30 March 2012

Packer: First Blood?

Draw enough lines with guns a-blazing, Elder Packer, and some of us who did not exactly think of the church as an "enemy" but are presumably part of what you call enemy territory may lose the patience to quietly endure what sometimes feels to us like enemy territory for similar reasons of moral and ethical disagreement: our church-dominated neighborhoods, active LDS social and work environments, and of course the new church-owned City Creek Center (oh, the delightful dissonance).  I try to live my life, be an example, share what I've learned when requested, and allow each person the same privilege.  Of course, I once similarly saw pervasive, world-ruining satanic influence saturating media and society all around me: the nefarious "world" of which I was diligently not a part.  I once was "spiritually mature" by your measure but have either relapsed into spiritual immaturity or surpassed the spiritual maturity of my teacher (oh, the pride).  Either way, my butt won't be cradled in one of those cushy conference thrones any time soon, so you're the boss, though not mine anymore.

You have consistently declared war, and I hear nobody among your brethren countering or even balancing your rhetoric over the pulpit in a significant way, so what are any of us to assume about our relationship with the church?  I thought we had an amicable parting, irreconcilable differences and divergent paths but with frank civility.  But maybe that was naive of me.  Maybe there's a bitchy sibling-in-law making it very difficult to maintain a peacefully civil relationship with my ex (no, I did not call you bitchy but was merely illustrating a concept, not making a personal accusation; surely you can relate).  Maybe it's not possible to have peace with the church, and you're just the "bad cop" removing the varnish.  Maybe the church doesn't want peace.  Maybe, instead, it needs passionate troops to animate the body of the church in a battle against those of us who have gone AWOL.  We are not with you, so we are against you, spit out as the lukewarm?

When you say "the enemy", you might mean Satan.  I suspect you did not mean that I am personally the enemy of all righteousness even though I believe things you don't and would support someone in something you wouldn't.  But I do think you implied or stated that those of us not heeding your counsel are either pawns or clueless to "the adversary's" power over us, needing either to be vanquished by the sword of truth or saved by the example and influence of the youth whose righteousness you're rallying.  And if I'm hearing that message, surely at least some of your troops are, and since I'm no longer "on the inside" to see the response, it's unsettling to wonder what foments within.  I can accept that when you counsel youth to fight the enemy, you may mean to engage them in an internal purification and fight for their own soul and righteousness, not an outright offensive against anyone who does not conform to your idea of righteousness.  But your rhetoric carries a tone and implications far beyond that.  And your authoritative position exerts disproportionate influence on the attitudes, cognition, and behavior of some youth I personally know and love but you merely abstractly "feel charity for" in an impersonal stewardship.  You must know the power you wield so seemingly brashly, and you must understand that on some level, or at some point, this does become very personal for some of us, and we will feel compelled to raise defenses and respond if necessary.

Push it far enough, and some of us may have no choice but to reluctantly take up arms (figuratively, of course, which I clarify because I know how easily anyone disagreeing with the Church is painted as a militant  and immoral antimormon capable of who-knows-what) to defend ourselves, our beliefs, our liberties, and those we love against the carefully aimed scopes of you and your troops when we had no such desire for war.  But it seems that's what you want, and it's what you know.  Troops.  Battle cries.  Foes.  Enemy lines.  War.  Cleansing.  There's a great sense of mission, of glory, and of camaraderie in war, in the army of Helaman, especially when the whole world is against the underdogs who shall not falter in defending truth and right, who have the architect and manager of the universe on their side.  I know what that was like.  I didn't hate people.  I loved all people.  I just thought most people were deceived by Satan, and I was fighting Satan's influence everywhere I turned, hoping to help those people.  But lines were drawn, and looking back, my actions and attitudes had unintended negative consequences on others and within myself.  Well, you're rid of me from your ranks, but I, too, feel righteous indignation, and you taught me your tactics most of my life, so expect a fight if a fight is what you force.

Nevertheless, I will hold the line a while longer.  I will wait, quell defensiveness, quiet presumptions, remember my own non-nefarious motives in the past, and watch for the actual, rather than speculative, effects of what you're preaching and the tone you're promoting.  It feels to me like you have set it up so that if I did lash back, it would only confirm what you've warned adherents about.  Take a mild person, warn others of their malicious or ferocious nature, then push that person long enough and marginalize him or her enough, and they may eventually confirm the warning.  But that's not the only reason I step back, turn a cheek, and try to keep calm.  I also believe it's the most productive means of engagement and testimony.  And part of why I don't fire back angrily is that I don't believe you're a monster.  I'm not convinced you're a nasty, embittered old wart bent on making everyone else as miserable as some accuse you of being.  I think you're probably well-meaning and believe you are saving souls and sharing what you believe is happiness.

But what you say and, even more, how you say it directly affects me, my relationships, and the happiness of people I care about, so you bet I'm paying attention.  Still, I have hope.  It seems, to me, that the principle of Zion, or unification of "the kingdom" into one mind and one heart, is not a conquering of ideology achieved by warlike means, as has been viciously attempted by world religions for centuries, but an interconnection through building bridges, looking into eyes, looking on the heart, reproving with sharpness on rare, required occasions, then showing increased love through an open ear, arms, and shoulder, and increasing understanding a heart at a time.

