My Thoughts Regarding the Mantle and the Intellect

PRELIMINARY NOTE: The following is based on my personal experiences and opinion of what President Boyd K. Packer’s talk entitled “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect,” originally given on August 22, 1981, at a religious educator’s symposium at BYU. Please keep that context in mind.

In 1981, President Boyd K. Packer gave a talk at BYU to help guide LDS academics regarding the sometimes fine line between faith and the intellect. Unfortunately, this wonderful talk has become the object of scorn and ridicule for many people in the shadows of doubt and apostasy. Indeed, in my opinion this talk has become a litmus test regarding the testimony of all who receive it.

I first read this talk when I embarked on my journey to England to attend graduate school at the University of Oxford. This talk is not about obfuscation, it is not about “lying for the Lord.” It is about how to teach and learn the messiness of history when it comes to one very specific and glorious event: the founding of the LDS Church, verily the Church of Jesus Christ. Thus, I see President Packer’s talk in 1981 as a beacon of light in today’s sea of spiritual darkness that is much of academia; a handbook of instructions on how to allow the Spirit of God to guide one’s conclusions in a sometimes dangerous minefield of calumny, half-truths, and references to things that are no longer understood culturally when viewed through the lenses of 21st century paradigms. It is nothing more or less than a practical application of an ancient injunction, given to us in the Book of Mormon, that “to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsel of God.”

The minefield is indeed dangerous because it is so easy, and so seemingly logical, to draw negative inferences and conclusions about the motivations and characters of the Lord’s annointed from what we understand of the historical record presently before us. We must always remember that here in mortality, we only see through the glass “darkly.” It is so easy to “objectively” want to divorce the history of this Church from its divine source, to attempt to view these events in a vacuum. As noted by President Packer, one “might as well try to write the biography of Mendelssohn without hearing or mentioning his music, or write the life of Rembrandt without mentioning light or canvas or color.”

The truth is that those who laughingly or bitterly dismiss President Packer’s words regarding the mantle and the intellect are not being “objective” as they claim to be, but have made a quite conscious and deliberate decision. They decide to actively “put aside” their testimonies as they examine “unpleasant” facts about Church history that they have “left on a shelf.” They actively decide to assign less value to what they once regarded as their spiritual witnesses of truth, instead replacing those valuable impressions with the vogue historical epistomologies of the day. Just as some of us choose to view the historical record through the lens of faith and our spiritual impressions, they choose to address the intricacies of this Church’s history through the glasses of disbelief and doubt. As many historians will tell you, there is no “objective” lens through which history is viewed, but the facts are always viewed through the lens of some historical theory or another.

But don’t take it from me, take it from my friend who made the conscious decision (a decision I can understand and respect even if I disagree with it and its ramifications after serious thought and consideration myself) to give less weight to his “spiritual experiences” and more weight to the negative inferences he chose to draw regarding the history of the LDS church:

[T]hough I had questions about some things and was deeply troubled by others, I still remained fervent in my testimony and diligent in my service in the church. I was a true believer. So, the question naturally arises: why did the problems in church history not matter to me then but in recent months these same issues have been so troubling to me as to cause me to re-evaluate my belief and activity in the church? What changed?

[. . .]

I was able to continue believing in the church despite the many evidences to the contrary because, figuratively, I put my concerns in a box on a shelf in deference to my testimony. I chose to give greater weight to my spiritual experiences than to any other facts or evidence regarding the foundational truth claims of Mormonism.

[. . .]

Although I can’t locate it with precision, at some point my doubts about Gordon Hinckley led me to entertain the idea that there was a chance that maybe, just maybe, the church might not really be led by an “uninterrupted” “continuous melody” and “thunderous appeal” of revelation, as the church claims. . . .

My doubts about whether Gordon Hinckley really was communicating with the heavens prompted me, eventually, to take that box of issues down off the shelf, empty it out, place my testimony in the box, and put the box back up on the shelf.

(From Equality’s Blog).

Equality then goes on to say that this decision on his part, namely the decision to “place [his] testimony in the box . . . and put [it] up on the shelf” enabled him to “remove the testimony filter, effectively holding in suspension his . . . testimony, and look at the information in direct light—light that is not filtered by the lens of testimony.” I note here that I believe it is impossible to view this information in “direct light”, and certainly viewing these things through the lens of doubt and disinclination does not qualify at any rate, in my opinion. In fact, given the importance of these issues to the souls of human beings, the most “direct light” through which to view specifically the facts surrounding the restoration of the Gospel is through the lens of testimony, through the eyes of faith.

