Posts Tagged ‘gays’
Walt Whitman left a legacy as an American poet that cannot be ignored. Yet, nearly 120 years after his death, polarization of opinion about his work and his influence is still strong. It seems that you either love him or you hate him, and in most cases that view depends upon your moral convictions. There is no doubt that his work was controversial in his day, evidenced by the labels of “obscene” and “pornographic” given by some reviewers. For those who have seriously studied his work, the general consensus of opinion is that Walt Whitman was a great American poet and in fact, is considered the first great poet of America. However, to many in this great nation, instead of singing the body electric, Whitman’s poetry demeans and degrades the human spirit. And while his works may have shocked the sensitivities of some readers in his day, it is tame by today’s standards, giving us an early preview of America as the land of porn.
A Short Biography
Walt Whitman was born in 1819 in New York and died in 1892 in New Jersey at age 72. He was the second of eight surviving children in a poor family struggling to barely subsist, both physically and emotionally. Biographers have surmised that his father was probably an alcoholic. There was some mental instability in his family among his brothers and sisters. Although his formal education ended at age 11, Whitman was a very successful autodidact, a self-educated man. He worked for a time in the newspaper industry as a journalist, editor and printer. He tried his hand at teaching for a few years but did not enjoy it and quit abruptly, with some speculating that it was due to an unwanted romantic advance toward one of his young male students.
Leaves of Grass
Returning to journalism at age thirty, he began what became his life’s work: Leaves of Grass, a collection of poetry written in a distinctly American style using free verse and a cadence based on the Bible. He self-published his book in 1855 and published multiple editions in his lifetime. The book was and is powerful, abandoning traditional verse for free verse poetry. It was also deemed by some to be controversial as they found his repeated sexual imagery content to be offensive. When he presented copies to his family, his own brother said it not worth reading. Although he did not list himself as the author, he did include a now-famous portrait of himself facing the title page, with an open-neck shirt, jaunty hat and one hand on hip. In the body of the text he identified himself as, “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist…” He was, in all respects, a natural man.
O Captain, My Captain
Whitman’s sexual orientation is generally assumed to be homosexual or bisexual. He never married but had several long-term intimate relationships with other men in his lifetime. Whitman achieved international recognition and worked tirelessly to promote his book. He obviously lived during the Civil War and that was a big influence in his life. He travelled to Washington looking for his brother who he had heard had been killed, but was only wounded. He spent time on the battlefields and in hospitals caring for the sick and the wounded. He came to greatly admire Lincoln and was deeply affected by his assassination. His most famous poem, O Captain, My Captain was about Lincoln and he gave many lectures on the president’s life. He suffered serious health problems in his later years, surviving three paralyzing strokes.
America’s National Poet
Walt Whitman answered Emerson’s call for poets to expound the new world of the United States. There is no doubt that he did this powerfully, uniquely and in a highly acclaimed manner. He was considered America’s national poet, at first more by Europeans than by his fellow Americans, at least in his own day. Using free verse, Whitman created a new style of writing that was uniquely American. He used natural voice and diction to imitate the natural flow of thought and feeling. He had a grand vision of speaking for America and explaining what it was all about. He saw and described scenes that leave you feeling like you were also there with him. He was innocent enough to believe that there really was such a job as a national poet.
An Epic to Celebrate America
Whitman was on the forefront of the American literary scene and was well prepared to promote it. His language was uniquely American, not British or European; powerfully American. His language had fewer rules; it was looser, courser, rougher and more promiscuous. He felt he was actively involved in the struggle for democracy with Leaves of Grass. He also said that he hoped his book would heal the nation and even prevent Civil War. He wanted to inspire and stir people with his work. He viewed his book as a true epic. What would an epic be like? It would celebrate America, the American self, the “I.” In fact, he sings of America throughout the book.
The Great Equalizer
Before Leaves of Grass he wrote editorials but he saw that they were mostly ineffective so he created a more profound work through his free-verse writings. He addressed the soul and the psyche of the nation, to create a real sense of community. He threw his book out there with a lot of hope for a nation that would soon divide apart. Whitman wanted his book to be written by the nation and for the nation using his voice. In his preface he says that the poet is the great equalizer and the one who is in balance. He obviously had a great ego and assumed a lot, but believed in his age and his country. He felt that he had a national mission to fulfill because he could see and tell of a world of experience in a way that nobody else could or did. He wanted to preserve the Union, to hold things together and yet maintain our unique identity. The many contradictions and differences of our nation did not bother him. He wanted us to accept them and him and was truly puzzled by those who could not or would not accept either.
Legacy of Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass is Walt Whitman’s personal literary journey of national significance. His desire was to sing of the new country with a new voice and he felt the time was ripe. There is no doubt that Whitman’s vision and ego helped him produce his masterwork. His profound vision created a tremendous contribution to American literary history. Numerous poets have tried to place themselves in his wake or have reacted violently to him. There is no getting around him. He was a celebrity in his day and is celebrated today. He had disciples that surrounded him in his later years and still has a large following today. But why is he so important? It is because he stirred up such controversy and got people talking. More importantly, he broke the boundaries of poetic form and elevated common people through his portrayals of American life.
