not in Primary anymore

why president boyd k. packer is my favorite lgbtq activist

boyd k. packer

by Hermia Lyly

Okay, so I’m guessing President Packer would probably disagree with being called an LGBTQ activist.  In fact—who am I kidding?—he would totally hate being dubbed an LGBTQ activist.  But nevertheless, President Packer is one of my favorite proponents for gay rights.

“But wait—“ I can hear you all saying, “how can President Packer be a gay rights activist? Didn’t he write To The One and To Young Men Only, addresses in which he denigrated homosexuality as a temporary condition brought on by sexual perversion and Satanic temptation? In these addresses, didn’t he condone the possibility of violence against homosexual members as a way of dealing with their homosexuality? And as late as 2010, didn’t President Packer say in a General Conference talk that being LGBTQ was a choice because a loving Heavenly Father would never create one of his children to be gay?”

Yes, all those things are true. If we define his activism by his intentions, then President Packer is clearly no gay rights activist.  However, if we define his activism by its effects, then it is quite possible that President Packer has been the catalyst for more positive changes in LGBTQ affairs in the Church and in Utah than any other LDS person.

In general, the traditional reading of the Church’s response to homosexuality (and non-heterosexual people as a group) has been along the following lines: the Church has always and will always oppose homosexual acts, and the Church is upholding the will of God by fighting against same-sex marriage in the United States, even if the battle against same-sex marriage appears to be one that they are losing. This traditional reading is by no means historically accurate, but it seems to be the general assumption that most Mormons—especially those who are not LGBTQ allies—rely on when searching for a framework on which to build their beliefs about homosexuality and the Church.

Let me propose a slightly different reading of the events regarding LGBTQ affairs and the LDS Church that have taken place in recent months and years. Now, keep in mind that I’m not saying this different reading is the correct reading; instead I am trying to provide another way of interpreting past events in an effort to expand the manner in which we think about the relationship between the Church and the gay community. As I have discussed this topic with Mormon and non-Mormon friends and read about it in pamphlets, books, blog posts, and news articles, I’ve noticed this different narrative emerging—one in which the LDS Church still plays a very powerful role, but whose actions to stem the tide have serendipitously helped to further the cause of gay rights.

And because of his outspoken rhetoric, President Boyd K. Packer is at the forefront of this accidental activism.

boyd k. packer(photo credit: The Goates Notes)

So let’s go step by step through this alternative interpretation of the Church’s and Pres. Packer’s relationship with LBGTQ affairs:

1.  President Packer writes To Young Men Only (1976) and To The One (1978).  These addresses teach that homosexuality is a choice, and that if necessary, physical violence should be used against homosexuals. These talks become very popular throughout the Church, and many members use Pres. Packer’s rhetoric and reasoning in their arguments against homosexuality (as a child, I remember hearing people talk about “beating the gay out” of homosexuals).

2. The anti-gay attitudes that members learn from To Young Men Only (which the Church continued to publish for decades in pamphlet form) and To The One become crucial in fighting for Prop 8 in California. The battle for Prop 8 becomes a nationally-covered media event that brings the gay marriage movement even further into the limelight, and the LDS Church is frequently cited as one of its greatest supporters.  (The LDS Church also pours a great deal of money into fighting for Prop 8 and is later found guilty of 13 counts of political malfeasance, making it the first church to be fined for illegal political activity in the state of California).

3. President Packer’s Oct. 2010 General Conference talk, Cleansing the Inner Vessel, garners nationwide attention after Pres. Packer claims that being homosexual is a choice: “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Father.” After a PR fiasco, Cleansing the Inner Vessel is heavily edited before publication, and an HRC petition with 150,000 signatures prompts the Church to release a statement that is significantly more progressive than its previous messages about homosexuality.  President Packer’s anti-gay teachings appear to have forced the Church to openly espouse a more progressive stance towards homosexuals.

4.  In December 2012, the LDS Church website mormonsandgays.org goes live. The website appears to distance the Church from Pres. Packer’s anti-gay rhetoric, and condemns gay bashing–such as Pres. Packer’s suggestion that physical violence against gay members might be necessary. (Six months later, the Supreme Court rules DOMA to be unconstitutional and dismisses the Prop 8 court case.)

