Obligatory President Packer talk analysis

I am late on this bandwagon; most everyone else I know personally who owns a blog and is Mormon has touched on this. Surprisingly, because of what I’ve written about before on this blog, President Packer’s talk did not really upset me that much (my wife is of a different story). In fact, the only line that irked me within President Packer’s talk was his warning against what he described as “legislating immorality,” but more on that later.

President Packer’s talk didn’t surprise me. He didn’t really say anything that was essentially different than his views in the 1970s. If anything, President Packer is consistent. He didn’t cross the currently established line that the Church has drawn, namely, orientation is different action, and we will only talk about actions, not orientation. Unfortunate, then, that many people came to the conclusion that President Packer had conflated orientation to sin. I don’t believe that was his point, but I can see how that interpretation came to be, and all I can see is that language as our primary mode of information transfer (as much as I love it) is faulty, and miscommunication can occur.

The cynnical part of me wonders, though, if people just simply read into the talk what they wanted/expected to hear. Those hurt by Prop-8 took it as rebuke. Those who want to justify Prop-8 despite the rapidly evaporating reasons found their stick to beat people back into orthodoxy. In reality, President Packer tackled the issue of free will, especially associated with the decision to follow God and resist temptation. This is a core principle that President Packer and I will disagree with as well, but only because I believe free agency requires caveats in order to more clearly reflect our fallen world. But that’s a topic for another (series) of blog posts.

Either way, everyone will read into it what they want to, and with a subject that emotionally charged, it would be almost impossible not to.

My fundamental disagreement, however, came from President Packer’s statement that we as Saints should not “legislate immorality.” This, I am confident, President Packer did speak of in connection to Prop-8, and this is where President Packer and I fundamentally disagree on.

My stance when it comes to religion in the public sphere is thus – you may counsel on moral issues as vigorously as you want; indeed, this is your right. But the minute you organize your flock into a voting bloc, you will lose more than you will gain.

The stance on political neutrality is a long-standing tradition of modern-day Mormonism, one which we’ve only broken several times, specifically in polygamy, Prohibition, the Civil Rights Act (sort of), the ERA, abortion, and now, gay marriage. Oh, and Joseph Smith ran for president once. And I guess we have Senator/Apostle Smoot. But for the most part, we stay out of politics, and when we follow that policy, I’m tickled, really. We rarely promote a particular platform or candidate, and I’d like it to stay that way.

President Packer is not a lawyer, nor is he a political scientist. He’s a teacher by profession, and he’s served as an apostle for a very long time. I respect his counsel and his position in the Church. And so I feel I can safely disagree on this point without jeapordizing any kind of eternal salvation. We simply differ on religious-political theory, and so be it.

I’m of the opinion of Augustine – we are the City of God, not the City of Man, and we have no need to be part of the worldly process. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and what is God’s to God. I am also of the opinion that sometimes, we need to tolerate some kinds of sin, because trying to stamp out some kinds of sin will only introduce more numerous or more serious sins (see also: Prohibition). I am also of the opinion of Thomas Aquinas, who demonstrated that there is Divine Law and Human Law. Because we cannot stamp out all kinds of sin (in fear that we’ll introduce worse ones) with Human Law, the Church implements Divine Law. This law is seperate from the world’s laws. While the consequences are eternal, participation and recognition of Divine Law is voluntary. The Church cannot haul off people not of the Church because they disobeyed Divine Law. In fact, the Church shouldn’t, because then it interferes with the purpose of Human Law (preserve order, equality, and justice) and Divine Law (the exaltation of man). Sometimes, those two are incompatible.

Anyway, before I keep rambling (too late!), I will sumarize crudely by saying that I firmly believe that when an ecclesiastical organization steps in and tries to legislate law, it will fail. Why? It loses legitimacy as an aribter of spiritual, not earthly matters. We sully the Church, and we sully the law. And honestly, we kinda suck at it. Why? Because we have different goals (as mentioned above). So we will fundamentally disagree with what Human Law will sometimes allow, but because we have our sphere in the realm of morality, we can still stridently preach against it. Other wise, per President Packer’s words, if allowing gay marriage to occur is the equivalent of “legislating immorality,” we should also be vigorously legislating against the following legalized activities:

– Pornography
– Infidelity
– Fornication of all forms
– Gambling
– Immodest dress
– Alcohol
– Tobbacco use
– Tea drinking
– Coffee drinking
– Multiple pairs of earrings

