A Note on Akish

July 24, 2015

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve found the exchanges between Philip Jenkins and William Hamblin to be highly entertaining. All along, Jenkins has consistently requested that Hamblin provide evidence that the peoples described in the Book of Mormon actually lived in Precolumbian America. Dr. Jenkins has already responded to Dr. Hamblin’s suggestion that the similar-sounding 7th-century AD Maya inscription (U-Kix) and roughly 1500-2000 BC Jaredite Akish are “as good [a connection] as we can expect to find.  It represents the existence in a Mesoamerican inscription of a Book of Mormon king with broad parallels in name, date, title and function.” (See Hamblin 25: U-Kix/Akish)

Hamblin goes on to explain these “broad parallels”:

1- Chronology: Akish was a Jaredite.  Although there is insufficient data to precisely establish Jaredite chronology, it is clear he lived in the early Preclassic/Formative period (1800 BCE – 400 BCE)

2- Name: Akish is broadly homophonous with U-Kix Kan (phonetically wa-kish, oo-kish, or uh-kish).  (The Kan/Chan suffix means “serpent” and is probably a title.  Maya kings frequently took titles of Kan/Chan/serpent, Balam/jaguar or predatory birds.)  Given the well known phenomena of the change of pronunciation of proper names through time and between cultures, the Maya U-Kish is a close homophonic match to the Book of Mormon Akish some 1500 years earlier. 

3- Title: both men were kings.  

4- Function: both men were founders of a new dynastic line (Ether 9:6).

Dr. Jenkins has already dealt with 1-3, but 4 is just plain wrong. As I’ll explain, in no way can Akish be said to be the founder of a new dynastic line.

Let’s look at what the Book of Mormon tells us. The story is typically convoluted, like the rest of the Book of Mormon, but it goes something like this:

  1. Omer is a righteous king, but his unrighteous son, Jared, overthrows Omer and imprisons him. (Ether 8:2-4)
  2. Jared is then defeated by his brothers, and Omer regains the throne, but spares Jared’s life. (Ether 8:6)
  3. Jared’s daughter is angry, so she “dances before [Jared] that she pleased him” and Jared promises Akish his daughter’s hand in marriage in exchange for Akish bringing him the head of King Omer (sound vaguely familiar?).
  4. Omer, warned in a dream, flees with his supporters, and Jared becomes the king. (Ether 8:9-14;9:1-4)
  5. Akish then murders Jared and takes the kingdom for himself. (Ether 9:5-6)
  6. Akish’s sons then try to overthrow him, and they fight it out for many years, until there are only 30 people left, plus those who fled with Omer. (Ether 9:7-12)
  7. Omer is then returned to his throne, and in his old age, he passes the kingdom to his son, Emer, who is first in a succession of righteous kings. (Ether 9:13ff)

So, in short, Akish’s dynastic line consists of only Akish himself, and the original (Omeric, we might say) dynastic line is restored. Thus, not only is Hamblin playing fast and loose with real archaeology, but he’s misleading Jenkins and other readers about what the text of the Book of Mormon actually says. He probably thinks he can get away with this because Jenkins won’t read a damn thing!

Vintage Runtu: FARMS and Fast Food

July 24, 2015

The increasingly hilarious exchange between Baylor History Professor Philip Jenkins and BYU Professor William Hamblin reminded me of something I wrote a number of years ago. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find it. Hope you enjoy it.

FARMS and Fast Food

Although Daniel Midgley-Welch is well-known in apologetic circles, most people are unaware of his prior career as cashier/fry cook in a local Burger King. Our researchers have transcribed the audio from a surviving security video to give an exciting glimpse of his young mind at work.

DMW: Welcome to Burger King. May I help you?

Patron: Uh, I’m not sure what I want. I’ve never been here before.

DMW: Just take your time. Look over the menu, study it out, and perhaps pray for guidance.

Patron: What?

DMW: Oh, never mind. We have a lot to choose from.

Patron: What’s this Big King sandwich?

DMW: It’s two beef patties, our secret sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.

Patron: Sounds just like a Big Mac.

DMW: Clearly you’re not familiar with the work of Corey Pants, who showed in his survey that the Big King cannot be derived from a Big Mac. No, it has its roots in an ancient Sumerian sandwich, which not coincidentally used the same sort of wrapper we use. Of course, it was made of papyrus. Really, you should keep up with the research.

Patron: What about the BK Fish Sandwich? Is that like a filet o’ fish?

