Oh, Inverted Y

June 6, 2016

I’ve been ill, so things have slowed down on the story, but it’s coming. In the meantime, as with many of you, recent events at Brigham Young University have left me wondering how to express my unhappiness at my alma mater. I decided on something simple: the Oval Y logo inverted. If you attended BYU and want to express your support for academic freedom, unlinking the honor code from criminal investigations, and ending the practice of expelling those who go through a faith change, the inverted Y is not a bad way to do it. I’m kind of hoping it catches on.

oval_y_blue

I have mixed emotions about BYU. Having spent 7 years there as an undergrad and grad student, I have wonderful memories of good friends, students and professors, and great experiences at “The Y.” I have close family members who are employed by BYU or who attend the university, and I love them and wish them the best.

Some might say that speaking out about these issues shows disloyalty, but I think a loyal alumnus helps the university become that much better by encouraging positive change and growth.

So, if you would like to spread this graphic around as a sign of solidarity, feel free.

Thanks.


Truth Hurts

January 18, 2016

I was going to write about the appalling remarks by Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of the last post’s subject, Russell Nelson, but really, what can you way about someone who thinks it’s a good thing for gay church members to become desperate enough to pray for God to change their sexual orientation? There’s so much wrong with that, I don’t know where to start. Suffice it to say that it’s been unnerving and a little depressing to see the LDS church take so many steps backwards in the last few months. For an excellent discussion of where things stand (at least for me), see Greg Prince’s blog: The Exclusion Policy and Biology vs. Behavior.

I once knew a woman who would say the nastiest, most personally demeaning things to other people, and when the target of her attacks took offense, she would shrug and say, “I’m sorry the truth offends you. I’m not being mean. I’m just telling it like it is.” Invariably, these personal attacks were part of an effort to play people off each other. In her mind, those who really cared about her and respected her would accept “the truth,” and she could in some weird, twisted way feel she had helped them and bonded with them. The reality was that she caused a lot of hurt and pain, and most of her family and neighbors resented her deeply. A few particularly insecure family members took every criticism to heart and tried in vain to gain her approval. Of course, she never gave it, and the cycle of hurt continued until she died. Come to think of it, I don’t think it ended with her death; family members are still hurting from her nastiness over the years.

Some religious groups follow this same pattern. I knew a man who had been a Jehovah’s Witness, and he told me that, when they went door to door proselytizing, they would sometimes try to get people angry with them, as they felt they would be blessed for being hated and persecuted, as the scriptures say. It seems to be part of the motivation of the Westborough Baptist Church’s “God hates fags” program. Often used as a justification for intentional division is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

This theme is expanded in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 16:

And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for itcutteth them to the very center.

As I said, the problem is when the division is intentional and unnecessary, and it usually happens because someone is trying to assert dominance and exclude those who won’t accept their dominance. When called on it, people always say they’re just telling the truth, and it’s not their problem if you find truth offensive.

It’s this weird “I’m only saying this for your own good” attitude that explains, at least for me, the church’s retrograde statements and policy changes in the last few months. Like the woman I knew, there’s an unsubtle message behind the “truth-speaking” going on: you are with us, or you are against us, and you must choose which side you’re on.

I’m sure a lot of people will take issue with what I just said, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me at this point. Witness where the church has gone in the last few months:

Almost exactly one year ago, the LDS church was using the relationship between Tom Christofferson (Apostle Todd Christofferson’s gay brother) and his LDS ward as an example of how gays and the LDS church could find harmony. According to KUTV, Elder Christofferson noted that his brother had “returned to the faith” and he and his partner were “active participants in their neighborhood ward.” In November, we learned that the church now considers Tom Christofferson and his partner to be “apostates,” which would preclude them from any kind of participation in the ward beyond attendance. This month, Apostle Russell Nelson doubled-down by affirming that the policy excluding gays and their children from church blessings was given by revelation from God.

In 2012, the official church web site, mormonsandgays.org, acknowledged that same-sex attraction is not something that people can change but that it was something to be “borne” or “endured” in the hope that it might change in the next life:

We believe that with an eternal perspective, a person’s attraction to the same sex can be addressed and borne as a mortal test. It should not be viewed as a permanent condition. An eternal perspective beyond the immediacy of this life’s challenges offers hope. Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction.

