Monday, July 6, 2015

Watchmen on the Tower

We lost a great defender of the family, religious liberty, and God’s law this past Friday, Elder Boyd K Packer. He was 90. This is just weeks after we lost another great defender of the family, religious liberty, and God’s law, Elder L. Tom Perry, who died May 30th at age 93. Both were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m grateful we had them among us for so long, and that we have their words—and often their voices—recorded so we don’t forget.
Elder Boyd K. Packer and Elder L. Tom Perry
at General Conference in 2011
source: Salt Lake Tribune

Elder is a title in the LDS Church. In its simplest form, it refers to a holder of the higher priesthood, referred to as the Melchisedek Priesthood. That is the priesthood missionaries hold, which is why the 18-25-year-old young men in suits riding bikes have that title, even though they’re so young. But also it is how we refer to the general (church-wide) authorities. There are several such levels, from area authorities, to Seventies (traveling ministers, as Stephen in the New Testament book of Acts).

The highest authorities, considered as a group to be prophets, seers, and revelators—like Moses, Abraham, and Peter—are the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles (sometimes referred to as the Council of the Twelve), which Elder Packer and Elder Perry had been longtime members. According to Ezekiel 31:1-7, these men are our watchmen on the towers, warning us of danger, keeping us safe.

I don’t know what other 93-year-olds do, but Elder Perry was one of the representatives of the LDS Church at the Vatican Colloquium on the Family, called Humanum Summit, last fall. (I wrote about the Colloquium here.) In his last general conference address, April 2015, he talked about that visit, in a talk called “Why Marriage and Family Matter Everywhere in the World.” He mentioned that one of the other speakers at the colloquium, a Muslim cleric from Iran, quoted two paragraphs from “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which the Church declared in 1995. (We’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of that document in a couple of months.)

I’m not certain how that happened, but I do have a story that may relate. Back 1995 or 1996, my friend Richard Wilkins attended his first international conference on family. He had a copy of the relatively new proclamation, in a pamphlet form, in his pocket, and read from it as part of his speech. People came up to him afterward and thanked him for saying those things that needed to be said. He found that Muslims in particular were interested in strengthening marriage and family. After several years heading up (along with others) the World Congress on Families, and Defend Marriage (for which I was a volunteer writer for a time), he went to Doha, Qatar, to head up the Doha Institute on Family. In other words, through him, the “Proclamation on the Family” reached many people. Maybe that was how the Iranian Cleric got it.

Elder Perry also said,

During the colloquium, I observed that when various faiths and denominations and religions are united on marriage and family, they are also united on the values and loyalty and commitment which are naturally associated with family units. It was remarkable for me to see how marriage and family-centered priorities cut across and superseded any political, economic, or religious differences. When it comes to love of spouse and hopes, worries, and dreams for children, we are all the same.
Within the Church, we spend a lot of time working on ourselves, to be better parents and spouses—to be better individuals, in other words. But the leadership also spends their energy standing up for our right to religious freedom, not just in this country, but around the world.

This past Sunday we were read a letter from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, in response to Supreme Court ruling June 26th, which is likely to affect our religious freedom in this country. (Some congregations will be read the letter next Sunday, but the entire letter, plus background material, is available online.) The letter made it clear that no earthly laws—and much less, a bare majority of unelected judges—has power to change God’s law: “Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society.”

The letter included the idea that family, with a mother and father joined in marriage, is the way God established for us as the best setting for happiness in this life. That was also the theme of Elder Packer’s talk this past April conference, called “The Plan of Happiness.”

Elder Packer declares things straight. If you’re aligned with God’s will, you hear the love and kindness in what he says, the hope for redemption. But if you’re not so aligned, you might take offense. There was an outbreak of outrage at a talk Elder Packer gave in 2010, called “Cleansing the Inner Vessel.” It was mainly about the importance of keeping the commandment of chastity—no sex outside of marriage. Some of it referred to the plague of pornography. Only briefly and indirectly was homosexuality referred to, but those who looked to take offense did so. I wrote about it at the time, and posted it in 2012. This week I’m finding both his talk and my thinking it through timely, following the SCOTUS ruling.

One of the most memorable talks by Elder Packer was called “The Mediator,” from 1977. He explained Christ’s atonement with a parable about a debtor. This was later made into a video, portraying the story Elder Packer tells. It is beautifully profound. It shows Christ’s love for us, which Elder Packer understood so thoroughly. The best ten minutes of your day.

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