This essay was published in February of 1990, in the following context: The Supreme Court had declared in 1986 (Bowers v. Hardwick) that a Georgia law prohibiting sodomy even in the privacy of one's own home was constitutional. I was also writing this essay to a conservative Mormon audience that at the time would have felt no interest in decriminalizing homosexual acts. In that context, my call to "leave the laws on the books" was simply recognizing the law at that time, and my call to not enforce it except in flagrant cases was actually, within that context, a liberal and tolerant view -- for which I was roundly criticized in conservative Mormon circles as being "pro-gay." Those who now use this essay to attack me as a "homophobe" deceptively ignore the context and treat the essay as if I had written it yesterday afternoon. That is absurd -- now that the law has changed (the decision was overturned in 2003) I have no interest in criminalizing homosexual acts and would never call for such a thing, any more than I wanted such laws enforced back when they were still on the books. But I stand by the main points of this essay, which concerns matters internal to the Mormon Church.
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The Hypocrites of Homosexuality
By Orson Scott Card
from Sunstone magazine
When I was an undergraduate theatre student, I was aware, and not happily so, how pervasive was the reach of the underculture of homosexuality among my friends and acquaintances. After a while I stopped being shocked to discover that someone I had known well, or whose talent I admired, was either moving into or already a part of the not-so-clandestine network of gay relationships. I learned that being homosexual does not destroy a person's talent or deny those aspects of their character that I had already come to love and admire. I did learn that for most of them their highest allegiance was to their membership in the community that gave them access to sex. As a not-particularly-pure-minded heterosexual adolescent, I understood the intensity of sexual desire; as a student of human communities, I have since come to understand how character is shaped by -- or surrendered to -- one's allegiances.
One thing is certain: one cannot serve two masters. And when one's life is given over to one community that demands utter allegiance, it cannot be given to another. The LDS church is one such community. The homosexual community seems to be another. And when I read the statements of those who claim to be both LDS and homosexual, trying to persuade the former community to cease making their membership contingent upon abandoning the latter, I wonder if they realize that the price of such "tolerance" would be, in the long run, the destruction of the Church.
We Latter-day Saints know that we are eternal beings who must gain control of our bodies and direct our lives toward the good of others in order to be worthy of an adult role in the hereafter. So the regulation of sexual drives is designated not just to preserve the community of the Saints but also to improve and educate the individuals within it. The Lord asks no more of its members who are tempted toward homosexuality than it does of its unmarried adolescents, its widows and widowers, its divorced members, and its members who never marry. Furthermore, the Lord even guides the sexual behavior of those who are married, expecting them to use their sexual powers responsibly and in a proportionate role within the marriage.
The argument by the hypocrites of homosexuality that homosexual tendencies are genetically ingrained in some individuals is almost laughably irrelevant. We are all genetically predisposed toward some sin or another; we are all expected to control those genetic predispositions when it is possible. It is for God to judge which individuals are tempted beyond their ability to bear or beyond their ability to resist. But it is the responsibility of the Church and the Saints never to lose sight of the goal of perfect obedience to laws designed for our happiness.
The average fifteen-year-old teenage boy is genetically predisposed to copulate with anything that moves. We are compassionate and forgiving of those who cannot resist this temptation, but we do not regard as adult anyone who has not overcome it; and we can only help others overcome those "genetic predispositions" by teaching them that we expect them to meet a higher standard of behavior than the one their own body teaches them. Are we somehow cruel and overdomineering when we teach young men and young women that their lives will be better and happier if they have no memory of sexual intercourse with others to deal with when they finally are married? On the contrary, we would be heartless and cruel if we did not.
The hypocrites of homosexuality are, of course, already preparing to answer these statements by accusing me of homophobia, gay-bashing, bigotry, intolerance; but nothing that I have said here -- and nothing that has been said by any of the prophets or any of the Church leaders who have dealt with this issue -- can be construed as advocating, encouraging, or even allowing harsh personal treatment of individuals who are unable to resist the temptation to have sexual relations with persons of the same sex. On the contrary, the teachings of the Lord are clear in regard to the way we must deal with sinners. Christ treated them with compassion -- as long as they confessed that their sin was a sin. Only when they attempted to pretend that their sin was righteousness did he harshly name them for what they were: fools, hypocrites, sinners. Hypocrites because they were unwilling to change their behavior and instead attempted to change the law to fit it; fools because they thought that deceiving an easily deceivable society would achieve the impossible goal of also deceiving God.
