Boyd K. Packer and Prophetic Despair

I’m just going to say it. Please don’t throw things.

I loved President Packer’s talk.

I loved his little joke about his opening poem.

“Not Wordsworth, but classic poetry nonetheless.”

(My grandmother was his high school English teacher–I imagine she’s relieved he can tell the difference!)

I loved his invocation of his own uncertainty and confusion on the cusp of adulthood. I loved his unabashed admission that his own testimony was not strong then, and his naming of those whose testimonies he leaned on:

I did not then have a firm testimony that the gospel was true, but I knew that my seminary teachers, Abel S. Rich and John P. Lillywhite, knew that it was true. I had heard them testify, and I believed them. I thought to myself, ‘I will lean on their testimonies until I gain one of my own.’ And so it was.

I loved the vulnerability he revealed in dwelling on the word “if” in his patriarchal blessing:

While patriarchal blessings are very private, I will share a short quote from mine: ‘You shall be guided through the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and you shall be warned of dangers. If you heed those warnings, our Heavenly Father will bless you so that you might again be united with your loved ones.’
That word if, though small in print, loomed as big as the page. I would be blessed to return from the war if I kept the commandments and if I heeded the Holy Ghost. Although that gift had been conferred on me at baptism, I did not yet know what the Holy Ghost was or how promptings work.

I loved that while (predictably :)) asserting the authority of the governing bodies of the Church, he also said to the youth “Because we depend so much on you, you will be remarkably blessed” (emphasis mine). Indeed, he articulated the weight of his own calling–“We trust the Lord to guide the way and seek only to do his will. We know that He has placed a great deal of trust in us, individually and collectively”–but concluded by charging his audience to be trustworthy and to receive their own guidance by direct revelation:

“You must learn to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” You must be trustworthy and surround yourself with friends that desire to do likewise”.

Of course there were things I did not love in this talk, and, even more, in some of its echoes of past talks. President Packer might very well consider me one of the enemies that make the world such a hostile place–I embody two of what he once said were the three major dangers to the Church in the last days, and I am deeply sympathetic to the cause of the third. There are talks Elder Packer has given in the past, notably “To the One,” that make me quite literally weep with rage every. single. time. I. read. them. His sense of the world (and most of the non-Mormons and many of the liberal Mormons in it) as dangerous and hostile, what seems to me the narrow brittleness of his ideals of gender roles and family life, the implacable sternness of the God he loves and serves, all seem so alien to me sometimes that I wonder how it is possible that his religion and mine are the same, that, in fact, he grew up in the same valley as my grandmother, eating the Brigham City peaches whose sweetness is my earliest memory of this world.

And perhaps this is as it should be, as it must be. One cannot read the words of the prophets of the past without sensing their profound alienation from the world, the calling that consigns them to ultimate otherness. They are drawn to high mountains, “caught up” in visions, obliged to view the world and its people–their own neighbors and children and loved ones–from a distance unimaginable to those of us happily cocooned in an earth that feels like home most of the time.

Those prophets, it seems to me, had it easier in some ways than leaders of this dispensation–prophetic visions must necessarily convey truths that won’t fit into ordinary language, and whose scope is anything but quotidian. It’s no wonder that prophets were so often loners, appearing occasionally to speak incomprehensible and unpleasant truths, then returning to the wilderness to share God’s mute sorrow. The prophetic visions of which we have scriptural accounts seem awfully short on practical tips and aphoristic soundbites. Asked to sum up what they’ve seen, prophets are reduced to saying things like “I do not know the meaning of all things.” Translating divine vision into advice for people that one has to keep living with seems a daunting task indeed (to say nothing of the difficulty of deriving a management strategy for a multinational institution from them). Moses tried for a while to offer practical advice, to “judge between one and another, and…make them know the statutes of God, and his laws,” but Jethro saw quickly that Moses would “surely wear away” along with the children of Israel who were with him, because “this thing is too heavy.” Too heavy for Moses, too heavy, perhaps, for anyone.

We want impossible things from our prophets, seers, and revelators. We want them up in the watchtower, warning us what is coming. We want them to go to the mountains, to experience the consuming fire of God’s love and come back to tell us about it at regular intervals (preferably arriving punctually ;)), with metaphors we can appreciate. We want them to shatter idols and call down fire from heaven. And after the fire, rain (er, “moisture”), please.

And we want them at the same time to be down on the ground with us, to take account of the particularities of our lives. We want them to read our minds and our hearts, to speak God’s word to the one and to the ninety-nine, to take our idols down gently and acknowledge that they’re so much prettier than the others. We want them to be wise about politics, about homemaking, about the economy and world affairs. I insist that they read good poetry over the pulpit and speak accurately about archaic English pronoun forms. Stapley wants them to mention nearly-forgotten temple rituals, Sam wants them to talk more about (dead) bodies, all the female permabloggers would like them to say something slightly different about modesty, and radically different things about gender, Steve wants social media savvy (a petition for President Uchtdorf to get a Twitter account, anyone?), Brad wants them to–oh, hell, nobody knows what Brad wants because anthropologists are harder to understand than God, and Tracy and I would just like them to babysit our kids for a couple of hours.

