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Brandon's Big Gay Blog

A Response to President Packer's "Cleansing the Inner Temple"

by Brandon Burt
- Posted // 2010-10-04 -

Dang it to heck. Just when things were going so well between the LGBT community and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Quorum of the Twelve President Boyd K. Packer delivered his Sunday-morning talk "Cleansing the Inner Temple" at the 180th October General Conference.

President Packer is a highly respected LDS Church authority, and for decades, has been a source of spiritual guidance for millions of church members worldwide.

Now, it is not easy for one such as me, a random queer schmuck with a blog, to respond effectively to the words of such a widely beloved man without coming across as presumptuous and impudent. President Packer is one of the most brilliant speakers within the LDS Church hierarchy. His sermons are always barnburners, and his gift for metaphor is truly inspiring*.

I want to make clear that I mean no disrespect to the man, and I hold sacrosanct his 1st Amendment right to express his beliefs -- even those with which I may disagree, or which I find hurtful.

One such belief, common among older generations of religious conservatives, is the idea that gays and lesbians don't really exist -- only individuals afflicted with a malady known as "same-sex attraction." It's an old saw, to which President Packer alluded in his talk:

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.

There's no question that many gays and lesbians are capable of falsely assuming heterosexual lifestyles -- they've done it for centuries out of fear of persecution, imprisonment, violence and execution. Of course any of us could pretend to "overcome" our natural sexual orientation if our lives were at stake.

But the argument that you could go straight if you really wanted to is dangerous -- not only because it unfairly stigmatizes us as mentally ill, but because it is designed to justify universal application of so-called reparative therapies, which have been determined ineffective at best and damaging at worst by all medical and mental-health professional organizations (except the one formed by practitioners in the reparative-therapy industry).

Certainly, there are some gays and lesbians who believe they might be happier living a heterosexual lifestyle. Pretending to be straight is a time-honored and convenient way to live up to societal, church and familial expectations. People should be free to undergo this distasteful form of therapy if they wish. But such people are the exception rather than the rule -- the vast majority of us are happier and healthier living openly and with integrity.

Naturally, many folks who feel unfairly targeted by President Packer's statements will respond with ridicule and derision. Yet, even though the issue of homosexuality is emotionally charged and generates strong feelings on both sides, lashing out in anger against a simple statement of belief accomplishes little. It serves only to foment contention and resentment, reinforcing the harmful and false belief that LGBT equality represents some kind of threat to all Mormondom.

I'm not saying that protests and outpourings of emotion are never justified. Now, more than ever, it is necessary for the LGBT community to organize against the powerful political forces that seek legal means to marginalize us, as when California's Proposition 8 attempted to revoke recognition of gay and lesbian families in the Golden State.

However, we should be clear what we're protesting -- and it's certainly not the right of a religious leader to speak his mind. The same Bill of Rights that guarantees our right to free speech also guarantees our religious freedom. That means churches are free to recognize same-sex marriages, or to forbid them, as they choose. They are free to believe and preach that gays are addicted, or immoral, or even (as some sects propound) possessed by demons.

By the same token, religious freedom also means no particular church is entitled to use the force of law to impose its beliefs upon all others, no matter how fervently or unanimously such beliefs are held among its members.

Just as we fear laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians, the LDS Church fears laws that discriminate against Mormons. Considering the historical record, such fears are justifiable on both sides.

There is a widespread misperception among religious conservatives that civil recognition of our marriages will give government the authority to step in and regulate their deeply held beliefs. A nightmare scenario would emerge in which preachers could be jailed for sermonizing against homosexuality, and the Fed would somehow force all churches to perform gay and lesbian weddings.

This, of course, is not only preposterous -- it's a deliberate distortion of the goals of the marriage-equality movement.

Quite the opposite is true: In most states (including Utah), churches that recognize gay and lesbian families are forbidden by law to do so. Marriage equality seeks to remedy this very real government intrusion into religious freedom -- not implement a set of phantasmagoric religious restrictions.

I wrote a while back that a plurality of cultural Mormons, out of their natural sense of compassion and fairness, actually do support marriage equality. Unfortunately, we don't hear much from them, since the public announcement of such a belief would draw a sound Iron-Rod drubbing. I fear President Packer's talk is a perfect example of this kind of spiritual pressure brought to bear against members who, in good conscience, can no longer sustain their anti-gay fervor.

* It's been 34 years since President Packer delivered his Priesthood Session talk, titled "To Young Men Only." Yet how many of us can forget about the "little factory"? That shame-inducing, uncomfortable body part which must never be tampered with or else it will "speed up" -- upon which "you will then be tempted again and again to release it"?

Fortunately, this year's most memorable metaphor was much less icky. According to the Church News:

"Repentance is like unto a detergent," said President Packer. "Even ground in stains of sin will come out."

Maybe this is a subject upon which President Packer and I can agree: Laundry metaphors are always good.

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Post a comment
Posted // October 6,2010 at 10:54

I just wanted to add to this comment board that as a convert to the LDS church, this has been a topic that I have struggled with most to accept. The stance the Church holds seems contrary to that of harmony and love, two ideals we are supposed to be eminating. I just want all members of the LGBT community and every transgender, gay, lesbian and "unknown" to know that there are members of the LDS church, active and believing, that truly do empathize with them and love them. While not a majority by any means, we exist. Brandon, I also deeply appreciate this post as it exemplifies the attitude we should have towards one another; no anger, maybe a few jests, but overall, acceptance.


