Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My raw response to: Shattered Glass: The Traditions of Mormon Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Encounter Boyd K. Packer

Gregory L. Smith wrote Shattered Glass: The Traditions of Mormon Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Encounter Boyd K. Packer in:
FARMS Review: Volume - 23, Issue - 1, Pages: 61–85
Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2011
Available online

These are some of my raw initial responses- I may  make a more careful analysis later.

There is some irony in the use of the Joseph Smith quote referencing traditions and preparing the minds of the saints.  The tradition of the saints, at least in the last 50 years, is one of consistent heterosexism.  President Packer's statements during this same period have been consistent.  Where's the contrast to tradition?  A pro SSM stance contrasts; an anti SSM stance is in harmony.

"Thankfully, recent years have seen at least some of the casual cruelty and unthinking disdain inflicted upon this subset of God's children become less acceptable. Even yet there is clearly work to do—for example, in opposing verbal and physical violence—that no one of goodwill would oppose. And our present broad cultural awareness of the past costs of racism and the exploitation of women, for example, has happily led many to search themselves for other lingering prejudices.
>> Props to the author for this excerpt- it is near the beginning of the paper, signaling import and context for what follows; it's sensible; and I think appropriately categorizes homophobia alongside sexism and racism. 

"unobjectionable idea that private behavior between consenting adults in a pluralistic society ought not to be criminalized"
>> Also a reasonable concession.

"And yet, when all has been argued, the law of unintended consequences must surely have its due. No unaided mortal can say with certainty—or, I suspect, much justified confidence at all—where the proposed redefinition of marriage would ultimately lead us."
>> Smith's application of the precautionary principle is true in a narrow sense, but the same argument can be made for doing nothing.  Consider slavery, which was for a period entrenched and traditional: should society have reinforced that status quo for fear of unintended consequences?   For more on this vein, see Sunstein's "The Paralyzing Principle" (http://heartland.org/sites/default/files/sites/all/modules/custom/heartland_migration/files/pdfs/11675.pdf). 

We cannot predict what the stock market will do in a week or ten years,4 and yet the advocates of marital change blithely assure us that the far more complex human factors of sociology and history will all work out for the best, say, two generations hence.
>> I'm not sure this is a fair representation of the diverse views of marital change advocates.

We have, in short, in homosexuality a case tailor-made for demonstrating the benefits of prophetic guidance, if such exists: the stakes are high; both perspectives have ardent, well-meaning proponents; and the pervasive consequences of either choice will be both serious and irrevocable.
>> I think he's right about this.  The pervasive consequences of either choice are both serious and irrevocable.

Those hostile to the church's legal agenda and religious teachings concluded overwhelmingly that President Packer was teaching that (a) homosexual tendencies, attractions, or temptations were not in-born or innate; and (b) one can always expect to be free of such temptations or desires in this life if one lives the gospel.
>> This is a hit below the belt.  Though a somewhat extreme interpretation, it is likely one that was overwhelmingly concluded by many that were indifferent toward, unaware of, or in agreement with the church's legal agenda and religious teachings.

Far from backpedaling, the edited version is a smooth continuation of principles that he has taught for over thirty years.
>> Hmmm- perhaps, we'll see. 

1. It may be necessary to resist such temptation for a lifetime.
>> This section reveals several of President Packer's troubling perceptions about homosexuality.  First, he refers to addictions (only a small portion of the universe of homosexual feelings and acts can be accurately considered as addictions).  Second, he references a cure to evict homosexual feelings: sexual orientation change is and has been for some time a thoroughly disabused approach.  Third,  the constant denial and struggle against a homosexual identity by marginalizing homosexual feelings as temptations, fueled by the bellows of hope that after following a prescribed regimen the "unworthy feelings," has proven psychologically harmful far more often than it has helpful.

"cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural," he is talking about sinful acts"
>> I wonder if the author is taking too great a liberty in his hermeneutic.   Acts are chosen, not felt: and since when are tendencies actions?  Isn't a far more parsimonious interpretation that the clause refers to an orientation or set of tendencies that are felt, much as emotions are felt?

