Activity and Lesson Ideas
Understanding and Combating Homophobia
TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS LESSON:
Handout further explores:
- What is Homophobia?
- Examples of homophobia in action
- Why People Hate
- Understanding Prejudice
- Is Same-sex Attraction a Sin?
- What Motivates Scapegoating?
- Who Are These Scapegoaters?
- True Morality
- Moral Development
- The Moral Dilemma
What is Homophobia?
Homophobia is defined as fear, loathing and hatred of homosexuals and/or homosexuality. A homophobe is a person who believes homophobic beliefs.
Homophobes generally fit into four levels of homophobic attitudes:
In this most extreme expression of homophobia, homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature. Gays are seen as sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wicked, etc. Anything is justified in order to change them, including prison, hospitalization, negative behavior therapy, and the former use of pornography, drugs and electric shock at BYU. One of the church's most outspoken examples of this kind of person is Boyd Packer, who once stated that it was okay to hit a homosexual.
- Is homophobia ever justified?
- What other examples can be found in the church of this kind of homophobia?
Pity is better than revulsion, but it is heterosexual chauvinism. In this type of homophobia, the assumption is that heterosexuality is more mature and certainly to be preferred. Any possibility of becoming straight should be reinforced, and those who seem to have been born "that way" should be pitied, the poor things.
TOLERANCE (Hate the sin, Love the sinner)
- How many of our families fit this description?
- Why should this level of homophobia be discouraged?
In this view, homosexuality is seen as just a phase of adolescent development that many people go through and most people grow out of. Thus gays are less mature than straights and should be treated with the protectiveness and indulgence one uses with a child. Gays and lesbians, in this view, should not be given positions of authority because they are still working through adolescent behaviors. Evergreen (one "unofficially" church sponsored group), for example, suggests that gay men simply need to learn how to become "men," and so play sports as a method to achieve this goal.
- How many of us can claim to be "victims" of this kind of prejudice?
- Why is tolerance not enough?
Acceptance, while the most positive form of homophobia, still implies that there is something to accept, characterized by such statements as, "You're not gay to me, you're a person." "What you do in bed is your own business." "That's fine as long as you don't flaunt it."
Acceptance ignores the pain of invisibility and the stress of closet behavior. "Flaunt" usually means saying or doing anything that makes people aware of your homosexuality.
- In what way does this prejudice deny social and legal realities?
- How would this kind of homophobia be viewed if we turned it around and told straight members that although we don't approve, we will be accepting of their ways (as long as they don't flaunt it!)?
- How does "coming out" help to eliminate homophobia?
Homophobia--What Is It?
Homophobia is the intense, irrational fear of same-sex relationships. The root meaning of the word is: fear of homosexuality. Its meaning has evolved over time; it is now usually defined as fear, loathing and hatred of homosexuals and/or homosexuality. There are several possible explanations. One is that homophobia is an attempt to repress or deny one's own homosexual impulses. This "internationalized homophobia" is a possible explanation for the way some of our outspoken homophobic church leaders act.
Someone once wrote that what the country (and our church) is going through with the gay issue is similar to what a family often goes through on learning that one of their own is gay or lesbian. There might be shock, fear, hostility, and hysteria before there is understanding and acceptance.
One can hardly open a magazine or newspaper, or turn on the television without seeing something gay. People who would prefer not to deal at all with the lives of gays and lesbians presently have little choice. Short of burying their heads in the sand to avoid seeing our reality, they are forced to make choices about what it means to be gay. Of course, since these people are not gay or lesbian (presumably), they have little to go on. This includes our church leaders, who have never claimed to have received revelation to back up their current personal beliefs, beliefs which have changed drastically over the past 30 years from a former attitude that was not only tolerant, but accepting.
Betty Berzon, Ph.D., has written in her book Setting Them Straight: You can do something about bigotry and homophobia in your life: Homophobia, sexism, and sexual harassment all have one thing in common. The real issue is power—who has it and who doesn't. Our society has developed mainly around the needs of men, in whom most of the power has been vested. One important way of expressing male power has been the subjugation of women. That may or may not have appeared to be consensual before, but it surely is not now. Women have taken power of their own and, for the most part, no longer serve as "society's handmaidens."
This is less true, sadly, when it comes to women within our church who are still, as one woman once said, "trained to take care of everyone, serve the refreshments and clean up the mess." Nowhere within the church's empire can an organization be found that is run by women. Everything, including the Relief Society and Primary programs, are headed by men. This was not always so. When women do take power, certain men resent this and act out their resentment in sometimes brutal ways.
Heterosexuals as a group have always had more power than homosexuals. "Those people" are subjugated by ridicule, disdain, and marginalization. Now gay and lesbian people are beginning to claim power through visibility in politics, and in the media. They are no longer willing to stay quiet and in their closets like they were taught. As they begin to impose new rules for how they are willing to be treated, the power balance is shifting once again.
Homophobic straights are not willing to give up easily. Most do not understand that the assertion, or at least the illusion, of power is the driving force behind their efforts to put limits on our freedom. But we must stand up to them, just the same.
A billboard along the freeway said: Ignorance isn't bliss, it's ignorance. What of all the power-hungry men (and some women) in our church and society who refuse to face their own reflection in the mirror, a reflection that shows a homophobe? It's to these people that we must raise the mirror of truth. We must learn why people are prejudiced and the psychological payoff of scapegoating strangers. We must then use this knowledge to fight intolerance and injustice, even in small instances. We are all diminished by discrimination when the value of our very existence is questioned. When we don't respond, when we don't fight back, our integrity as human beings is further compromised. Talking back to bigotry is posing the issue of our right to love versus their right to hate.