Okay, the last five are kind of silly, but also I say it seriously (since that is the general stance the Church has on those five practices – the partaking somehow will cause the Spirit to flee, and thusly they are “immoral”). Could you imagine the Church working against these practices? And yet, this is the same justification we give for legalizing same-sex marriage, that somehow, it will degrade society. Well, here’s a thought experiment for you. Suppose the Church did manage to succeed in criminalizing all of these things. If you sleep with another woman besides your wife, you’re jailed. Every time you walk outside with your belly showing, you’re jailed. Whenever you’re found with two pairs of earrings, you’re fined.

Which country does this resemble the most?:

A. Iran
B. Afghanistan
C. Pakistan
D. All of the above

Would you like to live in any of the countries in the previous question’s answers during it’s current political climate?

The very thing the Church absolutely loves about America (religious freedom) we undermine when we attempt to organize our congregations into voting blocs. Yes, I am aware that other churches do it all the time. But we don’t use crosses as adornments and we don’t pass a plate around for collections. We don’t have clergy that are paid and trained in divinical schools. Should we adopt these practices as well? Disclaimer: I wouldn’t mind. But I know that a lot of Mormons would loathe to be “like the other Christian churches.” Well, there ya go.

We should be standing up and saying, “These are our moral stances, but we feel that agency is so important – so important that God cast out 1/3 of the hosts of heaven because they wished to destroy the principle of agency – we will allow people to do what they will. But be warned there will be consequences, and we expect our members to live by standards x and y.” This is not a cowardly stance. This is a courageous stance, namely because very few large ecclesiastical organizations have that much faith in their members and in humanity. Most would rather control everyone and ensure that immorality never occur through legal means rather than through long-suffering, patience, loving preaching, and tolerating other peoples’ imperfections and mistakes, even downright rebellion. Much easier to force everyone with the power of the State into moral submission. Less back-talk, too.

Quick pop quiz for Mormons: Whose plan does that sound like?

I’ve heard the argument that we should be returning to Judeo-Christian values for our legal matters. Ha! When was the last time we did that? Ancient Israel. No, really. Israel has a basis for returning to Judaism for their legal roots. We don’t. Our entire legal system is based off of English common law (which was basically a bunch of nobles getting together and saying, “Sod the King! We’re gonna do our own thing!” and utilitarianism – Go Enlightenment!). Case in point: How come whenever you take a civics class, you’re required to learn about Rosseau, Voltaire, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and the Enlightenment, both vanilla flavor and Scottish, but not the Holy Bible?

And if you answer with “It’s a liberal plot,” then please conjure up some evidence. Until then, let me tell you about a particular Bible that Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers, wrote where he edited out all of the supernatural miracles, or maybe Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason (hint: he’s also the guy who wrote Common Sense! Not Glenn Beck, contrary to popular belief).

The minute we throw our hat into the political ring, we damage the moral ground on which we stand on. You know how it seems that everyone in America right now hates politicians because they are duplicitous and sketchy? Do we really need to have people feeling that way about our Church leaders, too?

The temptation to wield the power of the State to legislate on moral issues is incredible. But, as President Packer said, I do not believe God would create a Church which could not withstand that temptation. And I suppose this has something to do with gay marriage. So there you go. I talked about it. Yay. Now, let’s move onto more interesting things, like President Uchtdorf’s absolutely sublime talk of focusing on the basics! Yes!

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9 Comments

Filed under politico, religion

9 responses to “Obligatory President Packer talk analysis

  1. I’m going to argue with you on the basis that you and most others have misinterpreted the ‘Render unto Caesar’ story.

    I think that you have also again equated policy and doctrine. It is church POLICY to remain uninvolved in most political issues. But that POLICY is not a DOCTRINE– instead the positions the church does occasionally take (except perhaps on prohibition… that one I haven’t thought about) tend to be driven by doctrine. But WHEN we take a strong position is simply determined by the church leadership of the time.

