SALT LAKE CITY >> Tens of thousands of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are scheduled to attend the faith’s biannual conference this weekend, in which senior leaders will address nearly 17 million believers throughout the world from their headquarters in Utah.
The conference, held at the church’s 21,000-seat conference center across the street from its Salt Lake Temple, generally provides officials a venue to discuss spiritual matters, announce changes in church policy and doctrine and reflect on current events. In previous years, leaders have encouraged vaccinations, lowered the minimum age for church missionaries and denounced racism.
At a conference in April, President Russell Nelson mostly eschewed politics while stressing unity and faith. It was the church’s first in-person conference since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a thinly-veiled reference to those clamoring for changes to church policy, another high-ranking church official warned against demanding revelation. Latter-day Saints believe church doctrine can be guided by continuing revelation — communication between God and high-ranking officials. Members also believe Nelson, the church’s 98-year-old top leader, is a prophet.
This weekend’s event, which runs Saturday and Sunday and is broadcast to members around the world, comes as the church faces scrutiny for the way it handles reports of sexual abuse. An investigation by The Associated Press published in August found the church’s abuse reporting system can be misused by church leaders to divert accusations away from law enforcement.
The story, based on sealed records and court cases filed in Arizona and West Virginia, uncovered a host of concerns, including how church officials have cited exemptions to mandatory reporting laws, known as clergy-penitent privilege, as reason to not report abuse.
The church has criticized the AP investigation, saying it mischaracterizes how the system works, and staunchly defended its policies.
In a follow-up story published Wednesday, the AP reported that both the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for years have lobbied state lawmakers throughout the country against closing the loophole that exempts church officials from mandates that require professionals like therapists or teachers to report abuse to authorities.
The reports have prompted calls for change from members of the faith, including former bishops, and Latter-day Saint lawmakers, including one who plans to introduce legislation to close the loophole next year in Utah.