Mormonism and gender issues/Same-sex attraction/Boyd K. Packer October 2010 conference talk
Boyd K. Packer's conference address—October 2010
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On October 10, 2010, President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke during the Church's semi-annual general conference.
Portions of President Packer's talk caused a firestorm of protest and, often, misrepresentation. This article examines President Packer's address, and compares it to past talks given by President Packer. It is meant as an examination, not an interpretation. FAIR does not seek to provide official interpretation for the words of our leaders. However, we believe that President Packer's address has been misunderstood and misrepresented, and hope that our analysis will show that.
Critics have claimed:
- President Packer's talk was just about homosexuality;
- Calls to overcome inclinations towards illicit sexual behavior was a call to change sexual orientation;
- President Packer made statements at variance with official Church policy;
- President Packer was "muzzled" by other members of the LDS "hierarchy";
- President Packer's address has been "censored," or otherwise "suppressed" because of public outcry.
- President Packer believes or claims that homosexual feelings/temptations are chosen by those so afflicted.
- President Packer is guilty of "hypocrisy," unchristian conduct, and/or contributing to the suicides of homosexuals.
- President Packer teaches that the "only option" for "sexual minorities" is "to become heterosexual."
- President Packer is not "trying to be like Jesus," since he is wrong to teach that "there is no such thing as a godly homosexual relationship."
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
President Packer did not specifically mention same-sex attractions or same-sex relationships during his talk. He did reference substitutions for marriage, with a very strong reference towards same-sex relationships, but everything he said should and could be applied equally toward illicit heterosexual behavior. There was no reference in his talk which condemned same-sex attractions, and such an interpretation would conflict with numerous previous statements made by President Packer.
Such tactics are nothing new in politics, and are certainly not new when directed at members of the Church. As President Packer once indicated, he is more concerned about communicating his message than worrying about those who will intentionally misrepresent him:
- While we must act peaceably, we need not submit to unfair accusations and unjustified opposition…As I grow older in age and experience, I grow ever less concerned over whether others agree with us. I grow ever more concerned that they understand us. If they do understand, they have their agency and can accept or reject the gospel as they please.
And, while even a few members of the Church will reject the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve on the sinful nature of homosexual acts, as well as all other sexual acts outside of marriage, President Packer once remarked:
- There are those within the Church who are disturbed when changes are made with which they disagree or when changes they propose are not made. They point to these as evidence that the leaders are not inspired.
- They write and speak to convince others that the doctrines and decisions of the Brethren are not given through inspiration.
- Two things characterize them: they are always irritated by the word obedience, and always they question revelation. It has always been so.
The core of President Packer's message has been ignored and obscured—that core is that God will reveal to those who desire above all else to do his will how they should choose and how they should act. Obedience—a sign of faith—must always come before revelation and knowledge. But, only both revelation and faith can resolve this issue outside of politics, polemics, and propaganda tactics.
Our temptations and weaknesses do not define who we are, nor do they dictate our acts and choices. President Packer has been misrepresented and sometimes vilified in part so listeners will not even seriously consider the fundamental question—does God speak to prophets and apostles in our day? And, if so, has he spoken to them about what all would agree is a vital matter?
- But then, as now, the world did not believe. They say that ordinary men are not inspired; that there are no prophets, no apostles; that angels do not minister unto men—not to ordinary men. That doubt and disbelief have not changed. But now, as then, their disbelief cannot change the truth. We lay no claim to being Apostles of the world—but of the Lord Jesus Christ. The test is not whether men will believe, but whether the Lord has called us—and of that there is no doubt. We do not talk of those sacred interviews that qualify the servants of the Lord to bear a special witness of Him, for we have been commanded not to do so. But we are free, indeed, we are obliged, to bear that special witness.
Regardless of the opposition, we are determined to stay on course. We will hold to the principles and laws and ordinances of the gospel. If they are misunderstood either innocently or willfully, so be it.
— President Boyd K. Packer, October 2010 General Conference
President Packer's talk was presented to a world-wide audience. The original audio and visual files continue to be available on the Church's official website. The originals have also been provided to those who produce material for the blind and print disabled, a clear sign that the Church does not intend to "suppress" or repudiate them.