So this is why I loved President Packer’s talk: I see in it the wrestle of a prophet with God, and with God’s people. I hear a man speaking as a man, about what it is like to be human, to grow up, to sense the fragility and terror of human life and learn to seek and receive direction. I hear him articulating what he has glimpsed of God’s plan: that there are rules to help keep us safe, that love between a man and a woman is holy, that children thrive when they are beloved and secure, that elders have wisdom to offer–“you young crows need not fly aimlessly to and fro,” that God is a loving father, whose gaze is tender as well as searching–“you are never far from the sight of your loving Heavenly Father.” I hear him trying to tell us how heavy it feels to see these things and try to shape them into practical counsel, how much work it is for prophets who all see from a different place on the mountain to agree on the path–“The scriptures require that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve work in councils, and that the decisions of those councils be unanimous. And so it is.” Is there any doubt that there are years’ worth of compromise and frustration and passionate discussion and love and resignation in those four little words “And so it is”?

I hear an old man, realizing that he won’t have time to tell these young people all of the rules, trying to summarize the important truths and teach them to hear the Truthteller:

…As a servant of the Lord, I promise that you will be protected and shielded from the attacks of the adversary if you will heed the promptings that come from the Holy Spirit.
Dress modestly; talk reverently; listen to uplifting music. Avoid all immorality and personally degrading practices. Take hold of your life and order yourself to be valiant.

…If you will follow these principles, you will be watched over and protected, and you yourself will know by the promptings of the Holy Ghost which way to go, “for by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” I promise that it will be so.

And finally I hear him say what it is prophets must always ultimately tell God’s people: you must work out your salvation with fear and trembling. You can look forward to growing up, to standing on your own instead of leaning on others’ convictions, to seeing your own vision “through a glass darkly”, to making mistakes and being wounded and healed and made stronger:

You may in time of trouble think that you are not worth saving because you have made mistakes, big or little, and you think you are now lost. That is never true! (emphasis in original) Only repentance can heal what hurts. But repentance can heal what hurts, no matter what it is.

This is the very stuff of prophecy: a warning from one who sees from both divine distance and towards the horizon of his own human life (and ours) and the endless call to repentance.

And if, sometimes, President Packer’s prophetic vision is long on alienation and pessimism about the world, maybe it’s just because he’s doing his job. And maybe that’s why we also have President Eyring to show us God’s tears, and President Uchtdorf to tell us His jokes.


  1. :)

  2. Kristine, I just adore you.

  3. Kristine, you are a holy woman. Thank you for sharing this. If our stake assigns BKP’s talk for my RS lesson, I’m definitely going to steal your ideas.

  4. Kristine, this is wise, thoughtful, humble, insightful, poetic. It is the finest blog post of yours that I have ever read, period. We are in your debt.

  5. I’m a Ciardi fan myself. Thanks for the write-up!

  6. jJulie M. Smith says:


  7. Nice insights

  8. If you’d have told me this morning that Kristine Haglund would write something that would deepen my appreciation for Boyd K. Packer, I probably would have punched you in the face.

  9. Wow, that was really, really good, Kristine. Thank you, thank you.

  10. Kristine, this is spectacular.

  11. Me, too, Brad. Me too.

  12. Amen, Russell Fox. She’s some outdone herself here.

  13. Your reach to understand the worldview of the prophet, even one with whom you find yourself sometimes at odds, is a whole different way of seeing this thing. Thanks for that.

  14. Thanks for this gift, Kristine.

  15. Amen.

  16. I like that idea you close with, that each of the different mouthpieces of the Lord is giving us one view of God. While the views are different they can still be understood as coming from one Source.

  17. Wonderful, Kristine.

  18. Yes, agreed re Cynthia’s # 16. There really is a lot to love in this post (and in the talk — thank you for shining this light on it for us). I have some food for thought here.

  19. Love this. Sometimes it is hard to sense a God that loves me from President Packer’s talks. This puts it in a totally new, and compassionate, light for me. Thank you.

  20. Excellent.

  21. Marvelous. I had feelings like this as well, and a new appreciation for BKP.

  22. Thank you. I stand chastened, challenged and comforted.

  23. Nice post. Though it’s too bad that you’ve cultivated an audience that requires that you apologize for appreciating the sermon of an apostle.

  24. Once again, after reading one of your posts, all I can think to say is thank you.

    I find I am often too quick to dismiss when I have not taken the time to seek to understand. You have taught me well today.

  25. Kristine, this post is hauntingly beautiful.
    Thank you.

  26. Amen.

  27. gst–I’m mostly apologizing to myself! I used to love to hate Elder Packer’s talks. I’m a bit dismayed by this development.

  28. This post is thoughtful, wise, charitable, deeply moving. I’ll join in the chorus: thank you, Kristine.

  29. “And if, sometimes, President Packer’s prophetic vision is long on alienation and pessimism about the world, maybe it’s just because he’s doing his job. And maybe that’s why we also have President Eyring to show us God’s tears, and President Uchtdorf to tell us His jokes.”

