President Boyd K. Packer’s Talk and LDS Moral Standards: Important Editorial from the Deseret News

The anger unleashed in response to Elder Packer’s talk at General Conference is disappointing. Even more disappointed is the effort of some to find hostile intent where no hostility was meant. Some have accused President Packer’s support of traditional morality as a call for bullying and persecution of homosexuals. This is outrageous given his express words to the contrary and the Church’s vigorous efforts to condemn and prevent violence and hostility. The Church has repeatedly affirmed that whether people accept our moral positions or not, whether they are gay or not, they are all sons and daughters of God deserving kindness. It is irresponsible in the extreme to accuse the Church of hate for its moral standards or to link the Church with hostility or violence that is contrary to its teachings.

A Call for Civil Dialogue” is an important editorial that just appeared in the Deseret News several hours ago. Please read the story. Also read or listen to President Packer’s entire talk, not the hostile spinning of what he said. Here is an excerpt from the news story:

This focused attention on the LDS Church is deeply ironic given the church’s shared condemnation of hate and violence toward gays and lesbians, its mutual support of anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians and its compassionate ministry to LDS Church members who have same-gender attraction.

This past week, the LDS Church re-emphasized “that there is no room in this discussion for hatred or mistreatment of anyone.” This is not new — it mirrors, for example, how the LDS Church helped to champion a Salt Lake City ordinance banning discrimination of gays and lesbians in housing and employment. And it is consistent with how the LDS Church has ministered to members with same-gender attraction.

In a 2007 article in the LDS Church’s Ensign magazine, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland relates a conversation with a self-described gay member of the LDS Church: “You are first and foremost a son of God, and He loves you. What’s more, I love you. My Brethren among the General Authorities love you.”

Interestingly, given the events of this week, Elder Holland spoke about other church leaders: “I’m reminded of a comment President Boyd K. Packer made in speaking to those with same-gender attraction. ‘We do not reject you,’ he said. ‘… We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you.’ ”…

Nonetheless, tactics used this week ostensibly to accomplish these purposes were counterproductive. Instead of seeking genuine common ground around issues of mutual concern, activists began this week with a grossly misguided caricature of the LDS Church’s support of traditional morality.

The tactic is now all-too familiar: take a statement out of context, embellish it with selective interpretation, presume hostile intent, and then use the distortion to isolate an entire group, in this case a church.

We encourage all to read President Packer’s talk rather than simply rely on the media interpretations and selective quotations. It stretches all credulity to find in President Packer’s pastoral counsel what some are calling a hateful message “that can lead some kids to bully and others to commit suicide.” Contrary to what some have written in provocative press releases, nothing in President Packer’s talk says that “violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable.”

This distortion is not only misguided and political, it is dangerous. It frays trust that helps people of goodwill from different perspectives to constructively address the serious problems under consideration. By holding up a caricatured account of people’s spiritual leaders, those in greatest need of pastoral care may be mistakenly alienated from the very people who can compassionately help them get access to professional resources and counseling.

As you know, there were a couple of sentences in President Packer’s talk that are being revised for the official print version of his talk. I feel that is healthy. Though inspired and called of God to serve, Church leaders remain completely mortal and human in their ministry. It’s fair that we be prepared for revisions at times to repair statements that might not be accurate or ideal. The continued hostility against the Church for his talk, even with the softening or clarification, reflects more than a good faith dialog. I suggest we need to calm down. My two cents.

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Author: Jeff Lindsay

111 thoughts on “President Boyd K. Packer’s Talk and LDS Moral Standards: Important Editorial from the Deseret News

  1. People may disagree with the Church's moral position and feel it is antiquated or unfair, but they are not victims of hate by Church.

    To speak for traditional marriage and to speak against sex outside of marriage is not hate speech toward homosexuals. Neither is it hate speech against Bill Clinton, Hugh Hefner, and many other men who may have excess sex drive. It isn't hate speech against teenagers who get pregnant. The emphasis on morality and general social stigma, especially years ago, may have been contributing factors to depression and even suicide among some teenagers, which is terribly tragic. But the Church's position is to love and help, not to mock and belittle, and those who mock and jeer are guilty of a great sin. Eradicating all moral standards is not the solution.

    Any standard for behavior may create stress and pain for those who have difficulty with it. That difficulty may be at least partly genetic as may be the case with some people's attraction to alcohol, for example, but that doesn't turn the moral standard into hate. My pain does not make those who teach standards guilty of hate speech, especially when the intent is to protect me and help. Call the standard antiquated or misguided and teach your own standards instead, but to accuse the Church of hate for its moral position is horribly misguided and reveals an agenda that has little to do with a sincere quest for tolerance and understanding.

