Boyd-Speak: Where I’m At and Why I Bother

Invictus Pilgrim formerly blogged at invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com. For personal reasons, he has taken that blog private and has started at new blog at mohosapiens.blogspot.com. The following was his initial post on his new blog.

A little over 15 months ago, I was prompted (not in the Mormon sense, but in the common-usage sense) to start blogging about what I was going through. A few weeks before, I had been blasted out of the closet upon hearing a talk which soon became infamous that was delivered by the President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles the second most-senior apostle, the man who was and is a heart beat away from becoming the Lords mouthpiece on the earth.

During the course of the next 13 months, I blogged extensively about my thoughts and experiences as a gay man who had finally come to terms with his true identity after over 20 years of marriage and activity in the LDS Church.

Two months ago, I reached a decision to take that blog private and to take a break from blogging. Like other men who were (closeted) gay, married and Mormon and who blogged about their coming out experience, I reached a point where I wondered whether there was anything left to write. Furthermore, I am definitely not the same man I was when I began my blog in October 2010, and my life is very different today than it was a year ago and even six months ago. My head, so to speak, is in a very different place.

I debated for a time whether to revive my former blog. Frankly, I didnt know whether I wanted to bother with it anymore. But when I read what Elder Packer recently said during a broadcast which two of my children probably saw, I decided the time had come to take up my pen. I do so, however, in a new blog, having ultimately reached the decision to permanently close my former blog.

I dont claim to have anything earth-shattering to say about Elder Packers seminary address; others have written eloquently about what was said that night. But I wanted to add my voice to theirs and share a few thoughts about the following passage from Packers talk:

We know that gender was set in the pre-mortal world. The spirit and the body are the soul of man. The matter of gender is of great concern to the brethren, as are all matters of morality. A few of you may have felt, or have been told that you were born with troubled feelings and youre not guilty if you act upon these temptations. Doctrinally, we know that if that were true, your agency would have been erased. And that cannot happen. You always have a choice to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and live morally pure and chaste, one filled with virtue.

Points to ponder:

Gender was set in the pre-mortal world.

As I recently tried to explain to someone who knew absolutely nothing about Mormonism, Mormons believe that we humans are made up of an immortal spirit housed in a mortal body. This spirit is the offspring of deity and has existed for countless ages with a gender, either female or male. What President Packer believes but doesnt explicitly state is that gender and sexual orientation are basically one and the same, i.e., male (gender) = wants to love and have sex with females (sexual orientation). He apparently cannot conceive of this equation: male (gender) = wants to love and have sex with males (sexual orientation). Because of this unspoken belief, he believes that we were programmed as heterosexuals in the pre-mortal world and that homosexuality in this mortal world is an aberration that defies logic and Heavenly Fathers plan for his children. Thus, the infamous line, Why would Heavenly Father do that?

The matter of gender is of great concern to the brethren, as are all matters of morality.

Gender is a moral issue? This is where we really start to get into what I call Boyd-Speak. Elder Packer doesnt come right out and say that believing yourself to be gay is immoral, but he certainly implies it. Hes doing here the same thing he did in the October 2010 conference address. He couches his language in innocuous-sounding words and phrases that most (straight) members of the Church believe to be perfectly defensible (“he was talking about pornography, not homosexuality”), while sending a message straight to the hearts (like a dagger) to gay members of the Church.

A few of you may have felt, or have been told that you were born with troubled feelings

This phrase reminds me of Elder Packers infamous 1978 BYU multi-stake fireside, To the One, in which he devoted an entire address to speaking to the one among 100 who might be suffering from troubled feelings of homosexuality. As if a young man or woman wouldnt feel isolated enough, hes going to make sure they and others know that only a tiny minority of Church members is plagued by such troubled feelings.

And just in case you believe the propaganda that you were born with the inclination to be homosexual, Packers belief and thinly-veiled assertion is that such beliefs are hogwash, pure and simple.

Troubled feelings. I think this is the segue to NARTH and the unspoken invitation to see a good reparative therapist.

troubled feelings act upon these temptations.

Notice again the Boyd-Speak. Is he saying that if you have troubled feelings that you may be gay (a) you are suffering from a temptation to actually believe that youre gay, or (b) that you will automatically suffer from temptations to go have sex with a guy (or gal, as the case may be)? I think hes saying both at least this is the message that I believe all the gay kids suffering from troubled feelings will hear him say. Both assertions are, of course, unfounded, unsound and just plain ridiculous. But he will have made his point through nuanced language that camouflages his message.

Doctrinally, we know that if that were true, your agency would have been erased.

What exactly is he saying here? The impression is given that hes saying that if youre born with troubled feelings you automatically feel that you have to act upon those feelings. He seems to be saying that this is where agency gets erased. That if youre born gay, you have to have sex, and that you can justify it by saying that you were born that way.

Are you kind of getting a whiff of a stereotype of gays as sex-crazed animals who only care about sex? If you havent already smelled it, this is born out by his next sentence: You always have a choice to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and live morally pure and chaste, one filled with virtue.

