Letter to Elder Boyd K. Packer on Mormon homosexuals
DAVID ECCLES HARDY
October 7, 1999
Elder Boyd K. Packer
President of the Council of the Twelve
47 East South Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
Dear Elder Packer:
Although we have met briefly before, it is through the context of my family that you would be able to place me. I am the younger brother of Ralph W. Hardy, Jr. and Clare Hardy Johnson, and the son of Ralph W. Hardy, Sr. and Maren Eccles Hardy. I most recently served as bishop of the Salt Lake University 29th Ward, Salt Lake University 5th Stake. My wife, Carlie, is the granddaughter of the late Elder Franklin D. Richards, and the great-granddaughter of President Heber J. Grant. I provide the context of our families and heritage for no purpose other than establishing the solid upbringing in the Gospel and the Church that my wife and I have both had. If you know the devotion to the Church of my brother Ralph and my late sister Clare, you know mine.
I write this letter out of the realization that to maintain my own personal integrity, I need to inform you of the personal heartache and damage you have to some degree been responsible for visiting upon my immediate family as the author of To the One. Although originally delivered by you as an address in 1978, the pamphlet To The One remains to this day the Church’s most current and definitive written statement by a General Authority on the issue of homosexuality. It is available to the general Church membership and the public, and my wife and I have been referred to it numerous times as we have come to grips with this issue over the past few years. As one who has always been mindful of my Temple covenants, an unwavering believer, and a follower of my Priesthood leaders, this is not an easy letter to write. For me it represents an anguished “Crossing of the Rubicon.” I hope you will take the time to read it, for in it I have invested my very soul.
Early on a Saturday morning six weeks ago, I watched as our car pulled away with my wife driving our eldest son to a new city, a new community, and a new school to complete his senior year of high school. Ever since that morning, I have grown progressively angrier that to protect our son’s life and sense of self worth, we are compelled to send him away from our home and family. You see, this community of “Saints” we live in is so steeped in ignorance, fear, loathing, judgment and qualified “love” towards our son and those who like him face the challenge of homosexuality, he twice arrived at the point where he was devoid of hope and felt he had no alternative but to take his own life. Fortunately, he did not succeed. My son is not manic-depressive, nor was he ever before suicidal. He simply understands too well the Gospel and believed what his Seminary teachers and Priesthood leaders taught him about homosexuality, based upon the doctrine set forth in To The One.
My wife and I are the parents of six children – two daughters and four sons – ranging in age from twenty-three to eight. Our oldest son at age thirteen had the courage to come to us with his growing fear that he had no attraction whatsoever to girls – the thought in fact disgusted him – but that he was very attracted to those of his same sex. That he would come to us without fear or shame, confide in us, and seek our counsel attests to the strong relationship my wife and I have both always had with our son. (This is ironic in light of the “parental causation” theories routinely hauled-out by the Church’s LDS Social Services counselors and Evergreen as the primary cause of homosexuality.)
This son was always spiritually mature for his age. He is the finest young man I have ever known – giving, loving, supportive, honest, reliable. Most definitely unselfish. A leader among his peers in his school and primary classes and in his Priesthood quorums. Since he was old enough to talk and walk, we were very much aware of certain differences that concerned us. He carried himself differently, walking and running. When we could get him to pick up a ball, he threw it differently. He spoke differently. He was not in the least interested in sports (in spite of countless practices and Saturdays we spent supporting him in sporting events that utterly disinterested him). He loved dolls and playing house. He loved music, literature, drama and poetry. He made friends easily with girls, but very rarely with boys. Carlie and I listened with hope to LDS counselors and leaders who dismissed or downplayed all of this as merely a “phase.” We believed in and relied on them.
The years passed, but the “phase” didn’t – this in spite of our doing everything recommended to us by LDS counselors, Priesthood leaders and, of course, the teachings of the General Authorities such as you (scarce as they are is on this subject). While we were assured by LDS counselors that this was little more than a correctable Pavlovian response and that “nothing could be easier to cure,” and took hope in your confident statement in To The One: “When we understand fundamental moral law better than we do, we will be able to correct this condition routinely. . . ,” matters went from bad to worse. One evening in 1997, while I was out of town and my wife was being assured by our well-meaning Stake President at his office that “if we just keep it quiet – the same as if someone in your family had committed adultery [our son had done nothing]- it will all be just fine, trust me . . . ,” our son slit his wrists in his room at home. Earlier in the day, it had been the ” Sodom and Gomorrah” lesson in Seminary.
