Pres. Packer’s Conference Address – Misconstrued by LGBT Groups

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At General Conference Pres. Packer gave an excellent talk about repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Pres. Packer talked about how faith, repentance, and the Priesthood can help overcome temptations and sin.

At one point in his talk Pres. Packer said the following (what he said in Conference appears italicized and bolded, what was published as the official text is in brackets). I’ll quote at length because context is important:

“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 tendencies [changed to temptations in the printed version] toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Father. [Changed to “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. 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!’

“Years ago I visited a school in Albuquerque. The teacher told me about a youngster who brought a kitten to class. As you can imagine, that disrupted everything. She had him hold the kitten up in front of the children. It went well until one of the children asked, ‘Is it a boy kitty or a girl kitty?’ Not wanting to get into that lesson, the teacher said, ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s just a kitty.’ But they persisted. Finally, one boy raised his hand and said, ‘I know how you can tell.’ Resigned to face it, the teacher said, ‘How can you tell?’ And the student answered, ‘You can vote on it!’

“You may laugh at this story, but if we are not alert, there are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature. A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. For instance, what good would a vote against the law of gravity do? There are both moral and physical laws ‘irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world’ that cannot be changed. History demonstrates over and over again that moral standards cannot be changed by battle and cannot be changed by ballot. To legalize that which is basically wrong or evil will not prevent the pain and penalties that will follow as surely as night follows day.

“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. We cannot change; we will not change the moral standard. We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God. If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must needs perish.” (Source: links to watch or listen to the {unedited} talk are on the right side of the page).

Following his talk, some within the gay community took issue with his words and called them hateful (see this article, for example). Others heard in his words a call to violence against gays. There is no violence or hate in Pres. Packer’s words or intent. You cannot take the 15 words he said out of the context of the entire talk (which is 2422 words long – so, people are getting upset over 0.62% of his talk! I know the issue is not that simple but critics are quite myopic about his talk). If you want to know what the real message and tone of his talk, read the following selection from his talk:

“President Joseph Fielding Smith told me of a repentant woman struggling to find her way out of a very immoral life. She asked him what she should do now. In turn, he asked her to read to him from the Old Testament the account of Lot’s wife, who was turned to a pillar of salt. Then he asked her, ‘What lesson do you gain from those verses?’ She answered, ‘The Lord will destroy the wicked.’ ‘Not so!’ President Smith said that the lesson for this repentant woman and for you is ‘Don’t look back!'”

His message isn’t that the wicked will be destroyed, it is that we can repent and change and be forgiven. We all have access to the grace of God. His message is that God loves us and wants us to be happy but happiness is not found in wickedness.

Some people heaped on more criticisms when the text published online was different from what was given in Conference, as if Pres. Packer was back-pedaling from his comments (although, LGBT groups are still upset that he called homosexual tendencies/temptations {in context there is no significant difference between the words} “unnatural and impure”. They also do not like it when church leaders call homosexual behavior sinful and wickedness, which it is; I know some people might object and say that my statement begs the question but I believe in the moral standards that God has set for us. I believe that homosexual behaviors are sinful but that the feelings or tendencies or temptations are not sinful).

It has been standard church practice for many years to allow the speakers at General Conference to make minor edits to their talks before the text is published (sometimes what is said deviates from what was prepared and so in Pres. Packer’s case, the removal of a phrase might simply be bringing his talk back to what he originally wrote). That is not something the church just started to try and cover up Pres. Packer’s words. Besides, the changes to the text do not change the tone or message of his talk.

For example, saying “temptation” instead of “tendency” is simply a code shift from a secular word to a gospel word. The meaning is the same within a religious application. In other words, the operational definition of “tendency” in Pres. Packer’s talk is synonymous with “temptation.” Again, the context is important.

As I stated earlier, the minor changes to the text are not enough (and were not meant to) quiet critics. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, stated:

“You have risked further alienating LGBT youth and potentially contributing to suicides of even more vulnerable young people. You’ve told them that their very identities are ‘impure and unnatural’ and you’ve incited the violence and bullying that often drives them to suicide… I hope you will cease putting young people in real peril and acknowledge the scientific truth: sexual orientation cannot be changed, nor should it be.”

Can any honest person read (watch/listen to) what Pres. Packer said and come to the conclusion that Pres. Packer was “[inciting] the violence and bullying that often drives [LGBT youth] to suicide”? To state that is disingenuous and creating harmful intent where none was intended. That statement reminds me of what the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in the Wentworth Letter: “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (History of the Church 4:540; emphasis added). Another word for calumny is libel, which is essentially what the Human Rights Campaign created against Pres. Packer.

To clarify my point further, I’ll provide an imperfect analogy. Let’s say someone says in a public meeting that she likes fast cars. The group People Against Driving Really Fast (I made them up) then puts out a press release saying, “Ms. Public told kids to drive cars really fast at unsafe speeds. She’s responsible for deaths due to reckless driving behavior.” That’s an outrageous misconstrual of what was originally said and intended. My example, while not perfect, is similar to what LGBT groups have done with Pres. Packer’s words.