Another alternative interpretation that is perfectly plausible, given his personal beliefs, is that hes saying that it would be a violation of agency for you to have innate, authentic feelings of attraction to persons of the same sex. In his view, this would be a violation of agency because he believes that such feelings are a choice, not innate.

Which brings me to my final point.

You always have a choice to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and live morally pure and chaste, one filled with virtue

The unspoken, Boyd-Speak, message is that one cannot have even feelings of attraction toward persons of ones own gender and be morally pure and chaste, and certainly not filled with virtue. This line is reminiscent of his October 2010 line in which he labeled such feelings impure and unnatural. The message to young members of the Church is clear.

So why do I bother blogging about this? Because I know that Packers words influence impressionable young men and women in the Church. And that impression is negative. They drive like daggers into the hearts of souls of all those youth who struggle with troubled feelings, and they put arrows into the quivers of ignorance, self-righteousness, intolerance and bigotry that other youth in the Church, along with their parents and leaders, carry around with them. I feel a personal obligation to not let those words go unchallenged.

To be clear, I am not saying that Elder Packer doesn’t have the right to preach about the law of chastity. Obviously, this is a key teaching of the Church. But it could hardly be said that he reached out (in his seminary address) with love, compassion and understanding to young members of the Church struggling with feelings of same-gender attraction, which both hurts these youth and enables the un-Christlike attitudes of other members of the Church toward homosexuality.

11 thoughts on “Boyd-Speak: Where I’m At and Why I Bother

  1. Excellent analysis, and it’s great to see you back!!

    hes saying that it would be a violation of agency for you to have innate, authentic feelings of attraction to persons of the same sex.

    I’m trying to follow BKP’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, and I keep getting stuck on this question: Suppose you have innate, authentic feelings of attraction to persons of the opposite sex — why is that not a violation of agency? After all, straight people can choose to act or not act on their desires, same as gay people…

    I think his reasoning relies on two additional assumptions:

    1. Gay sex is always bad/wrong/sinful in every context, and is never good, joyful, or an expression of true love.
    2. “Agency” is only about the choice to sin or not to sin. It is not about any other type of choice.

    Otherwise any inborn inclination of any kind would “erase your agency”.

  2. I will buy Packer’s claims when the Church calls a celibate man as an apostle.

    Why did mission presidents badger returning missionaries about getting married as fast as possible? Because the prevailing opinion among the brethren was that celibacy will lead to sin and promiscuity.

  3. @3:

    Suppose you have innate, authentic feelings of attraction to persons of the opposite sex why is that not a violation of agency?

    I see Packer saying the same thing Oaks has said, but less articulately. Oaks has said: Out of such susceptibilities [attractions] come feelings, and feelings are controllable. If we cater to the feelings, they increase the power of the temptation. If we yield to the temptation, we have committed sinful behavior.

    Hence, the “agency” comes in when:
    (a) choosing not to engage in any sexual activities/interactions outside [hetero] marriage, regardless of gender or orientation, and
    (b) keeping your own sexual thoughts in check.

    (Still, in Mormon culture, a same-sex kiss will get a kid into a lot more trouble than an opposite-sex kiss, so while there may be “one standard of morality,” there’s certainly not one standard of punishment.)

    As an aside, the way Mormon culture frames things is exactly why I’m a fan of “choice politics” over “born that way” politics. The latter can easily be switched up as Packer does above: “Regardless of how you were born, you can choose to act a certain way.” It’s easy to imagine a person being in love against their will, which is often how love works, but then using their will to not acknowledge the feeling as love (putting it in the category of temptation, foolishness or whatever), and thus never acting upon it, and instead acting upon a sense of “duty.”

    Yet I think the Church will find very soon that while they expend their energies on attacking a “born that way” politics by trying instill of sense of higher duty, a “choice politics” will ultimately prove a greater threat.

    For example, one of the Republican senators here in Washington State stated after voting for marriage equality on Wednesday that he thinks “adults should be able to marry the person they love. It’s as simple as that.” I loved this sentiment. He said nothing insinuating anyone being born a certain way, which was refreshing.

  4. @3 – Thank you, Chanson. I agree with all of your comments, particularly with the additional assumptions you list. BTW, the passage I quoted was immediately followed, in his talk, by his quoting from a conference address given by President Hinckley in which he (Hinckley) talked about the church’s stance towards gays and lesbians. If you one goes to 43:20 in the video (see link below), and watches how Packer says “gays”, I think it speaks volumes about his feelings.

    http://seminary.lds.org/history/centennial/eng/

    @4 – Exactly.

    @5 – I would agree with you re your comparison to Oaks. But I frankly don’t credit Packer with being “inarticulate.” I think he chose his words very carefully in order to couch his true beliefs regarding homosexuality, which are obviously not as “progressive” as those of others of the brethren.