Misrepresentation and misunderstanding began soon after the talk was delivered. (Ironically, though President Packer did not mention same sex attraction specifically—and despite the fact that he both opened and closed his talk with a discussion of pornography—many listeners applied his wording and reasoning solely to issues of homosexual temptation.) The resulting flurry of comment and complaint led a Church spokesman to indicate that President Packer's meaning had been clarified in the published version of the talk:
- The Monday following every General Conference, each speaker has the opportunity to make any edits necessary to clarify differences between what was written and what was delivered or to clarify the speaker’s intent. President Packer has simply clarified his intent.
The published version is now available on-line. The key passage of interest is compared in the table below.
|Spoken Version||Edited Print Version|
|Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Heavenly Father.||Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.|
Clearly, the Church cannot be intending to suppress or hide President Packer's original comments, since it continues to make his original address available. Church spokesmen have also pointed out directly to the media that the printed version has been clarified. This would be a strange way to run a cover-up.
It is also clear in context that President Packer's meaning in the original talk is reflected in the edited print version. For example, in both his spoken and printed version, immediately following the above phrases, President Packer said/wrote:
- Paul promised that “God . . . will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” You can, if you will, break the habits and conquer an addiction and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church. As Alma cautioned, we must “watch and pray continually.”
- Isaiah warned, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
In context, President Packer was clearly speaking about being able to resist temptation. His use of the word "tendencies" led some to assume that he was arguing that such inborn temptations could be eliminated. But, such a reading is inconsistent with the scriptural citation which he uses to prove his point—Paul does not argue that Christians will be freed from temptation, but rather that they need not yield to temptation. It would indeed make little sense for God to allow us to have temptations we could not resist—such a state contradicts the core LDS doctrine of moral agency (see D&C 101:78).
The same scripture was used in a discussion of same-gender attraction by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in 2006:
- The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted.
- The New Testament affirms that God has given us commandments that are difficult to keep. It is in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (emphasis added)
Subject of the talk
President Packer never mentioned same-sex relationships or same-sex attractions even once during the entire talk. That has been inserted later by critics of the church. During his talk, he had one concrete example, and that was of a husband looking at pornography. There is no doubt that his words were meant to be applied to same-sex relationships as well, especially given references to legalizing immorality and the recent battle over Proposition 8. However, it would be inaccurate to say he was singling out same-sex relationships or that what he said only applied to same-sex relationships.
By starting off with a the heterosexual example of unnatural affection towards pornography, he made sure that those with opposite-sex attractions were not under the false assumption that they were off the hook. Any inclination towards the impure and unnatural, including pornography, fornication, adultery, prostitution, or rape with either gender by either gender can be overcome, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual in nature. There is no reason to assume that his comments only referred to those with same-sex attraction and did not apply equally to those who struggle with the improper expression of opposite-sex attractions. Many people with opposite-sex attractions incorrectly believe they are "preset" to indulge in illicit behavior. His talk was about overcoming any type of temptation, not just those of a homosexual nature.
Feelings vs. acts
Another area of confusion is whether by asking people to overcome inclinations towards the impure, Elder Packer was asking them to change their sexual orientation. Answering this requires us to understand that his comments were directed towards both those with same-sex attractions and those with opposite-sex attractions.
The man who had a problem with pornography did not need to lose all attraction to the opposite sex in order to overcome his tendency towards pornography. A single member with opposite-sex attractions does not need to lose all attraction to the opposite sex in order to overcome his or her tendency towards pre-marital sex. Likewise, a member with same-sex attractions does not need to lose all attraction to the same-sex in order to overcome tendencies towards same-sex acts.
It is easy to think that because Elder Packer had references to Proposition 8, that he was referring only to same-sex attractions. Proposition 8 was about same-sex relationships or acts, not about same-sex attraction. The Church's leaders in general, President Packer in particular, have made a very strong distinction between the two. While President Packer is clearly teaching that you can choose not to be in a same-sex relationship, he is not saying you can choose not to have same-sex attractions. Same-sex relationships would be considered a counterfeit for marriage. Same-sex attraction would not. Interpreting his message to mean that same-sex attraction can be changed in this life contradicts his long- and frequently-expressed stance that experiencing same-sex attraction is not a sin and may not ever be overcome in this life.
