Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Response to O. S. Card's "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality"

Lately I've seen Orson Scott Card's essay The Hypocrites of Homosexuality pop up in a few places on social media. (It was originally written in 1990, so maybe its recent popularity has something to do with the film Ender's Game.) I thought it deserved a response. Here are my thoughts.

Card is a Mormon, as am I. He points out that the essay mostly has to do with concerns internal to Mormonism. As such, I suspect that his article and my response will primarily be of interest to Mormons.

The main point of Card's essay (aside from his thoughts on anti-sodomy laws which he basically tells us to ignore in a preamble) is that practicing homosexuals should be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). I disagree with him. I'll start with responses to some of the ideas in Card's opening paragraphs. Then I will add some thoughts of my own on Card's main thesis.

In the first paragraph Card says "I have … come to understand how character is shaped by -- or surrendered to -- one's allegiances." That is certainly something to think about. That's something I've been thinking about a lot lately: Is my character shaped by my allegiance to Mormonism? Have I surrendered my character to my allegiance to Mormonism? I hope that the answer to the former question is "yes" and to the latter is "no." But that isn't entirely the case. I'll give you an example: when I was young I understood that one teaching of my church was that people with dark skin have that dark skin because they were not as righteous as me (or anyone else with light skin) before being born on this Earth. My conscience told me that was wrong, but I bought into it because of my allegiance to Mormonism. Shame on me. I surrendered my character to my allegiance. Of course now (as of last year) the Church disavows that teaching: (Statement on Priesthood Ban "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.")

Something to think about: do my allegiances shape my character? Do I surrender my character to them?

In the second paragraph Card says "[W]hen one's life is given over to one community that demands utter allegiance, it cannot be given to another."

It's certainly true that gay people find it hard to be accepted among latter-day saints. I've heard that it's equally true that Mormons find it hard to be accepted in the gay community. It's easy to say "if you want to be one of them, why don't you just leave us and be one of them?" So why do some people try to have a foot in both communities? That's something else worth really thinking about. Doesn't it make sense that there are people for whom "Mormon" and "Gay" are both fundamental parts of their being?

Then Card says: "I wonder if they realize that the price of such "tolerance" would be, in the long run, the destruction of the Church." Card offers no justification for this statement anywhere in his article, so I have no idea where he gets it from. What is undeniable is that intolerance on the part of both the Mormon community and society as a whole has led to the destruction of a lot of LGBTQ folks.

In the third paragraph Card says: "The Lord asks no more of its members who are tempted toward homosexuality than it does of its unmarried adolescents, its widows and widowers, its divorced members, and its members who never marry."

I also don't think that God would ask more of one person than another for apparently no reason. But what Card is probably trying to imply is that within the Church no more is asked of gay members than straight ones. That's just not the case. We encourage straight youth to dance with and date those that they are sexually attracted to. How often have you seen a gay couple dancing at a Church dance? How would your congregation respond to such a thing? How would the local priesthood leaders respond? Gay people in the Church are discouraged from dating, holding hands with, hugging, kissing, and flirting with those that they are attracted to. We tell straight members that their sexual desires are ultimately good and from God. Of course they must be controlled, but there is a circumstance for their expression. We tell gay members that their sexual desires also must be controlled, but that they are fundamentally evil and of the Devil. We tell them there is no time nor place for their expression. So though there are straight members who live a life of celibacy, for much of their lives they probably have some hope of marrying some day. In any case they are not told that their desire for marriage is unrighteous. Ultimately they have the hope that in the eternities they will have the blessing of marriage and family. A gay member is given none of this hope by the institutional Church. You may argue that in the eternities this "curse" of being gay will be taken from them, but beware that this can be dangerous. If someone is convinced that who they fundamentally are is evil, and if they have tried for years or decades to change that, and if they believe that all of that will go away at their death, they just may choose death. We are pushing people to suicide. It has to stop.

