Guest Post: A Particularly Aggressive Apostle

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.

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14 Responses to Guest Post: A Particularly Aggressive Apostle

  1. Hank says:

    So, deep rifts among the big shots, that’s cool, but if I, as a high councilor (say…I’m not and never have been, nor never will be), don’t fall 115% immediately in line with the Stake President, I’m steadying the ark and lack faith? The Brethren get to be fully human, with all the normal human differences, opinions and emotions, but the rest of us just have to freaking deal?

    And then they contort themselves to maintain the illusion that they’re comprehensively in agreement with each other on every jot and tittle? How is that not obviously hypocrisy? Special Witnesses of Christ get to say, effectively, “Do as we say, not as we do” but no one else in the church gets that same relief valve.

    That is corrupt.

    Enough.

    • runtu says:

      My understanding is that they never do anything as a body unless they have reached consensus, meaning that what usually comes out from the whole 12/15 is pretty bland. At the same time, I do think the apostles are expected to fall in line with the prophet; if the prophet doesn’t want, say, harsh anti-gay rhetoric, the apostle will respect that. My point all along is that, whatever you think of Packer, what he wrote and said went out with the approval of the prophet and the correlation folks. He was no outlier, and the church isn’t suddenly going to become more tolerant and accepting now that he’s gone.

    • Laozi says:

      Generally agree with Runtu. But there are other dynamics. You’ll recall that McKay wanted to do away with the priesthood ban in the 1960s but was blocked by Harold Lee and one or two others. The need for consensus meant that the Q15 could not change that fundamental policy for many years; and even then they had, as a compromise with the hardliners, to issue a condemnation of interracial dating and marriage because, you know, race still matters.

      Also, there are times when individual apostles can push the church into a new position. McConkie published his book without church approval, was criticized for it, and then ultimately received permission to keep publishing it. He singlehandedly changed Mormon doctrine.

      My understanding of Prop 8 is that while the church under Hinckley had always been anti-homosexual, it was in Hawaii and elsewhere very careful not to take a public stance and not to offend people within the church. That changed when Prop 8 came along. The usual low-key approach was what everyone assumed, but then Ballard and a couple of others went public, organized the local leadership to get the “grass roots” campaign going. I’m told that some of the apostles were deeply upset that Ballard had pushed them into the open. But having been put in the public eye, the church could not back down.

      Remember Ballard and Clayton’s tv interview, in which Ballard said about Prop 8 “when something needs to be done, we get it done.” You see the same thing with the recent excommunications. Ballard and his minion, Clayton, travel to Kate Kelly’s and John Dehlin’s stakes and voila, they are excommunicated.

      My point is that yes, the Q15 works on consensus. But individual apostles do have the power to push the entire quorum into new directions if they are sufficiently cynical and manipulative.

  2. CAB says:

    I have to disagree. Kimball was nowhere near as strident and hateful in his condemnation of Gays and sexual behavior as was Packer. The Miracle of Forgiveness was a miracle of wrongheadedness and guilt inducement, yes, but Kimball was overall a far more compassionate man and a decent human being pressed into a job he did not want. (I knew his youngest son and his wife, so I have a different view on him and his family than most Mormons or former Mormons might.)

    Packer enjoyed power. Also, Packer was ill-disposed not only to Gays, but to intellectuals, single mothers and Feminists. Really, anybody who asked questions or did not toe the party line. (“Some truths are not useful.”) Do you remember his “greatest threats to the church today”? A few years back he brought up that list at every public opportunity. Frankly, I think he may have hated women almost as much as he hated Gays. He was fond of writing about women and the priesthood with the usual results.

    Both of those men I saw and heard speak at various times. I think my favorite Kimball talk was “Don’t Shoot the Little Birds,” which was quickly repressed and explained away by the PR Dept when the gun lobby protested. (“No, no. he does not mean that you should not hunt for sport.” Although that is exactly what he meant.)