Speaking of same-sex attractions, he said:
- "That may be a struggle from which you will not be free in this life. If you do not act on temptations, you need feel no guilt."#
President Packer's talk continued a long tradition of emphasizing the difference between sinful acts (including, but not limited to, homosexual ones), and those individuals tempted to commit such acts because of strong desires or feelings. These include multiple talks given by Pres. Packer over a period of thirty years.
The message of the gospel has never been that if you pray hard enough or had enough faith that God would take away all trials and temptations in this life. The message is that we are free to choose good or evil, not that we can avoid ever being enticed by the evil in the first place. The emphasis of the church has always been on controlling behavior by overcoming temptations, not by eliminating all temptations from our lives.
The emphasis on actions is even clearer when put together with the surrounding paragraphs. As printed in the Ensign, the section reads:
- We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness.”
- Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.
- Paul promised that “God … will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 14 You can, if you will, break the habits and conquer an addiction and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church. As Alma cautioned, we must “watch and pray continually.”
There are many things that fall under the category of "counterfeits for marriage", such as pornography, prostitution, same-sex relationships, and so forth, but same-sex attraction would not be included in that group. His message seems to be that no one is preset to enter into any type of sexual relationship, and that any tendency or temptation to do anything impure (such as pornography or be in a same-sex relationship) can be overcome so that the impure act is not performed. Same-sex attractions is not a relationship, nor an act. President Packer has been very clear in distinguishing the two, while critics tend to blur the difference.
The usage of overcome in other scriptures
Many people have had issues with the usage of the word "overcome" in conjunction with desires to enter immoral relationships. Overcoming is an important part of the Church's teachings. Bishop McMullin taught:
- "But as with all mortal conditions, if the inclination of same- or opposite-gender attraction leads a person to violate the laws of God or to mar one’s immortal possibilities, this inclination needs to be controlled and overcome." 
Learning to overcome is prevalent throughout scripture, and has been generally applied to everyone, without singling out any particular sexual orientation.
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
And he who is faithful shall overcome all things, and shall be lifted up at the last day.
And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
He that is faithful and endureth shall overcome the world.
For verily I say unto you, I will that ye should overcome the world; wherefore I will have compassion upon you.
Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God — Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things.
Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come.
Here are some scriptures showing if you do not overcome, but instead are overcome, you will not make it into heaven.
And again, he that is overcome and bringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me.
But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world.
For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
Past talks on the same issue
It would be unlikely for President Packer espouse a position on issues of same sex attraction or other sexual sins which differed from his long-expressed position. He has long emphasized that although the attractions might not be reversed, the sin can be overcome.
(These talks are compared in table form on a separate page, and discussed by their date of delivery below.)
In 1978, at President Spencer W. Kimball's request, then-Elder Packer addressed BYU on the subject of homosexual temptation. It is clear from this early talk that Elder Packer regarded such temptations as deep, and relatively fixed. He even went so far as to indicate that those thus afflicted might have to spend the rest of their lives resisting such temptations. This view is in keeping with both his original address of October 2010, and the clarification issued in print.
Significantly, in neither case does it match with the claim which critics wish to put in President Packer's mouth—that temptations to homosexual acts can, in all cases, be eliminated from one's life. President Packer taught precisely the opposite more than thirty years earlier. He made it very clear that in at least some cases, the member might well struggle for their entire life to resist these temptations or tendencies. After having compared such struggles to the need to undergo serious surgery, he said:
-  And yet our hospitals are full to overflowing with patients. They count it quite worthwhile to submit to treatment, however painful. They struggle through long periods of recuperation and sometimes must be content with a limited life-style thereafter, in some cases in order just to live. Is it not reasonable that recuperation from this disorder might be somewhat comparable?...
-  Now, I hope I will not disappoint you too much if I say at once that I do not know of any quick spiritual cure-all. Setting aside miracles for the moment, in which I firmly believe, generally I do not know of some spiritual shock treatment that will sear the soul of an individual and instantly kill this kind of temptation-or any other kind, for that matter. No spiritual wonder drug that I know of will do it. The cure rests in following for a long period of time, and thereafter continually, some very basic, simple rules for moral and spiritual health....Establish a resolute conviction that you will resist for a lifetime, if necessary, any deviate thought or deviate action. Do not respond to those feelings; suppress them. Suppression is not a very popular word with many psychologists. Look what happened to society when it became unpopular!...