  2. Hi Jeff, The leaders of our church reserve the right to call other people's relationships "counterfeits", "wrong", "wickedness", "impure", and "unnatural" (all quotes from that part of Elder Packer's talk and quotes that were not modified). They then say this is done purely in love. It would be very hard for a non-Mormon gay person to read Elder Packer's talk and believe that we really did love everyone. For example, do you think that anti-Mormon ministry evangelicals have genuine love for LDS people? Do the ways they characterize the mormon religion have something to do with it? I am not saying the brethred don't love homosexuals, just that it is very understandable that others believe they don't.

    Given our own history on other subjects, it is very easy for others to believe that some real hostility is behind those words of Elder Packer or will be justified by others using those words. Remember, we said we loved black people and the priesthood ban was not racist, but black students were denied scholarships at BYU because of their race, etc., etc., etc.

  3. I agree with Paul. It's like the Church wants to have it both ways: they want to condemn homosexuality as a perversion, and homosexuals as perverted – and yet, claim this is done out of love and respect. It's hard to condemn somebody and show them love and respect at the same time. People outside the church, or not as sympathetic, can see through this sort of hypocrisy.

  4. Fair question, Paul. The analogy to anti-Mormons is interesting. Love does not necessarily mean agreeing with others or their position. Indeed, love can motivate a parent to correct a child in error, or a Church to teach against practices that it believes are in error, and such can be done with love as a real motivation. Even for anti-Mormons.

    There are ministries speaking against our Church and teachings where I believe there is a sincere desire to help us and to serve God, and yes, love is part of the effort, even though I think they are wrong. When there is civility in tone and some level of respect, I hesitate to use the word "anti-Mormon" for these critics. But there are ones that are hostile in the sense of deliberately inciting others to be angry at us, stirring up fear through misunderstanding. knowingly distorting information and sometimes seeking to interfere with our worship, with our temple building, etc. The street preacher yelling at Mormons as they go to General Conference is an example where it's really hard to accept love as a motivation.

    One can always make a case that taking any position contrary to someone else creates potential for hostility and animosity of others. To speak against abortion could be conflated with wackos who hurt abortion doctors. To speak against alcohol could be equated with the burning of liquor stores or hate against alcoholics. But that does not mean that the moral stance is one of hate. We stand for traditional marriage, but that does not mean we advocate hostility or anger toward those who practice otherwise. Ditto for other behaviors we consider as wrong. Perhaps we are misguided in this stance, but it's not one of hate. Recognize the difference, please.

  5. I loved Boyd K packers talk and people who are angry about the stances reiterated in it are nitpicking. He spoke against non marital hetro-sexual relationships and pornography in the same talk. Does that mean he hates anybody who does or has engaged in those activities as well? You can love and accept a person without loving or accepting their behavior…

  6. Hi Jeff,
    I am not trying to make the case that the point of view of the brethren is one of hate. The point I was trying to make was simply that it is very understandable how this talk is being perceived outside the church, and that our PR efforts on this issue are likely going to be ineffective outside of the church. It is generally part of current American culture that using adjectives like "counterfeit" "impure" "wickedness" and "unnatural" to describe someone's cherished intimate relationship is typically not compatible with that person thinking you are their friend. Ideally, we would live in a culture where repentance was more popular than professional sports, but I don't think we are going to see that soon. In the church we are used to being called to repentance in various ways for various things, so such language seems more normal to us. To reiterate, I am trying to say that the response of those outside the church is very understandable and given our past actions on other controversial subjects, we won't have the credibility with them that we would like to have.

  7. But Paul, even if we didn't have past flaws in the eyes of the world, would that really make a difference in this debate? If we had always been on the vanguard of civil rights in decades past, from our early days of abolitionist leanings right into the 70s without the problematic priesthood limitations, would that change the howling now that the Church has supported Prop. 8 and maintained a moral stance that infuriates some activists?

    From my perspective, the most vocal militants on the gay marriage side aren't going to be any calmer if a perceived enemy has a progressive track record in other venues. And our highly politicized media wouldn't be more tolerant of political incorrectness.

    There are many on both sides of the issue willing to engage in civil dialog, but the fury isn't being fomented by them. It's not a debate the militants are seeking, but a revolution. For that, the humanitarian track record of an opponent doesn't matter much.

  8. Jeff,
    I see your point that critics of the church are likely single issue critics in this case. So I concede.

    I appreciate your support of people engaging in civil dialog. Like those seeking large changes, I don't think our leaders are engaging in "debates" either. It is not clear to me that that civil dialog was what the church was doing with this talk, or what it is doing generally. I agree that the "public square" is highly politicized. However it is highly politicized on the right and on the left. On the right, church-owned radio stations broadcast and profit from Rush Limbaugh among other right-wing hosts. Instead of complaining about the political correctness of the media, we could acknowledge that the church has a large amount of airwave influence relative to our size and church media influence skews to the right politically both for political and financial reasons. So we are not helpless victims of political correctness, but instead actively profiting from fairly extreme right wing political communications. We are part of the highly politicized media more than we are part of the civil dialog, in terms of numbers of people communicated with per day.