As bishop of a student Ward at the University of Utah working with homosexual returned missionaries, I came to the painful realization that the “reparative therapy” practiced by LDS Social Services and organizations such as Evergreen (whose board of directors I then served on) was not merely ineffective, it was terribly damaging. In every instance I found that this “therapy” accomplished little more than driving these earnest brothers and sisters, desperate to believe that they would “change,” deeper into self-loathing and despondency.
Their failure to “change” as promised them by you and other Priesthood leaders – a failure ultimately arrived at by each and every one of these young men and women who were honest with his or her situation – left only three realistic alternatives: (1) practice deceit as long as possible to remain in good standing with Church and family, (2) give up completely, abandon Church and family, and turn to the only community that will accept you – the gay community, or (3) commit suicide.
By your own admission, it is obvious that neither you nor the Church as a whole has yet arrived at “a better understanding of the fundamental moral law,” because your understanding of it is leading and guiding the Church in this matter, and this “condition” is anything but “routinely corrected.” In To The One you make the summary statement that “some forms of these treatments [reparative therapy] are of substantial help in about 25 percent of the cases” without offering any authority for this statistic. Where did this amazing (though still disheartening) statistic come from? Undoubtedly it came from the experts at LDS Social Services. Unfortunately, however, LDS Social Services must not follow-up on their patients over any extended period of time. My experience as bishop of a student Ward, the father of a homosexual son, and a friend and confidant to the many LDS homosexuals I have since become acquainted with, would indicate to me that in some few cases, the terrible guilt associated with reparative therapy and the strong desire to remain in good standing with the Church and one’s family has brought about an ability to repress one’s homosexual desires – for a season. Usually just long enough to get married and ruin a family. Perhaps this is the 25% you spoke of. The current publication for ecclesiastical leaders Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems seems to recognize the realistic lack of curability in its statement:
“Marriage should not viewed as a way to resolve homosexual problems. The lives of others should not be damaged by entering a marriage where such concerns exist. Encouraging members to cultivate heterosexual feelings as a way to resolve homosexual problems generally leads them to frustration and discouragement.”
However, the Church’s confusion and struggle to make sense of this issue, and its tendency to downplay the lack of any real answers with a summary “and they all lived happily ever after” is apparent in the publication’s utterly conflicting closing sentence:
“In some cases, heterosexual feelings emerge leading to happy, eternal marriage relationships.”
Which is a Bishop or Stake President to do? Discourage cultivation of heterosexual feelings and marriage, or lend encouragement to and sign the Temple marriage recommend for the “cured” homosexual that is entering a happy, eternal marriage relationship? While I know from experience that much is left to the discretion and inspiration of the ecclesiastical leader, I also know that they are to look to an official publication specifically directed to them such as this for direction and guidance and give it much weight. But what is the counsel being given in this publication? Isn’t it a bit confusing?
At the crux of the issue of homosexuality and the Church are the three great interrelated beliefs: (1) there is an element of choice involved in becoming and remaining homosexual, (2) it can be cured, and (3) our children and youth can be recruited or enticed into homosexuality. Every time we have sought out help for our son and family on this issue from Priesthood leaders or General Authorities we have been summarily referred to the experts at LDS Social Services. Because the lives and well-being of so many trusting individuals and family members are at stake here, it would seem that much stock is put in the expertise of LDS Social Services in this matter. Isn’t it fairly obvious, though, that the “experts” you rely on at LDS Social Services to professionally corroborate and support the doctrine and policy of the Church would support whatever position you have mandated to be the only correct one? Such is the level of respect for and faith in the office you hold. In all honesty, to disagree with a member of the Twelve on a matter of doctrine is tantamount to heresy. I’m sure you are aware that the American Psychiatric Association has denounced “reparative therapy” for treating homosexuals as both ineffective and damaging. I find it ironic that when a fundamentalist religious group shuns sound medical intervention as a doctrine we find it appalling and backwards – yet when that same sound medical advice denounces the practice of “reparative therapy” we call it “worldly” false doctrine. I guess it all depends on just whose ox is being gored.