Posted // October 5,2010 at 17:05

When I watched the news the other night and saw Mr. Packer speaking, all I could think of is that he sounded just like the Emperor from "Star Wars". All he needs is a big black cloak, grayer skin, and the ability to shoot lightning out of his finger tips.....perhaps that is why is so averse to the "little factory."

The LGBT community should gather the force for a showdown with true evil....we can get a hand mirror and have the man take a look into it. There he will see the true nature of "evil, immoral, unnatural, God produced junk."


Posted // November 16,2010 at 10:22 - @ Brandon The electrodes don't cause aversion, they just push kinky up a notch


Posted // October 5,2010 at 21:04 - Hahaha ... I wouldn't be surprised if battery-charged fingertip electrodes were actually used at some point to break young men of those "immoral" nocturnal habits!


Posted // October 5,2010 at 13:45

To Anonymous--I agree with what you said and feel 100%, and appreciate it. But please remember the long and painful journey it took for you to get to where you are now. Many, many gays of all ages, but especially our youth have not had therapy nor the means to get it--are not oput to their family yet, etc. They are feeling the same hurt, pain and anger you decribed. And too many are involved in self-destructive behaviors or even suicide because of that.

You have to work through those feelings nefore you can "make peace". I learned that in therapy. Repressed anger is the primary root cause of depression. While peace-making is an ideal, it almost always takes a transformative jpourney to get there.

So please just keep that in mind. My remarks were directed at the continued disregard The LDS Church has for any kind of heartfelt interchange with LGBTs, and the hateful history they have toward them, and Elder Packer's refusal to allow any real and sincere love into his discourse. Thank you!


Posted // October 5,2010 at 20:57 - Grr! Yes, it's really me! I don't know why the message board keeps saying I'm "anonymous" hahaha ...


Posted // October 5,2010 at 20:55 - Hey, Cynthia --

For some reason the message board listed me as "anonymous" even though I'm actually the author of the original blog post.

I meant to say that the plight of LGBT youth is known firsthand to me, and I think the work of understanding and sympathetic counselors such as yourself is so important.

The help and support I received from a school counselor was invaluable to me, and helped me resist the shame-based programming of the reparative therapist.

Let me attest that even the smallest glimmer of hope and understanding you can give to a young person in such a desperate situation can make a world of difference, and have lasting positive effects.


Posted // October 5,2010 at 11:17

Thank you for your kind, well-thought out article. President Packer's talk reminded me once again why I no longer belong to a church that is all about fear, shame, and prejudice.

I appreciate your balanced review.

I feel so badly for those still in the church who feel shame, guilt, and pain for their homosexual feelings, especially when they are told by one of their "authorities" that God, in his mind, does indeed make junk.


Posted // October 4,2010 at 20:38

Leviticus, Chapter 15. (Excerpted from this is the law of the plague – Diamanda Galas’ Plague Mass)

“When any man hath an issue out of his flesh. Because of that issue he is unclean. Every bed wheron he lieth is unclean and everything whereon he sitteth, unclean. And whosoever toucheth his bed shall be unclean, and he that sitteth wheron he sat shall be unclean. And he that toucheth the flesh of the unclean becomes unclean and he that be spat on by him unclean becomes unclean. And whosoever toucheth anything under him shall be unclean. And he that beareth any of those things shall be unclean. And what saddle soever he riddeth upon is unclean and the vessel of earth that he toucheth unclean. And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him, he is unclean. Every garment, every skin whereon is the seed, unclean. And the woman with whom this man shall lie shall be unclean. And whosever toucheth her shall be unclean. This is the law of the plague: To teach when it is clean and when it is unclean. The Devil is an impotent man. He says it nice and plays himself of as the friend. He tries to make you uncertain so your hands shake and then he tells you your insane when you call him by his rightful name: Impotent homophobe and coward! So you will miss when you aim at this evil man who cannot get it up except in the T.V. public operating room of another mans misfortune”.

Were you a witness? The plague continues and the killers continue to let us die one by one! When they're not bashing us in the streets, the LGBT children are blowing their own brains out, throwing themselves from tall buildings and bridges and the only compassion this honored man can muster is a shallow comparison to a load a laundry, or describe our human rights in a diminishing folksy story about peanut butter? It is Wicked and Sickening!!!


Posted // October 5,2010 at 20:12 - Brandon, I know you know this and are speaking in a past tense, but I am going to say it out loud anyway. Brandon you are fabulous and valued just as you are and don't need to measure up politically or otherwise to anyone! Least of all me. Diamanda is scary. She does inspire me and give voice to the powerlessness I feel when my humanity and value is being denigrated, debated and put up for popular vote. Sometimes she scares me too! This is how Diamanda describes herself: "My voice was given to me as an instrument of inspiration for my friends, and a tool of torture and destruction to my enemies." DG I think there should be a place for all of us at the table, from the angry and dissaffected to the happy and contented. I also think we should be able to move between the polarities at will. I think we would all be happier if we could develop an awareness of the need for all of us to exist to make our universe function, after all we are the energy that pushes and pulls us to the edge and back again.


Posted // October 4,2010 at 23:38 - John, I've always admired your fiery and poetic approach to the struggle.

I remember you gave me a copy of Diamanda Galas' Plague Mass for (I think) my 23rd birthday. I still have it. I never wanted to admit it to you, but I listened to it exactly once. Scared the shit out of me! Since then, the tape hasn't left its case.

I always got the feeling that Diamanda got you charged up, but for me she had the opposite effect -- she left me drained and in despair.

To tell the truth, I wanted more than anything to emulate your hardcore politics. I loved you, and I felt I could never measure up to you.