Just over a week ago, the church published on the LDS.org web site a talk that suggested that, if gay members would only get “desperate” enough, they could through prayer have their sexual orientation changed:

Gratefully, the Savior has paid the price for every gift of the Spirit we will ever need to help us. It’s up to us to prayerfully discover which gifts we need. We may need the gift of self-discipline or of cheerfulness. Perhaps we need the gift of patience, or the gift to be healed, or the gift to forgive. Perhaps we need the gift to have our sexual feelings be in harmony with eternal laws. Perhaps we realize that we cannot live one more minute without the gift of unshakable faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. When we’re desperate for any gift of the Spirit, that is when we will finally pray with all the energy of heart for that gift. And the great news is that each spiritual gift we receive takes us one more step forward into our true selves. …

I pray that this year you will have some moments of anguishing desperation that will propel you further along the path to becoming the man or woman you were born to be. Your true self is spectacular! Never settle for less.

The problem, of course, is that desperation only drives change where change is possible. Say I decided that I am not the man I was born to be because the physical condition I was born with makes it difficult for me to swallow some kinds of food without extreme care. I’ve had many medical procedures to make it easier for me to swallow, but my doctors tell me I’ve progressed as far as I’m going to go. I suppose I could become desperate to change this aspect of my body, enough so that I would pray that God would “heal” me and make me the person I was born to be. After all, I shouldn’t settle for less.

What would be the end result? All the prayer in the world isn’t going to change the fact that I have a narrow part of my esophagus ringed with scar tissue. If I followed Sister Nelson’s counsel, in the near-certain absence of change, my desperation would turn to despair. At some point I would be forced to accept that I can’t change that aspect of my body, or I would give in to despair, which derives from the Latin de esperare–literally “without hope.” Given my history with depression, I have a pretty good idea where things would end.

If the church itself acknowledges that sexual orientation–whatever its roots–isn’t something you can will or pray away, what is the point of Sister Nelson’s wholly inappropriate remarks? Does she–a trained and licensed therapist–really believe gay Mormons can and should follow her counsel to change their “sexual feelings”? I doubt it very much.

What this is about is drawing clear lines between the church and “the world.” If we take her at her word, the problem is not only behavior, but also desire, because, she wants us to believe, both can be changed. Obviously, someone who doesn’t change his or her sexual orientation through prayer and the gifts of the Spirit isn’t desperate enough. And those members who give into despair (and let’s not kid ourselves, there will be more than one) clearly didn’t channel their desperation into righteous avenues. It’s not her fault if lives are destroyed; she’s only telling it like it is.

In the end, however, I don’t believe any of this was meant for the benefit of gay or lesbian members or nonmembers. It was directed at straight members as another distinction that makes for a peculiar people. “You are not like them,” the members need to be told, “and you must not tolerate people like that in the ranks of our people.”

Like the woman I knew, the point is to divide, to pit friends and family against each other, forcing them to put the church first. It’s a destructive and wholly unrighteous game, but that is what is happening.

 

 


The Will of the Lord

January 12, 2016

Many Latter-day Saints I know have struggled with the recent “policy change” that labels same-sex couples “apostates” and bars their children from baptism. It strikes them, as it does me, as deliberately splitting families and punishing children for the actions of their parents. Brigham Young used to say something to the effect that good doctrine tastes good, but this policy is about as appetizing as a hair omelet.

Most Mormons I know who have been troubled by the policy have said that it’s just a policy, not doctrine, so they don’t feel obligated to agree with it. Policies are the decisions of organizations, and they are subject to change; doctrine reflects the revealed word of God and, at least in theory, doesn’t change. The three-hour block of meetings on Sunday is policy; the saving ordinance of the sacrament is doctrine. The white-shirt-tie-and-nametag missionary ensemble is church policy; Christ’s injunction to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” is doctrine.

For a lot of Mormons, it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with a church policy, even publicly. When I was a young boy, most of the Latter-day Saints I knew in Southern California disagreed with the church’s policy against ordaining men of African descent to the priesthood. It was a policy, they said, and it would change. And of course it did. Yes, some church leaders said it was revealed doctrine, but there was no revelation on the matter that anyone could point to.

I think a lot of people feel the same way about this new anti-gay policy: it’s just a decision of men, and it will change, so church members do not feel obligated to support it. One sign of its temporary nature is that, within a week, the church changed a significant aspect of the policy: originally, a child would be excluded from baptism if he or she is “child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship.” The church later changed this to exclude only children who are currently living with a same-sex couple as their primary residence. Of course, that opens a number of other issues, but I digress.

