I was curious about that talk by Packer and so I read it in its entirety here: http://byustudies.byu.edu/shop/pdfSRC/21.3Packer.pdf. I actually think that he makes some very valid points and that his concerns are legitimate. I will give President Packer this: if you're going to write a history about your purported faith, it's certainly difficult to remain objective, impartial, scholarly, and still uphold that faith -- although I think Bushman came pretty darn close in Rough Stone Rolling. Given that Packer's address dates back to 1981, I'd be curious to know what he really thinks of Rough Stone Rolling and whether that criticism could apply to a work such as Bushman's. Have times changed or would Rough Stone Rolling still be considered too "objective, impartial and scholarly?" I now quote directly from Packer's talk:
I wish to use Rough Stone Rolling again because I think it's an excellent example. I'm certainly not implying that Bushman "delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties" of Joseph Smith, but RSR certainly did point out his weaknesses and frailties. Depending on the circumstances and mindset of the reader, RSR can either destroy or build faith. Though it left me struggling to accept certain things about Joseph, my personal experience after reading it was more of the latter. So, my question to all of you is do you think that Bushman is "in spiritual jeopardy" as President Packer put it? He continues:
"In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it. It is the war between good and evil, and we are belligerents defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give preference to and protect all that is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have made covenants to do it. Some of our scholars establish for themselves a posture of neutrality. They call it “sympathetic detachment.” Historians are particularly wont to do that. If they make a complimentary statement about the Church, they
seem to have to counter it with something that is uncomplimentary."
Loyalty is a virtue that I appreciate and so I can appreciate President Packer's call for loyalty here. But what is this "war" that is going on and who is the enemy? Is it Satan? Is it historians? Intellectuals? Or even the common member who has anything negative to say about the Church or its history? I'm not a historian, but if I were, I know I would find myself in a huge dilemma. When Bushman said that he has to fight a war on two fronts, he was right and I don't envy the guy.
I really feel very torn because I want to be loyal and faith-promoting, and yet at the same time my conscience compels me to acknowledge that Joseph Smith and the other prophets were not superheroes and that Mormonism has some skeletons in its closet in regards to things like Mountain Meadows, polygamy, and the treatment of blacks, etc. Does wanting to know more and discussing the non-so-faith-promoting aspects of my religion make me a traitor?
There is no doubt that searching for truth carries a certain degree of risk. As Packer said in that talk, some members lose their faith because of these so-called neutral historians. It's sad that that happens, but I tend to think that having faithful members of the Church, such as Bushman, approach Mormon history in an objective sort of way is actually in a way, faith-promoting in itself. Why do you have to be a bitter apostate in order to be objective?
I have to admit, knowing that President Packer is next in line gives me all the more motivation to remember President Monson in my prayers. (Shame on me.) But I guess that's my own problem and nobody else's.