    LOVE this. Thanks, Kristine.

  30. That tired word, Awesome, yet applies. Thanks.

  31. Kristine, this was a wonderfully written, genuine post. I have such a difficult time listening to Elder Packer’s words these days, and I love that you saw so much light and beauty in his imperfect talk. I’ll have to go back and listen with a softer heart.

  32. Wow, after reading this post and ‘I Pray You…Bear My Joy Awhile’ a few days ago, rest assured I’ll be reading every single post by Kristine Haglund. I only wish I could think so deeply and articulate so beautifully my thoughts. Thanks for sharing your gift.

  33. Kristine, I also loved Elder Packer’s talk. I find my enthusiasm for one or the other apostle grows over time. That has surely been true for me with Elder Packer.

    Your beautiful words have captured what it would not have occurred to me to say, but what describes my feelings: “This is the very stuff of prophecy: a warning from one who sees from both divine distance and towards the horizon of his own human life (and ours) and the endless call to repentance.”

    The last quotation from Elder Packer is sweet and gentle, and a common theme of his through the years.

  34. Kristine, I want to find out if we’re related. All of my ancestry comes through the Brigham City area.

    Oh, and I loved your thoughts.

  35. Kristine, thanks for making Pres Packer palatable again. You have painted a picture of Pres Packer’s garden. In it are a few weeds that some seem to focus completely on. But you have shown us the radiance of the flowers that bloom from all directions.

  36. I am one of those oddities that exist in this church. I am LDS and I am a very happy homosexual man. It has been a tough climb to get to this point in accepting myself. Nevertheless I am whole and intact. Unlike many of ny brothers and sisters.

    Although I enjoy Packers books on the Temple and when he speaks of teaching by the Holy Spirit I find them deeply moving.

    Like you though I also find it difficult to believe he and I belong to the same Church when he rails on things he seems to understand so little of. I try to believe he has my nest interest at heart but it is difficult.

    I know that deep within there is a kind caring sweet person. In your writing I can see that this might be. However from my perspective …. his words have hurt too many friends.

  37. Fantastic. Insightful. And fantastically insightful.

  38. Sean, I know. My friends too. I find President Packer’s writings and talks about homosexuality lacking in both insight and compassion. I’ve written about it a little bit before:

    I guess I have to appreciate President Packer from a certain distance, too :)

  39. Lovely, K. Thank you.

  40. So this is why I loved President Packer’s talk: I see in it the wrestle of a prophet with God, and with God’s people.

    Yes! I loved his talk, too, and I love your take on it.

  41. I prayed to God to send an angel to help me love Elder Packer. And so it is.

  42. Thanks for this, Kristine!

  43. Chris Gordon says:

    Another nugget from Elder Packer to increase is “loveability”

    Loved this talk when I heard it. His tone and facial expressions were sheepish and embarrassed as, for the first time I’d ever heard and by his own admission the first time he’d done so on purpose, he shared some insights from his life in a very vulnerable way.

  44. You know what I love about this post? It assumes the best about the intentions and character of our Church leaders, rather than the worst. A great example.

  45. Is there any doubt that there are years’ worth of compromise and frustration and passionate discussion and love and resignation in those four little words “And so it is”?.

    Particularly loved this line and observation.

  46. Thank you for helping me feel some compassion towards a man for whom it is difficult for me to feel compassion.

  47. Wonderful, Kristine.

  48. Wonderful thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

  49. Thanks, I needed this today. Pres. Packer has been for me both an inspiring and unquestionably inspired teacher, and a sometimes too-harsh-too-quick-to-chasten ideologue. I enjoyed his talk, but I’m afraid I tuned some of it out for my benefit. This will serve as my reminder to reread his talk in the coming weeks. I fear we will too soon lose him and his particular insights into temples and seeking the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

  50. wreddyornot says:

    “Charity never faileth . . . ” and you capture it so well in your posting. Thank you.

  51. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    Thank you, Kristine, again. I think one of the great antidotes to bitterness toward leaders is to put ourselves in their shoes. Perhaps this is one way to “go with him twain”.

  52. So much to like and appreciate here—thanks Kristine.

  53. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you for your thoughts. I incorporate by reference comment number 4.

  54. I’m coming late to this, Kristine. Thank you for it. I’m grasping at how to respond without actual proximity.

  55. I appreciate very much your posting with the articulate and thoughtful way you opened my eyes to view Elder Packer and his conference talk in a more generous way. I have always seen him as that type of older generation neighbor that growls at every kid who happens to hit a ball on to his lawn and then has the nerve to come looking for it. As if the solution to that annoyance is to just not hit the ball there in the first place. As if the easiest way through life is to just not “live” it–to just get to the end already without any problems or life lessons because we already have the answers so why do we need to “learn” them.

