Sunday, October 3, 2010

Boyd the Destroyer

I didn't think I would watch much, if any, of general conference this time around. But, like a moth to a flame, I watched Boyd K. Packer's talk. About halfway into it, a phrase came to my mind once recalled by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer upon seeing the first atomic bomb detonation: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
This is not hyperbole. This really is about life and death. It's about light and darkness, warmth and coldness, love and fear. Out of generosity, I can only assume that Boyd was unaware of the disturbing trend of suicides among young people who were gay or questioning their sexuality. It’s possible that he hasn’t been paying attention to the havoc within many Mormon families struggling to make sense of contradictions between their knowledge that their gay family members are good, loving, moral people and the rhetoric and actions of their church. In any event, great timing [dripping sarcasm]!

But then I remember that Boyd has been an enthusiastic standard bearer for gay-bashing for decades. From the pamphlet For Young Men Only that endorses physical violence against gay people, to the To The One publication that goes to great lengths to give gay people false, condescending assurances and condemnation alike, to the 1993 “All-Church Coordinating Council” talk mentioned in my last post that speaks of dangers and destruction, to railing against gay rights and gay marriage, to this talk today, Packer reveals himself as a bigot of the highest degree. His very name has become a pejorative at this point. What compassionate person would want to associate themselves with the name President Boyd Kenneth Packer? What kind of Christianity is this???
Another image that came to mind in watching Boyd's talk today was Ricardo Montalban's final scene in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which the obsessed-with-vengeance Khan character is trying to destroy his nemesis. He launches into an epic monologue and literally spits his last words. In the end, Khan merely destroys himself. 
Boyd is nearing the end of his days. And yet, here is one more spittle-laden monologue of doom. (I'll be honest here, it’s taking every ounce of strength I have not to wish him ill.) With this talk, he is breathing new life into all of his previous spew. He has always been a cold, bitter, fear-mongerer. To disagree with him is to defy his divine authority. Such hubris is staggering. I thought he might discover his humanity in his old age. It's clear that he hasn't; it's unlikely he ever will. For that reason, I pity him. He becomes smaller and more pathetic with each hateful word, no matter how quietly spoken. Such vitriol destroys the soul. Such toxicity poisons the mind and heart. 
He talks in terms of threats. He warns of doom on the doorstep. Despite Boyd's monotone delivery, he's just as overly dramatic as Montalban's performance in the Star Trek film. Because he is so certain of his divine right as a holy prophet on whose every word the people of the earth should hang, he has no respect for the experiences and feelings of gay people, who he sees as willfully rebelling against God himself. He couldn't even bring himself to use the terms "gay", "homosexual" or "SSA." Though he professes concern for the soul, he dehumanizes his fellow human beings. Though he fears for civilization, he shows contempt for the notion of a multifaceted democratic society. It is his province to speak, and our province to obey. It’s that simple for him. How dare we lowly ones disagree! 
The most tragic victim of this is Boyd himself. However, he's taking down others with him. We cannot let that happen. It is because of the bigotry, fear, and smallness of people like Boyd that the world is too often violent, hateful and petty. His bitter words lead other small-minded, thoughtless people to hurt (spiritually, emotionally and physically). It's clear to me that Boyd does not know true love. It’s clear that Boyd fails to understand that the course he suggests does more to destroy society than all the things in his various litanies ever could.
His brand of virulent hate spreads. Its insidious influence creeps up quietly. It makes us all a little bitter if we aren't careful. It makes the difficult, emotionally-charged discourse we need to have as a society into almost insurmountable obstacles. It appeals to our basest instincts rather than the better angels of our nature.  
Most of the world won't even realize that Boyd K. Packer ever gave the talk he did today. But the membership of the church will know. I don't hold out any hope that his talk will be repudiated or clarified by church officialdom. Therefore, it will be up to individual members of the church and local leaders to decide what to do with this talk. Within the confines of current Mormon social mores, there are two choices: 1) Endorse and actively teach what Boyd has said today, or 2) Quietly put this talk on the shelf and pretend like it doesn’t exist.  
Option #1 will lead to more vitriol, family tension, self-hatred and countless other kinds of grief and tragedy. The church continues to lose more and more of the honest in heart who can no longer stand the coldness, darkness and fear-mongering that seems to have taken hold. But there’s a chance to make the church a place of compassion rather than vengeance.  So, I suggest Option #2. Mormon culture is familiar with this approach, because that’s how doctrinal contradictions and troublesome historical irregularities are dealt with. Usually, I don’t like the put-it-on-the-shelf method. But in this case, it’s probably the best way to go---until the leaders and members of the church are ready to have a real, open and honest conversation where ALL voices are given a place and valued. 
The church has a choice. I plead with any who have influence to help build a critical mass, not of destruction but of love and healing:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


  1. as always, thank you. it does seem that BKP never met a homosexual that he didn't hate. but if he could access what little empathy may reside in his heart, he might at least begin to understand and even feel for those that he so dismissively condemns. what would it take to urge him to give in to his innate capacity for compassion.

    He needs to listen to Karen Armstrong and reclaim religion from the fearful fundamentalism and politic of hate.

    again, thank you.

  2. This pretty much sums up how I felt about it as well. I saw it as an example of what bitterness and hate can do to you. I found myself actually feeling kind of sorry for the guy...frail and bitter and quickly moving toward irrelevance.