A Religious Skeptic
Leaves of Grass had a major impact on the literary world; His work cannot be ignored. His poetry has been set to music and inspired musicians, both classical and popular. Europeans said that you couldn’t really understand America without Walt Whitman. Some modern poets have said that Whitman is not just America’s poet, but he is America. Whitman considered himself to be a messiah-like figure in poetry; so did his admirers. His vagabond lifestyle was adopted by the beat movement as well as by anti-war poets. He took what Emerson and Thoreau started with the transcendentalist movement, thoroughly Americanized it and then set it free to enjoy a new life through his free-verse poetry. His style speaks to many people who think as he did and do not live within the constraints of limitations imposed by moral boundaries of religious America. Though he was born to a Quaker family, it would be more proper to classify Whitman as a man of spirituality and not a man of religion. He as deeply influenced by Deism and denied that any one faith was more important than another. Similar to Benjamin Franklin, who was also a religious skeptic, he embraced all religions equally. And though he accepted all churches, he believed in none. It is safe to say that Whitman’s religion was like his verse: free and easy.
A Mass of Stupid Filth
But it is his forays into eroticism that elicited such strong responses from his critics. They said that his poetry was “a mass of stupid filth” and that Whitman was like a pig “rooting among the rotten garbage of licentious thoughts.” For example, in section 11 of Song of Myself, Whitman warned us that he was going to celebrate himself, get bawdy and lusty and otherwise embrace the passion, pulse and power of life. The 29th bather is a powerful example of how he makes that happen. In section 3 of Song of Myself he had already exposed us to the urge of sex, and now he sprays us with a beach orgy. Section 11 is famously known as the 29th bather, a fantasy that starts from a female narrative and ends with a homoerotic shocker. It caused one reviewer to exclaim that he was guilty of violating “the rules of decorum and propriety prescribed by a Christian civilization.” Another accused him in Latin of homosexual behavior.
While some biographers are certain in their declarations that there was never any evidence of homosexual activity, what is certain is that he used the imagery of raw sexuality liberally throughout Leaves of Grass. “Urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge of the world…always sex” are found along with scenes of “hugging and loving bedfellows. He takes on an all-knowing and condescending spirit that tells us to forget about “creeds and schools,” religion and education, and just listen to what wisdom he is about to belch forth. With arrogance he states that “what I assume, you shall assume,” as if to say that our views could only possibly be his views. He is going to introduce us to the common laborers of America, the average people who are cheerfully and skillfully working to build the great American dream.
I Celebrate Myself
Throughout his work we will witness numerous vignettes of life in the America of Walt Whitman’s day, not life in halls of congress or places of business, but in homes and gathering places. And through it all, we are to be subjected to the lusty, bawdy, fleshy side of life that Whitman, or his muse, wants us to see, hear and experience. With Walt, we will hear the delicious singing, the “party of young fellows, robust and friendly, singing with mouths open their strong melodious songs.” He is positively giddy. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself… undisguised and naked…mad to be in contact with” the sensual nature of this physical and worldly existence. We will soon be reading biography, sermon and poetic meditation of this muse all lustily embracing the fleshy body as it expresses itself through the life of Whitman.
The 29th Bather
In Leaves of Grass, Walt writes of getting “undisguised and naked,” and sensually urges his readers to “Undrape! You are not guilty to me,” but “stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical.” But these words and phrases are nothing compared to the scene that unfolds in the 29th bather. The young lady lets her imagination take her to the beach to join the crowd of young men, describing the beards of the young men glistening with wet that ran from their long hair, little streams that passed all over their bodies. “An unseen hand also passed over their bodies; it descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.” And then the action turns decidedly homoerotic as actions are performed on the young men by whom – the unseen 29th bather or by each other? If Whitman intended to shock the sensibilities of his readers, he wildly succeeded. But then, this is nothing compared to sex-soaked erotic content of a more modern classic such as Portnoy’s Complaint, which dwells on the lusty subject of masturbation.
The Good Gray Poet
How this erotic and sexually dissident poet was adopted as America’s national bard and anointed “the Good Gray Poet” is hard to understand. He never did reach the common people but was celebrated by the intellectuals of the day, especially from other countries. Did Whitman presage the view of America as the land of porn? If not, then he certainly did contribute a fair share for his day. The real work in analyzing and appreciating Whitman’s poetry is in looking past the celebration of the natural man and seeing in it the celebration of America, the great land of opportunity and the dream that all can succeed and that anything can be created and promoted. All it takes is the kind of confidence and belief in oneself that Walt Whitman had in abundance. In that respect, Walt Whitman was truly an American genius of a rock-star caliber for his day. If Whitman could successfully promote and sell out every edition of his book each time it went to press, in spite of the moral constraints of his day, just think what we should be able to do today!
Of course I’m not suggesting that we rush out to write a bunch of pornographic prose as he did, but I am saying that, like Whitman, we should celebrate this great nation for the freedoms of expression that we enjoy and that can really be found in no other nation of this world today. And, like Whitman, if we embrace the spirit of controversy and promotion of something unique, as was his free-verse style, then we should be able to reach out to millions of people through the modern leaves of grass – the Internet. Isn’t that what many of today’s bloggers are hoping to accomplish? They are the Walt Whitman’s of our day, bypassing the established norms of book publishing for the new media of the Internet. And they succeed because of their controversial content and endless self-promotion. If only what they promoted was uplifting to the human spirit. Controversial content is what drives the readers to the blogs and websites where they want to express their own opinions in the comments. Walt Whitman knew what would sell and he knew how to sell it. Just think of what he could have done if he lived in the Internet age!