Why People Hate—The Origins of Prejudice
Everyone is a potential hater. Aggression is a part of every person's makeup. Depending on one's family training, the culture one lives in, and the circumstances of one's life, aggression is expressed openly, covertly, or repressively. Just take a look at men wild about sports to see one of the "accepted" ways our society approves of and supports aggression in action.
Sometimes people hate because they are unable to love. Most of us have been in love at least once. You remember the rush of emotion you experienced when the object of your affection walked into the room. But there are those for whom love is anything but a welcome visitor, for whom it is a dangerous emotion that makes you vulnerable and defenseless. Love carries with it the potential of oppressive responsibility. You are expected to have relations with people you love, to care about their well-being, to selflessly support and protect them.
Hate, on the other hand, makes no such demands. You don't have to form relationships with people you hate. You don't have to care about what is happening to them. You don't even have to relate to them as human beings. Hating others creates an illusion of superiority and strength, which works as protection against those who are different enough to be threatening.
Hating helps to make the world seem more manageable by reducing many of the complexities of life to simple concepts: good and evil, right and wrong, safe and dangerous. These concepts are not seen as oversimplified abstractions. They are true guideposts of the hater's journey through life, defined by one "authority" or another, ways to know that you are okay, because someone else isn't.
Hating can provide those who are powerless with "explanations" for what is wrong in their world. "They" are ruining everything. Pat Robertson says that homosexuality is a "shameful lifestyle that destroys all it touches." Even though this statement makes no sense at all, it provides the powerless person with a compelling reason to hate homosexuals, "who are ruining everything." That is a significant part of what hating strangers is about—a target to aggress against—toward whom anger can be discharged with little or no fear of retaliation.
Hating often serves an important purpose for the self-esteem of the hater in that it is used to justify antipathy toward a person or group who can then be blamed for what is wrong in one's own life, making it possible to abdicate responsibility for doing something about one's own failures and misdeeds.
Some people learn to hate because they have been cheated of nurturing love in their development. The developing child feels insecure, threatened, and confused. The pain of vulnerability gives way to a self-protective rejection of emotional openness. The child grows up suspicious of the motives of others, defensively excluding people rather than including them, and intolerant of anything that might compromise a delicately balanced equilibrium.
These are people to whom loving with an open heart feels dangerous because they are already too hurt to allow another person access to the vulnerable inner self. They tend to have controlled relationships that do not demand too much intimacy. On the outside they look like good citizens who lead exemplary lives. On the inside they are embattled, always wary of someone getting past the barriers, too frightened of betrayal to allow love. They come to substitute the emotional high of hating for the passion of loving. This is the psychopathology of bigotry.
Their emotional highs come from the hatred they feel for individuals and groups whom they have demonized, usually in concert with others similar to them, often endorsed by religious "authority." These are the core constituents the demagogues recruit offering approval, affiliation, and protection—the very things that were missing in the early lives of these people. This is how hatred takes root in the individual psyche and is then tapped into by the demagogues to build a political, social or religious constituency founded on human vulnerability.
We have described some of the attitudes and ideas that are used by people to justify their hatred. What we have described are their prejudices.
One dictionary definition of prejudice is:
An adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge; an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.
Since prejudice is defined as an attitude that is irrational, hostile and without basis in fact, why would people hang on to such ideas? Of course, they don't identify their ideas as irrational, hostile, or uniformed. To the contrary, such ideas form the cornerstone of their belief system. Unless there is a reason to be analytical about one's belief system, these prejudices can be passed from generation to generation giving them an aura of authority and truth, even when they are products of folklore and fantasy with no grounds in reality.
What compels individuals to stay invested in their prejudices? It's handy, for one thing. It makes life easier to have beliefs that appear to define what's okay and what isn't about other people's behavior, and more importantly, about one's own behavior.
Prepackaged judgments about right and wrong feel safer because they are shared with other like-minded people—there is the endorsement of majority thinking and a reason not to have to do the hard work of figuring out the morality of every situation life presents. The danger in this lies in the fact that this kind of thinking, or lack thereof, leads to blind obedience. It also thwarts our progress toward becoming "adults of God." How can we mature spiritually if we're forever kept at the "third-grade" level?
Relying on someone else to do all your thinking has become in recent years, omnipresent. One cannot go to church anymore without hearing the phrases "Follow the Brethren" and "When the leaders speak, the thinking has been done." What these imply, of course, is that obedience is the only acceptable response to them. Even to question their will is a sign of apostasy. This is, by definition, blind obedience. Some members of Affirmation jokingly tell friends that the current motto at the entrance to BYU now reads "The Glory of God is Obedience."
Blind obedience, if this is God's will, makes having the Spirit unnecessary. All we have to do is whatever we're told. Go along with the flow. Don't make any waves by asking challenging questions and don't ever refuse to endorse the will of those in "authority" over you. Sounds dangerously similar to the plan we were taught of one of God's children in the pre-existence, doesn't it? Much of our teaching in the church is highly prejudicial to anything that does not follow our religion. To ask the typical Mormon to question their prejudices is to challenge the monolith of Mormon theology. A pretty big challenge, but a necessary one if we are ever to "grow up."