  9. Jeff, I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm not worried about the intent of the church, but rather the effect that it has on the children who are listening to it. This cartoon explains the situation pretty well. The words we say have consequences.

    I just wish that a lot more emphasis would be placed on loving the sinner–especially since the demographic of wavering gays in the Church is so small and the demographic of potential bullies is so much larger.

  10. That cartoon is totally false and kids are far smarter than you give them credit for. I had people tell me those things as a kid and what they said is what I heard. And just like them i am respectful towards others even if they are engaging in behaviors I don't approve of. The kids being violent towards gays would be violent towards another group if they weren't. In other words a bully is a bully and instead of looking at why a particular child was bullied we should be looking into why another child thinks its ok to bully regardless of the why. Our words do have consequences you are right and when such blunt words as Elder Packer used are not used then it just becomes more permissible to do in the minds of those willing to engage in immoral activity.

  11. Track records work both ways. The hate and hysteria from the Left in this area bodes poorly for any kind of meaningful and civil dialog.

  12. Nate, thanks for the input, but I hope you'll look at that cartoon again and notice how it:

    (1) insults the integrity and intelligence of teachers and school administrators who generally are ethical and responsible opponents of violence and bullying,

    (2) insults the intelligence of children as if they cannot be taught religious or moral standards without using violence against those who are different or disagree, and

    (3) insults Dobson and his pro-family Christian peer with a misleading caricature of their position.

    That's a lot of insulting, misleading caricaturing in one short cartoon. Are you really sure that's something you feel is a useful contribution to civil dialog?

    Food for thought.

    So what evidence is there that conservative Christians are beating up gay kids based on what they hear at church? There will be anecdotal cases, but a real link?

    What do kids hear when they are taught to be kind to people regardless of their beliefs and behaviors? What do kids hear when they are told that gay or straight, everyone is a son or daughter of God? The kids I know are smart enough to digest the idea that some things are sinful but that we should still be nice to sinners.

  13. If being civil on this means that I can't point out the likely effects of a person's words, then by all means, call me uncivil. Frankly, I'm much less interested in offending adults than in children's lives. Another teen took his own life this week. I'll start worrying about James Dobson's feelings when he starts worrying about the feelings of gay teens.

    I'm also kind of surprised to hear you actually challenge the connection between religious condemnation and teen suicide. I figured the stories such as those of Stuart Matis would have made the connection beyond reasonable question. I will simply point you towards Carol Lynn Pearson's book No More Goodbyes which addresses the issue thoroughly. Or I suppose you could ask gay members or former members how they felt after reading "To the One." Because they are not directed to you, I would suggest you might not be the best judge of the effect of the religious community's words on gay teens.

    I agree with what you are saying as far as what positive messages about everyone being children of God. More of this, preferably without qualification, is what is needed. However, these words will never get through if the actions of parents and other adults contradict the message. I don't doubt that children are quite insightful, but they also have not learned (and I'm being uncivil again–I just don't know a civil way to say it) the doublespeak of claiming to love people while calling them an abomination. That's not saying anything bad about kids; I don't know how to do it either.

  14. I left the church over Prop 8—while the church may believe whatever it believes, to attempt to abrogate an entire group's civil rights on the grounds of religion violates its own articles of faith.

    In addition, there are children's lives at stake here, lives of gay LDS kids who believe themselves unaccepted and unacceptable…..whatever happened to the standard of acting to the least of us? Sure seemed to be in full force when they told me my kneecaps could inspire vicious lust in some unfortunate priesthood holder……

  15. One more thought:

    How is it that the ideas expressed in the cartoon are not civil, while saying that gay relationships are a perversion and anti-family counts as civil discourse?

  16. The two things that interested me most in this controversy are that, one: it appears to me that the president of the quorum of the 12 apostles broke ranks with the well crafted and honed church position on gays, then was reigned in the next day. While president Packer's remarks are consistent with his own previous remarks on the topic, they are not consistent, as spoken from the pulpit, with the current position of the church in both tone and content. The edited version posted on line is more consistent.
    Second: The status of the proclamation on the family as revelation has been debated for many years. It appears that question has been clarified. It also appears that president Packers remarks concerning the proclamation were again, out of line with the church position.

    This debacle, to me, shows that there is not always harmony among the leaders of the church and the issue of gays is not only divisive within the membership of the church, but also within the highest leadership of the church. Perhaps not on the moral standing of gays, but at least how the church should present it position.