The warning signs outside the theater were ominous: “Adult content not suitable for children.” Looking around as we entered, I had to remember that the college-age students there were not children. That’s hard to do when you have offspring older than most present, including the actors performing the show. Carol and I were there by assignment to see the musical “Rent,” the Tony and Pulitzer award winning rock-opera drama about life in New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1980’s. It takes place in the neighborhood known as Alphabet City, an area primarily inhabited by bohemian young people wanting to break into theater, TV or music. Sadly, the area also had high levels of illegal drug activity, violent crime and HIV/AIDS.
Undoubtedly the themes of homosexuality, AIDS, drug addiction and homelessness prompted the warnings about the adult content. The characters include a gay male couple in which both partners have AIDS, an on-again/off-again lesbian couple, and a straight couple in which both partners have AIDS and both have a history of intravenous drug use. It’s not exactly “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and was written intentionally to shake things up, but also to address the concepts of love, loss and community. Those are the themes that I would like to address in this essay. If we can overcome bigotry and be compassionate towards people living with AIDS for a few moments then we can be uplifted by some beautiful elements of Rent.
I’ll admit I was a little put-off when I read some of the articles and reviews of the play in advance of witnessing the production. I wanted to know more about the story before I saw it. I like to think I’m not homophobic but from what I had read in some reviews, the lifestyle went beyond mere portrayal; it was celebrated, endorsed and flaunted in your face. I didn’t want to see that. I’m old-fashioned in that I believe that some things should be left private, and sexual activity is one of them. However, the production that we saw must have been a tamed-down version because there was only occasional gay kissing and touching, nothing too disturbing. I was more bothered by the decibels of the musicians, which sometimes drowned out the singers.
The songs in Rent are the first of the beautiful and uplifting elements that I noticed. The entire play is a musical. It seemed like there were very few lines spoken that were not actually sung. Even the hilarious little phone messages peppered throughout the play were delightfully sung to us, adding much entertainment to the dramatic production. Who hasn’t heard “Seasons of Love,” especially since it has been playing in some TV commercial lately? Although not particularly uplifting to me, La Vie Boheme was immensely entertaining. Other enjoyable songs included Your Eyes, Goodbye Love, Light My Candle, Tango Maureen, Out Tonight, One Song Glory, I Should Tell You, Take Me Or Leave Me, No Day But Today, and Living in America.
I can’t think of one thing with more universal appeal than the idea of love. Who doesn’t want to be loved? I have met people who have said no when I asked them if they wanted to be happy in life but I have never met someone who said no when asked if they wanted to be loved or at least accepted for who they are. Of the three major themes I saw in the play, the idea of being loved came across the strongest. Although they had a lot of emotional handicaps and baggage, these were people dealing with building relationships. I can’t identify with being a drag queen but when Angel was dying, I found myself shedding a tear for Collins’ loss.
Living with Loss
These people lived with loss every day. That’s why one of the recurring songs was entitled, “No Day but Today.” How they dealt with that loss teaches a lot about the idea of community. They came together in their grief. They comforted one another. They took care of one another the best they could. Mimi was not judged for her drug addiction but was encouraged to live without it and find something better to take its place. Since so many of their friends were dying, they adopted the motto to live for the day and to reach for their dreams one day at a time. How hard it must be to make plans for the future when you are living with a disease like AIDS.
It was love and loss that built their community. They only had each other. Rejected by so many outside their world, they had to give each other strength, and they did. Although the ending was a little hokey with Angel becoming the angel who told Mimi to go back when she was dying, the love that developed between Roger and Mimi was delightful to witness. How can you not love a happy, feel-good ending where the main characters find happiness in each other? Except there’s one big problem – they still have AIDS and will die someday. But then, so will we all. See, it really does have universal appeal. The play mirrors life that someday will end.
After seeing the play, Carol read the script and I read dozens of reviews. I was fascinated by the dichotomy of opinions expressed. It seems that most reviewers either loved it or hated it. One said she had never walked out of a play before in her life but walked out on Rent. She must have had a family member in our audience because a couple in front of us walked out at the first encounter of affection expressed between Angel and Collins. Were they homophobic? In all probability, yes they were. I mean, the music was loud and the show could be confusing if you weren’t paying close attention, but it was obvious that they didn’t like what they were seeing.
Reviews from Viewers
Here’s a quote from one of those reader reviews I found in the NY Times about the time the show was closing after a twelve-year run: “If you want homosexuality and drug addiction rubbed in your face, then this is the play for you. I basically hated it, if you haven’t figured that out yet.” In contrast, “Rent is a fabulous roller-coaster ride of emotion. The characters are extremely real, and so are the troubles they face. The songs are beautiful and the energy and electricity of it is so wonderful that you are a complete moron if you don’t like it. The only reason anyone wouldn’t like this show is if they are homophobic, intolerant, and weak.”
