Friday, October 8, 2010

President Packer's Talk, Homosexuality, and Judging

President Packer's Talk

I am a little surprised with how up-in-arms some people are against President Packer's conference talk. I am also surprised with how many people are using it as an excuse to pass judgment on homosexual church members who are not acting on their feelings.

I can see how, taking one or two lines out of context, it might be misunderstood. Allow me to offer my opinion on the matter. Once again, I could be wrong, but here's what I think.

I'll give the quotes followed by commentary (emphasis added).

QUOTE: "We teach a standard of moral CONDUCT that will protect us from Satan’s MANY substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to ENTER INTO ANY relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness." Some suppose that they were PRESET and cannot OVERCOME what they feel are INBORN TEMPTATIONS toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father."

COMMENTARY: A lot of people seem to be applying this statement exclusively to homosexuality, assuming that he is saying "if you just prayed hard enough, your sexual orientation will be changed." This is a huge assumption from the statement given, and taken that way, I see how it could be offensive toward a person with homosexual inclinations who is not acting on their feelings. I don't think any heterosexual should use this as 'ammo' anymore than they should say, 'well if you just had enough faith your cancer would be taken away because God has the power to do so.'

President Packer gave this quote right after speaking extensively on pornography. An 'inborn temptation toward the impure and unnatural' could include many things, including a desire to view pornography. Can this temptation which people feel to be inborn because they are so addicted and drawn to it be overcome? Yes, by refusing to VIEW pornography. This quote could apply to many MANY things. Examples of substitutes and counterfeits for marriage: pornography, prostitution, pedophiles, abusive relationships, incest, ENGAGING in extramarital relationships (even though the attraction is there), and ENGAGING in homosexual relationships.

He uses action words: "conduct," "enter into" (instead of "be tempted by").

I also believe that when he said we could 'overcome the inborn temptations', he was talking about conquering the temptation by not indulging in the counterfeits, rather than talking about having the temptation be completely taken away. I understand that other opinions on this quote may vary, but nobody can say for sure what was meant except the one who actually said it.

Here's a quote from Elder Scott's talk that confirms that God won't always just take away trials because we ask: "With even your strongest faith, God will not always reward you immediately according to your desires. Rather, God will respond with what in His eternal plan is best for you, when it will yield the greatest advantage. Be thankful that sometimes God lets you struggle for a long time before that answer comes. That causes your faith to increase and your character to grow." So let's not pass judgment on anybody else and let's also not think that an apostle was saying God will just remove temptations if we just had more faith. Let's look at the big picture.

QUOTE: 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. As Alma cautioned, we must “watch and pray continually.”

COMMENTARY: Clearly, President Packer is talking about actions here, not temptations. He doesn't promise anything in this statement about temptations being taken away if we just pray hard enough. This whole paragraph would be completely moot if what he was saying earlier was that God will just take temptations away.

QUOTE: "Every soul confined in a prison of SIN, GUILT, or PERVERSION has a key to the gate. The key is labeled “repentance.” If you know how to use this key, the adversary cannot hold you. The twin principles of repentance and forgiveness exceed in strength the awesome power of the tempter. If you are bound by a HABIT or an ADDICTION that is unworthy, you must stop CONDUCT that is harmful. Angels will coach you, and priesthood leaders will guide you through those difficult times."

COMMENTARY: Once again, he seems to be referring to actions. Not temptations. While entertaining unclean thoughts is wrong - "we don't have to invite them to tea" - being tempted at times is just part of life. If we were never tempted, the principle of agency would be useless because we'd never have to choose.

QUOTE: Once you have decided to remain clean, you are asserting your God-given agency.

COMMENTARY: Once again, actions. If God took away all our temptations whenever we asked, He'd be taking away our ability to learn and grow through choices.

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Homosexuality


One of the greatest commandments is to "Love One Another." Of course we should love homosexuals just like we should love anybody else. I've known some people who refuse to be friends with or do business with homosexuals. At risk of being too harsh, I find this to be self-righteous and ludicrous. We shouldn't judge anybody no matter what their sexual orientation, and we should treat all people - by virtue of the fact that they are sons and daughters of God and fellow human beings - with mutual respect, friendliness, and kindness. Would you shun a heterosexual who has pushed boundaries on physical intimacy outside of marriage? Or shun someone who has told a lie or been dishonest in a business transaction? In short, if we shun everyone who ever displeased the Lord through any behavior of theirs, we'd be shunning everyone (including ourselves).

Why should we treat un-practicing homosexuals any differently than heterosexuals? It's like treating someone differently just because they are blonde instead of brunette. (Didn't want to open up a can of worms on blonde jokes here either). Would it be too bold of me to say that we should even treat practicing homosexuals with kindness and respect, that we can be friends with them, that we can learn and laugh with them and allow them to learn and laugh with us? Let's bear in mind that one of the two greatest commandments is to "love one another".