In To The One you preach that homosexuality is not innate, but is a curable condition. Your fundamental proof: God wouldn’t make a mistake like this. By preaching this, you set the impossible goal of “cure” as the standard to which my son must hold himself responsible, as must his family and all other Church members. Until he chooses to do what he must to be “cured,” he hasn’t done enough. He will never have done enough. He will always come up failing in the most fundamental aspect of his entire existence as a child of his Heavenly Father. He is a pervert, an aberration, and an abomination. There is nothing left in this life or the next. How would you deal with this if you were him? Homosexuality is not a “condition” that can be “cured.” My proof: I have yet to meet even one venerable grandfather with a fine posterity (or anyone else for that matter) who says he was once homosexual but was long ago cured – and my experience as a father observing my son from birth.
Perhaps the most hurtful aspect of To The One is your revelation that the fundamental reason why my son has not been “cured” is because of his selfishness. When I inform other people that this is actually what you preach in To The One, they are incredulous (members included). They respond “Obviously you have misread or misconstrued what Elder Packer said.” You are well aware that this is precisely what is said. As one who knows my son and his heart better than you, your doctrine that my son’s selfishness is at the core of his ability or inability to be cured of his homosexuality is offensive in the extreme, and evidences the lack of any meaningful inquiry into this issue beyond the application of pure dogma. In saying this it is not my intent to offend you. It is, simply, incredible that you could hit upon anything quite so insensitive and ignorant of the facts. Indeed, my son is the most unselfish and Christ-like person I know. This holds true for most of the LDS homosexuals I know well. They have to be to keep trying.
Your doctrine of “choice” and “curability” is also at the core of why the Church and its members in reality view my son and those like him as latter-day lepers. If homosexuality (1) is not inborn, (2) has an element of choice, and (3) can be cured – then it must be able to be taught or suggested. Others must also be susceptible to being enticed or recruited. Our children are capable of being infected by these people and not becoming mothers and fathers. It is, therefore, a frontal assault on the family. The “hate the sin but love the sinner” platitude cannot disguise the fact that in reality the members of the Church are taught to loathe and fear our son and those like him. This qualified and synthetic “love” is nothing more than the few alms hurriedly and begrudgingly parted with to salve the Christian conscience, while never once entertaining the idea of actually descending into the leper pit. We would never expose our children to this for it might infect them. If sexual orientation is a matter of choice, when exactly did you choose to be heterosexual? When and how often did you reaffirm your choice to stay that way? Why aren’t my other children, who idolize their brother, even the slightest bit interested in adopting a homosexual “lifestyle” or in homosexual experimentation? Why would anyone choose to be an abomination and an outcast? It defies reason.
Last week a dear friend (formerly a bishop) reassured us that he still loved our son “even if he has made a choice to be this way.” My son did not choose to be this way. This type of “love” born of duty and pity for his abominable choice acts like a slow but virulent cancer on our son’s self-esteem. It is for this reason we have found it necessary to send our son away from the community of the “Saints.”
As the Church “progresses” on this issue, what we are hearing more and more from Priesthood leaders today is the idea that our son is acceptable so long as he practices life-long chastity. That is, of course, actually called celibacy, and while it’s a convenient idea to advance, in practice it is virtually impossible to live. The distinction between chastity and celibacy seems always to be overlooked by Church leaders. You may recall that in his somewhat recent newspaper interview in California, President Hinkley compared the plight of homosexuals to that of the single sisters in the Church. To paraphrase, he said that the Church doesn’t ask homosexuals to do anything it doesn’t also ask of its other single adult members – to live chaste lives. But this simply isn’t true. As a former bishop I have firsthand experience. We openly love and support our single brothers and sisters. We give them important callings – especially with out youth and children. We urge them to date, to flirt, to get crushes, to fall in love, to marry. We sponsor Ward and Stake activities and dances to get them together to accomplish this. We ask them to be chaste – until they find someone to share their life and intimacy with. We go out of our way to give them something of immeasurable value in the struggle to keep the law of chastity – hope – hope that no matter how difficult this emotional and physical loneliness is, it is temporary. For those with the least control over their situation, our single sisters, we give special encouragement and hope that they will find love, emotional intimacy and fulfillment in this life – and if not, certainly in the next.
