General Conference already got underway last week, but I’m a bit slow, so I’m just now getting to making some predictions for the remainder of the sessions. You can help me out by telling me which in each pair of possible events is most likely to occur in the remainder of Conference.
The Mormon Newsroom article on child abuse from 2010 that was recently published with a 2016 date (because of a “technical error”) includes the following claim, as evidence of how seriously the Church takes child abuse:
Since 1976, more than 50 articles have appeared in Church publications condemning child abuse or educating members about it. As wrenching as the topic is, Church leaders have given sermons about it more than 30 times at the Church’s worldwide conferences.
I spend a fair amount of time poking through old General Conference talks, and this latter number—30 sermons about child abuse—seemed high to me. So I thought I would check it.
I used the lds.org search tool to search for “child abuse” (without the quotation marks), and limited the results to General Conference talks. The search doesn’t require the words to appear together, so I was casting a pretty wide net, not just looking for talks that had the exact phrase “child abuse.” In fact, I ended up having to discard a bunch of talks in the results because they never discussed child abuse even though they included both words (frequently they talked about drug abuse and mentioned a child in another context).
I make the Sunday bulletins for my ward. I typically put a quote from a scripture or a Church leader that’s related to the theme of the sacrament meeting on the front. I often look for quotes from Church leaders by looking through recent Conference talks on related topics. Recently while I was doing this, I was reading a talk given by a member of a general auxiliary presidency, and I was struck by how much of her talk was made up of quotes of other sources. This reminded me of David Evans’s excellent post at T&S a few months ago where he looked at which speakers in Conference quote which types of sources. One of his findings was that higher-authority speakers quoted less from high authority sources than did lower-authority speakers.
What I wondered is whether higher-authority speakers quote other sources in general less than lower-authority speakers, regardless of the level of authority of the sources being quoted. An advantage of this question is that it didn’t require me to figure out authority levels of sources. Instead, I could just count words in talks and count how many of the words were in quotes.
I got data from all the talks in the last ten Conferences (October 2010 – April 2015). For each talk, I noted the speaker’s calling, the number of words in the talk, and the number of words in the talk that were part of a quote. Here are results by calling group.
Last week, the Church rolled out a redesigned version of the navigation menus at lds.org. The new menus rearranged links to parts of the site in order to make it easier for site visitors to find what we’re looking for.
One change in particular that seems unrelated to usability caught my eye, though. In the old menus, scriptures appeared in their own menu, and General Conference was in a menu labeled “Teachings.” Here’s a screenshot that shows the old menus. I’m sorry it doesn’t show General Conference under “Teachings,” as the old menus aren’t available anymore so I can’t take a new screenshot. I’ll just have to ask you to trust me that it was there. Also note that the callout calls the menus “new” because this image is from 2012, when the old menus were introduced.
I thought it might be fun to look at which speakers in General Conference are most fond of quoting which particular verses of scripture. If you’re thinking you’ve seen me blog about this before, you’re right. It’s just that in my previous posts, I’ve only looked at the level of book of scripture, but now I’m getting all the way down to the verse level. I apologize in advance; I don’t have any interesting hypotheses to examine here. This is another post where I’m just looking at some data descriptively and saying, “Isn’t this cool?”
I took scripture reference data from the LDS Scripture Citation Index. I used the current version of their site and not the new beta version because it was easier for me to pull data from the current version. Unfortunately, this means that what I have is only updated through 2013. The Conference data begins in 1942.
The table below lists the top five verses cited for speakers in Conference since 1942. I’ve limited it to showing top fives for two groups of people: Q15 members who have at least 500 total verses cited, and female auxiliary leaders who have at least 100 total verses cited. Many of the speakers have a tie in their #5 spot, so I’ve extended the table to show all tied verses, except in a few cases where it would have made the table ridiculously long (e.g., Julie B. Beck has a 25-way tie at #5). I’ve also included a brief quote or summary note on each verse to help jog your memory for verses that are less well-known, and I’ve linked each verse reference to the scriptures at lds.org so you can go read them in full if you’re interested.
This post is a follow-up to my post last week, where I looked at how much members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) quote from each of the five books of scripture in the LDS canon in their Conference talks. In the previous post, I showed one breakdown for each Q15 member, aggregating his citations of scripture in all his Conference talks, across whatever period of years he served in the Q15. In this post, I’ll show trends across time for each individual Q15 member. The previous analysis would miss it if a GA changed over time from preferring the Book of Mormon to preferring the New Testament, for example. This analysis might be able to show such changes (if they’re large enough). As for the previous post, my data source is the LDS Scripture Citation Index.
The graphs below show seven-year moving averages for the percentages of citations each Q15 member took from each book of scripture. There’s nothing special about seven years for the moving average. I chose it by eyeball. The year-to-year data often jump around a lot, which isn’t surprising given that for Q15 members who aren’t in the First Presidency, one year’s worth of Conference talks is typically just two talks. Seven years of aggregation looked like a good compromise that smoothed out the yearly variation but didn’t smooth so much that it made changes over time disappear. One other note is that I’ve only made graphs for members who have at least 16 years of data. This allows for 10 years worth of seven-year moving averages to be shown (because the first six years are combined into the initial seven-year moving average).