DMW: Look, you don’t need to get belligerent. That question was answered in the 1960s by our respected ichthyologist, Drew Squibley. Don’t even bring up the filet o’ fish until you’ve read Squibley. It makes you look foolish.

Patron: Look, I just want something to eat. What do you recommend?

DMW: I’m not going to do your research for you. If you want me to give you a list of articles, fine. But I don’t have time to bring you up to speed if you’re not willing to put in minimal effort.

Patron: Are your fries any good? I heard you changed your recipe back in the 90s.

DMW: That’s an anti-Burger King lie. They have never changed. Our fries are unlike any others in the world.

Patron: They’re just fried potatoes, like everyone else’s.

DMW: Silly boy. We invented fries.

Patron: That’s ridiculous. If Burger King invented fries, I’d like to see some conclusive evidence for that.

DMW: What kind of evidence are you looking for?

Patron: I don’t know. Wrappers, something in print, anything that mentions Burger King as inventing the fry.

DMW: You are so ignorant, aren’t you? Why would you expect that kind of evidence?

Patron: Well, if a large corporation had developed such a product a long time ago, you’d expect it to leave some trace of its actual occurrence.

DMW: Obviously, you’ve never heard of the Limited Potato Theory. Burger King in those days did not start within a vacuum. There were thousands of other fast-food businesses surrounding it, and it was merely absorbed into the larger economy. In fact, Burger King was so good at hiding its impact, that we really have no evidence that it even existed, but we know it did; otherwise, how do you explain the existence of french fries? Did Burger King just make a good guess?

Patron: Can’t I just get something to eat? I just want to know what you have that’s good.

DMW: Jeez, you’re a real fundamentalist. Really, how do you expect anyone to take you seriously if you use such outdated Enlightenment terminology, such as “good”? You’re never going to survive unless you take a more postmodern approach to the world.

Patron: I think I’m going to go over to In-N-Out instead.

DMW: Oh, sure. Ignore the evidence. Just stick your head in the sand and cling to your predetermined beliefs.

Manager: Did we lose another customer?

DMW: Yeah, boss. For some reason, people don’t seem to be interested in the truth.

Manager: Losers.

Boyd K. Packer’s Prophetic Voice

July 20, 2015

I’ve been reading the predictable backlash against Kate Kelly’s recent op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune:

Kate Kelly: If staying in LDS Church doesn’t ‘spark joy,’ it’s OK to leave

Most people would agree that it’s OK to leave an organization that doesn’t bring you joy or happiness, but a number of Mormons have responded that Ms. Kelly is “encouraging others to leave the LDS church.” Some representative comments from an LDS message board:

“Here she both A) signals that she is backing off on her previous stance in encouraging others to stay in the Church, and B) slandering the Church is being an entity’that doesn’t value (women) as equals.'”

“People have their agency to do what makes them “happy, but people who are young in the gospel or their testimony of the gospel are like children who might be easily swayed out of a path that could have led them to eternal joy. In my opinion Kate Kelly is like the pied piper leading the children away from their families into the secular world.”

“Ms. Kate has burned up her fifteen minutes of fame and she has long since become a tinkling cymbal in the ‘way back’ of LDS conversation. I see nothing new or surprising in her current position. I agree with jkwilliams; KK has been fooling herself and fooling others from the beginning. I have never appreciated her approach or her position. She always represented the example of an individual that has gained a little bit of learning, inflating her ego, and without any wisdom. She has never understood the value of a wife and mother because she has always demeaned them. Likewise, she has never understood the value of man as father and husband.”

(Note: The jkwilliams referred to above is me. What I said is that I think anyone who believes they can change the LDS church from within is fooling themselves. Change always comes from the top down in the LDS church, at least from that I can see. I did not, however, say she was fooling others.)

As I said, I’m not surprised by the response, and I’m not quoting these folks because I think they’re bad people. Rather, these responses show that many people within the LDS church see Kate Kelly as being in opposition to the church and, by extension, to God. Some even believe she was trying to tear down the church and lead people astray from the beginning. I don’t think so, and I think her recent statements reflect a reassessment of her feelings and opinions after being excommunicated from the church. Being outside the church does change your perspective, and sometimes you see things more clearly. I did, anyway.

But reading the reactions of some Mormons got me thinking that the LDS church has taken a few hits recently. First, the gay-rights movement, and in particular the aftermath of the Proposition 8 campaign in California, has cast the church in a negative light for a lot of people.