    I also felt a softer Packer as he spoke, but my impression from him was the feeling that I think we all get as we start to view the other end of our life, the mortal end, as we get older. First, it starts with an uneasy regret that maybe we haven’t done everything we wanted to do and we suddenly go buy a red sports car and go on a river raft trip. But, as middle age turns into later years this unease turns into a desire to leave something behind as we realize maybe we really aren’t all that–that our insignificance may soon become permanent. And we try to leave a Legacy of something that truly matters. I saw in his talk this desire to leave something behind, not the answers, not the doctrine, but something of his own personal insight from his own living. Maybe that’s the greatest lesson we can learn from someone who always seems to have all the answers–the fact that he has learned something himself.

  56. This was spectacular, thanks for writing this. Don’t roll your eyes at the cliche when I say it was something I needed to read.

  57. Fantastic, Kristine. Thank you.

  58. Really nicely said, Homer.

    And thanks, everybody, for your kind words. I have some real qualms about this–in particular, I worry that I’m being traitorous to my gay friends by reading someone generously who has (at the very least) terribly misunderstood them and caused them hurt. But I want to–maybe have to–believe that it isn’t a mistake to succumb to our fleeting charitable impulses (well, mine are awfully fleeting, anyway; perhaps yours are not!) instead of insisting on justice or righteous indignation. It seems to me that we are called to believe that the amount of goodness and kindness in the world is not finite, and I hope that my friends will not sense in my attempt to appreciate President Packer any diminution of my affection and loyalty to them. And that they will forgive me if I’m wrong.

  59. .

    It’s via negativa, right? One way we come to know God is by figuring out what he is not. Once we carve that away, we can understand better what is left.

  60. It is for posts like this that I first came looking for the bloggernacle, and from time to time return to it. Would that all our posts could rise to this level.

  61. Kristine

    Beautiful. Thank you. Like many others here, this resonated with me and helped me feel a little kinder towards Elder Packer. When he started to launch into another of his diatribes on the “nature of gender”, I immediately tuned him out. All I could think of was Jim Carrey’s line from a Batman movie – ‘That will never heal if you don’t stop picking!’ Perhaps us gay people have become a little TOO sensitive; to the point where we’re culling out all of his message, rather than just the “weeds”.

  62. Homer- GA personas are so reductive. Elder Packer has a different side as well.

  63. Kristine, thanks for this even though it’s got me all teary eyed in front of my fellow bus riders. As a gay Mormon, I don’t think you’re being a traitor to me. I appreciate those like you who help me amplify my vision and see Pres Packer as more than a cartoonish characterization. You get it.

  64. Kristine – there is a lot to ponder here. Your words don’t just help me give Packer another look, but also some grumpy OT figures as well. BTW, when I’m looking for some charity for this man, I dig up this talk:

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    Just wanted to say those peaches sure look good!

  66. Val Hemming says:

    Kristine – huge thanks for your largeness of spirit and thoughtful insights. I too was moved by President Packer’s candor. One hopes his post polio syndrome, increasing disability and approaching mortality have helped him discover more empathy and compassion.

  67. Thank you. Lots of thought in this.

  68. Sam Brunson says:

    Thank you, Kristine. This is the kind of reading/listening that I too often don’t put in the effort to achieve, but you’ve demonstrated the value of such effort.

  69. I have always admired President Packer’s powerful explanations and testimonies of the Atonement which makes up for all the rest. Which,of course, is the point of Atonement.

  70. And perhaps this is as it should be, as it must be. One cannot read the words of the prophets of the past without sensing their profound alienation from the world, the calling that consigns them to ultimate otherness. They are drawn to high mountains, “caught up” in visions, obliged to view the world and its people–their own neighbors and children and loved ones–from a distance unimaginable to those of us happily cocooned in an earth that feels like home most of the time.

    Thanks Kristine. I’ve thought a lot about this recently. It must be a strange place to be in.

  71. ” One hopes his post polio syndrome, increasing disability and approaching mortality have helped him discover more empathy and compassion.”

    I’ve never seen so many people bending over backwards to offer such backhanded praises… it’s as if charity can’t be mustered by those who demand it in others… we all have beams and motes but the irony is so rich in some comments and a section or two if the post, which I was still also very pleased to read. The quote above may even have some truth but certainly not the degree and manner that ut seems like is hoped for. But who really sees someone suffering physical disability and facing death and then ever so charitably says the hope it does them good? In reality sure we can say that about all life’s experiences since this life is for a purpose but that doesn’t mean I’m heading toward the rape-ward with that message…

  72. Mommie Dearest says:

    I didn’t feel like commenting on this because this talk is in one of the giant missing parts of this conference that I wasn’t able to watch live. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Elder Packer, even when he was being a cranky hard-liner. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a couple of those in the Quorum, and I believe that they’re tempered, when needed, by some thoughtful, generous-hearted guys alongside them. I hate to think of him suffering from the aging process. I’m going to have to make sure to seek this out.

    Thanks Kristine.

  73. I enjoyed President Packer’s talk immensely while I heard it. It was one of the prophetic highlights of conference for me. I always look to him as an unfailing voice of light and truth – but this talk was even more spiritually electrifying than usual.

