Years ago, beginning in the summer of 1992, I participated on Mormon-L, the first email discussion list for Mormons on the Internet. It was hosted on the BYU mainframes. Over the following year of actively contributing, I learned that many of the most active list participants were enthusiastic friends of Signature Books and Sunstone Magazine. Almost to a man, these Signaturi, as I came to think of them, adored the homosexual apostate, D. Michael Quinn, who was once a professor at BYU before he was first fired and then excommunicated. Another quality this “in crowd” shared was a universal hatred of Boyd K. Packer, the man who is now the the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve.
It was in September of 1993 that the “spirit of criticism” towards our Church leaders became the most intense. That was the month that the notorious September Six were excommunicated for apostasy. And these critics, dissidents really, blamed Elder Packer for these excommunications. D. Michael Quinn was among those excommunicated, and they were outraged.
During the months leading up to these excommunications, Elder Packer gave a talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council in which he identified three dangers which had made major invasions into the Church. He said these three serious threats to the Church membership were the “gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” Someone posted his talk, and the whole list exploded into the most horrific flame war I’ve ever seen on the Internet. And believe me, I’ve seen a lot of flame wars. I’ve even started a few of them myself.
Guess what the topic was? This flame war went on for about six months, generating enormous amounts of traffic, and it was an argument over whether or not Elder Packer was a fascist. During those months it was common to hear the Brethren in Salt Lake City compared with the Kremlin, the KGB and Hitler’s henchmen. Another favorite comparison was to the Borg of Star Trek fame. Finally, the apostasy on the list became so bad that it came to the attention of the school administration, and the list was kicked off the BYU computers. It was immediately restarted on an off-campus server, and it has continued to thrive to this day. Currently it is hosted at SmartGroups. It continues to be a very large list with many members and a lot of traffic.
The thing that I found most remarkable in all of this was that for the most part, these “saints” claimed to be faithful, active members of the Church. Yet on the list, a person could make a derogatory remark about any of our prophet-leaders with hardly a word of protest. But the slightest criticism of a popular Sunstone or Signature Books author would cause a great chorus of righteous indignation. Who did these “faithful, active members of the Church” think they were kidding?
Anyway, it took me about a year to fully understand what was going on with this list. Until this talk, the “spirit of criticism” was more or less covert. But this talk outed these dissidents until they were coming out of the woodwork like so many cockroaches. Finally, because this talk was so polarizing, it was easy to see who was on the Lord’s side, and who was working for the other team.
Ever since then, Elder Boyd K. Packer has been my hero because he has the moral courage to make himself a lightening rod for all the hatred that surely pours daily from dissidents within the Church, the wolves in sheep’s clothing that the Savior referred to in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 7:15)