Thursday, August 28, 2008

Different Century, Same Tools

I was up at the library looking for editorials on race and came across a 1954 speech given at BYU by Mark Edward Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church. I found an online copy, here. I recommend those interested in the LDS leadership's thinking on gay civil rights issues take a look. The reasoning used today, if not the category by which discrimination is made, is strikingly familiar and telling.

To warn his audience, Elder Peterson starts out by quoting a black politician who indicates that there should be no law against interracial marriage, and even states they're prevalent in... any guesses?

That's right. Europe, a region, according to the last LDS press release supporting Prop 8, now being troubled by the anti-family effects of gay marriage (pff, as if).

After he's done with the quote he goes on:
I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the oppor[t]unity of sitting down in a cafe where white people sit. He isn't just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. From this and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that, we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that they used to say about sin, "First we pity, then endure, then embrace."
Isn't it striking how the issues change, doctrine changes, but 50 years later the tools of justification remain the same? Today, gay people don't want equal rights; they want special rights, and they want to marry right along with us and for us to embrace them and their sin. By tolerance and love they mean for us to embrace sin.

You can see the modern conservative LDS reaction to people like Carol Lynn Pearson at the end there. It takes such tactics to get people to excuse away the Golden Rule, harden their hearts, and do wrong to their neighbors--family even--against their conscience. Every abrahamic faith doing harm, from the inquisitions to modern killings of gays by Islamic governments, has ironically used something like Isa 5:20 to justify their cruelty, and we see such used here to justify racial segregation and anti-miscegenation ideas.

The same old message is that you can hurt those others, and their families; it's okay, good even. God approves. Elder Petersen even goes on to say it's for the children, as they do today with gay marriage. Oppose marriage for the children cursed, literally in this case, by living under their parent's union.

Elder Petersen then talks about the Chinese and how good they are for not wanting to marry white people, unlike black people. A similar tactic is used when people argue it's okay to hurt gay and lesbian headed families because they've convinced some LDS gays to be celibate or single. Why can't you be good, like them? Like the Chinese, they obey supernatural law, and that means you should too.

In this speech we, of course, see a lot of declarations about how the supernatural works, the plan of salvation, and the use of eternity to justify injustice. God segregated the races and His law "is eternal" and He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" and He is "fair to all" and "will meet us according to what we deserve". Familiar, right? Just do what we men teach you; it's the only right way; it'll work out.

Elder Petersen quotes Joseph Smith to prove some races, like those coming from Africa, were sinners in the preexistence (we know this because we treated them as slaves) and thus our cruelty and laws of segregation are justified. God made people with certain attributes, based on the indelible quality of their spirit, and placed those spirits in certain races (or sexes), justifying our poor treatment of those who'd violate His segregation in interracial union (or not violate his segregation in same-sex unions).

The best thing about claiming and believing you have evidence from the supernatural or know what God really means has to be that you can justify about anything with magical thinking. Some people, including yours truly, can trigger that special spiritual feeling for just about anything in the freedom of their own mind. You can pose laws and use complicated worldviews that rival any book by Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. Black people can be segregated because of some great ethereal war, spirits are either boys or girls, and Xenu killed a bunch of people in a volcano making some feel depressed and others feel same-sex attraction (if you're a Scientologist :-)). Opponents who value skepticism and evidence are powerless against your authority and faith. How frustrating it must have been to be a black man in Utah back then.

Elder Petersen even goes on to say black people should be grateful and thankful. "In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life" God still lets the black man have some chance, even though they are "cursed as to the priesthood". "He will go there as a servant, but he will get a Celestial resurrection".

Similarly, gay men should feel grateful, not sad or upset with church leaders. Gays are bound by the same rules as everyone else. Black men are too and are facing the consequences for their pre-existent sins in Petersen's day, sins for which white men would be equally punished. Gay men can have a celibate life, and get their reward by marrying a girl with whom they'll have that sort of purposeful intimacy afforded by orientation, later, in heaven. Be grateful for what the leaders offers you in this life, and for what they promise in eternity. And, really, who can beat eternity? It's the infinite trump card and there's no doubt why most every faith picks it up and promotes it, and why most every skeptic of most every faiths is at a disadvantage for their epistemological restraint.

