An Open Letter to the LDS Public Affairs Department in Hawaii
3rd Place, 2000 Affirmation Writing Contest
By Don D.P.K. Harryman, Jr
Mr. John Hoag
Public Affairs Department
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Dear Mr. Hoag:
Almost a year ago I sent a copy of an article about the death of Matthew Shepherd to the Public Affairs Department of the Mormon Church here in Honolulu. No letter accompanied the copy-only a handwritten line that said "this might be instructive."
Imagine my surprise to receive a response from you. Over the years prior to the election of 1998, as the issue of same-gender marriage was debated, I attended numerous hearings, listened to radio interviews, and read virtually every newspaper article in the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin relating to this topic. On each occasion that the subject came up, you denied having any official position with the Mormon Church. Your position was that you were just a "concerned citizen" and nothing more. Did you accept your current position in public relations for the church after the 1998 election, or is what you said previously untrue?
I was surprised also to receive any response because I didn't expect one. Your letter explained in part why I didn't expect a response: you said, "I rarely answer these types of charges." Although I'm not certain what "charges" you meant since I made none, I have come to expect this response in talking with persons in your church. I have learned that one cannot usually have a conversation (there are exceptions) on many subjects with a person of Mormon faith: the assumptions that you would normally make in a conversation simply don't apply. One cannot suppose that there is mutual respect and a belief that each person is entitled to inspiration or an assumption that each person's life experience is valid. When one engages a person of Mormon faith in a conversation, one immediately is made aware that only Mormons are correct and that they alone are moral and possess the final answers to all moral questions. One may receive a lecture or the kind of silence that you say in your letter is your usual response.
However, since you did answer I should like to reply in detail to many of the points you make in your letter as well as to the ambient issues raised by the Mormon Church's political participation in opposition to same-gender marriage and in opposition to homosexuals generally. There are some statements in your letter which are so utterly false that they cannot remain unchallenged.
The most salient of these issues —at least as it relates to the church's position on homosexuals— is your statement "we have never spoken ill of any group —some anti-gay marriage groups did so— we tried our level best to convince them to be fair and reasonable-without rancor. Obviously some of these more extreme groups did not care to listen." In the narrow context of the election of 1998, that statement might be partly true. Your church did not say anything directly negative about homosexuals in the election context. However, what is true is that your church paid someone else to say horrific things that were rancorous to say the very least.
It is a matter of public record that your church paid 600,000 dollars to the group Save Traditional Marriage—a six hundred thousand dollar carte blanche to Mike Gabbard, then head of STM to continue what has been a long career of spreading hatred and lies about homosexuals. Gabbard, who belongs to a fairly radical Hindu sect and can only be described as a professional gay-basher, gladly took your money to purchase videos and other materials produced by Jeremiah Films which were then distributed by Gabbard primarily in fundamentalist churches. Some of the "facts" recited in these videos are as follows: Homosexuals consume an average of 6-8 pounds of feces in a year, all homosexuals are promiscuous and have thousands of sexual partners in a year (numbers that seem mathematically impossible), homosexuals have virtually all been molested and all therefore are child molesters. Mr. Hoag, these things do not apply to me or to anyone that I know.
Surely you are aware of these videos since you paid for their distribution, but are you also aware that Jeremiah Films is the producer of The Godmakers, a notoriously anti-Mormon video?
The specific videos distributed by Mr. Gabbard and funded primarily by your church's donation are Gay Rights/Special Rights and AIDS-What You Haven't Been Told. Since your church paid to have this "information" so widely distributed, then you must feel confident of its veracity. Can we assume that the information in Godmakers is likewise accurate and verifiable? If conversely you don't feel able to fully support the charges made in Jeremiah's videos, then why did you pay for their distribution? Why didn't your church make its own video or hire its own media representative to make your case? I look forward to any scientific or other any other credible evidence you can offer to support the information distributed by your agent Mike Gabbard.