President Packer’s timely talk is surely aimed at training those with whom we entrust some of the teaching of our youth and membership generally in the Church to keep viewing the foundational events of the LDS Church in the light of personal testimony and divine assurances of its truthfulness so that, wherever possible, the members may draw positive inferences from the historical record and choose to believe in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith. Such teachers and influences President Packer attempts to reach with this handbook on placing Spirit above intellect include our LDS Institute, Seminary, Religion, and Gospel Doctrine teachers, as well as other LDS academics and teachers to whom we look for intellectual guidance.

It has been my privilege to listen to President Packer speak about the Gospel and bear his special witness of the Savior and the head of our LDS Church, Jesus Christ, on countless occasions and in many, many places. His testimony has touched my soul and enlighted my mind since I can remember paying attention to anything of spiritual consequence. I have personally sat in his presence many times as the Holy Ghost witnessed to my heart his divine calling as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have met him on several occasions, and have been greatly impressed by his kindness and willingness to engage in conversation. I know from profound personal experiences that he is a modern Apostle, chosen to minister to my generation by the Savior of the world himself. His counsel has changed my life for the better in many ways. I testify that his mantle as an apostle, and the mantle we all bear as teachers in Christ’s Restored Church, is far, far greater than the intellect.

We each must make a decision- either we will decide to draw positive inferences from the historical record before us, relying on doing so on the impressions of the Spirit of God, or else we will decide to not heed those promptings, casting them aside and choosing to believe and draw negative conclusions. If you teach in this Church, I strongly urge you to read and apply this wise handbook of instructions regarding how to decide to draw positive conclusions from this record under the influence of the Holy Ghos. I personally believe that this is the counsel of God, given through one of his Apostles on the Earth today. We should hearken. If we do, we will be blessed with continuing testimony through the darkness of doubt, despair, and disbelief. The talk is here in .pdf format for you to download and/or read, in case you have not seen it.

NOTE: When I first began drafting this post, I meant to go through each point that seems to trouble some people about this talk and discuss why those things ought not trouble us. But this is what came out instead.

35 Responses to My Thoughts Regarding the Mantle and the Intellect

  1. m&m says:

    Thanks for this post, Jordan. It is similar in spirit to something I have been thinking about as well as I have watched friends do what Equality did (with history and science). I wrote a little about it all and it was posted at Segullah Blog last week, if that is of interest (not in a ‘look at me’ kind of a way, but just to share my thoughts since there is no way to summarize it all in a comment).

  2. Howard says:

    D&C 9: 8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

  3. john f. says:

    Jordan, thanks for this post. Reading this has caused me to reflect on what I feel is a disconnect between how I have heard, felt, and understood President Packer and his witness and Gospel message and how he is portrayed by many as a monster, oppressor or generally bad guy.

    Your comments on his mantle and intellect talk have reminded me of his concern for the Gospel message about the Atonement of Jesus Christ which is only natural given his calling as an Apostle. I would add, and I think you agree with me based on previous conversations, that it is not unreasonable for people to choose to believe the Church is not what it claims to be based on what is currently known or believed to be known about the historical record, i.e. the historical facts associated with the founding of the Church. But I would hope that many others do not think that this is the only conclusion that can follow from the historical record, particularly given some degree of humility with regard to the record or what inferences are necessary based on the record. My own belief is that the historical record does not require concluding that the Church is not what it claims to be.

    Ultimately the choice to be a part of the Church is an act of faith. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to the existence and mission of the Church and faith is the only way to access the Atonement, either on the level of belief or efficacy.

  4. Jordan F. says:

    I agree that it is certainly reasonable and logical to decide, based solely on the historical record, that the LDS Church is not what it claims to be. I would also add that the choice to not believe in the LDS Church teachings is also a sort of act of faith. Either way, speculation and belief are necessarily present.