5. As a result of the unconstitutionality of DOMA, Judge Shelby rules that Utah’s amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage is likewise unconstitutional. On December 20, 2013, Utah becomes the 18th state to legalize gay marriage.

This alternative interpretation is obviously not a comprehensive history of the relationship between Pres. Packer and the gay community, nor do I present it as the correct interpretation. Yet at the same time, I’ve heard many members of the gay Mormon community smile at the outcome of Prop 8 or Cleansing the Inner Vessel, and simply say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Considering the effects of Pres. Packer’s teachings about homosexuality over the pulpit, could it be that the recent ruling overturning the same-sex marriage ban in Utah is as much a result of Pres. Packer’s controversial statements as it is a part of our national trend? Could it be that Pres. Packer and the LDS Church are playing a vital role in the gay rights movement, even if that role is not exactly the one they think they are playing?

Discuss.

(an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that DOMA was ruled unconstitutional in 2012 instead of 2013. the author edited the timeline 12/28/2013.)

26 Responses to “why president boyd k. packer is my favorite lgbtq activist”

  1. Natalie

    MIND BLOWN.

    I feel like this is an answer I’ve been looking for. You wonder why The Lord puts certain people in positions (BKP) and I really do agree that these talks are catalysts for change. The evidence can only be anecdotal, but think about all of the people (me) who heard his words and they just didn’t sit right. BKP was definitely part of me being propelled into (Mormon) feminism. There was always something about him that I knew in my heart was speaking falsehoods. That God doesn’t hate like he does. So not only

    Reply
  2. Natalie

    MIND BLOWN.

    I feel like this is an answer I’ve been looking for. You wonder why The Lord puts certain people in positions (BKP) and I really do agree that these talks are catalysts for change. The evidence can only be anecdotal, but think about all of the people (me) who heard his words and they just didn’t sit right. BKP was definitely part of me being propelled into (Mormon) feminism. There was always something about him that I knew in my heart was speaking falsehoods. That God doesn’t hate like he does. So not only is he pushing the body of the church forward, but its members as well. Excellent post!

    Reply
    • Jeffrey

      That God allows his prophets to speak falsehoods from the pulpit as truth in order to cause people to react negatively to what he is saying because it is false and that this is all affirming the truthfulness of the church as part of God’s plan is a level of desperation to justify your beliefs thatI have yet to see.

      Reply
  3. Molly Mormon 2.0

    I realized the other day that:
    1) the first state to legalize gay marriage was Massachusetts…while they had a Mormon governor (Mitt Romney)
    2) the Church gave so much money and time to Prop 8, which was eventually overturned. Cue overturn of DOMA during the same week.
    3) the Kitchen v. Herbert in Utah will likely become the case to overturn the amendments in all states banning same-sex marriage. Cue the the passage of Marriage Equality in all 50 States.

    The LDS Church has been instrumental in the battle for marriage equality…but not at all in the way that it thinks it is. God surely does work in mysterious ways.

    Reply
  4. Curtis Penfold

    We wouldn’t even need LGBTQIA activism if it wasn’t for the terrible things organizations like the LDS Church do to LGBTQIA people.

    Packer’s statements have led to violence and shaming against LGBTQIA people, the disowning of LGBTQIA children, the attempt of thousands of members to ignore and take away the rights of LGBTQIA people, and the suicides of LGBTQIA people all over the world.

    Reply
    • Cletus Ozbert Spafford Guyphawkes

      Curtis, I knew you would come into this one with all your liberal crap (inside joke everyone, he is a great guy.) I agree , packer has to accept responsibility for the suffering he caused from his statements. He refuses to, saying cause he is an apostle, he spoke the will of the lord, I think he is a modern day pharisee actually. He would be up there screaming for the arrest and death of jesus for hanging out with Drunks, hookers, homosexuals, and worse than that, fishermen, and democrats. The rebublicans wouldnt need jesus around. Niether would BKP.

      Reply
  5. Vin

    Talk about being a “tool” in the Lord’s hands… j/k

    But I have wondered about the notion that church leaders “accidentally” help further God’s work. I really don’t know how to lay out such a narrative without throwing them under the bus, though, and it would be a lot easier to beef up this notion if the leaders weren’t overall good guys trying to do their mortal best.

    This interpretation is also similar to the narrative that God allowed Satan to tempt and deceive Adam and Eve because it furthered his purposes. Satan, although being evil, unwittingly helped God bring salvation to all his children.