It is not our place to condemn or judge anybody, and Mormons are certainly not trying to take homosexuals rights away. Everybody is free to choose and act for themselves. But that doesn't mean that just because a person chooses a particular course of action, God approves of it. He doesn't bend His laws for men or for popular opinion.

My personal belief (though others may hate me for saying so) is that the prophets do speak for God when they say that to engage in homosexual behavior is not condoned of God - if God has revealed it, who am I to argue with Him? I don't have answers for why people have feelings that feel very natural and are very powerful if God isn't going to let them realize those feelings. But I do see a few parallels - like the heterosexual forbidden to act on their natural urges improperly (before marriage, or with a person who is not their spouse, or disrespectfully or inappropriately even with their spouse). Those things are just as wrong. There are also many heterosexuals in the church who will never have the opportunity to marry, and who will remain celibate their entire lives.

We all have to learn restraint and discipline in life in one way or another, whether that is managing anger, not overeating, not exploiting or taking advantage of others to get what we want, or not being dishonest in financial dealings. Some areas are easy for an individual, while other areas may be tougher. But we all should try to direct our behavior to align with what God would have us do in any particular circumstance.

Obviously, I don't have all the answers, but to summarize, we should (1) be kind to everyone and not judge, (2) pray and search the words of God through His prophets so that we can individually direct our course through life to try our best to live the way God wants us each to live, and (3) exercise restraint in any aspect of our life that would make God unhappy.
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Judging


At risk of being misunderstood, let me say this: I do believe that there are certain actions/behaviors/habits that are right or wrong, and behaviors can absolutely be judged as such. That is why we have laws and consequences (both civilly and spiritually). Moral relativism IS a danger. When I talk about not judging, I am not talking about behaviors. I am specifically talking about not belittling someone's trial by judging - 'if this person had more faith, they'd be cured of their depression, cancer, homosexual feelings, etc.' Just because a person's trial may be different from mine doesn't mean they are somehow less worthy than me. Was Job less worthy or did everybody wrongly judge him as such because of all the trials he was going through?

God won't always take away desires or temptations or trials from us. Actions, on the other hand, are always in OUR control because God won't control our agency - actions do include dwelling on thoughts. The former (desires, temptations, trials) shouldn't be judged; the latter (actions) can be judged as right or wrong.

As a friend of mine stated, "I suspect that God is most concerned about his children who are currently struggling with homosexual feelings. They are the ones who are emotionally, physically, daily wrapped up in the topic we are discussing so insensitively."

If Christ were in the room, would we be busy telling someone else how their weaknesses and temptations are wrong? I believe that Christ would wrap His arms around and show love to all at that moment. If He's perfect and can show love to everybody, why shouldn't I strive to do the same in my daily life?

To quote my friend again, "If we hate the sin, love the sinner, then we should express love. 'Your damnable behavior is tainting everything that matters to me' is a terrible way to start a conversation whose overarching theme is 'I love you. Let’s work through this.'"

I think we would all do well to examine how these things apply to ourselves before trying to figure out how they apply to the next person. Let's check our own actions and thoughts. Let's critically examine the media we take into our lives, to make sure that we ourselves are not being hypocritical. It doesn't mean we can't take a stand against behaviors, or that we should justify them, but let's be a little more loving.

2 comments:

Abby said...

I think you've got the right idea. I feel like it's pretty ridiculous some people seem to be up in arms about Packer's talk and about the Mormon religion being so against homosexuality. There are SO many other things we believe in! It's not like we are out to put someone in chains because of their sexual orientation! The doctrines being discussed about Homosexuality is all just about sexual purity. The ability to reproduce human beings is only possible between a man and a women physically and that man and women should be married. That is the ultimate teaching of God, isn't it. Correct me if I'm wrong but that is how I have taken it to believe. I associate with homo- and bi-sexual people everyday. I don't treat them any different, they don't treat me any different. I don't think they should act on their desires just like I don't think the un-married heterosexual couples should act on their desires. That's just what I believe. Many would disagree with me and tell me I'm intolerant but are those accusing me of intolerance being intolerant themselves to me and my lifestyle and beliefs? I don't know.

Sarah said...

I agree. A lot of people who cry "intolerance!" are themselves being intolerant.

My spin on this is toward people I've been interacting with in Provo, so a lot of it talks about love and respect for people with different temptations. I think my post is pretty liberal as far as some Provo people are concerned.

Thank you for bringing up sexual purity. I also did not make mention of family in this post. While I think that is extremely important, I didn't include it because I feel that the Provo audience already understands all that. However, some might benefit by hearing more about love, kindness, and accepting those in our midst who are chaste but experience attraction to the same gender. I see some people with homosexual inclinations in these parts being ostracized even though they are just as chaste as the next person - and judging them certainly isn't comforting those who stand in need of comfort.