The Church has plenty of room for individuals who are struggling to overcome their temptation toward homosexual behavior. But for the protection of the Saints and the good of the persons themselves, the Church has no room for those who, instead of repenting of homosexuality, wish it to become an acceptable behavior in the society of the Saints. They are wolves in sheep's clothing, preaching meekness while attempting to devour the flock.
No act of violence is ever appropriate to protect Christianity from those who would rob it of its meaning. None of us are without sin -- the casting of stones is not our duty or our privilege. All that must ever be done to answer them is to declare the truth, and to deny them the right to call themselves Latter-day Saints while proclaiming their false doctrine. Even as Christ freed from her accusers the woman taken in adultery, he told her, Go and sin no more.
No community can endure that does not hold its members responsible for their own actions. Being human, we try from childhood on to put the blame for the bad things we do on someone or something else. And to one degree or another, we do accept plausible excuses -- enough, at least, to allow us to temper our judgment. The American polity defines the crime of second degree murder to allow for those whose anger was greatly provoked, as distinguished from those who coldly kill for gain. Also, we are willing to alter the terms of confinement of those whose unacceptable behavior clearly derived from mental illness. In short, we recognize the principle that those who have as little control over their own behavior as small children should be treated as compassionately -- yet firmly -- as we treat small children.
What we do with small children is to establish clear boundaries and offer swift but mild punishment for crossing them. As their capacity to understand and obey increases, the boundaries broaden but the consequences of crossing them become more severe.
Within the Church, the young person who experiments with homosexual behavior should be counseled with, not excommunicated. But as the adolescent moves into adulthood and continues to engage in sinful practices far beyond the level of experimentation, then the consequences within the Church must grow more severe and more long-lasting; unfortunately, they may also be more public as well.
This applies also to the polity, the citizens at large. Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those whoflagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.
The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity's ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.
Those who would be members of a community must sacrifice the satisfaction of some of their individual desires in order to maintain the existence of that community. They must, in other words, obey the rules that define what that community is. Those who are not willing or able to obey the rules should honestly admit the fact and withdraw from membership.
Thus, just as America, a democratic society, is under no obligation to preserve some imagined "right" of citizens who wish to use their freedom to overthrow that democracy and institute tyranny, so likewise the LDS church, which is founded on the idea that the word of God as revealed through his prophets should determine the behavior of the Saints, is under no obligation to protect some supposed "right" of those members who would like to persuade us that neither God nor the prophets has the authority to regulate them.
If the Church has no the authority to tell its members that they may not engage in homosexual practices, then it has no authority at all. And if we accept the argument of the hypocrites of homosexuality that their sin is not a sin, we have destroyed ourselves.
Furthermore, if we allow ourselves to be intimidated by our fear of the world's censure into silence in the face of attempts by homosexuals to make their sin acceptable under the laws of the polity, then we have abandoned our role as teachers of righteousness.
The repentant homosexual must be met with forgiveness. Even hypocritical homosexuals must be treated individually with compassion. But the collective behavior of the hypocrites of homosexuality must be met with our most forceful arguments and our complete intolerance of their lies. To act otherwise is to give more respect to the opinions of men than to the judgments of God.
Tolerance is not the fundamental virtue, to which all others must give way. The fundamental virtue is to love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength; and then to love our neighbor as ourself. Despite all the rhetoric of the hypocrites of homosexuality about how if we were true Christians, we would accept them fully without expecting them to change their behavior, we know that the Lord looks upon sin without the least degree of tolerance, and that he expects us to strive for perfection.
That we must treat sinners kindly is true; that we must courageously and firmly reject sin is also true. Those whose "kindness" causes them to wink at sin are not being kind at all, for the only hope of joy that these people have is to recognize their sin and repent of it. True kindness is to be ever courteous and warm toward individuals, while confronting them always with our rejection of any argument justifying their self-gratification. That will earn us their love and gratitude in the day of their repentance, even if during the time they still embrace their sins they lash out at us as if we were their enemies.
And if it happens that they never repent, then in the day of their grief they cannot blame us for helping them deceive and destroy themselves. That is how we keep ourselves unspotted by the blood of this generation, even as we labor to help our brothers and sisters free themselves from the tyranny of sin.