But my favorite had to be, “So let’s see… a group of drug addicted promiscuous squatters are the heroes and the one person who breaks from the group and becomes successful and buys the building (which they live in illegally) is the bad-guy because he wants rent… hhhmmmm… and let’s see, we have loud screeching that we’re supposed to call singing but it’s “cool dude” ’cause the lead is just so hot looking and has the teeny bopper girls squealing in delight. This is a show for the MTV-Put-Upon Generation… pure junk.” Opinions of performances are one thing but this reviewer was obviously passing judgment and commenting on the lifestyle choices.
Part of the impact of the show is the death of the composer and writer, Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic dissection, believed to have been caused by Marfan syndrome, on the night before the play opened off Broadway. In spite of his death, the show went on. Glowing reviews began to appear. The six-week run sold out immediately. In the months to come, Rent moved to Broadway, won four Tony awards, including the prize for best musical, and Jonathan Larson won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, posthumously. The show went on to become one of the longest running productions on Broadway and is now enjoying a second life in local theater.
Rent has had and is still having a social impact. While the play is now a little dated with the use of pay phones, answering machines and clunky old cell phones the size of a brick, it is still attracting younger crowds wherever it plays. Of course, that was probably inevitable in our case, given that our venue was a local community college. Wherever it opens, it is reviewed by the local theater critics. The comments posted on those online reviews demonstrate that some of the same prejudices and bigotry are still alive and well in America today. Rent is a wonderful example of American creativity that reaches to the very heart of our lives through love and loss. I hope our community has changed and become more tolerant in the years since it first opened.
I haven’t included a lot of quotes from the musical, because frankly, they aren’t very deep. For example, here’s one from the song, Light my Candle: “I didn’t recognize you without the handcuffs.” And from Angel, the transvestite, “I’m more of a man than you’ll ever be and more of a woman than you’ll ever get.” From the song Will I, about dying from AIDS: “Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” I suppose my favorite has to be “There will always be women in rubber flirting with me…” That last quote is from Maureen, one of the two lesbians. Some of the stuff is really quite funny, if you can just get past the idea that these are people looking for love in unorthodox relationships.
And that is the point of the play and the impact it has had on America. How do we view the lives of those who are not in orthodox relationships? Do we view them as sinners, in need of repentance and salvation, who will suffer in hell because of their poor lifestyle choices? I am confident that there are millions of people who will voice that very opinion without hesitation. Or do we love and accept them, making an effort to help them find happiness and success in life? That is one of the toughest choices in life, especially for those who have family members living in a lifestyle that is contrary to the moral principles that they value. Rent helps us see past the pain and sorrow of rejection and loss of those who live with AIDS and still manage to have hope.
It’s that final scene of hope that I find most uplifting and inspiring about the play. They found hope because they loved and supported each other through their loss and sorrow. I think Jonathan Larson would be pleased to think that his play has helped us to become more loving and supportive of each other, especially those who deal with AIDS on a daily basis. And in the end, the millions he earned posthumously from the play helps others pursue their writing careers.
Note: Carol saw the play with me and shared an excellent review on her blog.
We went walking the precincts again today in support of proposition 8. The turnout was pretty good. We probably had two or three times the number of people show up today as we did two weeks ago. As can be expected on a Saturday morning in Camarillo, nobody was home in about half the houses we visited. They were probably out at a soccer game with their family.
Of those we spoke with, about half had not heard of the proposition and did not seem to mind learning a little about it. That’s all we’re trying to do at this point – inform voters about the proposed state constitutional amendment. The other half who had heard about it were in favor and said they would probably vote yes or were “open” and had not yet decided.
I personally did not encounter anyone on the streets that I visited who was opposed to the amendment. Again, I think that’s a reflection of the demographics of this sleepy little town, a bedroom community with a lot of small high tech businesses. The mixture of registered voters was equally Republican and Democrat with a few “other” in the mix.
Poll numbers don’t seem right
I noted that the most recent poll numbers from the Public Policy Institute of California don’t reflect my experience in walking the precincts. They cite only 40% as being in favor of the amendment and 52% opposed. Although the Public Policy Institute is located in San Francisco, they claim that the survey was conducted statewide, by telephone, between August 12th and 19th.
The wording of the proposed amendment was recently changed by the State Attorney General to read that a yes vote means that you are eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry. I don’t see it that way. When we walk the precincts we present the yes vote as being in favor of restoring the traditional definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.
In 2000, 61% of the people in California voted that marriage is defined as only between a man and a woman. The ruling was overturned earlier this year by four judges. To me, the right of same sex couples to marry was not granted by the people of the state, but by four judges. So if the amendment is defeated this time, we will then know the will of the majority of the people.
Only Mormons walking the precincts
I keep reading that others in the coalition are supposed to be joining us as we go walking door to door but from what I have seen, it is only the Mormons who are actively participating in this part of the campaign. I guess that’s because we have a lot of experience in going door to door. But the turnout today included a lot of couples and individuals who had never been missionaries.
When I returned home from the morning’s activities my son was visiting and saw the materials I had been handing out. He said, “So you’ve been out trying to take away the rights of the gays?” Trying to set the record straight I said, “No, just trying to let the people know about the issue so they can vote on it. We want to restore the legal definition of marriage in California.”
