Protesting President Packer

I suppose I ought to weigh in on this matter. But given the silence that has characterized this blog of late, I suppose I won’t say too much.

I must have been quite distracted when President Packer gave his talk last weekend. No disrespect meant to him, but I think I was waking up from a nap. I found I had missed out on something Monday, though, when I received an email denigrating President Packer for being both a homophobe and a pedophile, accusations that are just mean-spirited and do nothing to advance anyone’s “cause.” But the lack of care, compassion, and sophistication didn’t stop there. Apparently there was also a protest in Salt Lake City yesterday. Good for them. Here are just a couple of words about the lack of sophistication which has characterized the discussion so far:

Much of what people are reacting to is President Packer’s statement that, “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so!” Consider the following:

  1. Are people born homosexual? Heterosexual? D&C 93 states that “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.” Innocent. To talk about being born any way seems to me too simple.
  2. Does innocent mean “void of attraction,” to any sex? I don’t know that it does or that it doesn’t. But if we read the next few verses, it suggest where sin comes from: “And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.” If sin can come from either place, then why does the debate seem to center only on the “disobedience” part, and any talk about the value of tradition is left out? That’s something we could use more of on both sides.
  3. Finally, in response to President Packer’s “Some suppose that they…cannot overcome. Not so!”, he continues: “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.’ 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.” This feels too simple. As King Benjamin said, man is nothing and can do nothing of himself. As Christ said, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” We could do to talk a little more about what grace is and what it means, again on both sides of this fruitless debate.

And then of course, as Dennis pointed out to me, there is the fact that, while it seems President Packer is talking about homosexual relationships, the context actually suggests – if not, at least allows for – the possibility that he’s referring to other unnatural relationships. The statement just before the above quotes refers to “Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage.” This could include any number of non-marital sexual relationships (which we seem to have stopped talking about now that gay marriage is so hot-button). I understand that, given the context of the recent gay teen suicides, one is more inclined to read President Packer one way (the way he’s obviously been read). But with a little more sophistication, I don’t think we have to read him just one way.

One final thing: in the article linked to above, the American Psychological Association resolution concerning “Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts” is mentioned as a good reason to protest President Packer’s talk. Quoting the article, “No solid evidence exists that such efforts [to change sexual orientation] work, the APA concluded, and some studies suggest a potential for harm.” Many of the studies referred to in this are studies done 30 or more years ago (see above link) on convicted sex offenders forced to attend conversion therapy. APA, always so sly with their philosophical convictions, ignores more recent, and even rather significant research, that has shown the benefits of conversion therapy.

It’s a shame so much press can come of so little sophistication.

15 Responses

  1. 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.”

    It’s important to note that this explanation does not at all imply that people can be cured of homosexuality. It is saying, merely, that they can overcome anything that is keeping them from being a church member in full fellowship. Seeing as how same-sex attraction and identity do not disqualify anyone from being a worthy member of the church, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. All that is really being said here is that someone can keep themselves from engaging in homosexual behavior (as it is only the behavior that the church takes issue with, in the realm of individual sin). Not nearly as controversial as people might think, and something that I think almost everyone in the church believes.

    The same would go for anything else. Someone can conquer alcoholism but still crave alcohol, at least occasionally. Someone can conquer pornography but still feel that titillating urge. Someone can manage their anger but still feel their blood boil at certain triggers. Speaking of sophistication, why can’t we talk about homosexuality in this nuanced way. Now, I agree that Packer shot himself in the foot by not being more clear. But, strictly speaking, he did not say what people are accusing him of saying — that gays can be straight if they really want to. Now whether he believes that, I don’t know–but he didn’t say that. And considering that there is a very good alternative explanation for it (which I just offered), and that is in line with current LDS discourse about same-sex attraction, why are people so eager to interpret him the other way?

  2. The protests were of the original wording. The wording has changed. The prior wording was open to the interpretation that the “tendency” i.e., orientation, could be “overcome” or completely conquered (i.e., so that it does not exist). If he just meant that a “temptation” could be “resisted”, why did he not say it that way? By changing “tendency” to “temptation” and removing the rhetorical question, the paragaph seems more consistent with the current orientation/behavior distinction that the Church has taken.

