Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Salt Lake Tribune Reports on Hafen's Talk

By Madame Curie

The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday reported on the furor surrounding Elder Hafen's talk to Evergreen. Here is the text of the report:

Is the LDS Church taking a step back on gay issues?
Some observers say that Elder Hafen's speech leads faithful in a new direction
By: Rosmary Winters, The Salt Lake Tribune

LDS general authority Bruce C. Hafen's speech last week about homosexuality sounded like a throwback.
He told those assembled at a conference for Mormons trying to "overcome" same-sex attraction that being gay is "not in your DNA." He talked about the 1970s, when psychology manuals listed homosexuality as a mental disorder and gay-rights activists were working just to get anti-sodomy laws off the books.
Was Hafen speaking for himself or the church? Were LDS leaders backing away from statements that they "don't know" if a person is born gay? Has the church changed course?
The church isn't saying yes, and it isn't saying no.
But observers are.
"It was a big step backwards," said Gary Watts, a Provo physician who, for decades, has watched the church's position on homosexuality evolve. "The church has a long way to go to get into the 21st century. They're making incremental movements. What Hafen has done is take them back 25 years."
In the past decade, the church has moved away from 1970s teachings that emphasized psychosocial causes of homosexuality, including parenting, toward a "we don't know" approach -- not denying the possibility of biological factors. In a 2007 article in the LDS magazine Ensign , apostle Jeffrey R. Holland stressed that "no one," not parents nor people who experience same-sex attraction, should be blamed.
"The church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction," fellow apostle Dallin H. Oaks said in a 2006 interview posted on the church's Web site. "Those are scientific questions -- whether nature or nurture -- those are things the church doesn't have a position on."
Even then-President Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked on "Larry King Live" in 2004 whether people choose to be gay or are born that way, responded: "I don't know."
But Hafen, speaking at Evergreen International's 19th annual conferencea week ago, went further in trying to explain the causes.
He told listeners -- many of them Latter-day Saints trying to heed church teachings not to act on homosexual feelings -- that they may not have "consciously chosen" to have same-sex attraction. But he dismissed the mainstream idea that sexual orientation is inborn and unalterable as an "untrue assumption."
Hafen suggested most lesbians were sexually abused as children and that gay men, during a crucial stage of puberty, may have become "fixated" on the notion they were gay.
"What he said was just flat wrong," said David Melson, executive director of Affirmation, a support group for gay and lesbian Mormons, many of whom have left the faith. "Scientific evidence has shown ... the factors that make one gay take place before birth."
Telling people who are gay or lesbian that, with enough faith, they can change their sexual orientation, Melson added, "borders on being cruel."
The Foundation for Reconciliation, a group that hopes to foster greater understanding between the LDS Church and the gay and transgender community, posted an online "First Aid Kit" for gay Mormons who were hurt by Hafen's remarks ( They also requested a meeting with Hafen, a former dean of Brigham Young University's law school and a member of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy. Hafen has not responded.
"I was happy to see he had a lot of compassion" for people with same-sex attraction, said Peter Danzig, a Salt Lake City spokesman for the foundation. "But, on the other hand, I thought he probably didn't understand how hurtful some of this advice is going to be."
Contrary to what Hafen said, Danzig argued, many gay Mormons find "spiritual peace" when they accept their sexual orientation isn't going to change. They can choose to live by the church's rules about chastity -- no sexual acts outside of a heterosexual marriage -- and give up the inner turmoil caused by false hopes of becoming straight.
Hafen, whose speech was posted on the church's Web site ( also pointed to the American Psychological Association's 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, saying it was based more on politics than science.
The "longstanding consensus" of the behavioral and social sciences, the APA stated in a resolution passed last month, is that homosexuality is a "normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation."
The measure advised mental health professionals against telling their clients they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments. No solid evidence exists that such efforts work, the APA concluded, and some studies suggest the potential for harm, including depression and suicidal tendencies. A task force reviewed 83 studies on sexual-orientation change conducted since 1960.
An LDS Church spokesman declined to say whether Hafen was speaking on behalf of the church or whether his remarks represent a shift in the faith's views. Scott Trotter also did not say whether the church believes homosexuality should still be considered a mental disorder.
"Elder Hafen's talk is self-explanatory," Trotter wrote via e-mail.
Watts, the Provo doctor, who has a gay son and a lesbian daughter among his six children, thinks the speech doesn't necessarily reflect a major policy change for the church as a whole. (Watts and his wife, Millie, led Family Fellowship, a group for LDS families with gay kids, for more than a decade.)
"It might just be Elder Hafen," he said.
Melson suggested Hafen is among LDS leaders who take a "more hard line" when it comes to homosexuality.
"There are a significant number of church leaders," Melson said, "who understand the scientific research, who are willing to listen to alternate views, who are a little bit more moderate in their statements."
Hafen also took a step back from declarations the church made in the wake of Proposition 8 -- the ballot measure it helped pass in California outlawing gay marriage in the Golden State -- that it does not oppose some rights for same-sex couples.
He suggested the law need only "tolerate" homosexual behavior not "endorse" it, which he said was accomplished when gay sex was decriminalized.
But, in a news release last November, the church said it does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization, medical care, fair housing and employment or probate rights.
Utah gay-rights supporters are pushing for precisely those kind of protections. Their bills fizzled in the 2009 Legislature but will return in 2010. Advocacy group Equality Utah has invited the LDS Church to join the so-called "Common Ground Initiative."
So far, the church has not responded.