To top it off Elder Petersen uses the old "some of my best friends" tactic. He isn't hateful to black people; he feels love for them; he feels good about how he treats them and that matters (if only to him). He would even "be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it", just as you'll hear some express their generosity for letting gays even have freedom from incarceration, or capitol punishment (I last heard that one from a local LDS radio host). We should be grateful for such love, right? Elder Petersen even has a black friend, brother Hope. Just like LDS author, Orson Scott Card, who, because he works in the arts (of course...), has a lot of gay friends, friends he regards as defective and fights to keep their families from equal rights.

I'm sure, though, Elder Petersen may have had such a friend, and maybe Mr. Card does too. I'm sure some black friends back then meekly forgave such men; they, after all, had faith they and others like them deserved it. Personally I'd not choose even "to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car" with such a friend, but to each his own.

He Concludes:
Now what is our policy in regard to intermarriage? As to the Negro, of course, there is only one possible answer. We must not intermarry with the Negro.
On the upside, magical thinking is not based in the stark facts of an outside world; only the mind needs be changed. Nevertheless, a supernatural worldview does best when it feels like an assuring, comforting, and immovable foundation, and so they are notoriously difficult to change on a scale smaller than a generation. But it doesn't have to actually be immovable. In fact, it can't be immovable or the worldview will fade away with all the thousands of other dead faiths of human history, as the LDS faith would likely have if it did not change with regards to race (or maybe even polygamy). They can change by generations and do; adherents will forgive and membership will grow.

Today, it seems the LDS church only advises against interracial marriage, here:
“We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred)...”
(Though, "some of those are not an absolute necessity"? If only some aren't then which ones are necessity? Is there still an "absolute necessity" to keep from marrying some races, as Petersen claims, or is it class?)

But now look at how long that change from absolutely against to advising against and granting the priesthood took on race, and then consider how quickly the LDS church is moving on same-sex marriage in comparison. Just 4 years ago they were against any legal recognition of same-sex unions. Today they are still against "marriage" but now "The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights..." That's not yet equal rights for our families, but I couldn't have imagined the LDS church of my youth ever taking such a liberal stance on gay rights and so quickly.

Still, sure, there's a good ways to go and a lot in the way. I've mixed feelings to find the same tools repeatedly used to block that path to equal rights. It's annoying that such tactics still live on to have any effectiveness in the hearts and minds of people today, but, to the credit of the LDS people, it's comforting to know such tools have eventually failed, as they should.

27 comments:

Chedner said...

I think I should remind you that race and homosexuality are two completely different issues and it is, therefore, completely illogical to parallel the two.

MoHoHawaii said...

[R]ace and homosexuality are two completely different issues...

Hear, hear!

Dark skin, if you will recall, is simply evidence of unrighteousness in the premortal existence, unless of course you're speaking of the pre-1980 Book of Mormon in which case skin color is a naturally fluctuating barometer of your tribe's collective virtue.

Homosexual orientation on the other hand is a sinful choice or, if you're gay after 2007, a special test of faith that will be removed once you enter the post-mortal existence.

Totally different. Incomparable.

That Church leaders have used almost identical arguments, albeit in different eras, to denounce these outsiders is just an amazing coincidence.

Beck said...

As fallacious as those 1954 arguments sound today, so is the hope that today's arguments against homosexuality will sound in the ears of the next generation.

Scot said...

We've all been around this block before :-).

That is why I said they're different from the start; one case discriminates against couples by measuring a person's race and the other by measuring their sexual anatomy.

The tools used in convincing others to follow in the discrimination, though, are remarkably similar.

Beck said...

p.s. Twenty five years ago I refused to allow myself to believe that a "gay Mormon" could exist. There was no such thing in my way of understanding. I would not and could not accept that those two terms were compatible and could co-exist. I completely bought into the argument that if you were gay you were NOT a Mormon and if you were a Mormon, you could not be gay. Thus, I was not gay, because I was a good Mormon boy and good Mormon boys couldn't be gay.

Laugh as you may, that was then. Now, I laugh (and cry) at my ignorance and stupidity and blindness of that day where I thought so differently from today. I'm one of the slow ones... it took me a while, but "change" - she's a comin'!

Scot said...

"As fallacious as those 1954 arguments sound today, so is the hope that today's arguments against homosexuality will sound in the ears of the next generation."

As a man with faith-reasoned racists and strictly patriarchal polygamists on both sides of my family, I'd have to say the amazing thing would be for the LDS church, or any religion, to stop changing towards more liberal positions with the generations. There is much reason to hope. Already many of these argument sound fallacious, and some have lost favor in the leadership with regards to both blacks and gays, even if they are sometimes still used by the general populace.

