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Charity toward President Packer’s “Cleansing the Inner Vessel”

October 8, 2010

Boyd K. PackerIt’s October again, which means the LDS Church has just concluded another session of General Conference. As I’ve done for the past few conference sessions, I want to go through a few talks from this session and try to look at them charitably from a non-believing point of view. As usual, there were some really great talks (Uchtdorf is on a roll!) and there were some…contentious talks. This edition will consider President Boyd K. Packer’s Sunday morning talk: “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” since it has gotten by far the most consideration of the various blogs that cover Mormonism. I can’t begin to link to every discussion, but the ones I really enjoyed reading were here, here, here, and here.

If you looked through those links, you might have ascertained that the talk is controversial for several reasons. The first is the content of the talk as presented in conference. However, if you had pored over the words of the talk at the conference, then you must have been quite surprised to find that some of those words didn’t make it into the published transcript of the talk.

While there’s a lot of juice to squeeze from the original talk (and I was originally considering to address some lines from the original) and quite a bit to squeeze from the politics of the decision to edit the talk’s transcript, I want to write about the talk as it stands transcribed.

Packer sets the stage by describing the turbulence of the world, and of divine measures that have been taken to defend against such turbulence. We have been provided the priesthood, and from the priesthood has been presented a guide called “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” As you may already know, that proclamation on the family established centrally that the church believes that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” Further, the family is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children.”

There isn’t much problematic with this. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being pro-family. My concern (and the big concern from most people) is the narrow definition of a family, and the narrow ordination of marriage. But my thoughts are that even if I disagree with Packer’s view or the church’s current view of what a valid family or a true marriage is, I can support the ideal of families being central (even if I run the risk of shifting aspersions to single people instead.) And I can evaluate whether or not the specifics of the family can change or not (as they have in the past).

Packer continues on to quote part of 2 Nephi 2: 26 when he speaks that:

Lehi taught that men are free and must be “free … to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day.”

Packer is emphasizing a primacy of agency: no matter what level of temptation, we are able to act in a righteous manner because we have such freedom and agency.

And what do we get when we use our agency to follow God? As Packer says:

There is something very liberating when an individual determines of his or her own free will to be obedient to our Father and our God and expresses that willingness to Him in prayer.
When we obey, we can enjoy these powers in the covenant of marriage. From our fountains of life will spring our children, our family. Love between husband and wife can be constant and bring fulfillment and contentment all the days of our lives.
If one is denied these blessings in mortality, the promise is that they will be provided for in the world to come.

Even though I feel this last paragraph runs into some problems (will people marry in the afterlife..?), is there anything wrong with saying that love between a husband and wife can be constant and bring fulfillment and contentment for all the days of our lives?

I don’t think so.

What I wonder is why can’t love between a man and his husband or between a woman and her wife be seen as just as constant? What happens when an individual determines of his own free will to be obedient to God, and the Holy Ghost tells the individual he is NOT to leave his husband?

Seems like we need forward-looking revelation to clarify. But Packer wants to instead discuss current and previous revelation:

We are free to ignore the commandments, but when the revelations speak in such blunt terms, such as “thou shalt not,” we had better pay attention.

OK, up to this point (and even here) Packer hasn’t mentioned homosexuality at all. In fact, we don’t really *know* to what he has been referring. This allusion ramps the ambiguity up even more. To which “thou shalt not” is he referring?

(Later on, Packer refer to the ills of pornography, so…I guess that whatever he’s speaking about, he’s speaking about issues that affect homosexuals, heterosexuals, and bisexuals.)

One of the most contentious parts (even with editing) of Packer’s talk is:

We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness.”
Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.

Here, it is easy to understand that one of the “counterfeits” for marriage is gay marriage. But the question with the second part is: to what is Packer saying “Not so!”? Is it the idea of a preset, inborn temptation (say, homosexuality) or the idea that one cannot “overcome” such a temptation?

I think that regardless of whether Packere believes that homosexuality is “preset” or “inborn,” the intent of this part is to emphasize that agency means that no matter what the temptation, one can overcome. The subsequent invocation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 supports this interpretation.

This shouldn’t be controversial, once again. Homosexuals can be celibate; they can marry those of the opposite sex. The question is: should they? Is their sexuality a temptation to be overcome?

Packer goes on to speak that moral laws, like physical laws, are not changeable by ballot. Presumably, he is also referring to gay marriage and homosexuality here too.

It’s easy for me to agree with Packer here. Supposing there are moral laws, they aren’t just determinable by a tyranny of the majority.

