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The Unwritten Order and the Best Funeral In the History of Mormondom

It’s About Time

Having carefully waited a week beyond his passing—and with the funeral safely adjourned—I will weigh on a tiny speck in the life and death of Boyd K. Packer. He was called to the Quorum of the 12 when I was only five years old and so I don’t really remember a time that the general authority list didn’t include him. My perception of him is mostly that of a hard-liner who brought in unexpected bits of straight-faced humor.

Boyd K. Packer - The Unwritten Order of Things

The Unwritten Order of Things

In the mid-90s Packer gave a speech at a BYU devotional that has haunted me ever since. “The Unwritten Order of Things” somehow made its way from university diversion to doctrinal declaration and was used to wreak havoc in church practice. Dozens of times since, I have heard the apostolic declaration of an “unwritten order” used to entrench tradition (tradition meaning “I saw this at least once somewhere”) or preference into LDS practice.

Some outcomes:

  • Local leaders fabricate policy based on personal experience/preference/whims/peer pressure, etc.
  • Practice is the result of “the telephone game.” If the new bishop’s former-stake-president father-in-law declares a policy, it is implemented. If the new stake president’s former mission president mentioned the words of an area authority, it is part of the plan.
  • Accountability is removed. Directives can’t be pinned down or sourced, but neither can they be questioned. They must simply be followed.
  • Members are unsure about how their behavior aligns with gospel principles.

Read that: I’m not going to write it down for you. If you were really in tune, you’d already understand how it’s supposed to be.

The Unwritten Order of Funerals

The implications have been most evident to me with regard to gender, conformity (white shirts, etc.), and funerals. With respect to the funerals, Packer said this:

Funerals could and should be the most spiritually impressive. They are becoming informal family reunions in front of ward members. Often the Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences or jokes when the time could be devoted to teaching the things of the Spirit, even the sacred things.

When the family insists that several family members speak in a funeral, we hear about the deceased instead of about the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the comforting promises revealed in the scriptures. Now it’s all right to have a family member speak at a funeral, but if they do, their remarks should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting.

I have told my Brethren in that day when my funeral is held, if any of them who speak talk about me, I will raise up and correct them. The gospel is to be preached. I know of no meeting where the congregation is in a better state of readiness to receive revelation and inspiration from a speaker than they are at a funeral. This privilege is being taken away from us because we don’t understand the order of things—the unwritten order of things—that relates to the administration of the Church and the reception of the Spirit.

I was so taken aback by his funerary stipulations that I have since told my family I do not want a church funeral nor its accouterments. Rather, these are my final requests to go out in a blaze of glory:

Nylons - One Size Fits All

  1. Dress: long kelly green gown with flowing sleeves
  2. Accessories: flower wreath on head
  3. Transport: large raft pushed out onto Utah Lake
  4. Combustion: flaming arrows shot into corpse from shore by attendeees
  5. Celebration: Nylons music, chocolate, artichokes, laughing, mocking of the deceased

If the law won’t allow my preferred Viking funeral, I’m to be either tossed into the crematorium or donated to science. Absolutely no embalming and no putting a three thousand dollar box into the ground.

I’ve seen the unwritten funeral rules play out again and again. No, I’ve never attended one that was completely missing personal elements or, at least, a life sketch. But I’ve seen these elements minimalized, families getting pushback on speakers/music (including temple worthiness of those speaking or praying), and insistence that the local bishop preside and speak (whether he knew the deceased or not…awkward).

To be clear, I’m not talking about a general oversight that ensures no desecration of the chapel, I’m talking about micromanaging to the point of pain to the family.

Funerals are Not Sacrament Meetings

As the current stake building scheduler, I schedule more wedding receptions than funerals. Somehow (thankfully) church-hosted receptions have avoided this intrusive hand—receptions can be about the couple rather than focusing on being “spiritually impressive.” But the idea that any event held at the church must, or should, focus on teaching the gospel—no matter the reason for the event—flies in the face of thrice-weekly church ball.

Is the Spirit actually “repulsed by humorous experiences or jokes”? Given that any time could be “devoted to teaching the things of the Spirit,” does this dictum allow anything other than gospel teaching at any time? (What about artwork? Is the Spirit repulsed by painting and sculpting wildlife when the time could be used for missionary work?)

It is not, after all, just coincidental that a whole slew of people who loved the dearly departed all showed up at the same time just a few days after the departure itself. For all its goodness, the gathering did not convene in order to hear another Sunday sermon. It occurred for the express purpose of honoring and celebrating the life of the loved one and consoling those left behind. Why would we insist it be anything else?

The Packer Exception

While not hoping for anyone’s death, I have been waiting nearly two decades to observe the Packer funeral. I knew with absolute surety that it would include personal anecdote, so I was anxious to see him “raise up and correct” the speakers! That would have been the best funeral in the history of everything—and televised! But it was not to be, as I suspected. Still, I was at least hoping to use his own funeral (along with every other general authority funeral before and since) as an example proving that funerals can actually be funerals and not an extension of Sacrament Meeting or General Conference. I was not disappointed.

Packer was more than mentioned at his funeral. He was memorialized and even “remembered for humor and wit.” He was remembered by family members as well as other general authorities—all of whom knew him well, none of whom were barely passing acquaintances or complete strangers. Even the gospel teaching at this funeral was done within the context of the decedents ideas and beliefs, not sweeping generalities or principles being taught for their own sake.

Perhaps we can extend that same model to the rest of the Mormon community forevermore!

Engage Brain

So what of the rest of the supposed “unwritten order”? I suspect if it isn’t written in stone, it isn’t set in stone either.We can make sure that if a practice harms or pains someone, we can be sure it is necessary and required before moving forward. We can use common sense, wisdom, good will, accommodation, love, inspiration, insight, and reason to determine the best courses of action rather than resorting to non-specific authority. And we can allow mourning families to remember, memorialize, and celebrate in the way that best helps them to heal.

{ 46 comments… add one }
  • Charles In Charge July 11, 2015, 5:02 pm

    I’ve never been a bishop, but I’ve been in two bishoprics and one branch presidency. The power of the Unwritten Order is alive and real. I’ve run up against this time and again. It needs to be put in the round file once and for all.

    Can I come to your funeral?

  • IdRatherNotSay July 11, 2015, 6:30 pm

    I find it ironic that funerals should be used to discuss the atonement and resurrection when, in my experience, most sacrament meetings do not even meet this objective. As a life-long member who has resided in about 19 different wards (of course, I do not remember the first few), I can only recall a handful of meetings (outside of Easter of Christmas) during which we learned (in depth, not just mentioning in passing) about the atonement and resurrection. Thank heavens for seminary and institute… though I am sure I learned a few lessons of instructor-based speculation and legend! 😉

    The last several sacrament meetings I have attended have revolved around why we do not watch R-rated movies, why we should pay tithing, and the importance of meeting numbers (visiting/home teaching, indexing, attending all meetings, etc.). Sunday school, at least in my ward, generally consists of several older gentlemen arguing over their interpretations of the scriptures and usually ends with one of them nearly yelling something to the effect of, “There WILL be polygamy in heaven so you all just better learn to deal with it!” Relief Society lesson manuals, year after year, cover the lives of deceased prophets from pioneer times… and I’m usually left at the end of the 3 hour block longing for my Savior. I’m not saying that lessons about obedience aren’t important, but I do think that our culture has drifted a bit away from lessons of Christ and closer to lessons of the dos and don’ts of the church. It’s a mystery, really, how many of those dos and don’ts are actually doctrine, too. Very confusing.

    Aside from polygamy, the unwritten order is one of the things that gets under my skin the most.