  5. I think I agree with the idea in this post that Packer isn’t a dishonest person. That said, there are some problematic anti-intellectual statements in this talk that just don’t reflect well on us. The worst by far is the infamous statement that, “Some things that are true are not very useful.” This is really pretty Orwellian on the surface. Packer’s elaborations of this point are not terribly much better. He doesn’t seem to understand ways that history and gossip differ in function and purpose. In particular, Packer doesn’t seem to understand that considering what might seem to be the “weaknesses” of a historical figure is essential to the process of understanding that figure. Spencer W. Kimball’s advice about how to keep your children close to the faith, for example, becomes so much more poignant when you know that he didn’t have complete success at that goal himself. Is that a “weakness” of Kimball? Arguably, although maybe not. Who cares? You need to know that to have a well-rounded sense of the man, and to fully understand his career in the church. Packer doesn’t seem to have understood how all of this worked, but he does seem to have felt that he ought to speak as if he knew what he was talking about.

    I don’t think Packer’s a bad person; he’s clearly an advocate of Jesus Christ, as he should be. But I do think he seems to have a habit of getting way ahead of himself and assuming that he knows other people’s motives, goals, and souls — even when he clearly doesn’t.

  6. Jordan F. says:

    RT: thanks for your thoughtful reactions. I still think that you (and many others) read too much into Elder Packer’s statement that “some things that are true are not very useful.” I don’t think he means this universally- you must consider whom he is addressing. This speech is specifically geared towards LDS religion educators, and in that context I agree. “The truth shall set you free,” but in the meantime, there are certain things that require maturity and wisdom to properly understand. A premature fixation on such things could distract a person from receiving the spiritual evidence one needs to properly assimilate such information. Therefore, I must agree with Elder Packer that not all things that are true are very useful, at least in the context of LDS religious education.

    That said, the next step would be to figure out exactly what those true, yet not so useful things are. That is more difficult than it seems. For example, I would think nothing of using Rough Stone Rolling as a seminal text to teach Church History. This is because I believe Bushman has taken the proper approach to presenting these facts, a faithful and faith-building approach evident even in the title of his book.

  7. Doubter says:

    You raise some issues that I have thought long and hard about. I am currently an active member, and, by virtue of the fact that I have raised six faithful children and have held and continue to hold high profile leadership callings, am considered a pillar of the church within my stake. But I have come to doubt much of what I once believed. I love much about the church and I will never leave, but I am only going through the motions now. I don’t really believe. I still pray frequently and sincerely for faith to replace my doubts, I still study the scriptures regularly but if there is a God, he does not seem to be in any hurry to answer my prayers.

    Let me summarize my concerns with some of what you and Elder Packer seem to be saying. With a few changes to reflect the different audience, much of this talk could have been written by Leonid Breshnev as an address to Pravda. If you start with a predetermined conclusion, ie. that the Communist Party is and must always remain the supreme ruling council, and that all that is taught must support the people’s confidence in the Party and its rulers, then you might be tempted to dismiss facts which call those truths into quesion as “not useful”. You might explain that people must be given milk before meat. You might remind your propaganda machine that there is no such thing as objective reporting, so reporting on the world through the lens of the Party is at least as legitimate as any other lens. And of course, all right thinking people who really value truth would denounce this speech as pernicious nonsense.

    I have a high regard for the Brethren. They are not Breshnev and the CES is not Pravda. But I think the analogy is apt. Of course it is true that some truths are not useful. But if they are not useful, it is because they are irrelevant, not because knowing those truths is damaging. The novice in an advanced chemistry class does not belong there because he can’t understand it, not because the truths being taught in the class will hurt his testimony of chemistry.

    For example, if the question is “Was Joseph Smith really called by God to restore the Church of Christ?” then one piece of relevant evidence is to consider Joseph’s own accounts of his vision. This is only one of a great many pieces of evidence, but it is one. When I consider that evidence asking this question, I have trouble understanding how somebody who had the vision described in the now canonized version of the story could have written his earlier accounts. When I read Bushman and others intepret these accounts through the lens of faith, I am unsatisfied by their explanation. I think that their lens is clouded by the fact that they are advocates–their job is to develop plausible explanations. But the way to find truth is not to assume away the very question at issue.

    This is only one, minor example and I don’t want to get too carried away with it. But my point is this–we are all engaged in a quest for truth. We don’t do that by begging the question. And we don’t do that by excluding some truths from the analysis on the basis that they are not “useful” or that some who have embarked on that quest are not ready to hear those truths. Especially when the purported reason that they are not ready to hear those truths is that they are not yet sufficiently indoctrinated so that the conclusions they have have reached are no longer open to question.