-  Bad thoughts often have to be evicted a hundred times, or a thousand. But if they have to be evicted ten thousand times, never surrender to them. You are in charge of you. I repeat, it is very, very difficult to eliminate a bad habit just by trying to discard it. Replace it. Read in Matthew, chapter 12, verses 43 to 45, the parable of the empty house. There is a message in it for you....
-  With physical ailments we always want a quick cure. If a prescription hasn't worked by sundown, we want to get another one. For this ailment there is no other prescription that I know about. You will have to grow away from your problem with undeviating—notice that word—undeviating determination. The longer you have been afflicted, or the more deeply you have been involved, the more difficult and the longer the cure. Any relapse is a setback. But if this should happen, refuse to be discouraged. Take your medicine, however bitter it tastes.
- ...you yourself can call upon a power that can renew your body. You yourself can draw upon a power that will reinforce your will. If you have this temptation-fight it!...
- ...Oh, if I could only convince you that you are a son or a daughter of Almighty God! You have a righteous spiritual power-an inheritance that you have hardly touched. You have an Elder Brother who is your Advocate, your Strength, your Protector, your Mediator, your Physician. Of Him I bear witness. The Lord loves you! You are a child of God. Face the sunlight of truth. The shadows of discouragement, of disappointment, of deviation will be cast behind you.
In 1990 General Conference, then-Elder Packer said:
- My message is to you who are tempted either to promote, to enter, or to remain in a life-style which violates your covenants and will one day bring sorrow to you and to those who love you.
- Growing numbers of people now campaign to make spiritually dangerous life-styles legal and socially acceptable. Among them are abortion, the gay-lesbian movement, and drug addiction…For Latter-day Saints, morality is one component which must not be missing when these issues are considered—otherwise sacred covenants are at risk! Keep your covenants and you will be safe. Break them and you will not….
- Several publications are now being circulated about the Church which defend and promote gay or lesbian conduct. They wrest the scriptures attempting to prove that these impulses are inborn, cannot be overcome, and should not be resisted; and therefore, such conduct has a morality of its own. They quote scriptures to justify perverted acts between consenting adults….
- All of us are subject to feelings and impulses. Some are worthy and some of them are not; some of them are natural and some of them are not. We are to control them, meaning we are to direct them according to the moral law….
- We receive letters pleading for help, asking why should some be tormented by desires which lead toward addiction or perversion. They seek desperately for some logical explanation as to why they should have a compelling attraction, even a predisposition, toward things that are destructive and forbidden.
- Why, they ask, does this happen to me? It is not fair! They suppose that it is not fair that others are not afflicted with the same temptations. They write that their bishop could not answer the “why,” nor could he nullify their addiction or erase the tendency.
- We are sometimes told that leaders in the Church do not really understand these problems. Perhaps we don’t. There are many “whys” for which we just do not have simple answers. But we do understand temptation, each of us, from personal experience. Nobody is free from temptations of one kind or another. That is the test of life. That is part of our mortal probation. Temptation of some kind goes with the territory.
- What we do know is where these temptations will lead. We have watched these life-styles play themselves out in many lives. We have seen the end of the road you are tempted to follow. It is not likely that a bishop can tell you what causes these conditions or why you are afflicted, nor can he erase the temptation. But he can tell you what is right and what is wrong. If you know right from wrong, you have a place to begin. That is the point at which individual choice becomes operative. That is the point at which repentance and forgiveness can exert great spiritual power….
- A tempter will claim that such impulses cannot be changed and should not be resisted. Can you think of anything the adversary would rather have us believe?
- The Lord warned, “Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” (Mark 9:42.)
- Now, in a spirit of sympathy and love, I speak to you who may be struggling against temptations for which there is no moral expression. Some have resisted temptation but never seem to be free from it. Do not yield! Cultivate the spiritual strength to resist—all of your life, if need be....
- You may wonder why God does not seem to hear your pleading prayers and erase these temptations. When you know the gospel plan, you will understand that the conditions of our mortal probation require that we be left to choose. That test is the purpose of life. While these addictions may have devoured, for a time, your sense of morality or quenched the spirit within you, it is never too late.