Another condition that often complicates the process of unlearning prejudice
has to do with the way children are disciplined. If our parents were harsh
disciplinarians, using authoritarian methods to teach obedience, it is
likely the adult child will have an authoritarian personality—what social
psychologists identify as the "prejudiced personality"—rigid
thinking, intolerant, and punitive.
A different version of this personality results when individuals are taught obedience by parents who threaten the withdrawal of love as a major means of discipline. The child's life is spent figuring out how to earn affection and avoid abandonment. These people grow up feeling insecure and fearful, angry at parents but unable to express that anger or, often, to even admit it to their own consciousness.
For those who cannot manage the frustrations of their own family relationships, gay and lesbian people—"out to destroy the family"—make good targets on whom to displace aggression.
Since the prejudiced personality is someone who is rigid, suspicious, intolerant, and punitive, it is unlikely this person will be able to sustain nurturing, supportive, loving family relationships. Unable to identify or face their failure, the individual seeks someone to blame—to aggress against.
Ironically, these family failures are often the people one hears mouthing the rhetoric of the religious right regarding preservation of "family values." Typical of the prejudiced personality, their own family problems are not seen as a product of their actions but are the fault of a predatory outside force. Feeling threatened, these people "force the deviants out" for being who we are. No matter its origins, this prejudice is always irrational in that it generalizes from the few to the many, and is based on misinformation or distorting stereotypes in the first place. The fact that this prejudice serves a psychological purpose makes it difficult to combat and for the homophobe to overcome.
One must wonder why they feel so threatened. For some it is a realization that he or she may have homosexual feelings and hopes by keeping us away that they might somehow stay straight. This viewpoint, if it applies, would bring their understanding of human sexuality into question. Surely they don't feel that we humans sit down one day at puberty to decide whether we will be straight or gay?!
The problem with shutting people out and closing the curtains on the world around them, is that it is going to become ever increasingly difficult to do so. The world is becoming so small, and the movement of people in it so uncontrolled, that trying to maintain homogeneity in one's personal environment is now close to impossible, especially in our larger cities. We cannot even turn on the TV now without seeing a gay or lesbian character portrayed in a positive light. Individuals like this are left with either adjusting, or waging psychological (or physical) war on their unwanted neighbors.
Even if we were to accept all that our church leaders are currently teaching us about homosexuality, wouldn't it be better if homophobes simply stated: We don't understand why people are gay, but we are taught by our church leaders that this is a sin. As fellow members of our ward family we must love them in spite of their choices. We need to talk about them because we will be encountering gay people in the world around us and we need to know how to deal with them . . ." Instead, they try to "protect" themselves from the "evil," shutting gays and lesbians out, pretending they don't exist, which prevents them from learning by experience. Unfortunately, they miss out on an opportunity for moral development.
Is Same-sex Attraction a Sin?
What do the Scriptures say? Believe it or not, homosexuality is not condemned in scripture. If homosexuality is such a big deal, "second only to murder," why is this so? Christ never said a word about it. The Book of Mormon contains not a word of condemnation. The Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price will likewise produce nothing to back up homophobic attitudes. Only a superficial reading of a few passages in the Old Testament, ignoring the context, and more modern translations of earlier and more reliable manuscripts, would seem to support this prejudice. These misinterpreted scriptures absolutely do not condemn genuine same-sex love, but even if they did, they are contained within ancient "laws" that we do not follow today. (See Affirmation brochures about this on the Literature page.)
What about psychologists? Modern psychology does not support discrimination against gays and lesbians. Their studies show that we are just as healthy and able to function in society as anyone else. However, when convenient, the church gives no credence to the work of psychologists, institutes and programs outside the control of the church.
And the Church's Social Service Programs? It is interesting to note that the church's Social Services program have not always used either truth or ethics when counseling their clients. BYU counselors once concluded sessions by giving out a copy of a newspaper article stating that the American Psychiatric Association had reversed its earlier decision, turning homosexuality back into a treatable illness. It was later learned that this article was a fabrication. Why do these counselors go to such lengths that they would knowingly spread made-up stories? Or is it that they are so ignorant and incompetent that they would actually believe such a thing to be true? Or could it be something else?
Another counselor working directly for the church was discovered to have questionable ethics. He accepted as a patient an Affirmation member who went to him at the direction of his bishop. The counselor asked his new patient to sign a form that would give him permission to discuss their sessions with the patient's bishop, a normal part of the routine that LDS Social Services uses for "curing" homosexuals. The patient refused to sign it. Yet, when he next met with his bishop, the bishop proceeded to tell him of his conversation with the counselor who had gone ahead and revealed everything about their session, in clear violation of client confidentiality as required by the ethical and legal standards of the profession. This violation was not unusual. Apparently, this particular church program will go to any lengths to further its goal of supporting the policies of our leaders. The counselor should have had his license revoked, but instead, as a matter of practice, was supported and defended by the church. We know from our involvement in Affirmation that this instance was not unique. Affirmation is full of hundreds of victims of the church's programs. We know their stories firsthand.
Two counselors in the San Diego area, who are members of the church, and who used to be involved in the LDS Social Services program, now are no longer welcome participants. They decided not to go along with the deception and unethical practices and instead began trying to help their clients work through their issues and trying to survive in a homophobic world. LDS Social Services tried intimidation and when that did not work, simply stopped sending them any more clients. The official policy of the church at that time was that homosexuals did not exist. There were only "heterosexuals with homosexual problems." Now, if you were a counselor and had the threat of losing your source of income hanging over you, wouldn't you at least think about going along with the directions given you by your leaders? This might explain, in part, why some counselors go along, never questioning and ignoring their professional training and better judgment. If they also believed the teachings of the past thirty years, and were comfortable with their views sanctioned by "the majority," why would we expect them ever to change?
