The LDS Church recently published another anonymously-written essay on its website about Joseph Smith's marriages to girls, currently-married women and other females. The New York Times even ran a front-page (above the fold) story about it. I, along with many other Mormons who tend to be more well-read in Mormon history, was not surprised by anything in the essay. I already knew about it. But it was interesting to read the (few) comments I browsed through in various places in reaction to this publication.
Here, too, I wasn't surprised. That doesn't mean, however, that I was not dismayed and even a bit angry. Why? Because of comments left by people - a lot of whom seemed to be younger - that this was no surprise to them, that they had been taught all this in seminary (wrong) and that it doesn't make any difference. In other words, it's ancient history; move on.
The ignorance of these people is astonishing. And that's what it is: ignorance ... combined with arrogance and willful blindness. Oh, and did I mention revisionism?
I don't really follow Mormon issues all that closely anymore, but what I read reminded me of something that was (and to an extent still is) close to my heart. What is that? The revisionism that has taken place within the Mormon community (and hierarchy) - even within the gay Mormon community - concerning the Church's historic stance on homosexuality.
In this regard, I'd like to republish below a piece I wrote in August of 2012, originally entitled "Apologetics vs. Apology," that addressed this subject.
“There hasn’t been a major change in doctrine like some people suggest.”
~ Joshua Johanson
Speaking at the recent [8/2012] FAIR conference concerning same-sex attraction
Joshua Johanson is a youngish Mormon who is married to a woman but admits – publicly and loudly – that he “has” “same-sex attraction” (SSA). A couple of days ago, he presented at the annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) held in the Salt Lake area.
There is much that could be written about Johanson’s remarks, but I wish to focus on the sentence quoted above and some comments along the same line that Johanson left on a post I published on Main Street Plaza (MSP) over a year ago.
The MSP post generated over 160 comments, many written by Johanson (“An Inner Light”). Again, there is much that could be written about all that he and others expressed on a number of issues relating to Mormonism and homosexuality, but I want to focus in this post on only one: Johanson’s revisionist view of Mormon doctrine concerning homosexuality.
In typical apologist fashion, Johanson goes through an extensive number of rhetorical gyrations in the numerous comments he left on the post (and in his FAIR presentation) in order to advance the position that Church leaders have never condemned homosexuality per se, only the practice of engaging in lustful homosexual sex acts. He argued that Elder Packer’s infamous speeches in the late 70’s (as well as his October 2010 address) were misinterpreted by the men and women who heard and read his remarks. He does this to prove (mainly to himself) that the Church’s position on homosexuality has never changed; it was just misunderstood.
Though I don’t doubt Johanson’s sincerity, I took strong exception to his position, because to me it was revisionism, plain and simple. I summarized my thoughts in the following comment:
"I’m sorry [Peculiar Light], but I have felt a growing, very strong reaction to your comments, which have the effect of minimizing what for generations of Mormon men were deeply significant statements and teachings – teachings that altered their lives; teachings which conveyed that to have same sex attractions was sinful, dirty and (to use Packer’s recent phrase) “impure and unnatural.” I know – I lived through that era. I was there.
"So to read statements such as yours, it’s the height of apologetics: whitewashing. Denial of what really happened; what was really said. It’s deeply disturbing. Do you think that BYU conducted those electric shock therapy sessions because only homosexual *acts* were viewed as wrong? No! They conducted those sessions to try to condition responses to erotic male images. They were trying to kill same-sex attraction in their victims.
"To advance a theory now that the Church didn’t really teach what it did in fact teach, that it was all semantics, minimizes the trauma that countless men went through and are still feeling the effects of. It relieves the Church of responsibility for what it did, and it relieves the modern thinking member of the Church of responsibility for contemplating WHY the “doctrine” has changed so significantly over the past few decades …”
Apologetics vs. apology …
A couple of months ago, I received an e-mail from a guy I know who is about my age, is married (to a woman) and is gay. We have corresponded for well over a year. By way of background, he was raised in the Church, but knew he was gay. He came out for a number of years, but then met a woman with whom he felt he could make a life and “live the Plan of Happiness” (i.e., be a devout heterosexual Mormon). They got married and had children. Now, however, though he loves his wife, he feels somewhat trapped.