He didn’t buy it. He said, “Why do you Mormons hate the gays?” I restrained my desire to defend what we are doing and let it slide while the conversation went to other subjects. As he was leaving I asked, “Do people think that Mormons hate gays?” He replied, “You guys have a big problem in this area and have had for a long time.” That gave me something to think about.
Perception is reality
Now our son knows that his parents don’t hate gays. Carol and I have both worked with people who identify themselves as homosexual. We don’t shun them. We don’t avoid them. And we are grateful that he is accepting of gay people as well. His point was that the LDS church in general has a problem in being perceived as less than accepting of gays and their lifestyle.
He is right. This is a problem. It is especially a problem with young people his age. From what I can tell, the majority of people in our society under thirty are not opposed to the gay lifestyle or same-sex marriage. As I thought about my experience in walking the precincts today, I realized that most everyone I spoke with was older than thirty and most were in support of proposition 8.
So the fact that it is mainly members of the LDS Church that are out knocking on doors telling our neighbors to vote yes on proposition 8 could be perceived in the way he described. It is not true, or at least I have never seen it in my own experience in the church. I have read accounts of LDS parents rejecting their children who are gay but I hope those are few and far between.
Do Mormons hate gays?
At President Hinckley’s funeral the Westboro Baptist church came and picketed with signs that read, “Mormons love gays,” and worse. If you know anything about the people of the Westboro Baptist church of Kansas you know they feel that everybody in America loves gays. They are especially active in claiming that dead American soldiers in Iraq are a result of this love.
“When asked what President Hinckley had done that enabled homosexuals, one woman said it was because the leader of the LDS Church preached that God loves all his children, including the gay ones. That’s it? God loves all his children, and that makes us a gay church? She emphatically nodded an increasingly smaller head.” That quote is from Robert Kirby, beloved LDS humorist.
Here’s what President Hinckley said: “Our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. It is expected that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct.”
God-given rules of conduct
And there is the point of my essay today. We do not hate gays. I affirm what President Hinckley taught. We love them as sons and daughters of God. It is the part about rules of conduct that many young people seem to miss. It has been my experience that most young people don’t like rules of conduct. It just seems to go against their basic principles to have such rules.
I’m not sure why some do not believe that God has a right to set the rules for our conduct in this life. Perhaps it’s because they do not believe in God, or at least say that they don’t. Rules of conduct are important to me. I have written previously that I believe in government and that we can and should legislate morality. Of course, whose idea of morality do we legislate?
To me, that’s the real problem that we face in our society today. In our conversation today my son pointed out that there were so many other things to spend our energy on besides this gay marriage thing. I disagree. I think this is one of the most important issues facing our state, our nation and our world today. Following God-given rules of conduct will bring great blessings.
Summary and conclusion
No, Mormons do not hate gays. You may argue otherwise and many of you have as I have written about this subject in the past. I expect I will hear from you again with contrary points of view. You may be right. Some Mormons probably do hate gays. That’s unfortunate. I’m a Mormon and I don’t hate gays, or at least I don’t think I do. I try not to hate anybody.
Hate is not becoming of a Christian. Hate does not come from God. It comes from the devil. We have been accused of acting for the devil because we are involved in advocating proposition 8. I do not feel that way. I am following the counsel of a prophet to give this proposition my best effort. My time and my money are precious to me but I give them to follow a prophet.
I believe I will be blessed for following a prophet. I don’t always know how. Was it difficult for me to go walking in my neighborhood today talking to people about proposition 8? Yes, it was. Will I be blessed for my efforts? Yes, I know I will be. Please don’t accuse Mormons of hating gays. That’s not true. We focus on teaching doctrine and behavior that will bring happiness to all people.
In May of 1993 I was working as an editor and publisher in the computer industry. My job required a lot of research and sourcing of material on the Internet. This was in the very earliest days of the World Wide Web. In fact, most of the material I obtained did not come from web pages but from mailing lists and online databases or FTP archives.
Although my job did not require it, I subscribed to a couple of LDS mailing lists. Part of my daily routine was to participate in the discussion that took place on Mormon-L. It is one of the oldest LDS lists, established in 1988 on one of the list servers at BYU. The discussions there were very similar to what we blog about today but mostly tamer.
One exception was a blow-up over an address given by Boyd K. Packer to the All-Church Coordinating Council. It can be found on several locations on the Internet. I prefer the formatting of the talk as presented on Light Planet. Without a doubt, it has been one of the most discussed and argued about addresses by a General Authority even to this day.
Background of the address
Early in his assignment to supervise Seminaries and Institutes, Elder Packer received counsel from President Harold B Lee who said, “You must decide now which way you face. Either you represent the teachers and students and champion their causes or you represent the Brethren who appointed you. You need to decide now which way you face.”
Elder Packer then gave a few examples demonstrating the concept of being corrected or even reproved by those presiding over him in the leadership of the Church. He describes how difficult it is to be submissive to changes requested, even to the point of accepting changes in talks given in General Conference. I love Elder Packer’s conference talks.
In his talk he mentions the worldwide evaporation of values and standards within politics, government, society, entertainment and education. He then briefly discusses drift taking place even within the church and points out how critical it is that we recognize and take corrective action. He reminds us that these are signs of danger foretold for the last days.