The issue is: does that mean the church’s current position accurately understands and promulgates moral law? Packer says:

We will hold to the principles and laws and ordinances of the gospel. If they are misunderstood either innocently or willfully, so be it. We cannot change; we will not change the moral standard. We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God.

Is it possible that the church or some leaders may misunderstand the principles and laws and ordinances of the gospel? Is it possible that they may speak with limited understanding? Is it possible the church already has lost its way with respect to gays? Or is that unfeasible?

Packer wraps up his talk by elaborating on the point that “Nowhere are the generosity and the kindness and mercy of God more manifest than in repentance.” This is a fair point…the question is: who must repent of what?

While this talk certainly seems situated in the status quo (it certainly doesn’t imply any “progress” on the church’s view of homosexuality and gay relationships), this talk could conceivably still work for a church that sanctioned certain gay relationships and families. To this extent, I think there can be hope both for those members who believe the current policies toward gay Mormons is spot-on and for those who believe that policy must be changed.

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  1. Fuck Boyd K. Packer. How many times does someone have to make it clear that they hate feminists, fags and eggheads before you get the picture? I pray to God he winds up being the President/Prophet/Grand Poobah of the LDS church, and that Mitt gets the nomination in 2012. It’s about time we had this out. Bring it on.

  2. Which would you rather have happen, CB? That the church eventually changes its position on said feminist, fags and eggheads, or that the church goes up in flames in a shameful bonfire?

  3. And your comment over at Mormon Mentality was precious:

    “I need to wait to see the actual transcript, but from everything I read, I actually am feeling strangely positive about this talk, and it’s because of the vagueness.

    It seems to me that this talk doesn’t have to be about homosexuality *at all*. It could in fact be about, say, the impulse to be unfaithful.

    Now, currently, with the church not supporting gay marriage or even gay relationships, certainly those things would fit the types of immoralities that Packer denounce, BUT if the church were to change positions regarding the sanctioning of some form of gay relationship (Not saying that’s likely or anything…) then NOTHING about this talk — from what I’ve seen summarized — would be invalidated. Still, the standard would be committed marriage with eternal fidelity, as was mentioned earlier.”

    Yeah, where Mormons are concerned, you should probably wait for the official transcript. Because “tendencies” will suddenly become “temptations” and the whole question of why God would wreak such havoc as SSA on His own children will be deleted b/c maybe it wasn’t such a funny punch line.

    It boggles my mind that you waste time defending this SOB.

  4. oh, you’re still on that. OK.

  5. Andrew – We have mutual friends. I’m considerably older than you are. For what it’s worth, this is an honest piece of advice: Don’t spend another second defending this ratfucker. I make an honest living. I suspect that you aspire to do the same. In all seriousness, man to man, WTF has BKP ever accomplished that compares? He’s a POS and you’re better than this.

  6. Let it go up in flames. You’ve got your conference talk from BKP as reference for where the church currently stands. It’s as shitty a stance as it ever was. Do you really hope to move it one way or the other? Fuck it. Burn it down. If you won’t, I will. It’s a goddam embarrassment.

  7. I’m not throwing my lot in with CB ha ha, but I nonetheless think you’re being a tad too charitable to BKP, Andrew.

    I welcome the changes, but I’m not convinced that the changes reflect Packer’s original intent.

    First, if Packer was talking only about behavior, what was all that business about not being “preset” or having “inborn tendencies”? Nobody argues that homosexual behavior is preset or inborn, so if he was addressing behavior, then his point was a straw man.

    Second, Packer has suggested in the past, using very similar language, that homosexual attractions can be overcome. Here is an excerpt of his 1978 BYU talk, “To the One”:

    “And so, now to the subject. To introduce it I must use a word. I will use it one time only. Please notice that I use it as an adjective, not as a noun; I reject it as a noun. I speak to those few, those very few, who may be subject to homosexual temptations. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one.

    Is [homosexual] TENDENCY impossible to change? Is it PRESET at the time of birth and locked in? Do you just have to live with it? …The answer is a conclusive no! It is not like that.”

    He goes on to identify the root cause of homosexuality as selfishness.

    And also around the time of this talk, the LDS Church replaced “homo-sexual behavior” with “homosexuality” in the General Handbook as an excommunicable sin. I suspect Packer had some hand in that change. Thankfully, that policy was very short-lived.

    All that said, I don’t doubt that Packer was involved with the changes; nobody would dare cross him. Perhaps he was just persuaded that this comments needed to be softened for the good of the church. I don’t know.

