By Sharon Lindbloom
Mormon blogger Jana Riess at Flunking Sainthood interviewed Gordon and Gary Shepherd regarding their research into the themes presented at the LDS Church’s General Conferences. The Shepherd brothers have performed a detailed analysis of all past General Conference talks and published their findings in a newly updated book, A Kingdom Transformed: Early Mormonism and the Modern LDS Church. In discussing the information revealed in the book, Dr. Riess noted,
“What pops out in your tables is the growing importance of Jesus Christ as a conference topic, whereas in the earliest decades he didn’t even crack the top ten.”
In fact, according to a table posted at Flunking Sainthood that lists the “Top Ten Conference Themes Over Six Generations (30 Year Intervals) of Mormon History 1830-2009,” the theme of “Jesus Christ” doesn’t appear at all until the 1920-1949 time frame, where He comes in sixth. But from 1950-2009, “Jesus Christ” is the number one theme at General Conference. Author Gary Shepherd noted:
“During the last 30 years, Jesus Christ has been mentioned four and a half times more frequently than Joseph Smith. And of course, Joseph Smith is still one of the more frequently identified terms from our analysis, although he has dropped out of the top twenty items being mentioned in General Conference for the last 30 years. That’s a significant point. The contrast between mentions of Jesus and Joseph Smith over the last 30 years is really very, very notable.”
Again, according to the posted table, Joseph Smith was on the Top Ten Conference Themes list (averaging in the top five) for nearly 120 years.
The noted changes are interesting developments in the Conference-theme focus of Mormonism, yet we need to be thoughtful regarding any conclusions we might draw from this information. All this analysis tells us (as illustrated in the Top Ten table) is that Mormon authorities are talking more about Jesus Christ and less about Joseph Smith during General Conference; it doesn’t tell us what Mormon leaders are saying about either of them. And that’s really what matters.
For example, in General Conference talks between 1950 and today, Mormon leaders have taught that Jesus Christ:
- Was the firstborn of heavenly parents in a pre-mortal world; (source)
- Is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh; (source)
- Has a physical body begotten of God our Heavenly Father; (source)
- Was born on April 6th; (source)
- Received [LDS temple] ordinances and promised us exaltation (i.e., Godhood); (source)
- Made Himself a ransom for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane; (source)
- Was killed by “the angry mob”; (source)
- Suffered and died to atone for Adam and Eve’s transgression, which provided resurrection for all people, and also redeems us from our own sins on condition of [complete] repentance; (source)
- Attained eternal perfection following His resurrection; (source)
- Did not possess godhood at first; (source)
- Has already achieved godhood, and now wants to help us; (source)
- Will make up the difference after we’ve done all we can; (source) and
- Is a God — one of three. (source)
It’s no wonder that the April 1977 General Conference brought the declaration,
“It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Bernard P. Brockbank, “The Living Christ,” Ensign, May 1977, 26)
And the April 2002 General Conference reaffirmed,
“As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say.” (Gordon Hinckley, “We look to Christ,” Ensign, May 2002, 90)
Mormon leaders may indeed be talking more about Jesus Christ in more recent General Conferences, but it is still a “different Jesus Christ” of whom they speak.
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