    During many of the debates about the original passage, it was not just Church critics who interpreted the talk to mean orientation could be changed with sufficient faith, but many staunch Church supporters were arguing that is what it is meant. I know plenty of members who think that sexual orientation can be changed with sufficient faith and prayer–i.e., maybe a person doesn’t choose to have a homosexual orientation, but he/she can choose to change that orientation. And many of those folks took that as the meaning of Pres. Packers talk.

    I know plenty of faithful members of the Church who have told me that they feel very relieved on seeing the corrected version of Pres. Packer’s talk. (And I know quite a few critics who are unhappy–how can he be a true apostle, they say, if he doesn’t stand by what he said in conference?)

    A transcript showing the changes is at the mormons for marriage website.

    (And yes, Pres. Packer has made statements before indicating he thought homosexuals could be cured.)

  3. BTW, with respect to analogies to addiction, I can tell you from my experience in the 12 step world that the addicts I know do not speak of “overcoming” or “conquering” an addiction. In fact, we speak of being “powerless” over the addiction. We do not and cannot “conquer” or “overcome” the addiction.

  4. Hi DavidH:

    Thanks for your comments. I just learned of the change in the printed version. OK, it is all making much more sense now. “Tendencies” was definitely the wrong word. Very happy to see that corrected.

    Also, I see what you’re saying about whether you can “overcome” or “conquer” an addiction. What I really mean, at least for something like alcoholism or pornography addiction, is that people can stop drinking and watching pornography — even if they may still be addicted in a certain sense. It’s ceasing the addictive behavior that I was talking about, but you’re right, my word choice was not accurate.

  5. Here’s a helpful website by BYU professor William Bradshaw for LDS members seeking to educate themselves on the biologic origin or homosexuality. It also discusses how reparative therapy does not work to change homosexuals (just as it would’t make heterosexuals into homosexuals). I’m sorry, but Pres. Packer is in left field on this issue. The corrections to his talk were welcome.

  6. Josh, I don’t fine Prof. Bradshaw helpful in any way. He starts out with the supposition of biological inheritance, which is fine, but not complete. A person with a larger ring finger is more likely to be gay, but it does not prove causation, only correlations. He admits the lack of finding the gay link in the brain, but then uses the trend to justify his certainty. Finally, he leaves biology in left field and entertains the notion of pre-existent spiritual homosexuality. He relies too easily upon personal context, therapist anecdotes that are likely biased towards the most difficult cases, etc. etc. He ignore cultural contexts, history such as in Rome or Greece, doesn’t even discuss what attraction means, and then uses the case that heterosexuals can’t change, so why would they expect gays can? It’s clear that historically, heterosexuals often do participate and enjoy gay relations in great numbers, so that’s out the window. He’s appealing to cultural abhorrence, not historical abhorrence.

    Finally, what about treatment? If homosexuality is inherent, what are on the horizons for treatment as far as prenatal vitamins for pregnant mothers or hormone treatments for those that have this tendency? Seems that this would easier and cheaper than therapy. It’s completely absent from the debate. He is an advocate and an ideologue, and while his verbiage and scientific couching may be more comfortable that BKP, it definitely leaves one wanting.

  7. I think the removal of Pres. Packer’s language” Why would He do this to anyone” only lessens the reader’s ability to understand Pres. Packard’s reasoning. The original language reveals his premise that God does not create beings that are incapable of obeying His commandments. Understanding such premise makes for greater understanding of his remarks.

    Within the Gospel there are exemptions to accountability such as youth, disability and ignorance of the law. These are all general conditions which may prevent obedience to the laws in general. Able adult members of the Church do not quality for a general accountability exemption. The argument for exemption for homosexuals then would be that they are disabled in relation to gender preference. A problem is that we do not have a law that accomodates that specific exemption. Without such an accomodating law we are left with only the general law(s).

    Can someone summarize the findings of the Stanton L. Jones study referenced above? thanks.

    I appreciate constructive responses to my comments.

