as other churches and organizations. One of its purposes is ‘to seek to build a community where differing viewpoints are acknowledged and valued.’ Perhaps there has never been a more important time for neighbors all around the world to stand together for the common good of one another.”

4) An Eternal Quest, Hugh B. Brown, Address to BYU, May 13, 1969

There is so much wisdom here–and he respects his audience of young students enough to hand it to them. . .  Compare this to the “follow the prophet” and “exact obedience” drivel there seems to be so much of these days.  Here are a few quotes:

“One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking. More thinking is required, and we call upon you students to exercise your God-given right to think through every proposition that is submitted to you and to be unafraid to express your opinions, with proper respect for those to whom you talk and proper acknowledgment of your own shortcomings.”

“Preserve, then, the freedom of your mind in education and in religion, and be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts.” [emphasis added]

“One may not attain salvation by merely acknowledging allegiance, nor is it available in ready-to-wear stores or in supermarkets where it may be bought and paid for. That it is an eternal quest must be obvious to all. Education is involved in salvation and may be had only by evolution or the unfolding or developing into our potential. It is in large measure a problem of awareness, of reaching out and looking up, of aspiring and becoming, of pushing back our horizons, of seeking for answers, and of searching for God. In other words, it is not merely a matter of conforming to rituals, climbing sacred stairs, bathing in sacred pools, or making pilgrimages to ancient shrines. The depth and height and quality of life depend upon awareness, and awareness is a process of being saved from ignorance.”

Okay, so now go read the talk.  Seriously. If you don’t like to read, here’s a link to an MP3 file.

I know, I know. . .  this post is getting too long.  I’ll move a little more quickly through the rest.

5) Truth Is the Issue, Elder F. Enzio Busche, November, 1993.

Some cheap seaters may wonder why I included this talk.  I included it because of its refreshing focus on honest self-discovery and self-awareness.

“Our brain, the great computer where all the facts of life’s memories are held together, can also be programmed by the “flesh,” with its self-centered ideas to deceive the spiritual self. Without the constant striving through prayer and contemplation to reach the ends of self-awareness and honesty, our so-called intellect can, therefore, based on look-alike truths, play many games of reason, to impress, to get gain, to intimidate, or even to manipulate truth with the vain results of deceit.”

6 & 7) Chieko N. Okazaki (everything).

I’ve never really understood why ABBA is so popular among the LGBT crowd. Is it their lyrics? Their sound? Apparently I’m not the only one that’s wondered this, because I just googled it and Yahoo! Answers already has it covered (although the answers they provided left me more confused than anything else). Chieko is like ABBA for the Open Mormons (or cheap seaters). Numerous respondents suggested several of her talks.  The two more popular nominations: Cat’s Cradle of Kindness (May, 1993) and Baskets and Bottles (May, 1996). [Chieko, you are missed. Here's an In Memoriam podcast on Mormon Matters]

Here’s a short quote from Baskets and Bottles:

“The doctrines of the gospel are indispensable. They are essential, but the packaging is optional.”

8) The Other Prodigal, Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, April, 2002.

9) Statement of the First Presidency Regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, February 15, 1978.

I debated about including this statement on the list. First, it seems odd that such a statement would need to be made. After all, why would church members need to be reminded of the universality of God’s love? But 1978 was a different time. Against the backdrop of the generally accepted notion that members were more valiant in the spirit world than non-members, and the use of this reasoning to exclude blacks from full participation in the church, it’s easy to see why this may have been a necessary step in the right direction. The “admission” that the great religious traditions of the world may reflect “a portion of God’s light” also seems a bit arrogant (and condescending), but I suspect even this was a stretch for members convinced that these other traditions were the equivalent of Satan worship. 

10) Our Hearts Knit as One, Henry B. Eyring, October General Conference, 2008.

This one makes the list for what’s NOT in it. President Eyring discusses three things that will lead to greater unity in the church–and uniformity of belief isn’t on the list (the three are personal revelation, humility, and speaking well of each other).

And, as an honorable mention,  

11) A prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth, President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Presidency Message, November 12, 2000.

There are few things in here that may elicit an eye roll (or two) from a few cheap seaters, but the overall message is so positive and uplifting that it works. When I listened to the audio of the talk, it made me realize how much I miss him.  Conference just isn’t the same.

So here it is–the 10 BEST Talks ever (11 if you count the honorable mention).  It’s my idiosyncratic list–put together with the generous input of those listed below. So what talks are on your list?

[Here's a few more:

The False Gods We Worship, Spencer W. Kimball, June 1976
https://www.lds.org/ensign/1976/06/the-false-gods-we-worship?lang=eng

Excertps were reprinted in June 2013 (http://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/06/worship-the-true-and-living-god?lang=eng); With differences between the 1976 talk and the printed excerts in 2013 highlighted: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1165-rRPD_MBeqz1djB3jEf5TD_8SZYgsMbgdPKD6v6g/edit?usp=sharing&pli=1 

Sincere thanks to those on various blogs and in various Facebook groups who responded to my informal survey (in no particular order): JaneAnne P, Angela C, Meredith L, John D, Russel S, Crystal C, Jeff S, George S, John H, James M, Jenne A, Jacob B, Elizabeth C-B, Eric J, Brad O, Sterling S, Jeff Green, Ben B, Sean L, Brian C, Natasha L, Renee R, Whitney P, Joseph P, Beauregard B, John S, Arthur R, Louis G, Dave W, Erin H, and Martine S (and several others who responded anonymously).

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