STM also produced numerous television slots specifically designed to inflame anti-homosexual feelings. I refer especially to the slot in which the camera slowly narrows on a child who looks frightened and vulnerable. The announcer warns the viewer how same-gender marriage will affect children. The fear which is expertly manipulated by this ad is the old myth that all homosexuals are child molesters-the same refrain repeated by Mike Gabbard with his video campaign. This myth is no more valid that the myth that Mormon men are all "dirty old men" who seek young women for polygamous marriage.
Your letter says "please bear in mind, we were only attempting to preserve the status quo of marriage in the form it has always been since the beginning of time." Which form, Mr. Hoag? For most of history until the last 100 years or so, marriage has been a matter of inequality for women-women have historically been property in marriage. Biblical marriage was not only polygamous, but the marriage contract was a one-way contract for men: if a woman did not produce male offspring within five years, she could be divorced and given back to her father or brothers. (The sexist assumption of course was that the inability to produce male children was the woman's fault.) Which form of marriage are you trying to preserve?
Most interestingly, you mention polygamy. It is historical fact that polygamy was practiced up until 1890 by the Mormon Church. One of the divisive issues of the 19th century church was its founder Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to women who were 'sealed' to other men. Many of his marriages were unknown to his wife, Emma Smith. These are historical facts about which I make no judgment.
What is an issue is your public relations campaign to convince the public that polygamy is only a historical vestige of the 19th century and has no place in current church practice today. What you say is true: the church does excommunicate persons who practice polygamous marriage today. However, polygamy is still an integral part of Mormon theology today. As you well know, a man whose wife dies, for instance, can be 'sealed' to another woman in the Mormon temple-both marriages are regarded as valid and eternal. To convince the public that polygamy is not part of the church's current belief system is an excellent public relations success-but it is not the truth. You know it and I know it.
Since you have made the decision to enter the political arena, you have forfeited the option of discussing only the parts of your own history and belief that fit into your current public relations effort. If, for example, your "experts" from Brigham Young University testify as they did in the Hawaii Supreme Court case that two lesbian partners would make bad parents, then you must explain how that is so different than your ancestors raising children in households with multiple wives. Would you kindly explain the difference?
Your contention that "we did not initiate this emotional debate in Hawaii-we simply reacted to the societal change that the court tried to impose" is a bit disingenuous. First of all, you chose to involve yourself in the case as a continuation of your church's history of vilifying, demonizing and marginalizing homosexuals. The State of Hawaii was given the burden of proof by the Hawaii Supreme Court in justifying why marriage should not be expanded to include homosexuals. Your church chose to support the State's case based on the premise that homosexuals were (at best) inappropriate parents. The State lost-primarily because the parade of witnesses produced by the State-including "experts" from BYU could produce not one shred of credible evidence that the State's case was valid and based on anything more than animus and hysteria. Following the loss, your friends in the legislature decided that amending the Hawaii Constitution to allow for discrimination would be more likely to happen since public sentiment could be more easily manipulated. They were right-and thus followed one of the ugliest, nastiest and most horrific episodes in Hawaiian political history-your church taking its part as a major player by paying for the work of Mike Gabbard. Had the outcome been different, the marriage choices of every group save homosexuals only would have remained exactly the same-your choices would not have been altered, abridged, changed or modified in any way. The worst that would have happened is that you would have had to live with something that you don't like. That, by the way, is how many people feel about Mormons.
That your church dislikes --even hates-- homosexuals is really the crux of the matter here. Your earlier nonsensical statement that "we have never spoken ill of any group" would be comical if not for the deaths of people like Matthew Shepherd. Early church leaders said nothing about homosexuals: the church's modern assault began primarily with President Spencer W. Kimball. In his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, President Kimball says that homosexuality is a "crime against nature" and laments that homosexuals are no longer put to death. He further links homosexuality with bestiality. Curiously, President Kimball said in response to a query about the drought in the western states during the late '70's, that its cause was "tolerance of homosexuals." One has to wonder then if the floods which occurred in the west during the early 80's as well as other natural disasters were also caused by tolerating homosexuals?
