Controversial LDS Conference Talk Edited for Publication

The LDS Church has now released online text and audio editions of talks delivered at the Church’s General Conference last weekend, including a talk delivered by Elder Boyd K. Packer on homosexuality that has been the subject of public controversy among Mormons and the general public.

The online published text of Elder Packer’s talk has been edited from the version delivered live on Sunday morning.

(A full transcript showing edits is available here.)

The editing of Elder Packer’s talk introduces two significant changes:

1. The Proclamation on the Family:

Speaking live on Sunday morning, Elder Packer said of the Proclamation on the Family, a church statement released in 1995 that innovated theology on the essential and eternal nature of gender roles and has informed much of the Church’s political activity on same-sex marriage: “It qualifies according to the definition as a revelation and it would do well that members of the church read and follow it.” This line has been deleted from the newly-published text version. Instead, the following sentence has been inserted: “It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and follow.”

The deletion of Elder Packer’s phrase characterizing the “Proclamation” as a “revelation” is significant to Church members who look to the words of the General Authorities as truth revealed directly from God.

2. On the nature of homosexuality:

Speaking live on Sunday morning, Elder Packer said: “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Heavenly Father.”

The newly published text version reads as follows: “Some suppose that they were present and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.”

The change of language from “tendencies” to “temptations” is significant in that it bring Elder Packer’s talk into closer correlation with statements issued by other General Authorities over the last two decades which have allowed room for the possibility that homosexuality may have a basis in biology.

This may be the first instance in 26 years when an LDS conference talk was substantially edited for republication, the last being Elder Ronald Poelman’s October 1984 conference talk on “The Church and the Gospel.” In Mormon circles, this kind of correction is understood not as a public relations effort, but as the result of a significant internal dialogue within Church leadership over matters of rank, authority, and theology. Those who have watched LDS official discourse on homosexuality evolve since the 1980s felt that Elder Packer’s talk on Sunday represented something of a throwback, a departure from a slow movement towards acknowledging the feelings and experiences of LGBT people and those who love and serve them. The editing of Elder Packer’s talk appears to represent an effort to bring his message into harmony with wider Mormon efforts towards reconciliation and understanding.
The fact that the text of Elder Packer’s talk was substantially edited signifies a meaningful effort on the part of the LDS Church to demonstrate care and respect for the complexity and difficulty of homosexuality as a theological issue. This care makes sense given the Church’s overall concern in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries with doctrinal and programmatic “correlation”: efforts to ensure that Church discourse conveys a reliably uniform message to members around the world on matters of theological importance.  
What we have witnessed this week is a contemporary LDS Church grappling through its own internal processes of deliberation towards a more nuanced and compassionate stance on an issue of great concern to many members.
I find it reason for hope.