    FYI, my grandfather recently passed away and although the family wanted him cremated, the bishop stated that it was against church policy. I do have an uncle in Utah, though, who had a bishop who said it was perfectly fine so maybe if you find yourself in the right ward, you won’t have to be buried in a $3,000 box inside of a $10,000-$15,000 hole!! 😉

    P.S. I have attended many LDS funerals in my lifetime and have found them to be very spiritually uplifting. Family member speakers, in my experience, tend to do a fantastic job of tying the deaths of loved ones into the lessons and hope of Christ and the resurrection.

  • Katie July 11, 2015, 8:51 pm

    I hate the unwritten order for the reasons you mentioned! And I love your funeral requests! I’ve told my husband that I require him to talk about me a lot at my funeral, and unless I come to a different understanding, I don’t want my face veiled.

  • Ron Shirtz July 12, 2015, 2:27 am

    I read President’s Packer’s talk you referred to. I found nothing wrong in any of his advice leading up to his remarks concerning funerals. I do not see how you conflate his emphasis of a certain decorum in running meetings should be met, nor how the manner of specifically calling people to positions instead of merely inviting them should lead you to think he ever intended to encourage or excuse the other “Unwritten orders” you mentioned. Your experience does not reflect mine, so be careful when you assume it is that way or accepted church-wide. I and others in bishopric meets have striven to adhere to the principles that encourage the spirit of meetings and activities according to the directives given by the Church Leaders and the Handbook, and believe me, in my experience have quickly refused any second-hand tradition simply because “that is the way it was always done” based on your premise of current “Unwritten Orders” you described.

    Regarding funerals, President Packer obviously is more conservative in his views that you would like. But remember, he has had more experience than you and I, and furthermore, I think that crux of his point you miss is that if funerals are to be held in the LDS chapel under the administration of the leaders, that yes, a certain decorum should be maintained that does set us Latter-day Saints apart form the world as “a peculiar people.” I have seen a great shift in the world in regards to reverence, where irreverence is more and more the norm. Where fickle fashion of the world attempts to set the tone in lieu of that of the sprint. Just as the Church has guidelines for civil weddings, I do not understand your objections concerning the conduct of funerals to be in the same vein. The Lord’s Church is to be a house of order, and as imperfect and human the leaders he calls may be, they are his agents by whom he will inspire to set the tone. You may choose to disagree or do otherwise, which is your agency, but please observe the irony where you now replace President Packer’s “Unwritten Order” with your own.

  • Joni July 12, 2015, 8:15 am

    The last LDS funeral I attended was that of my dear grandfather. Severa speakers got up and shared stories of Grandpa’s warmth, generosity, and humor. He was truly a giant among men, and one of the most Christlike people ever to walk the earth. Then the final speaker, from the stake presidency, delivered a sermon which mentioned Grandpa in passing once or twice. I literally felt the Spirit get up and leave the building.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 12, 2015, 11:12 am

    IdRatherNotSay, very good points about our general meetings including Sacrament Meeting—”the most sacred and important meeting in the Church”—the more often than not, doesn’t touch on either topic outside the administration of the sacrament itself.

    I suppose I think that the atonement and resurrection are crucial and foundational, but limited with regard to discussable content. Once the issue is understood, it is. From then on, practical application is what we all struggle with.

    I’m surprised to hear that the R-rated movie thing came up at all. It’s so…well…old school. Has it even been authoritatively been mentioned since early Hinckley who was paraphrasing early Benson? Don’t get me wrong, I actually don’t watch R-rated movies unless they are “clean” edited. I made that promise to myself when I was 19 years old and I’ve kept it. (I haven’t died from lack of entertainment choices, if you wonder…) But to think that we actually use a perverted Hollywood rating system as our moral guide is beyond bizarre.

    Sam is our gospel doctrine teacher right now and he is fabulously interesting and relevant. Still, I wouldn’t mind dragging in a few debaters once in a while to stir up the head nodding in my ward. (We call it a “white shirt ward.” It’s full of wonderful people, but seldom is there any serious discussion and sometimes the erroneous and uncorrected statements are appalling (in Relief Society in particular). I literally, actually, full on did a face palm last week during RS. (I was sitting in my favorite back corner so it’s unlikely anyone saw it. But it made me feel better. 🙂 ) That said, I would love to take on your Mr. Polygamy. Kah!

    As for cremation, this is just another one of those times when bishops must be aware of actual policy before they speak to it. So much frustration could be avoided if they just took the time. (Having never been a bishop and having no prospects of becoming one, it always kills me that I seem to know more about what’s in both handbooks than most bishops do. How can that be? Oh, I’ve read them multiple times, cover to cover.) So here is the handbook info on cremation:

    The Church does not normally encourage cremation. However, if the body of an endowed member is being cremated, it should be dressed in temple clothing if possible.

    Is there someone who read this and honestly thought it said Mormons can’t be cremated? Or was the bishop just going off memory? More to the point, it’s obviously not a doctrinal or salvational requirement. For cultural reasons only, it has been determined that the historically recent US custom is the method that is “respectful” to the body. But have you ever watched an embalming? Augh! Sorry, I don’t call that respectful. Sliding a body into the flames is, in my opinion, ultimately more respectful. Mostly, however, the respect should be to the deceased and his/her wishes, not to some cultural oddity.

    So if you want to be cremated and your local bishop says you can’t, remind him of two things:

    1. It’s not your call.
    2. Read your handbook.

    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Unwritten Order and the Best Funeral In the History of MormondomMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 12, 2015, 11:14 am

    Heh. Please come and bring chocolate. 🙂

    Given that both your body and your veil with likely be dust by the resurrection, I can’t see how the veil would matter.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Women at Church: Translating Gendered DoctrineMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 12, 2015, 11:58 am

    Ron Shirtz, welcome. I will attempt to respond.

    I do not see how you conflate his emphasis of a certain decorum in running meetings should be met, nor how the manner of specifically calling people to positions instead of merely inviting them should lead you to think he ever intended to encourage or excuse the other “Unwritten orders” you mentioned.

    Can you clarify? I don’t recall even mentioning (or, in fact, reading) about “a certain decorum in running meetings,” so I’m unsure how I could have conflated that with anything. Also unclear about “the manner of specifically calling people” means within the context of this post. I didn’t address that at all.

    Your experience does not reflect mine, so be careful when you assume it is that way or accepted church-wide.

    Where do I make this assumption?

    I and others in bishopric meets have striven to adhere to the principles that encourage the spirit of meetings and activities according to the directives given by the Church Leaders and the Handbook, and believe me, in my experience have quickly refused any second-hand tradition simply because “that is the way it was always done” based on your premise of current “Unwritten Orders” you described.

    I’m glad to hear you have attempted to follow the handbook and eschew “second-hand tradition.” Could you give examples? In this case, I’d say you’re actually something out of the norm as most people (bishopric members included) don’t seem to know the difference between actual policy and “second-hand tradition.”

    This reminds me of a story, if you’ll indulge me.

    A woman got a ham, cut off both ends, and put it in a pan and into the oven to cook. Her husband asked why she cut off the ends of the ham, since he’s never seen that before. She said, “I don’t know, my mom always did it that way.”

    She called her mother and said, “Mom, why do you cut off the ends of the ham before you cook it?” Her mother replied, “I don’t know, my mom always did it that way.”

    The girl called her grandmother and said, “Grandma, why do you cut off the ends of the ham before you cook it?” Her grandmother replied, “My pan wasn’t big enough.”

    And so while you say you see nothing wrong with the talk, you also proudly declare that you do the opposite of what it recommends. Packer’s talk depends on and encourages “second-[and third- and fourth-]hand tradition” The entire premise of the talk is that you learn how to do things by watching how others do things and that they (obviously) learned how to do those things by watching others…and so on and so on.