The three areas of danger
Elder Packer did not speak in generalities that day. He was very specific and direct in his remarks. He clearly identified that, “There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church.
“In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right. The dangers I speak of come from 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.
“Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.” He then mentions a recent conference address by President Benson on working mothers.
Counsel from a prophet
After reading excerpts of letters from members of the church demonstrating that each of these three areas are troubling to some, Elder Packer then offers the following counsel. Without diminishing the validity of the concerns expressed in the letters, he points out that without a true understanding of the plan of salvation, life will always seem unfair.
“That young man with gender disorientation needs to know that gender was not assigned at mortal birth, that we were sons and daughters of God in the premortal state. The woman pleading for help needs to see the eternal nature of things and to know that…she will find no enduring peace in the feminist movement. There she will have no hope.
Referring to an individual who offered to mediate between the scholarly community and the direction from the prophets he says, “The one who supposes that he ‘understands the mind-set of both groups’ needs to understand that the doctrines of the gospel are revealed through the Spirit to prophets, not through the intellect to scholars.”
Fifteen years later
Elder Packer was roundly criticized by many on the list for his perceived insensitivity to individuals and groups he mentioned in his talk. The criticism was so bad that it came to the attention of the leading councils of the church. The distribution of the list was kicked off the BYU servers. To many, this seemed like an attempt to squelch intellectual dialog.
You probably remember what happened to some within the scholarly community later that year. The plights of the September Six have been written up and discussed many times since then. I wonder if the same thing would have happened today. I can assure you that the dialog on LDS forums today is so much worse than what happened then.
The point of my essay is not to comment on President Packer’s condemnation of these three groups. I am not a member of any one of the groups so I can’t understand how it must have felt to have been identified as a grave threat and danger to the church. I only want to point out that today I believe we are more tolerant of dialog and even dissent.
Summary and conclusion
I love Elder Packer. He is one of my favorite apostles. His counsel over the years has helped and strengthened me tremendously. His health these days is not the best. I would not be surprised if he is called home soon. My wife’s family knows many of Elder Packer’s family as they are from Brigham City. I feel that he is like a distant relative.
I did not really understand the violent reaction to his talk back in 1993. Most members of the church were not even aware of what had transpired and most still don’t today. I felt bad for him. I know he was trying to be helpful. I have always felt that Elder Packer is one who, like Elder McConkie, has always tried to keep the caravan on the right path.
My apologies to those who read this post based on the title expecting to find some essay condemning gays, feminists and intellectuals. I hope you have not come away with that idea at all. I sincerely hope that we have become more tolerant over the years. I also hope that we have learned not to take offense when a prophet tries to give us counsel.
Although not a General Authority, Daniel K. Judd currently serves as the First Counselor in the General Sunday School Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the chair of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. Brother Judd has a Master’s degree in family science and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from BYU.
He is a consultant with LDS Family Services and a member of the Know Your Religion Faculty. He has published much material and is the author of “Hard Questions, Prophetic Answers,” and the editor of “Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Religion,” as well as “Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints (video here).”
The list could go on and on, but the point I wish to make is that I believe him to be most eminently qualified for his material that I am about to present on the very difficult subject of homosexuality. He has been a bishop and a Stake President, and has been intimately involved in providing family counseling for many, many years on this very topic.
Why I write about homosexuality
I raise this difficult subject only after much thought and prayer. It comes up as a natural progression of my blogging activities lately which have touched upon same sex attraction and defining marriage here in the State of California. I have had much dialog with those who feel the pull of same sex attraction but do not participate in homosexual activities. I also have had some conversation with those who are openly involved in the gay lifestyle.
To state my position up front: I am not gay. I have never experienced same sex attraction to any degree. I am passionate about marriage and family and believe it to be a source of some of my greatest happiness. I have never suffered abuse as a child or an adult and have always felt loved and cherished as an individual of worth by my family and by my Heavenly Father. My desire in writing this is simply to understand another point of view.
The source of the essay from which I take my quotes today can be found in this article on the Deseret Book site. It was published in 2004 but is just as pertinent today as it was back then. It is prominently referenced on the Evergreen International site under articles. I was profoundly impressed with the depth of compassion and understanding exhibited in the essay, apparently a chapter from his book on Hard Questions, Prophetic Answers.
God did not intend us to be homosexual
He recites a letter from a young man announcing to his family that he is gay. Says Brother Judd, “He believes he is homosexual and has found some seasonal peace in being ‘honest’ about who he believes himself to be. The real tragedy of this story, as well as the doctrinal reality in it, is that this young man has been deceived into being honest about a lie.” If you have never heard or read this before, please continue on before jumping to conclusions. This is important.
“He has come to believe and act upon the false notion that being homosexual is the way God intended him to be and that change is not necessary or even possible. Although this young man may have a biological predisposition for some of the physical and emotional characteristics that sometimes accompany the homosexual lifestyle, it is both a doctrinal truth and a scientific fact that his biology does not force him to engage in homosexual relationships.
“This young man may indeed be more susceptible to homosexual temptation than many other young men his age, and he may not have capriciously chosen to think and to feel the way he does, but the doctrinal fact is that he is “free to act for [himself] —to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Nephi 10:23). The focus of Brother Judd’s writings, and indeed the position of the Church is that we are free to choose our behavior.
