Most of the commentary that I have read on Elder Packer’s talk (and I have not read widely) treats the decamped rhetorical question as an emotional and political flashpoint. But I think it’s more productively understood as a confounding question of theology, even theodicy. The removal of those nine words from the published version does nothing to resolve the underlying doctrinal problem.
First let me say that I understood Elder Packer’s talk to take up implicitly but very clearly the question of the origins of homosexual desire. Others interpret it differently, but that was how I heard it at delivery, and that is still how I understand the published version. Elder Packer suggests that the provenance of homosexuality matters, very much, and that sexual identity matters, very much, in the Mormon understanding of human nature and destiny.
In this sense, Elder Packer’s real challenge is not directed at gay men and women, or even at gay rights activists, but at the proponents of the newer, apparently softer compromise position on gay issues that we have seen emerging, slowly, in official church discourse. I’m referring here to statements like Elder Oaks’s and Elder Wickman’s interview with Public Affairs, in which there is an acceptance of the possibility that some gay men and women have an inborn orientation toward the same sex, but an assertion that the origin of that orientation is irrelevant to the moral question. There is also an assurance that homosexual desire is not, in itself, an obstacle to salvation, and that sexual identity need not be a defining human characteristic.
Contra these positions, Elder Packer denies the possibility of a “preset” gay orientation, asserts the importance of knowing the origin of homosexuality, and strongly argues that sexual identity is not “incidental” but is the “very key” to human destiny and salvation. And given his theology, how could he do otherwise? The talk cites 2 Nephi 2 four times, more than any other chapter of scripture, and rightly so: 2 Nephi 2 is foundational to Mormon notions of creation, agency, and salvation. Here’s part of verse 27:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.
If this is your theological substrate, as it is surely Elder Packer’s, how could you ever accept the possibility that God allows some of his children to be born not free according to the flesh but rather physiologically “preset” away from the very epicenter of Mormon godliness, namely the capacity for heterosexual desire, love, coupling and procreation flowing from that coupling? That he does not give all things expedient but indeed withholds from some of his children the central attribute expedient for exaltation? 2 Nephi 2 makes a hash of the compromise position, and the question asks itself: Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?*
It’s a real problem, one that strikes very close to the heart of a theistic creation. To be sure, it’s only a problem if one holds constant the Mormon theology of sex. And of course homosexuality is not the only aspect of human experience to pose profound problems of theodicy. But for Mormons especially, it’s an important one, and it won’t be going away. To paraphrase the old saw: You can have inborn homosexuality, a Mormon theology of sex, or a loving creator God. Pick two.
*Please understand me here: I’m not arguing personally for Elder Packer’s position, but trying to understand its implications. I’d rather not have comments excoriating me personally (I stipulate from the outset that I deserve excoriation), or focusing on the science of sexuality. I’d rather see discussion of the theological issue.