I mean, I'm sure Elder Petersen's 1954 audience didn't think him near crazy or cruel or even bigoted. But that was only 50 years ago, and boy has the LDS church changed a lot on gay issues since I came out 20 years ago.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

When I told my parents I was leaving the church, I said some similar things to my dad about the similarity between the church's treatment and statements on blacks and on gays. He got really offended and told me it was totally different and that God would never accept homosexuality.

It's amazing to me how people can be more comfortable with God being racist then changing his mind, then it being a mistake made by obviously imperfect men (old, white men).

Bryan said...

"Homosexual orientation is a sinful choice."

You're deliberately distorting the issue there. The LDS church has stated on countless times that it's not a sin and no one will be held accountable for experiencing same-sex attraction or being "oriented" in that way. The only time "sin" comes into discussion is acting on those impulses.

Church leaders were out of line for the things they said about race. Bruce McConkie, for one, issued a heartfelt apology in the late 70's for what he said about the issue. But race was an issue of what people are. Sexual orientation is an issue of what people DO.

Personally, I'm LDS and I sigh when I hear about the LDS church actively opposing gay marriage. I don't disagree with the basic morality underlying the church's actions, I just wish they'd leave people alone. My feelings about the issue are complex, since I have a lot of friends and family members who struggle with or embrace their feelings of same-sex attraction. I see how much pain they go through and I see how hard it is for them. So I will never get reactionary on this issue. It's too complicated.

But at the same time, you are misrepresenting the church's position. It's not an issue of whether you're attracted to the same sex, it's an issue of whether you act on it.

Chedner said...

uh... Bryan... you did not refute what I believe mohohawaii meant -- rather, you quite nicely summed up.

Chedner said...

Twenty five years ago I refused to allow myself to believe that a "gay Mormon" could exist.

... it was only eight years ago for me...

Dichotomy said...

... it was only eight years ago for me...

Pssshhaww... Try eight months.

(I was such an idiot.) :)

Fascinating article, by the way. I'm blown away by what was considered an "acceptable" point of view by many not terribly long ago.

For an interesting glimpse at mid-twentieth-century views on both race and homosexuality, check out Far From Heaven. It's fiction, obviously, but from all I've read it appears to offer a fairly accurate snapshot of those times.

Chedner said...

I rented Far From Heaven when it first came out on DVD -- not knowing it what it was about.

My parents, a few of my siblings, and I sat down to watch it together. The second it was discovered the character played by Quaid was gay, my mom tsked, my little brother said something similar to "Queer," got up and walked out... the movie was quickly turned off.

This was during a time when I was deeply ashamed of my attractions to men, when I was afraid of what would happen if anyone found out... perhaps needless to say, my family's reactions only augmented my fear and shame.

(I did, though, sneak the DVD up to my room to finish it in the wee hours of the morning.)

MoHoHawaii said...

Note to self: never, ever attempt satire online.

Anyhoo....

Sexual orientation is an issue of what people DO.

Nope. That's sexual activity. Sexual orientation is internal, part of who you are.

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micah said...

mohohawaii:

"Nope. That's sexual activity. Sexual orientation is internal, part of who you are."

Are you saying that because same-sex attraction is internal and part of who you are it should be accepted and fostered? That is to say, that it is morally acceptable?

Scot said...

Man, I go out of town and miss out on a bunch of comments.

Firstly, interracialmatch and Mr. Iqbal, don't make me turn on word verification again, you jerks.

Bryan, you're not a jerk, but we disagree:

"The LDS church has stated on countless times that it's not a sin and no one will be held accountable for experiencing same-sex attraction or being "oriented" in that way."

This is a good example of another recent change. When I was a kid, those coming out with me were given quite a different message.

"Bruce McConkie, for one, issued a heartfelt apology in the late 70's for what he said about the issue. But race was an issue of what people are. Sexual orientation is an issue of what people DO."

Not so Bryan. This is the way it is spun to make it feel PC, like you're loving the sinner and hating the sin, just the same way Elder Petersen had no problem with black people back in the 50's. The LDS just cared about what they "DO", specifically have sex with and marry white people or try to integrate. They claimed it was about actions back then too.

Gay couples may be anything from celebrate to what I can't imagine in sexual activity, but straight couples do all the same things. No one has ever discriminated against my family based on sexual activity; I've never told anyone about my sexual activity. In marriage law I'm asked about my biological sex. The discrimination is done on sexual anatomy, just as it was done on skin color back then.