- You may not be able, simply by choice, to free yourself at once from unworthy feelings. You can choose to give up the immoral expression of them.
- The suffering you endure from resisting or from leaving a life-style of addiction or perversion is not a hundredth part of that suffered by your parents, your spouse or your children, if you give up. Theirs is an innocent suffering because they love you. To keep resisting or to withdraw from such a life-style is an act of genuine unselfishness, a sacrifice you place on the altar of obedience. It will bring enormous spiritual rewards.
Clearly, the same themes of a distinction between temptations and acts and the potential need for life-long resistance to unworthy temptations are present.
In 1995 General Conference, Elder Packer said:
- Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness…. You may tell yourself that your transgressions are not spiritually illegal. That will not work; neither will rebellion, nor anger, nor joking about them. You cannot do that. And you don’t have to do it….
- I repeat, save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ.
- How all can be repaired, we do not know. It may not all be accomplished in this life. We know from visions and visitations that the servants of the Lord continue the work of redemption beyond the veil….
- Some members wonder why their priesthood leaders will not accept them just as they are and simply comfort them in what they call pure Christian love.
- Pure Christian love, the love of Christ, does not presuppose approval of all conduct. Surely the ordinary experiences of parenthood teach that one can be consumed with love for another and yet be unable to approve unworthy conduct.
- We cannot, as a church, approve unworthy conduct or accept into full fellowship individuals who live or who teach standards that are grossly in violation of that which the Lord requires of Latter-day Saints.
- If we, out of sympathy, should approve unworthy conduct, it might give present comfort to someone but would not ultimately contribute to that person’s happiness.
In 2000, President Packer taught:
- If you consent, the adversary can take control of your thoughts and lead you carefully toward a habit and to an addiction, convincing you that immoral, unnatural behavior is a fixed part of your nature.
Here we see the same idea expressed in Pres. Packer's 2010 talk—immoral behavior is not a fixed, unalterable part of one's nature. One can choose behavior, despite strong inclinations and temptations, as he goes on to explain:
- With some few, there is the temptation which seems nearly overpowering for man to be attracted to man or woman to woman....
- The gates of freedom, and the good or bad beyond, swing open or closed to the password choice. You are free to choose a path that may lead to despair, to disease, even to death (see 2 Ne. 2:26–27).
- Do not experiment; do not let anyone of either gender touch your body to awaken passions that can flame beyond control. It begins as an innocent curiosity, Satan influences your thoughts, and it becomes a pattern, a habit, which may imprison you in an addiction, to the sorrow and disappointment of those who love you (see John 8:34; 2 Pet. 2:12–14, 18–19).
- Pressure is put upon legislatures to legalize unnatural conduct. They can never make right that which is forbidden in the laws of God (see Lev. 18:22; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:9–10).
- Sometimes we are asked why we do not recognize this conduct as a diverse and acceptable lifestyle. This we cannot do. We did not make the laws; they were made in heaven “before the foundation of the world” (D&C 132:5; D&C 124:41; see also Alma 22:13). We are servants only….
- We understand why some feel we reject them. That is not true. We do not reject you, only immoral behavior. We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you (see Heb. 12:6–9; Rom. 3:19; Hel. 15:3; D&C 95:1).
- You may even feel that we do not love you. That also is not true. Parents know, and one day you will know, that there are times when parents and we who lead the Church must extend tough love when failing to teach and to warn and to discipline is to destroy.
- We did not make the rules; they were revealed as commandments. We do not cause nor can we prevent the consequences if you disobey the moral laws (see D&C 101:78). In spite of criticism or opposition, we must teach and we must warn.
- When any unworthy desires press into your mind, fight them, resist them, control them (see James 4:6–8; 2 Ne. 9:39; Mosiah 3:19). The Apostle Paul taught, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13; see also D&C 62:1)....:Some think that God created them with overpowering, unnatural desires, that they are trapped and not responsible (see James 1:13–15). That is not true. It cannot be true. Even if they were to accept it as true, they must remember that He can cure and He can heal (see Alma 7:10–13; Alma 15:8).