    The last time I saw Packer in the flesh was when he spoke at a stake conference. He rambled and insulted and generally gave an excellent impression of an old, angry, hateful man who held his audience in contempt. I was still LDS at the time, and found him and his talk disturbing, not inspiring.

    How Mormons can now champion him is a marvel of seeing and believing whatever supports their agenda.

    I was a faithful 6th generation Mormon for almost 50 years, am now 65, so I have a different perspective on these people and how the church has evolved over the decades than most current observers of and writers about the church (with the exception of people like Daniel Peterson–I went to BYU with him). David O. McKay was the president when I was a child. I remember him quite clearly. I was a “Mormon Intellectual” for many of those years, presenting at Sunstone, on the board of the Mormon Women’s Forum, etc. I also held many teaching and leadership positions. I observed and studied the church closely, largely because of my OCD personality, but also because so much of the church troubled me from a young age. Although I loved the church, for too long things just did not add up, until finally, they did. And I had to leave.

    Mormons can tell me that I don’t know what I am talking about, but their prejudices blind them to uncomfortable realities. I try to not hold that against them–I was one of them not so long ago.

    Boyd K. Packer prided himself on his self-assigned position of defender of the faith. I think he would have been quite comfortable with a position of authority in the Spanish Inquisition.

    • runtu says:

      As I said, I very much agree that he enjoyed being the lightning rod. I have mixed feelings about Kimball. A gentle man in many respects, but absolutely awful on sexual issues.

    • Laozi says:

      Thanks for a well-reasoned, well-informed post.

      While I agree that Packard was almost sui generis, I think you are a little light on Kimball. That book was horrific; it basically said you could never be forgiven. With regard to sexuality, masturbation was almost unforgivable, and it turned you gay, which was worse than being an adulterer.

      Recall also that he is the one who issued the statement calling oral sex in marriage “unnatural” and something that should bar the participant from temple attendance. He withdrew that beauty a couple of years later but it was never renounced and is still taught in some institute classes and some priesthood meetings.

      Kimball was also the one who said that any two temple-worthy people could build a happy marriage. That gem caused immense harm, as did his oft-stated opinion that marriage can turn a gay man straight. At least indirectly, this view fed into the genital torture program that BYU ran in the 1970s. The prophet, after all, believed that you could change.

      Packer’s views may have been particularly hateful, but they were not much more damaging than those expressed by Kimball and they may have been marginally less perverted.

      • CAB says:

        Elder Mark E. Petersen was behind that brief ban on oral sex as a temple worthiness question. (He once bragged to a friend of mine that he never saw his wife naked or touched her breasts–poor woman)

        I do remember that ridiculous statement about marriage. I think he said a lot of what he said because he was definitely a closeted Gay. But that was the prevailing belief 40 years ago, not just Kimball’s..

        Kimball may have been indirectly supporting the gay aversion “therapy” which happened at BYU for a number of years, but the prevailing view at the time was that homosexuality was a psychological issue which could be cured. It was regarded by many, if not most professionals, to be the result of an unhealthy relationship with the mother. That torture those men endured was not a result of Kimball’s leadership. It was not that long ago that American psychologists and psychiatrists changed the handbooks to reflect the new perception on same sex attraction.

        Kimball was reflecting the views of the majority of the time, not just the church. Packer, on the other hand, continued to claim that homosexuality was a choice long after the church officially conceded that it was inherent. He spread his anger and hatred for several decades longer than Kimball.

    • Laozi says:

      Great post, CAB.

      A couple of minor points. First, Kimball’s name was on that oral sex directive too. He shared Peterson’s views. I am easier on Peterson simply because he never was as public with his hate as Kimball was in Miracle of Forgiveness, etc.

      Second, I share your suspicion that Kimball was a closeted gay.