  5. I think he chose his words very carefully in order to couch his true beliefs regarding homosexuality

    It almost seems like he’s being deliberately ambiguous. The more I re-read this one statement, the less clear it seems:

    A few of you may have felt, or have been told that you were born with troubled feelings and youre not guilty if you act upon these temptations. Doctrinally, we know that if that were true, your agency would have been erased.

    In addition to the two interpretations you gave, he could be saying: If you have an inborn inclination to do something which is a sin, then the fact that your inclination was innate doesn’t move the act into the “not a sin” category. [That actually makes a little more sense than the claim that it’s (theologically) impossible for people to have inborn inclinations.] However, it doesn’t make a lot more sense — since it’s not clear how your agency would be erased simply by having a different set of acts that, for you, are considered sins.

    But I think perhaps my error is in attempting to use logic to extract a general theological principle that could be applied to questions other than homosexuality. It looks like his reasoning simply flowed in the opposite direction: He started from the premise that homosexuality should be universally condemned, and then found a rationalization for it. Really, humans reason in that direction more than they realize. It may be an inborn human trait. 😉

  6. I always read Packer on homosexuality based on the assumption that he is a gay man and he is speaking largely of his own experience. All his talk of temptation and struggle and overcoming stems, I think, from his own life. He has devoted his entire adult life — long, long decades now — to fighting against and denying who he really is: a gay man.

    He was taught that homosexuality is deeply sinful and shameful, so he’s spent decades denying his feelings, pushing away his thoughts, and rejecting a core part of his very being. But he felt that he could nothing else and still be acceptable before God and society. He’s lived a difficult and profoundly tragic life, but at least he can tell himself that it’s been worth it, that it’s served a noble cause, that it’s what God wants, and in the end he’ll be rewarded and made whole.

    Except now people are saying that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. That it’s OK for two men to fall in love. To get married. It’s just love like any other love, and its no more shameful, no more sinful, than any other love. How deeply, deeply threatening those ideas must be to him. His life is already tragic; how much more so if it’s all been in vain, if all his struggle and suffering has been for nothing.

    So what’s left for him at this point except more denial? Other general authorities might ease up on their anti-homosexual rhetoric, but not Boyd K. Packer. To give ground now would be tantamount to admitting that his lifelong struggle has been a monumental waste. He won’t do it. He can’t do it.

    Or maybe he’s just a mean old son of a bitch. I don’t know, but I like my explanation better. 😉

  7. @8 That’s a reasonable interpretation. It’s certainly true on principle that people who have made massive sacrifices often feel very threatened by the idea that the sacrifice may have been in vain — and may respond by going on the war-path against those who have made other choices.

  8. @5:

    I frankly dont credit Packer with being inarticulate. I think he chose his words very carefully in order to couch his true beliefs regarding homosexuality, which are obviously not as progressive as those of others of the brethren.

    Well, there is that, but there’s also the fact that, as chanson said @7, he’s beginning with the “sin” and working backwards. And he just muddles things when he reaches his own ignorance on the matter.

    Consider this famous 1987 passage of Hinckley’s (who I would argue was slightly less homophobic than Packer): “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices, which first should clearly be overcome with a firm and fixed determination never to slip to such practices again.” It’s the same ambiguity that Packer has above, where he leaves it ambiguous about how “homosexual inclinations” are supposed to be somehow “overcome” with “agency.” In the conference you’ve linked to above, Packer says in summary: “Just do not go there, and if you’re already there, come back.”

    But like Hinckley, Packer hasn’t really engaged with the nuts and bolts of the matter so it just comes off as inarticulate and ignorant (at least in my opinion). With Oaks, Wickman, Holland, and some of those other younger-ish guys, they’ve at least thought more deeply and talked to more people about what it’s like to live with these “temptations.” More and more church leaders know that “agency” is always applicable to whether or not to engage in intimacy with anyone (regardless of gender or orientation), but using “agency” to constantly fight one’s sexual attractions day after day will, in some personality types, be extremely harmful. The Church doesn’t tell its straight kids to not fantasize about marriage and spending one’s life with someone (as a wholesale outlet for their sexuality); rather, just that there’s a time and place for it. But the Church does tell its gay kids that their feelings have no outlet, so just struggle with them constantly for the rest of their lives. And in some (many? most?) personality types, this is simply not an option.

  9. @9

    Its certainly true on principle that people who have made massive sacrifices often feel very threatened by the idea that the sacrifice may have been in vain and may respond by going on the war-path against those who have made other choices.

    I had expected more gay Mormons who’ve felt they’ve sacrificed a lot to be upset and outspoken about Mitch Mayne (that gay guy in SF who’d been in a long-term same-sex relationship, but received some fame for now being a temple-worthy member and receiving a calling). Yet, these hard feelings never seemed to materialize, at least not publicly or to my knowledge. Perhaps it’s the case that a lot of Mormons (and anyone else, really) internalize their war-paths if they don’t have power to back them up.

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