"Elder Packer drew a frank analogy between those engaged in the difficult process of breaking from same-sex behavior"
>> It is not clear that PP (or his contemporary, Spencer Kimball) drew a clear distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior: such is a recent evolution in LDS leaders' statements.  Additionally, the perverse consequence of the futile, guilt-driven attempts of (likely thousands at least)gay Mormons to rid themselves of homosexual feelings renders the approach as one vulnerable to moral disdain.  His advice could also reasonably lead the individuals broken by failed attempts to be satisfied with their self-loathing condition, rather than to seek the full psychological health and abundant life available to them.

" will have to grow away from [their] problem with undeviating—notice that word—undeviating determination." Since the situation is compared to a patient who might have to accept "a limited life-style thereafter . . . in order just to live," and this requires "undeviating determination," it is hard to believe that the same speaker believes (as the critics claim) that temptation and inclination will necessarily cease. On the contrary, President Packer's earlier writings are completely congruent with the clarifying edits made to Packer-2010B and his intent in the context of Packer-2010A."
>> What is the problem?  Homosexual conduct, homosexual feelings, or both?  If the determination is to be applied to temptation, as the author suggests, then the more important point is being missed: not whether PP's statements are congruent, but whether they're correct.  Again, the proposal to reverse or eliminate a homosexual orientation ("grow away from") is almost entirely discredited. 

"It is not unchangeable. It is not locked in. One does not just have to yield to it and live with it. . . . If you are one of the few who are subject to this temptation, do not be misled into believing that you are a captive to it." 
>> Is the temptation equivalent to orientation (a consistent set of emotional, spiritual, and sexual attractions to members of the same sex)?  If so, is it not accurate to say that a homosexual is captive to the temptation, since orientation is permanent?  Again, I have little contention about PP's consistency over the last number of decades: what matters more is whether he's right, as that is the business of prophets acting in their role.  Why else would we be interested in listening to them?

"Unsought feelings, thoughts, or temptations are not sins—immoral acts and encouraging such acts are.
 Is sexual perversion wrong? There appears to be a consensus in the world that it is natural, to one degree or another, for a percentage of the population. Therefore, we must accept it as all right. . . . The answer: It is not all right. It is wrong! It is not desirable; it is unnatural; it is abnormal; it is an affliction. When practiced, it is immoral. It is a transgression. [Packer-1978]"
>> Is wrong a sin?  Is a sin wrong?  Before the sentence, "when practiced…" PP is speaking of something that is not homosexual behavior- otherwise "when practiced" would be meaningless.  He identifies "sexual perversion"- thus, we conclude he's speaking of homosexual feelings/orientation.   He concludes that homosexual feelings are "wrong!" "not desirable" and "unnatural."  If unsought feelings, thoughts, or temptations are not sins, then why does PP describe them as such?

"If you do not act on temptations, you need feel no guilt."
>> I think this and other statements post-2000 reflect a modest alteration in PP's rhetoric

"President Packer has also emphasized that the causes of such temptations are not known to church leaders"
>> How does the author explain away PP's explicit 1978 identification of selfishness as the cause? 

"President Packer nowhere teaches that those who succumb to sin should be ostracized, mistreated, or rejected."
>> I tend to agree that PP has made some clear statements about not rejecting homosexuals.  However, perverse advice and misinformation is arguably itself mistreatment, as measured by its effects on adherents.  It can be argued that PP teaches that homosexually behaving persons should mistreat themselves through unhealthy self-flagellation.

"And wouldn't they likely be better informed—or have the means to become so?"
I do not feel bound by the author's interpretations of PP's consistency of message.  Not only are several of his interpretations lacking, but his short excerpts often tell a different story when compared to the full addresses (for instance To the One, which I have read in its entirety and analyzed). 