Here again, President Packer uses the same scripture from Paul to illustrate that temptations do not inevitably translate into acts. He goes on to teach that some temptations and inclinations will not be overcome in this life:
- That may be a struggle from which you will not be free in this life. If you do not act on temptations, you need feel no guilt. They may be extremely difficult to resist. But that is better than to yield and bring disappointment and unhappiness to you and those who love you.
We note again that those who do not act on such temptations are not guilty of any sin—just as Pres. Packer taught in his 2010 talk, and as the clarifications (not alterations) to the meaning of that talk argued.
In 2003, President Packer again taught these same ideas, including the principle that only acts make one a sinner or subject to Church discipline:
- There are words we would rather not say. They describe things that we would rather not think about. But you are inescapably exposed to temptations in connection with fornication, adultery, pornography, prostitution, perversion, lust, abuse, the unnatural, and all that grows from them....
- Some work through political, social, and legal channels to redefine morality and marriage into something unrestrained, unnatural, and forbidden. But they never can change the design which has governed human life and happiness from the beginning. The deceiver preys upon some passion or tendency or weakness. He convinces them that the condition cannot be changed and recruits them for activities for which they never would volunteer....
- In the Church, one is not condemned for tendencies or temptations. One is held accountable for transgression. (DC 101:78; A+of+F 1:2) If you do not act on unworthy persuasions, you will neither be condemned nor be subject to Church discipline.
In 2006, President Packer again taught against the idea that we must inevitably sin because of temptations or tendencies:
- It is a wicked, wicked world in which we live and in which our children must find their way. Challenges of pornography, gender confusion, immorality, child abuse, drug addiction, and all the rest are everywhere. There is no way to escape from their influence.
- Some are led by curiosity into temptation, then into experimentation, and some become trapped in addiction. They lose hope. The adversary harvests his crop and binds them down....
- The angels of the devil convince some that they are born to a life from which they cannot escape and are compelled to live in sin. The most wicked of lies is that they cannot change and repent and that they will not be forgiven. That cannot be true. They have forgotten the Atonement of Christ.
(These talks are compared in table form on a separate page.)
Editing an apostle?
Some few have expressed surprise or disappointment that an apostle's remarks would be edited for publication. Others have assumed that such editing represented a "reigning in" of President Packer by other members of the "Mormon hierarchy." Such an uncharitable reading is inconsistent with the evidence that President Packer's views on this issue have not changed.
Furthermore, it is relatively common practice—in and out of the Church—to edit talks after their presentation prior to publication. President Packer himself expressed his appreciation for those of his fellow leaders or Church employees who, in the past, have suggested changes in his wording to avoid confusion:
- I was asked to write an article for the Improvement Era. It was returned with the request that I change some words. I smarted! The replacement words didn't convey exactly what I was trying to say. I balked a bit, and was told that Richard L. Evans, then of the Seventy and magazine editor, had asked that the changes be made....Now, though that article is piled under thirty-five years of paper, I'm glad, very glad, that if someone digs it out, I was "invited" to change it.
- After one of my first general conference talks, I received a call from Joseph Anderson [secretary to the First Presidency]. In a very polite way he said that President McKay and his counselors suggested that I add one word to the text of my talk. Would I mind doing that? Actually the word was in my text, I just failed to read it at the pulpit. A most embarrassing lesson -- the First Presidency! It was easier when Elder Evans corrected my work; even easier when one of my associates was kind enough to do it.
- Only last Friday while putting together some things for a presentation, I read part of it to some brethren from BYU. I noticed they looked at one another at one place in my reading, and I stopped and asked if there was a problem. Finally one of them suggested that I not use a certain scripture that I had included even though it said exactly what I wanted to convey. How dare they suppose that a member of the Twelve didn't know his scriptures! I simply said, "What do you suggest?" He said, "Better find another scripture," and he pointed out that if I put that verse back in context, it was really talking about another subject. Others had used it as I proposed to use it, but it was not really correct. I was very glad to make a change.
- Now you may not need a correlating hand in what you do, but I certainly do. This brother lingered after the meeting to thank me for being patient with him. Thank me! I was thankful to him. If I ever make that presentation, it will only be after some of our Correlation staff have checked it over for me.
President Packer's message was clear to many who heard it. Some honestly misunderstood him, and some seem to have actively sought a hostile reading. In this context, a clarification was appropriate so there can be no excuse for mistaking his meaning.