If you want to understand the LDS Church’s official position towards those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, read this statement from the Church. Of note is this paragraph: “We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason.  Such actions simply have no place in our society.”

Now moving on to online reactions. I read comments by some people online that those of us who support what Pres. Packer said should show the scientific proof that homosexual tendencies can be changed. That is not an entirely fair request because it assumes that the burden of proof lies with those who believe that homosexual behaviors are sinful and should not be indulged in. In reality, there is at least an equal burden of proof due from the other side. The HRC said: “I hope you will cease putting young people in real peril and acknowledge the scientific truth: sexual orientation cannot be changed, nor should it be.” First, where is the proof that sexual orientation cannot be changed? That is a broad statement to make, especially when it has no scientific footing. I know there is some research showing that some methods (therapies) of changing sexual orientation are not effective but – and yes, I have done an exhaustive peer-reviewed literature search – there is no evidence that sexual orientation cannot be changed; the statement that sexual orientation should not be changed is a matter of opinion and not one of scientific inquiry (although, that does depend on how the matter is defined). Further, and I know this is anecdotal, but people can and do change their sexual orientations: from straight to gay, from gay to straight, and so forth. By the way, I don’t see many gay rights groups protesting changes from straight to gay; however, they will likely explain that the person was always gay so it wasn’t really a change, it was simply a flash of clarity and honesty or their environment became less hostile so they could “come out”. But again, that is making assumptions without good evidence.

Additionally, after reviewing the limited peer-reviewed research in the area, at best only 30% of the variance in homosexual behavior is explained by genetic (biological) factors. However, there might be some genetic factors that we don’t know about yet but based on what we know from science today, most homosexual behavior cannot be explained by biological factors. Also, I was being fairly generous with the 30% of variance figure because there are as many articles showing no genetic link as there are showing a genetic link with homosexuality. Let me know if you want the references; there are not very many studies that have been done in the area (one is this: Mustanski and Chivers. {2002}. A critical review of recent biological research on human sexual orientation. Annual Review of Sex Research). Further, there have not been replications of some of the key research linking sexual orientation with genes. In a 1995 review (published in the New England Journal of Medicine) of Dean Hamer’s Science of Desire book – where Hamer wrote about his research looking for a “gay gene” – Susan Bradley stated the following:

“Despite Hamer’s cautions, his use of the term ‘gay gene’ is somewhat misleading. We can relate to the need to find simple terminology to help the public understand this highly complex field, but the term implies more than Hamer’s work establishes. In this respect, the public and even the professional community have understandably overreacted to these findings as though they were proof of the biologic basis and with it the immutability of homosexuality.”

Granted, a book review is opinion but she is correct in cautioning people against jumping to conclusions based on misunderstandings of research, especially research findings that are tenuous at best and not reproduced. For anyone (regardless of their beliefs) to imply that the scientific evidence for or against the genetic (biological) basis of homosexuality is in any way settled is an expression of ignorance at best and malfeasance at worst. It is a controversial field of research with few (or no) solid conclusions.

However, and most importantly, Pres. Packer said the strength to overcome homosexual tendencies (temptations) comes through faith, repentance, the Priesthood, and the Atonement. How can you do a scientific study of that? Well, I know how to set such a study up but quantifying repentance is not an easy thing to do. I’d certainly be hesitant to try and conduct such a study and I love quantifying everything that I can quantify. So my question to gay rights groups is this, “where is the scientific evidence that proves (I’m using that word but it is not strictly accurate to state that by science can we prove anything) that faith, repentance, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ are not effective at changing sexual orientation?” After all, Pres. Packer spoke about changing behavior through the Atonement of Christ. Is that a fair question for me to ask? It’s just as fair as asking for evidence that sexual orientation can or cannot be changed. Again, those questions address the root causes of homosexuality and not the efficacy of some “therapies” that some have espoused as effective for changing homosexual behavior. Frankly, we do not know the root causes of homosexuality.

Homosexual behavior is wrong; it is sinful. Does that mean that someone who engages in it is bad or worthless? No! We are all children of our Heavenly Father who loves us. Regardless of our temptations or tendencies – be they pornography, lying, cheating, homosexuality, alcohol use, or whatever – we can overcome sin through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We can live the happier, purer life by following the commandments and the teachings of His living prophets and apostles. Pres. Packer is an apostle; he is a prophet (he is also human and imperfect) who speaks God’s words. The translations and transcriptions of those words are not always perfect, although they often are as close as is possible to being perfect. Pres. Packer made no statements that he or other church leaders have not said previously. He did not directly or indirectly incite violence towards homosexuals; he merely talked about the path that brings true and lasting happiness in this life and in the next – that of righteous living by faith in and repentance through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

[I have to apologize that my post did not flow particularly well. I didn’t have time to edit it and spend a lot of time on the organization and structure of it. So if it comes across as a little disjointed, it was due to a lack of editing on my part].

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