Elder Boyd Packer gave a talk entitled, “The Unwritten Order of Things,” an unfortunate title for a pretty decent talk that he admits might just as well have been entitled, “The Ordinary Things about the Church Which Every Member Should Know.”

People refer to Boyd Packer’s talk to cite “unwritten rules” when they want to justify their favorite non-doctrinal positions, such as prohibiting women from giving opening prayers in sacrament meeting. Sadly, Boyd Packer’s poor choice for a title grants a certain prima facie plausibility to such justifications. Thankfully, those who actually read Boyd Packer’s talk will quickly realize that his unwritten order relates primarily to personal conduct.

Boyd Packer couldn’t possibly have intended for “unwritten rules” to dictate church policy outside the scope of personal conduct, because such uses of “unwritten rules” would amount to both priestcraft and apostasy.

It amounts to priestcraft because it creates a class-system that puts some people in-the-know but excludes others by defining their eccentricity as heterodoxy. It amounts to apostasy, because God reveals truth; he doesn’t hide it.

Watching how the principle of “unwritten rules” gets mis-applied is revealing. “Unwritten rules” have recently been offered to justify the exclusion of women from offering opening prayers in sacrament meeting in Tagore’s ward. This exclusion is not so bad in-and-of-itself. But it is symptomatic of a much more disturbing bias that is not erased simply by recognizing a woman’s ability to give an opening prayer. Consider that there may be places in the USA where members could invoke “unwritten rules” to justify prohibiting blacks from giving opening prayers. Would you really think that such an invocation of “unwritten rules” was just about opening prayers?

I’m not trying to argue that keeping someone from giving an opening prayer damages them. That would be hyperbole. The problem is that people think it’s OK to concoct fake reasons to exclude some specific group from praying. The fact that such an exclusion seems OK indicates the prevalence of problematically prejudiced attitudes toward that group. And the prevalence of such attitudes is a bigger deal than whether that group is actually excluded from any given prayer.

“Unwritten rules” frequently become the aegis under which people provide an outlet for their personal prejudices and bigotry. So next time you hear someone mention an unwritten rule, listen carefully. You’re likely to learn more about the prejudices of the speaker than about any legitimate tradition of our church.