  8. As far as things seeming to simple Joe, I feel only to refer you to a king in the Old Testament when he desired of a prophet to ask of God that he (the king) might be healed of his sore affliction of leprosy. He was told to go wash in the Jordan River 7 times I believe and didn’t do it at first feeling that it was too simple to work. Upon finally conceding he did as the Lord spoke through his prophet and was healed. Just food for thought.
    As far as addictions, I smoked and drank, among other things before joining the Church. These were addictions as strong as most and I overcame them with the Lord’s help and the Atonement of our Savior. I do not do them and I do not have the desire. I hang out with friends that still do and find myself near it all far too often. There were no 12 step programs nor social networks so to speak, no interventions, though these are needed for far too many in the world today it would appear. There is love, prayer, fasting, and faith. I feel that the first step to being able to overcome is to know that disease can be cured with the right medicine and some of that medicine can only be administered by way of the Atonement. We love and support you, Elder Packer, as well as all of our leadership in the Church. I know that the Gospel is true and feel the Spirit in the words of His servants. I thank the commentors here for their thoughtful statements and their non contentious words. I enjoyed reading.

  9. Josh,

    Professor Bradshaw is a zoologist and microbiologist, so he is quite likely to be most convinced by a biological argument for the origins of what is more clearly demonstrably a psychological characteristic. His arguments are far too simplistic, narrowly blinkered, and uninformed — as Peter pointed out. Ultimatealy, until Professor Bradshaw and his ilk can supply a conceptually adequate answer to the question of how exactly one gets something as socially, historically, psychologically and culturally grounded as a sexual desire (or any desire, for that matter) — i.e., psychological kinds — out of the mechanics of meat and DNA — i.e., natural kinds — then they need to start tempering the tone of scientific certainty so often characteristic of their biologically reductive pronouncements.

    As a psychologist, I would never suspect that my training or experience as a psychologist warranted me to make sweeping, scientific-sounding pronouncements regarding NSAID-induced apoptosis in Rous sarcoma virus-transformed chicken embryo fibroblasts and whether or not it might be dependent on v-src and c-myc or inhibited by bcl-2 (one of Dr. Bradshaw’s research areas). I would realize that doing so would be stepping outside my area of expertize, training, and knoweldge, and would, therefore, be irresponsible. Why this so seldom stops biologists from weighing in (as presumably qualified experts merely by virtue of their training in biology) on the meaning of human relationships is quite beyond me.

    Of course, making flatly absurd assertions on the basis of poorly thought-out or unexamined philosophical assumptions has long been a strong suit of many in this debate — especially, as Joe pointed out, the American Psychological Association (an association with a long history of wanting to ape the biological sciences in order to achieve some measure of scientific respectibility).

    Perhaps the most well-known, well-respected, and influential LDS working in this area — but by no means only — is A. Dean Byrd, a psychologist at the University of Utah.

    The work of Byrd and his colleagues is well worth consultation and consideration. He has repeatedly made careful methodological analyses of the research employed by those arguing that homosexual desires (indeed all sexual desires of whatever sort) are biologically based and unchangeable and has shown the deeply flawed nature of such research. Further, he has conducted his own research on the viability of reparative therapy and found that those who desire homosexual relationships can in fact change those desires. Finally, he has also made very sophisticated critiques of the philosophical assumptions guiding the “homosexuality-is-biological” argument.

    For an example of Dr. Byrd’s work see:

  10. Ed,

    Interesting that you bring up Byrd. I didn’t know you were enthusiastic about his work. I agree with most of what you say, but I’m very tentative to associate myself too closely with his work–mostly because I’m not totally sold on the claims he has made about reparative therapy. That being said, I do think that it is ridiculous that to even mention the possibility of viable reparative therapy is anathema in the academy. But I wish Byrd and his colleagues would reframe some of their thinking on this issue. I think that these efforts would be more palatable to the academy if they were framed as helping people to develop heterosexual attraction and manage same-sex attractions, as opposed to simply repair the latter. The very term reparative therapy needs to be ditched for something else–sexual fluidity therapy, perhaps? (Lisa Diamond would love that :)

    But I also was REALLY turned off by a very uncharitable review that Byrd (with others) wrote of the book In Quiet Desperation. I thought that the book (admittedly written by a friend of mine) was an extremely thoughtful book that offered hope to a lot of people with same-sex attraction who want to stay in the church — but Byrd et al. derided it as a slippery slope that ignores the Atonement. Which is completely ridiculous–Mansfield’s point was not that the Atonement can’t change people, it is with insisting that it must right now (and even, perhaps, in this life). It would equally be wrong to insist that it can’t change someone relatively soon or in this life. The problem with Byrd’s viewpoint is that it can be devastating for someone who tries so hard and does not change; are we really confident enough to say they just need to try harder or they need more faith?

