Update: To clarify his intent, President Packer edited his remarks for the printed, published version of the address. See here for details. While the changes both soften and strengthen his argument, they also leave intact his core arguments to which many have vociferously responded.

photo credit: hljavery

In his revealing book Propaganda, Edward Bernays, widely considered to be the father of the trade, discussed how leaders do and should guide the opinions of the masses through carefully-controlled messages. Propaganda, he argued, was a necessary element in business, government, and society as a whole. Remarking on its historical use previous to that time, and specifically in relation to government, Bernays wrote:

…the manipulators of patriotic opinion made use of the mental clichés and the emotional habits of the public to produce mass reactions against the alleged atrocities, the terror, and the tyranny of the enemy.

Propagandists since that time have learned from and emulated many of the tactics Bernays discussed and advocated. Indeed, many organizations who remain a minority, yet who have successfully led public opinion to reverse their previous opinions regarding them, have employed such methods, including deceptive advertising, infiltration of key communication positions, and the dissemination of tightly controlled information, crafted to yield a desired response. It is, as Bernays also wrote, “enlightened expert propaganda through the creation of circumstances, through the high-spotting of significant events, and the dramatization of important issue.”

Today has produced a case study worth highlighting.

This past weekend, Latter-day Saints worldwide tuned in for their semi-annual General Conference, an event attracting millions of faithful Mormons eager to listen to and learn from their leaders. One of many addresses has unsurprisingly yielded swift reaction from those opposed to its declarations. Beginning his remarks on Sunday morning, President Boyd K. Packer first noted that there exists so much confusion (propaganda?) in the world, that our youth hardly know which way they can walk.

Continuing, Packer began to elaborate on The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the plague of pornography, the divine nature of marriage, and the issue of homosexuality as it relates both to individual life and actions, and marital union. He emphasized that the commandment to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth has never been rescinded. He noted that love is truly only realized when the sacred, procreative powers are employed within the bounds of a legal and lawful marriage—one between man and woman.

Satan is “impotent”, President Packer explained, not being able to create life. Seeking to make all miserable like unto himself, Packer explained that Satan “seeks to degrade the righteous use of the life-giving power by tempting you into immoral relationships.” As can be inferred from the balance of his remarks, he was referring not only to extra-marital heterosexual relations, but homosexual relations as well—both the relationships themselves, as well as those “counterfeits for marriage” many are seeking today.

“We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong,” President Packer said.

The retaliatory response to his remarks is coming primarily from the comments that directly followed the above. He 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 our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our Father.

You can, if you will, break the habits, and conquer the addiction, and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church.

He continued:

If we’re not alert, there are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature. A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. For instance, what good would a vote against the law of gravity do? There are both moral and physical laws irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the world that cannot be changed. History demonstrates over and over again that moral standards cannot be changed by battle and cannot be changed by ballot.

The propagandists spared no time in responding. Within 24 hours, the Human Rights Campaign issued a press release saying that this servant of the Lord “should know better” than to make such comments:

Words have consequences, particularly when they come from a faith leader. This is exactly the kind of statement that can lead some kids to bully and others to commit suicide. When a faith leader tells gay people that they are a mistake because God would never have made them that way and they don’t deserve love, it sends a very powerful message that violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable. It also emotionally devastates those who are LGBT or may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identify. His words were not only inaccurate, they were also dangerous.

Affirmation, the group for gay and lesbian Mormons who has tried in the past few years to establish a dialogue with the Church on these issues, spoke out thusly:

Elder Packer’s remarks in General Conference were not only ill-advised and contrary to fact, but were mean-spirited and will be perceived by many as bullying. We see no potential for good coming from his words and much possible damage, to the church, to individuals, and to families. The LDS Church should be a source of love, compassion, and conciliation, and not of fear and unfeeling petty hatred.

To be sure, there may very well be valid responses to President Packer’s remarks, and concern about the practical application of the standards he discussed. Why, then, do I refer to these remarks as propaganda? At no time did Packer tell homosexuals that “they are a mistake”, or that “they don’t deserve love”. His words are not dangerous, contrary to fact, mean-spirited, or based on “fear and unfeeling petty hatred”.

That these groups would even dare to so hastily issue such a conglomeration of poorly-constructed thoughts and emotionally-based opinions shows that they either did not view President Packer’s talk, or if they did, their perspective is so heavily jaded that they inferred from his remarks things he never said.

In short, these groups have placed horrible words in President Packer’s mouth, ascribing to him things he did not say, nor which accurately characterize his discourse in the slightest. Unable or unwilling to respond directly to his arguments, they set up straw men which they can comfortably attack.

If such advocacy groups are concerned about the harm Packer’s remarks will have in the LDS/LGBT relations, they need only look inward, for it is they who have blatantly and unapologetically lied. They have egregiously claimed that Packer will be responsible for the suicides of struggling individuals, and explicitly stated that his teachings were based on fear and hatred, and that he claims, essentially, that “God hates fags”.

This is propaganda at work. Surely, the LGBT masses will make no effort to read or view President Packer’s talk, and thus their interpretation of what was said will rely upon those whom they trust—the “enlightened experts” to which Bernays earlier referred.

Interestingly, Bernays recognized that propaganda was merely a tool used by all sorts of people. Often, it was and is deliberately misused and achieve and devious result. Yet, he noted that it “becomes vicious and reprehensive only when its authors consciously and deliberately disseminate what they know to be lies.”

Thus can be labeled the organizations which have pounced on President Packer’s discourse thus far: vicious and reprehensive propagandists consciously and deliberately disseminating lies.


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