Friday, October 8, 2010

Differences Between The Final Written Text And The Spoken Version Of LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer's Address "Cleansing The Inner Vessel"

On October 7th, 2010, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted the final text versions of the talks delivered during the 180th Semiannual General Conference; they are available HERE. I have learned that there are a few differences between the final written text of President Boyd K. Packer's address, now entitled "Cleansing The Inner Vessel", and the spoken version. While most of the differences are strictly editorial changes, there are at least two changes which impact the interpretation of the content. KTVX Channel 4 in Salt Lake City has now picked up the story.

The changes were first uncovered, in part, by the Nine Moons blog and then published, in full, by Mormons For Marriage, a pro-LDS blog which opposed the LDS Church's advocacy of California Proposition 8. Mormons for Marriage republished President Packer's entire speech, striking out the words and passages deleted from the written version, and adding in bold words and passages added to the written version. The significant changes are cross-posted below, replete with strikeouts and bolds (reflected in pink here):

Fifteen years ago, with the world in turmoil, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the fifth proclamation in the history of the Church. It qualifies according to the definition as a revelation and would do well that members of the church to read and follow it. It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow.


Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, God He is our Heavenly Father.

The first change I can understand. President Packer erroneously referred to the Proclamation on the Family as a revelation. It has not been canonized as a formal revelation; if it was, it would have been appended to the Doctrine & Covenants as an Official Declaration.

However, I fail to see the necessity for the second change. I was always under the impression that the final text of Conference talks were faithful transcriptions of the spoken versions. Comments posted to both Nine Moons and Mormons for Marriage imply this is not so. As Laura pointed out on MFM, "it’s not unusual for minor changes to be made to the text of conference talks between the time those talks are presented in conference and the time the transcripts are available for printing and reading. Many of the grammatical changes as well as the incorporation of gender-inclusive language fall into that category here. The printed versions of talks are used as references and as the basis for lessons in Sunday School and other classes, as well as for talks in Sacrament Meeting, so it’s important that they are well-edited". These changes also make it appear as if the Church is responding to criticism from Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group.

One individual previously contacted the person in charge of the archives about this practice, and got the following answer: "The text posted online has been reviewed by the speakers after the conference. They sometimes contain minor edits to make them ready for publication". And it appears that this practice extends well outside LDS ranks; another person commented that "in my experience, it’s pretty much SOP for speakers, reviewers, and editors to make revisions in published proceedings of conferences, rather than use an unedited transcript of the oral presentation. At least that’s standard procedure in the sciences".

Later on October 8th, the LDS Church issued a statement confirming that they do permit conference speakers to edit their speeches prior to publication of the written text to clarify the speaker's intent:

The Monday following every General Conference, each speaker has the opportunity to make any edits necessary to clarify differences between what was written and what was delivered or to clarify the speaker's intent. President Packer has simply clarified his intent.

As we have said repeatedly, the Church's position on marriage and family is clear and consistent. It is based on respect and love for all of God's children.

-Scott Trotter, LDS Church Spokesman

Be that as it may, anti-Mormons are already attempting to reap a propaganda harvest from the editorial changes. Nine Moons' original post was cross-posted in full on the notoriously anti-Mormon website Mormon Curtain. And the issue has surfaced for discussion on the Ex-Mormon discussion boards. Indeed, even ex-Mormon gay activist Eric Ethington, who organized the huge pro-gay rally at Temple Square on October 7th, has chimed in.

Analysis: This has to do with expectations. One normally expects that the written transcript of a speech would faithfully reflect the spoken version. Substituting "temptations" for "tendencies" is not merely an editorial change; it is a material change. If the LDS Church intends to make these type of changes, they should post a disclaimer on their website and in the issue of Ensign magazine where the talks are published stating that "These transcripts have been edited for the sake of grammatical and doctrinal clarity", or words to that effect, in order to minimize the possibility of anti-Mormons reaping a propaganda bonanza from such changes.

By the way, this issue has NO impact upon my own testimony. The LDS Church remains true, the Book of Mormon remains an authoritative witness for Christ, Joseph Smith still was a living prophet, and Thomas S. Monson still is a living prophet.

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