Home > Uncategorized > Thoughts on the revisions to Pres. Packer’s talk

Thoughts on the revisions to Pres. Packer’s talk

 

Tendencies, Temptations, Revelations, Guides

The proceedings of last week’s General Conference were posted on lds.org on Friday, and the big news was the changes made to Pres. Packer’s address. Where Pres. Packer originally suggested that “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural,” the published version changed “tendencies” to temptations. It also removed the rhetorical question that ended paragraph “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” (You can see a combined version of the two talks here). The emphasis of these revisions seems to realign Pres. Packer’s remarks with those made here by Elder Oaks and Elder Lance Wickman, where they stated that the the church doesn’t claim to know the origin of same-sex attraction or certainly don’t claim that this orientation is a purely a matter of choice.

 

Generally, I welcome these revisions–when I first heard the talk on Sunday, I was shocked by the Pres. Packer’s rhetoric since it seemed so different from how the Church seemed to be addressing homosexuality–and because many parts of it made me very uncomfortable. I sustain and support Pres. Packer, and he has delivered some of my favorite talks, but it was jarring nonetheless. I’m glad to see that the Church recognizes that there is a lot we don’t know about how same-sex attraction fits into our traditional narrative of agency, choice, and eternal marriage and is trying to keep its claims circumspect until we’re revealed more. Same-sex orientation is a unique challenge, very different from the “traditional” temptations like hate, spite, greed, etc. Being willing to fully love anyone with these attractions is also a unique challenge for us as Christians.

But these are not even the most interesting revisions of Pres. Packer’s talk!

 

Earlier, he stated that the “Proclamation to the World” on the family was a revelation and that every member would be wise to treat it as such. But in the printed version, it is not longer deemed a “revelation” but a “guide” for members to follow. I find this so intriguing because the status of the Proclamation in the Mormon canon–and, implicitly, the status of various proclamations and statements the church has made in the past–has always been difficult to define. The Brethren usually don’t specify exactly what is “revelation” for the whole church and what is just prophetic counsel, leaving a lot of guesswork for members. In an effort to feel like they are fully sustaining the Brethren through and through, most members tend to simply take anything publicly stated by church leaders as revelation or doctrine–and we’ve made the Proclamation especially sacrosanct. I know of some CES instructors that suggest you paste it into your scriptures and treat it as practically a member of that canon. Outside of the scriptures and maybe the teachings of Joseph Smith, I don’t know any other publication that carries the same weight in talks, church classrooms, etc.

So to shift Pres. Packer’s language from “revelation” to “guide” is both a remarkable tempering of traditional views on the “Proclamation” and a striking instance of how difficult it can be to define what is “revelation,” “inspired,” “prophetic,” “counsel,” “guidance,” etc. Simply dividing everything into either “God’s word” or “his opinion” doesn’t seem sufficient. Is it possible for something to be inspired, be guided by God, without taking it as God’s exact words? If so, how do we tell what is purely divine and what is the perspective of a particular individual in a specific time and place? Now that it’s been defined as a “guide” rather than a “revelation,” does that change how we apply it to our lives? I generally find the “Proclamation” a great resource, but I was uncomfortable to consider it “God’s word” because it seems so specifically directed to our period’s current culture and challenges (i.e., I didn’t take traditional gender divisions of labor as eternal truth but direction for our world today). I think this re-wording will make me note more carefully how I–and the rest of the church–use it in our religious parlance.

What are everybody elses’ thoughts?

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Liz
    October 9, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    I didn’t even know the verbage re: the Proclamation had been changed. That makes me much more comfortable with it, actually.

    Overall I welcome the changes… but I’m still digesting the talk and its implications. I especially welcome the elimination of the “Why would Heavenly Father do that to anyone” piece because that was particularly jarring to me… it just opened up an entire can of worms of WHY Heavenly Father would do lots of things. Anyways. Still thinking about it. Still slightly annoyed by it. Still wishing it wasn’t as hurtful as it was to a lot of people.

  2. October 9, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Yeah, there are still aspects of the talk that bother me. And you can’t help but wish that these corrections had been made in the first place (how many people will note the difference or even care? Once it’s said over the pulpit, its hard to undo). But the fact that the church even made these changes is heartening.

    I wonder: will anyone address this topic for a while? It really seems like only Pres. Packer ever talks at GC on these types of issues. Do some feel the need to defer the issue to him b/c of seniority or is it not as weighty for them?

  3. October 9, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Yeah, I’ve already talked to a couple of members who have used Elder Packer’s talk as evidence that homosexuality is not something someone is born with and that anyone who is faithful will be able to overcome. I don’t know if pointing out the change in wording will change that perception of what he was saying.

    But I thought at the time, and still believe, that his main enemy throughout the talk was pornography, and on that level it all works wonderfully. Adding in a reference or two to other sins, and the resulting confusion about to what extent they are lumped together, seems to be where the problems came in. The changes in the published version make his purpose clearer (and more in line with what the Church has said, as you point out).

    And yeah, that change about the Proclamation is also the most interesting to me!

  4. October 12, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Hmm. That’s very interesting. I’m glad to know I wasn’t that only one who was uncomfortable during his talk. The whole thing made me very uneasy. I was unaware that they had made revisions in the printed version. Thanks for the information and your opinion.

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