    Regarding funerals, President Packer obviously is more conservative in his views that you would like. But remember, he has had more experience than you and I, and furthermore, I think that crux of his point you miss is that if funerals are to be held in the LDS chapel under the administration of the leaders, that yes, a certain decorum should be maintained that does set us Latter-day Saints apart form the world as “a peculiar people.”

    I have to tell you, Ron Shirtz, it’s rather amusing to see people twisting this around now that the pudding has proofed. Yesterday on Facebook someone posted that the entire funeral/missionary farewell bit was just a hilarious joke that Packer had inserted for fun. It wasn’t intended to be used. He asserted that those who didn’t see that it was all just a humorous gag didn’t know Packer well enough.

    You take a different tack. You insist that he was serious, but his examples were superfluous, ill-fitted, and a distraction from his true intent, which was simply ask us to be more churchy at church funerals.

    So, to your point, no. First, I noted appropriate chapel decorum in the post. (In other words, I didn’t “miss” that possibility.) Second, his point was not about proper decorum vs. improper decorum. It was about content. He isn’t obtuse about his point, but you have to be to deny his actual, clear words. I’ll quote the most relevant again:

    Funerals could and should be the most spiritually impressive. They are becoming informal family reunions in front of ward members. Often the Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences or jokes when the time could be devoted to teaching the things of the Spirit, even the sacred things.

    When the family insists that several family members speak in a funeral, we hear about the deceased instead of about the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the comforting promises revealed in the scriptures. Now it’s all right to have a family member speak at a funeral, but if they do, their remarks should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting.

    This isn’t a condemnation of dirty jokes and lap dancing at funerals. It’s about his disdain for funerals (like all general authority funerals including his own) that focus on the deceased instead of the plan of salvation.

    …please observe the irony where you now replace President Packer’s “Unwritten Order” with your own.

    And there you miss the point entirely. What is my supposed newly declared “unwritten order”? And should you construe one from the post, you’ll find the key missing ingredient: authority.

    Since I have no authority in the church to make any general (or regional or local) claim, I can’t use anything I have observed to impose a particular order on anyone.

    The central problems with the “unwritten order” are listed toward the beginning of the post. Because the practices are claimed from personal observation there is no required vetting process. And because the unvetted “second-hand tradition” is imposed on others by authorities, real harm can occur.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Mother, Where Art Thou?My Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 12, 2015, 12:13 pm

    Joni, your experience is sadly common. Unless the presiding authority actually knew the deceased—and knew him/her fairly well—it’s rather nonsensical to have them speak. I do not understand why this is expected or required.

    My father had lived in his ward in Orem, Utah, for 43 years where he had served in multiple leadership positions as well as a BYU bishop and MTC branch president. In 2011, when he was 81, a car accident required him to move in with me. (I’d been asking him for years, so we were thrilled about the move, just not the circumstances, and we had a room ready and waiting.) He lived with us the last 3+ years of his life. He attended church until the last six months, but was in deteriorating health and participated minimally.

    He had written out his funeral requests decades ago. It was minimal and mostly scriptures and sacred music. (I had to push a bit to get approval for “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from the Messiah. True story.) I gave a short life sketch (which he only begrudgingly approved years after he wrote the program, because I told him I was going to do it anyway 🙂 ). The meeting closed with the bishop giving a talk. He is a dear man, but he didn’t know my dad beyond passing familiarity. I don’t understand why this is done.

    I do understand the need for the church to overseer particular things in their own building, but the same applies to wedding receptions that never have this kind of intrusiveness.

    Have you ever been to a church reception where the local bishop or stake president was a complete or near stranger to the couple, but still insisted on being in the wedding party?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Paid Menopause Leave – Because I Deserve ItMy Profile

  • Katie July 12, 2015, 12:22 pm

    I know everything will be dust, but I don’t like the symbolism of it. I know many women have come to understand and love the veil symbolism, so I’m reserving the right to change my mind.

    I also admitted that being dead, I probably won’t care about the veil any more, so the feelings of whomever is left behind will be more important. But I don’t like the idea of that either. Moms are always subsuming (is that the right word?) their desires to allow everyone else to have what they want.

  • CamBendy July 12, 2015, 12:31 pm

    The flair bit is killing me!

    I’ve come across this too, in things like scouts and what kind of activities are OK for YW and such. It’s so frustrating when leaders don’t have a good reason for what they are doing, they won’t just stand up and take responsibility for their own administrative decisions, but hide behind the “unwritten order” as if it proves their position is right and approved by the 12 apostles or something.

    Also had a stake president who declared sleepovers as against church policy using the same thing.

  • Ron Shirtz July 12, 2015, 1:24 pm

    You asked me: “Where do I make this assumption?”

    Here’s a “assumption” you declared:

    “..that has haunted me ever since. “The Unwritten Order of Things” somehow made its way from university diversion to doctrinal declaration and was used to wreak havoc in church practice.”

    “Haunted?” “Wreck Havoc in Church Practice? ”

    Rather strong words, no?

    You claim Br. Packard’s talk resulted in a far reaching negative effect to encourage those “unwritten practices” you lamented about? That’s quite the leap of logic and hyperbole on you part. By that choice of words and introduction, you associated his talk to sanction those examples of spontaneous “unwritten records” made by other, which is unfair and misleading. You cannot attach such blame to Br. Packard or his talk for the foolishness you may have witness in others making up doctrine on the fly, as in the examples you gave of someone’s in-law whose a Stake President establishing his own pattern as the way to do things in the Church.

    Second, what you label as “disdain” in his remarks concerning a casual view of LDS funerals, I see instead good and wise counsel to invite the spirit. You interpreted his position as portraying a “Good vs Bad” practices,. I read it as an avocation for “Better vs. Good” one.

    I find is sad that you would take to task a man who has spent the better part of his life in service to the saints and the Church over a disagreement of his counsel—not commandment—for the best practice to bring the spirit into special occasion as a funeral. Do you really think so lightly of what he was commending as the better part, that you had to label his words as “haunting” you and “wrecking havoc” to put him in such a negative light?

  • Alison Moore Smith July 12, 2015, 1:29 pm

    I wasn’t trying to minimize your feelings, Katie. Sorry if it sounded that way. My real point was that from a doctrinal perspective, I don’t think how we are buried can mean anything, since the deceased has no control over it.

    Yes, I was bothered by the veiling initially and later I did hear an ancient perspective (although for the life of me, I can’t find the notes I took from that stake women’s conference) that helped me see the possibility that it wasn’t yet another womenAlison Moore Smith recently posted…The Unwritten Order and the Best Funeral In the History of MormondomMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 12, 2015, 1:34 pm

    CamBendy, I suspect that has a lot to do with the problem. If a local leader is making a local decision at his description, it should be clear that is what it is. No passing the buck!

    When we moved to Eagle Mountain in 2002, I was informed that there was a “no sleepover rule” in place to prevent molestation. What??? OK, to be sure, I’m not a fan of sleepovers for all sorts of reasons—mainly the resulting cranky tweens/teens. But the idea of a stake president making such a decision on behalf of all the members was bizarre. Sorry, but I don’t apply for birthday party approval from the SP.

    Perhaps the most troubling part to me was that, of course, this “rule” had zero impact on scouting campouts. if we’re going to be honest, let’s admit that—historically as well as with the employment of a modicum of common sense—there is an exponentially higher probability of abuse or molestation at an overnight scouting activity than at an Activity Day/Young Women party. So, again, girls were mostly impacted while boys were the ones having the problems. Just stawwwwwp!
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Perfect Blog Commenting SystemMy Profile

  • Left Field July 12, 2015, 1:45 pm

    Ron, the man was a general authority for more than 53 years. I’d say that’s time enough to learn his name. At least everyone who participated in his funeral knew him well enough to use his actual name.

