Most “Liked” General Authorities

Who is the most liked General Authority? That’s a difficult question to answer. Fortunately, there’s a related question that’s much easier to answer, so I’ll go with it instead: Who is the most “liked” General Authority? Now that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve all have official Facebook pages, it’s a simple matter to visit each and count the “likes.”

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They always say the same thing in Conference (Part 1)

A few months ago, I was working on a project that required me to look through a lot of search results at the Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks. I was surprised to find that some speakers not only told the same stories and made the same points in multiple talks, they frequently used exactly the same phrasing in doing so. In other words, they were clearly copying and pasting parts from one talk to another. Not that I blame them. I know GAs are busy people, so in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

This got me to wondering, though, whether some Conference speakers use this copy-and-paste strategy more than others. I hit on an easy way to measure how often they do this while reading Brian Christian’s fascinating book The Most Human Human. The book is about the author’s preparation for participating in a Turing test, where his role is to serve as a chat partner for judges who are trying to distinguish between computer programs and people, and his goal is to win the award that is the book’s title, by convincing the most judges that he is a human and not a computer. One issue Christian discusses is redundancy in language. For example, when we’re reading, we can predict with accuracy far better than chance what word will come next in a sentence, and our accuracy goes up as the sentence goes on. More importantly for my purposes, compression software also works by spotting redundancies in language.

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The Virtues of Vagueness

After President Dalton’s much-discussed “you . . . will see no need to lobby for rights” talk, Galdralag wrote a post in which she asked, “Why don’t our leaders clarify their remarks more often?”

I think this is a great question. Church leaders frequently say things that sound vague to me, often intentionally vague. This puzzles me. I would think if they have messages from God to share, they would want to come right out and share them, and not beat around the bush so often. Certainly they’re not always unclear–I think I can venture to conclude, for example, that they don’t like porn–but a lot of the time they are.

In this post, I’ve come up with a list of possible reasons for their sometime vagueness. (Some of the better ones I’ve borrowed from Andrew S’s post on the Church’s statements on caffeine last year at W&T.) In the comments, please let me know which of these you find more or less plausible, and also other causes you think might be important. This is kind of a laundry list of seat-of-the-pants thinking, so I won’t be surprised if you disagree with some (or all) of my ideas.

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Who Wrote the Proclamation on the Family?

While the Proclamation on the Family was nominally written by all 15 men serving in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve at the time it was issued, it seems likely that some of them were more central to the project than others. For some reason, I’ve always thought it was Elder Nelson’s baby, although I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s just because divine gender roles seems to be his favorite topic.

In any case, the writers aren’t likely to tell us who was most and least involved, but I wonder if they might have revealed this information to us indirectly. It seems reasonable to assume that those who were most enamored of the project would quote from and refer to the document most often. So I went back and checked who has referred to the Proclamation the most.

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On Mission Hierarchy, Gender, and Organizational Communication

In support of RAH’s Sister Missionary Leadership Project over at fMh, here’s a post about my mission originally published at Both Sides Now in July of last year.

In our mission we had APs and “Traveling Elders” who assisted with a lot of the nuts and bolts of mission organization (for a primer on the organizational structure of LDS missions, see here). They acted as extra eyes and ears for the Mission President (MP), traveling around the mission area and checking in with different companionships, helping to arrange apartments, discussing difficulties in different areas or companionships, etc. Because mission rules prevented the young Elders from visiting one-on-one with the Sister missionaries, the MP created a calling he dubbed the “Coordinating Sister.” It was the Coordinating Sister’s job, once or twice a month, to travel around the mission area with her companion, work with other Sister missionaries, and then report back to the MP. From my vantage point it was a very helpful calling, since mission culture and rules meant not only that Sisters were often more isolated than Elders, but also that they typically felt very inhibited about discussing problems in companionships with their District or Zone Leaders or even with the MP. (I should probably note that neither I nor any of my companions served as the Coordinating Sister.)
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Distal Effects of Missionary Age Changes

Kent Larsen at T&S has a great list of possible effects of the changes in minimum missionary ages that President Monson announced in Conference. Many of the effects discussed are straightforward and closely tied to missionary work (e.g. enrollment at BYU), but others are more weakly tied and more speculative (e.g., divorce rate). I want to push things out even father, and guess about other possible changes in the Church that are completely unrelated to missionary work, but that might be made more likely by the missionary age change. Read More

The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin

. . . the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

You probably remember Princess Leia saying this to Governor Tarkin right before he started trying to impress her with the size of his battle station. But I’m not here to talk about battle station size or who might be compensating for what. Instead, I’m interested in Leia’s point about unintended consequences: sometimes pushing directly for some outcome can actually make that outcome less likely.

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“Gotcha” questions for GAs

A recent guest poster at fMh asked for suggestions about what question she might pose to a visiting Seventy who had agreed to a Q&A session with members as part of stake conference. In a post at Nine Moons, Rusty pointed out that many of the questions seemed to be “gotcha questions,” intended to make a point rather than to genuinely seek information. (Several commenters on the fMh thread made a similar point.) I agree with Rusty. Many of the questions did appear not to be serious attempts to get information, but more attempts to show the Seventy up. That being said, I really liked a lot of the “gotcha questions.” I began to wonder why so many people thought of asking them.

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Something Different in the First Presidency Letter?

Yesterday a letter from the First Presidency was read in my ward’s sacrament meeting. It sounded like the standard letter that’s sent every so often asking members to please not write to Salt Lake about our concerns but instead to talk to our bishops or branch presidents.

But at the end I thought I heard something different from what these letters usually sound like. There was a bit where I think they said if you have a question or concern that your stake/district/mission president agrees might be helpful to bring up to the general leadership of the Church, your president can write about it to them on your behalf. Read More