Question: Did Elder Boyd K. Packer's talk "To Young Men Only" encourage physical assaults on gay people?

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Question: Did Elder Boyd K. Packer's talk "To Young Men Only" encourage physical assaults on gay people?

The Church does not teach that violence is the best response to problems. However, everyone is entitled to protect themselves (or others) against sexual harassment or sexual assault by any means necessary--including violence

It is claimed that Elder Boyd K. Packer's talk "To Young Men Only" encourages "gay bashing" or physical assaults on gay people.

The Church does not teach that violence is the best response to problems. However, everyone is entitled to protect themselves (or others) against sexual harassment or sexual assault by any means necessary--including violence. This applies to all: men and women, gay and straight. As Wikipedia notes, often the victim is blamed for the harasser's acts:

Retaliation and backlash against a victim are very common, particularly a complainant. Victims who speak out against sexual harassment are often labeled troublemakers who are on their own power trips, or who are looking for attention. Similar to cases of rape or sexual assault, the victim often becomes the accused, with their appearance, private life, and character likely to fall under intrusive scrutiny and attack.[17] They risk hostility and isolation from colleagues, supervisors, teachers, fellow students, and even friends. They may become the targets of mobbing or relational aggression....

In this case, it is Elder Packer and all Mormons who come in for criticism and attack because the sexual harassment is that is declared unacceptable comes from a homosexual.

Critics who make this claim are either ignorant of the contents of then-Elder Packer's talk, or are deliberately misrepresenting it for polemical gain.

This article will do four things:

  1. First, the relevant full text of Elder Packer's remarks will be provided.
  2. Next, some background information will be provided. Some non-members may not understand the context of the experience described by Elder Packer (missionary companions on an LDS full-time mission), and so this will be explained.
  3. Having established the proper background to fully understand Elder Packer's instruction, we will then analysze the story and advice he gives. We will see that it does not match, in any respects, the negative spin given it by the critics.
  4. Finally, some broader issues which this charge raises will be considered.

#1 Elder Packer's Remarks

Elder Packer said:

I repeat, very plainly, physical mischief with another man is forbidden. It is forbidden by the Lord.
There are some men who entice young men to join them in these immoral [homosexual] acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist.
While I was in a mission on one occasion, a missionary said he had something to confess. I was very worried because he just could not get himself to tell me what he had done.
After patient encouragement he finally blurted out, "I hit my companion."
"Oh, is that all," I said in great relief.
"But I floored him," he said.
After learning a little more, my response was "Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn't be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way"
I am not recommending that course to you, but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself. [1]

#2: Background information

Missionary companions

Males in the Church serve full-time missions for two years. During this time, they are expected to dedicate themselves to full-time service of the Lord, His Kingdom, and people in and out of the Church. LDS missionaries are forbidden from dating or engaging in any romantic activities during this period of time. Furthermore, each missionary is assigned a "companion"--this is another missionary with whom the young man lives and works.

Missionaries are forbidden to go anywhere without their companion. Companions live in the same apartment, sleep in the same room, and go everywhere together. When out of the apartment, missionaries are taught that they are never to be alone or unaccompanied by their companion (save for trips to the bathroom and the like). Keeping missionaries together in this way serves at least two purposes:

  1. Missionaries are protected from temptation, and it is hoped that they will also avoid behavior which might reflect poorly upon their mission and the Church
  2. Perhaps more importantly, missionaries are protected against false accusations. No LDS missionary will ever be alone, and so there will always be another witness to his acts or behavior. Thus, if a missionary were (for example) falsely charged by a malicious witness with a crime, the missionary would have both his own and his companion's testimony regarding his innocence.

A missionary who intentionally leaves his companion may be in serious trouble, and could be sent home from his mission.

Missionary covenants

All members of the Church are expected to observe the law of chastity. This means that no sexual activity outside of marriage is permitted. Furthermore, missionaries attend the LDS temple prior to going on their missions, where they reaffirm this commitment. [2] As noted above, missionaries further promise to not even engage in dating or other romantic activity while in full-time Church service.

#3: Examining the story

We are now able to examine the story told by Elder Packer.

  • They story is not about people with same-sex attraction, but about people who are trying to have sex with you. Elder Packer talked about "physical mischief with another man", "men who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts", and "If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that". Elder Packer has long made a distinction between sexual acts and sexual attraction. He has repeatedly said sexual attraction is not a sin and those with same-sex attraction "need feel no guilt".[1] Even the responses only make sense in the context of an act: "it is time to vigorously resist" and "You must protect yourself". How do you vigorously resist someone else having same-sex attraction? This story is about a missionary who wanted an unwilling companion in a compromised position to join him in homosexual activity, not about a companion who simply confessed that he was gay. To be fair, we do not know the degree in which the companion was trying to get him to participate in immoral acts, but at the least it was sexual harassment and at the most it was attempted rape. Either extreme warrants self-defense.
  • The missionary was in a compromised position. As detailed above, he was supposed to stay in close quarters with his companion. He could not simply say "No thanks, I don't want to have sex with you" and walk away. He lived with the person sexually harassing him. There is no indication from the story how long the sexual harassment was going on for.
  • The story is not about LDS people going out and beating up on gay people. Elder Packer is also clear that he does not "recommend" the physical attack which the missionary launched on his companion--it is not an ideal response. But, he does not "omit it" if necessary to "protect yourself." Thus, it is clear that the missionary did what he did to defend himself against a sexual advance. This was not a matter of the companion saying, "By the way, I'm gay, I hope you can love and accept me anyway." He was attempting to persuade his companion into a homosexual act [remember, Elder Packer began the story by saying "physical mischief with another man" is forbidden, "some men...entice young men to join them in these immoral acts," and one must "vigorously resist" such attempts], and so his victim protected himself.