Second, Mormon feminists, such as Kate Kelly, have highlighted the church’s patriarchal structure and traditional views of women’s roles. I had coworkers here in Virginia tell me they were following the Ordain Women movement with interest, even though they had previously known almost nothing about Mormonism and had never paid any attention to it.

Last, the explosion of information about church history and doctrines, made widely available through the Internet, has caused a lot of trauma and doubt among Mormons who had never had any reason to question their beliefs. And then it hit me: we are seeing pretty much what Boyd K. Packer told us was coming way back in 1993:

The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.

He went on to say that the only safe path in the face of these dangers is in following the brethren:

We face invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before. There is the need now to be united with everyone facing the same way. Then the sunlight of truth, coming over our shoulders, will mark the path ahead. If we perchance turn the wrong way, we will shade our eyes from that light and we will fail in our ministries.

It’s clear to me that a lot of people are turning around and “facing the wrong way” these days. But I do not think these three “dangers” are the reason. People follow leaders and institutions they trust. We know who is being honest and truthful with us, and we also know who has our best interests at heart. In my opinion, the reason people are either leaving the church or pushing for change from within is that the church hasn’t always been honest and truthful and hasn’t always looked out for members’ best interests. I’ve written before about the efforts in the 1970s under Church Historian Leonard Arrington to be more open, honest, and realistic about church history, only to be shut down by, among others, Boyd K. Packer (see “Does the LDS Church Hide Its History?“). The leadership of the church made a conscious decision to present a sanitized version of Church history to the membership. Packer explained at the time:

Church history can he so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer. … There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher Of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful. There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher Of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. … In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. There is a war going on and we are engaged in it. It is the war between good and evil, and we are belligerents defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give preference to and protect all that is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have made covenants to do it.

Because the goal was to “give preference to and protect” the church rather than to provide the whole truth, members of the LDS church were taught what I call a “Disneyfied” version of church history and doctrinal origins. Such an approach may have been sustainable in 1980, when one needed to seek out historical materials to get a good idea of Mormon origins, but it is untenable today, when information is a Google search away. In short, members haven’t begun “facing the wrong way” because of these three dangerous movements but because they have lost trust in the leadership of the church. An LDS friend recently wrote me:

I think everyone is shell shocked when they realize that what we were told as youth and missionaries about the church wasn’t 100% true (multiple accounts of the First Vision, Book of Abraham, the Urim and Thummim was likely just a rock in a hat, blacks and the priesthood was racism, prophets cannot make mistakes and are always inspired, the church spent billions of dollars on City Creek, the church has whitewashed the negative parts of their history, Joseph Smith fancied young women and married women and wasn’t honest with his wife – or anyone else for that matter about it, etc, etc, etc).  I have just come to accept that the church is not what I thought it was, and try to accept how it has helped me and try not to think too much more about it.  I am by no means trying to condemn you or even pass judgment.  I am simply saying I understand where you are coming from.  So please just know I understand where you are coming from, appreciate it, and think its amazing that you have found a middle ground with your family.  I just wanted to acknowledge that I know where you are in terms of your beliefs, and I understand it.  I have had my trials of faith, and in many ways you have handled it better than I have.  I just sit quietly, play nice, and go along to keep peace in my home.  I only want to put that out there so you are aware that I know where you are.

I understand that the church is attempting to address this lack of trust through publishing its doctrinal essays, but even those shade the truth far too much, in my view. I wonder if it’s too little, too late, and not honest enough. If otherwise faithful members are just sitting quietly and playing nice, I think it probably is.

Cheryl Bruno Hits One out of the Park

July 17, 2015

I just finished reading a very impressive review from Cheryl Bruno of Brian and Laura Hales’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.

Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for the Unsettled Latter-day Saint

She’s absolutely right: the problem is that the Haleses superimpose 20th-century LDS understandings on 19th-century evidence. Thus, what doesn’t work with a modern understanding is minimized or ignored. It’s the same reaction I had when I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Interesting, sure, but hampered by a need to put everything into a Marxist dialectic. 

The Hales book is an excellent example of Hayden White’s argument:

Before the historian can bring to bear upon the data of the historical field the conceptual apparatus he will use to represent and explain it, he must first prefigure the field–that is to say, constitute it as an object of mental perception. This poetic act is indistinguishable from the linguistic act in which the field is made ready for interpretation as a domain of a particular kind.