I predicted toward the beginning of the preceding essay that those who have already accepted the dogmas of the homosexual community as a source of truth superior to the words of the prophets would be incapable of reading what I had actually written here and would instead interpret my words as intolerance, oppression, gay-bashing, or, an epithet used now without a shred of its original meaning, "homophobia." My prediction was exactly fulfilled, and I have had ample opportunity to observe that some supposed proponents of liberty for homosexuals do not believe in freedom of speech for anyone who disagrees with them.
This is true even within the Mormon community. For instance, Signature Books responded to publication of "Hypocrites of Homosexuality" by suggesting to Sunstone magazine, where the essay appeared, that Signature might not be able to continue distributing that magazine if they continued to publish essays by me -- a thinly veiled attempt to suppress my ability to get my writings published, even while Signature was still profiting from publication of my book Saintspeak, which I had sold to them while under previous management. When I called Gary Bergera, editor of Signature Books, about his letter, he was apparently incapable of seeing that his attempt to get Sunstone to cease publishing my writings had anything to do with oppression. In his view, the cause of freedom requires Signature to make every effort to stop me from having a chance to speak a single word that might persuade someone that being a Latter-day Saint means trying to live by the gospel as taught by the prophets, while they insist on their own freedom to continue with their clear and relentless crusade to persuade Mormons to take currently fashionable worldly wisdom as a better source of truth than the teachings of the prophets. Fortunately, freedom of the press still prevails on both sides, and I have no fear that, given equal freedom to speak, the teachings of the prophets will continue prevail within the Mormon community.
In fact, even outside the LDS community, it has become clearer and clearer to me, since writing this essay, that gay activism as a movement is no longer looking for civil rights, which by and large homosexuals already have. Rather they are seeking to enforce acceptance of their sexual liaisons as having equal validity with heterosexual marriages, to the point of having legal rights as spouses, the right to adopt children, and the right to insist that their behavior be taught to children in public schools as a completely acceptable "alternative lifestyle." It does not take a homophobe to recognize how destructive such a program will be in a society already reeling from the terrible consequences of "no-fault" divorce, social tolerance of extramarital promiscuity, and failing to protect our adolescents until they can channel their sexual passions in a socially productive way. Having already lost control of the car, we now find the gay activists screaming at us to speed up as we drive headlong toward the cliff.
Oddly enough, even as I am attacked by some as a homophobe, I am attacked by others as being too supportive of homosexuality, simply because I cannot see individual homosexuals, in or out of my books, as anything other than human beings with as complex a combination of good and evil in them as I find within myself. In my own view, I am walking a middle way, which condemns the sin but loves the sinner. Apparently this cannot satisfy those who either hate the sinner or love the sin; both are equally enraged by my unacceptable posture. Still, I did attempt to explain my views in the following response, first posted on America Online, an interactive computer service where I host an area called "The Hatrack River Town Meeting."
Recently on Prodigy's "Card, Orson Scott" topic, one participant wrote a brief message saying that it really bothered him when I made the main character of Songmaster, Ansset, a homosexual; the message-writer used the word "abomination" to refer to homosexuality. The responses from others online were understanding even when in firm disagreement. Several pointed out that while the character of Josef was a homosexual, the character of Ansset was not. One wrote affirming the sympathy that I obviously had for homosexuals, and warning the original letter-writer of "homophobia." I could not leave the discussion that way without a reply.
Concerning the discussion of homosexuality in Songmaster, I must agree with those who held that Ansset "was" not a homosexual, though he engaged (or attempted to engage) in homosexual acts. As Kinsey pointed out, most American males (and many American females), even as long ago as the 1950s, had SOME kind of same-sex sexual gratification or experience. Engaging in homosexual behavior one time does not mean that you have that as your inevitable destiny.
