A Response to Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman
"Elders Oaks and Wickman seem to be more concerned about protecting the church's public image than in helping homosexuals”
By Hugo Salinas
Hugo Salinas is an associate director for Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons
On August 14 the Public Relations Department of the LDS Church posted on its website an interview with Apostle Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy, addressing the status of gays and lesbians. The 8,500-word document reaffirms some important facts, including President Gordon B. Hinckley's admonition that marriage should not been seen as a therapeutic step to "cure" homosexuality. It also includes, perhaps for the first time ever, a timid condemnation of aversion therapy . Despite these positive points, a careful reading of this document reveals that the real purpose of this interview is not to "help" gay and lesbian people and their families, but to spin and deny the accusation of being "homophobic." In this interview, Elders Oaks and Wickman further insult gays and lesbians by comparing them to people with mental retardation and demonstrating ignorance about the science of human sexuality.
Regarding the accusation that the Church is homophobic, the LDS Church's record over the last two decades speaks for itself: Gay and lesbian Mormons are routinely excommunicated from the church, cast out from their families, and cast as a satanic threat to family life; Brigham Young University has an embarrassing history of spying on gay and lesbian students, submitting them to so-called "electroshock therapy," and summarily expelling them. The prophet of the LDS Church recently railed against homosexuality in the context of a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, and a high-ranking leader suggested a comparison between the gay rights movement and the rise to power of Hitler. The LDS Church has mounted aggressive political campaigns in Alaska, California, Utah, and many other states to fight against marriage equality, with the ultimate goal of amending the US Constitution to ensure that gay and lesbian couples will never have the right to marry. It is hard to know how to characterize these aggressive actions and the extreme language used by Church representatives except as homophobic.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball once called gays perverts; Elder Boyd K. Packer once dubbed them selfish; now elders Oaks and Wickman compare them to "the handicapped." Placing gays and lesbians in the same category as those who are "born with… disfigurements, or mental or physical incapacities," Elders Oaks and Wickman ignore overwhelming scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a disorder but a normal variation of human sexuality. Their analogy suggests that they feel pity for gays and lesbians. However, gay and lesbian Mormons are not interested in their religious leaders' pity but in their respect—something Elders Oaks and Wickman are apparently unwilling to give.
Elders Oaks and Wickman refuse to even acknowledge the existence of gay and lesbian people, employing instead euphemisms and misnomers such as "somebody who is struggling with same-sex attraction" and making offensive references to "the homosexual lifestyle." It is ironic that a church which is so preoccupied with the names by which it is called in the media would refuse to extend to gays and lesbians the courtesy or referring to them by the names by which they refer to themselves. One wonders how Elder Oaks would feel if an anti-Mormon website were to call Mormons "those who struggle with heretical tendencies" or make reference to their "apostate lifestyle." Elders Oaks and Wickman insult gays and lesbians by denying their identity and by refusing to acknowledge that homosexuality is not a matter of "lifestyle" but of sexual orientation.
Elder Oaks claims that "in at least one country" a church pastor was "threatened with prison for preaching from the pulpit that homosexual behavior is sinful." This isolated anecdote, for which Elder Oaks cites no specific laws nor resulting convictions, stands over against the laws and customs of many Islamic countries where women are second-class citizens and homosexuals are regularly jailed, tortured, and executed. In Saudi Arabia, for example, homosexuals are routinely imprisoned, flogged, and executed under existing anti-gay laws. Perhaps the reason that Elder Oaks and other LDS leaders chose to ignore these atrocities, in favor of vague protests that their freedom of speech is being curtailed, is found in the anti-gay and anti-feminist alliances LDS leaders are proudly forging with Muslim leaders around the world. In 1996, the LDS Church began to forge international coalitions to fight against marriage equality, equal rights for women, and women's reproductive rights. Saudi Arabia is one of the LDS Church's key partners in this alliance against humans rights.
Elder Oaks summarily discards same-sex marriage by invoking "thousands of years of human experience" and by claiming that homosexuality "has been disapproved for millennia." However, he fails to give any anthropological, sociological, or historical foundation for these claims. How can someone with Elder Oak's knowledge and education not be aware of the well-documented realities that homosexuality has manifested itself in cultures and nations across history, and that same-sex partnerships have never been the object of universal condemnation? In their aggressive campaign against same-sex marriage, Elder Oaks and other LDS leaders are simply out of step with contemporary science. As recently stated by the American Anthropological Association, "the results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies."
Straining at the gnat of a handful of decontextualized biblical passages presented as evidence of God's condemnation of homosexuality, Elders Oaks and Wickman overlook the message of tolerance and acceptance taught by the Savior. By embracing the values and rhetoric of the Religious Right, elders Oaks and Wickman show how far the LDS Church has moved from the days when Mormon leaders proudly defended their right to practice an alternative family model by marrying more than one wife. By repeating the abstract claim that same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, they divert attention from the intensity with which they, the leaders of the LDS Church, are pursuing concrete measures that weaken and destroy families, including families with children, as they globally oppose and lobby against same-sex families.
In their interview, Elders Oaks and Wickman seem to be more concerned about protecting the church's public image than in helping homosexuals. Apostle Oaks seems more lawyerly than prophetic. Instead of condemning those who have been created with homosexual orientation, I would invite Elders Oaks and Wickman to contemplate God's unconditional love for all people, Jesus's all-encompassing embrace, and the awesome diversity of God's creation.