    Kristine, I think you were inspired in the positive comments that you have made and the increased fruits of faith, compassion and openness to look and listen among those who posted are evidence of that. I commend you for it.

    Many of the ‘hard’ things that President Packer has said come as a result of having stood on the high mountain. They are ‘hard’ because we have to ascend to appreciate them. In that way, he is very much in the mould of a genuine prophet or even the Lord himself. Additionally, on many issues, what President Packer does individually, ‘The Family’ Proclamation does collectively. “And so it is.”

  74. Very nice. Thank you.

  75. Sharee Hughes says:

    I read BCC early yeserday morning, before this was posted, so missed it until now. I wish I had read it yesteday, as I think I want to read it every day. Beautiful post, Kristine. I am in a study group that meets each Wednesday afternoon, In addition to our study of “Jesus the Christ,” we also discuss each of the conference talks, oe or two ech week. I had initially planned to select Pres. Eyring’s talk, which had moved me very much, but now I think I will do Pres. Packer’s. I think you have helped many of us look at this often stern man in a new light. Thank you, Kristine.

  76. So wonderful of you Kristine. You’ve moved a lot of people’s hearts including mine. Thank you for sharing your gift! ;)

  77. Wow, you’ve shined a light that illuminates both Elder Packer and the role of a prophet differently than I’ve seen them before.

    When Elder Oaks gave his talk schooling other Christians on what it really means to believe in Christ, I bristled, thinking a) what good will it do to tell them they’re wrong? b) how arrogant is that? and c) what makes him think they’re even listening? But maybe he was doing what prophets have always done, coming down from a lonely mountain to speak hard things, even if no one is listening.

    (I still think he could have said what he wanted to say without the condescending framework, though…)

  78. After last October’s talk by Elder Packer (world comes crashing down), I was involved in a long and intense discussion on Facebook with some friends, mostly from my ward, in the course of which I tried to express my love and honor for Elder Packer and his honest attempts to tell this unhappy generation what it needs to do to be happy (there was so much love and comfort in that talk that was forgotten in all the hubbub) while simultaneously give my opinion that he was out of step with the current church stance and would be brought back into line either over the pulpit or behind closed doors (as it turned out, of course, his talk was altered in the print version, which perhaps was the full extent of the reprimand). Few of my friends wanted to allow me to feel both things about him. Either I was a morally lazy Saint who cherry-picked from God’s word or I was a cowardly adherent to an antiquated moral code that vilifies gay people. Very distressing. If I ever have to defend Elder Packer or others of the pricklier apostles again, I’m quoting from this post. Beautifully said. They stand in a lonely and stressful place and deserve our compassion at the very least.

  79. I’m grateful for “cranky hard-liners” like Pres. Packer. I’m grateful that he isn’t afraid to speak the truth even when it’s unpopular or out-of-step with worldly or scholarly opinions. I humbly sustain him as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

  80. You get a gold star for extra special righteousness, Rob. Bravo.

  81. I make no claim to righteousness, Brad. Just voicing my support for an oft-maligned apostle.

  82. “I humbly sustain him as a prophet, seer, and revelator.”

    Yep, not a hint of self-congratulation or superiority there. Declaring that you sustain him in a way that implicitly positions you as the most righteous and faithful person in the room is a lot of things. Humble isn’t one of them…

  83. Rob, I appreciate your sentiment–I wish it were a little easier for me to get there, and I hope there’s room for my wobbly attempts to understand and sustain, too.

  84. Steve Evans says:

    Easy, Brad.

  85. I can’t help but think that a few hours spent digging in the soil trying to help something grow or tending to the needs of another creature could dispel some of the angst that seems to be so profoundly a part of all of these concerns. Perhaps some time spent away from the media, computers. and phones could be the answer.
    It all seems so simple. At least it used to be. And I have no doubt that it will be again.

  86. Ron Madson says:

    I admire Kristine’s intellectual and spiritual ability to charitably embrace Elder Packer as she did in the opening post despite personal past/present reservations. My question is what does it mean to “sustain” someone as a “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.”? I parse it in my mind (when saying “yes” to a key question asked by those in authority) to mean I hope that those gifts intersect the office, or, in other words, I sustain the possibility and it would be nice if office meant an automatic conferral of such rare gifts, but how would I know if Elder Packer or anyone in our generation is actually seering, prophesying and revealing hidden things without evidence of the same?

    To Rob and those who feel a need to “sustain” or further proclaim that they “know” (as I hear in FT meeting each month) that our President and Apostles are “Prophets, Seer, and Revelators”, can you tell me how you/they define those words? I know that in the Book of Mormon, for example, that if one has the “interpreters” (Ex. JS seerstone and/or Urim Thummin) then “whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.” So just starting with “Seer” who has brought forth evidence during the last century of being a Seer (not just a reflexive title accompanying office) since Joseph?

    So Rob or anyone here define what you mean by “sustaining” and how do you define or recognize when someone is in fact a “Seer”, a “prophet” or a “revelator.”?? Is it simply a statement of hope or a testimony based on evidence/fruits?