  8. stevem83 says:

    I think this line from the theologian Paul Tillich is relevant:

    “Many Christians, as well as members of other religious groups, feel anxiety, guilt and despair about what they call ‘loss of faith.’ But serious doubt is confirmation of faith. It indicates the seriousness of the concern, its unconditional character.” (Dynamics of Faith, p. 22)

    In the LDS Church, we often characterize doubt as the antithesis of faith. Yet I think those such as Equality, who “take that box of issues down off the shelf, empty it out, place [their] testimon[ies] in the box,” are showing a tremendous amount of integrity, and even faith, in their search for truth. Removing the “testimony filter” in order to view subjects though new eyes shows a desire to see the truth as it is, free of our preconceived notions, previously held beliefs, and other allegiances. As Tillich hints at, this is, essentially, an act of faith. Those who question often reason that if the Church is what it says it is, it should stand up to honest but serious scrutiny. And if the Church isn’t what it says it is, then the hunger for truth demands that they find this out. Herein lies the “seriousness of the concern” for one’s faith, and the “unconditional character” of his or her search for truth. The seeker of truth is willing to pursue and accept the truth as it is, even if it means abandoning previously held beliefs.

  9. Jordan F. says:

    NOTE- the following comment is long and could have been its own blog post. The real substance of it is under the heading concluding comments below. I also added headers to flag where the discussion in each section is headed. This is my response to the thoughtful comments by “doubter” and stevem.

    “Choose Ye This Day” Which Historical Lens to Use

    I never said Equality was lacking integrity. I was only calling what he did what it actually is- a conscious decision to “remove the testimony filter” and apply the “skeptical” filter. There is no “unfiltered” history- it is always viewed by human beings through some biased lens. I have no problem with doubt, but I think President Packer was wise to counsel LDS Church educators to teach their students how to draw positive inferences and to give the benefit of the doubt the early church leaders when doubt exists.

    Whether we draw positive inferences and conclusions or negative inferences and conclusions from the historical record is our choice. In my opinion, both decisions are are supported by the record in front of us. President Packer’s plea, as I understand it, to the LDS Church educators was that they, through their teaching, encourage their students to draw positive inferences from the historical record.

    “Let All Things Be Done In Order” or A Time To Teach Truths and Truths That Are Useful

    This does not mean that we should not challenge our “testimonies” or retreat when confronted with anything unpleasant, and I do not think this is what Elder Packer was suggesting. His talk is about how to teach people to assimilate such facts and reconcile them with the fact that we believe, based on spiritual/supernatural assurances, that the foundation of the Church is solid, even if certain actions in the founding thereof were not.

    With that in mind, teaches Elder Packer, it would not be appropriate to focus on all the historical distractions and footnotes before getting one’s arms around the divine origins of the whole thing. For these facts cannot be properly understood divorced from a belief that God orchestrated the whole thing through imperfect and misunderstanding human beings.

    Personally, having received that conviction before embarking on my studies of various historical distractions and footnotes in the history of the LDS church, my own research regarding the foibles and weaknesses of some of the early Brethren has only strengthened my conviction of divine involvement, trust- trust that was perhaps often disappointed but nonetheless extended-, and mercy that accompanied the foundation and building up of the LDS Church. I might add that I do not believe that my “additional” research would necessarily relevant to basic LDS seminary, institute, and Gospel Doctrine courses, as it is true but not useful to the purposes of those classes.

    Perhaps what President Packer did not say in that sentence is as important as what he did, although what he did not say resonates throughout his talk that day and in advice given during the last 25 years since then. Here is the sentence as I understand it:

    “There are some things that are true that are not useful in gaining a testimony of the divine origins of this Church.

    For Whatever Reason, Some People/Areas in The LDS Church Are Not Teaching Some Things That Are Both True And Useful

    Note again that I believe there are some things that are true AND useful that are for whatever reason not taught or lost to history. For example, too few people know about the truly marvelous manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated with divine help. Misplaced, misguided art shows Joseph Smith relying too much on his own understanding (by, for example, laboriously poring over golden plates) and too little on the divine. The true account, however, would have required an absolute reliance by Joseph Smith on the Lord’s hand to bring forth the Book of Mormon.