    That is, I think a solid argument as the church’s justification for it’s positioning. However, we can take this a step further by looking at recent book on the last week of Christ’s life, in which the Gospel of Mark is looked at as a narrative structure that changes the common meaning of the ‘Render unto Caesar’ parable. (The book is called ‘The Last Week’ by Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, I take my material from pages 60-65)

    The context of the story is usually ignored. Let us remember, that in the 1st century CE local coinage made by the Israelites was still in circulation– this coinage did not have images of Romans on it. It is obvious that the Pharisees and the Herodians were sent by authorities. The Herodians were supporters of the Roman-appointed leaders of the Jews. The Pharisees were associated with tax-collectors, and, within this narrative, the Herodians. So the question is loaded to begin with. Knowing this– these men are attempting to force Jesus to do one of two things. Either say it is wrong to pay taxes– which of course would get arrested or some such thing. Or– say that it is lawful to pay taxes, which would make him lose favor with the public, who are decidedly in opposition to the Roman occupation. So the question is nt one phrased to discover doctrine at all (that doesn’t mean there isn’t doctrine to be gleaned, though). Instead of answering, Jesus poses a question, a trap to counter their trap. He asks for a coin, which they produce. This coin is NOT a Jewish coin– it is a Roman coin, with the emperor’s face and name on it. It was unpopular–religiously, culturally, socially– to carry such coinage. Then, he asks, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ The answer is obvious. In their answer, Jesus has already won the proverbial batte here. However, he doesn’t stop. We all know what he goes on to say. You’ve paraphrased it– the ‘Render unto Caesar’ quote. However, this doesn’t mean– ‘We should pay taxes’, if Christ had intended that, he wouldn’t have needed to construct his countertrap. Instead, he’s saying– it’s Caesar’s coin– he can have it. Then, within the context of Jewish tradition and perspective of the day, he goes on to say, “and render unto God what is God’s…” So there’s a potent question here– what is Caesar’s, and what is God’s? In the Jewish perspective of the day, and consistent with statements found in the scriptures– EVERYTHING is God’s. So Jesus has not actually made any statement about Church and State… therefore, as Latter-Day Saints, our primary guide to relations with the Government is found in the Articles of Faith.

    • Ted

      So you’re saying that he trapped the Pharisees with a trap?! GENIUS.

      If this was Jesus’ final intention, then let it be so. I still, however, for all practical reasons, feel that religion mixed with state politics can only end in sadness or a de-legitimization of the religion. Not necessarily because God decreed it so, but because of human experience. It’s that whole unrighteous dominion thing, imo.

  2. Ben Warner

    Nearly all legal questions are moral questions. We are all informed on moral matters by something, and I hope that those who believe in God would consider His revelations to be the ultimate source of understanding of right and wrong. President Monson told church members to use their resources to support Proposition 8 and I am thankful that we could receive guidance from a prophet on something that can be a tricky question.

    What would it mean if our society legalized gay marriage? We would not merely be saying that we allow homosexual behavior, but we would be giving it our sanction, our approval, making it an institution of our society. Will God look down with favor on a society that sanctions and institutionalizes the breaking of His commandments?

    Marriage is at the heart of the church’s doctrine and is one of the church’s temple ordinances. Consider the fact that gay marriage advocates have framed the issue as a discrimination issue and combine this with the popularity of anti-discrimination laws. If same-sex marriage were legalized, people may try to sue the church in order to force it to perform same-sex marriages in its temples. The church would never agree to such a thing and so it would find itself with a great number of lawyers and judges trying to force it to do something it considers immoral. That would not be freedom of religion.

    • Ted

      I must strongly disagree with your last paragraph. If this is the case, we might as well criminalize Catholicism and Protestantism, since they can also say we are discriminating against them by refusing to let them be married in our temples. Not only that, but almost every lawyer I have talked to or listened to about this have pretty much said no court would ever uphold such a ruling because it is in such a blatant disregard for the 1st amendment protecting religion.

      I must also respectfully disagree with your argument that legalizing something equals sanctioning. Smoking is legal. However, the government still issues through the General Surgeon a warning against smoking as highly dangerous and addictive. The reason the government allows smoking to happen is because criminalizing smoking would be an absolute mess. Better to legalize it, because then you can restrict it, control it, and tax the ever living crap out of it (which we do). Sometimes, legality is more of a pragmatic issue than a moral one.

      That being said, I would agree that Mormons who support Prop-8 should stick to their defense that they are following the prophet. No one said you can’t you vote according to your religious beliefs; however, my argument is that the Church makes a much better counselor, a much better teacher, a much better shepherd, than a lawyer or a legal judge or a politician. And so, I guess I will stick to my argument that this servant humbly and respectfully disagrees with the prophet on this particular matter. I still believe in God, I still believe in Christ, I still believe in the Atonement, I still believe in the Restoration. I just don’t believe this particular commandment at this particular time until I receive a spiritual witness that says otherwise.