Graphs for Q15 members are shown in the order they were called, which is the same ordering I used in my previous post. Also, to make it easier to look back and forth between the two posts, I’ve used the same color to represent data for each book of scripture as in the previous post. One warning with these graphs is that the scaling of both the horizontal and vertical axes changes from person to person to best display each Q15 member’s data, so be careful if you’re looking at comparisons across graphs.
Which hymns are sung most often in General Conference? My impression is that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is always opening Conference with “The Morning Breaks,” and every other congregational hymn is “Redeemer of Israel,” but I’ve never actually looked to see if that’s true.
I wrote a post last year in which I tried to assess which Conference talks were most liked by Church members. The method I used was very much a kludge: I looked at the change in Facebook likes for each speaker during the session in which he or she gave a talk. Fortunately, a friend pointed out to me that there’s a much simpler way to measure this. The individual web pages for each Conference talk have a count of how many people liked the talk itself on Facebook. So of course this was data that I was interested in going back to look at.
The Facebook like buttons were added to all Conference talks, going back to 1971. Beyond a couple of years ago, of course, there aren’t many likes since most old Conference talks (other than a few classics) probably aren’t referred to all that often. I might go back later and look at the older talks, but for now I was just interested in the Conferences recent enough that someone could hear a talk in Conference, and then later in the week look it up on lds.org and click like, so I limited myself to 2012 through 2014–the last six Conferences.
There are three things to note about the data. First, I got the like counts a couple of days ago, so they’re already out of date. Second, for like counts over 1,000, the like button shows a count in thousands. I got exact counts by querying Graph Search directly. (I found this on stackoverflow somewhere, but now can’t recall where. The method is to point your browser to the URL http://graph.facebook.com/?id=<URL of talk>.) Third, the like counts for the most recent Conference are lower than for previous Conferences, probably because it has only been a few weeks since Conference occurred, and people haven’t had lots of chances to re-read or re-hear a talk and go back and like it.
Here are the ten most liked talks from the past six Conferences.
If you look back through Church statistical reports released in every April Conference (and who hasn’t?), you find that it’s not exactly the same information that gets reported each year. I don’t mean that the numbers change; I mean that which categories of numbers even get reported change. There has been less change in recent years, but if you look back to the 80s, you’ll find lots of categories of information that used to be reported that aren’t anymore. For example, you’ll find number of babies blessed (last reported in 1988), number of boys and men who hold different priesthood offices (1986), number of proxy temple ordinances (1984), marriage rate (1983), and number of women in the Relief Society (1977).
I thought it might be interesting to look at what categories of information have been reported in statistical reports at different times, as well as how many total categories of information have been reported. This first graph shows how many line items (separate numbers representing different pieces of information) were in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.
This graph shows the number of line items in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.
Unfortunately, getting trends over time for the women leaders requires more work than I have the energy for right now. I would need to get not only distribution of citations by book of scripture for each person, but for each person in each year. Sorry, BethSmash! But I did get counts of citations for each person ignoring when the talk was given, and I’ve done the same adjustment I did for the Quorum of 15 members in the other post, adjusting for the prevailing citation norms at the times the people were in their callings. I’ve put these in this post, in case they’re of any interest.
I looked in the LDSSCI for citation counts for all members of a Relief Society, Young Women’s, or Primary General Presidency since the mid-1970s. I didn’t look back any further because if I remember right, women didn’t speak regularly in Conference before the 1980s, and there weren’t General Women’s meetings (which the LDSSCI includes) before the late 1970s.
Here are counts for all RS, YW, and Primary Presidency members who had at least 10 scripture citations in their talks (regardless of how many talks it took them to use that many references). There are 42 women who meet this criterion. I’ve put them in order by calling year.
Thanks to the handy LDS Scripture Citation Index (LDSSCI), it’s easy to get data to answer this question. I looked up each of the current members of the Quorum of 15 to see how often he cited the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price in his Conference talks. For example, for President Monson, the counts are 332, 818, 184, 255, and 32, respectively. Here are counts for all Quorum members:
Next, to adjust for the fact that Quorum members differ in the total number of scripture citations they put in their talks, I converted the counts of citations to percentages of all citations by the member. Using President Monson as an example again, this means dividing each of his counts by book (332, 818, 184, 255, and 32) by his total (1621) to get his percentages. Here are percentages for all Quorum members:
(Note that the percentages do not add to 100 for some members because of rounding.)
Finally, I did one more adjustment to account for the norms of how often the different books of scripture are cited in Conference by all speakers during the years each Quorum member served. What I mean here is that at different points in time, different books of scripture were cited more or less by all speakers in Conference. Because members have been in the Quorum for different amounts of time, some of the differences between them can be accounted for by the different norms in Conference at the times they were giving talks.
The biggest shift in the time current Quorum members have served has been an increase in citations of the Book of Mormon. Here’s a graph showing the percentage of all citations of scriptures in Conference that came from each of the five books of scripture since 1942 (as far back as the LDSSCI has Conference talk data).