Card goes on to say: "Furthermore, the Lord even guides the sexual behavior of those who are married, expecting them to use their sexual powers responsibly and in a proportionate role within the marriage." Give me a break, Card. That's like saying to someone who has been chronically and acutely malnourished throughout their life: "I understand how you feel, because I have similar trials: I fast monthly and obey the Word of Wisdom." Card is being a hypocrite here. He would have done well to take a cue from C. S. Lewis who refused to say the least word of condemnation concerning homosexuality, reasoning that he had never been tempted with it, so he had no place condemning it. (See Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis).

I don't have much to say about paragraphs four and five where Card talks about genetic predisposition. I'll just take exception with one thing. He says "The argument by the hypocrites of homosexuality that homosexual tendencies are genetically ingrained in some individuals is almost laughably irrelevant." OK, we all have genetic predispositions. Card is arguing that they are irrelevant. I won't say I buy the argument, but I'm not going to take him to task on it. I do take exception to his phrase "almost laughably." Nobody's trials are laughable. The difference between living a life of celibacy and a life in a fulfilling marriage is not laughable. Card is being flippant.

Paragraph six: "nothing that I have said here -- and nothing that has been said by any of the prophets or any of the Church leaders who have dealt with this issue -- can be construed as advocating, encouraging, or even allowing harsh personal treatment of individuals who are unable to resist the temptation to have sexual relations with persons of the same sex."

True that what Card has said shouldn't be construed as promoting violence against gays. The Church has recently made some strides to emphasize that we Mormons as a people have to do better with treating LGBTQ people in a loving manner. I'm thinking of the website mormonsandgays.org. Unfortunately it is not true (I wish this weren't the case) that "nothing that has been said by any of the prophets or any of the Church leaders" can be construed as advocating violence. Boyd K. Packer gave a talk "To Young Men Only" later printed as a pamphlet (go to lds.org and search for the title) that included the following story:

There are some men who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist.

While I was in a mission on one occasion, a missionary said he had something to confess. I was very worried because he just could not get himself to tell me what he had done.

After patient encouragement he finally blurted out, “I hit my companion.”

“Oh, is that all,” I said in great relief.

“But I floored him,” he said.

After learning a little more, my response was “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.”

I am not recommending that course to you, but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself.

President Packer is not explicit about what was involved to provoke the violence. There's nothing wrong with protecting oneself with physical force. But then the part that disturbs me is the "Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.” to me it kind of sounds like he's saying "if you hadn't hit him then I would have to go and hit him now for you." I'm having a hard time understanding that part. I would welcome clarification from President Packer, but I don't know whether he has ever given any. I worry that some have taken the above story as an excuse for unwarranted violence.

In paragraph seven Card says of gay people that wish homosexual behavior to be accepted in the Church "They are wolves in sheep's clothing, preaching meekness while attempting to devour the flock." Really? Wolves? Wanting to devour the flock? If someone is in a committed loving gay marriage, but they also want to be Mormon then I'd better watch out for them because at any second they're going to rip off their disguise and feed on my flesh? Card's language is vilifying and demonizing.

In paragraph eight Card denounces violence. I agree that "No act of violence is ever appropriate to protect Christianity from those who would rob it of its meaning." (Though the implication that LGBTQ Mormons would rob our religion of it's meaning I do not agree with.)

But I do have a problem with the last sentence of this paragraph. It seems that some people think that the most important part of the story of the woman taken in adultery is that at the end Jesus tells her to "go and sin no more." This gets blown out of proportion, and is used to justify all kinds of name calling. Is there some footnote that I've always missed indicating that Jesus' full words were "go and sin no more you dirty, hypocritical wolf"? In any case, whatever Jesus said to the woman it was between Him and her. He certainly didn't tell the would-be stoners to call her out for sin, nor to call her names.

In paragraph nine through the end of the original essay (where the * is) Card gets to the main point that the Church can and should excommunicate practicing homosexuals.

First, I agree that the Church has a right to excommunicate whoever it wants for whatever reason it wants or for no reason at all.

As for whether the Church *should* excommunicate practicing homosexuals, I won't make an argument. I'll just say that I would be perfectly happy to share the pew with a committed loving gay couple who just wants to partake of the sacrament in full fellowship with the Saints. I don't think that situation would rob my religion of its meaning. Are they sinners? Yes. Just as you and I and the General Authorities are sinners. Ravening wolves? I don't believe it. I don't feel threatened by them. On the other hand gay members have reported not feeling safe at church.