    It is perhaps an historical accident that inspiring events are not so widely discussed now as they once were. For one thing, there is a “weird” factor for todya’s generation in Joseph’s use of a seer stone to assist in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. However, as pointed out in several sources, not the least of which is Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, such practices were not considered “weird” to Joseph’s generation. Rather, they served as a testament to that generation that the Lord uses means familiar to the people and adapted to their culture to communicate with them in their own tongue and according to their own understanding. And they should to ours as well, but since the “magic world view” that persisted then is lost on our generation, so to some extent has the glorious means by which the Book of Mormon was translated also been lost and/or obscured by the sands of time.

    Concluding Comment
    Accepting “truth as it is” need not mean laying aside a conviction of the divine origins of the LDS Church. And it also does not necessitate teaching historical issues that could distract one from receiving a spiritual conviction of those divine origins in LDS seminary, institute, religion, and Gospel Doctrine courses.

    That said, we remain free to fill ourselves with as much knowledge of histories’ intricacies as we desire and as is possible, and I laud Equality’s efforts to do so. I have also done so, but have refused to put my testimony “on the shelf” (for the most part) as I do, despite reading and considering many of the same sources. That is a choice each one of us must make on our own. And, I think it is a choice most people are not ready to make until they have felt the deep conviction that Equality also felt at one time, but then later shelved in order to view history filtered through another lens.

  10. Doubter says:

    Jordan: I think you are reading Elder Packer inaccurately when you say that he was merely encouraging teachers to draw positive, rather than negative inferences from the historical record. I think he intended to go much further than that. I think he was encouraging teachers to teach only those facts which build faith, and to stay away from those topics which might weaken faith. That is a rather different thing. I have no particular objection to your formulation–I just don’t think that is what he was saying.

    As a final jab at Elder Packer’s talk, it may well be true that the hand of God is in the history of the church. There is certainly evidence to support that conclusion. But there is also overwhelming evidence of imperfect men teaching all kinds of nonsense while claiming to speak as God’s anointed. Any teaching of history which does not do justice to this fact will not build a well grounded faith. You may build conviction by teaching a filtered history, but you should not claim that you have taught a well grounded faith by doing so. Faith is more than conviction that one is right.

    I also want to challenge your statements about unfiltered history. I agree that we all have biases. But a skeptical filter is not the only alternative to a faith based filter. We can at least try to be objective. One way to do this is to honestly ask the question: “Is this particular information evidence in support of the proposition that the church is true, or is it supportive of the opposite conclusion? Or is it neutral?” If you are not open to that question, but approach all questions wondering how best to reconcile the information with one or the other perspective, then you can longer claim to be on a search for truth. You are now an advocate seeking to justify your preconceived ideas. I am equally critical of both the faith filter and the skeptical filter, but they are not the only two options.

    In my own case, I did not substitute a skeptical filter for a faithful filter. I simply opened myself to the possibility that I was wrong. For example, when I learned more about the Book of Abraham, I didn’t try to fit it into any particular mold. But I did ask myself this question: “Is it reasonable to believe that God had a revelation to give Joseph Smith. So he decided that he would give him that revelation by having JS buy some papyrii from a travelling sideshow promoter that had nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham or the revelation that God wanted to give. However, he knew that JS would think otherwise, and that the papyrii would act as a catalyst to allow JS to receive the revelation that God wanted to give him.” When I ask that question, it seems just a bit weird to me. I can’t tell God how to do his business, but this strikes me as a very strange way of giving revelation. Heaven knows, he certainly found other, more direct ways of giving him revelation in the past. As a result I come down on the side of unreasonable. But I did not get there by applying a skeptical filter at the outset.

    One final question. Why do you and Elder Packer seem to believe that the Spirit is so weak? If a testimony comes from the Spirit, why can’t the Spirit testify to somebody who learns the messy history too soon? Does learning about Fannie Alger too early in one’s life really create a force field so strong that God cannot penetrate it with his Spirit, and therefore cannot imbue a young inquiring college student with a testimony? Is our eternal welfare so precarious that it can be destroyed by knowledge of non-faith affirming truths? It just seems terribly strange that we would teach that the faith that is so essential for eternal life can be destroyed by learning certain truths a little too soon.

  11. Jordan F. says:

    It’s not the spirit who is weak, but the recipient who may not be open. But you raise some good questions.

    Also, I remain open to the idea that discussing Fannie Alger (who I learned about, and not for the first time, in my BYU Church History class under Susan Easton Black) is not one of the “non-useful truths” mentioned by Elder Packer. As I said in my comment to RT, for example, the next step after realizing that Elder Packer makes a valid and non-threatening point in the context of what to teach about Church History in LDS seminary, institute, religion, and Gospel Doctrine classes is to then figure out which “truths” are necessarily “not useful.” I am not sure that Fanny Alger is necessarily one of those truths.

    (By the way, we would also have to figure out which of the truths is true and which are based on innuendo and/or calumny. That will certainly be easier with certain issues, e.g. the Abaraham papyrii conundrum, on which there can be little doubt that what exists today of the papyrii is very far removed from the “translation” we have in the Book of Abraham. But that is still another issue).

    The issue of which “truths” are “useful” and which aren’t in the context of LDS seminary, institute, religion and Gospel Doctrine classes is another issue that is certainly worthy of at least one blog post, probably an entire series! Perhaps BYU professors could hold a symposium on the topic. Imagine that! An interesting sight, such an image! At any rate, I don’t even begin to discuss here which “truths” are “useful” in this narrow context and which aren’t, though I have a few ideas on the topic, naturally.

    Regarding the filters- we will just have to differ on that. I am not educated enough in Historiography to debate the finer points of how our perception necessarily colors history, I just speculate (hopefully in a slightly informed manner) that it does, and have had historians (admittedly faithful LDS historians teaching in various history departments but none at BYU) give a nod to this speculation without really researching it in its own right. Still, I suspect that you do not get rid of the lens, but that you merely replace your faithful lens with another one. Perhaps I was too hasty to call it a “skeptical” lens- that was just the best approximate term I could think of at the moment. I’ll have to give this one some more thought, for sure.

  12. Doubter says:

    Jordan: I think you are too quick to dismiss my comment about the Spirit being weak. We have some striking examples (think Saul and Alma the Younger) of God finding ways to intervene to educate even the most rebellious of skeptics. We have numerous other examples of less dramatic interventions where people started out somewhat skeptical and the Spirit intervened to soften their hearts. In my life, I can cite numerous examples of times when I have started out skeptical of certain propositions and have been persuaded by mere human agents that my position was wrong. The world is full of people who through some process of persuasion, education or spiritual enlightenment come to believe things that they once disputed. So why are we so afraid that God is unable to enlighten the garden variety skeptic who, for good reason, approaches the Book of Mormon or religion in general with a certain degree of skepticism? And why should we have any fear at all that learning information that is not faith promoting too early in one’s development would act as a barrier to receiving a testimony from the Spirit. If FARMS can marshall persuasive intellectual arguments (and I believe they can) that can force a sincere skeptic to reconsider her position, surely the Spirit of God can still commnunicate pure intelligence to people whose only fault is that they have learned some truths that were not very useful.

    Regarding the filters issue, I am not sure we do differ. My only point is that the world is not divided neatly into people who see through the filter of faith and those who see through the filter of skepticism. Some people really do try to see clearly unencumbered by either. They have no particular reason to want to filter out all faith promoting material, but they do not want to filter out facts that are not faith promoting either. I consider myself one such person. I have lived all my life as an active member. I have done all the things that this implies. I would be delighted to know that God is real, that he loves me, that this Church to which I have dedicated so much of my life really is his. I am not a skeptic and I am not angry. I just think that much of what I have been taught and continue to be taught is not true. Last year I did what President Hinckley asked and I reread the Book of Mormon and prayed about it many times. Most of the impressions that came to me were negative. I don’t think I was filtering anything out. I am quite sure that God could have given me something to persuade me. It would not have been that difficult. I don’t need an angel–just a warm spiritual feeling would have done the trick. I just don’t buy the argument that the problem is me and my filters.

  13. Jordan F. says:

    Well, you must not have done it right then… 🙂

    I know it is much more complicated than that, but I just thought I would give you the pat “mormon” answer, since I am sure you have not heard it yet, right?

  14. Mark IV says:

    Interesting questions, Jordan.

    I have neither reason nor desire to attribute malicious intent to Elder Packer. I believe he was doing and saying what he thought was best.

    But we can judge the fruits of the policy he sought to implement. For believing Mormons, probably the two most important scholars working now are Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens, and it is not a coincidence that neither of them works for CES. And I think it is more than idle speculation to wonder whether, in 1981 when this talk was given, RSR could have been published without its author running into problems with ecclesiastical authorities.

  15. Equality says:


    Thanks for directing me to this post, my friend.

    I have just re-read President Packer’s talk that you reference here. I must say my opinion of it has not changed. I think President Packer’s fascist tendencies, unhealthy attitudes about sex, and smugness are on full display in this talk. He engages in rumor and innuendo to smear an entire profession, and I find nothing commendable in the talk at all.

    Having said that, it seems the portion of your post in which you quote from one of my blog entries is only tangentially related to Packer’s talk, which I think deals mainly with placing limits on the academic freedom of church-employed scholars and teachers. The portion of your post in which you address the evolution of my religious beliefs deals with something else: the role of the Spirit and testimony in assessing facts and evidence regarding the foundational truth claims of Mormonism. I am preparing now a response to this portion of your post, which I will put up at my blog, Equality Time, soon. At some point, I may go through President Packer’s talk line by line and explain just why I disagree with it. I assure you, however, that my dismissal of the talk is done neither laughingly or bitterly. President Packer has a point of view and articulates it ably. I disagree strongly with his views but harbor no bitterness or anger toward him.

    Thanks for engaging me on this issue.

    [comment edited due to my adding his requested update in post]

  16. Jordan F. says:


    I actually think your comments are more relevant to President Packer’s talk than you think, and here’s why. In my opinion, the main theme of this talk is to teach people that one MUST look at the foundational events of the Church through a lens of testimony in order to see the evidence of the divine hand in them, and that this is also how church history MUST be taught in LDS classrooms. President Packer realizes that, as with most historical events, there are multiple interpretations and conclusions that can be drawn regarding the motives of historical figures and how the events on record played into a larger context.

    I see this talk as a plea for teachers of LDS church history classes to focus on only those theories that give early leaders the “benefit of the doubt” regarding these issues. To teach any other way would be to deny the Spirit of the Lord in the founding of this church. That is what I think he means when he says that, for this particular topic at least, it would be inappropriate in a church setting to teach the facts of history divorced from the spirit that informs our (TBM/LDS Faithful) conclusions about what those facts mean and how important certain facts are (hence the not all true facts are useful ones comment).

    Also related to this concept, I think, is the idea that belief, at its fundamental level, is a choice. I believe this assumption also underlies most of his talk. Often, the choice to believe is based on a (perhaps subconscious, perhaps not) choice to assign greater weight to what the “feelings/impressions/promptings of the Spirit” than others might. President Packer’s talk also seems to plead that we continue to assign great weight to these “supernatural” influences and to believe that they are from God.

    Therefore, I think illustrating what happens when someone chooses, as you did, to put their “testimony on a shelf” and evaluate these facts divorced from the spiritual context in which they must be examined to arrive at a faithful conclusion (e.g. one that is still rational given the facts but which gives early leaders the benefit of the doubt)- I think illustrating what happens when we do not heed President Packer’s is quite instructive to understanding WHY he gave the talk in the first place- to prevent precisely the type of “falling away” from the LDS church that you are experiencing.

  17. Jordan F. says:

    A note about the “disease germs” quote from the talk- I do not think this refers to the history itself, but rather to negative, “apostate” interpretations of that history.

  18. Equality says:

    But President Packer does not say to teach the facts and give church leaders “the benefit of the doubt.” Or to teach the facts and encourage the audience to “draw positive inferences.” Rather, he advocates the suppression of facts that might lead a reader or hearer to question the faith-promoting version of events. President Packer advocates the suppression of information as a means of “protecting” the saints from truths that can lead to a loss of faith in church leaders. He exalts faith in the institutional church over the pursuit of truth. Where truth might threaten to destroy a member’s absolute loyalty to the institution, President Packer advocates suppression of such truth. My disagreement with President Packer is thus over a clash of values. He values the preservation of the church and the loyalty of its members to the institutional hierarchy. I value truth above loyalty to the organization. While President Packer may value truth in an abstract sense, where truth clashes with the self-interest of the institution, he is more than willing to throw truth under the bus to protect the bureaucracy. That he believes God is at the helm leading the church through the general authorities simply serves as the justification he needs for embracing a warped hierarchy of values.

  19. Equality says:

    “A note about the “disease germs” quote from the talk- I do not think this refers to the history itself, but rather to negative, “apostate” interpretations of that history.”

    Exactly–Packer says to scholars and academics that they should not purchase or read histories written by “apostates” no matter the content. And then Packer makes sure he excommunicates scholars he doesn’t take a shine to, so that they can fit neatly into the category of people whose work should be shunned as one would avoid “disease germs.”