Here's how statements made by Bruce C. Hafen, a member of the LDS First Quorum of the Seventy, last week compare with some made in 2006 by LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks and a 2008 church statement.
Hafen: "Having same-gender attraction is not in your DNA."
Oaks: "The church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions -- whether nature or nurture -- those are things the church doesn't have a position on."
Hafen: "Evidence that people have indeed changed [their sexual orientation] threatens the political agenda of the activists, because actual change disproves their claim that homosexuality is a fixed condition that deserves the same legal protections as those fixed conditions like race and gender."
Church statement: "The church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights or probate rights."

My two cents: Unless I hear it in General Conference, I will not admit that this is in any way representative of the "Church's stance," just Elder Hafen's opinion (or even "pep talk") to Evergreen. I do think that it was an unfortunate talk for all of the reasons outlined previously. But I don't know that I would say it was a "step back". I just don't think that the Church (define as: the First Presidency) properly vetted the talk or anticipated that a talk to an LDS ex-gay support group would get so much publicity in the Bloggernaccle.


  1. Sorry, I forgot to provide a link. The report can be found here:

  2. I always cringe whenever I hear the ol' "it was his opinion" defense because it has been used SO OFTEN for other hurtful talks.

    Here's the thing, for me personally: if it's on the church website, on church letterhead, given as an address through official leaders acting in their official standing in even a semi-official setting (such as Evergreen), I consider it official.

    Someone dropped the ball here, and saying "oh it was just his opinion" is irresponsible and confusing for the membership who may be experiencing a bit of cog-dis when they read the differing statements by leaders.

    It would be different if this talk never made it onto the LDS Newsroom. I'm even willing to excuse it if it was just Elder Hafen spouting off to Evergreen--but doesn't that make it smell an awful lot like a church-sanctioned organization?

    It's one thing to have a GA give a stupid talk. It's quite another to rubber stamp it by placing it on an official podium. With the former, one can say it was "just his opinion" but here, I don't think so.

    It's more confusing than it is damning, I think. And part of me thinks the church is okay with this. It frees them of the burden of taking a specific stand on an issue they do not yet understand.

  3. As I wrote on my blog, I don't really think it was AS BIG OF A STEP BACK as people think. I think the church is stuck between a rock and a hard place...they want a solid, confident position, but they know that some things just aren't so.

    So, Salt Lake Tribune focused on parts where Hafen said, "It isn't in your DNA,"

    But I think this is not the focus of his comments, and really, when you analyze the entire talk (as you have, of course), you find that his message is contradictory. "It's not in your DNA"...BUT he doesn't say, "Fix it in this life." No, he says it requires the resurrection and "maybe" it'll happen before then. So it's a retreat from the church's earlier position that "most" faithful members will resolve it in this life, but "others" may still struggle.

    I don't view this as "just his opinion" (first seventy = General authority. GA + on the Newsroom = more than just opinion). And yes, the talk goes downhill QUICKLY (e.g., lazy/opportunistically egregious retelling of history of homosexuality rights in US or world to marginalize such struggles), but I think that many people who have looked at the talk are taking it in a much worse way that it could be taken.

    I mean, take the quote: "Homosexuality is not in your DNA." Everyone takes this as is (homosexuality is not genetic). But in the SAME sentence, he clarifies about referring to spiritual DNA. Could he be referring to "eternal identity" in both cases, or is he making a statement on genetics? (TBH, since he DOES appeal to medical history later on [opportunistically], I can see the argument for that...but at the same time, I could see how his comments are simply: "No, your eternal sexual orientation is not homosexual. Even though we acknowledge that you have these attractions, these are only the product of a fallen world...blah blah blah"

    Heck, now I might have to make an article defending Hafen (to be sure, I don't agree with him. But I'm just saying that his comments aren't a "step back." They are very par-the-course with what the church has been doing).

  4. I've been reading Quinn's Mormon Hierarchy books recently, and am currently reading about E.T. Benson and his push for having the John Birch society become "officially" acknowledged by the Church as God-ordained. This was before he was a member of the First Presidency, but after he was a member of the Twelve.