Science has barely scratched the surface of the question of how much of our behavior has a genetic source and how much is environmental (and of course science doesn't even admit to any other possibility -- i.e., a pre-existent soul or, as someone called it somewhere, an aiua). Even in the clearest cases of genetic causation (schizophrenia, for instance), the percentages are significant but not even close to being absolute. That is, there are many who "should" be schizophrenic and yet they are not; and even among those who have schizophrenic episodes, there are degrees of predisposition. So if we discover, eventually, that homosexuality has a genetic indicator, this does not mean that all who have the indicator are equally pushed in that direction -- or even that anyone who has the desire is necessarily forced to engage in homosexual acts. The predisposition toward various behaviors does not mean that a person no longer has volition. Desire is not identical to action, at least among civilized people. After all, the desire to do physical violence is far more pervasive among human males than homosexuality, yet human males are expected to curb it except when playing hockey. Civilization depends on people being able to master those of their predispositions that are regarded as unacceptable by the community they live in.
There are communities within American culture that regard homosexuality as just another viable lifestyle, absolutely harmless and therefore no more to be shunned or censured than an inability to carry a tune (and LESS obnoxious than a predisposition toward, say, public nose-picking). There are other communities within American culture that regard homosexual acts as sins, so that good people try to control any such desires and not act them out. And there are communities that regard homosexuality as an evil which must be violently expunged.
The violent ones are themselves engaging in a far more serious anti-civilized pattern of behavior, of course, and I think there is no room in America for violence directed against any group (or any individual) for any reason short of immediate defense against physical attack -- which doesn't often come up with homosexuals. But apart from the violent ones, I do think there is room within our society for people with many views of homosexuality, as well as of other non-majority behaviors. (Race and gender are not behaviors, and so what I am saying about attitudes toward homosexual behavior does not necessarily extend to attitudes toward race or gender.)
As long as we can freely leave one community and enter another, either geographically or socially, then doesn't reasonable tolerance of others' beliefs and practices allow communities that voluntarily agree to regard certain behaviors as sins as much right to their beliefs as communities that voluntarily agree to regard those same behaviors as acceptable? I find that those who plead for tolerance are far too often prone to wanting to hunt down and wipe out the last vestige of what they call intolerance -- and are incapable of realizing that this behavior is, in itself, exactly as intolerant and usually as unjust as the behavior they so rigorously oppose.
All of which brings us back to my novel Songmaster. In dealing with Ansset, a beautiful, artistic child in the highest circles of power, the question of both pederasty and homosexuality had to be dealt with, because both would come up. I can think of few power-cultures in human history where they have not! I think think that may be because those who seek power tend to be inclined to self-gratification and to domination of others through sexual as well as other kinds of intercourse, and since power cultures are usually male-dominated, a beautiful but vulnerable male is going to find that most domination and exploitation come from men. There's more to it than that, I'm sure, but one thing was unavoidable: Ansset was going to be approached.
I could have used the "child molester" idea and made it a moral monster who used him -- but I had other monsters using him when they trained him to be an assassin, and I had loaded them up with enough burdens in the story. Besides, I thought of the many homosexuals I had known, and while a few of them (about the normal proportion among human males) were nasty and vicious and domineering, the majority (again the normal proportion) were decent and kind and meant well in their dealings with others.
So in creating Josef, I tried to show him as a good man with desires that, in the case of Ansset, he had no intention of acting on. Neither of them set out to have a seduction scene. But Josef, for whatever reasons, looked upon men as potential sexual partners and this was going to color his relationship with Ansset, even by avoidance, exactly as heterosexual men find that their desire for women colors their relationships even with women they do not intend to approach sexually. Ansset responded, not to his own sexual desires, but to Josef's unspoken need for him. And in the process, he learned exactly how much he had been forced to sacrifice in order to become a Songbird. Josef, too, was treated with the viciousness that evil people too often use toward those who are really no danger to them at all; some people, when they see that someone is truly helpless, become more cruel (as the Rodney King videotape and the subsequent footage of rioters beating innocent passersby all demonstrated).
In all of this, I was not attempting any kind of brief either "for" or "against" homosexuality. In my own life, I live in a religious community whose entire raison d'etre is that we believe God makes his will known through prophets. Those prophets have taught us to regard homosexual behavior as a sin, along with many other desired acts, both "natural" and "un-". Just as our natural desires for heterosexual contact outside of marriage are to be curbed, we are also taught to curb homosexual desires -- along with many, many others. It is not easy for any of us to control those things we desire most (though of course we always do well at controlling those desires we barely have at all).
