With great power comes great responsibility. But Apostle Boyd K. Packer of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS, also known as the Mormons) is using his power to hurt the vulnerable by publicly condemning homosexuality after several highly publicised suicides of LGBTI youth in the United States.
The media have revealed these suicides were triggered by bullying. This new round of bullying by a leader of the LDS church is one of the most severe kinds: institutionally approved, ideologically enforced, perpetrated by a person in power and aimed at the young.
In September, Billy Lucas, Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh and Raymond Chase, all young males in the US, committed suicide as a result of homophobic bullying.
The corporate media tend to focus on individual and emotive “victim stories”, but these young men are the tip of a huge statistical iceberg that represents a structural injustice in our society. It not just gay men that are affected, it also touches women, transgender and intersex people.
Many studies have shown that LGBTI youth are four-to-six times as likely to commit suicide. This does even count those who kept their sexuality secret.
Packer is also representative of a powerful social force. The ich and patriarchal religious institutions of the US “Bible Belt” have a great deal to gain by keeping institutional homophobia firmly in place.
To keep themselves at the top, they use their rhetorical and ideological power to keep the vulnerable down. It seems there is no limit to the cruelty of their exploitation, or the tools they use: claiming divine authority, repressing healthy sexuality, promoting sexism and destroying people’s psychological wellbeing.
As a Mormon apostle, Boyd K. Packer is considered a “prophet, seer and revelator”, giving his words a divine sanction that enables him to wield incredible influence over the minds of believers.
However, he has a long history of using his prophetic mantle to target the vulnerable. His 1976 speech at the General Conference of the LDS church discouraged young boys from masturbating.
In 1977, he gave a similar speech discouraging inter-racial marriage.
Now, with the news of so many tragic deaths still big in the media, Packer chose to not offer a single word of compassion. Instead, he claimed: “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.”
He explained that homosexual tendencies can’t be inborn because “God is our Heavenly Father”, and would not make anyone that way. He also claimed that changing laws to legalise what is “impure and unnatural” cannot change the moral and physical laws that God set before the foundation of the world.
Toxic religion kills. It is particularly menacing to young people who have less power in deciding which messages to listen to and do not yet have the critical thinking skills to filter out the negativity in the message.
But a better world is possible in which secular education empowers critical thinking, and in which anti-discrimination, anti-vilification and mandatory reporting laws can combat abusive and discriminatory religious hierarchies.
If you are being bullied or harassed, or if you think about suicide sometimes, you can call LIFELINE: 13 11 14 or the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service: (02) 8594 9596 (Sydney) or 1800 18 4527 (regional).