  87. Um, Tracy, no. My concerns have to do with real hurt done to real people by Elder Packer’s words and actions. It is precisely “tending to the needs of another creature” that causes them, nothing to do with media or electronics. It is not simple.

  88. Well, the definition of “sustain” is probably worthy of an entire post all on its own (and likely there has already been more than one on this blog, I’m too lazy to look).

    To me, “sustaining” includes not criticizing the Brethren, not steadying the ark, not complaining about what we are asked to do by our leaders. It includes, but is not limited to, accepting the “prophets, seers, and revelators” as God’s representatives, specifically, we treat their words as we would treat God’s words. “Whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” So when I say, “I… sustain him as a prophet, seer, and revelator,” I am saying I accept his words to me as coming from God, and beyond reproach or question.

  89. You’re right, Rob, it’s a definition around which there’s plenty of disagreement. Brigham Young famously addressed the problems inherent in your definition, as have other prophets.

    Also, it’s worth reading at least the whole sentence from which your fragmentary warrant is derived, even if the whole verse seems like an excessive amount of contextualizing.

  90. Folks,
    While I don’t particularly want to enter the fray in this case, I would like to point out that the overuse of scare quotes is, perhaps, the most disappointing thing to me in this current bit o’ debate.

    Actually, I believe that sustain can mean many things to many people and that one definition is the one Robert uses. I don’t think I use that definition, but I don’t begrudge Rob his. It is a high standard and, to my mind, a not entirely necessary one. My personal definition is “to support the right of prophets, seers, and revelators to lead the church and to discourse on topics of their choice and to do my best to follow their advice.” That’s gets me by, sinner that I am.

  91. Ron Madson says:

    Who “sustained” King Lear the best? Reagen, Goneril or his youngest daugther, Cordelia?

    Sometimes to sustain comes in the form of loyal dissent. A wise sovereign understands its’ value. An immature faith cannot tolerate it.

  92. Ron, I think there is some danger of spontaneous combustion if a thread about President Packer contains the words “loyal opposition” or anything like unto it!

  93. Rob’s definition works really well until one of the brethren say something that is in error, which they inevitably will do on occasion, as they all readily admit that they are human and fallible. When that happens, if we have shut off our own line to God and have failed to seek divine guidance in understanding and following the words of the brethren, then we get no opportunity to fine tune our guidance systems, as President Uchtdorf might say. Thus, the definition of “sustain” cannot possibly be what Rob suggests, because it does not include any obligation on our part to seek our own understanding and confirmation of the spirit

    As the post that Kristine linked to shows, the scripture fragment that Rob quoted simply doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, and it’s dangerous to paint yourself into the corner that his interpretation requires.

  94. Just a thought on sustaining. We don’t believe our leaders are infallible. I’m a big believer in sustaining my church leaders. Here’s how I see that (first glancing at the dictionary):

    Sustain: support the weight of; to carry or withstand a weight or pressure; to give support or relief to

    Our leaders know they make mistakes. I’d hate to have to make their decisions. I will try and withstand the weight and pressure of their decisions (which based on the dictionary means sustain) and I will pray for them so their mistakes are minimized and the spirit can be with them in abundance.

    I think sustaining also means speaking up when we don’t get the spirit confirming the truth of statements from our leaders. I think this is what Brigham referred to in this statement:

    What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.

    The part that jumps out to me here on the notion of “sustaining” is that blind acceptance of statements from our leaders can “weaken that influence [we] could give to [our] leaders.” The key to all of this of course is that we be sure that we have the spirit with us in this endeavor.

  95. Rob, to be fair, at least as many prophets have addressed the problems in my definition–once you decide that a prophet does not always speak as a prophet, that every word he speaks is not directly from God, then there is the problem of how to identify when he is speaking as a prophet, and the temptation to mistake one’s own wishes/impulses/desires/pet political ideas/gospel hobbies for the voice of God. On the one side, there’s the danger of setting up a prophet as an idol, and on the other side, the danger of setting up one’s self (onesself? oneself? ugh) as an idol.

    As a general rule, I’m inclined to think is less dangerous to lean towards the side of idolizing prophets instead of myself. (That might be only true for me, because I know myself to be exceptionally wicked). But I think there is real danger at both extremes.

  96. That’s an excellent point Kristine. I should perhaps add that I believe they have special and unique access to inspiration from God as leaders of the church. I will always default (or at least strive to) to assuming I’m the one who is wrong and needs to change. But I do think it is important to seek confirmation from the spirit on all teachings and precepts of our church.