Note: I was unaware of it at the time I wrote this post, but there’s a much more in-depth look at these terms, as well as some additional ones like “plan of redemption” at the blog Nearing Kolob.
When I was growing up and I learned in church about God’s plan to get people back to live with him, the plan was always called the “plan of salvation.” But sometime between my childhood (1980s) and now, this plan has come to be described more often as the “plan of happiness.” The two terms are clearly used to refer to the same thing. For example, here’s Elder Nelson in an April 2013 Conference talk:
The Book of Mormon . . . explains God’s great plan of happiness—the plan of salvation.
I don’t recall when the change took place, though. So I did some digging in the Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks. The corpus goes all the way back to the 1850s, but it looks like the first usage of “plan of happiness” didn’t even take place until 1979. And it didn’t really become popular until 10-15 years later. I’ll make a graph to show you some more complete data.
Back in November, the Church announced a new General Women’s Meeting that will occur the weekend before each General Conference. This meeting will include girls who are eight to eleven years old in addition to women and teenage girls. I saw a number of people on the Bloggernacle suggest that the result would be that either the talks will be over the youngest girls’ heads and therefore boring to them, or the talks will be aimed at them and therefore boring to the women and teens. For example, on the first possibility, here’s Rebecca J at BCC:
Why would you include eight-year-old girls in a women’s conference? . . . Perhaps inviting 11-year-old girls would not be inappropriate—girls on the cusp of Young Woman-hood, as it were. . . . But what do our leaders have to say to grown women that could possibly be relevant and not mind-numbingly boring to eight-year-old girls?
This question got me to wondering whether I could measure to what degree Conference speakers were pitching their talks differently to differently-aged audiences. I’m sure there’s an in-depth way to answer this question that requires analyzing the actual content of Conference talks. But as you can probably guess, I didn’t go that route. Instead, I took a shortcut and looked at a related question that I could answer more easily. I looked at whether Conference talks differ in how difficult their language is, depending on which session they’re given in, and therefore the age of the audience they’re aimed at.
I think it’s fascinating to look at the stories that General Conference speakers choose to tell. The subtexts, or the messages they convey without stating them explicitly, are particularly interesting. A couple of years ago, I blogged about a couple of stories Conference speakers told where the subtexts provoked particularly strong reactions in me. In this most recent Conference, two more stories stood out to me again in the strong reactions I had to their subtexts.
As you’ve probably heard, Elder Christofferson’s Conference talk a couple of weeks ago originally included a swipe at “some feminist thinkers,” who he claimed “view homemaking with outright contempt.” This statement was edited in the printed version to be aimed at a more nebulous “some” who view homemaking with outright contempt. This change seems like a clear win for feminists, as the written record, which will likely be referred to far more often than the audio and video recordings of the spoken talk, now no longer has an explicit mention of feminists in a negative light.
But I think an even more positive outcome of the edit is what came out of the explanation for it. Here’s Peggy Fletcher Stack quoting Ruth Todd, Church spokesperson:
Church editors had suggested to the apostle that “referencing ‘some feminist thinkers’ would inevitably be read by many as ‘all feminist thinkers,’ ” Todd explained in a statement. “Elder Christofferson agreed and has simply clarified his intent.”
Okay, so call me a cynic, but I thought that Elder Christofferson’s original intent was to do precisely what Todd’s statement says he wanted to avoid: put down all feminists while using the word “some” to maintain plausible deniability. I really doubt, then, that the edit originated with Elder Christofferson. But whether or not I’m right, the important point in Todd’s statement is that whoever originated the edit did not want it to be thought that Elder Christofferson was putting down all feminist thinkers. This suggests that there are some other feminist thinkers who the editor of the talk thought should not be put down. I think this is huge! Since when has any word from the general level of the Church had anything positive to say about any feminists or feminism? I thought President Packer’s view of feminists as one of the big three enemies of the Church reigned supreme, with others like Elder Nelson clearly subscribing to the view that feminists oppose all that is true and right in the world. Ruth Todd’s statement gives me a glimmer of hope that some GA somewhere does not want all feminists to be painted with a broad negative brush.
What was your favorite General Conference talk? Was it President Uchtdorf’s, where he said this?
Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.
Or perhaps Elder Holland’s where he said this?
If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders.
Geoff Nelson at Rational Faiths wrote an interesting post a few weeks ago where he looked at how often General Conference speakers say “I know” versus “I believe.” Hooray for more data analysis in the Bloggernacle! Anyway, he found that usage of “I know” has been increasing relative to “I believe” since the early 20th century. I found this kind of surprising, because I would have guessed that the rise of Correlation would be associated with any change over time, but the pattern he found is different than what you would expect to see if that were the case. So I thought I’d look at the data a little bit myself.
A couple of months ago, my co-blogger Beatrice pointed out that lds.org applies handy topic labels to General Conference talks. I thought it might be fun to look through these to see which topics have been addressed most frequently in the last 40 years.