  11. Since its on this topic, I wrote the following lately in an email regarding some views I have on same-sex attraction and the possibility of change:

    It used to be standard counsel in the church for homosexuals to marry (heterosexually). Although I am sure this turned out to be a success for some (who you never hear about), it ended up being a disaster for many, probably most — as Carol Lynn Pearson has probably been the most visible spokesperson about. This is even when both parties are aware of the same-sex attraction prior to engagement; by a report I heard, less than 10 percent of spouses of members who have same-sex attraction are not aware of their spouse’s attraction.

    The church has wisely distanced itself from this counsel recently, especially the past 15 years or so. However, I do think there is some wisdom behind at least the hope that those with same-sex attraction can get to a place in their life where they can be happily married (heterosexually), and many have — without giving false hope.

    In this regard, I find it odd that many LDS professionals and leaders are rallying behind the very minimal gains made in controversial reparative therapy — without considering that a much more promising direction, as far as possible treatment goes for those who desire it, is to not worry at all about same-sex attraction, but simply to help cultivate attraction for the other sex–or simply some people of the other sex. This approach would be especially more promising for women, considering they are more fluid in their sexuality (e.g., some lesbians enter into relationships with men but deny being bisexual; they are simply attracted to that man; for married individuals, then, a possible approach is developing sexual attraction for their spouse).

    Of course, even this approach would be controversial to many, but most, I think, would resign themselves to tolerate such an agenda. I think that LDS repulsion for all things homosexual has kept us from really considering such a therapeutic agenda. And this is unfortunate — if we are serious that it is not good for man and woman to be alone, and if there is a population of people who wish to be able to marry heterosexually, then by all means we should seriously strive to make movements in this direction, while taking the challenges very seriously and not giving false hope.

    I realize that some will be critical about the very thought of this — “can you imagine yourself being married to someone of the same sex?” some might ask. But this comparison fails to consider that there are reasons for the person to be motivated to be attracted to the other sex. So, yes, if my theology told me that the good or at least ideal life, eternally, comes through marriage to the same sex — then yes, I could see myself being married to someone of the same sex, though I currently do not have the attraction for such! A crucial distinction that many do not consider.

  12. Also, here are some notes I wrote about Byrd’s and Bradshaw’s work a few years ago:

    Today I read Byrd, Cox, and Robinson’s review of In Quiet Desperation, and then read Bradshaw, Rees, Schow, and Raynes’ rebuttal. I wonder if the two groups are talking past each other in important ways, both doctrinal and scientific. As an outsider to this debate, I suppose I see my (tentative) position as somewhat in the middle: Same-sex attraction and homosexuality emerge within the context of many factors, biological, psychological, cultural, and social. Certainly there are “deterministic” components, but the degree of their force certainly varies. SSA is certainly not a push-a-button “choice,” but we must always remain open to how an individual’s agency (a far broader philosophical construct than “rational deliberation”) interplays with these factors (something I don’t see Bradshaw et al. doing, at least explicitly).

    Moreover, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to cure or alleviate SSA as well as help individuals live productive married lives; however, when this happens for an individual is uncertain (and for many, or perhaps most, may be after this life). Individuals who struggle with SSA should expect this change to occur, and allow for the Lord to do what He will, whether tomorrow, 30 years from now, or beyond the veil (a difficult approach, but hardly a “hopeless” one!). The allowance for the Lord’s will and timing (as opposed to an impatient and hedonistic strategy to “take advantage of the Atonement”) is called worshiping God, not limiting the Atonement (as Byrd et al. falsely insinuate). Moreover, the Atonement should be seen as opening a healing relationship with God in which temptations may remain and yet one is whole or at peace, in Christ (“in the midst of affliction, my table is spread”). To demand that the Atonement will change a person according to a certain timetable, if he/she really wants it to, is doctrinally flawed and can be extremely damaging. On the other hand, to insist that it is impossible for the Atonement to change someone, even in this life, is also doctrinally flawed and can be extremely damaging (as the presence of only one “success story” should make obvious). It all depends on the individual and on the Lord’s will.