  • Jerry M July 12, 2015, 10:15 pm

    I love it when the most constructive criticism someone can offer is to attack spelling…I should know being the Grammar Nazi that I am. The spelling notwithstanding, it in no way detracts from this man’s opinions. And this blog post is nothing more than opinion, based on one person’s experiences and perceptions (or misperceptions, as the case may or may not be).

  • Hedgehog July 13, 2015, 1:41 am

    Agree wholeheartedly.

    Just to note on the wedding thing. Here we have a wedding in the chapel prior to a temple sealing, and we can certainly see this kind of intrusiveness in the wedding service, the extent of which varies depending upon the idiosyncrasies of the Bishop. Whereas a wedding reception is more of a party after the service.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 13, 2015, 9:49 am

    Here’s a “assumption” you declared:

    “..that has haunted me ever since. “The Unwritten Order of Things” somehow made its way from university diversion to doctrinal declaration and was used to wreak havoc in church practice.”

    Ron Shirtz, I honestly think you can read better than that. Obviously saying that something “wreaked havoc in the church” neither states nor implies that it wreaked havoc with every aspect or every unit. Given that I have personally witnessed hundreds of such incidents and been told of excessively more in my years of blogging (here and elsewhere) and decades of other internet and personal interaction—from all over the globe—I think it’s fair to say the impact is, yes, “far reaching.”

    You cannot attach such blame to Br. Packard or his talk for the foolishness you may have witness in others making up doctrine on the fly, as in the examples you gave of someone’s in-law whose a Stake President establishing his own pattern as the way to do things in the Church.

    Blame? I can certainly connect bad decision making when it is directly attributed to Packer’s own words. Packer wasn’t some new kid on the block when he made these statements. He was experienced and seasoned. He knew his impact well and could have easily anticipated the outcome of what he said, meaning he could had known that many people would take his actual words seriously and implement them—and even extend them. (I did, as did score of others.)

    Second, what you label as “disdain” in his remarks concerning a casual view of LDS funerals, I see instead good and wise counsel to invite the spirit. You interpreted his position as portraying a “Good vs Bad” practices,. I read it as an avocation for “Better vs. Good” one.

    As I said above, it’s an interesting case study in human behavior to see how easily you ignore what he actually, clearly, forcefully said in order to maintain some kind of feigned public loyalty. My “interpretation” is simply acknowledging what he said in plain English. Your equivocation is fascinating.

    I find is sad that you would take to task a man who has spent the better part of his life in service to the saints and the Church…

    Ron, you have no idea what kind of service I have been involved in, yet you are willing to come to my blog to chastise me. Why not focus on that rather than on a simple post you disagree with? Or does your “counsel” only apply to others?

    …over a disagreement of his counsel—not commandment—for the best practice to bring the spirit into special occasion as a funeral.

    What is the distinction you are making between authoritative counsel and command? And do you leave room to discuss the fact that it’s not doctrine, not required, and not followed by anyone on the general level?

    That said, you are again completely misrepresenting his talk for the purpose of avoiding cognitive dissonance. His talk simply was not about “the best practice to bring the spirit into special occasion as a funeral.” His subject was not bringing the spirit to meetings. It was the rules that he claimed are valid, but unwritten. In this list, he included funerals where “we hear about the deceased instead of about the Atonement.” (You know, funerals like his own.)

    Do you really think so lightly of what he was commending as the better part, that you had to label his words as “haunting” you and “wrecking havoc” to put him in such a negative light?

    Let’s be clear about his main message (per the title) as well as who is taking his counsel lightly.

    Packer stated that the overriding principle he was discussing was that members should learn how things should be done by observing how others do it. Of course, this counsel is only as good as the observed behavior—an obvious point I hope you would acknowledge without quibbling. But given that fact, following Packer’s own words requires us to discard his specific anecdotes!

    If I look to all the funerals since the talk—including his own—I find them filled with personal memories, stories, humor, etc. And I find the gospel references almost exclusively restricted to two points:

    1. What the deceased loved, taught, or felt.
    2. Expressions of faith in the resurrection and thus the joy of seeing the deceased again.

    While I haven’t notated these funerals exhaustively, for nearly two decades I’ve listened for this model and never seen it. In other words, by following the examples of all the prophets and apostles on “funeral decorum” (as Packer counsels) I should ignore Packer’s demands to focus on preaching rather than the deceased and the survivors.

    So, here I am, in the position of insisting that we follow Packer’s principle of learning by observation and you’re pretending you agree with both the counsel and the examples by conveniently ignoring the precise examples he gave. I suggest that my method of following counsel is more faithful. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Freedom from the Oppression of the Word of WisdomMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 13, 2015, 9:56 am

    Hedgehog, when I lived in England the same thing occurred. At the time I was told that it was because of the problematic nature of traveling to London together without being married, but I suspect it was more about local law than anything else. (I mean going from Leeds to London is only a bit farther than going from Boca Raton to Orlando—and no one worried about any length of US travel, even across country.)

    When my dad was a bishop (three times), he performed numerous marriages. In my recollection most of them weren’t in churches, but in reception centers or the like.

    It’s interesting because neither a civil wedding nor a funeral are ordinances, I wonder why practice directs particular inclusion of local leaders?

    Personally, I think many issues will be solved when we can simply disconnect civil marriage and a sealing ceremony. That’s something I think may be on the horizon given the political climate.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Paid Menopause Leave – Because I Deserve ItMy Profile

  • Amphigory July 13, 2015, 12:20 pm

    Without trying to be offensive or minimize the discussion, I do admit a little perverse pleasure reading the problems of the Church in Utah. Having lived in the ‘mission field’ for about a billion years, I’m reminded of the things about Utah that I vowed never to return to.

    I too dislike the Unwritten Laws. A lot. Usually they cause far more harm than the good: the presumed positive impact on the church under the guise of order, consistency, or sometimes used to subtly elevate an individual above his brethren and sisters. I see it behind doctrine-laden but spiritually unfulfilling talks in sacrament meeting, policies not found in the Bishop’s handbook and a number of other things I’ve tried to forget. Where, again, is the official church policy of white shirts? Sure, it’s a tradition, and a good one. But I would never make it a pseudo-doctrine and deprive a weaker member or a visitor of a bit of spiritual growth! Tip of the iceberg, my friends.

    Funerals: hallelujah for mentioning this! I wholeheartedly agree that a funeral should be spiritually uplifting, but can be done with love, more than a little humor and eschewing the Bishop’s obligatory final word. Unless, of course, the bishop would have attended anyway were he not the Bishop. I must confess that while serving in that calling, I went to great lengths to avoid having to attend funerals of those I didn’t know well for fear of being asked to speak (I once changed flight in order to be unavailable!). During the funeral for my mother in Utah, my little 11-year old daughter sat in the pew and wrote a poem. The wise Bishop (a close friend of Mom) asked if anyone wanted to speak, and she arose. It was the most touching and tender poem (in prose, no less!) and I still get misty thinking about it. Some of the most spiritually uplifting parts of a funeral can come from the unprepared words of loved ones, sometimes in rough words, sometimes cloaked in laughter. When I die, I will request a comedian say a few words to get the ball rolling in the less-than-one-hour funeral. Cremation? “Discouraged” does not mean ‘prohibited.’ I also want to have a very creepy tombstone that has special effects that only work at midnight. But that’s another subject.