Micha "Are you saying that because same-sex attraction is internal and part of who you are it should be accepted and fostered? That is to say, that it is morally acceptable?"

Yes, micha, if it feels good to the natural man, do it. For example, when I'm hungry that means I should rob another of his food ;-).

It all comes down to morality. I stick with the Golden rule, and by that there is no sin in many things other treat as black cats of morality, somewhat literally in the case of faith-based racism. Others think it's a sin to eat ham, or marry outside your race, or wear mixed fabrics or a number of other strange laws made for a religion's organizational reasons other than morality, given to them by their leaders (who, sure, they feel speak for God). If gay unions or interracial unions or eating shrimp are evil then the hope to do such should be resisted, as an urge to rob should be.

Does anyone really debate that if something is wrong, even if it's a part of you, you shouldn't do it, or is this line of questioning just the result of a cartoon stereotype of the shallow, amoral gay man?

Dichotomy said...

Are you saying that because same-sex attraction is internal and part of who you are it should be accepted and fostered? That is to say, that it is morally acceptable?

I can't put words in MoHoHawaii's mouth, but of course same-sex attraction is morally acceptable. You can't call an intrinsic part of someone's being--something that they have no control over--immoral and unacceptable.

You can choose to believe that acting on that attraction is immoral or unacceptable. Many would agree with you and many would not. But I hope that you would not claim that the attraction itself is immoral. The Church itself stepped away from that position many years ago.

Dichotomy said...

it should be accepted and fostered?

... forgot to address this part.

I'm gay. I'm attracted to men. I accept that, and I suppose I "foster" that attraction, if by "foster" you mean allow it to be a part of my life. I'm not going to try to kick it out into the street in the middle of the night.

Does that make me immoral?

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

Does that make me immoral

For far too many the answer is an unfortunate yes.

Bryan said...

I don't know what it's like to be anyone else, I just know my own conflicts and struggles. And there are some parallels.

I was pretty troubled in my adolescence and I had the urge to do some extremely violent things to my peers at the time. It just felt so right when I thought about giving in to my impulses and it took a lot of control to resist them. I'm not saying giving in to same-sex attraction is anywhere near as bad as attacking or killing someone, but it seems like the same issue at the core- control over your actions, regardless of how you feel. And to this day, I'm glad I resisted.

Also to this day, I struggle to resist certain vices, chemical and otherwise. I have managed to stay sober for a decade now (I'm an LDS convert) but I have a rich tradition of alcoholism in my family- arguably, I'm genetically programmed to be an alcoholic and nature and nurture combined to make it almost inevitable. But despite my numerous other flaws and fuckups, I resist.

If the LDS church is just a bunch of yahoos, then their counsel on same-sex attraction can be easily disregarded. After all, they were way out of line on the race issue (as was most of the world). I'm not even sure why people who don't believe in the church are worried about what they say- if the church is a false one, why does the opinion of anyone in it matter?

But if it actually is God's church, and the statements in the past about race were just mistakes made by wrong-headed individuals in the church, then what it says, doctrinally, is important.

I just wish it would stay the hell out of politics. Believing something is one thing, legislating that belief is another. Alcohol is legal and so is prostitution in Nevada. I don't think that confuses any Mormons into believing they're okay. If/ when gay marriage is legalized, it'll probably be the same way.

I'm not a religious salesman (I know how absurd the LDS church looks from the outside), I just know what I've experienced and felt. And I can't deny it. So I focus on keeping my own marriage together. That's the only factor for me, as far as "defending marriage." For what it's worth to anyone, I wish my fellow Mormons would do the same.

Scot said...

Brian "I was pretty troubled in my adolescence and I had the urge to do some extremely violent things to my peers at the time."

We both agree, then. An urge to break the golden rule should be resisted, even if it feels right or good. But the LDS church doesn't say you can beat people up, or drink even if you have light skin or anatomically female parts, but not if your black or male. In the case of gay's it discriminates on what you are, not do or even feel. They have no problem with attraction to, marriage with, or sex with men, as long as your physical body is shaped in a certain way. The problems come in in the middle ground; when people are born with both sets of sexual anatomy or when, as is the case for gays, men have a small part of themselves that typically comes in women.

i don't want to give a strident impression. I'm glad the LDS church helps you resist both destructive and self-destructive behavior. That is a role of religion I'm glad humans have.