With this background it is no wonder that other statements followed, like the statement of James E. Faust at BYU in November 1994: "The church's stand on homosexual relations is another area in which we offend the Devil." Clearly, from the church's point of view, homosexuals cannot be tolerated and are Satanic.
Speeches by church leaders on all levels are commonly infused with language condemning the "homosexual lifestyle." Perhaps you can explain what that means: I personally don't know any two people, homosexual or otherwise who live the same "lifestyle." What I do know is that this phrase is used as a cheap broadbrush to dismiss an entire group-regrettably your church's leaders have resorted to using this speech to further marginalize homosexuals.
Most frightening and most unavoidably linked with violence against homosexuals are the statements made in 1976 (and continuously republished) by Elder Boyd K. Packer. Elder Packer says in the pamphlet "To Young Men Only" (speaking of a missionary who had "floored" his companion): "Oh, is that all. Well thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn't do well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way." Elder Packer then tells the reader: "I am not recommending this course to you, but I am not omitting it." It is mind-boggling to think that Elder Packer would give this kind of tacit permission for violence. No one in the church, least of all Elder Packer has ever qualified or revoked this statement. Does Elder Packer recommend this course of action for young women who receive unwanted sexual advances? Can you imagine the carnage that would ensue if women took violent action against unwanted sexual advances from men? In most cases, a simple 'no' is sufficient, and violence is never warranted outside of direct physical assault. If Elder Packer doesn't understand that his words have meaning, and give tacit permission for violence, than someone needs to explain it to him. The statement that opens your letter in which you claim not to understand the link between these kinds of statements and the death of Matthew Shepherd and other violent acts against homosexuals is as childish as it is ridiculous.
Certainly you are aware that Elder Packer not only has never retracted or clarified the previous statement but further inflamed the situation with his now infamous statement that the primary "enemies" of the church are feminists, homosexuals and intellectuals.
After the court case was lost, your friends in the legislature began work on various measures designed to overcome the State's inability to justify why homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to marry. One of these friends was State Representative Terrence Tom. Mr. Tom was a leader in the fight against same-gender marriage. Those in his district finally tired of Tom's collusion with Bishop Estate and voted him out of office when it was discovered that he was on a yearly retainer of fifty-thousand dollars from the estate- it was Tom who killed in committee any attempt to reform corruption in the estate's affairs.
You found another ally in former State Senator Milton Holt, and it is in reference to Holt that your statement "we believe in obeying the law of the land" is interesting. Mr. Holt is now dealing with a variety of charges including crystal met amphetamine use, and a federal corruption investigation. Other charges stem from Holt's illegal use of his own campaign funds and from the use of Bishop Estate funds to entertain various lawmakers and others at Honolulu strip clubs. He was long ago convicted in a criminal complaint of beating his wife.
While still in office, Holt created a huge controversy by his illegal attempt to circumvent the law and established Senate procedure. In early April of 1996, Holt's Senate Consumer Protection Committee held a meeting on a proposal to consider regulations on disciplinary actions for physicians and osteopaths. In violation of public policy and procedure and of the law requiring that adequate public notice be given prior to any changes, Holt gutted the measure and substituted language regarding same-gender marriage. Interestingly, public records indicate that you were there and presented testimony for the rewritten bill. (Legislative Reference Bureau) Outside of prior knowledge and collusion with Senator Holt, how did you know about the meeting and the changes in the bill? Did you just happen to be walking down the hall with prepared testimony against same-gender marriage? Which part of the law were you obeying, Mr. Hoag?
In your letter you lament that your energies could not be directed at "solving more humanitarian causes." One has to lament indeed your church's complete inaction on other issues which some might think are 'moral' issues.
