Monday, May 14, 2012

Loving and Logical

The following post was previously published only on my personal Facebook page, and was meant mainly for my Latter-day Saint friends. It was in response to a talk given at the LDS General Conference in October 2010 by President of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer. I heard him speak and thought his comments were both loving and logical, and they coincided with what I have studied on the subject. So I was surprised by the uproar that happened that following week. I wrote this in defense of Elder Packer, in hopes of providing the line of reasoning I see in his words as well as in my own views on the subject. I hope it can benefit readers here as well. (For official statements on the LDS Church's stand on this and other topics, the best source is the Newsroom at, under topics.)

Loving and Logical President Packer
Linda Nuttall
October 13, 2010 

There are people in the world who think of religion as something less than logical. But, if you allow the premise that God exists, and that we can perceive His influence in our lives, then much of what we do as religious people is purely logical.
Logic is not the same as truth; it is a tool for finding truth. But you have to start with the correct “if” statement, the premise, or you’ll get the wrong “then” statement, the conclusion. It is also possible to draw a wrong conclusion if your conclusion doesn’t logically follow the premise. “If I have two pennies and add four pennies, I have seven pennies,” for example, is mathematically, or logically incorrect. All parts of the argument have to be true.
Let’s look for a moment at the murmurings (and shoutings) that have resulted from President Packer’s conference address, an address that suggested, in what seemed to me the most loving way, we need to choose virtuous thoughts and actions, and through repentance we can be purified in Christ. That’s not controversial doctrine right there. Even outside our Church, I think that message is both accepted and unoffending. Most of the talk referred to more general sins of impurity, such as pornography. He referred to homosexuality and the Church’s stand against same-sex “marriage” only obliquely. These sentences, I’m supposing, are the ones seen as offensive enough to protest:
  • “We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong.”
  • “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so!” [The spoken version used the word tendencies, which was replaced with temptations in the print version, which more closely relates to the next thought, a typical editorial procedure following conference addresses.]
  • “[T]here are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature.”
The opposition that protested in downtown Salt Lake City this week, lobbying for an apostle to change his beliefs based on their pressure, insists that he is wrong on two points: same-sex attraction is genetic, and it is immutable. The “if-then” statement goes like this: “If same-sex attraction is inborn and therefore unchangeable, then a homosexual has no choice but to be homosexual and he/she neither can nor should change.” And furthering that line of logic: “It is only fair, therefore, that homosexual behaviors be accepted as equivalent to heterosexual behaviors—and if you don’t accept this position, you are hateful, unfair, intolerant, bigoted, homophobic (choose your epithet), and you must be made to change your position.”
Logic only leads to truth if you start with true premises and follow through with mathematical accuracy to true conclusions. So first let’s look at the premise: Is same-sex attraction a genetic trait?
The entire human genome has been mapped, and there has been no discovery of a contributing gene. Do we know that there are no genetics involved? Not for certain. Causes seem to be complex, as they are with many other conditions. There could be traits and leanings when combined with certain experiences in certain people that set up particular brain patterns. But that tendency, however caused, does not require a person to choose certain behaviors regardless of his free will. For example, a person with alcoholic tendencies (high cingulate activity in the brain, patterns of behavior that exemplify relieving stress through escapism) can avoid being an alcoholic by never drinking alcohol—or giving it up and never drinking again. Tendency may be predictive of behavior in a general population, but it does not dictate behavior in an individual.
Notice that whenever official Church statements refer to same-sex attraction, there is a distinct difference between the person and the behavior. All humans suffer various temptations. All of us come after the fall of Adam, so we can assume that none of us has gone through life without giving in to temptation and then needing the redemptive power of Christ to recover. Some give in to smaller things, like being annoyed at the driver of a car in our way. Some give in to killing in anger. That’s a pretty wide spectrum. While all sin requires Christ’s redemption, not all sin is equivalent. If a person is angry and has the urge to kill, but then calms down, is horrified at the thought, and turns away from anything that would tempt him to act on the urge, he’s already repenting of the anger, and he’s not guilty of the murder.
Among the sins almost as egregious as murder are those involving the misuse of procreative powers, because the family is the basic unit of civilization (or Zion), and anything that causes decay of the family causes harm to not only the participants but to society as a whole. So, as President Packer repeated, we are carefully directed that sex is only appropriate between a man and woman lawfully married (preferably sealed for eternity). Sex at any other time, with any other person, harms the family, decays society, and is serious sin—it cannot lead to long-term or eternal happiness.