What I do personally believe is that God made gay people for His own purposes and that this purpose is not necessarily to live a life of stoic abstinence (though perhaps some feel called to that), denying themselves of an inborn desire for life-long companionship and meaningful intimacy.

Way back in the opening paragraph Card says that he has noted from his experience that "being homosexual does not destroy a person's talent or deny those aspects of their character that I had already come to love and admire." Social science has found that people in loving, committed gay marriages find happiness and fulfillment. If a couple can be in a gay marriage and not have their character suffer (as admitted by Card) and does not impair but adds to their happiness, then why are we fighting it? Isn't the point of our religion to help people find fulfillment and happiness, and to avoid those things that will rob them of their character and lead to sadness?

We can sit around trying to make up reasons why God wouldn't give His blessing to a gay couple the same way He does to a straight one, or we can decide that like the racial priesthood ban we don't have a satisfying explanation, get on our knees, and pray for change. Then we should follow Gandhi's advice and be the change we want to see.

Again in the first paragraph Card refers to the "not-so-clandestine network of gay relationships" and "the community that gave them access to sex." Apparently he's alluding to the reputation of the gay community of being underground, promiscuous, and reckless. If the gay community lives up to that reputation, I suspect it is because larger society has forced them underground. How can we expect relationships to be long-term and entered into with care and forethought if powerful forces conspire to break those relationships up and deny them of their legitimacy? In the US we have no national laws protecting gay peoples' right to employment and housing. In other words people can and are still today fired and denied housing just for being gay.

Card says that excommunicating gays "is how we keep ourselves unspotted by the blood of this generation." Wrong. The blood and sins of this generation that will come upon our garments is the blood of those LGBTQ people thrown out on the street or driven to suicide because they aren't welcome in their communities, their churches, or their families and the sins of those who engage in a reckless underground society because we are too intolerant to let them be out and open without fear.


Marie Owen said...

Good thoughts Jamie. I am surprised though that you were taught in primary that people with dark skin were spiritually inferior in the premortal existence...I never was tough or hear of that, it's a bit disturbing. Yet another reason for people to stick to doctrine, and avoid speculation while teaching.

Jamie said...

Thanks, Marie. Yeah, I don't remember exactly who I first heard the teaching that black people had not been valiant in the premortal life from. I definitely remember my (non-Mormon) sophomore chemistry teacher alluding to it derogatorily in class one day. I didn't say anything at the time, but I was rather incensed that he would be openly criticizing a Church teaching to his class. Anyway, by the time we were around I think it was getting very little credence. Go ask some people from an older generation (if you feel comfortable with it) and I bet they would say they had heard it.

Jamie said...

In fact, Marie, you bring up a good point. I don't want to give the false impression that the Primary president was standing up preaching this weekly. I'm not certain I heard it actually at church. It could have been at seminary, or from a home teacher, or just some random ward member or something else. I'm going to change my wording so that it is more accurate.

Genevieve said...

I am happy that the church has disavowed the theory that blacks were less valiant in the pre-mortal existence. That belief was all but spelled out in a 1949 First Presidency letter. Reading carefully, you can see that the letter takes a speculative tone - as if the first presidency knew that this wasn't revealed doctrine, but it was the best explanation they could come up with. Still, a signed letter from the first presidency is about as official as it gets, and it's no wonder that members of the church gave it such credence for so long. I wish that the church's recent disavowal on lds.org had made it clear that these "theories" were once considered doctrine, and that the "leaders" who taught them included the First Presidency. And that the disavowal had come from the pulpit, not through the back door. What Ade said in Sunday School really got me -- that he feels an urgency to reclaim his humanity. (Or something like that. I don't want to falsely quote him.)

Sorry that this comment is so tangential.

Jamie said...

Genevieve, no I think it's not tangential but very relevant. Thanks for clarifying. I'm still sketchy on a lot of Church history (not that that's really an uncommon thing).


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