Charity Toward Elder Bruce Hafen’s Evergreen talk – Part I
The Bloggernacle (and Outer Blogness) both have been in a frenzy about Elder Bruce Hafen’s recent talk to gay Mormons at Evergreen. I have linked to several great bloggers who have written about the subject (see my previous article “Pincer Attack: The Double-Bind for Gay Mormons” for a few links sprinkled throughout. Also, you can see here, here, and here — there are articles being written every day about this talk and I’ve not linked to even a majority of them) and I have written a bit on the subject myself…but I have realized that in general, reaction to the talk has been negative (then again, my sample of blogs is skewed.) For the few defenses I did see, they were underwhelming. I don’t think they grasped the underlying point of faith.
I didn’t think saying, “Well, that’s just his opinion” would be a good defense, even if the member in question disagreed with Hafen. So, even though I disagree with Hafen and believe that the narrative I will tell for him is conditional and inadequate, here is one way I think Hafen’s talk can be approached charitably.
Let’s review Hafen’s audience. Most people know about this talk because it was posted to the LDS Newsroom (NOTE: the LDS newsroom archives under Public Relations…this article never hit the front page if this comment is correct), so should we assume that this talk is designed to be an authoritative statement?
I disagree with people who say, “No, this talk isn’t official. It is just Hafen’s opinion.” Even if Hafen gets overwritten in the future (we spoke with limited understanding…), as of now, Elder Hafen is in the First Quorum of the Seventy. He is a General Authority, and his talk did reach the official church resource for news media. Even though Hafen was speaking for a non-church entity (Evergreen), not only has Evergreen had a close history with church General Authorities, but the fact that the talk did go to the Newsroom is telling.
So, let’s say this is an official talk. This defense takes that perspective. I still must say that the audience of this talk is extremely important: it is toward gay Mormons who are members of Evergreen. These are Mormons who want to commit themselves to the church’s presentation of the gospel and maintain full standing within the church organization. These individuals therefore are constrained, for better or for worse, to “faithful” answers.
What this means is that if someone doesn’t buy these premises, the argument obviously will fail. If one doesn’t care about committing himself to the church’s presentation of the gospel (striving for orthodoxy and orthopraxy), then the defense will fail. If someone doesn’t care about full standing, this defense will fail.
So what does this talk mean for people who do believe in these criteria?
Firstly, Hafen’s comment that these members suffer for their homosexuality is then true. Because it is not an option to say that they suffer for their Mormonness or suffer for the church’s expectations. Furthermore, it is comforting that a General Authority would understand this suffering and try to assuage it. Hafen’s comment that their persisting attractions do not make their very nature flawed is similarly comforting (more on that later). The core message, however, is that for as long as these attractions persist, the member shouldn’t act on them and should not succumb to arguments that suggest they need to act on them (so actually, the inborn vs. choice argument is inconsequential…regardless of the inception of homosexual attraction, the church position is: don’t act on it. [And it's been this for a while now.])
This defense fails if you are unconvinced of why a homosexual shouldn’t act on his/her attraction (gosh, let’s not forget lesbians)…but for a gay Mormon trying to be faithful to the gospel as the church tells it, enduring to the end for heavenly reward is reason enough.
Many people have jumped on Hafen’s paragraph concerning how he or any other GA can speak on the issue, not having faced it himself. Some people have chastized Hafen for comparing the GAs to the Saviour…but if you look carefully, he never does that. He notes that some may ask how the church leaders can empathize…but never answers this (so one can still accept that church leaders, who have not “descended below our conditions,” do not truly understand or empathize). Rather, he notes that Christ empathizes because he has descended below our conditions, and from here, a faithful, orthodox-seeking member would legitimize the church’s commands as authorized by Christ. (Again, if you don’t, then obviously the argument fails.)
The next paragraph introduces an awkward analogy with someone who has faced child sexual abuse…but note that in this paragraph, Hafen does not claim homosexuals are those who were sexually abused. So even though these statements have been made by other general authorities in the past, they cannot be held against Hafen’s “restatement” and “adjustment” of the church’s position in the present.
In the next entry in this series, I’ll confront that most famous quote that nearly every blogger or article who has written about the Hafen talk has mentioned: “Having same-gender attraction is not in your DNA.”