  20. Jordan F. says:

    And most of those sholars arguably took off their “testimony” glasses in the works they published to members of the church.

  21. Equality says:

    Which is what made them scholarly works worthy of being studied. 🙂

  22. Jordan F. says:

    Bushman’s is a work worthy of being studied, in my opinion, and I don’t think his testimony lenses are entirely absent.

  23. Equality says:

    I agree. Not so sure Packer would, though.

  24. Jordan F. says:

    You may actually have a point there, particularly back in the early 80s and up through the mid-90s.

    Of course, given what I believe to be his apostolic insight, maybe certain things that would have been unduly damaging to that particular generation’s ability to draw faithful conclusions from the historical record are not so much today, hence the lessened emphasis for this generation.

  25. Equality says:

    ??? I don’t understand your last comment. What change in emphasis are you referring to?

  26. Jordan F. says:

    The fact that no church action has been taken against Bushman and others like Todd Compton. Do you think Bushman would not have been taken notice of had he written RSR in the 80s?

  27. Equality says:

    Bushman has always skirted the line, I think. Not sure how he got the immunity idol. But the actions taken against Jeff Neilson and Darron Smith and Grant Palmer are fairly recent.

  28. Equality says:

    Oh, and don’t forget Lynn Packer (though I guess that was in the 90s).

  29. Jordan F. says:

    But those gentlemen crossed the line in terms of not just presenting facts and then helping people draw positive inferences, but by “spreading disease germs” as I interpret that phrase: by spreading unfaithful CONCLUSIONS that may, but do not necessarily follow from those facts.

    This is why I earlier said that I do not think the “disease germs” comment necessarily refers to the facts themselves, but to the “unfaithful” inferences and conclusions that some people choose to draw from those facts and which they then try to spread to other Latter-day Saints.

    And, I think that what constitutes such theories can change from generation to generation, depending on the sorts of things that tend to fan the flames of disbelief and apostasy in each generation.

  30. Matt W. says:

    Bushman wrote Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism in the 80s, and I’d say all of it is part of RSR, so yes Bushman did write atleast part of RSR in the 80s…

  31. Jordan F. says:

    Good point, Matt. Again, perhaps the distinguishing feature here then is that Bushman teaches his readers how to draw conclusions postitive to the LDS church from the historical record he presents. Some of the others, not so much.

  32. Equality says:

    Bushman definitely does that, Jordan. We agree on that. RSR is a sophisticated piece of apologetic literature, to be sure.

  33. Equality says:

    “But those gentlemen crossed the line in terms of not just presenting facts and then helping people draw positive inferences, but by “spreading disease germs” as I interpret that phrase: by spreading unfaithful CONCLUSIONS that may, but do not necessarily follow from those facts.”

    I think that can only fairly be said of Grant Palmer (and even that is a stretch, I think). The other three I mentioned do not fit your description.

  34. Jordan F. says:

    I did not recall that actual church action had been taken against Smith and Neilson, just that both were removed from BYU, but I did not hear that their membership in the LDS Church was affected.

    Deciding to terminate and/or not renew a faculty contract is often a political decision based on local university politics. I saw the same thing happen several times as a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan- a professor’s teaching style and/or attitudes towards certain pet issues were not the way the administration or the department wanted them to be, so their contracts were not renewed. It happens everywhere.

    But the political decision to terminate and/or not renew a contract because the administration for whatever reason does not think the non-tenured faculty would fit in is not the same as church action affecting membership in the LDS church.

    In this case, the line is a little fuzzier because BYU is owned by the Church, but the fact remains that any action taken by BYU based on differences of opinion regarding the direction it wishes its professors to take their scholarship affects only the temporal lives of the professors as their employer, not their eternal lives as church action.

    So, unless I am missing something, I fail to see how there is any “church action” against these gentlemen similar to the church action taken against the September Six or Palmer, for example, that is, church action that actually affects membership in the church…

  35. Salvador Dali says:

    I think it is a distinction without a difference. If anything, chilling the speech of university professors by the constant threat of termination of employment, and then carrying out that action, has much greater practical effect on a person than excommunicating them. Neither has eternal consequences, in my judgment. So I look at the severity of the acts based on the temporal results. I know I for one would be much more traumatized by the loss of my job than the loss of my LDS church membership. Not that my membership has no value whatsoever. Perhaps I could get some red pottage in exchange…

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