The Haleses have prefigured the field of study as correlated history, which severely constrains the “object of mental perception.” For my money, Emma Smith: Mormon Enigma and In Sacred Loneliness are far more useful in giving a “better understanding” of Mormon polygamy. But as Ms. Bruno suggests, the Haleses seem more interested in a reconstruction that comforts Mormons who are troubled by the history.

More Stupid Apologist Tricks: The Nahom Maps

July 16, 2015

I know, I’ve been trying to scale back on Mormon-related posts, but this week I stumbled across something that I couldn’t pass up. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been fascinated by the ongoing discussion between Baylor History Professor Philip Jenkins and retired BYU History Professor William Hamblin on their respective blogs, Anxious Bench and Enigmatic Mirror.

In May of this year (2015), Dr. Jenkins posted a series of articles about the proper use of evidence in historical research, beginning with “I Want to Believe,” which discussed a book called The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’s Marriage to Mary the Magdalene. He posted without much notice from Mormons for a few weeks, and then he made a fateful decision.

On May 17, Jenkins chose to provide a sort of object lesson in how pseudoscience is done in “Mormons and New World History.” He wrote:

I have a lot of sympathy for Mormonism and the LDS tradition, for multiple reasons. So many of their ideas and principles appeal to me, and my personal dealings with Mormons have been overwhelmingly positive. The church’s phenomenal social ministries fill me with awe. As to whether the church was founded by an authentic prophet: with all humility, I say, God knows. On the academic side of things, if you don’t know Mormon history, you are missing a huge amount of American religious history. If a member of my family announced an intention to join the LDS church, I would disagree with their decision, but I would wish them all success.

But here’s the problem. If I look at the Book of Mormon as a historical text, as opposed to a spiritual document, it is simply not factually correct in any particular. In some controversial exchanges, I have been surprised to find how many clearly educated and literate Mormons think that the work can be defended as a work of history and archaeology. It can’t. The reason mainstream historians and scholars do not point out that fact more often is either that they are unaware of the book’s claims, or that they simply see no need to waste time on something so blatantly fictitious. This really is not debatable.

This kind of sweeping assertion would not go unanswered by Mormon apologists, even though Jenkins outlined quite clearly why he believes there is no positive evidence for the Book of Mormon as an ancient American document, at least no evidence that meets the requirements of legitimate scholarship (he’s right, I shouldn’t have to add).

Professor Hamblin responded within a day with “Philip Jenkins on Book of Mormon Historicity,” asserting that Jenkins was “seriously mistaken and uninformed on a number of issues.  (My suspicion is that his LDS informants were of the liberal persuasion.)” OK, the line about liberals made me laugh.

Since then, the two esteemed professors have been engaged in a debate of sorts about Book of Mormon evidence. Although some Mormons have complained about Jenkins’s lighthearted and sometimes sarcastic tone, he has consistently made the same request of Mormon apologists: Provide some solid, compelling evidence:

I offer a question. Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.

Or, to reframe the question. Does the Book of Mormon contain a statement or idea about the New World that Joseph Smith could not have known at the time, but which has subsequently been validated by archaeological or historical research?

I’ll spare you the play-by-play action. Suffice it to say that no such “credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World” has been presented. That said, several respondents brought up the “Nahom” inscription, with Pedro Olivarria especially taking Jenkins to task for ignoring the real evidence and creating a strawman.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Book of Mormon, the first book, 1 Nephi, tells of a man named Lehi and his family, who were commanded by God to leave Jerusalem around 600 BC. Lehi is said to have begun his journey “by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 2:5). They continued, “following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 16:14) until the death of one of their party, Ishmael: “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom (1 Nephi 16:34). Nephi then tells us, “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Nephi 17:1). 

And we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.

And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey; and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters. (1 Nephi 17:4-5.)

This is important because we have an actual place name. Going by the text of 1 Nephi, we should expect to find a place called Nahom (or some variation of that) near the Red Sea, on the southwest side of the Arabian Peninsula; traveling east, we should then find a spot on the shore of the Arabian Sea where there is “bountiful” fruit and honey.

And, lo and behold, there is such a place. I’ll let the folks at FAIRMormon explain the find:

In one instance, however, Nephi does preserve a local name, that of Nahom, the burial place of Ishmael, his father-in-law. Nephi writes in the passive, “the place which was called Nahom,” clearly indicating that local people had already named the place. That this area lay in southern Arabia has been certified by recent Journal publications that have featured three inscribed limestone altars discovered by a German archaeological team in the ruined temple of Bar’an in Marib, Yemen. Here a person finds the tribal name NHM noted on all three altars, which were donated by a certain “Bicathar, son of Sawâd, son of Nawcân, the Nihmite.” (In Semitic languages, one deals with consonants rather than vowels, in this case NHM.)