In short, a policy subject to almost-immediate revision is not set in stone, and does not have the authority of revelation.

Then, this past Sunday, President Russell Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church changed everything by equating the policy with revelation. Speaking at BYU-Hawaii, President Nelson spoke about how individuals can learn the mind and will of the Lord through study, fasting, and prayer. He compared the individual quest for answers to the process by which the Lord makes His will known to church leaders:

We sustain 15 men who are ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators. When a thorny problem arises–and they only seem to get thornier each day–these 15 men wrestle with the issue, trying to see all the ramifications of various courses of action, and they diligently seek to hear the voice of the Lord. After fasting, praying, studying, pondering, and counseling with my brethren about weighty matters, it is not unusual for me to be awakened during the night with further impressions about issues with which we are concerned. And my brethren have the same experience. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel individually and collectively, and then we watch the Lord move upon the president of the church to proclaim the Lord’s will.

This prophetic process was followed in 2012 with the change in minimum age for missionaries, and again with the recent additions to the church’s handbook consequent to the legalization of same-sex marriage in some countries. Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer, and sought further direction and inspiration, and then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process. So is your privilege of receiving personal revelation. My dear brothers and sisters, you have as much access to the mind and will of the Lord, for your own life, as we apostles do for His church. Just as the Lord requires us to seek and ponder, fast and pray, study and wrestle with difficult questions, He requires you to do the same as you seek answers to your own questions.

President Nelson leaves little room for disagreement here: according to him, this new policy was given by revelation and represents the mind and will of the Lord.

Nelson

My initial response was a little snarky in that I said I could see two possible explanations:

  1. God is a muddleheaded douchebag.
  2. These guys don’t know the mind and will of the Lord.

Snark aside, for believing Latter-day Saints, I think President Nelson has drawn a distinct line: either you sustain the policy as the revealed will of the Lord, or you don’t. There’s no middle ground, no excusing it as a matter of policy.

For the record, I am sure these men “wrestled” with this issue, and I want to believe they had the best of intentions. In the end, however, this policy is hurtful and wrong, and anything but compassionate.

Looking back at my life as a believing Mormon, I probably would have accepted President Nelson’s words at face value, put my personal feelings aside, and sustained this policy as the revealed will of the Lord. I suspect a lot of people I know are doing just that. Heaven knows I forced myself to believe, say, and do things I thought were wrong–just  because I believed the church was right, no matter what.

But I also think it would have gnawed at my conscience, despite my best efforts to fall in line. President Monson has often quoted Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to illustrate that one cannot say one thing when your heart says something else:

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. … It was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, … but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

In context, however, Twain is writing about the conflict between one’s conscience and what others tell you is right. In this passage, Huck isn’t praying about giving up a vice or sin; rather, he is wrestling over whether he should turn in the runaway slave, Jim. Society, the law, religion–all of these tell him that slavery is right, and helping a slave escape is wrong, but his heart tells him otherwise.

I think I would have forced myself to accept and sustain the policy, but I would have known it was wrong. I’ve felt this way before. The summer before I left on my mission, I worked for a time as a janitor at a dialysis center (this was 1983). I got to know several of the patients fairly well, as they came in regularly. One African-American man I met was what I would call a religious seeker. He told me he was looking for the true church on earth, the kingdom of God, where he knew he was supposed to be. He asked me about Mormonism and what I believed. Then, of course, he asked about the priesthood restrictions that had been rescinded only 5 years earlier. He asked me to explain why, and I couldn’t. No answer I could come up with was adequate. A friend had recently returned from a mission to Jamaica and had said the granting of the priesthood was gradual: first only to the Israelites, then (as of the New Testament) to the Gentiles, and finally to black men. It didn’t sound right to me, especially since the New Testament made it abundantly clear that no one was “unclean” any longer and unworthy of the blessings of the gospel. I did my best to justify a policy I had never agreed with, but it was no use. He knew, and I knew, that it had been wrong.

This morning I am thinking of all those in the church who want to sustain the leaders of the church but recognize that this policy is wrong and harmful. I would imagine there will be some wrestling, fasting, praying, and studying. And that’s a good thing. I’m glad I don’t have to wrestle with this at all.


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.


