Mormon leader addresses the Great Conundrum
October 8th, 2010
Boyd Packer is the president and the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). On Sunday, speaking to the 180th Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City (which was broadcast around the world), he preached a sermon which was dedicated to anti-gay doctrine and political activism.
Coming on the tail of a series of news reports about anti-gay bullying resulting in child suicide, this shocked and angered those who seek to protect vulnerable children from a culture of contempt. Last night, thousands of protesters surrounded the Mormon Temple in symbolic illustration of the deaths that result from such incautious words.
Public outrage over the comments included demands that the church retract and denounce the sermon. In a most peculiar decision, the church decided instead to sanitize the sermon to make it less obviously objectionable when media came looking for quotes, and released a statement that Packer’s statements were “based on principles of truth, respect and love for all of God’s children.”
I do not fault a religious leader for espousing their religious beliefs, even those which I find to be contrary to everything I think is moral and true. However, as Packer’s talk was laden with terms such as “evil” and “wickedness” and “perversion” and as Packer declared that civil equality for gay couples would lead to the end of civilization, his entire sermon is foul and objectionable.
But amidst the animus and condescension, Boyd did illustrate what I call the Great Conundrum. In May I wrote about this paradox:
For millenia, church teaching has been that God is good and applying his rules leads to happiness. God has said that homosexuality is forbidden and abomination to him. This is evident in Scripture and it is abundantly clear that homosexuality is not to be tolerated. Those who are homosexual are vile and willful sinners who choose to defy God.
However, we currently know the homosexuality is a naturally occurring attribute of a person. One’s attractions are not selected and are based in part on genetics. Other contributors may include other biological or perhaps even social factors, but conscious choice is seldom involved at all and no manner of effort seems effective in changing homosexuality into heterosexuality.
Therefore, God has – through genetics and other factors under the control of his divine hand – created a group of humans which he condemns for being the way He created them. He rejects and punishes them (and endorses the human punishment of them) for the sin of existing, a sin over which they had no free will.
This is not conceivable to modern Christians. This is contrary to how they view the nature of God. And so, Christians are faced with the following options: Either
- The writers of the Scripture got it wrong, or
- Your understanding of Scripture is incorrect, or
- Modern understanding about homosexuality is wrong, or
- God is a bully.
And I discussed the various ways in which a conservative Christian can resolve such a puzzle. Boyd Packer chose what I called “Response 3: Denying evidence.”
Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our 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.
Boyd’s logic goes like this: Inborn tendencies come from God. God is good. Homosexuality is bad. Therefore, homosexuality did not come from God and is not inborn. Science, research, personal witness, and any evidence that contradicts this formula must be ignored.
No doubt this conclusions-based logic will continue for some time to satisfy faithful Mormons who are seeking justification for their anti-gay attitudes or activism. It will provide cover for the church’s continuing attack on the civil liberties of gay people.
But in time, denying empirical evidence will only serve to weaken Packer’s influence and image and come to harm his church.