“I was cleaning out some old magazines and books,” he wrote, “when I came across an issue of the Ensign dated November 1980 (conference issue). On page 94 there is an article by President Spencer W. Kimball [president of the Church at that time] entitled "President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality." I want to quote some parts.”
This friend then went on to quote extracts of President Kimball’s address. Kimball, though feeble, was president of the Church when I converted to Mormonism. His books, sermons and other writings and pronouncements were extremely influential in my early days and years in the Church, as they were to countless other men of my generation who either were raised in or joined the Church during the 70’s and early 80’s.
Though I was familiar with President Kimball’s teachings, and though I have reviewed many statements about homosexuality made by leaders of the Church over the last 50 years, I do not recall reading this address that my friend referred to in his email. I want to quote from it at length because it so clearly reveals the teachings of the Church regarding homosexuality during this period, teachings which dramatically affected me, my friend and tens of thousands of other young Mormon men (and women).
“The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity. If one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery. The Lord condemns and forbids this practice with a vigor equal to his condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. And the Church will excommunicate as readily any unrepentant addict.
“Again, contrary to the belief and statement of many people, this sin, like fornication, is overcomable and forgivable, but again, only upon a deep and abiding repentance, which means total abandonment and complete transformation of thought and act. The fact that some governments and some churches and numerous corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice. Good men, wise men, God-fearing men everywhere still denounce the practice as being unworthy of sons and daughters of God; and Christ’s church denounces it and condemns it so long as men and women have bodies which can be defiled …
“This heinous homosexual sin is of the ages. Many cities and civilizations have gone out of existence because of it. It was present in Israel’s wandering days, tolerated by the Greeks, and found in the baths of corrupt Rome.
“This is a most unpleasant subject to dwell upon, but I am pressed to speak of it boldly so that no youth in the Church will ever have any question in his mind as to the illicit and diabolical nature of this perverse program. Again, Lucifer deceives and prompts logic and rationalization which will destroy men and women and make them servants of Satan forever …
“‘God made me that way,’ some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. ‘I can’t help it,’ they add. This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be ‘that way’? Man is responsible for his own sins. It is possible that he may rationalize and excuse himself until the groove is so deep he cannot get out without great difficulty, but this he can do …”
My friend had highlighted numerous objectionable terms used by President Kimball, but if I were to do that, the entire passage would be highlighted.
“I could go on. This makes me sick and I started shaking when I read it again for the first time in many years. Is it any wonder so many of us fought with ourselves for so long? Is it any wonder we put on the mask and thought if we acted the way we were told to that eventually we could be cured?
“If the church really wanted to change, really wanted to heal wounds, then they would recant these types of messages and extend an olive branch to the downtrodden. Instead we just get a general "love the sinner but not the sin." Or the equally loving 'hey, you're OK just they way you are, just don't act on it.'
“Anyway, it does make me realize how hard I fought, and why I fought. I wanted to please the prophet, my prophet. In the end I was just betrayed. "I'm sorry" could go a long way towards healing old wounds, but it won't happen.”
He’s right: it won’t happen. Not only that, but it is infuriating to hear Church leaders (and members such as Johanson) soft-pedal rhetoric like that of President Kimball – a man revered within the Church as a prophet, seer and revelator – and Elder Packer and others. At the time of Kimball’s address, Church leaders – both local and general – encouraged young men who “confessed” to homosexual “inclinations” to go ahead and marry (but not to tell their prospective wives anything), claiming that once they did so and experienced heterosexual sex, they’d be cured. Now, apostles of the Church claim that this counsel was never given and that the Church is interested in protecting “the choice daughters of God.” Well, they sure weren’t 30 years ago.
There will be no apology because to do so would be to admit that President Kimball – and many other leaders recognized as prophets – were wrong. And that will never happen.
What apparently will continue to happen, particularly if left unchallenged, is apologistic revisionism.