  97. Ron Madson says:

    Could it be a false dichotomy to suggest that if I lean away from idolizing a “prophet” that I am leaning towards self-idolatry?
    Could the dilemma be more complex? If one were just as humbly seeking to know God’s will circa 550 BC or 33 AD as one might be today, would one also have to come to grips with whether the legally authorized High Priest at those times was a “prophet” or whether the real voice of the Lord was being mediated through the voice of the exiled Jeremiah or John the Baptist? Could we not recognize someone’s office/priesthood/authority over ordinances (as even Jesus did to those with whom he dissented) while reserving judgment as to whether one with titular office/authority has the gift of seering, prophesy and revelation?
    For that reason, in addition to inquiring as to “sustaining” I also wonder how those in this forum define a “prophet” “seer” and “revelator”? Or another way to frame the question, is that if, as expressed, sometimes one speaks as a prophet, seer, revelator and at other times speak as men, how do you/we define the difference?
    I do not think anyone with any faith could argue against sustaining the very words of God mediated through prophesy and/or seering, but I am not aware of any automatic conferral of gifts with office?

  98. I didn’t say they were infallible. I said “beyond question or reproach”. It’s not the same thing. ( And they’re not scare quotes when you’re actually quoting, John :) Kristine’s liked post at Times and Seasons notwithstanding, I stand by my interpretation of D&C 1:37. To paraphrase MCQ, just because Kristine thinks it has a certain meaning, doesn’t make it so. Reading the context around the verse doesn’t change the straightforward meaning to me. I did not, by my definition of “sustain”, excuse anyone from their responsibility to seek and obtain a personal witness for themselves of the truth of the prophet(s)’ words. I just said we don’t criticize the Brethren. Even if or when they’re wrong.

  99. “…just because Kristine thinks it has a certain meaning, doesn’t make it so.”

    Yes it does.

  100. I think criticism also can take many forms, some acceptable and some not. Let’s just hope we don’t find out which we’re engaged in by being eaten by she-bears.

    If only we actually knew which of Lear’s daughters we were at any given moment, I’d be more confident that our identification of our loyal oppposition (as opposed to plain ol’ opposition) was useful.

    It’s true that claims alone don’t make anything so. That is, after, a knife that cuts both ways. I’m, generally speaking, more moved by the arguments in that T&S piece than by other understandings, but that is because it better suits my understanding of how it all works. And that understanding, for better or worse, has come via a lot of prayer, meditation, and thought. Perhaps we should understand all our individual approaches as works in progress and be as open as possible to other folks’ approaches, which isn’t the same thing as accepting them, but it might be close to toleration.

  101. Ron, of course it’s not nearly that simple–you raise questions that each need a book to address :) (Plus, you know Haglunds, and realize that the number of “other hands” we use in arguing with ourselves regularly exceeds standard physiology!) My sense is that it’s exactly in the wrestle between the extremes, in teasing out the nuances you suggest, where we start to be able to discern the voice of God because we are, in our small way, inhabiting paradox as He does. I suspect God cares less about exactly where we situate ourselves in the continuum of definitions of “sustain” than that we should recognize the difficulty of the questions, and not abdicate our moral agency and intelligence for the sake of an easy, static answer.

    But, on the other hand, sometimes I sound like an effete liberal who has spent too much time in the thrall of literary theorists, even to myself!

  102. An old saw about the difference between Mormons and Catholics: Catholics say the Pope is infallible but don’t really believe it. Mormons say the Prophet IS fallible but don’t really believe it.

    (obdisclaimer: I was raised Catholic and know that papal infallibility is only when the Pope is only speaking ex cathedra.)

    Kristine, another beautiful post.

  103. Ah, Rob, in that case we need a definition of “criticize”, as well as (or instead of) “sustain.”

  104. I like this one, from Jacques Barzun, contrasting criticism with mere complaint:

    Complaints against the machinations of culture today have become as poisonous as the things complained of. This is not surprising. Resentment and indignation are feelings dangerous to the possessor and to be sparingly used. They give comfort too cheaply; they rot judgment, and by encouraging passivity, they come to require that evil continue for the sake of the grievance to be enjoyed. Criticism, on the contrary, aims at action. True, not all objects can be acted on at once, and many will not be reshaped according to desire; but thought is plastic and within our control, and thought is a form of action. To come to see, in the light of criticism, a situation as different from what it seemed to be, is to have accomplished an important act.

    I like this, Rob, because I think it means that criticism can when indulged sparingly and carefully, be part of doing the work of sustaining. I still waver about whether one ought to ever make critical statements publicly. On good days, my standard is that whatever criticism I make should be something I would feel good about saying to the face of one of the Brethren if I were able to speak to them directly. The fact that I can’t speak to them directly complicates the issue enormously for me, since the obvious scriptural injunctions for how to criticize those one is sustaining requires personal relationship.

  105. Publicly disagree with? I think of bishop’s counselors. Behind closed doors, they might voice different opinions, but once the decision is made, each member of the bishopric fully endorses and accepts that decision, even if perhaps he does not understand all the reasons for it. I don’t understand everything the prophets and apostles say or do. But to me, if I go around sniping and snarking, complaining and criticizing, rather than humbling myself and accepting correction and counsel which migh go against my preconceived notions, then I’m not sustaining them.

    John, I was asked to explain my definition of sustain. I wasn’t attacking anyone’s approach. I don’t think I’ve criticized anyone here (despite receiving some criticism of my own). I’ve simply replied to clarify my position.