      I do think, though, that we should be careful when saying that “everyone thought that then.” When Brigham was teaching polygamy and slavery, the abolitionists had won the White House and then the Civil War. When Peterson and McConkie were touting their racism, the country was passing the Civil Rights Act and making other progressive changes. Even homosexuality was starting to get objective study in the 1970s and 1980s. So to act as if US society were in consensus on these points, a consensus supporting Mormon beliefs, is not true.

      Surely it is not expecting too much to ask that prophets who talk to God choose the correct of two or more options presented by large factions of US society rather than constantly choosing the reactionary, and ultimately false, path.

      • CAB says:

        1) Assuming they are “prophets of God.”
        2) I have read about the rather lengthy process of changing the designation of homosexuality and have followed the perceptions of both professionals and the lay public. It is not at all out of line to say that “the prevailing view” (see my above post) was that homosexuality was an aberration which could be cured with the right therapy. This was during the 1970’s which is the period under discussion. (Again, see above posts)
        3) “Starting to get objective study…” Exactly: STARTING.
        4) At no point did I say “consensus.” But that was the “prevailing” view at that time.
        5) I disagree that Peterson was in a minor position on the matter of oral sex. The reason my friend interviewed with him is because he authored the directive. She came from Indiana, where she was living at the time, to talk with him it. Yes, Kimball was the prophet/president and Peterson was merely an apostle, but that interview question was Peterson’s “baby.”
        )The story of my friend’s concerns and subsequent letter and invitation to talk with him is a humorous one, but not relevant here.)

        I think you are twisting my words and also putting words into my mouth. Please, read what I actually wrote.

        The bottom line for me on this issue is that I am willing to give Kimball more of a pass on the “evil” assessment which you gave him, because he was a tortured man himself, whereas Packer always seemed to outright relish his negative pronouncements.

        We all have our feelings, thoughts and prejudices about those men who affected out lives and the lives of those we love. I hated The Miracle of Forgiveness, even when I was very faithful LDS. It is an odious refutation of the nature of repentance and forgiveness as represented in scripture. But there was much I loved and admired about Spencer Kimball and I feel compassion for the trap he was in as a Mormon with his lineage and the expectations put on him. Packer, on the other hand, was an angry, hate-filled, self-righteous man who loved his position of power.
        I heard, read and witnessed many of their talks over the decades I was LDS while they were in positions of leadership. I stand by my assessment of them both.

        And…I am done.

      • Laozi says:

        CAB,

        Just wanted to say that I didn’t mean to misconstrue what you said. As I mentioned, I enjoy your comments and find them both thought-provoking and informative.

        Laozi

      • CAB says:

        No offense taken. I enjoyed the conversation and reading your posts.

  3. AZ says:

    Since when is standing for chastity called anger and hatred?

    9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

    10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6)

    God wants us to be freed from sin, not to justify it – nor does He want us to vilify those who preach His truth: that we can obtain mercy through Jesus Christ.

    • runtu says:

      Is it a sin to punch out someone for being gay?

    • CAB says:

      I wish Jesus Christ had said something clear and definitive about homosexuality. Maybe on the Sermon on the Mount? Why did God leave it to the very problematic Paul (women should keep their heads covered and not speak in church; young men should remain single and celibate unless they are so randy that they simply can’t, in which case, they should marry, etc.) to address what seems to most conservative Christians to be such an important issue?

      There are only 6 remotely possible references to homosexuality in all the over 1,000 pages of tiny print in the Bible.
      The one most homophobes love to cite is actually not about homosexual behavior, but about gang rape and the sin of refusing hospitality to strangers. (Gen 19 and Ezek 16:48-50)
      The Leviticus references are equally troubling because they are in the context of of other abominations like mixing seeds in the same field, mixing fabrics (linen and wool), eating shellfish, etc.
      So, really there are only a possible 5, and all of them are by no means definitive.

      Boyd Kenneth Packer did not speak for my God. But I heard the man speak for himself many, many times.

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