What of scientific research? Science also gives clues as to why homosexuality is not a dysfunction. For over thirty years scientists have speculated that sexual orientation is rooted in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus because this is where erotic feelings originate. In recent years studies done at UCLA by Rodger Gorski and Laura Allen, and at the Salk Institute by Simon Levay, have suggested that not only do men and women have distinctly different brain anatomies, but homosexuals and heterosexuals also demonstrate differences in the structure of their brains.
What about other research? There are numerous studies that indicate that child sexual abuse is committed by straight men in disproportionate numbers, especially close relatives to the child. What this means is that a child has a greater chance of being abused by a straight man, especially someone close to the child, than he or she does by a gay one. What does this say about the demands of frightened parents who insist that we kick gay teachers out of schools, day care centers, or any place with children where a gay male might find opportunities to molest them? If we are going to generalize, what this says is that we should kick out all the straight men who statistically are the ones doing the harm in virtually every case! What this says is that we must separate male straight family members from our children, and instead allow only gay men to interact with them for the safety and well-being of our children.
There is also the twin studies at the Boston University and Northwestern University that give a strong indication that a predisposition to homosexuality is genetic. While the search is on for the homosexual gene (or genes), with important work being done at the National Institutes of Health, findings are thus far inconclusive.
However, the evidence is accumulating, from the twin studies and the brain studies, that homosexuality is, in some significant way, an inherited, immutable trait—not a choice—not a product of parenting gone wrong—not a reaction to emotional trauma, but a natural variation of human sexuality that is determined prenatally.
People have been homosexual all through history and in every part of the world. There is no one pattern of living that is common to all periods in history and all places in the world; therefore, there is no one pattern of living that produces homosexuality. What is common to our species is what happens in the womb prior to birth. Sheer logic would point to biology as the basis for sexual orientation since we all begin life in the same way. Homosexuality is not some bizarre choice made later in life by people who, in some sick way, want to be hated.
Ultimately, the only source that homophobes in our church have to bolster their beliefs are the opinions expressed by some of our church leaders. But do they have the answers? The answer is an obvious NO for anyone familiar with how our leaders have interacted in recent years with our homosexual and supportive family members.
Consider these questions: If they did, why do they keep changing their minds
about how to treat us? If they know why we are the way we are, and have
the path back to a "more righteous" way of living, why do they
keep these answers secret? Simply stating that something is wrong without
providing a verifiable way for overcoming it is a sure sign they are stating
an opinion based on personal prejudice.
Furthermore, why did they approve of change-therapy experiments at BYU, experiments that made use of such things as threats, drugs, pornography, and electro-shock treatments? What happened to their morality and ethics in the use of these things? Why do they now admit that such treatments were a complete failure, and in some cases even deny that they ever did such things? Why are they covering up the results of their studies? Why were they experimenting if they already had the answers? Why are they currently supporting programs like "Evergreen," which is a proven failure to anyone that attends and sees first-hand what it's all about? Why do the church leaders themselves (including at least two Prophets and one General Authority—there are certainly others) have gay offspring if they are such good parents due to the truths that they possess? Why do they resort to illegal and unethical methods to further their cause as they are currently doing in their efforts to combat the gay marriage issue? Why did they advise young men to marry as a cure for their "weakness," and only after noticing the failed results of their council, reverse their direction and instead instruct bishops not to advise this "cure" for young men? Why were so many families harmed (there are horror stories to tell) by their counsel if it really is from God? Today, general authorities no longer teach that homosexuality is chosen or that parents are to blame. Why do they no longer teach this if their former views were endorsed and inspired by God? And why do so many members, even today, refuse to believe the current position held by the church? Why does the Bishop's handbook that gives direction on how to deal with homosexuals change with each edition if they already know what God's will is? Is it that God can't make up his/her mind? Could it be that God is playing some sort of giant joke on all of us? Is God just teasing us? The more logical conclusion is that our church leaders do not know what they are talking about. A more reasoned view is that they are products of the same world that produced the rest of the homophobes and bigots in our church and society. A view, more in line with an adult way of thinking and moral reasoning would be to realize that we are all, church leaders included, mortals capable of making mistakes, having the limited understanding of God's truths that is a necessary part of being mortal. If they were perfect, they wouldn't be here, they'd already be translated.
We never think that the warnings in the scriptures, and especially in the Book of Mormon, could be warnings to and about us. This, in spite of the fact, that the Book of Mormon was written for us in our day. It's always some big "evil menace" coming to overtake the church and our families. Why is this? Many believe our church has the most to fear from ignorant attitudes held by the church leaders and membership. What is called "religious arrogance" keeps us from realizing our own weaknesses. "We are the chosen people." "God is on our side." Anyone who opposes us is "anti-Mormon," and doesn't deserve to have their views taken seriously. We, after all, have a direct link to God through our "infallible" leaders and are strictly obeying every commandment and teaching that comes to us through them. How can we be in error? It is precisely this kind of thinking that kept the self-righteous among the Pharisees and Sadducees, who held these same kinds of beliefs, from understanding what Jesus was trying to teach them, and thus missed the entire point of the gospel. Like them, it is our blind obedience to "rules" and authority that keeps us from hearing the Spirit today. Why do we, who do not have the Son of God to talk with face to face as they did, think that we are better prepared and capable of understanding God's will as it comes to us second-hand through the church leaders? Are they better than Jesus at explaining the purpose of life? Do they know his will better than he does? Why are we so arrogant? Why are we so immature? When will we realize that there is a better way?