    Of course, I don’t suspect many Mormons would buy into this.

    Reply
    • Pompous One

      I remember my mission president cautioning us to be careful what we prayed for as we didn’t want to force God’s hand. I never understood what he meant by that, but now it’s making sense. And coupled with the narrative we’re given in the temple, it either makes God a sly fella or an unwitting tool. 😀

      Reply
  6. Cletus Ozbert Spafford Guyphawkes

    When Packer takes the helm, if he does not die before Monson, there will be a great purging of the church, and he will have his reign unchallenged for a while. And people who are free thinkers, academics, feminists, and homosexuals will all be exed, and the church will be the way he wants it.
    Meanwhile, this reminds me of the Fred Phelps world, where now, Gay people, and veterans families have come together in friendship because of the hate monger leading a church. Two groups who under any other reasons would never have spoken to eachother, are now fighting against that guy. And he now has an army of bikers in the fray as well. GOOD GOING FRED…. oh yeah, AND BOYD, Im so happy we got this in utah. The weddings I saw (most of them, still cant handle watching two dudes kissing) on monday were absolutely wonderful, so many in one day, I dont care who you are, you would have said it was wonderful to have seen all that. EVEN BKP….

    Reply
  7. stephanie

    I know that BKP’s vile prejudices are being turned against him, and are furthering the cause of equality for the LGBTQ community, simply because no one can stay the hand of God. Unfortunately, all of this hate-speech and institutionalized nastiness has driven my family from the Church in self-preservation.

    Reply
  8. bamball

    Read only as far into History as the Old Testament, and there’s plenty of examples of prophets warning political leaders and prophets warning other prophets about going down certain political roads, creating alliances among elites, which ultimately caused major upheavals to civilizations, entire cultures being shipped off as slaves, etc., which in the short term was no doubt confusing to the good God- fearing Hebrew family man just trying to make ends meet, doing what he thought God wanted him to do. Maybe Proposition 8 was like that, and someone in SLC should have listened to the warnings a bit closer. But God, knowing the human tendency to not want to change or to listen, still has multiple Plan Bs at his disposal, to keep the work progressing, even if us humans, don’t quite understand the big picture at the moment, which adds value to that principle called Faith. But historical speaking, those big decisions, for better or do worse in the Here and Now, led many down irreversible paths that led to further prophetic scripture, migrations to New Worlds, the unfolding of much prophecy, and ultimately, major upheavals that allowed God to perform his labors, in ways we in our myopia call “great and marvelous”. I think Life is Paradox, even for God. He no doubt gets frustrated having to create using us humans as tools, and knows He could get the job done easier if it wasn’t for human traits like stubbornness, disbelief, and the tendency not to accept change readily. But in the end, like in the Old Testament, what ultimately unfolds isn’t quite was what was expected by the elite power brokers. How many times have we driven to a west destination and had to turn south for awhile on the roads we are given, so eventually we can reach our destination? Decisions are made, even prophets and apostles don’t totally understand the reason, or the outcome, and in the end, to God, it’ll do, and it’ll work as small steps towards the Day when all truth is revealed.

    Reply
  9. Bgbg

    This is more to anyone reading the comments but also to the author. President packer doesn’t have to apologize for any such comments or stances. Just like the lgbt community is freaking out about their rights you have no right to demand an apology for something that someone thinks. You’re entitled to your opinion just like he is to his. Like the whole duck dynasty thing he is allowed to say whatever he wants and think whatever he wants and that is one of his rights. Acting lgbt will never hold positions within the church just like women will never hold the priesthood. They are great people and are entitle to every human right that exists. Rights within the lords church and kingdom are different. So get married and do whatever the heck you want because no matter the amount of legislation you pass or “movements” you guys start it will never change what is true or right. I will never get back in here or look at this again so comment away about how uncultured I am or how I’m some crazy conservative right wing from Idaho because it seems like those are generally your go-to’s but I just thought as long as we’re all throwing around our “radical” opinions then I thought I’d join. Cheers!

    Reply
    • curtispenfold

      Of course you’re entitled to your opinion. That doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t harming people and that we shouldn’t do everything in our power to call you out for it.