    Basically, Benson would take it upon himself to make statements at the tabernacle, BYU, or other forums to indicate the Godliness of the Birch Society, following which the Twelve would make statements to the contrary, and each would implore Pres. McKay to intercede on their behalf at nauseum.

    This sort of reminds me of what is going on here, as well as what went on during the blacks having the priesthood debate. The main DIFFERENCE I see is that where we have the church "correlation committee" that is supposed to go through and stamp out this conflicting statements, we see that this is not being done.


    a) the Church doesn't know what it thinks

    b) the Church wants us to be confused

    c) the Church thought that Elder Hafen's talk was a good one

    d) some group within the GAs thought the talk was a good one, and pushed it through, and now the church is in "response mode" (which typically consists of "ignore and hope it goes away")

    e) the Church is computer illiterate and doesn't realize the power of blogs.

    I want to make a few other observations. When this talk was initially released to the LDS Newsroom, it went straight to their "Archives," under Public Relations. This means that it was not placed on the main homepage of the Newsroom - even when it was first released. In addition, it has NOT been placed as the main topic under the heading of "Same-Sex Attraction". That place of honor remains Elder Oaks' and Elder Wickman's comments with the Church PR. Instead, the talk is placed to the side, under "Additional Resources."

    Now to be sure, any notice of the talk at all on the website is bad news, but in a way the talk is pretty well hidden - unless you were looking for it.

    Honestly, related to past issues like racism, I think of how things would have looked if a member of the Seventy made a racist talk somewhere, and then the talk was publicized as a snippet in the back of the Ensign. Would that racist comment then become the church's "official" stance on the issue?

    We're looking at a tempest in a teapot. After Julia B. Beck's talk tonight, we'll forget all about Hafen's.

  5. Ok, and one more thing - when I say "tempest in a teapot," I am not implying that this whole argument of homophobia is less important than feminism. I mean that as a newsworthy item, it will be displaced following something stupid someone else says, followed by that being replaced by something stupid someone else said, etc.

    And for goodness sake, why don't they ever talk about lesbians in these things??? Why is it always gay men?

  6. I can tell you why no one talks about lesbians: the GAs are straight men. Who loves lesbians more than other lesbians? STRAIGHT MEN.


    No, really, the reason is probably because the church, if you haven't realized it, neglects women and women's issues across the board. (Unfortunately, it's not just the church. It seeps into the rest of society -- equality is *not* here even on the macro-societal level.)

  7. I think this shows that if there's anyone in need of correlation, it's the GA's. Some of them seem so "rebellious" and eager to have their voices and opinions heard... my goodness, they should all be blogging! :)

  8. Faithful - Maybe they are blogging... (cue Twilight Zone music)

  9. I'm new here, but I wanted to chime in. I agree with Lisa that Elder Hafen's talk has several stamps of approval by the church. No GA goes to an official or semi-official assignment without some vetting by the FP and Q12. They didn't just drop the ball. They had to have had at least an inkling of his stance, even if they didn't formally vet his talk. The church is too correlated now.

    My guess is that he is a loyal footsoldier who could go to the Evergreen conference, claim it wasn't in his official capacity (even though I'm sure he was listed on the program with his title and church credentials), spout off a bunch of hurtful nonesense, and then if it went really badly in the press, the church could say it was "just his opinion." The church posted it right away, although as has been noted it was in the "Archives." Now it's only posted in the "Same-Gender Attraction" sub-section of the Public Issues section, but it's still there. If this wasn't subject to vetting or correlation, it was a conscious decision not to subject it to the usual routine. I know that sounds conspiratorial, but unfortunately, that's how some of the brethren roll. I think it's also due to a combination of all five of Madam Curie's "a" through "e" conclusions. Basically, by sending Elder Hafen to give this talk, the church is able to make a de facto official statement and still have wiggle room to say it's not official.

    In addition, regardless of whether it was sanctioned or not, it was highly irresponsible and unbecoming a minister of the gospel to give a talk like this to people who are looking for emotional support. The people at that conference needed to hear that the church cares about them, not some tirade about how the "gay agenda" will bring about the end of civilization.

    It's not a step back. But that's because the church hasn't really started down the path to effectively ministering to gay and lesbian members (or use whatever terminology you choose: SSA, SGA, etc.). When the church addresses homosexuality and the issues gay and lesbian people face directly, realistically and with some humility, I will shout for joy. Having a loose affiliation with Evergreen, an Ensign article every five years and a couple of pamphlets aren't enough. The church's efforts need to be part of the official church structure involving a broad range of perspectives (as in not just a couple of apostles counseling people one-on-one), and NOT involving politics.