But if a person is tempted to have sex with a person they are dating, for example, and then they catch themselves and decide to wait, have they sinned because the desire was there? No. They may need to repent of behavior that would put them at risk—repent of being a little unwise and risky. That is far easier to repent of than acting on an impulse and committing the graver sin of sex outside of marriage.
So, if a person is attracted to someone of the same sex, but does not act on it, are they guilty of the sin? No. They are as innocent as anyone else keeping the laws of chastity. We do not discriminate against anyone based on what their temptations are.
Nor do we hate them if they sin; we sorrow for the loss of the Spirit they must suffer, and want them to be able to feel Christ’s healing power and return to the arms of His love.
Are we, then, treating people with same-sex attraction different from people with heterosexual attractions? No. There is no discrimination there, regardless of the cause of the same-sex attraction.
Let’s take the next part of the premise: Is homosexuality “immutable”? The mistake here is likely based on belief or misunderstanding instead of fact. If you believe that sexual orientation is equivalent to sex (maleness or femaleness), then you probably believe it is immutable. But, if there is no X or Y chromosome that indicates an additional gender, and the physiological details of the body are not different between homosexuals and heterosexuals, then the difference is one of internal perception—the brain. So the question is, can the brain change?
The past decade or so has brought a great deal of progress on the plasticity (changeableness) of the brain. The keys seem to be developing the appropriate brain exercises and practicing them with frequency, intensity, and duration. There are Downs Syndrome children whose brains have developed to a normal functioning level. There are autistic children who have developed relatively full social and mental functioning. There are children with muscular dystrophy who have developed full (or at least fuller) muscle control. There are people missing a part of their brain as a result of accident, illness, or surgery, who have found new neural pathways so that they can run, walk, and think. There are shy people who have overcome their social fears and awkwardness. There are alcoholics and addicts who have freed themselves from their addictions.
And there are people who have felt same-sex attraction (who lived that lifestyle) numbering in the thousands who have changed to the point of being able to abstain from the behavior—and even those who develop heterosexual attractions and go on to have satisfying marriages with children.
One exception would disprove the assertion that homosexuality is immutable, but there are many.
At the time the APA decided in the early 1970s, under political pressure within and without, to remove homosexuality from an exhaustive list of mental disorders, there were some 700 studies underway to learn more about how to treat people who sought help for what had up until then been seen as a mental disorder. But the policy change meant the studies were discontinued. No more funding was made available. Treatment was discouraged. And after several decades there is severe prejudice against a psychologist who even suggests that there might be some treatment. [See “Of Mice and Mormons," Mike Adams, Townhall Magazine, as well as parts 2-7.]
Despite the dearth of treatment options, many of those seeking help have succeeded at a level comparable to or greater than addiction recovery. So, if change is possible, then the next question is whether change is to be encouraged or discouraged.
Consider: as a portion of the population, homosexuals are a demographic with a high incidence of other disorders: AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, alcoholism, high suicide rate and other mental disorders, as well as high rates of partner abuse. Then there is the basic biological fact that homosexuals cannot reproduce together despite fertility. (These negatives are not lessened in societies with high acceptance of the behavior.)
It is understandable that someone might want to change and not suffer same-sex attraction. And it might be considered a kindness to offer help and support for those who wish to change. It might be considered science to allow studies taking advantage of new brain research that could lead to new and better treatment options rather than to say such research is heretical in the profession. So, it might be a mistake on the part of the activists to claim that anyone suggesting the possibility of change is both wrong and hateful.
Now let’s look at the essence of the Church’s “if/then” statements:
  • If our Heavenly Father loves all His children, then He will not make a way to return to heaven possible only for some and not others.
  • If returning to heaven is possible for all God’s children, then He does not give commandments that are impossible to keep or repent of for a portion of His children.
  • If keeping the commandments is the way to long-lasting happiness for His children, exempting a portion of His children from the happiness-bringing commandments will not bring those children happiness.
One more “if/then” statement: If the Church’s premises are true, then the loving and logical response is to continue to hold ALL God’s children to the same standards. President Packer was so wise to say:
“Regardless of the opposition, we are determined to stay on course. We will hold to the principles and laws and ordinances of the gospel. If they are misunderstood either innocently or willfully, so be it. We cannot change; we will not change the moral standard. We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God. If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must needs perish.”

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