Scapegoating: What It Is, How to Deal with It
As more and more gays and lesbians live more openly, nongay people may suddenly feel their neighborhoods are being overrun by homosexuals. They were there the whole time, of course, but they didn't notice. Now we are hiding who we are much less and there is in some quarters the perception that our numbers have alarmingly increased. We were always here, but they don't want us. We exist in every family, somewhere on their family tree. We are standing up for our rights, but they don't want to recognize them. We are making changes in the way we will allow our society to treat us, but they don't want change. They are frustrated and they have to take it out on someone—the scapegoat.
In an ancient Hebrew ritual, on the Day of Atonement, a live goat was chosen by lot, the high priest laid both his hands on the goat's head and confessed over it the iniquities of the children of Israel. The sins of the people having thus been symbolically transferred to the beast, it was taken out into the wilderness and let go. The people felt purged and, for a while, guiltless.
These are the origins of the term scapegoat described here by Gordon Allport, the social psychologist whose work on prejudice and scapegoating is considered classic. It was primitive thinking that enabled the children of Israel to believe the goat could take the rap for their own "sins."
Just as the ancient Hebrews felt righteous once they had transferred their guilt to the goat, modern-day bigots feel morally redeemed once they rearrange reality so that the victim becomes the villain. Scapegoating is a way to act out one's prejudices. The society obligingly tags minority groups each with its own mark of inferiority: Blacks are intellectually inferior, Hispanics are lazy, Asians are stealthy, and gays are sexual predators.
The party line is that people who are "inferior" may pose a danger to us and must earn our disdain. We are justified in discriminating against them. They deserve what they get. Beating them up, name-calling, shutting them out of our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces, our lives is acceptable because they threatened our way of life.
This is the distorted process by which bigotry preserves its power. A necessary element in the process is the scapegoat, someone, some group to project evil onto. Demeaning the scapegoat allows one to feel good about his/her own state of being, however flawed.
Another big purpose served by scapegoating minorities is that of social control. Keep these people who are "different" intimidated enough and they will stay in their place, not disturb the status quo. Assimilation becomes a matter of survival and is inimical to change—what the bigot is trying mostly to prevent. For those who cannot or will not assimilate, or blend in, intimidation is key to controlling their ability to challenge the dominate society.
We've all heard them:
"Don't push yourselves on us."
"Don't call so much attention to yourselves."
"Just be like everybody else."
In other words, just fade into the background and don't bother us. Above all don't try to change us. Gay and lesbian people are not cooperating with that these days and the bigots don't like it, so they have stepped up their attacks in an effort to keep us under control.
What Motivates Scapegoating?
Gordon Allport, in his book The Nature of Prejudice, attributes the prejudice behind scapegoating to a combination of irrational hostility and erroneous generalizations—"thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant." Our love has no victims, no side-effects, no damage resulting from it. The damage comes from actions based on prejudice against gays and lesbians by those who do not know who we are.
The scapegoater has to feel he/she is always right. The goat is there, after all, to absorb whatever negative forces the scapegoater is needing to escape. No doubts, or recriminations, no compassion for the "victim," no new information, no questioning of beliefs. Prejudices are the rationale for the redeeming discriminatory act.
Who Are These Scapegoaters?
In our church, most scapegoaters are thoroughly conventional and conservative, a churchgoer, and patriotic in the most shallow sense (flag waving and mouthing platitudes about God and country). This "conventional" scapegoater is a joiner who maintains security through identification with other church members and safe in-groups whose cohesion is sustained by putting down outsiders.
When faced with this belief system, we should insist on the truth, for instance, that their homophobic statements are expressions of individual prejudice for which they must take personal responsibility. We should focus on their complacency about the rightness of actions that are assumed to be sanctioned by the majority. We should never accept the rationale that prejudice is okay because "that's how everybody feels." In a similar way we should not accept prejudice founded on the mistaken belief that because a church leader said it, it must be from God. Even our leaders have sometimes admitted their own shortcomings and have had to "take back" statements of "truth" that later turned out to be nothing more than expressions of their own opinions based on limited understanding.
This scapegoater is the most easily derailed since attitudes and opinions are not rooted in their personal belief system. The real problem here is with apathy, so the correct approach should be personal and motivational, not intellectual or combative.
Another kind of scapegoater is the skillful demagogue who specializes in exploiting the fears and frustrations of other scapegoaters. This person knows how to organize around a "common enemy," to promise salvation, to build cohesion, and to stir up anger, all of which are used to build a constituency from which personal aggrandizement, money, and political power flow.
Mobilized against gay and lesbian people is an array of organizations led by these kinds of people, most affiliated with the radical right element in fundamentalist Christianity. These scapegoaters are political professionals. Their agenda exploits gay and lesbian people because there is sufficient unquestioned prejudice already out there to build their case on.
To deal with these kinds of people takes a champion of gay rights who is well prepared. This scapegoater does their homework and comes ready to quote statistics (legitimate or not) to prove their anti-gay points. They want to put us on the defensive because that is the more vulnerable position in any discussion. We should, instead, be in the more potent position of confronting bigotry. A good challenge for a calculating scapegoater would be to say:
"You may believe it is legitimate to ask, 'Should gay and lesbian people have all the same rights (not special rights) as every other American citizen?' It is just as legitimate to address the reasons such a question would be asked at all.
The question is asked by people who do not relate to gays as being real, like them. These people cannot see beyond their stereotypes. They are captive to ideas about human nature that are thousands of years old and obsolete in a changing modern world.
The question is asked by people struggling to combat the powerlessness in their own lives, needing a scapegoat to blame for the frustration of a flawed life.
And the question is asked by individuals who have something to gain, personally or politically, by controlling the lives of other people. It is therefore just as legitimate to talk here about a person's prejudice and bigotry as it is to talk about homosexuality, because if it were not for prejudice and bigotry homosexuality would not be an issue. That is at the heart of the matter. You cannot turn away from that."
It is no small task to pull the cover on ignorance, hatred, and the blind faith of true believers. No one wants to admit to these things, but the reality is that these are the motivational factors enabling some good, some terrible people to sit in judgment of the lives of gay and lesbian Americans and to scapegoat our community in the service of their own self-validation.
The important thing to remember is that gay and lesbian people have done nothing wrong. When we are under attack it is because the attacker has either an internal agenda or a practical objective to take care of. It is about them, not us.
Some of our homophobic church leaders and the religious right like to talk about morality. What they say is that homosexuals are immoral, or worse, that we have no morals. What they mean is that homosexuals are different from them. Heterosexuality is moral; anything different is immoral. The simplistic nature of this assertion is obvious, but not to the millions of Mormons and right-wing Christians who follow their leaders with mindless devotion, and parrot their pronouncements with evangelical zeal.
However, you don't have to be a right-wing Christian to be convinced that gay and lesbian people are somehow morally impaired. You just have to be one of the many people who confuse morality with conformity.
Because "morality" is so much a staple of our church leaders rhetoric, it is important to understand how true morality actually develops, how people become moral beings. It is essential to make a distinction here between two interpretations of what morality is—one based on intrinsic experience, the other religious dogma.
First, there is a person's ability to distinguish right from wrong, and proceed, or not, with an action, knowing the difference. That is about the morality of individual human beings. It is an intrinsic experience of moral judgment.
Then, there is religious dogma that puts forth "rules for living"—a pre-established code of conduct that demands strict conformity. Morality in this instance is defined by how closely one conforms to this code of conduct, which may or may not be relevant to a given time, place, or population.
Conformity is often mistaken for morality, and this error is at the heart of the assertion that homosexuals are "immoral." People who are homosexual do not conform to the traditional male/female social program. We are nonconforming and that is supposed to make us immoral.
What we are interested here is true morality, not conformity to a code, or tradition, or religious dogma, but the ability of an individual to decide what is right or wrong behavior, particularly as it regards other human beings. This is the kind of morality taught by Christ.
According to Christ, what's really important is not how well we adhere to one set of rules or another, or whether we happen to be male or female, gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, etc. What is most important for us to achieve was stated by Christ when the Pharisee asked him, Which commandment is the greatest of all? Jesus' answer reflected a mature level of thinking when he said, "[L]ove the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."
Our understanding of this scripture allows us to appreciate Jesus' willingness to break the "commandments" of his day to achieve his goal of unconditional love. His radical rejection of the laws of ritual observances and cleanliness is one example, where he stated that it is not what goes into a person, but what comes out of their hearts that makes them clean or unclean. His interactions with women went against the accepted definition of women as second class members of God's people. His willingness to associate with tax collectors, prostitutes and non-Jews earned him the scorn and suspicion of the religious leaders of his day. How many of us would revile against Christ if he were with us today and chose to break an accepted "commandment" of our day? How would we react if we found him hanging out with gays and lesbians and the other social outcasts we so readily discard? What would our leaders have to say about the Son of God when they found him, like the Pharisees, to be in opposition to many of their own standards for conduct?
Moral Development in Human Beings
Psychologists and sociologists break up moral development into three periods:
- Ages four to ten years,
- Ages ten to thirteen years,
- Ages thirteen years to young adulthood.
Level One (Ages four to ten years)
In this period, morality—whether behavior is right or wrong—is judged according to outcome. The child wishes to avoid punishment; therefore, what does not get punished is right and what does get punished is wrong. While the temptation is here to label people in the church who consider only what "authority" says in making moral decisions, hopefully most people do not fit into this level of development. Those who believe that God gives rewards (a miracle such as much needed cash from an unexpected source) or punishment based on what we do (AIDS is God's punishment for immoral behavior) would be at this level of moral development.
"What can I get away with?" is the question that often shapes decisions about what actions to take for the level one adult. These adults are the truly amoral people since their development has not incorporated the shared concepts of right and wrong that most of us live by—concepts that do not take into account the needs and wishes of people around them.
Level Two (Ages ten to thirteen)
In this period, right and wrong are judged according to whether or not the adults in one's life are pleased and show approval of an action. Approval means it's right. Disapproval means it's wrong. A lifelong pattern is established in which morality is determined by what other people think of one's behavior.
In a later stage of this period emphasis is on following the rules with a tendency to see rules and laws as fixed and unchangeable (as many people see the Bible). External authority is all-important, as is conforming to what are perceived as the expectations of most people—the rule of the majority.
This level describes most members of our families, church and society. These people are the true followers, the true believers, individuals who are suspicious of anyone who is different from them—who doesn't follow the crowd. Level two people are the traditionalists, who resist change and mistrust anyone who seems to want to bring about change.