"As I have demonstrated above at length, it is the homosexual act that has long been of concern to the church and President Packer."
>> As compared to a lack of concern with homosexual feelings and temptations?  That's not how I read PP and other church leaders statements spanning from the 60's through the 90's and beyond.

"It therefore made little sense to deny a blessing to someone because of an ancestor's act."
>> The author vouches to be one that follows the prophet, no matter the position. Is he not troubled by scriptural passages indicating that God will curse to the third and fourth generation?  Does the immense corpus of prophetic teachings about descending from Cain and lack of premortal valiance not give him pause, considering their sacred source?

"Commandments against same-sex acts—or against any other sexual act outside the husband-wife relationship—are foundational, never revoked or varied, exhaustively repeated by ancient and modern prophets and apostles, and plainly congruent with broader Latter-day Saint teachings."
That level of clarity is not merited- I see a longer discussion here.

"that the church will one day receive a revelation permitting same-gender marriages and sexual acts, ought those so inclined to take matters into their own hands in the meantime, confident that God will one day justify them? If so, why have prophets at all?
>>  Indeed!  If they are so fallible, one wonders why they merit unflagging and complete discipleship!  The priesthood ban was far more serious than the author lets on- a "poorly understood tension" that was taught in practice, policy, and precept for over a century.  If that many prophets could be that wrong over that many years, then why not now?

"Those who mean well are not usually damned with a millstone around their necks, for example."
>> it's a distortion to cite one comment as the opinion of a website that serves as a forum for discussion.

"I wonder, if I suggested that God allows the existence of homophobia—and that it therefore ought to be approved or even encouraged since God loves homophobes just as much as everyone else, and besides, everything that God has made is "very good"?"
>> Seems a fair contention.  I don't buy the naturalistic argument one bit.

"the prophets do not know the cause(s) of homosexual desires. And neither does she. No one does."
>> Surprisingly, there are a number of scientists who know a great deal about the causes of homosexual desires.  Simon LeVay would be one; there are several more. 

"But when church leaders speak against homosexuality, they are clearly speaking against homosexual acts, not an inherited or acquired state of being or desires."
>> Not always!  Again, Smith is projecting a recent trend into a past where it was not frequently present.

"If they intend to continue as at present, they ought at least to have the decency to admit that they are criticizing the church and its leaders."
>> Perhaps- though a shift to representing the site as a forum for discussion, rather than a forum for discussion sans criticism of church leaders, would likely restore integrity better than representing itself as critical.  There are too many diverse voices to represent a consensus of criticism.

"I urge all who have erred to repent privately and publicly"
>> Rather presumptuous- isn't it the role of the prophets he so reveres to call those within their fold to repentance?  Perhaps Smith is not aware that it is contrary to the order of heaven to receive revelation on behalf of those not in one's stewardship?  If M4M contributors need to be singled out to be called to repent, might not an authorized church leader do so?

"If I were to help stone a man (or hold cloaks while others did so), I hope I would have the gumption to pick up the rock myself and hurl it in the full light of day—and then take the consequences."
>> This sentence, combined with the tone of the paper, reveals the author's angry, vengeful, and judgmental stance.  I pray that I never find myself bound before him while he's holding a rock- it seems obvious that he would not hesitate to cast it at me.

Closing analysis:
I think the author's passionate tone was appropriately tempered by a Rogerian approach at first.  He acknowledged the strength of the opposition, and supported his points with ample and relevant evidence.    His passion got the better of his reason in many spots, however, and transformed the article into a disappointing polemic.


  1. "serious and irrevocable" consequences are really only at stake for a small minority though. If all churches were inclusive there would still be about the same number of gay people.

  2. Thanks for posting your insightful and articulate analysis.

  3. The "millstone" comment was appropriate. I grew up knowing that I was going to the Telestial Kingdom because I touched myself. I was never told how many other kids in my quorum did so, how the church's teachings on masturbation grew out of an early 20th-century moral fad, or how the guilt and shame that were drilled into me made it even more addictive than it already was.

    The people who tortured me and nearly drove me to suicide have a lot to answer to their god for.


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