Such discoveries demonstrate as firmly as possible by archaeological means the existence of the tribal name NHM in that part of Arabia in the seventh and sixth centuries BC, the general dates assigned to the carving of the altars by the excavators. In the view of one recent commentator, the discovery of the altars amounts to “the first actual archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.”

Turning east from Marib, Yemen, one eventually ends up at the fertile seashore of Oman and Yemen, close matches, we are told, for “Bountiful.”


How could Joseph Smith have known all this information? Only through revelation from God. It’s not as if a name approximating Nahom was on any maps of the Arabian Peninsula that were used in Joseph Smith’s day.

Oh, right, it was. This is from an 1811 map made by one John Cary, published in London.

I had read about this in the past, with apologists talking mostly about French and German maps, but somehow I’d missed James Gee’s 2008 article, “The Nahom Maps.” Gee tells us that the place name “Nehem” appears on 10 different maps published in the years leading up to the publication of the Book of Mormon; 6 of these maps were published in English. Oddly enough, Nehem first appears in a French map in 1751 and then no longer appears after 1814. To most people, the appearance of the name suggests an obvious reliance on contemporary maps. But not to Mormon apologists. Gee concludes:

Of course, not all maps of Arabia between the years 1751 and 1814 recorded the location of Nahom. In fact, it is generally found only on the finest and most expensive maps created by the best cartographers and published by the finest printers. In my searches I found countless maps of Arabia with no reference to Nahom or anything like it. Thus, it is somewhat amazing that the first modern map of the Arabian Peninsula, created by D’Anville in 1751, did record the location of this often ignored or unrecognized district. Furthermore, that same map inspired the Danes to send an expedition to the region to fill in the missing information, and the only survivor was the cartographer, Carsten Niebuhr. Not only did he engrave a place called Nahom on his map but he also gave us more details of the area in his journal. These two maps and the ones that followed all give testimony to Lehi’s epic journey almost two thousand years earlier.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry here.

The FAIRMormon response isn’t much better. Acknowledging that the library at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, had copies of two of these maps in 1830, FAIR tells us nevertheless that the maps were too far away (320 miles) from Joseph Smith’s location to have been the source. Of course, they assume that the place name was inserted while Joseph was at work “translating” in 1829-30. I’m not sure that’s warranted. It’s well-known that Hyrum Smith attended Moor’s Charity School at Dartmouth college between the ages of 12 and 13, so one possibility is that Hyrum had seen the maps. A more intriguing possibility arises when you realize that Meadville, Pennsylvania, is only 75 miles from Mentor, Ohio, where Sidney Rigdon was leading his Campbellite congregation. I’m just throwing those out there, not making a case.

Suffice it to say that the appearance of a place name in the right place on a single contemporary map, let alone 10 maps, is enough to reach pretty solid conclusions.

The apologetic response is predictable but stunningly silly. I’ll explain with an analogy.

Imagine that I discovered a novel written in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1977, which mentions a place south of San Francisco called “Siliconville,” a growing center of technology development. I could easily (and probably correctly) assume this is a reference to “Silicon Valley,” a phrase coined in 1971 but not widely used until the early 1980s. I could show where Silicon Valley is on the map and why it was called that. There are multiple points of convergence, as it were, between the two similarly named places. The conclusion ought to be pretty straightforward. But then I learn that the author of the novel claims it is a true story that was dictated to her by a time-traveling alien. She tells me that Silicon Valley was not a widely known term in 1977, and she had no access to maps, technology magazines, or any other sources where the term might have been used. That it was used elsewhere starting in 1971 doesn’t suggest she got it from a contemporary source but “gives testimony” that she was right about the existence of Silicon Valley in 1977. No one would accept such ridiculous logic.

Apparently, some people would.

The Moral Intuition of Children

July 7, 2015

So, I was reading a blog post from a conservative who is quite upset about the Obergefell decision and who linked to a few articles from likeminded citizens. One piece, from Hunter Baker, “Erickson, Sullivan, and What ‘Bigots’ Deserve,” stood out to me for its egregiously bad logic:

I think one way I could try to defend opponents of gay marriage from charges of rank bigotry is to examine the moral intuitions of children. In the course of raising mine, I have noticed that they had no underlying matrix of reason by which to understand racism. When they were a little younger, they never talked about a child as being black or white. The racial awareness simply wasn’t there. If I heard them telling a story about a classmate and wanted to know more about the child, I would ask them to describe the child. They would then include a description which might include something like light skin or dark skin, straight or curly hair, tall or short, etc. The implication is that bigotry must be cultivated.