Propaganda and tactics
Many people could have innocently misunderstood President Packer's comments. The idea that just because you have certain feelings does not mean you have to act upon them is becoming more and more foreign to people outside the church. If someone does not understand this distinction, they could easily interpret a call to avoid illicit sexual relationships, including a strong reference to same-sex relationships, as a call to change your sexual orientation. Unfortunately, that misinterpretation seems to have spread, making it harder to understand Elder Packer's real intent.
It is important that those with same-sex attractions do not feel guilt for same-sex attractions, and this type of misrepresentation of the Church's teachings only compounds the problem. While many might not understand the distinction the Church makes, many people do understand the distinction but insist on perpetuating the misunderstanding. Making it sound like President Packer is trying to tell people they have to change their sexual orientation garners more sympathy towards their cause than making it sound like President Packer was telling people they can choose not to have gay sex.
This tactic is harmful, and so it is no surprise that those opposed to the Church's teachings resort to it. President Packer is an apostle of God and many members with same-sex attraction sustain him as such. If they come under the false impression that an apostle of God is telling them they can change their sexual orientation, then they will feel more pressure to do so, which can result in guilt and depression—or (as the Church's critics likely hope will happen) members with same-sex attraction will conclude that President Packer is not to be heeded because his "advice" to change their orientation doesn't succeed. He is not, they will then conclude, inspired or directed by God in his counsel. This misunderstanding, fostered by some enemies of the Church's teachings and doctrines, would then drive people away from keeping their covenants, continued faith in the atonement of Christ, and sustaining the prophets and apostles.
The actual message delivered by the Church and President Packer that "if you do not act on temptations, you need feel no guilt" can easily become lost among the misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
Blurring the distinction between gay sex and same-sex attractions is not a new tactic. They match techniques which some have long advocated.
- [note] An address given at the Church Educational System fireside at BYU on 1 February 1998; reproduced in Boyd K. Packer, "The Peaceable Followers of Christ," Ensign (April 1998), 62. off-site
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "Revelation in a Changing World," Ensign (November 1989), 16. off-site
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "A Tribute to the Rank and File of the Church," Ensign (May 1980), 65. off-site
- [note] Scott Taylor, "Mormon youths support President Packer through Facebook," Deseret News (11 October 2010) off-site
- [note] Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, "Same Gender Attraction," interview with Church Public Affairs (2006). off-site
- [note] Gregory L. Smith, "Shattered Glass: The Traditions of Mormon Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Encounter Boyd K. Packer," Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011): 61–85. off-site wiki
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "Ye Are The Temple of God," General Conference (November 2000).
- [note] Bishop Keith B. McMullin, "Remarks," given at 20th annual Evergreen International conference held in Salt Lake City, 18 September 2010.
- [note] "I was asked on one occasion by President Kimball if I would care to talk to the students at Brigham Young University on the subject of perversion. I begged him to excuse me from doing it, for I thought myself incapable of talking on that subject to a mixed audience. Later I repented of having declined the invitation and worked with great care to do as he had asked me to do. While "To the One" was given before a large audience at a Brigham Young University fireside, I singled out the afflicted individual for help, and also tried to inform and guide anyone who might have responsibility to help "the one" find his way." - Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified (Bookcraft, 1982), 154.
- [note] "To The One," address given to twelve-stake fireside, Brigham Young University (5 March 1978); reprinted in Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified (Bookcraft, 1982), 186–200, emphasis added; italics in original. GL direct link
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "Covenants," General Conference (Oct 1990). (emphasis added)
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness," General Conference (October 1995). (emphasis added)
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "Ye Are The Temple of God," General Conference (November 2000). (emphasis added) (italics in original)
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "The Standard of Truth Has Been Erected," General Conference (October 2003). (emphasis added)
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "I Will Remember Your Sins No More," General Conference (April 2006). (emphasis added)
- [note] Boyd K. Packer, "Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council," (18 May 1993).
- [note] See, for example, (Gay) Mormon Guy, "President Packer's Talk... From a (Gay) Mormon Perspective," blog post (14 October 2010) off-site
- Shattered Glass: The Traditions of Mormon Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Encounter Boyd K. Packer Maxwell Institute, Gregory Smith