    Alison, thanks for quoting from the Handbook. While some things are quite clear, many are specifically not covered in order to preclude the very problem at hand—creating policy where none exists. There is room for local policy, and rightly so. In some cultures, funerals feature paid mourners occupying the chapel from dawn to dusk and funerals lasting five hours or more. A local rule specifying a funeral last no more than 90 minutes is a logical thing. Another is a local prohibition of certain popular herbs that have addictive or narcotic effects.

    But another of these is about weddings. While a non-temple marriage in the chapel is encouraged, there is no rule. In fact, I was fortunate to marry a visiting non-LDS couple on a beach with the blessing of an inspired Stake President and his leaders. It was not prohibited in the Handbook, and it became a profoundly spiritual experience for me and for the couple who had never felt the Spirit before.

    I would love to see one ‘rule’ for virtually everything in a ward. Everything should be done with the goal of creating an atmosphere of love, welcome, and inviting the Spirit to reside. Everything should be done with the understanding that there are (many!) weak members or non-members present. Every ward has far more people with tenuous testimonies than is apparent. This includes lifelong stalwarts in the ward. This is my pet peeve. Arriving in an unfamiliar sacrament meeting usually with a weak or non-member, I always pray that we won’t hear another doctrinal discussion devoid of the Spirit. We should remember that a ward is filled with spiritually weak, questioning, or otherwise hungry people. They—we–need to be fed. Even the Bishop.

  • Left Field July 13, 2015, 12:34 pm

    Packard isn’t just a misspelling; it’s an entirely different name. And while I might have some very insightful advice for the Green Bay Packards, I bet they’ll take me more seriously if I use the actual team name.

  • IdRatherNotSay July 13, 2015, 1:19 pm

    Alison,

    I do not mean to hijack your post but you mentioned that you’d love to take on the polygamy issue with my fellow ward members. I’d like that too! I have a strong personal disdain toward the practice and do not believe that it will be taking place in the hereafter. I am concerned, however, that speaking out against it has caused church discipline (the Van Allens, Kristy Money, etc.).

    The church seems to speak out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. In some instances, it is “doctrine.” In others it is “not doctrine.” Try to discuss this calmly and rationally online (or even in person) with a few men and you’re pretty much feeding yourself to the wolves. I suppose it would be difficult to hear that the Lord and the church are never going to tell you that it is okay to succumb to your deviant sexual desires by “legalizing” adultery when you’ve been raised to think that your day of “glory” will come and your inner pervert will finally be not just accepted, but practically worshiped!

    If you have any perspective to offer so that I can answer these gentlemen the next time it comes up, I’d love to hear it. Then again, I can’t blame you if you do not want to discuss the issue in light of the fact that others have been pulled into their bishop’s offices for doing so.

    🙂

    Again, sorry for changing the subject!

  • Ron Shirtz July 13, 2015, 2:09 pm

    “I honestly think you can read better than that. Obviously saying that something “wreaked havoc in the church” neither states nor implies that it wreaked havoc with every aspect or every unit. “

    Yes, I can read quite well. Which is why I know when someone infers a broad proposition.You did not qualify what “havoc” he did or did not, so it can only be taken in a broad context. Never mind again the word “havoc” is quite a label to put on the consequences of his talk. Is the Church ready to fall apart and collapse because of this said “Havoc?” Are droves of members being emotionally harmed by such so-called erroneous counsel? That is the tone I get from the word. If you think I am incorrect, please show me a definition of the word that proves less dramatic.

    “Blame? I can certainly connect bad decision making when it is directly attributed to Packer’s own words. Packer wasn’t some new kid on the block when he made these statements. He was experienced and seasoned. He knew his impact well and could have easily anticipated the outcome of what he said, meaning he could had known that many people would take his actual words seriously and implement them—and even extend them. (I did, as did score of others.)”

    You again ascribe too much by others actions as licensed given to him by his talk. Have you evidence that all those who did so pointed directly to his talk? And even if so, can you prove that from such is the same throughout the Church? Again, you make false connections on your disagreement with his talk and overlay his statement as being the cause on all cases.

    “As I said above, it’s an interesting case study in human behavior to see how easily you ignore what he actually, clearly, forcefully said in order to maintain some kind of feigned public loyalty. My “interpretation” is simply acknowledging what he said in plain English. Your equivocation is fascinating.”

    I think it’s a fascinating how much offense and weight you give his counsel as being harmful because it does not fit your worldview. I understand what he said and how he said it. You, however, take it out of context to be “Haunted” because of his strong demeanor, which I think is your real issue with him, rather than what he said specifically.

    “Ron, you have no idea what kind of service I have been involved in, yet you are willing to come to my blog to chastise me. Why not focus on that rather than on a simple post you disagree with? Or does your “counsel” only apply to others?”

    And neither do you of mine, which has no relevance at all when I mentioned his service as a one of selfless sacrifice for the benefit to both the Church and the world. Yes, I will chastise someone who makes a trivial and specious complaint over an inspired talk by a General Authority who again, gave counsel, not a commandment, for conducting Church activates as playing “havoc” which you make so light of as a description, but is a serious charge against his integrity and intent. And not only to you degrade him, but the Prophet and the rest of the Twelve, because obviously, they had no issue with what he said, so, they do are guilty too of promoting this false “Havoc” you have made up by not disagreeing or disavowing what he said.

    “What is the distinction you are making between authoritative counsel and command? And do you leave room to discuss the fact that it’s not doctrine, not required, and not followed by anyone on the general level?”

    Example: The Word of Wisdom is a commandment. But within it is counsel not to eat too much meat, but that is up to the discretion of each member to follow as they see fit. Or take food storage, which having is not a worthiness requirement to serve in the Church or obtain a Temple recommend, but good counsel to follow. I’m sure you already know this distinction.

    I am well aware of the issue of members and local leaders’ adding context and traditions as if they are the practice of the Church, and have dealt with separating the two in many leadership meetings and when dealing with members. But nothing in regard to President Packer’s talk do I find encouraging the havoc to the degree or extent as you describe to the damaging of the Church or the welfare of the members.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 13, 2015, 6:22 pm

    Welcome, Amphigory. 🙂

    I do admit a little perverse pleasure reading the problems of the Church in Utah. Having lived in the ‘mission field’ for about a billion years, I’m reminded of the things about Utah that I vowed never to return to.

    Haha Well, this talk occurred when I lived in Boca Raton, Florida, and it took no time at all to make its way there. The Unwritten Order was an enormous part of the female prayer problem along with scads of other issues. In fact, I’d say following bad examples of former leaders (whether specifically under the UO title or not) was at the root of the majority of problems I’ve encountered in the church.

    I could not agree more on your second paragraph.

    I wholeheartedly agree that a funeral should be spiritually uplifting, but can be done with love, more than a little humor and eschewing the Bishop’s obligatory final word.

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I must confess that while serving in that calling, I went to great lengths to avoid having to attend funerals of those I didn’t know well for fear of being asked to speak (I once changed flight in order to be unavailable!).

    Priceless. Seriously, you whole comment has me clapping. I love the story about your daughter. I went to an evangelical funeral for a friend (a young father) in 2001. The floor was opened to family and friends who wanted to share things. Not only was the time filled with lovely tributes, but it was also full of faith and messages of the gospel.

    I also want to have a very creepy tombstone that has special effects that only work at midnight. But that’s another subject.

    I need to be invited to this. Thank you for sharing the other insights and stories that exhibit the kind of common sense, inspiration, and love we can bring to our wards!

    Everything should be done with the goal of creating an atmosphere of love, welcome, and inviting the Spirit to reside. Everything should be done with the understanding that there are (many!) weak members or non-members present.

    I think we need to have an unwritten rule that this quote must be embroidered and placed in every chapel. 🙂 Very nice!