The many silly "rules" we grew up with are a result of this level of development. "White shirts for all men." "Partake of the sacrament with the right hand." "Women must wear only dresses (with lots of lace)." "A church leader with more seniority gets to walk through a doorway (as they do in the church office building) before others." "Passing the sacrament to the bishop first."
Level two people are the best candidates for any demagogue who can pull off a credible show of authority. Extreme examples are cult members such as those who surrender their individual judgment to Jim Jones in the Johnstown tragedy, and the people who lived, and died, with David Koresh in the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Less extreme are the level two adults who respond to the likes of Pat Robertson who tell them that they must follow his lead or the nation will "continue to legalize sodomy, slaughter innocent babies, destroy minds of her children, squander her resources and sink into oblivion!" Or when any church leader sounds the alarm, asking for unthinking obedience, and we respond with robotic predictability, even when the actions are questionable. This type of unquestioning obedience was condemned by a former prophet of the church, yet it seems to be more integrated today than when it was first introduced in an Improvement Era article in 1945.
An interesting aside here is the response of women who use this level of morality. They tend to be guided more in their dealings with others by the quality of the relationship involved. There may be just as much followership by women at this level but it will be influenced more by whom they relate to than by strict adherence to a set of rules.
Level two people are redeemed from their own spiritual inertia by joining right-wing fantasy wars against the forces of evil—predatory homosexuals out to steal their children and destroy American life. (The current church-led battle against legalization of same-sex marriage in Hawaii is a clear example of this.)
Or, to be less extreme about it, these are also people who have simply grown up in a conservative environment and take their comfort from the conviction that their parents were right and they will be okay if they just follow the values they were taught as children. The fact that the world is changing around them seems to have little impact (or importance).
Level Three (Ages thirteen years to young adulthood)—Our Goal
In this period, right and wrong are judged not according to what others think but according to internal criteria—personal decisions based on ethical principles evolved from the lessons of life. Moral judgments take into account such things as the circumstances of an action and the rights of the individuals involved.
Laws are seen as changeable when the needs and standards of the society change. It was this level of morality that prompted Joseph Smith to say: "That which is wrong under one circumstance may be and often is right under another." An Affirmation member wrote an eloquent description on the situation in which many of us find ourselves:
Certainly most members of the Church have no hesitancy to judge the desires of their homosexual brothers' and sisters' hearts as abominable. Can saints be so smug? Can we be so sure that such desires are not, as Joseph [Smith] indicated, "In reality, right, because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation?" Lest any heterosexual in the church object that he or she has not received such a special revelation, remember that "revelation [is] adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed." Whatever its roots, and they are probably many intertwining ones, sexual orientation is a permanent and enduring feature of an individual's personality. It can certainly be considered one of the "circumstances" of one's life. Why, then, would God reveal the proper and righteous use of homosexual expression to those who are heterosexually inclined? They haven't been placed in a homosexual circumstance; They have neither the desire nor the need to know.
Our church leaders and fellow saints, by and large, fit just this description. Unless and until they gain a desire or need to know, is it reasonable to expect that they will reach out and embrace their gay and lesbian fellow Saints and family members? It is incumbent upon us to help them gain the desire for greater knowledge. Like so many other truths, this one may need to be made manifest to the leaders of the church by those living it on a daily basis.
This is moral maturity—the ability to think for oneself, not just depend upon outside sources to dictate what is right and wrong. Moral maturity always includes an openness to learning and changing, a commitment to human rights, and respect for individual differences. We fall short of this level of morality by excluding and judging others. This level of arrested moral maturity reveals why some people cannot see their moral blindness. This way of seeing the world keeps them from understanding the Gospel as taught by Christ.
The Moral Dilemma
Every time a gay or lesbian person comes out of the closet it gets a little harder to ignore our existence as ordinary human beings. Coming out is our most powerful weapon against discrimination. The moral dilemma for homophobes of whether or not to cling to the old views, and relate to individuals in the abstract, has come into conflict with the natural inclination of people to respond altruistically when daily contact is inevitable. This "conflict" requires a reexamination of one's prejudices, and often produces a positive shift in how people perceive one another.
The situation that typically generates a moral dilemma for people with anti-gay prejudices is the discovery that someone they work with and like, someone they know and admire, or someone they are related to and love, is gay or lesbian. Then there is the conflict of whether to foreclose on a valued relationship or let go of the safety of conforming thought and be willing to question their own prejudices and the teachings of the church. It is this kind of moral dilemma that can turn a homophobic colleague, friend, or relative into a supporter, if not champion, of gay and lesbian rights.
Hopefully, an understanding of the true meaning of morality can help to put in perspective the absurd accusations of the homophobes about the "morality" of gay and lesbian people. Understanding how moral reasoning develops should also provide insight into the moral immaturity of those individuals whose judgments of what is right and wrong are determined by what they think they are supposed to believe in order to earn the acceptance of their peers.
Until the day comes where gays and lesbians are viewed as normal, equal members of the church, we must live our lives to the best of our abilities, using moral reasoning along with the confirmation of the Spirit to determine what is truth for us. Until then we will have a gulf between us, one put there by them, one we would like to bridge with a little reasoned thinking.