Can you explain for instance that in spite of a large Mormon population in Nevada which could easily impact any legislation there, your church does not oppose gaming and prostitution in that state? Prostitution is legal in every county of Nevada except Clark and Washoe Counties, and in the gambling meccas of Las Vegas and Reno these activities are thought to be controlled by organized crime. The link between gaming in Nevada and organized crime is undeniable. Does your church plan on demonstrations in Carson City and political activities aimed at eliminating gaming and prostitution in Nevada? Or are the huge revenues which accrue from gaming too valuable to "rock the boat" in Nevada? It is also curious that your church which claims to "protect" the institution of marriage seems to live quite comfortably in Las Vegas and Reno, where one can be married by an Elvis impersonator or in a drive-thru 'Wedding Chapel' and divorced the same day-as long as one is heterosexual.
Statements by your church that same-gender marriage as a "moral" and not a "civil-rights" issue cause one to wonder how you would know the difference? What in your church's history as it relates to civil rights qualifies you to know a civil-rights issue when you see one? Abolition of slavery as an issue emerged first in churches--was yours among them? On the long march from slavery to Selma, did you aid and comfort African-Americans in their struggle? Did your church protest loudly when African-Americans were denied long after the Civil War their constitutional rights of voting and equality? Did you decry segregation and the horrific practice of lynching-a common practice until as late as the sixties? Did your church oppose apartheid in South Africa? Do these things not rise to the level of "moral" as well as civil-rights issues? How is it that white supremacist groups feel so comfortable in Idaho, where the population is fully one-third Mormon? Will your members be demonstrating in Hayden, Idaho when white supremacist groups have their annual World Aryan Congress there? Please share with me any public statements made by your church condemning these groups and their activities in Idaho.
In this connection I would also appreciate you sharing any statements made or actions taken by your church in opposing the Nazis in Germany-do you consider the Holocaust and the millions dead in World War Two a "moral issue"?
Does your church publicly condemn the illegal bribes paid to bring the Olympic Games to Salt Lake City which recently resulted in federal indictments? Or is the church's silence worth the 1.3 billion federal dollars in infrastructure improvements, the millions of dollars of tourism revenue, or the heightened public relations gains enjoyed by the Mormon Church because of the games? Do your "moral" concerns stop short of financial and public relations gains?
BYU has made headlines in magazines such as Sports Illustrated because of its refusal to play league games on Sundays. BYU representatives intone that the Sabbath is sacred, and Sunday play is therefore wrong. How is it then that BYU quarterbacks like Ty Detmer and Steve Young are treated like celebrities in church circles? Does their Sunday play not constitute a violation of the Sabbath? Why doesn't your church try legal remedies to make illegal Sunday play like the Super Bowl-not to mention commercial activities that include everything from real estate sales to used car sales for which Sunday is a prime selling day? In spite of its enshrinement in the Ten Commandments, is the Sabbath negotiable for sports stars like Steve Young because of the high profile they bring to church public relations concerns?
Here in the central Pacific, we are deeply concerned with the plight of the Enewetak peoples who were forcibly removed from their island home in the Marshall group to accommodate US nuclear testing. Their return to islands forever ruined by nuclear contamination is tragic-efforts to restore the islands to a livable condition have largely failed, and the inhabitants there suffer from disease and an inability to live their traditional ways. Does your church condemn the actions of the United States in treating largely poor, native peoples as though they were nothing more than expendable pawns in a global nuclear power struggle? What about the plight of native peoples everywhere-here in Hawaii, for example, who have been forced off of their lands, killed or marginalized in the name of US or other countries' land expansion? Similarly, what about the plight of native peoples in Nigeria or Myanmar who have been enslaved or moved off of their lands to accommodate the expansion of US oil company profits? Do any of these issues rise to the level of 'moral' issues, Mr. Hoag, and what does your church say or do to correct these wrongs?
It would seem that your involvement with 'moral' issues is highly selective at best.
Public assertions that homosexuals are welcome in your church become suspect when viewed from both the historical context of your church's anti-homosexual rhetoric, and also in view of church practice more recently.