    We should remember that a ward is filled with spiritually weak, questioning, or otherwise hungry people. They—we–need to be fed. Even the Bishop.

    Amen. I’d go so far as to say that this applies to everyone in every ward. In some cases it likely applies most to those who don’t see themselves as spiritually weak.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Perfect Blog Commenting SystemMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 13, 2015, 6:45 pm

    The church seems to speak out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. In some instances, it is “doctrine.” In others it is “not doctrine.”

    This. And when you note that it can’t be discussed with men, I’d say that is generally true. There seems to be a kind of entitlement attitude among many who are sure that they will be “rewarded” with lots of women if they are good enough. Sadly, there is scriptural and historical precedent for such thinking.

    The problem with this comes about not inherently, but in the double speak you bring up. We frequently hear about “equality” and the endless promotion of the romance of eternal marriage, which are both very hard to reconcile with woman being just one of a harem (for want of a better word) and with a mostly blank slate with regard to women in the hereafter.

    In response to such adamant claims, I generally ask questions. The truth is, the blowhard demanding that you all just deal with the problematic marital inequity really doesn’t have much to back up his position. Ask him to.

    Next, perhaps this polygamy letter will be useful.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Perfect Blog Commenting SystemMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 13, 2015, 7:05 pm

    Yes, I can read quite well. Which is why I know when someone infers a broad proposition.You did not qualify what “havoc” he did or did not, so it can only be taken in a broad context.

    Ron Shirtz, did you miss that I explicitly stated that it has had broad impact? I’m not only not denying I said that, I’m affirming it is true. The fact that you haven’t personally experienced it—or far more likely from you comments, you just haven’t noticed that it happens all the time—doesn’t stand as a proof of your position.

    Just take a second and read some of the other comments here, and that’s just a tiny blip in the church experience (obviously). It happens regularly in congregations and, in fact, I’d say it happens in all the congregations where the leadership isn’t specifically aware of the problem and tries to avoid it.

    You again ascribe too much by others actions as licensed given to him by his talk.

    Ron Shirtz, you seem not to recognize this as a blog, not a doctoral dissertation. You have no more proof that I’m ascribing “too much” than I have that I’m not. Of course, I am speaking to my experience and the experience of hundreds of people with whom I have discussed this for two decades. I would guess, for the record, that I have actually discussed this with hundreds more people than you ever have and, in fact, have seen few people who have no dealt with this problem—which Packer officially sanctioned with his talk.

    I think it’s a fascinating how much offense and weight you give his counsel as being harmful because it does not fit your worldview. I understand what he said and how he said it. You, however, take it out of context to be “Haunted” because of his strong demeanor, which I think is your real issue with him, rather than what he said specifically.

    “Ron, you have no idea what kind of service I have been involved in, yet you are willing to come to my blog to chastise me. Why not focus on that rather than on a simple post you disagree with? Or does your “counsel” only apply to others?”

    And neither do you of mine, which has no relevance at all when I mentioned his service as a one of selfless sacrifice for the benefit to both the Church and the world.

    Let me explain the relevance, since you missed your circular condemnation. You took the position that I should not quibble with the talk because—in the scope of Packer’s service—it is insignificant. Yet you—having no idea how this bitty post fits into the scope of my life of service—still feel qualified to quibble with my position.

    To be clear, you are doing the very thing you are condemning me for doing. And, again to be clear, Packer’s talk that has circulated the worlds over is far more consequential than my blog post. So if one is to look at the significance factor, one would not choose this post to quibble over. Yet, you did.

    However, I enjoy how you have deemed yourself the arbiter of all that is good and holy. I hope it fills you with good feels and bosom burning.

    But nothing in regard to President Packer’s talk do I find encouraging the havoc to the degree or extent as you describe to the damaging of the Church or the welfare of the members.

    Of course you don’t. Because you won’t allow a discussion about the obvious dichotomy in his words and the actions of the current and past GAs. I get it, I see it all the time. Just like the guy who’s claiming it’s all a joke and you’re claiming it was just counsel to bring the spirit and blacks didn’t get the priesthood because they weren’t righteous in the pre-existence and Joseph married already married women because [fill in the blank with your fabricated reason why this make sense—and I’m sure you have one per the unwritten order of things…].
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Baltimore Problems and Liberal Guilt AssuagementMy Profile

  • Charles in Charge July 13, 2015, 7:22 pm

    Ron, as a fellow bishop’s counselor, I’m dismayed at your attitude. It shows much of the problem that I’ve seen elsewhere whether you call it by Packer’s name or not. You are sure you _know_ things and instead of having a discussion about your differing position, you demand that others fall in line or be punished. And you actually seem to think you are justified in what you are doing. If you want example, have you _ever_ seen a GA say and do the things you are saying and doing here? Stop and think about how others, especially those who _never_ have the benefits of leadership that both you and I have had, might have a completely different experience. Until you can humble yourself enough to walk in someone else’s shoes, you’ll be a very poor leader and “wreak havoc” on members or worse.

  • Marta July 13, 2015, 10:36 pm

    I’ve seen this happen in three states and two countries! I’ve seen it used to keep women from TOUCHING the sacrament tray when it was passed and telling women they can’t say opening prayers and how seating in Sunday School is done with women on one side and men on the other. I was told it was the “unwritten order of example.”

  • Ron Shirtz July 14, 2015, 5:25 am

    “I’d say it happens in all the congregations where the leadership isn’t specifically aware of the problem and tries to avoid it.”

    And I never disagree that it does. It has gone on long before Br. Packer was born, and will continue long after his death. My point is, he neither sanctions them nor encouraged them by the specific points he made in his talk. That is why I mention his counsel on how members should be called, not invited casually to take a Church calling. Or how visiting Stake Presidents are to sit up front in Church as the presiding officers. Are you saying those examples he gave are incorrect, and also give license to the improper practices you and others have mention? That is a stretch to assume he meant to. You don’t think that people have been misunderstanding or misusing principles to justify bad practice in other things? “The Unwritten Order” is as a principle to permit people to seek use good judgement guided by the Spirit. That it is abused is not Br. Packer’s fault in those cases mention by you or others who have posted replies, any more than any scripture taken out of context either figuratively or literally.

    “I would guess, for the record, that I have actually discussed this with hundreds more people than you ever have and, in fact, have seen few people who have no dealt with this problem—which Packer officially sanctioned with his talk.”

    “Guess” all you want. It still is an unwarranted assumption you make of me to build on to make your opinion is more relevant to mine. I can claim the same. Again, you blame Br. Packer for encouraging specific practices that he never spoke about, nor would sanction. Yet if the Church came down with a set of rules in the handbook, like the Mosaic law, would you not then complain about too many rules of Individual conduct and Church practice? Seems to me Br. Packer cannot win for losing.

    “However, I enjoy how you have deemed yourself the arbiter of all that is good and holy. I hope it fills you with good feels and bosom burning.”
    “I knew with absolute surety that it would include personal anecdote, so I was anxious to see him “raise up and correct” the speakers! That would have been the best funeral in the history of everything—and televised!”

    I could say the same. Tell me, how does such a snarky remark to mock Br. Packer’s death and funeral to make your point beyond good taste makes you the morally superior one? You have built your argument on the recent news of his death. and he is not here to defend himself. So I defend him, and it does not suit your narrative of him being the stern authoritarian leader throwing his weight around.

  • Oregonian July 14, 2015, 8:09 am

    ronnie is trying to write his own unwritten order while pretending it does not happen. endless amusement. thank you.