We do not knowingly give homosexuals important callings – especially not with our youth or children who would be at risk of being infected and recruited. We forbid them ever to flirt, to date, to get crushes, to fall in love, to have a legally-recognized monogamous relationship. The image of a Tri-Stake Gay and Lesbian Gold-and-Green Ball is amusing. We ask them to be chaste – forever. No hope at all. The question of sexual intimacy aside – can you imagine having being denied the ability to become attracted to, flirt with, get a crush on, hold hands with, steal a kiss from, or fall in love with you wife? With all trace of romantic love and emotional intimacy denied you, with what would you fill the void to hold at bay a life of loneliness, emptiness, and despair?
We do have at least one historic example to look to. The Catholic Church has attempted to enforce celibacy on its clergy throughout the ages with success at some level (although we will never know what level). With what did they replace the emotional void? They had the love and adulation of the church membership, and authority and power. They were, in fact, the Bishops, Stake Presidents, and General Authorities. They were held next to deity – and their record is less than stellar. Imagine the celibacy success rate of a group defined by a loathsome and abominable “condition.”
Imagine also, for a moment, if you were to stand up in front of the freshman class at BYU and announce that everyone present was being given a special calling to live a celibate life from then on. How many do you think would really be able to do it? How many empty and guilty lives and suicides would result? The Church has never taught the principle of celibacy. As a parent, I don’t have the slightest idea how to begin teaching it. There are no manuals, no courses, no “For the Strength of Celibate Youth” cards to carry. There are no Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, or Primary lessons on celibacy. On the other hand, following the teachings of the Church, we have raised our children in a home filled with open love, intimacy, loyalty and commitment between a couple. Our children know Carlie and I adore each other, and they want and need the same thing in their lives.
I never thought I would say this, but as a father given the choice between (a) my son’s suicide, (b) his complete abandonment of the Church and embracing of the extreme gay culture with its emotionally debilitating and physically dangerous practice of anonymous casual sex, or (c) living in a committed, monogamous relationship for the rest of his life practicing the Gospel virtues of love, commitment, and fidelity we have taught in our home, I would have to pick the latter. The Church, however, is now doing all in its power to prevent that. Presumably, it has a better alternative – one that works on something other than a dogmatic and theoretical level.
Then again, perhaps my son is simply a casualty of war – acceptable “collateral damage” in an eternal plan and struggle in which by the luck of the draw he has no relevance or place. The Gospel has always been easy to have faith in and follow because it made real sense and worked in our lives. This would make no sense. And the current doctrine, as set forth in To The One is not working for our family. I can’t tell you how strange and difficult this is. It’s like we woke up one morning on a different planet. In our greatest time of need as a family, the Church has failed us and abandoned us – and through the convenient but hurtful doctrine of parental causation, complicity and guilt it directly promotes (evidence the article in September’s Ensign), it kicks us while we are down! I know this is only one of many issues that the Brethren deal with, and certainly not at the top of their list, but for us it has become our universe. We live in this issue twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and must raise our children through it by our best lights. And there are many more like us in the Church. Parents like us are ultimately forced to make a hopeless decision: abandon our homosexual children, or turn from the Church. “Not so,” you say. You would never know unless you walked in our shoes.
My brother, Ralph, asked me at one point “What would you have the General Authorities do about this issue?”
I wish that someone in authority would have the compassion and the courage simply to own up publicly to the fact that this is a difficult issue about which we just don’t have many answers.
I wish someone in authority would publicly urge the members to withhold their judgment and condemnation, accept those like my son into their midst, and have true compassion and love for those who through no choice of their own will deal with the issue of homosexuality all of their lives.
I wish someone in authority would publicly assure the members that by withholding their judgment and condemnation and showing acceptance and real love, they won’t get leprosy, nor will their children be at risk – that the divine concept of Family will not be compromised or weakened, but that real families with real issues will in fact be strengthened.
I wish that someone in authority would recognize that To The One was an effort twenty years ago by a very good man to address a difficult issue in the context of the time in which it was written, and pull it from circulation.
Elder Packer, I have never been one to question, demand, or “kick against the pricks.” I am a follower, a believer, an obeyer. But I can no longer wait patiently while the Brethren try to figure this issue out at the cost of my son’s life, and the lives of others like him.
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