Friday, July 19, 2013

Them That Call Evil Good and Good Evil

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, 
and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"

~ Isaiah 5:20

This well-known and well-used scripture has been floating around my head for the past several weeks in the wake of my daughter's blog post about reconciling what she knows to be true about the family that Mark and I have created with what the LDS Church has told her about same-sex relationships. It was a powerful post, and if you have not read it, I highly recommend it.

Her post was subsequently re-published on Feminist Mormon Housewives and on No More Strangers. I wrote a post in response, and it was also republished on No More Strangers.

The comments that my daughter received were generally very supportive. My post, however, received a number of negative, condemnatory comments. With respect to both posts, comments that were not entirely supportive tended to fall within the following categories:
  • Church leaders are human and sometimes make mistakes.
  • Church leaders should be forgiven when they make mistakes.
  • If one does not forgive for an "offense," then the greater sin lies with she who has been hurt.
  • My 19-year-old daughter should have "stood up" to her stake president - the man who had the power to deny her temple recommend immediately prior to her temple wedding.
  • The Church is making "progress" and those who have been hurt by its shifting policies on homosexuality should be patient and forebearing.

There is much that could be said about these statements, such as:
  • Why the constant need to defend leaders?
  • Why the constant insistence on the point that the Church is perfect but the people in it are not?
  • Why the need to bash those that have been hurt in order to defend leaders?

But I am not going to address these questions in this post.

I want to look at a larger issue. 

The scripture that I quoted above has often - many times - been used to condemn what are perceived as "wicked" practices and trends in society, as well as to defend Church doctrine, policies and practices. Those who have different views from the Church are perceived as calling evil good, of putting darkness for light and bitter for sweet. 

On the other hand, those who criticize certain doctrine, policies and practices of the Church are perceived as calling good evil, of calling that which is light, darkness, and of calling that which is sweet, bitter. 

These kinds of attitudes are deliberately fostered within the LDS Church (as well as in many other conservative Christian denominations) with respect to many issues and teachings. Mormons are taught to view themselves as both guardians of virtue and recipients of the mockery of the prideful world (e.g., in Lehi's Dream). This view tends to promote self-righteousness and a rigid, skewed and frankly uncharitable world view, justified by scriptures such as Isaiah 5:20.

But I'd like to turn this scripture around, looking at the Church's teachings about homosexuality and family. I'd like to suggest that it is the Church (through its doctrines, practices and policies that have in turn affected the attitudes of millions of Church members), that has called bigotry, judgment

For most of its history, in fact until just recently, the Church taught that those who experience feelings of attraction to members of their own sex were depraved, in grave danger of hellfire. Men and women, but primarily men, were (and are) labeled and judged based on a single (but very important) characteristic - their sexual orientation. 

Any other "redeeming" qualities of such persons that were/are "virtuous, lovely or of good report," were ignored. Such people were/are "evil," and it wouldn't do for them to be considered "good." They had to change from "evil" to "good." Any pronouncement that gays are just as good as other people (or just as bad), that homosexuality is not a moral issue, was calling evil, good; and any criticism leveled at the Church for its teachings on homosexuality was essentially calling good, evil.

The Church teaches and has always taught that "acting" on one's gay sexual orientation is a sin and bad. And this is not limited to actual sex. It applies to any other type of activity, feelings or gestures that, with respect to a heterosexual relationship, would be considered healthy, appropriate and in no way a violation of the law of chastity - but with respect to a same-sex relationship is wrong. In fact, there is no such thing as a same-sex "relationship" - at least nothing that could be considered "good." Mormon gays are expected to be not only celibate sexually, but celibate emotionally as well. 

And as to gay relationships, gay partnerships and gay marriage, the Church's stance was pretty well stated recently by Boyd Packer when he referred to same-sex marriages and partnerships as "Satan's counterfeit for marriage." Any claim that such relationships were anything but bad was calling evil good, and any criticism of the Church's stance in this regard is calling good evil.

But I think it is time to turn Isaiah around. The Church is calling something that is good, evil. It is labeling something that is full of light, darkness. It is claiming that something that is sweet, bitter. These sentiments were expressed by my daughter in her blog post:
"I watch my dad and Mark interact with each other, I see love, respect, kindness, loyalty, and dedication. I watch my dad and Mark interact with my siblings, and I see the same things. I see my little brother come over and sit on Mark's lap and Mark intently listen to what he has to say, whether it's about his lego set or his little sister that is bothering him. I hear him tell my six-year old sister that she looks so beautiful in her new outfit. I see the joy in his eyes when he sees the my siblings laugh and play. 
"Mark and Dad are good parents. Obviously my dad has always been my dad, and I've always loved him for it, but it's been amazing to me to see Mark come into our lives and be another loving parent to me and my siblings. 
"There is a peaceful spirit I feel when I am at dad and Mark's house. It is calm, simple, and beautiful. I don't feel like there is anything amiss, or missing, though of course I always miss both my parents and all of my family members whenever we are not all together. 
"I guess I am saying all of this as a back drop to my feelings I want to express in this post. 
"I've been taught at church to think that what I experience at my dad's house is "wrong." That it isn't natural, right, healthy, or good.
"Well I've come to the point when I just KNOW that is not true. I believe it, I feel it, I know it."
Thankfully, more and more people are realizing that not only the LDS Church, but many other conservative Christian denominations, pundits and political groups are under Isaiah's condemnation. They are realizing that what they had taught to regard as evil is nothing of the sort; that their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers are not the people that others would portray them to be; that these people's relationships are based on love, commitment and dignity - not depraved sexuality as they had been taught.

And when they see love for what it truly is, when they give themselves permission to act on the love they have for their gay family members, they in turn are blessed with that same love and are enabled to better view the world as a place of goodness, sweetness and light, rather than a vale of evil, bitterness and darkness.


  1. You have a great skill for written communication, Joseph, and I love the clarity you bring to my views of the church. I've always enjoyed reading your blogs. Thanks!

  2. Thank you, Michael. I appreciate the feedback!

    1. Joe and Mark,

      I just read of the terrifying development in your life. We are deeply sorry and add our hope and prayers for solutions and peace of mind.

      Gary and Brad

    2. Thank you Gary and Brad. Hope all is well with you guys.

  3. So sorry that you are both going through the cancer experience. It runs in my family, too. I am most interested in this post as I think that my husband and I may be introducing the Mormons and Gays website to our ward on the fifth Sunday of either September or December. I am sure this quote will come up. I think that many people, such as your daughter, are finding that this quote is being used to push people back into line with regard to the old attitude towards gays. On the other hand, their actual life experience with wonderful gays and lesbians pushes them towards acceptance and love. Thanks for posting and best of luck in your journey.

  4. Thank you, Sherri. You're doing a good work. If more people were to be exposed to the positive aspects of the "gay lifestyle," I'm confident that they would recognize that what has been called evil is actually good. Thanks again for reading the post, commenting, and offering us your good wishes.