  • Martin July 14, 2015, 8:25 am

    Ron, this is a blog. It’s a blog about the experiences of the people who write the blog. Running to others and yelling, “Your experience is wrong because it’s not like mine” is one of the MOST EGREGIOUS problems with local church leadership. Bullying others into submission by denying their experiences doesn’t help anything.
    While this experience may not match your own, it matches that of many many people myself included. I have seen things happen over the years that shouldn’t happen. Most people are afraid to question leaders for the VERY REASON you have shown here. Rather than try to UNDERSTAND the problem, you DEMEAN them, DENY their experience, and DEMAND utter blind submission in the name of AUTHORITY. But when leaders ARE questioned by some brave soul, I have personally heard the UNWRITTEN ORDER OF THINGS used as the justification MORE than I’ve heard anything else. I’d guess (YES, GUESS) it’s been used about 4:1 as the REASON.
    The problems attributed to the UNWRITTEN ORDER have been discussed and WRITTEN about for nearly two decades now. Apparently you are unaware of this, which makes it even more likely that you are part of the problem.
    If you want to tell me your real name and the ward in which you allegedly served in a bishopric, I’ll be happy to make contact with some of the ward members to see what THEY think, assuming you care what anyone else thinks, which I doubt.
    Get down off the pedestal you built for yourself and try to have a conversation. No one is fooled by it anyway.

  • Michy July 14, 2015, 9:01 am

    Allison, I appreciate the good humor you brought to a difficult subject. For those of us who have had well-meaning but overbearing leaders who felt “inspired” to micromanage members, create endless lists of rules, and keep their thumbs on ward members in the name of this awful “Unwritten Order of Things,” we thank you for the courage to stand up and speak the truth.

    The problem with the “unwritten order” isn’t that it exists. People through eons of time have looked to the examples of others to see how to best approach a new or unfamiliar topic. The problem is that when Elder Packer gave the talk, it allowed local and regional leaders to defer to his general authority status to codify their choices. Almost across the board in my wards and stakes (I’ve lived in the two states in the south and on the west coast since) the leaders have stopped having the discussions (with members and even their counselors and council members) they always used to have and just threw down the “unwritten order” card as the only reasoning needed.

    In one case, a bishop insisted that only men could serve as Gospel Doctrine teachers because only those with the priesthood could expound scripture. When told this wasn’t policy, he responded that it was obvious it was part of the unwritten order because General Conference is almost entirely men and the two women allowed do not give authoritative talks and don’t bring revelatory counsel, they speak about policy issues and auxiliary practice.

    In another case, a stake president asked the ward members to stand when he entered the room. When questioned by the high council (both myself and one other member), he said to look to the unwritten order. When we looked confused, he pointed out that in General Conference people stand when the prophet enters.

    I am convinced this talk has given many leaders too much permission to do what they want without being responsible or accountable for their own decisions.

  • Loraine July 14, 2015, 9:44 am

    A friend just sent me this link with the question, “Sound familiar?”

    I am SO glad you wrote this. This happens all the time in my ward for everything from what kind of bread MUST be used for the sacrament (white only!) to what kind of shirts must be worn (white only!) to how many chairs should be in the nursing room (not white only hahaha).

    We hear about the “unwritten order of the church” all the time, but I didn’t know it was from a TALK. Elder Packer’s got some ‘splainin’ to do!

  • Cherish July 14, 2015, 1:13 pm

    Oh, yes, I’ve seen this for years and it drives me nuts. Thanks for pointing out the problems it causes. I love the way Michy said it,

    ****The problem with the “unwritten order” isn’t that it exists. People through eons of time have looked to the examples of others to see how to best approach a new or unfamiliar topic. The problem is that when Elder Packer gave the talk, it allowed local and regional leaders to defer to his general authority status to codify their choices. Almost across the board in my wards and stakes (I’ve lived in the two states in the south and on the west coast since) the leaders have stopped having the discussions (with members and even their counselors and council members) they always used to have and just threw down the “unwritten order” card as the only reasoning needed.****

  • Amphigory July 14, 2015, 1:49 pm

    Loraine, thanks for that!
    “…This happens all the time in my ward for everything from what kind of bread MUST be used for the sacrament (white only!) to what kind of shirts must be worn (white only!) to how many chairs should be in the nursing room (not white only hahaha).”

    My best buddy, currently serving his third term (sentence?) as Bishop, relates that one of his counselors in a previous ward loved to bake. This brother insisted on bringing the bread for sacrament. Every week it was something different, tasty and wonderful (like banana bread!). The ward loved the anticipation of the sacrament bread, and the bishop felt it did not distract from the beauty of the renewal of covenants. It added a bit of sparkle to a lovely meeting.

    Which begs the question: why do we tend to ignore the real-world implications of the article of faith: “…if there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Would that we could extend that attitude to all things in our church experience. We, especially leaders, tend to confuse the sacred nature of the gospel and our wise prophetic counsel and extend that to ourselves, elevating ourselves above the level of servants. Did not the Savior specifically exemplify the principle that we should serve each other, not presume to supervise each other?

    As a youth, I delighted in the way our ward members and friends enjoyed lighthearted mocking of our idiosyncrasies. This seemed to extend to the highest levels of the church. Our leaders had wonderful senses of humor–remember J. Golden nuggets? I felt proud (and still do) when we can laugh at ourselves, something the Jews mastered eons ago.

    I still laugh at the time a temple president and former personal assistant to a prophet entered our office where I worked at BYU. He triumphantly extended his arms in a gesture of quelling a massive enthralled crowd. There were only five people in the office. I stifled a laugh so hard that my Coca-Cola came out of my nose.

  • Cherish July 14, 2015, 2:42 pm

    I agree, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves and even our past issues. History is a weird thing and what one generation doesn’t see can be glaringly obvious to the next. (Racism, anyone?)

  • CamBendy July 14, 2015, 2:58 pm

    J Golden Kimball. We NEED another apostle like him!

  • Amphigory July 14, 2015, 3:47 pm

    Exactly, Cherish and CamBendy. Isn’t one of the great things about the Gospel that we are actually entrusted with the scriptures, the revelations of prophets but with the charge to do our own studying, to form our own understanding? We don’t have a pastor who sermonizes each week, by design (I shudder to think the kind of damage I could do to the church by speaking to my ward every Sunday). We are to learn from each other. If we spend our spiritual strength aggrandizing ourselves or trying to control others, we rob ourselves and each other of great spiritual strength. I’m horrified to look back and see how much insight and wisdom we missed from women in conference. I relish that some people had the strength to use their personal inspiration to help illuminate a non-policy. We do need to shake ourselves up, and we can do it without threatening others’ faith.

    I was constantly stunned by the spiritual insights and wisdom of our young singles ward members. There are spiritual giants among us. We must nurture them with spiritual freedom, encouragement, and the occasional reproval/correction when it truly Matters.

    Imagine a church without an Elder Holland, J. Golden, or Uchtdorf? Each of these leaders are inspired, to be sure, but their own personal understanding of the gospel makes our lives better. God expects us to become gods/goddesses, and we can only do that by thinking for ourselves–not pointing to justification for control (It’s the spiritual equivalent of building ourselves up by tearing others down).

    Working out our own salvation is what springs to mind. I like the fear and trembling part– a bit of desperation spurs great spiritual growth.

