One person: "Oh, that talk on temple work was so special."
Another person: "%#@%! Mormons are baptizing dead Eskimos!"
Meanwhile, other people (including me) are thinking, "Is there time before the next talk to make nachos?"
General Conference counsel is relative to the person hearing it. I look at it as advice, meaning I listen and then decide for myself. I don't consider the talks on a par with the Ten Commandments or stuff my wife says. The talks might not apply to me.
If this sounds like utter heresy it's still true. A conference talk on Internet porn means a lot more to a Mormon in Provo than it does to a goat herder in rural Mookistan.
Mormons in parts of the world don't have to worry about Internet porn. They don't even have electricity, never mind Internet access. A laptop for them is holding a baby or a chicken.
For some Mormons, conference talks fall somewhere on the importance spectrum between scripture and the actual words of the Lord. There's no refuting anything said in General Conference regardless of when it was uttered.
I was caught unaware by this conference talk equals doctrine attitude on my mission. One day during a heated discussion on evolution (with which I still agree) my companion fired back with:
"Well, in 1907 Elder J. Gomer Handcart of the Third Council of Seventy said dinosaur fossils are a trick by Satan."
Me: "That doesn't make it tru."
Him: "Elder, he said it in GENERAL CONFERENCE!"
Later, when I wouldn't go somewhere with him, Elder Lekker quoted a 1890-ish Conference talk on priesthood seniority by President Romney J. Packhammer proving that the senior companion was in fact in charge.
Maybe, but what turned out to be harder fact is that I still didn't go.
Quoting a general authority conference talk was the ultimate trump card in a theological debate among Mormons. If it was uttered from the podium in the Tabernacle, it was the same thing as fact.
This is not the case. For one thing, I was on a nighttime cleaning crew in the Tabernacle a couple of years ago. When I found the microphone still on, I announced "Live from New York, it's 'Saturday Night'!"
Not only is that not anywhere close to LDS doctrine, the guy in charge of the crew told me to stop. Since I wasn't being led by the Spirit, I did.
I'll hear a lot of stuff during general conference. Some of it won't apply to me. Some of it will. And some I might not even agree with.
Being Mormon, I figure my job is to listen to the talks (or wait for the conference reports to come out) and then make up my mind. Been doing that for 40 years and I haven't led myself astray yet.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.