SALT LAKE CITY — More than 100,000 Latter-day Saints are expected to gather in Salt Lake City this weekend to find out church news and soak up words of guidance and inspiration from the faith’s top leaders.
During The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ biannual general conference, leaders will give speeches and make announcements about church statistics, new temples or initiatives.
In addition to those filling up the 21,000-seat conference center during the five sessions that span Saturday and Sunday, thousands more will listen or watch from around the world in 95 languages on television, radio, satellite and Internet broadcasts. More than half of all 15 million Latter-day Saints live outside of the U.S., church figures show.
The conference is widely followed and analyzed on social media, with many using the Twitter hash tag, “LDSconf.”
Others come to Salt Lake City and listen to speeches through loudspeakers while sitting on the grounds of Temple Square, a manicured 35-acre area in downtown Salt Lake City where the church’s towering flagship temple is surrounded by reflecting pools, statutes and buildings where visitors can learn about the faith.
It’s here where a Mormon’s women group pushing the church to allow women in the priesthood plans to demonstrate outside an all-male meeting Saturday, reprising a similar protest from last year.
The church has asked them to reconsider, or at least protest in a designated zone. Church leaders have barred media from going on church property during the demonstration.
Despite the notice, the group, Ordain Women, says about 500 members intend to march into Temple Square and ask to be allowed into the all-male priesthood meeting.
A group of atheists holding its annual convention in Salt Lake City later this month also plans to protest this weekend. The American Atheists have a march planned Sunday alongside former Mormons around Temple Square.
Nobody outside the church’s inner circle knows what might be announced, what topics will be addressed or even exactly who will be speaking inside the church’s conference center.
That leads to some surprises and dramatic moments.
At the conference in October 2012, the church announced it was lowering the minimum age to depart on missions from 21 to 19 for women and from 19 to 18 for men. Since then, the number of missionaries has reached record numbers, with the biggest increases being young women.
In April 2013, a milestone was reached when a woman led a prayer for the first time in the conference’s history.
Many of the speeches come from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which is the second-highest governing body of the church. Modeled after Jesus Christ’s apostles, the 12 men serve under the church president and his two counselors.
Often times, they weigh in on sensitive issues. In October 2013, D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve said having women at home remains an essential part of society and cautioned against blurring feminine and masculine differences.
“Some feminist thinkers view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women, and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation,” Christofferson said. “They ridicule what they call the “mommy track” as a career. That is not fair or right.”
During that same conference, another member of the Quorum, Dallin H. Oaks, said states and nations may legalize same-sex marriage, but human laws cannot “make moral what God has declared immoral.”