I don't know you.  I can't look you in the eyes in person, connect with you, and see behind your rhetoric.  I can hope there is a richness of humanity behind the abrasive exterior, but your rhetoric makes that hope hard to trust sometimes.  Meanwhile, I remember how your words made me feel when I was in your ranks.  I remember how they seemed such clarion calls of righteousness.  I remember how they called me to align myself and coaxed me into subtly combative ways of thinking while rewarding me with a sense of camaraderie and mission in a righteous war.  I remember the simultaneous retreat of parts of me that were not worthy of discussion, not deserving of understanding, not safe to articulate or bring to any light lest they overtake me completely and destroy my soul.  I have since lived something better, the purification of bringing all of me to light, the strength of looking directly into myself without fear, the power of examining and admitting rather than chasing off-stage my doubts, feelings, or urges, the fellowship of a more complete, authentic me among those who are every bit as faithful but apparently less fearfully combative.  I have greater peace, more optimism, and comfort within myself I didn't know I could have.  What's more: temptations and behaviors are actually less on my mind and less engaged than they were before.  Losing the need to fight them let them dwindle into the background.  I have found better than your teachings, a more excellent way.

I don't want a war. I will attempt productive and constructive rather than destructive and combative engagement, but do not mistake me for a pacifist you can bulldoze, and please understand that if others who believe differently than I do about engagement take up arms in a rhetoric war, it was not before a lifetime of dodging or quietly accepting the darts that flew from you or from those who were responding to your words and commands.  A morality war has been raging since long before you or I was born, and you are likely responding not specifically to we who choose and believe as you would not but to a generalized enemy of your morality.  I suppose your blunt words are in response or reaction to perceived spiritual dangers and those who promote them, and your messages are meant to alert and awaken obedience to what you believe to be a stricter, safer path.  But for most of us, in our experience, your rhetoric drew first blood.  I will decry extreme reactions, as I have.  I will not excuse disrespect and willful ignorance, even directed at a perceived aggressor.  But I do understand a great deal of the emotional reaction, and at some point, trying to defend your words begins to feel a bit like defending an abusive parent by insisting they're just trying to express love the best they know how.  It may be true, but the abused party is no less downtrodden, and when it's consistent, it becomes harder to dismiss it as overreaction, the guilt of the wicked, or generally their problem and not yours.  Couldn't you at least acknowledge it could be both?  After all, they don't have this problem with the other apostles.  Are you that much greater a defender of righteousness than them that the wicked senselessly attack you to justify their guilt-ridden consciences?

Knowing what I do about church hierarchy and beliefs about church office and calling, and you as a public persona, I think it completely ineffectual for me to plead that you change your tone.  I also am not a fan of jumping on the anti-Packer bandwagon and jumping down your throat every time I think you misstep.  Believe me, I've held my tongue plenty before today.  But I'm writing this because I wanted to get it off of my chest, and I'm publishing it in case some reader gets some insight from a little raw honesty and because if my patience is wearing thin, I imagine many are way past worn.  And with that, I'll try to let go of what I cannot change while turning to what I can.


MoHoHawaii said...

Amen. I feel the same way on this.

Kiley said...

Eloquent and beautiful.

jimf said...

> [S]ome of us who did not exactly think of the church
> as an "enemy" but are presumably part of what you call
> enemy territory may lose the patience to quietly endure
> what sometimes feels to us like enemy territory. . .

In that book I mentioned earlier
( _The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided
by Politics and Religion_ by Jonathan Haidt
http://www.amazon.com/The-Righteous-Mind-Politics-Religion/dp/0307377903/ )
the author, after making the case that American liberals
(and WEIRD -- Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic)
cultures worldwide) have a two-note "moral matrix" (based solely on
harm-reduction and fairness), whereas American conservatives
(and most traditional societies) pay some attention to those
two values but even more attention to respect for tradition,
obedience to authority, and keeping pure and free from "evil";
goes on to make a case for the controversial (among biologists)
existence of multilevel Darwinian selection, or group selection (in
addition to individual selection) among human beings, following sociologist
Emile Durkheim.

Though Haidt says he began his career as a typical liberal
academic, he says he has come to respect the moral matrix of conservatives
and traditional cultures which, he claims, gives them an advantage over
individualistic Western liberals when it comes to group cohesiveness,
inter-group competition, and what he calls "social capital" (after Edmund
Burke and others) -- intra-group trust leading to lowered
transaction costs and greater economic efficiency, and
also to better mental health due to the transcendence of
self that comes from participation in group-bonding rituals
(in contrast to the depression and loneliness resulting from
anomie -- normless -- among many Western individualists).

The down side of all this (given the legitimacy of the framework
in the first place) -- barely touched on by Haidt -- is that
the cost of group solidarity is paid for by the suffering of
non-conformists (whether they are "voluntarily" so or not).
In fact, because of the nature of the group's moral matrix, these
outcasts don't even get any credit for being sacrificial victims of
the greater good -- they're simply "evil", "unclean",
literally "unspeakable", to be cast out and then forgotten about
as quickly as possible.

When Haidt sings the praises of religion, for example, as a
source of "social capital", and laments that liberals are all
too often willing to squander social capital, to the detriment
of a whole society, in order to redress what they perceive
as harm to particular individuals, I can't help but be reminded
of John McCain railing against the willingness of liberals to
experiment with "social engineering" at a time of war by letting
homosexuals serve openly in the military. I have to
wonder if Haidt has gone beyond academic detachment from
his own prior "moral matrix" and whether his own political
preferences have (unacknowlegedly) shifted to the right.

In any case, according to his formulation (though he doesn't come
right out and say so), LGBT folks are apparently
among those who must be thrown under the bus in order to preserve
the "social capital" of the majority. Or, in the words of
"Landru" in the original _Star Trek_ first-season episode
"The Return of the Archons", "For the good of the Body, you
must die." ;->

I certainly don't think the author, or anybody submerged in
a "right-wing" moral matrix, can expect such sacrificial victims
to simply roll over and let their lives be crushed for the
sake of some putative greater good, whether that greater good
is real or not.