At the Evergreen conference held September 18-19, 2009, Elder Bruce Hafen gave a talk regarding homosexuality. The talk was reprinted on the official LDS Church Newsroom website. I will not synopsize the talk here but I suggest reading it yourself. Within a very short time, for obvious reasons, the bloggernacle was dissecting and analyzing the speech. These actions generated some interesting discussions here, and one permablogger at FMH did a good job of challenging the less-than-spectacular research here.
Posing the Questions on a Personal Level
Since these two bloggers did such a nice job, I will not attempt to address his remarks directly. Rather, I am interested in discussing the address from a personal standpoint. Particularly, I’m interested in how I, jmb275, can understand and deal with his remarks since I clearly do not agree with him.
Let me be very clear here, I do not agree with Elder Hafen’s remarks, and I recognize the poor research, logical fallacies, and dogmatic approach to this issue. I understand that it seems to be a step backwards for the church, and I recognize it is not in harmony with some other messages being sent from the church on this issue (see here, here, or here). I also recognize that Elder Hafen was very bold, possibly to the point of establishing new doctrine (resurrection is, definitively, a mechanism which removes homosexual feelings?). However, none of this is what I want to deal with. What is done, is done, and his remarks have been analyzed. I’m interested in answering the following questions:
- Is this the last straw? Should I simply leave the church?
- If not, do I have to agree with Elder Hafen to be a member in good standing?
- How can I categorize, or otherwise deal with Elder Hafen’s remarks?
- What is my relationship with the church, and does my membership imply my consent for, or agreement with what has been said?
Answering the Questions For ME
- Answering #1. I am not in the business of trying to convince people to stay in the church, or to leave the church. I see great arguments on both sides. However, I have made my choice to stay, and find spiritual nourishment in my choice. There’s simply enough good, to me, in the church, and I am sufficiently attached to it psychologically, and physically (through family) to convince me to remain. If your choice is to leave, then we’re done here and you can move along. Since I choose to remain we will move on to answering the other questions (and since it wouldn’t be a very interesting blog post if I didn’t).
- Answering #2. I think there will be many who would answer “yes” to this question. I believe this is a product of our Mormon culture. Indeed, from my reading of Joseph Smith’s life, I think the very idea would strike against what Joseph said and did! The good news is that despite what many might think, there is nothing in any doctrine of which I am aware that says disagreement with one of the Brethren puts my membership in jeopardy. Certainly I can “sustain” the Brethren, and recognize their authority in the church without agreeing with everything they say!
- Answering #3. It would seem like there are some relatively straightforward answers to this question.
- Elder Hafen is a man, so we could conclude that his remarks are “the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.” After all, I have chalked up lots of things said by prophets to this idea. There certainly is truth in this analysis since each of us “see[s] through a glass, darkly”(1 Cor 13:12).
- Elder Hafen is not the prophet, nor does he speak for the prophet (at least he didn’t indicate that we was). Hence, we can conclude that this does not represent the position of the church collectively, and may not be God’s will.
- Elder Hafen is using apologetics, coupled with suspect research, all as a dogmatist to draw invalid conclusions. Indeed, rather than examining the evidence and drawing conclusions (the scientific method), the dogmatist already knows the “truth” (has drawn the conclusions) and must interpret the evidence accordingly.
These are all valid points, and possible answers. But notice that they focus on characterizing Elder Hafen himself, or his remarks. I am interested in something more. How can I understand his remarks, disagree with them, but still respect him and his position?
For this, I feel I must turn to an attempt to understand Elder Hafen in a Christlike way. Are his intentions good? Does he believe that what he’s doing is right? Does he really seek to hurt people, or does he seek to help them overcome what he believes is a temptation to be conquered? In other words, rather than dismissing his words and analyzing their negative effect on people, I am seeking understanding as to what leads him to make such remarks in the first place. After all, most of us do what we think is best, not intentionally trying to hurt each other, although that effort may be misguided!
What does this approach buy me? Empathy, and understanding! Not agreement, and not consent, but understanding. It seeks nuance when the tendency is to be dismissive (black), or accepting (white). It gives me the tools I need to avoid letting anger dictate my actions. And, ultimately, at the end of the day, I personally believe that this kind of understanding helps me to transcend my natural inclinations, and use a higher model of human interaction.
- Answering #4. Answering #4 is an important key, for me, in understanding my relationship with any of the organizations to which I belong – church, work, country, school, etc. For me, it is a balancing act. I must sufficiently care for the organization (since I receive benefit from it) to desire to stay a part of it, and desire that it remain intact. But in contrast, I must be sufficiently divorced from the organization in order to avoid the personal pitfalls that come with being a part of it (groupthink, mind control, defending the indefensible, etc.).How do I directly apply this balancing act to the church? I have separated my spiritual growth from the organization! Currently, I find the church a useful mechanism for me to serve, pray, introspect, and otherwise grow spiritually. Arguably, some of this may be attached to being raised LDS. That’s irrelevant to me, as the important point is that I grow spiritually in this particular environment. It also means I can look at Elder Hafen’s remarks and not feel inclined to defend that with which I do not agree. In contrast to the response to #3, this balancing act does allow me the ability to dismiss his remarks (should I feel so inclined).
Certainly this can be taken to the extreme, and if the church started sanctioning secret assassinations I would be the first one out the door. But I don’t see this type of evil in the LDS church (contrary to what some critics may infer). I love this church, and want it to succeed. But I maintain sufficient distance that I need not accept every piece of doctrine or opinion.
I appreciate what has been said regarding Elder Hafen’s speech by others in the bloggernacle. I make no excuse for the backward step his words seem to imply. However, I do wish to transcend his remarks and take them in stride. These words from Denise Turner in the Ensign a few years back seem particularly appropriate:
Regrettably, there are times when others’ motives are not entirely innocent. This may particularly cause pain and confusion when the offender’s actions seem to contradict the religion he or she espouses; yet even in these difficult situations we are not justified in nursing our anger or turning away from the Church. President Stephen L Richards, First Counselor to President David O. McKay, said, “Does one offense wipe out another? Does weakness in one, even one who has been given a testimony of the truth, justify transgression of the law or failure to listen to its precepts?” (“Encouragement for Repenters,” Improvement Era, June 1956, 398). Our testimonies must be based on Jesus Christ, not on imperfect and fallible individuals. (Denise Turner, “If Any Man Offend Not”, Ensign, August 1998)
Whether your testimony is literal, metaphorical, or you are TBM, non-Mormon, or a middle-way advocate, I think we can learn to understand our fellows better, and while not agreeing with them, can still respect and honor them.
So how do you plan to deal with Elder Hafen’s remarks?