The Road to Apostasy

April 2, 2015

I have been thinking about the process of losing one’s faith and leaving the church. I’ve been told countless times that people who leave the church have done things the wrong way; it’s not usually a huge, obvious mistake, but a series of seemingly small and insignificant missteps along the way, that lead a person down the road to apostasy.

I thought of someone I’m familiar with (I’ll call him “H”) who has shared how he began this difficult journey and eventually found himself outside the church. As much as possible, I’ll try to let him speak for himself, in his own words. I readily acknowledge that I don’t see the mistakes, the missteps, that led H to lose faith, but I’m hoping–expecting, really–that some active members of the church will enlighten me and help me understand where he went wrong and how he could have salvaged his faith.

H did not grow up a member of the church, but when he was a young adult, he began to feel there was something missing in his life, and a chance encounter with members led him to investigate the church. Although he initially found the scriptures “impenetrable,” he felt the church offered answers to his questions and could help him to “actually handle life, and your problems, and not have them handle you.”

Joining the church gave H a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose. “I did experience gains,” he says, and he felt he was able to let go of earlier guilt, feeling forgiven for “things I’d done as a teenager that I didn’t feel good about. I think I did, in some ways, become a better person. I did develop more empathy for others.”

H poured himself into church activity, becoming a leader and example to others. But some things about the church nagged at him because they just didn’t seem right. He heard rumors about the church’s origins and some disturbing stories about the church’s founder, whom he had come to revere. But he dismissed these concerns as fabrications from apostates. “There’s always disgruntled folks who say all sorts of things,” he thought. As H saw other church members testify of the blessings they had received, he wondered why he wasn’t seeing the same blessings in his own life. “Maybe there is something,” he told himself, “and I’m just missing it.”

Throughout his time in the church, he was always taught that either it was all true, or it was a lie. Although he struggled to believe the founding narratives of the church, he was told that, if what the church founder and witnesses had testified of had “never existed,” the church must be “based on a lie.” He decided that he would take a more liberal approach to his religion and live the church’s teachings on his own terms. He would “pick and choose” the parts of the religion he wanted to believe and disregard those things he didn’t like.

For a number of years, H continued in his journey of faith, but eventually, things came to a head in 2008, when H was horrified at the church’s public support for Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage proposition in California. When he voiced his concerns to his church leaders, they downplayed the church’s role and urged him to drop the matter. A church member told him, “The church is not political. We all have tons of friends and relatives who are gay. … It’s not the church’s issue.” He knew that wasn’t true.

His frustration with the church led him to search the Internet for information about the church. Looking at unauthorized sources made him feel a little nervous, as he had always been taught that the only trustworthy information about the church was what the church published itself. His research uncovered a lot of troubling information, most of which would be familiar to my readers. But what struck him the most was seeing a high-ranking church leader tell an obvious untruth to a television interviewer. He met with “apostates” who had left the church, and many of them were angry, saying they felt “betrayed” by the church.

Feeling that his world was unraveling, H reached out to church leaders, who dismissed his concerns as being unfounded and urged him to rededicate himself to increased church activity to renew his flagging faith. After agonizing over his choices, H eventually realized that he could no longer be a member of the church in good conscience. He wrote a long letter explaining his decision and his reasons for making it, and sent it to his closest friends and leaders in the church. The response was unexpected. They insisted that he had listened to the wrong people and that he should have shared his concerns only with his church leaders, who could help him. Instead, he had listened to apostates and those who opposed the church, who were obviously lying. Besides, if he “genuinely wanted to change” the church, they told him, he “should stay within the organization, not quit; certainly, going public was not helpful.”

Although they tried to help him stay in the church, his friends and leaders reluctantly accepted his decision, but insisted that he keep his reasons for leaving to himself. Discussing what he had found out about the church could “damage” the lives of the faithful, and he had no right to do that. He told his friends about the information he had found on the Internet, urging them to see for themselves, but they were not willing to listen to information presented by enemies of the church. One friend told him that looking at those web sites was “like reading ‘Mein Kampf’ if you wanted to know something about the Jewish religion.”

Leaving the church has cost H relationships with some friends and even some family members. He has a keen sense of loss: “If you identify yourself with something for so long, and suddenly you think of yourself as not that thing, it leaves a bit of space.” But he is philosophical about it. “It’s not really the sense of a loss of community. Those people who walked away from me were never really my friends.”

What did H do wrong?