"if the church is a false one, why does the opinion of anyone in it matter?"

Really? You don't see why?

Did it matter to the gay men killed recently in Iran why Islam has an opinion against homosexuality? Even if Islam is false? Of course.

Ironically enough, it matters because of the actions of the LDS church, what they DO. If they or any church kept away from harming my family, what they believed would be something I'd never care to debate. But their opinions fuel their actions, their actions are harming many families I personally know, and so it, sadly, matters.

I'd love to understand how that is unclear.

"If the LDS church is just a bunch of yahoos"

The thing is, if they are yahoos, then so is the entirety of humanity. There is nothing more human than using supernatural explanations for things we don't understand. We put supernatural stories into the periodicity of the sun, into the diffraction of light through rain drops, and, in this case, into the benefit some animals find in sexual reproduction. This is just what humans do. Some of us can trigger that special spiritual miraculous feeling for a blade of grass. We are belief making machines.

The problem is when we're wrong we do a lot of damage with our faith, and even the LDS have been targets.

Ironically, what takes a great deal of restraint and self-control when it comes to the natural man is to resist our urge to tie life up in a supernatural world view.

"But if it actually is God's church, and the statements in the past about race were just mistakes made by wrong-headed individuals in the church, then what it says, doctrinally, is important."

Yes. That is the only way doctrine can change in any religion, from Scientology to Catholicism: redefine it so it never was doctrine. As you say, the church was against blacks "as was most of the world", and they had much in their scriptures and in the writings of Smith to back them up. They were ardently against gays as was most of the world. But they, thank goodness, change and redefine the mistakes of the past.

"I just wish it would stay the hell out of politics. "

Then I've no debate with you, Bryan, other than the age old unresolvable debates that are only done for the work out :-).

You seem to me to be a good man and I wish you the best for your family and marriage. I apologize if I offend your religious beliefs in my attempt to defend my home, and look forward to the day there is no good reason for debate.

chosha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chosha said...

I don't see how they can ever accept homosexuality, only because it seems impossible to backtrack from the position taken on the family and the eternal nature of gender roles, etc. But having just read what was in that 1954 talk, maybe backtracking from an intractable position won't be a problem.

I have hoped this could change for a while now, but now that one of my favourite teenagers has indicated he feels he is bisexual, I am feeling it all so much more personally. My gay LDS friends all seemed so capable of dealing. I don't know if they were at the time, but when I found out they were gay they were already adults so that's how it seemed. The thought that this beautifully-natured fourteen-year-old might be made to feel bad about himself just hurts me.

I've always hated the argument that homosexuality is a test. What an awful thing to think (for those who believe acting on homosexual feelings is sinful) - that God purposefully set you up to be alone and/or unhappy your whole life, just to see what you'd do. Not even the hardship king Job had to bear his burdens his whole life. It's just presents such a cruel picture of God.

Scot said...

"I don't see how they can ever accept homosexuality, only because it seems impossible to backtrack from the position taken on the family and the eternal nature of gender roles, etc."

That's the thing; it can never look like backtracking. Even today the reasoning is that back then the LDS church was right to disallow the priesthood by race and endorse and practice polygamy. If there's blame regarding the way doctrine was implemented, it must be put on the heads of human leaders, who got out of hand, never doctrine.

I'm sure making such any change quickly can't happen; it takes the forgiving change of mind only found in a change of generation. It was a ways from 1950 to 1979. Nevertheless, even on homosexuality, change has been remarkably fast for the LDS, at least to me (But I've a general reflex to expect orthodoxy).

Casha, I hope your teenage friend gets through this safely. It's a difficult period and he'll need good friends around. Don't be surprised if "feelings of bisexuality" becomes "I'm gay". "Bisexual" is a common early euphemism to be aware of, but it may genuine too. What I advise when coming out is summed up here, for what it's worth.

chosha said...

Scot: Don’t worry, I’m well aware of that possibility. The reason I said he ‘feels’ he’s bi rather than saying he is bi is because that’s how he’s currently terming it. I’ll just keep following his lead. My gut feeling is that he is actually bi, but will come down on one side of the divide more heavily in the future. I’m just not sure which side. 

ambrosia ananas said...

Excellent post. And I hope that someday they will change their stance on gays and gay marriage. I wouldn't have thought it possible a couple of years ago, but a little reading the JoD showed me just how permanent the church's doctrine is.