In “Orthodoxy,” G.K. Chesterton explains that madness is not a lack of rationality, as we typically think, but more often an excess of it. He uses the example of a man who believes that everyone is conspiring against him. For every argument you might make against his being the object of some vast plot, the madman will have a response that is perfectly consistent within his theory about the world. You might point out how the store clerk didn’t know who he was and, therefore, could not be conspiring against him, but he would only say the clerk was just pretending not to know him, as one would do if they were conspiring.

The problem, Chesterton points out, is not with the consistency of his arguments, but with the smallness of a world that could be so easily explained. Reason, in this sense, is not a way of making connections about the world, but a way of fitting everything in the world into one explanation.

“I admit that your explanation explains a great deal,” Chesterton writes of the madman, “but what a great deal it leaves out! Are there no other stories in the world but yours; and are all men busy with your business?”

I find myself wondering the same thing as I look at recent coverage and commentary about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ latest general conference.

Earlier this month, The Associated Press published a news report on general conference titled “Latter-day Saint leader addresses congregants without a word on racial or LGBTQ+ issues.” A major news outlet distilled ten hours of addresses on a variety of topics by dozens of church leaders from around the world into “they didn’t talk about race or sexuality.”

Temples are the gateway to the greatest blessings God gives

It may come as a surprise to some that general conference is about addressing a global audience with a wide variety of concerns and cultural backgrounds. Many congregations outside of the U.S. have little need for constantly revisiting certain issues more relevant in the United States, than, say, the Philippines. In truth, the church has addressed both race and sexuality quite thoroughly in recent years. They’ve even gone a step further than many of the loudest voices and worked toward productive solutions. The church has been involved, for example, in ongoing collaborations with the NAACP, donating scholarships, educational opportunities and engaging in joint humanitarian efforts. The church also supported the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, federal legislation which aimed to secure rights both for sexual minorities and religious institutions.

This kind of reporting from The Associated Press seems to reflect less about the purported subject — Latter-day Saint general conference — and more about the media’s obsession with certain social issues at the expense of a broad curiosity. A global church cannot afford to likewise limit the subjects it addresses, or shift from its primary focus, which is preaching the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I used to love checking social media during general conference, as it allowed me to see friends’ reactions to talks in real time. The last few sessions, however, I noticed an uptick in online voices that were not interested in the messages per se, but only in how a message might relate to their particular corner of the culture war and how it could be leveraged to advance their particular brand within that corner.

I tried to ignore it, but eventually I found I was unintentionally listening to conference with my own expectations centered around hot-button political and social issues. This April, I tried to avoid social media altogether so that I could experience the talks without various pet priorities vying to influence how to interpret these messages.

According to Chesterton, the problem with these obsessions is not that you can’t use them to explain “a large number of things.”

We can, indeed, explain some things in terms of a victims and oppressors paradigm or anti-wokeness or race or sexuality or gender or economics or Big Pharma. The problem is that “it does not explain them in a large way.” In other words, the only way to make your thing explain everything is by leaving a lot out.

And what gets left out when it comes to religious faith?

The April general conference addresses included first-hand accounts of healings and divine intervention, in-depth discussions about the nature and purpose of Latter-day Saint temple work, detailed counsel about how to find joy and peace amidst life’s greatest difficulties, and apostolic witnesses of God’s reality and interest in each of our lives.

Latter-day Saints should be one in Jesus Christ
‘Covenant confident’: Latter-day Saint leaders say prayer, temple covenants provide assurance

Elder Shayne M. Bowen, a General Authority Seventy, recounted how his grandfather raised his mother from the dead. Many years later, when Elder Bowen’s own daughter was found not breathing, “her face the color of a purple plum,” after being pinned underneath a van, he gave her a priesthood blessing and she began to breathe again.

Primary General President Susan H. Porter shared how God revealed to her that her father had accepted the gospel, even after his death. “Five days after he died, I received a sacred feeling of joy. Heavenly Father let me know through His Spirit that my father wanted to receive the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ!” She was later sealed to him in the temple.

President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reflected upon the loss of his wife of 60 years, which was followed by his own prolonged stay in intensive care. Though understandably grieving, he found himself filled with “happiness doubled by wonder” and testified that “God hears every prayer we offer and responds to each of them …”

Those who are called to speak spend months preparing. During this time, they are also engaged in full-time church service among diverse congregations across the world. The journalists and social media personalities — who spend somewhat less time engaged with the full range of issues affecting a global religious organization — seem to only spend a few minutes or hours sizing up their talks.

‘Inspired sermons’ and sweet cinnamon rolls — the Latter-day Saint General Conference experience

It’s unsurprising, then, that many of them are missing important messages being conveyed at general conference: that God knows and cares about every person, and that we can enjoy deeply meaningful connections to Him and one another for eternity.

These messages are delivered by men and women who are cheerful despite challenges and optimistic as they engage with the world’s difficulties, who model fulfilling lives and relationships, and who express the utmost confidence in the ability of every individual to find similar confidence and purpose.

One thinks this might have been of interest to many people, yet The Associated Press’ conference coverage focused exclusively on a few politically charged questions of race, gender and sexuality.

When we obsess over a handful of highly contentious social or political issues, many things which unite humanity get left out. There are expansive, beautiful, hopeful ways of understanding our lives and the world around us, but they don’t exist within the tiny basket of narratives that often divide the world into factions and tribes.

When so many lack connection, meaning and unity today, this should concern more than just Latter-day Saints.