      • Ben Warner

        Let me clarify what I mean by sanction and institutionalize. I mean to say that performing gay marriages is more than just allowing homosexual behavior, it is also in some sense rewarding it. Marriage receives special benefits from the state. If it helps clarify the matter, remember that the church supports anti-discrimination laws protecting homosexuals. The church didn’t try to make homosexual behavior a state crime (even though it doesn’t condone that behavior) but it tried to prevent the state from rewarding it.

        There is also a lurking question of how society sees itself. When America gives same-sex couples marriage status, there is kind of a feeling floating in the air about what kind of a society we are. We want a feeling floating in the air that we are a God fearing society. We also want to be a tolerant and free society. Thus it seems reasonable that we permit individuals to practice a behavior that we consider immoral because they are free to do so, while at the same time we avoid rewarding or institutionalizing that behavior.

  3. I agree Ted, that when the church organizes as a voting bloc, the world does see us differently. I’m not sure that I agree about how legitimate that judgement is…

    With that said, I found the church’s actions and position a little surprising, but not un-doctrinal. Also, in support of Ben’s argument, I was told the other day, that the LGBT anti-discrimination housing ordinance in SLC had not been in effect for 24 hours before the church issued a statement in support of the ordinance.

  4. dteeps

    And what do you think of this http://mormonsformarriage.com/?p=299 where they show that the official, published text of his talk is different than what he actually said?
    Interesting changes.

  5. Ted

    Maaaan, I wish they would let us reply to a comment more than twice! So hopefully this doesn’t get lost in the process.

    @ Ben Warner – Thank you for your clarification. I now see more clearly where you are coming from, and that is a prickly issue. Personally, for me (and I am married, disclaimer) I think that the whole getting married gives you tax cuts is a little bit unfair. Married people tend to make more money, have more stable lives, and when in a good marriage report higher levels of happiness and lower levels of loneliness. And, on top of that, we get tax cuts? Which really doesn’t make sense since married people tend to use public services more readily. I can understand why married couples do get tax cuts (especially those with kids) – the state wants to motivate people to get married more often. Though I wonder if that’s really religious – many countries will pay you to have kids (like Germany) because their native population is suffering a negative population growth (sans immigration). This is also a contributing factor of me wishing I lived in Canada or Germany – money for kids and getting them for free. I guess you could call me a free-loading opportunist. :p

    But yes, you do bring up a good point of what do we want our society to reflect? And as long as people continue to vote for it (and it passes the tests within our judicial branch of the government), you gotta follow the law no matter what. Different groups have different views, and the culture wars will go on and on and on. I have my own reasons, and you have your reasons, which are legitimate (i.e., I don’t think you’re planning on overthrowing the government soon :p) and I wish you the best of luck, really.

    @Mykle – Certainly, the Church’s efforts to fight gay marriage while trying to prevent other types of discriminations is commendable. It’s definitely more than what most other churches are doing in America, anyway. I suppose the whole thing rings a little hollow for me, but that’s because I’m one of those sinful people who married outside of my ethnicity and it’s uncomfortable that if I lived 40 years ago, the Church might have gotten upset about that and told me God doesn’t like my marriage. I think it’s a pretty good one.

    @dteeps – Yeah, I saw it and it was definitely interesting. Which makes me wish I just waited a single day to freaking post this. I could have capitalized on the news on the changes instead! I think it raises some really interesting points and I really want to talk about them but I feel like I spent all my good will capital already with my readers about this! Gosh darn it all to heck!

  6. Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life Book of Mormon
    Representations Tree of Life: God’s Prescence
    Irod Rod : The Word of God ( The Scriptures )

    19And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.

    20And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.

    21And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the bpath which led unto the tree by which I stood.

    22And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.

    23And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.

    24And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.

    25And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were aashamed.

    26And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.

    27And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.

    28And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.

    29And now I, Nephi, do not speak aall the words of my father.

    30But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.

    31And he also saw other amultitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.

    32And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.

    33And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.
    Compare Mattew 7: 13-14 Mattew 16:24 Romans 1:25-27
    1 Peter 4:12-14

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