It is quite possible for me to regard homosexuality as a temptation toward a difficult sin, much to be avoided by members of my religious community, and at the same time recognize that others feel differently about it -- and that even those homosexuals within my religious community (which means most of those I have known in my life) are people of value, as they either struggle to control their desires or, despairing of that, leave the religious community that requires of them what they no longer desire to do. The only people I have contempt for are those who try to remain inside Mormonism while denying the validity of guidance from the prophets, and I oppose them, not because they live as homosexuals, but because of the hypocrisy of claiming to be Mormon while denying the only reason for the Mormon community to exist. If they prevailed, it would destroy our community. Homosexuals themselves pose no such threat, provided that those who are Mormon admit that a homosexual act is a sin as long as the prophet declares it to be so, while those who do not accept the prophet's authority refrain from pretending to be Mormon.
Given my personal feelings about the individual homosexuals I have known and, in some cases, have regarded and still regard as dear friends, and my religious beliefs about what God requires of those of us who take upon ourselves the commitment to be members of the Mormon Church, it is hardly likely that Songmaster would be either "for" or "against" homosexuals. What the novel offers is a treatment of characters who share, between them, a forbidden act that took place because of hunger on one side, compassion on the other, and genuine love and friendship on both parts. I was not trying to show that homosexuality was "beautiful" or "natural" -- in fact, sex of any kind is likely to be "beautiful" only to the participants, and it is hard to make a case for the naturalness of such an obviously counter-evolutionary trend as same-sex mating. Those issues were irrelevant. The friendship between Ansset and Josef was the beautiful and natural thing, even if it eventually led them on a mutually self-destructive path. And both of them were cruelly used by the society around them, being regarded as expendable or exploitable.
The only thing I would quarrel with in any of the attitudes I've seen expressed on this subject in this particular discussion on Prodigy is the use of two words: abomination and homophobia. Both are relatively meaningless these days, and are most often used to express loathing; therefore, while the loathing may be sincere, the words become less than helpful in serious discussion. In fact, in technical theological language (an oxymoron?) the act of sodomy is classed as being exactly as abominable as bestiality (note that it is the act, not the desire, we're talking about) -- but that doesn't make it any more helpful to use the word in civilized discussion.
Likewise, there are people who show a virulence in their hatred of homosexuals that is obsessive, personal, and pathological, and I suppose homophobia could be regarded as the technical word for that. The overwhelming majority of the cases where I've seen homophobia used, however, it was used not to describe the pathological condition, but rather as an ugly word to fling at anyone who does not go along with the political agenda or self-story of various activist wings of the American homosexual community. If you don't accept the full politically-correct line (i.e., homosexuals can't help it and shouldn't ever be expected not to do as they like, and should be treated as martyrs and given special protection under the law), then you are a homophobe in the view of these people.
Frankly, I find that this quickly turns into a delicious hypocrisy: Those whose agenda is "tolerance" and who insist that ugly words like faggot not be used against them have found an exactly analogous word to use as a weapon in their virulent intolerance of those who disapprove of either their behavior or their political agenda. They use the word to silence opposition, to subvert legitimate discussion. Those who use the word this way are so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that they are willing to deny the right of others to disagree with them. Thus, in the name of tolerance of diversity, they seek to force others into a perfect uniformity of thought. The fascism of the left is no more attractive than the fascism of the right.
In Songmaster (and also in the third Homecoming novel, The Ships of Earth, the only other place where I have dealt with homosexuality in my fiction) I attempt to create real and living characters. I find it nearly impossible to create a character that I do not end up understanding and sympathizing with to some degree. Thus it should surprise no one that I treat homosexuals in my fiction with understanding and sympathy. This does not mean that I don't also regard homosexual behavior as inappropriate for those who purport to be Latter-day Saints. I see no contradiction between the two ideas; indeed, I fail to see how an uncompassionate person could be a good Christian, or a good Latter-day Saint in particular.
I suppose I can take some comfort from the fact that over the years I have been savaged both for showing too much sympathy for the "abomination" of homosexuality and for showing too much "homophobic" opposition to the political agenda of the radical homosexual community. If either group of intolerant extremists felt comfortable with my works and my words, I would have reason to reexamine my position. As things stand right now, however, I think I am annoying exactly the right people on both sides, and so will continue as I have in the past, to attempt to discover the truth of every aspect of human life and then to tell what truth I believe I have found, as best I can, in both my fiction and my nonfiction.
Copyright © 1990 Orson Scott Card
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