Born that way – how is that possible?
In a previous post I had a fascinating dialog with someone who pointed me to several resources that helped me tremendously in understanding more about this subject. I confess that I at one time thought it was very simple. I wrote that it could be dealt with just as with any other temptation such as pornography, through self-control and through redirection of passion into a more positive channel. I still feel this is a valid approach.
The point that was new to me is that some are suggesting that Elder Wickman’s choice of words in this interview means that the Church has changed its position. In the detailed interview, Elder Wickman used the words, “…one’s gender orientation is certainly a core characteristic of any person…” Unless I misread it, this apparently meant to some that being gay is simply the way they are and that there is nothing they can do about it.
I note that Elder Oaks did not use the phrase “core characteristic.” I have thought long and hard about this. I do not believe that Elder Wickman meant to imply that we were born to be homosexuals. I hope nobody uses this as a justification to engage in any kind of homosexual behavior by concluding, “Well, if a General Authority says I was born this way and there’s nothing I can do about it, then why not just give in to these feelings?”
Elder Oaks teaches correct doctrine
Elder Oaks wrote, “Different persons have different physical characteristics and different susceptibilities to the various physical and emotional pressures we may encounter in our childhood and adult environments. We did not choose these personal susceptibilities either, but we do choose and will be accountable for the attitudes, priorities, behavior, and ‘lifestyle’ we engraft upon them.” Choice is an essential part of our existence.
Brother Judd wrote, “The Lord and His prophets have taught that God did not create His children to be gay or lesbian and that for those who suffer with this affliction, change is possible. Also, contrary to what the young man in the story found in his own research, reliable scientific research supports the doctrinal truth that change is possible—someone who experiences same-sex attraction can work towards, and in time experience, a change in sexual orientation.”
Elder Oaks explained, “We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.”
Homosexuality is a temptation
I maintain that homosexual behavior is a temptation. Putting it in the same category as pornography may have been a bit simplistic but not far off. There are many men in the church who have been devastated by their addiction to pornography and masturbation. It is my observation that those who struggle with same-gender attraction suffer the same if not even more powerful pull of the temptation to engage in homosexual behavior.
I appreciate the education I have received that same-sex attraction may indeed be a part of our biological makeup. But I can’t believe that we were sent here to be anything other than the gender that we possessed in our pre-mortal life. The prophets teach that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” I don’t believe that a woman is born into a man’s body or vice-versa.
We teach as a Church that the source of temptation is the adversary. I think that we are sometimes hesitant to clearly identify that the adversary works through the spirits that followed him from the pre-earth life to here. He also works through those who have died addicted to the flesh and remain here with the intent to use the mortal tabernacle of those who will give in to their suggestions and temptations to engage in homosexual behavior.
Summary and conclusion
Let’s focus on the hope that is in Jesus Christ. He is the source of all hope and all power. However, that hope and power is dependent upon our exercise of faith in Him. He has the power to heal us. He has the power to bless us and help us as we struggle through the temptations of this life. He is the only one who understands perfectly the whisperings of the adversary that tempt us and try us. He was also tempted but gave them no heed.
As Brother Judd concluded in his article, we may not know all the reasons or explanations for same-sex attraction. Although I do not feel this pull, I know there are those who do, and perhaps are more susceptible to it because of their biological makeup. Some things we may not know until we pass through this life and are educated when we get to the other side. We may also never be fully healed until we are no longer subject to mortal bodies.
There are members of the church who have unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction and have to deal with them everyday. For others, it is something that they have overcome but must be constantly vigilant. Some have not accepted the doctrines as taught by Apostles and Prophets and have given in to the temptations. So is homosexual behavior a sin? Yes, it is. Is same-sex attraction a biological fact? Yes, I now believe that this may also be true.
1. LDS Family Services
2. Evergreen International
3. LDS Resources
4. God Loveth His Children
5. LDS Newsroom Interview
7. Northern Lights
8. Elder Oaks on SGA
9. Elder Holland on SGA
10. Daniel Judd’s article
Yesterday, in some wards in our stake here in California, a letter from the First Presidency was read. In the letter, it was requested that we do all that we can to support the proposed constitutional amendment on preserving traditional marriage here in California. In particular, we were asked to donate of our means and time to assure the passage of the ballot measure.
My wife reports that the letter was read in our home ward, while the bishop of the ward in which I serve had not yet received it. I have read reports that the letter was read in other states beside California, along with commentary that members in those states should support the efforts here. As far as I can determine, nobody got up and walked out in protest like some had suggested.
This invitation is to members of the church to become active in what some describe as a political issue. The church has made it clear over the years that this is a moral issue. That is why back in 2000 we were asked to place signs on our lawns in support of proposition 22. Carol and I walked the precincts with many others in our stake to distribute information to our neighbors.
A moral and a social issue
When the First Presidency of the church asks the members to do something, it deserves careful attention. Why is the legal definition of marriage in the State of California a moral issue? Those who are against it argue that it would not change our society at all. As a church, we disagree. We believe that marriage is ordained of God. No society has ever tried to redefine it until now.
