Boyd K. Packer’s Prophetic Voice

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.

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26 Responses to Boyd K. Packer’s Prophetic Voice

  1. I’m just not convinced that many TBM members know about the sullied version of church history or the essays. I think many are tangentially aware but don’t want to venture any further. I had a Zen teacher in SLC who shared with us a family experience. He asked his sister why, given the fact that he had chosen a Buddhist life, she never asked any questions about what he did. She responded that she had visited a Zen center once and tried meditation, and she quickly realized that opening those doors in the mind would be a short trip to crazy town for her. It didn’t work for her and could not. For many people, Mormonism works, which is fine. If they would just drop all that “only true church” malarkey …

    • runtu says:

      Totally agree. I’m just talking about those who are becoming aware and how they are reacting to the past whitewashing.

  2. jiminpanama says:

    I have to say that things have changed for me over the last 20 years. I was a fervent Nibley man and FARMS was my full time hobby. If not Mormonism, what? The only real other option is atheism as all other sects were corrupted before their birth as all of Christianity was murdered and plundered over the millennia. Not sure I can take that leap but to be Christian and anything but Mormon is a bit laughable. But I have questions about the whitewashing for sure.

    • runtu says:

      I know a lot of people who have taken that leap, so I would amend your statement to say that it would be laughable for you. I don’t begrudge anyone their religious decisions, whether they are LDS or anything else.

    • teelea says:

      I’m with you there. I was also a massive Nibleyphile and FARMS groupie. For the better part of 10-15 years I devoured the stuff and little else. Then I came to see that Nibley’s methods were less than reliable and that the FARMS approach left a bad taste in my mouth as well. For me, the church essays have raised more questions than they have answered. My inclination now is more toward something approaching deism. I believe in an organizing intelligence, but beyond that, who knows.

      • jiminpanama says:

        I still don’t think Nibleys intent is understood. I always felt his work was merely showing the precepts of the gospel were mentioned anciently and elsewhere and decided a serious look. He rarely concluded anything but made the gospel viable and worth a look.

      • I wonder, jiminpanama, if Joseph’s approach was not similar to Dick Cheney’s in the run-up to the Iraq war. Recall that Cheney was feeding information to Judith Miller at the NY Times and then pointing to stories Miller wrote for the times as objective support for his assertions. Similarly, an argument could be made that Joseph studied the Bible and other historical documents so he could structure his “prophesies” to meet with Biblical practices, narratives and projections. Couldn’t one ascertain ancient principles in this manner?

      • jiminpanama says:

        I see your point but I have a hard time seeing what was in it for him. That is a lot of work and commitment for zero gain and persecution. The bible is another crap shoot too, and to use it as infallible and a launch pad for Joseph Smith is tough for me considering what has been done to it. Your idea is a different look for me though. Interesting.

      • runtu says:

        I guess I don’t see it that way. The tangible benefits of Joseph Smith’s religious enterprise were money, power, and sex. As far as I can tell, he didn’t do any real work after he moved to Kirtland but lived off the generosity of his followers. Even when he got into trouble, his followers bailed him out (such as when he fled Kirtland, leaving the Saints there to cover $35,000 in unpaid debts). The down side, obviously, was what you term “persecution,” but it usually resulted from Smith’s overreach in pursuit of money, power, or sex.

      • jiminpanama says:

        I need credible sources. Not to argue but I spent my whole life getting the whitewash version and really not sure what history to believe now. I have spent a lifetime defending trivial things and have always had answers. This is different. What is credible? Help me out here

      • jiminpanama says:

        I have spent the last 2 day on sites exposing his atrocities. If this is all you’ve got I am staying Mormon.

      • runtu says:

        What are you talking about? Who said anything about atrocities? You said you wanted to learn from primary sources, and I gave you a link to Dale Broadhurt’s site, which is nothing but primary sources. I’m not interested in anyone leaving Mormonism or staying. If you want to stay in the church, that’s great.

      • jiminpanama says:

        I have a lot of inquiry right now. My Ming is all over. Sorry if my reply was out of context. I have been reading your older posts and was hoping for a little input on them about JS. Do you get comments from older posts? Regards

      • jiminpanama says:

        Also the church outlines Joseph’s multiple charges as “trumped up”. No details were ever given. What were the charges anyway? I know he was in trouble a lot

      • runtu says:

        There were civil suits for unpaid debt and fraud and criminal charges ranging from the attack on Gallatin to the attempted murders of Grandison Newell and Governor Boggs. Some of it was undoubtedly “trumped up,” but I wouldn’t say the majority.

      • David Macfarlane says:

        Yes, I’m not even sure I agree with my own assertion. Just making it because. Runtu’s exchange with Meg Stout was most interesting because it seemed to illustrate that a person’s view of early Mormon history is largely, if not totally, dependent on how they view Joseph. I see that in Brian Hales’s work, too. I come back to this question: Would God actually put the restoration of his true church in the hands of someone so enigmatic and difficult to discern? If so, God is a prankster, which makes whether or not this is the true church much less of a concern. I am convinced that the potential and real gain was fairly substantial and the persecution has been exaggerated. Plus, we like to talk about the martyrdom, but I’m not convinced he thought he was going to die. Maybe he was really surprised.

      • jiminpanama says:

        Maybe God is a prankster. Have you read the bible?

      • Maybe he is. I would appreciate that God more than the one presented in the old testament.

      • Looks like all the Saints Without Halos links are dead. Any other suggestions? Love to for more original documentation.

      • runtu says:

        Yeah, I noticed that. Sorry. MormonThink has a lot of primary sources, as does Dale Broadhurst’s massive collection (which I linked to already).

    • CAB says:

      Atheism is the only option if you actually believe that the Mormon church is accurate in its representation of God.
      I have long felt that the church “owned” God, which is why so many who lose faith in the church also reject God.
      Thankfully, I am not one of those people who ever believed in the Mormon version of God, although I was an active Mormon for over 45 years. I am now ex-Mormon and consider myself Christian.
      I do not agree with your very Mormon characterization of Christianity. I studied The Bible and Christianity for several years outside of the Mormon perspective. The education was eye-opening. I discovered how much I had viewed all of Christianity and scripture through the Mormon lens.
      I encourage you to do the same.

      • jiminpanama says:

        I have looked too at other perspectives. My troubles are not just LDS but the entire picture of Christianity making excuses for God and the atrocities and compellment to believe or be outcast or die! I’m working through it I suppose.

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