  106. Rob, I also think there’s a difference between criticizing the brethren as people, questioning their intentions or their calling, and subjecting their ideas to critical scrutiny. I don’t think the former is acceptable, so at least we agree partially there.

  107. Rob,
    “But to me, if I go around sniping and snarking, complaining and criticizing, rather than humbling myself and accepting correction and counsel which might go against my preconceived notions, then I’m not sustaining them.”

    I’m pretty sure that there is a range of behaviors between these two extremes that this statement isn’t taking into account. Of course we should humble ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when we shouldn’t speak up. Figuring out what behavior is appropriate in a given situation is a constant struggle (and probably should be). Even setting that aside, dissatisfaction with a calling or with some statement from the Brethren can present an honest dilemma to the faithful. Finding ways to express that dissatisfaction, even while expressing faith in the Brethren, their calling, and even the counsel, can be productive.

    I suppose my point is that you are describing your way of being faithful, but that shouldn’t be understood as the only way of being faithful. Probably, you weren’t arguing that it was. Rather, you were simply describing your approach. If we always remember that we aren’t the possessors of the One True Interpretation (assuming that Pres Monson isn’t MCQ), I think we’ll all be able to get along.

  108. The way I view prophetic teachings and statements is found on the official church’s website, under Approaching Mormon Doctrine.

    Approaching Mormon Doctrine

    “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
    “Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.”

    This then puts the onus on each of us on the majority of things taught from General Conference that go beyond things clearly taught in the scriptures, ODs and official proclamations.

  109. I would be willing to bet that the church authorities today, when looking back in our history, wish the saints involved in Mountain Meadows would have sustained their local leaders by questioning a bit more what their local leaders were telling them at the time. I realize this is an extreme example, and one almost certainly never to happen again, but I think the principle still applies today when we humbly turn to the Lord for confirmation on something and we just don’t feel we are getting it (assuming we *are* turning to the Lord for confirmation).

  110. “just because Kristine thinks it has a certain meaning, doesn’t make it so. Reading the context around the verse doesn’t change the straightforward meaning to me.”

    It may not change the meaning for you, Rob, but for most other speakers of English, adding the context almost always changes something. In this case, it changes the meaning of those words dramatically, partly because your quote is only part of a sentence. Do you usually utilize quotes from other sources by quoting only part of a sentence? In my experience, that is not generally permitted in any context, even here, partly because when you do that, it raises the question as to why you left out the rest of the sentence. In this case, it is obviously because when you include the whole sentence, it doesn’t support the way you are using those words. Instead of a blanket assertion that every word of the brethren is the same as a word from God, with the whole sentence we simply have an explanation as to how the Lord’s words will be fulfilled.

    Read it again:

    “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

    You see how the context changes it? That’s because words mean things. The rest of the sentence adds meaning that the final clause loses if you read it by itself. I think if you are honest, you will recognize that this is simply a fact, not a matter of interpretation.

    “assuming that Pres Monson isn’t MCQ”

    I don’t know why you would assume that.

  111. Got to this late – but reading post & comments I can hardly believe my eyes. And I thought this was a liberal blog, i.e., our critical faculties were fully engaged. Pres. Packer has done more damage to the institution of the Church, BYU, and persons within the church than anyone in modern church history. You “so-called intellectuals” should know this, and you should challenge this post, graceful writing notwithstanding. He has done his level best to return us to fundamentalist/authoritarian hero-worship and gone out of his way to damage anyone with a brain who dares challenge his version of reality. His “truth” is a strange beast, indeed, as any number of good LDS historians will attest. This “seer & revelator” STILL has absolutely no idea what a homosexual is, and what he doesn’t understand he doesn’t like. He does NOT “convey truths that won’t fit into ordinary language.” What he DOES convey is prejudice, intolerance and small-mindedness. There is absolutely nothing here to celebrate.

  112. All “so-called intellectuals” must agree with you or they aren’t intellectuals or aren’t using their faculties?

  113. mmiles,

    Real intellectuals use scare quotes and a lot of upper-case letters to prove how morally superior that are.

  114. pd, finally! That’s the very first response I expected! I don’t think anything I said tries to excuse the failures you’ve pointed out–what part of “His sense of the world (and most of the non-Mormons and many of the liberal Mormons in it) as dangerous and hostile, what seems to me the narrow brittleness of his ideals of gender roles and family life, the implacable sternness of the God he loves and serves, all seem so alien to me sometimes that I wonder how it is possible that his religion and mine are the same” was unclear? That he has done things we believe to be wrong does not excuse us from the duty of trying to understand and to love him. For believers, the attempt to understand has to include trying to make sense of what his prophetic calling means, even (or especially) when his words and actions are galling to us. For me, at least, this particular address made that easier.

  115. And, since Rob’s commitment to refrain from criticism has reminded me of what the better angels of my nature keep trying to tell me–that public comment on people’s mistakes is not to be undertaken lightly and is only rarely justified or productive–I’m going to close the comments before we head too far down that path. If you’ve got something you’re dying to say, you can email it to me and I’ll put it up (maybe). Thanks again, everybody.

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