Last Sunday night, I settled down on my couch with my laptop to listen to President Boyd K. Packer’s General Conference talk. I had been under the weather and was unable to listen to the address live, and unfortunately, the only exposure I’d had to his message was through the frenzy in the media and elsewhere. But still, through headlines and even some direct quotes, I thought I had a general sense of what he had covered.
But what I heard and felt was very different than what some people were saying and feeling. While this wasn’t surprising on one level, it was deeply disappointing to me to see how his message and intent had been so distorted and maligned. Add to that continued anger and accusations and protests which have continued in full force this week, and I feel that the core message he gave has been all but completely missed.
Of course, I would encourage people to read President Packer’s talk for themselves (and to read it more than once) rather than rely on others’ thoughts on it (including mine). But because in my mind what he taught really sums up so much of Mormon belief, and explaining Mormon belief is one of the key purposes of this website, I am sharing some of my thoughts on what I felt were critical truths he was teaching.
An oft-quoted thought from President Packer comes to mind: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.”
Let me begin by saying that Saturday afternoon, when the names of our general leaders were read for our sustaining vote, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide sustained President Packer not only in his calling as an apostle, but also as one of the 15 men who are called to be prophets, seers, and revelators. Prophets are called to teach the plan of salvation, to teach the commandments, to invite us to live true to God’s laws, and to invite us to repent where we are falling short. These are responsibilities grounded in love and a desire to help people find God’s love and know how to follow Jesus Christ. Prophets are there to testify of Christ and point us to Him, to help us access the power of His Atonement in our lives.
I heard President Packer do all of these things through his talk. I felt power, peace, and perspective in his words. Here are thoughts I had after listening to his message.
- President Packer testified of truths that have been taught for generations through prophets of God about the plan of salvation, marriage, the law of chastity, agency, and the Atonement. I am always watching for prophetic patterns of teaching because I believe that is one way for us to recognize truth that is coming from God.
- In Mormon doctrine, marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God’s plan of happiness. Of course, not everyone will have the opportunity for such a marriage in this life — but God’s promise given repeatedly through His prophets is that no blessing will be withheld from those who are faithful to their covenants with Him.
- The power to procreate is a sacred, key part of God’s plan for His children. The sexual union of a man and woman that can bring children into this world (and bring a couple together in love) is only authorized by God to be used by a man and woman who are legally and lawfully married.
- The laws of God, particularly the law of chastity, protect that gift and power, which is not a right but a stewardship. Violation of this law can bring eternal consequences. Prophets have the obligation to teach this reality, even if society’s voices are saying something different — and even if society’s laws may differ.
- The devil seeks to tempt us to misuse this power of procreation. He will never have the fruits of that power (creation, family, children, a body, progression). As the scriptures state, “he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” He would have us believe that we are entitled to sexual fulfillment without restraint or restriction or responsibility. He would have us believe that we are slaves to our sexual passions or defined absolutely by them — and that we cannot be happy without giving expression to them. Such beliefs about sexuality can lead to sexual sin and damaging addictions such as we see with the plague of pornography.
- But living according to God’s truth can yield much different fruit. God teaches us through prophets that agency is also a key part of His plan. We are here to act, not to be acted upon. Choosing to live according to God’s laws can set us free from the adversary’s power. (Agency was a repeated theme in this General Conference. Many talks focused on this fundamental truth. President Packer’s talk can be even better understood in context of those and many other talks that were given.)
- In exercising our agency to live God’s laws, we can discover the power of God and of the Savior’s Atonement. This is what brings spiritual growth and can bring a deep sense of peace and joy in progress as we continue to draw closer to God, and become more like Him and His Son.
- When and if we break any of God’s laws or wander from His ways, the wonderful gift of repentance can bring us back to the path that can lead us back to God. President Packer taught the beautiful truth that “Nowhere are the generosity and the kindness and mercy of God more manifest than in repentance.”
I feel that President Packer’s talk was a talk of hope and love and encouragement and confidence, testifying that with God’s help, we can face whatever struggles, temptations, and weaknesses we may have (and we all have them — it’s part of this journey on earth, part of what it means to be mortal). As he quoted from 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God . . . will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
In the context of President Packer’s specific focus related to the role of the law of chastity in God’s plan, I believe those who have the desire to live according to this law — even in the face of difficult trials — can find hope in his words. That includes people with sex and pornography addictions, people with same-sex attraction, those who are heterosexual and single, and those who may struggle with sexual temptations of various sorts.
I think it’s important to remember that to suffer temptation is not an indication that we are broken or worthless or faithless. Even the Savior Himself experienced temptation. And even He was “sore amazed” at how difficult it was to drink His bitter cup, which cup He even asked to have pass. (We may feel that way sometimes with our own bitter cups.) But a key part of this mortal test is to face opposition, including temptation. Through His prophets, ancient and modern, Christ’s invitation is to follow His example and not succumb to temptation (or to repent when and if we do), to submit to God’s will, and to choose to face opposition with faith in Him and in God’s plan and eternal promises.
I earnestly hope that we all can find and feel the hope and love in President Packer’s words and in the Savior’s teachings, invitations, example, and Atonement. To those who struggle in any way, please know that there are many people who care and want to help and support you in your journey. You are loved — first and foremost by God, but also by our leaders and so many others. We here at Mormon Women extend our hearts and concern to you as well.
As a final note, let me reiterate that, of course, we realize that not everyone will agree with Mormon doctrine about marriage, God-given limits on sexual behavior, or other topics. Of course, we respect the right for people to have their own opinions that may be very different from ours. We would hope that we can all recognize and accept the differences that may exist between various viewpoints and engage in dialogue that is respectful along the way. On that topic, please consider this recent editorial, “A call for civility following Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer’s address.”