Same-sex marriage is susceptible to a similar analysis. Because of a situation in our extended family, my children became aware of a man who wanted to be with other men instead of women. They simply did not understand why a man would want to share romantic love with another man. The idea violated their concept of what a man is. A man shares romantic/marital love with women rather than men. I learned this about their reasoning before I ever tried to explain things to them or to help them understand it. Just as a child’s natural understanding tilts away from racism, I would suggest that it tilts toward a complementary view of the sexes. In other words, men go with women and women go with men. Just as bigotry must be cultivated, so, too, must the appreciation of same sex pairings. In other words, bigotry is the result of intentional cultural work and so is the appreciation of same sex pairs. Neither is a natural understanding from the child’s point of view. (Please understand that I am not morally equating bigotry with cultural advocacy of gay acceptance. That is not the point.)

Let me see if I have this straight (no pun intended):

  1. Kids have to be taught to distinguish races and have bigoted attitudes toward them.
  2. Kids “naturally” understand that same-sex couples can’t or shouldn’t “share romantic/marital love.”

So, I’m sure Mr. Baker would agree that children raised by a same-sex couple would “naturally” be puzzled at the notion that two men could share love and would feel that such love “violated their concept of what a man is.” At the same time, I’m sure he’d also agree that someone raised by members of the Klan would be just as devoid of “racial awareness” as his kids are.

It wouldn’t occur to him that his children don’t see their friends in racial terms because they weren’t taught to see them that way, or that children raised in a conservative religious environment are not free of “intentional cultural work.”

Honestly, do such folks think before typing?

Guest Post: A Particularly Aggressive Apostle

July 7, 2015

I have received many thoughtful responses to my post about Boyd K. Packer. I thought this one from “Laozi” was worth sharing, so with his permission, here it is.

I generally agree with your position that Packer was in harmony with the rest of the Q15, but I wouldn’t want to paper over the very deep rifts between the brethren, the fact that there are differences and that apostles often get angry at each other and at pushing things too far. McConkie’s views were unpopular and disavowed, Benson’s 14 points were disavowed, Kimball’s Lamanite programs were quickly trashed. . . Individuals do in fact represent different strains of Mormonism. I agree that some of the apostles, including Kimball and Peterson, shared Packer’s views on sexuality and were equally reprehensible. But I I doubt you’d ever find McKay saying those things, or Brown, or Uchtdorf. The fact is that sometimes a particularly aggressive apostle takes the reins and drives the church a bit further towards his preferred position—notice Ballard’s role in the recent excommunications, also in Prop 8. So individuals matter.

That is one of my two points. First, that Packer was among the most aggressive in condemning human sexuality, perhaps equaled only by Kimball. In that sense he, too, was an evil men. Their volume, their stridency, was not praiseworthy since it served that evil. Goebbels should not be praised for his commitment to sharing his message loudly, clearly, and unequivocally. He was in fact MORE evil because he was more effective at advancing an evil cause. Second, I consider anything that exonerates the individual from responsibility for his own actions dangerous (and in fact ultimately totalitarian). I prefer something like the legal concept of “joint and several responsibility.” Yes the joint enterprise, Mormonism, is culpable and deserves punishment. But so too is each and every person who promotes that agenda both generally and “severally,” for whatever unique additions he contributes to the mix. Packard should, from my vantage, be viewed as what he was, to a certain extent a reflection of an immoral and harmful organization; but simultaneously as an individual who chose to say things more brutally and in more open and influential fora (Aaronic Priesthood, for heaven’s sake?) than the vast majority of his contemporaries. His charge was ideological enforcement, not chastity. His Little Factory speech, that instance of mass torture, was avocational, voluntary.

So yes, I find him particularly invidious, particularly guilty. He has more blood on his hands than do most of the other apostles and prophets. Forgiveness? Sure we all need to achieve that. But we don’t need to let the particularly nasty people off the hook. I don’t think real forgiveness (meaning primarily peace and harmony within the victim) is possible until we have come to terms with who the various abusers were and how much responsibility they each bore. I guess in this sense I’m like the post-Haulocst Jews: never forget. Never forget the movement, and never forget the individuals who willingly served as cogs in the machine. Peace comes after a full and frank appreciation, after we have told our story and warned humanity (or our community) to recognize Packer when he next arises.