  8. I hope you’re right though, Andrew. Still, the church needs to come out with an official statement that homosexuality is NOT a choice, only behavior is. It’s unbelievable to me that church leaders have not yet disabused members of the belief that homosexuality is a choice–a belief that is still very popular among Mormons and which does immeasurable harm.

  9. I’m gonna tell you a few stories that I’ve never told anyone online before:

    When I left the Mormon church, my parents didn’t contact me for years. Years that I spent preparing for a graduation in New York that nobody but my girlfriend witnessed. Years that it took until I was married with kids in Taiwan and making enough money so that I could put my folks up at hotels at my expense during my travels and finally get the chance to sit down and talk. And yell. Of course, we get along fine now, but the church you defend, at least in the backwoods I come from, is responsible for some scary-ass shit. It’s not helping, it’s exploiting. My folks are good people, but they’re as gullible as they come. Only thanks to a lot of hard work have they managed to do all right by themselves. And of course they think that paying 10% helped get them there.

    It’s the same church that kept my BYU freshman friend on his mission in Chile with no word that his father had died. Because they didn’t want to ‘bother’ him with the news that Dad died of AIDS. Of course, it had nothing to do with being ashamed to death of the circumstances of Dad’s departure. Goddam Mormon shame.

    And it’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’ve got a sibling who’s lost in what passes for LDS counseling. My gay sibling. Living in Utah. Far and away the most TBM of all of us at this point, Mom and Dad included. Pumping out kids so fast and trying so hard that the prospect of a mid-life crisis scares us all to death.

    And forget about my relationship with Marjorie at BYU. Number One in the US in the 100 and 200 meters (or yards, whatever) in high school. Fucking racist BYU roommates thought that was a hoot.

    Are these challenges/circumstances/situations unique to the LDS church? Of course not. But I happened to grow up Mormon, and all I’ve ever seen, outside of a few roadshow and scripture chase trophies, is a whole lot of grief when it comes to that church.

    And Boyd K. Packer is the worst of the lot. Shunning, homophobia, racism … what societal plagues do Boyd and the Mormons actually help erase? None, as far as I can tell.

    So, keep sending your tweets about how cute it is that FPR and MSP are having a blog war and yuck it up whenever one of us online regulars stumbles.

    It’s all a fucking joke, isn’t it? Or at least fodder for the next blog post. Rock on! Because it couldn’t be that I actually want to take the Grover Norquist approach and reduce Mormonism to such small dimensions that it’ll be easily drowned in the family bathtub. Because that would be plain mean, wouldn’t it?

  10. I just really need to get my internet act together, huh

  11. I really don’t know what your point is. Is it that if you parse the words of this talk in just the right way and start with just the right assumptions and squint a little bit then you can make out something resembling a half decent message? Why do I care?

    Boyd Packer and others like him are the reason why people like my dad absolutely hate homosexuals to the point where it makes him sick to his stomach. I’m not even exaggerating. This talk is horseshit.

  12. you’re right; I didn’t even know what I was doing with this. I was just tired of hearing all the outrage that I forgot that the outrage exists for a completely valid reason.

  13. Boyd Packer and others like him are the reason why people like my dad absolutely hate homosexuals to the point where it makes him sick to his stomach. I’m not even exaggerating. This talk is horseshit.

    When I was younger and my mother held some homophobic ideas, I was mad at her. To blame Mormon leaders would have been to limit the intelligence of my mother as an autonomous individual. No, it was her fault for being ignorant on the topics and feelings that were important to me.

    I now have a better idea of how power works and how it is concentrated in certain individuals and how discourse flows from these individual’s mouths. But the idea that LDS leaders represent the Church rather than control it, per se, seems to still make sense to me. I can see where Andrew is coming from in this post to try to formulate how Packer’s speech could fit at a future date, and I can certainly understand John Gustav-Wrathall’s position that when Packer asks “Why would Heavenly Father do this to anyone?” that he is asking the right question that Mormons need to ask themselves. It’s not my question, but I respect that it’s where Mormons are at right now. And like I suggest here, the Mormon line of questioning is important to us all, even if the only current answer in the faith is an eternal heterogender.

  14. Cleansing the inner vessel is what it is all about and why we are here. WOW

  15. “We’ve always counseled in the Church for our Mexican members to marry Mexicans, our Japanese members to marry Japanese, our Caucasians to marry Caucasians, our Polynesian members to marry Polynesians.” — Boyd K. Packer

    I don’t want this dimwit anywhere near my biracial kids.

  16. psychochemiker permalink

    Gosh Andrew…

    Can I come here and show my mental instability too.
    It seems to be a theme in the comments here…

  17. Tone trolled by an entity calling itself psychochemiker. Lovely.

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