    One last thought: Although there is unquestionably a biological component to SSA, I am skeptical, as a critic of biological reductionism, of Bradshaw et al.’s assessment of the situation. The limitation with biological reductionism is that it predicts nothing about the life of an individual (even in cases that seem to be very genetic, such as Down Syndrome). The same verdict applies when we move beyond the biological to the psychological and social. Researchers and practitioners are often at odds because researchers are concerned with group data whereas practitioners have to treat individuals (I noticed this unmentioned tension between Bradshaw and Byrd). The group data (always much lower than 100%) does very little at predicting what an individual will do (as evidenced by clinicians’ inability to predict whether a suicidal client will kill him- or herself, and when).

  13. So I’m totally late to the conversation, but I’d like to add that if we believe in resurrection, translation, healings and a transformation from an earthly body to a celestial one, we should believe that if Heavenly Father and the Savior decided to remove homosexual attraction from an individual, They could. Just saying, in the context of the gospel, it’s not impossible when you’re talking about all-powerful beings and the other things we believe in. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss “pray the gay away” with 100% certainty.

    Now, whether They would choose to do so, or if it would be to the benefit of the individual in terms of their eternal salvation to have a trial removed… well, I can’t speculate on that.

  14. The statements made by President Packer may or may not be homophobic, as phobia denotes fear and I have no idea about his personal fears. His statements are however as is the position of the church anti homosexual and certainly fear and hate mongering.
    One only need look at the language used in assumptions being discussed and in those discussions themselves. Words meant to condemn and belittle. Words meant to inspire self loathing and guilt. “Impure” “unnatural” “affliction”. The church’s whole premise is that the homosexual is a broken person in need of repair! These are the words responsible for suicides. Is guilt not a tool of satan?
    Let me say that I was born and raised in the church, am an Elder and have served in many positions including ward clerk, I am also gay.
    How can an attraction to the same sex be impure? I agree that thoughts associated with attraction can be impure whether homo or heterosexual but the simple attraction makes no one impure.
    How can it be said that homosexuality is unnatural? It occurs “naturally” in all mammals. If it occurs in nature it therefore must be natural for if not then it must be what? Supernatural?
    How does homosexuality, attraction to the same sex equal addiction or imply habit. Masturbation can be an addiction and habit as can sexual intercourse, but would you describe heterosexual attraction as an addiction or habit?
    I knew I was gay before I knew what gay meant, how does something never acted upon be described as a habit or addiction? Of what was I guilty? Feelings I didn’t understand?
    God gave you all logic and the ability to reason so let me ask you this. What exactly is the sin? I find nothing in the 10 commandments, articles of faith or word of wisdom. These are the things I was asked about at my baptismal interview. No one asked me if I was attracted to other boys. I could have told them I was.
    If indeed there is no sin in the attraction, and lie only in the consumation of that attraction, one can assume fornication being the sin. If fornication is the sin, whose fault is it that I cannot be married before I choose to have sex with the person I love.
    If it be unnatural and sinful because sex is only for procreation then it would be logical to assume that all sterile people should be denied marriage and live celibately. That those past childproducing age or who can no longer have children due to medical conditions should separate and are guilty of sin everytime they make love. It would also mean that using contraception is a sin. Does any of this seem reasonable or logical? I think not.
    I will agree, controling our urges and desires, mastering ourselves and our appetites and keeping our thoughts pure are important and necessary for our salvation whether you be gay or straight, but denying Gods gift of love and companionship would be a sin.
    I will tell you there is no choice period when it comes to who you are atrracted to and it would be absurd for any thinking human being to believe so. I can guarantee you that the only people who are “struggling” with or trying to “overcome” their god given feelings are the ones who are trying to ignore and go against their NATURAL orientation. I don’t need “repairative therapy” because I would only be broken if I denied who God made me.
    As for tolerance, I recieved a call awhile back from some poor guy doing his duty with the inactive list, inviting me to a social event. I said I would love to come but I would like to bring my boyfriend…..the phone was slammed down in my ear. This is the result of speeches such as President Packer gave and countless others before him…..

  15. I have all sorts of stuff to say on these subjects. So much, in fact, that I wrote a 200+ page book. Though I’m sure most will be more interested in other uses of their time, I would be open to feedback from those willing to give it a read. Summary and link at

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