  • IDIAT July 15, 2015, 1:56 pm

    Y’all must live in some crazy wards if the “unwritten order of things” comes up in so many disturbing ways. I think some people have taken the unwritten order of things and hijacked Elder Packer’s premise. Sure, there are a couple of things one can observe from watching leaders, but on the whole, they are very far and few in between. Things like: first counselor on President’s right, second counselor on his left; apostles usually sit in order of seniority; white shirts strongly encouraged (that’s actually in the handbook). I have long come to the conclusion that if it’s not in the Handbook, then it must not be important and therefore the unwritten order is nothing to worry about. I, personally, haven’t experienced the unwritten order to the extent mentioned here, and I’ve served mostly in leadership positions for the last 25 years of my life. I am grateful to live in a sane ward and stake. As for funerals, I understand the emotions attached to the service, but for many funerals, there are plenty of non-members and less active attending. You might not like your funeral being turned into a missionary opportunity, but what better time to teach people about the plan of salvation? I’m not saying it can’t be done with references to the deceased’s life, but surely some mention of the atonement and resurrection are appropriate. Again, my personal experience is that family wishes about speakers and subject matter have largely been honored. Most leaders have 1,000 other things they would rather do than take off work and go deliver a funeral talk. And, as Allison says, if you don’t want a church oriented funeral then by all means, don’t have a church oriented funeral. The whole funeral business is a racket, anyway, (unless of course you’re in that business) but that’s another topic of discussion.

  • queuno July 16, 2015, 10:48 am

    The church has given instruction in recent years that the scope of authority of a talk is limited to the context in which it was given. So unless Packer ever gave the “Unwritten Order of Things” talk in general conference, it’s only useful to those that directly received it.

    A BYU devotional is not a church meeting.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 16, 2015, 11:16 am

    queno, I think that’s been standard-ish for decades, but the impact is still problematic. If all the students who attended that devotional simply applied the counsel in all the wards and stakes they have since served, the havoc has wreaked far and wide. 🙂 Bad counsel is bad counsel even when the intended audience is limited. And this bad counsel is to look to others (who may or may not have correct information or models) to see how the church should operate.

    Note, however, that Packer didn’t present this as some kind of counsel for “BYU students in attendance today” or “BYU students until they graduate” or anything similar. In fact, within the speech itself he retitled it:

    The Ordinary Things about the Church Which Every Member Should Know

    He followed it with “Although they are very ordinary things, they are, nevertheless, very important!” Does that sound limited in scope when coming from an apostle of the Lord? :/
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Women at Church: Translating Gendered DoctrineMy Profile

  • Joni July 16, 2015, 12:49 pm

    The postscript to the experience I mentioned above: Afterwards, I was discussing Grandpa’s funeral with some family members, including lifelong Mormons (me), ex-Mos, and never-Mos. All of us reported feeling the same thing, about the Spirit getting up and leaving, though we didn’t all use the same terminology to express it. Kind of makes you wonder who was the intended audience for the sales pitch.

    And it’s a little insulting, to think that the way Grandpa lived his life – treating EVERYONE with kindness and respect – wasn’t a good enough example of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that a heavy-handed sales pitch needed to be the last word. (Ironic because Grandpa was a career salesman, and he never would have been successful if he’d employed such a ham-fisted approach to selling.)

    I’ve told my husband that I want to be cremated to save money, and that if the bishop insists on turning my funeral into a sales meeting then it is not to be held at the church bulding. (Since that’s really the only trump card the church holds.) Everyone is to bring a dozen of their favorite cookies, and regardless of the time of year, the album ‘John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together’ is to be played. Sing-along optional.

  • rah July 16, 2015, 12:51 pm

    IDIAT and Ron,

    I think the reason you guys don’t “see the unwritten order of things” is tied to the fact that you “have been in leadership now for 20 years”. You are so used to defining the “unwritten order” for your ward and stake based on your decision rights and discretion. Allison and those that don’t have the decision rights are always on the receiving end of the decisions of people like you. And if you want to claim that bishops, SPs and others don’t invoke “because I said so” or “this is the way things are done” as justification when members push back or ask why about a policy then all I can say this is a huge blind spot for both of you. That is the thing about decision rights and actual power, you don’t have to persuade or justify. You tell deacons they need to be in white shirts to pass….that is it. A SP declares no sleepovers (for girls) in the ward thats it. So what appears to you as “well reasoned” to others is often because the person with formal authority said so. And that was EXACTLY what Packer was getting at in that talk. You do it this way because the person with power says so because they have been trained to know the “right way” and there is no way you can argue with the “unwritten order” when it defined as “the right way” that only those “trained” know.

    Here is what I would encourage you both to do. Why don’t you go and check your assumption that your ward and stake doesn’t use the “unwritten order” by asking those that aren’t in leadership if they have examples where they feel their ideas or suggestions or wants were stymied by the “unwritten order” or simple appeals to implied authority. Go ask 20 women in a safe and open way. Come back if all 20 say “oh no that has never happened to me in this ward/stake”. I am willing to bet you will find multiple instances for most of those people where this has happened.

  • IDIAT July 16, 2015, 1:58 pm

    “You are so used to defining the “unwritten order” for your ward and stake based on your decision rights and discretion.” I could run your experiment but I know my white privileged male self would still miss it. Here’s the deal. Our SP has never said no sleepovers. No bishop in our stake says “only white shirts.” No SP in my stake has said to the high councilors “You need to stand when I enter the room.” That’s my point. The extreme craziness used in the comments don’t happen in my wards and stake. Are there occasional head scratchers coming from a leader? Of course. But they are fact specific. They aren’t general “rules” sought to be enforced across wards and stakes. Your mileage differs, because your mileage ALWAYS differs.

  • Flaming Sword of Cheribum July 16, 2015, 2:52 pm

    IDIAT, I often like your point around the interwebs, but I think you missed the point rah makes very well. It’s not about “white privilege” or “male privilege,” it’s about the different views from the stand vs the congregation. If you aren’t willing to acknowledge that they ARE different views, you shouldn’t be on the stand. (Oh, that THAT were policy!)

    Do you REALLY think that a man who’s been a GA for 45 years can adequately channel a woman with little leadership potential? Forget “privilege,” let’s just be real here.

    It is the women and the non-leaders who are most strongly affected by Elder Packer’s words, those he is farthest from relating to or understanding.

    It goes without saying that those in perpetual leadership are least likely to notice the ugly head of the unwritten order because the perpetual leadership is who’s IMPLEMENTING those practices from their own flawed perspective and experience.

    I very much like the ham analogy and think it fits well into the discussion.

  • IDIAT July 17, 2015, 10:31 am

    Flaming Sword – I probably shouldn’t have reacted to RAH so quickly. However, I know he’s a perma at fMh; his use of the words “safe and open way” implies my maleness is threatening. Been there and read that. Everything I say is viewed through a privileged lens, so unless I cop to it openly and consistently, nothing I say matters. At any rate, I asked the fount of femininity – my wife – what the deal is. She’s served in just about every calling imaginable , spending a good deal of time as president or counselor in the auxilaries and a 4 year stint as seminary teacher. Has she been beat over the head with “the unwritten order?” No, not beat over the head. Has a male leader ever implied “that’s the way we do things because that’s the way we do things?” Yes, but on very minor things over the years. Then my question to her — “Do female leaders do the same kind of thing?” Her response: “Of course they do. Every leader uses a vague reference or custom or habit when they don’t want to accept or use the idea being proposed by someone else. It’s the polite way of saying “I think your idea stinks.” So, there you have it. Your implication that leaders don’t recognize that what they’re implementing is the unwritten order is the same privilege argument. “Lord forgive them for they (leaders) know not what they do.” I think leaders are very well grounded. I have always been amazed by members who don’t think ward and stake leaders don’t put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. They have spouses, children, problems, headaches and heartaches just like anyone else. So do our higher church leaders. Not that I’ve rubbed elbows that much with general church leaders, but when I have, they have come across as very practical and had both feet planted firmly on the ground. Of course I’m sure there are exceptions, but let’s not turn this into an “us” versus “them” issue.

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