The Book of Mormon Girl
Joanna Brooks, the self-proclaimed Book of Mormon Girl, is sometimes an advocate of what I think of as “Burger King Mormonism” (or what others have called Mormon-Lite or uncorrelated Mormonism). This, consequently, makes her a popular Mormon voice in secular media.
This post, though, is not necessarily about Brooks. It’s about Boyd K. Packer.
My name is Joanna, I say. And I am a straight Mormon feminist.
I grew up in the orange groves of Republican Orange County. I was raised to believe in a loving, kind, and powerful God.…
In 1993, one of the leaders of my church declared feminists, intellectuals, and gays and lesbians enemies.
I felt as if someone had thrown my heart to the concrete and dropped a cinderblock on it.
When I first read that, I did a double-take. You see, I’ve been a Mormon my whole life, and I’ve never have heard one of my leaders refer to anyone as an enemy. I decided to do some sleuthing, and figure out what was really said.
I’ve learned some incredible things.
Boyd K. Packer’s Talk
The talk Brooks referenced is one given by Boyd K. Packer on 18 May 1993 to the All-Church Coordinating Council. Because this talk was given to a specific audience and not to the general Church membership, it is not readily available from the Church.
Now, that’s not to say that the content of the talk is suspect. [Update: In fact, during the October 2014 General Conference, Elder Lynn G. Robbins spoke on this very subject!] You can read Packer’s talk for yourself online, in part or in full (though I’ve only found the full text on websites not associated with the Church, like here and here).
I decided to blog about the talk for two reasons. First, and most disappointingly, Brooks misrepresents President Packer’s words. He does not declare anyone an enemy of the Church, as you can see for yourself if you read the talk. Second, far from being suspect, the talk is actually pretty awesome, and it’s quite fitting to read and ponder as we approach general conference, a time when we get to hear from the Lord’s leaders.
I’d like to talk both about the misrepresentation and why I think the talk is awesome. We’ll cover the latter first, simply because it will give an important perspective to considering President Packer’s “controversial” comments.
Which Way Do You Face?
I mention “Burger King Mormonism” above. One of my favorite “fortune-cookie” sized lessons about the Church, and one we’ve discussed before, is this:
The Kingdom of God is not Burger King – you can’t have it your way.
President Packer’s purpose is to teach this exact principle. The Church is not a democracy, nor do our leaders represent us to the Lord. Wouldn’t that be something, Church members dictating to the Lord by popular vote what is righteousness and truth!
President Packer wrote,
“Thirty-eight years ago I came from Brigham City to the office I now occupy in the Administration Building to see Elder Harold B. Lee…
“[He] had agreed to give me counsel and some direction. He didn’t say much, nothing really in detail, but what he told me has saved me time and time again. “You must decide now which way you face,” he said. “Either you represent the teachers and students and champion their causes or you represent the Brethren who appointed you. You need to decide now which way you face.” Then he added, “Some of your predecessors faced the wrong way.” It took some hard and painful lessons before I understood his counsel. In time, I did understand, and my resolve to face the right way became irreversible….
“Perhaps too many of us are strong advocates of our own specialized work or are such strong protectors of our own turf that we face the wrong way – maybe just sideways….
“Surely you have been anxiously watching the worldwide evaporation of values and standards from politics, government, society, entertainment, schools…. Could you believe other than it is critical that all of us work together and set aside personal interests and all face the same way?“
What’s the principle? The principle is that the leaders of the Church, in their position as prophets, speak for God. We can, in our short-sighted view, go contrary to their prophetic counsel, but that is no different than acting contrary to God himself. In his wisdom, God allows us our agency to make this decision, but let us make to qualms about what we are doing as we make that choice.
Quoting Alma 12:32, President Packer continues,
” “God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption.” We face invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before. There is the need now to be united with everyone facing the same way. Then the sunlight of truth, coming over our shoulders, will mark the path ahead. If we perchance turn the wrong way, we will shade our eyes from that light and we will fail in our ministries….
“If we do not teach the plan of redemption, whatever else we do by way of programs and activities and instructions will not be enough.”
Understanding the plan of redemption is vital to gaining a perspective on the things that the Church leaders ask us to do, including things about feminism, intellectual pursuits, or homosexuality.
We face the prophets because they teach us the plan of redemption, and help us gain perspective on personal philosophies which run contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Certainly there must be something in President Packer’s talk that a careless or prejudiced person could misinterpret. They can’t just pull these things out of thin air.
Knowing the purpose of President Packer, to encourage us to face the right way and warn us of dangerous philosophies that entice us from doing so, let us continue with what he tells us about these three groups which Brooks says he has labeled as enemies. President Packer says,
“It is so easy to be turned about without realizing that it has happened to us. There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right.
“The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.”
He then quotes three letters sent to Church leaders from Church members, each concentrating on one of the movements President Packer mentioned, each sender asking leaders to come to their aid.
What words does President Packer use to describe these “enemies”? Frankly, not “enemies”, not even once.
He calls them “members/those who are hurting”. He also refers to them as the “rank and file who are trying to do what they are supposed to do”. He refers to them as those who “feel neglected” as leaders focus on solving the problems of the exceptions. But he never refers to them as enemies, and we really cannot infer that from his comments.
President Packer, almost prophetically, describes what happens when people do as Brooks does and “face the wrong way”. He says,
“Those who are hurting think they are not understood. They are looking for a champion, an advocate, someone with office and influence from whom they can receive comfort. They ask us to speak about their troubles in general conference, to put something in the curriculum, or to provide a special program to support them in their problems or with their activism.
“When members are hurting, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we are justified, even duty bound, to use the influence of our appointment or our calling to somehow represent them. We then become their advocates — sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them. Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. Let me say that again. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. In our efforts to comfort them, we lose our bearings and leave that segment of the line to which we are assigned unprotected. The question is not whether they need help and comfort. That goes without saying. The question is “How?” The Prophet Joseph Smith, when he organized the Relief Society said, “There is the need for decisions of character aside from sympathy.”
Brooks, as well intentioned as she is, is (in President Packer’s words) unwittingly turning about and facing the wrong way. In her efforts to comfort or join with a political or social group, she has lost her bearings. Again, that is her choice, but it’s tragic to have this coming from members of the Church in addition to those outside of it.
I take comfort from the words of Joseph Smith. He said,
“No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”
Let us who are Mormons side with the prophets. This weekend we will raise our hands to sustain them as “prophets, seers, and revelators”. Let us do that! Let us sustain them, follow them, side with them, face towards them, because their words are the words of God.
I’m going to. But maybe I’m an idealist.
Be an idealist with me.