Sexual harassment

  • Elder Packer has given similar advice to heterosexual members of the Church both before and after this talk, and Church magazines have also published multiple articles discussing self-defense courses and the legitimacy of self-defense in cases where there is a sexual threat.
  • Sexual harassment of any sort is completely unacceptable. The United Nations defines sexual harrassment against women as:
such unwelcome sexually determined behavior as physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem.... [3]

The European Union notes that harassment is:

unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women and men at work. This includes unwelcome physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct.... [4]

There is absolutely no context in LDS mission life where any sort of romantic attachment or engagement would be appropriate--with a companion or someone else, of the same gender or someone else. Thus, any sexual advance is unwelcome and utterly inappropriate. By definition, such behavior must be sexual harassment at a minimum, and might be sexual assault depending upon the details.

This is made worse when the offender is a companion, someone who has promised to protect and look out for the spiritual and physical well-being of the companion.

  • Missionaries are expected to be together at all times. The work and live together. They can never be apart. Any invitation to homosexual sex would be an extremely intimidating situation. (This ignores the fact that there could have been an element of attempted force or coercion in the story--we are not told, though this is suggested when Elder Packer says that he does not omit the option of physical violence if necessary to protect oneself.
  • The story did not recommend violence, even if you are solicited for sex. Elder Packer clearly pointed out that he "was not recommending" the physical attack which the missionary launched on his companion--it is not an ideal response. But, he does not "omit it" if necessary to "protect yourself." You wouldn't use the term "protect" to promote gay-bashing, but to make it clear that the missionary did what he did to defend himself against a sexual advance.
  • Furthermore, both missionaries would have known that they had both promised not to engage in any romantic activity with anyone, much less a homosexual liaision. The companion who propositioned the missionary must have known this.
  • Elder Packer was speaking in the 1970s; during this time period few young Mormons (like most young Americans) would have had much exposure to even the idea of homosexuality. The missionary in question could well have been entirely naive about such things, and not even known that such behavior existed. To be suddenly confronted by encouragement to act in such a way, by someone who was supposed to be a second witness of his own faithfulness to Church doctrine and mission rules, would have been incredibly shocking, and even terrifying. If the Elder forces him into acts, who will believe him? To whom can he go for help? (We see, in the story, how difficult it was for him even to describe the experience to Elder Packer, who had to spend considerable time before he would tell the story.)

In short, it is false and extremely unfair to characterize Elder Packer's story as advocacy of "gay beating" or violence against homosexuals simply because of their desires or inclinations, or their decision to have consensual sex with others. Instead, it is a sad but realistic admission that at times even violence may be necessary, as a last resort, to protect chastity.

#4: Further thoughts to conclude

Sexual harassment is unacceptable

The bias against men in the critics' version of this story is disappointing. The matter is perhaps easier to understand if we change the roles a bit. How would we react if an LDS young woman was on a mission, and told that she must spend every minute of the day with an LDS man? They must travel together, sleep in the same room, live together in what are generally cramped quarters. Now, let us imagine that the man propositions the young woman, and urges her to violate the law of chastity--would we think her out of line if she struck him?

Sexual harassment is unacceptable, regardless of whether men or women are the target. It does not matter if the harasser is homosexual or heterosexual--such behavior is everywhere and always wrong.

Anyone who has experienced sexual harassment can attest that it is an extremely frightening and oppressive experience. It is understandable that faced with such a situation--especially one which the missionary probably have never dreamed he would encounter from another male, much less his missionary companion--that the reaction would be terror and a panicked decision to do whatever it took to make sure he was safe.

No critic would dare say anything if an LDS sister missionary defended herself against the sexual suggestions, advances, or aggression of a male LDS missionary, because such a charge's bigotry against the victim is too blatant. But, as soon as the victim is a male and the aggressor a homosexual, suddenly the aggressor becomes the victim. This double standard would not exist if the gender roles were altered. This suggests that the critics are not trying to look at the situation fairly, but are simply trying to score points against the Church.

Men can be victims of sexual harassment

Some believe that since the missionary was a male, he could not have been a victim of sexual abuse. They argue that men only have sex when they want to and this missionary was in no real danger from his companion. This is not the case. Studies estimate that one in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse.[2] All forms of sexual abuse, including sexual harassment, can have a lasting negative impact on the victims, even males. The web site Male Survivor says this about the effects of sexual abuse:

While some studies have found males to be less negatively affected, more studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Males may be more damaged by society's refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their resultant belief that they must "tough it out" in silence.[3]

Critics who insist that the Elder should not have protected himself against the sexual advances of his companion not only do a disservice to this Elder, but to the millions of men who have experienced sexual abuse. It is important that even men know that they are not at fault if they are victims of sexual abuse and it is okay to vigorously resist unwelcomed sexual advances. Elder Packer's advice to vigorously resist unwelcomed sexual advances, even if you are male, is important in reversing the society's apathy towards male victims of sexual assault.


Notes

  1. Boyd K. Packer, "To Young Men Only," priesthood session, general conference, 2 October 1976. (emphasis added)
  2. See Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1980), 162. ISBN 0884944115.; James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord: a study of holy sanctuaries, ancient and modern (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Deseret News, 1912), 100.
  3. United Nations General Recommendation 19 to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women; cited at "What Is Sexual Harassment?" (accessed 10 March 2012) (emphasis added)
  4. As cited at "What Is Sexual Harassment?" (accessed 10 March 2012) (emphasis added)