My response:

I can’t argue with you. I know from my experience at the COB that there are deep rifts within the highest quorums of the church, and Packer definitely represents an extremely strident faction. So, no, I wasn’t trying to excuse him as merely symptomatic. What concerns me is this notion some people have that, “Now that Packer’s gone, the church will be more tolerant and accepting, etc.” It’s as if Packer was a symbol (an apt one, IMO) of all that’s wrong in the church, but that now that he’s gone, we’ll have a church more like Dieter Uchtdorf. That’s not how it works. The church might be a little more diplomatic than Packer, but nothing’s going to change, particularly if they keep choosing bland corporate types for leadership positions. 

As for forgiveness, I probably should have emphasized more that, with Packer’s passing, we need to rid ourselves of the legacy of guilt and shame he and others left us with; in short, we need to forgive ourselves.

Boyd K. Packer

July 6, 2015

As pretty much all of my Mormon and former-Mormon readers will know by now, Boyd Kenneth Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died on Friday, July 3, at the age of 90. I haven’t been surprised at all at the reactions from different camps. A great deal of vitriol has been heaped on his corpse in the last few days (my personal favorite: “Rot in hell, you bloated toad”), and, of course, the faithful mourn the passing of a great man who loved God and painted in his spare time (M. Russell Ballard said, “He was truly an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, he represented the Savior of the world”).

So, what was he: the Savior’s representative, or a vicious old toad? Quite clearly, how we see his life and legacy depends entirely on how we view the church he served for so long. Much has been said about Packer’s role in the September Six affair in 1993, his apparent preference for faith-promoting history over things “that are true [but] not very useful,” and his retrograde attitudes towards sexuality and, in particular, homosexuality. He clearly was a lightning rod who did not shy away from controversy. As Dallin Oaks said of him, “You can’t stage-manage a grizzly bear.”

I had only a few minor brushes with the man. Like all Mormon boys of my generation, I was well-acquainted with his talk, “To Young Men Only,” which, although it spawned countless jokes about “little factories,” made it clear to me that masturbation was a terrible evil, so I vowed to stop, and was quite successful (so much so that my urologist tells me that certain health issues I have had are a direct result of my not “stimulating my little factory”). I learned from Elder Packer that it wasn’t enough not to masturbate, but I was to control my thoughts with such vigilance that I would never allow my mind to wander to anything lustful. More than anything, this teaching is what filled my young mind with shame and guilt, which would remain for many years.

My first real-life brush with President Packer came in December 1983, a couple of weeks after I received my mission call. My birthday is in November, so I had agonized over whether I should squeeze in another semester of college before leaving or enter the MTC right when I turned 19. I finally decided to go back to school, which meant delaying my mission for a couple of months. When my roommate and I heard then-Elder Packer was coming to Provo to give a “missionary fireside,” we were excited, and we arrived early at the Provo Tabernacle to get good seats. Elder Packer spoke about how selfish it is to delay a mission for any reason, such as education or finances. I sat there, slowly shrinking in my seat, burning with shame for having acted so selfishly. Had I been more faithful, I thought, I would have been in the MTC at that very moment, instead of feeling all that guilt. After the meeting, my roommate insisted that we get in line to shake Elder Packer’s hand. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to look him in the eye, knowing I had shirked my duty and that he knew. As we got closer to him, the shame kept on building. Eventually, he put out his hand and shook mine. He looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you going to serve a mission, young man?” I told him I had already received my mission call and would be leaving for Bolivia in a few weeks. He patted my hand, smiled, and said, “Well, that’s just fine.” I was so relieved. Clearly, I had been forgiven, but I vowed I would never again put my own needs ahead of the Lord’s.

The next time I came across President Packer in person was in 1993, when I was working at the Church Office Building. Our editing staff had been invited to the All-Church Coordinating Council, which was a meeting of everyone in management in the building. We met in the auditorium, and we heard from M. Russell Ballard, President Packer, and finally, President Thomas Monson. I don’t remember Elder Ballard’s talk at all, but I do have a vivid memory of President Monson glaring at us over glasses he’d borrowed from Neal Maxwell, berating us for our poor efforts to spread the gospel message. But everyone else remembers President Packer’s talk, now (in)famous for his belief that the church faced three great dangers: “the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” What struck me at the time was less his calling out of people who were “facing the wrong way,” but more that he read letters from members who were obviously distraught, yet his tone was disdainful and even mocking (the official transcript does not include the laughter he elicited at the letter-writers’ expense). I found the whole thing deeply troubling, and I remember thinking, as the auditorium rang with raucous laughter, “This is not a man of God.” I felt terribly guilty for thinking that, but I couldn’t shake it.

