This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It's interesting to compare LDS General Conference with a presidential debate.
During a presidential debate, the participants are all about getting up in one another's faces.
Trump • We should deport everybody. Including all the women I personally find unattractive.
Bush • Wait. Did you just say we should deport everybody?
Trump • Yes. And I'll say it again. We should deport everybody. Also, Jeb, you're a weenie.
Bush • Excuse me?
Trump • Weenie! Weenie! Weenie!
Republicans aren't the only ones who enjoy a good verbal slugfest. The Democrats are having at it, too.
Sanders • If you want to get in touch with Ms. Clinton, DO NOT EMAIL HER. (Unless, of course, you want to have your email deleted.)
Biden • Ha. Meanwhile, what do you say Uncle Joe here buys everybody an ice cream cone? How about it, folks?
See? No one can accuse ME of being a partisan.
But that's not the point. The point is that presidential debates are designed to showcase differences. Mormon General Conference addresses, on the other hand, are designed to showcase consensus. LDS leaders present a united front in public even if there may be private differences of opinion.
A notable exception occurred during the General Conference held in October 1912 against the backdrop of a fiercely contested and acrimonious national presidential election when Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft and Teddy "Carry a Big Stick" Roosevelt all were running against one another. Teddy, as you may recall, had a falling-out with his political peers and created the Bull Moose Party, which split the Republican vote and swept Democrat Wilson into office.
So what happened in General Conference? you ask. This! The Ogden Standard reported that general authority B.H. Roberts (D) made a plea over the pulpit for the Latter-day Saints to exercise "personal liberty in political life." In other words, he maintained that individuals have the right and the responsibility to vote their own conscience. In response, The Salt Lake Herald-Republican noted, President Joseph F. Smith (R) urged Mormons to "exercise extreme caution" when relying on personal judgment political or otherwise so that "they do not change or abolish those things which God has willed and inspired to be done."
The Utah papers made a big deal about the apparent public disagreement between two high-ranking LDS leaders. The Salt Lake Telegram ran the headline "Roberts Is Repudiated by Prophet," while The Salt Lake Tribune went with "President Smith, in Response to Address of B.H. Roberts, Inferentially Rebukes."
Seriously? Is "inferentially" even a word? I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that The Trib does a much better job with its headlines now.
Meanwhile, The Herald-Republican ran this yawn-inducing headline: "Realm of Freedom and Exercise of Judgment Topics of Discussion."
Personally, I liked another Herald-Republican headline from the same day much better: "Chauffeur Slain from Behind in Auto; School Principal and Wife Arrested." But that didn't have anything to do with the General Conference, so never mind.
Anyway. What are the chances of a public disagreement occurring over the pulpit in General Conference again? I'd say slim to none with the emphasis on "none." The sessions this fall will proceed as they always do smoothly, featuring memorable music and thoughtfully prepared sermons with a little bit of rain thrown into the mix.
You never know, though. Sometimes the most surprising things can happen. Maybe the next time you turn on the TV to watch a presidential debate, for example, a church meeting will break out.
P.S. What happened to B.H. Roberts? Though he was frequently in hot water, he remained a general authority for the rest of his life.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.