When they ask us to "come back to the church and live the way Latter-day prophets teach," We must ask, in the words of the Affirmation member above: What exactly is that way? How would the church have me live? Both I and the church now recognize that I am not someday going to change miraculously into a heterosexual (as was promised to so many young men for so many years). So what is my path now according to the church? Shall I marry? Shall I live a life of pretense? Shall I dupe one of God's daughters into living the lie with me? Would God want that for one of his daughters? Would you counsel one of your daughters to enter such a marriage? If I decide to marry, should I tell my intended wife who and what I really am? Or shall I forever keep that most intimate part of me a secret from the one person who is supposed to be my most intimate companion? If I entered into a marriage, would I really be able to pull it off? For how long? What sort of estranged relationship would we have when she cannot fulfill my needs for emotional fulfillment, affection, companionship, intimacy and bonding? You see, that is something most people fail to recognize: "homosexuality" is a very poor word for describing a whole constellation of personality traits that have very little to do with sex. It's really "homo-affectionality," "homo-emotionality," "homo-intimacy," "homo-bonding," and so on. Forgetting the sexuality part, none of these other aspects would be fulfilling in the context of marriage. Without them, what kind of marriage would it be? Could it really be called a marriage at all? Two people living out two hollow lives under the same roof. Imagine the kind of environment that would be for children to grow up in. What kind of emotionally devoid adults would they become? Actually, you don't have to imagine any of these things. You have only to look at the lives of so many men who, following the counsel of the church, did exactly this. Their common experience is empty promises, broken hearts, angry wives, failed marriages, and children without fathers. Surely you would not urge me to live this way!
He continues: Let us consider our other option according to the church: a life of celibacy and solitude. A primary objection to homosexuality is that it does not fulfill the admonishment received by Adam to "multiply and replenish the earth." That is obviously true of a celibate life as well, yet the church regularly condones and recommends it to homosexual members. A bit of a double standard here, don't you agree? We presume that in the church's way of thinking, a life of celibacy will at least allow an individual to reach death without committing some heinous moral crime, and that a sin of omission is somehow preferable to a sin of commission—or is it just more palatable? What is insupportable is how a society and theology built on the premise of committed, covenanted relationships can turn face and deny to one-tenth of its members the only kind of primary relationship that is intrinsically meaningful to them. Unlike Catholicism or Buddhism, there is simply no place for a solitary life within Mormon theology. Even ignoring the theological emphasis, you have to ask yourself: Is a solitary life really a healthy way for a human being to live? Don't we grow and mature, get our needs met, learn empathy, learn to give and share, learn to care for another, live fuller, richer lives all by being in a relationship? Would you really deny me the richness and fulfillment of such a relationship simply because it also has a sexual element; a sexual element which, by the way, enhances the communication, the commitment, the tenderness, and the bonding of the relationship—a sexual element which, though you may not understand it, is the only kind that is authentic and genuine to me? Where is the reason in that? No, a solitary life cannot be upheld as the model here either.
So where does that leave us? Simple. The church has no answers for the homosexual. It never did. This is not to say that the Gospel does not have answers. But the church has barely begun to ask the questions. During the last three decades the church has displayed nothing but arrogance on the subject. That arrogance has resulted in bad counsel and broken lives. Now at last, finally, the church has admitted it doesn't understand homosexuality. That, at least, is a starting point. But what shall nine hundred thousand gay and lesbian Mormons do in the meantime? How shall we live our lives now that the church has proved itself incompetent on the issue? Where do we turn for truth, for direction, for peace?
How shall I live my life? This was a question every gay and lesbian ponders and prays about over and over and over again. We have all wrestled with the Spirit at times in our lives. At present, there is only one place to go for answers and that is to the Source of all truth deep within ourselves. He speaks to us in the language of the heart, and in dreams, and in the peace in our souls.
This member concludes: Homosexuality is not categorically wrong. That it may be used in inappropriate, unproductive and immoral ways is true; but that, of course, is true of heterosexuality as well. In and of itself our gay and lesbian sexuality is just as beautiful, just as virtuous, just as Godlike as heterosexuality. And it may be used in those ways. Our sexuality is God-given as surely as the shape of our noses, our love of art, our intellect and ability to weep for another. How any of these came about—whether through genes, or biochemistry or fetal development or childhood experience—is unimportant. As such, God intended it to be for our good. We were not given this as some special cross to bear. He intended it as a blessing to be received with joy and thanksgiving and to be expressed in the same. We will not hide it. We will not be embarrassed by it. We will not deny the gift of God that is ours nor will we throw it away and wish for some other gift. To do so would be to dishonor God and attempt to frustrate His purpose for our lives. We are gay and lesbian because that is precisely the perfect condition for us to learn exactly what it is we came here to learn. As the parable teaches, it is by using our gifts—not hiding them—that we earn our reward.
Once again these lines by Joseph Smith may prove helpful: "That which is wrong under one circumstance may be and often is right under another. This is the principle upon which the government of heaven is conducted: by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed." This is our circumstance. Even the church now recognizes it as an unalterable condition of life, yet many still call it "abominable" because, in Joseph's words, they "understand the order of heaven only in part." No, we do not claim to understand the order of heaven in full. No modern person but Joseph has claimed that, and he was killed before he could complete what he saw. But we do know how to live our lives. That much is given to us. We cannot do otherwise.
And what of the homophobes? Do they really love us as they claim? They can start showing it by asking themselves if their views are based on personal prejudice. They can help us by resisting the temptation to call our lives perverse and unnatural. They can help us by trying to understand who we are rather than condemning a way of life they really know nothing about in reality. Will they find the courage to do this? Can they?
(This article is heavily indebted to Betty Berzon's book, Setting them Straight, from which major sections have been adapted.)