      Some people thought polygamy would never stop. Some people thought blacks would never be able to enter the temple or that black men would never receive the priesthood. I wouldn’t be so quick to say what will or won’t change in the LDS Church depending on political and social pressure.

      Reply
  10. bamball

    My go-to’s are usually the crazy conservative right wing from UT or here in AZ. Idaho’s too cold to make fun of.

    Reply
  11. Jorge Janeiro

    Yeah, Boyd K Packer was as activist for lgbt equality the same way Hitler was an activist for the equality and acceptance of Jews. I understand the intention of the author, but please… the man has simply been evil, not some sort of gay anti-hero hero! His hands are dirty with the blood of young men and young women who have taken their lives in large part because of the bully’s words spoken from the church pulpit. This is the same circular thinking seen in many religious people. Rather than call a spade a spade, they try to rationalize facts in order to fit the world as they are comfortable seeing it. Kind of like trying to get a Mormon square peg to fit into the world’s round hole (no pun intended)

    Reply
  12. bitherwack

    Elder Packer is our Anita Bryant.
    She did a lot to put into high relief the basic irrationality of homophobia. Packer is an activist of irony in the same way Bryant contributed to the cause. Keep up the good work Elder Packer, may you live long enough to enjoy the fruits of your labors!

    Reply
  13. Just a Mom

    bitherwach gets it right. Jorge Janeiro, the op is pointing out the happily IRONIC recent backlash agains BKP and LDS hatespeech–effects of their sickmaking vitriol they never saw coming. It is not rationalizing circular thinking. I am sincerely sorry that others’ and your very real suffering has made that difficult for you to embrace.

    I do indeed foresee that this church will not stand as it is; over time the growing younger membership will change it, or they will leave in such droves as to rend it crumbling to the ground.

    And shall we play at filling in the missing vowels and one consonant for bgbg? BigBiggot.

    Reply
  14. Fred

    Fascinating to read this article and the comments here.
    I always wondered how people in biblical times could get to the point in their thinking process that they could justify picking up stones and hurling them at a prophet.

    Now I can see Satan’s recipe for stoning prophets:

    1. Get us to recognize that we are doing something sinful that we feel ashamed about
    2. Hear a prophet condemn our sinfulness
    3. Decide that instead of repentance we would rather silence the prophet
    4. Accuse the prophet of being an evil monster so we don’t feel guilty about silencing him
    5. Let the stones fly…after all in our mind, he deserves it!

    This article and many of the comments are just a “digital stoning” but the ugliness of it, if left to percolate in our minds long enough, could progress to more… And Satan would be laughing.
    Let’s repent instead.

    Reply
    • Curtis Penfold

      If a person tells you that something that makes you really happy, something that gives you purpose and peace–if that person tells you that what you’re doing is wrong, you’d probably respond negatively as well.

      The relationships I’ve had with women have helped me progress as a person. They’ve been fulfilling. I’ve been so thankful for them. If you walk up to me and tell that my relationships are an abomination, expect me to call you out for it.

      Same goes for the loving, fulfilling relationships that all LGBTQIA people have with each other.

      Reply
    • curtispenfold

      President Packer’s words have caused actual physical harm against LGBT youth who are beaten, shamed, disowned by their families, fired, expelled from their schooling, and evicted from their homes in many predominantly Mormon areas just for being different..

      His words, the words of a supposedly trusted spiritual leader, besides essentially empowering homophobic people in their crusade to ruin LGBT people’s lives, his words have also led to such extreme self-hate among LGBT Mormon youth that suicide and attempted suicide is found too commonly. Their blood stains his hands.

      Regardless, I will not throw stones at this man, even if he may deserve it. You will not see me participating in any physical attacks against President Packer, despite my rage against the effects of his teachings. Do not expect that of me.

      Do expect me, though, to express every chance that I get why I feel his teachings regarding sexuality and gender are hurting LGBT young people.

      Reply
  15. Aby

    I enjoyed reading through. Thanks for sharing.
    This website youngmormonfeminists.org seems to be such a cool website.
    I ‘d love to see people interact with each other and exchange opinions.
    And it’s for free! 🙂 AWESOME

    Reply
  16. Christian

    Utah’s gay marriage ban has become the first banned at by a federal court. Therefore it will be the first tested in the supreme court.
    Therefore the LDS church will be responsible for making gay marriage national law.
    Nicely played, God. Nicely played.

    Reply

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