There is great material available on the subject that explains why this is both a moral issue and a social issue deserving the participation of the church. It can best be found in the Amicus brief that the Church filed with the State of California awhile back. If you open the PDF of the link in the previous sentence, skip down to page 27 for the beginning of the argument.
I believe that we owe it to our testimonies and our faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to consider carefully what the prophet of the Lord is asking us to do and to respond accordingly. I know there are many members of the church who have family members or friends who identify themselves as gay. This issue is not about that. It is about preserving traditional marriage.
The position of the Church
From the brief: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian denomination with approximately 800,000 members in California. Marriage and the family are central to the Church’s doctrine and beliefs. The Church teaches that marriage between man and woman is ordained of God and that the traditional family is the foundation of society.”
“The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” Source – The Family: A Proclamation to the World.
“The Church believes that marriage and family supply the crucial relationships through which parents and children learn to live basic moral norms and acquire public and private virtue. The Church opposes changing the traditional male-female definition of marriage because of the harm such a change will cause to marriage and the family.”
The argument of the church
[The church has] “a powerful interest in the institution of marriage. We are deeply concerned about the happiness and welfare of our members, especially our member children. Through millions of hours of counseling and ministry, we have seen at close range the enormous benefits that traditional male-female marriage imparts. We have also witnessed the substantial adverse consequences for children that often flow from alternative household arrangements.”
“Since no same-sex marriage can produce children from both spouses, the close cultural linkage between the institution of marriage and the begetting and raising of children will be weakened. Whatever the choices of individual couples, children will no longer be central to the social meaning and purpose of marriage. What plaintiffs advocate is in fact an enormous change in California’s most important social institution.”
“California’s definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is entitled to profound judicial respect. Even in jurisdictions around the world known for being highly solicitous of gays and lesbians, the democratic judgment of nearly all such jurisdictions remains that marriage should be reserved exclusively to male-female couples, with the legitimate needs of homosexuals being addressed through other protections and institutions. Judicial deference to the people’s democratic judgment on this issue is appropriate.”
Summary and conclusion
In other words, we do not believe it is appropriate that the judges have overturned the vote of the people of the State of California in 2000 in which 61% of the voters upheld traditional marriage. The opponents of traditional marriage are wondering if the people will turn out in the same numbers to support this amendment. We expressed our voice then. We can do it again.
This proposed constitutional amendment deserves our support as a church and as a people. I am impressed that the First Presidency has been consistent over the years on our position in this matter. Carol and I fully support the Prophet in this moral issue and pledge to do our part in contributing our time and means to advocate the passage of the proposed amendment.
Some have accused members of the LDS Church of being brainwashed in a culture of obedience. Nothing could be further from the truth. We use common sense, good judgment and the intellectual capacity with which God has blessed us to determine for ourselves that the prophets are right on this issue. We stand with the Lord and the prophet in defining traditional marriage.
For more information:
2. Alliance Defense Fund
3. Family Leader network
4. Campaign for Children and Families
5. Family Research Council
6. Alliance for Marriage
7. Institute for Marriage and Public Policy
8. World Congress of Families
The city of Philadelphia will start charging the local council of the Boy Scouts of America $200,000 a year to use the city-owned land under the council headquarters building. Since 1928 the City had been charging the Council only $1 a year. What would make them start charging such a high amount now?
The city has made it clear that the move is designed to punish the Boy Scouts of America because it will not allow homosexuals to serve as Scout Leaders. The city says it is charging the scouts $200,000 a year because the scouts discriminate against homosexuals. But the city finds nothing wrong with their discrimination against the scouts because of the scouts’ belief.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the scouts, as a private group, have a First Amendment right to bar homosexuals from membership. Philadelphia officials, in an effort to appease the homosexual activists, began searching for a way to punish the scouts. The rent increase was the vehicle to do that. Source: Philly.com
What does the LDS church think about Scouting? President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I love the Scouting movement. I am glad to be able to pay my respects to you who move the great Scouting program along. We would not have the kind of gang problems we have if there were more boys enrolled in Scouting, because the spirit of Scouting and the spirit of gang life are contradictory one to another. This program builds boys, builds their futures, leads them to the right path so they can make something of their lives.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints formally affiliated with the Scouting movement in the United States in May of 1913 as its first institutional sponsor, and today sponsors more Scouts and Scouting units in the United States than any other organization. Hundreds of thousands of young men are enrolled as Scouts in groups or units sponsored by the Church.
We have strong affiliations with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA); Scouts Canada; the Scouting Associations of Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain; and other associations in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. The vast majority of Latter-day Saint Scouting affiliations, however, are in the western and central United States and Canada. Source: LDS.org
If the Boy Scouts of America is forced to accept gays as scoutmasters, the LDS Church will withdraw from the organization and take more than 400,000 Scouts with it (12% of total enrollment and 25% of enrolled units). That’s the contention of Salt Lake City attorney Von G. Keetch, who filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the Boy Scouts’ ban on homosexuals on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and four other religious organizations back in 2000.
I hope that the Boy Scouts of America are never bullied into being forced to accept homosexual members or leaders. If that ever happens, it is my opinion that the church will withdraw it’s support for the Boy Scouts. What do you think?