The last encounter I had with him was in 1996, when I attended the dedication of the Mt. Timpanogos Temple in American Fork, Utah. Our bishopric had received tickets to the celestial room, meaning that we would be in the same room as the prophet (Gordon B. Hinckley) when he spoke and offered the dedicatory prayer. At the time, we had 5 small children, and although we had tried to get out of the house early, we didn’t arrive until about 15 minutes before the meeting would begin. To our surprise, the room had been filled from the back, going forward, meaning that our bishop, who had arrived 4 hours early, was seated in the very back row. My wife and I, on the other hand, were in the second row, with only the secretary to the Quorum of Seventy and his wife sitting in the row ahead of us (I knew him from my days at the Church Office Building). Only a couple of things stand out to me: first was President Hinckley saying, as near as I can remember it, “That you are here means that you are the best people in the world, that is, if you were honest in your worthiness interviews.” I remember digging through my brain, trying to find some failing I’d missed, but I ended up feeling pretty good about myself. President Packer was to lead the “Hosanna Shout,” which is the point during the dedication when everyone stands, waves a white handkerchief in the air, and shouts, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna, to God and the Lamb!” three times, followed by, “Amen, Amen, and Amen!” He gave us some background history, and then led the shout. I thought he seemed bored in his matter-of-fact recitation of the “shout,” which was more of a low-key chant than anything. I’m guessing he was aiming at solemn dignity, but it sounded mechanical and uninspiring to me. I thought maybe I just wasn’t in tune with the Spirit.

And that’s pretty much it. I didn’t know the man and certainly didn’t know his heart. Part of me admires his dedication to the LDS church. His entire adult life was spent serving the church in one way or another. After a career in the Church Education System (mostly as an administrator), he was called into full-time church service as an Assistant to the Twelve when he was only 37 years old. Eight years later he was called as an apostle, so more than half his life was spent as a full-time church leader, with almost exactly half his life as an apostle. Anyone who saw him the last few years knows he was in very poor health, and yet he still served his church to the best of his ability. He was, by all accounts, a dedicated and loving husband and father to 10 children, and despite what some have said, it seems to me that he lived a fairly modest lifestyle.

At the same time, I completely understand why so many people disliked the man, maybe even hated him (for the record, I have trouble mustering hatred for anyone, so I don’t). His teachings, regardless of their intention, put me and many others through a great deal of unnecessary guilt and shame. A friend tells me that Packer’s teachings about masturbation drove him to attempt suicide at age 45. I know a lot of gay and bisexual members (and their spouses) who have suffered so much because of his condemnation of them. Am I angry? Do I blame him for putting people through all that? It would be easy to do so, but I don’t blame him, at least not entirely and not specifically him.. He was simply expressing what everyone in LDS culture knew about sexuality: outside of marriage, it was not to be expressed or even thought of. I’m sure he believed that as fervently as I did, so I can’t blame him for saying what I probably would have said had I been in his position. Did those teachings mess me up? Undoubtedly, but, whatever I experienced, those teachings didn’t originate with him, and they were expressed just as forcefully by others, such as Spencer W. Kimball.

It’s also easy to single him out for his role in quieting dissent and keeping a lid on those aspects of church history that are “not uplifting.” But again, he was merely giving voice to certain strains within the church as an institution. Alone, he could not possibly have orchestrated the excommunication of six very different personalities; the September Six happened because that’s where the church was in 1993. That the institution’s goals coincided with his beliefs is more a problem with the institution. Packer made an easy target, perhaps because people wanted to see him as an aberration, an outlier, so they could distance the church from its actions.

I suspect he recognized his role as lightning rod. He took it upon himself to attract the attention and vitriol of those who would otherwise understand that his “controversial” statements were simply restatements of what the church was already doing. Some might call that courageous, but I think he probably enjoyed it.

In the end, Boyd Kenneth Packer was just like the rest of us: complex, a mass of contradictions, and utterly human. May he rest in peace. And may all those who suffered shame and guilt because of his words find forgiveness–both for themselves, and for him.