One has to wonder how your church can say that homosexuals are 'treated like everyone else' when it has in fact subjected homosexuals to electric aversion therapy. Full details of this horrific story can be obtained by reviewing the BYU dissertation of Max Ford Mcbride, BYU, 1976. (Effect of Visual Stimuli In Electric Aversion Therapy) Even after this appalling procedure was halted at BYU, LDS Social Services (in an effort to avoid public scrutiny) continued to refer people to Dr. Robert Card of Salt Lake City, an avid practitioner of aversion therapy, while denying publicly that they practiced aversion therapy.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated recently that homosexuals are welcome in your church. How does that square with your church's participation in the recent Supreme Court case involving the Boy Scouts? Your contention is that homosexuals are welcome, only sexual activity is condemned. If that is so, why did you side with the Boys Scouts, who removed the plaintiff strictly because of his status as a homosexual? At no time and in no way was the New Jersey case about anything the plaintiff said or did in the context of scouting. In fact, the plaintiff Mr. Dale was a model scout and scoutmaster, and did everything and more required by the organization. It was simply his status that caused his removal and nothing more. Nothing could more clearly illustrate your real values or motives than your involvement in this case: in fact, you object to homosexuals based on who they are, not what they do or don't do.
Here in Hawaii, you and your friends who opposed same-gender marriage said time and again that your opposition was to marriage only-nothing else. If that is so, why is it that in the last legislative session, when bills were proposed that would have made it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in housing (religious minorities already have this protection) and that would have provided health insurance for domestic partners, many legislators reported receiving delegations and other communications from your church (especially a group self-identified as representing BYU-H) opposing these bills and encouraging legislators to kill the bills? Can you explain to me Mr. Hoag, what specific teaching of Jesus it is that requires you to deny someone housing or health insurance? Can you explain how this 'welcomes' homosexuals into your church? Clearly we are not welcome in your neighborhood, your Scout troop or your church.
You may be asking who I am, and why I am so angry--let me tell you first who I am not. I am not anti-Christian, I am not promiscuous, I am not a child molester and I am not an atheist.
On the contrary, I still believe in God in spite of my experience with your church. I certainly do not have answers to profound moral questions, but I am certain that moral issues go far beyond a myopic obsession with my neighbors' sex lives.
You may not remember it, but we have had a conversation. Clearly, I did not meet any of the stereotypes you employed in your 1998 campaign here in Hawaii, because from our conversation it was clear that you didn't perceive me as a homosexual. You confided in me, Mr. Hoag, that your real fear was that if same-gender marriage become a reality in Hawaii, that we would be 'overrun with those people'. I shall never forget that comment.
I am a returned missionary, a BYU graduate, a well-employed and respected member of my community, and someone who will not be intimidated or frightened about speaking out. Mr. Hoag, you and your church have crossed a line. The line was crossed when you took the tithing money of honest, God-fearing people like my family members and gave it to Mike Gabbard to spread hate and filth about me and my friends. That will not stand, Mr. Hoag. It will not go unchallenged. Matthew Shepherd and others will not be forgotten in the rush of your self-congratulation over your recent victories in Hawaii and in the Supreme Court.
As I watch my young nephews prepare for scout camp this summer, I am pained about the lessons they are learning. Their favorite expletive-which still creeps into their boyish conversations in spite of the best efforts of their parents-is 'Fag'. Anything which in their view is less than desirable is described as 'totally gay'. Your church and society have done their work well. As an adult, I have to extend maximum patience and understanding-as they make their preparations for scout camp, we have no conversations about the Supreme Court case-its complexities are beyond them. It is clear to me however, that on some level that they get the intended message: 'No Fags Allowed.'
I challenge you and hope that you can clarify any portion of this letter that is incorrect, whether it be factually incorrect or mistaken by virtue of interpretation. Please be informed that this letter is an open letter, and is intended for maximum public exposure.
Should you choose to write again, I would respectfully ask that you refrain from using the word 'aloha' in your closing. Given your church's treatment of me as a homosexual person and as a student of the Hawaiian language, I find your use of the word inappropriate and offensive.
Don D.P.K. Harryman, Jr
PO Box 75131
cc: President Gordon B. Hinckley, Elder Boyd K. Packer, Public Affairs Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah