May 30, 2008

On Spiritual Death Row

I've been reading about Helmuth Hübener, a young member of the Church in Hamburg, Germany during WWII, and the youngest opponent of the Nazis to be sentenced to death by the Volksgerichthof, being sent to the guillotine at the age of 17. Mormon playright Tom Rogers wrote a play about him, Huebener (1976), which was a big success. You can read more about this young man's courageous story in the Spring 2008 issue of Dialogue, or here on Wikepedia:

The story of Hübener is interesting for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he was excommunicated by the Church once his "crimes" against Hitler's Third Reich came to light. In retrospect, the main reason for this was undoubtedly to protect the Church and its members, particularly after the Nazis issued a warning that "after Jews, Mormons will be next." Another plausible reason for Hübener's excommunication was the political views of certain local Church leaders, including his branch president. In the end, his excommunication was retracted and membership reinstated by the Church posthumously.

So all this business about excommunication and execution has me thinking about whether we could ever find ourselves in a similar moral and spiritual conflict. Hübener listened to his conscience and had to pay for it with his Church membership (at leas as far as he knew), which he obviously treasured, and ultimately with his life. It appears that Church members and leaders who shared his convictions were either in short supply or simply to scared to voice their opposition (let's hope and assume that it's the latter). I can only imagine what it did to him to know that he had been cut off from the Church he loved, for something he was obviously convinced that he was right about. We learn in church that we're all born with "The Light of Christ" or, in other words, a conscience. So what happens when our conscience is in conflict with Church doctrine?

I don't want to give the impression that I'm comparing Helmuth Hübener with Peter and Mary Danzig, but there is one similarity. Both appear to have acted according to what their consciences told them was right and both were going against Church policy. In Hübener's case, he was going against the 12th Article of Faith, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law" and by doing so, putting all other German members in danger. At the same time, it's easy to come up with a million reasons for why he was doing the right thing. In regards to Danzig, he also had strong personal convictions but, in my view, went about it the wrong way. Signing your name on a letter in the Salt Lake Tribune accusing LDS leaders of "intellectual tyranny" was not a good move. Neither is it wise to accuse the Church of requesting to "violate my own conscience to write in support of an amendment I feel is contrary to the constitution and to the gospel of Christ," when in fact Church members were requested to write a letter to their senators with "their personal views." I will admit though, that we can all assume what "views" the Church would want members to express in regards to same-sex marriage. That is fairly evident from the Church's official statement expressings its disappointment over the fact that Danzig did not change his convictions:

"For more than a year and a half, Mr. Danzig counseled with his local bishop and stake president regarding same gender marriage and other Church doctrines. Unfortunately he was not able to reconcile his personal beliefs with the doctrine Church leaders are charged to maintain by divine mandate."

So while I don't agree with Danzig's methods, nor all of his convictions, I feel that he was honestly obeying his conscience in regards to his stance on homosexuality and gay marriage. From what I understand, he had gotten pretty deep insight into what it means to be gay through his professional life and therefore had developed a deeper understanding and compassion for homosexuals than your average Mormon. His problem was that the LDS Church is not a church for activists and I think he found himself in a hole that he had inadvertently dug himself. No doubt he and his wife are very hurt, but I would venture to guess that they still have the same testimony they had their whole lives, even if it's buried underneath a heap of hurt and anger. I can't help but wonder if God will take that into account despite an excommunication or withdrawal of membership (as in the case of the Danzigs) that occurs in this life.

It's always hard to say what you would do in such a situation, but I would like to think that if I were Danzig, I'd be able to humble myself enough to retain my Church membership without necessarily disobeying my conscience, always keeping a humble heart and open mind. My advice to him would be to stick it out, hope for the best and wait to see whether the things you hope for come to pass. Only time will tell whether they do or not, and you have to be prepared to be open to the possibility that you're wrong even if you're 99.999% sure that you're not. I think that some activists are ahead of their time and unfortunately, they may be powerless to change anything in Church doctrine or policy. I can imagine that there were members back in the 40's and 50's who wanted nothing more than to see blacks given the same Church opportunities as everyone else. Some never saw it happen in their lifetimes and for others it was probably unimaginable that policies would change. Some were even disappointed when things did change!

I wouldn't advise anyone to get their hopes up for some big change in doctrine in regards to homosexuality and marriage, but I still have an inkling of hope that someday no one will have to feel bad for doing what they honestly feel in their heart is right. And I know that that's perhaps just wishful thinking...


Anonymous said...

You make the comparison to the priesthood declaration and I think that's an apt comparison. In that era, George Romney was, if not an outspoken critic of the Church's position, at least a clear alternative to it. Observe this letter in which Delbert Stapley takes George Romeny to task in 1964 for thumbing his nose at the Church's policy on Negroes.

Romney's handwritten response is not available but we know he publicly continued to follow his conscience in supporting equal rights for Blacks and stood with Martin Luther King physically and ideologically in spite of Stapley's reprimand. Clearly, the difference here is that Romney was the Governor of Michigan and the Danzigs are musicians.

I have no doubt that there will be revelation that gays are sent into this world with a different sexual identity and that accepting and respecting that makes us better people and provides broader perspective and life experience. Persecuting them serves NO purpose -- no more than discriminating against Black Saints did in 1964 and 1977.

Meanwhile, I have a conscience that the Holy Spirit speaks to just as surely as the Danzigs do and I will simply wait until the Authorities humble themselves to receive the voice of the HS that is all around them when they're ready to recognize it.

...sometimes I think that when there's so little diversity in the constitution of the Quorum they make it harder for themselves to let go of old ways and be open to other possibilities. Yeah, I know I'm stepping out of line but this is what it felt like back in the 70s when the HS was speaking to a lot of us before he did the GAs. Maybe He's also trying to tell them that He's a little tired of the Old Boys network too.

anonymous alice

The Faithful Dissident said...

Alice, thanks for sharing that Stapley letter. I had not seen it before and it gives some fascinating insight into the views that certain GA's at the time held regarding blacks. It's comforting to know that he had nothing against negroes since he had "several in (his) employ." *gag* He was fortunate to not have the Lord take him home by such a tragic drowning accident as his unfortunate friend, the "enthusiastic advocate of the colored cause" that he was. (*gag again*)

I ask myself whether such views can possibly be entirely blamed on the ignorance this man must have been brought up on and lived with. I think I can cut most people a lot of slack when it's warranted, but a case like this is a mighty hard one to overlook, particularly when we know that he wasn't the only one with these views. I've said before that I can perhaps accept the priesthood ban in itself, for reasons that we don't know of, but I just cannot understand why the ban would give a licence to declare the black race as inferior to other humans or to deny them any of their civil rights. I'm trying to figure out how we got from "cursed in regards to the priesthood" from D&C to an inferior race destined for second-treatment and ineligibility for civil rights. If the priesthood ban was the doctrine, then it should have stayed with the priesthood ban. What does civil rights have to do with the priesthood?

This is why I think that it can actually be healthy for the Church to have members who are willing to stick to their personal convictions, as radical as they may seem at the time, without cutting themselves off like the Danzigs did. Yes, Romney was governor of MI and the Danzigs are "just" musicians, but as Stapley himself stated in his letter, "I cannot deny you the right of your position if it represents your true belief and feelings." If a GA could say that regarding black civil rights, why not homosexuality?

Alice, I'm sure that many in the Church would be repulsed and shocked by your belief that there will be a future revelation regarding homosexuality. I, for one, am not. I have a very hard time imagining it, but I must admit that I hope there will be a fitting solace for those who have been given this cross to bear in life.

In the mean time, maybe some of us should think twice about going swimming.

PS: It would be interesting to see a copy of that little booklet "Mormonism and the Negro" which Stapley enclosed with his letter. Does anyone have a copy? Somehow I doubt it's still in print. :) Also, the other sources which Stapley cited would be interesting to read.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Also, I find it curious that Stapley wrote this letter on Church letterhead when it was composed "not in (his) official church position, but as a personal friend." That looks like a veiled threat to me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it would be interesting to get to see that or, probably, any number of other older things. The remarkable thing is that that letter surfaced. I have no idea why or how it did, but I came across it and it has much to say about the transitional time we're in now.

I realize that I'm in a precarious place, like the Danzigs, to be ahead of the curve. But if I ask how I am to regard and live with my fellow man, the answer is very clear to me. It's to follow the two great laws of loving God and loving my fellow man. Jesus never said "except the sinners" because we all are sinners. He just said love them as we love Him.

I also realize I'm supposed to let the Authorities take the responsibility for living differently than the Bible instructs. But Jesus didn't say "unless the GAs instruct otherwise". He said love them. And I've known enough gay people to know that they are, indeed, as lovable as anyone else and a lot more lovable than people with hard hearts and judgmental demeanors.

I also know that there are many things over the course of 200 years that the Church has had to back away from -- blood oaths, oaths against the government of the US, monogamy and then polygamy, the prohibition against Blacks and the Adam/God doctrine. So there will be changes again. There's no reason to doubt it. There's just being ahead of the change, in synch with it or resisting it. All of us will be somewhere on that continuum.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Now, I have to pose the question as to whether it's entirely fair to compare these 2 issues (the priesthood ban and homosexuality). Assuming that there hasn't been very recent anti-homosexual/homophobic teachings by any GA's that can be compared to the Stapley letter, is there anything more we can really expect from leaders at this time? As long as they continue to stress that homosexuals are born that way (which I think we've seen more of the past 5 years or so) and refrain from the ugly, harsh teachings of old on the subject (I've read some of them), and continue to stress the fact that they're children of God and that they are loved and can remain active, temple-going members as long as they keep the law of chastity, then how much more can we/they really expect right now? (And I don't mean this in a sarcastic way, I'm just honestly asking what more could be done by the Church to embrace homosexuals aside from changing marriage and family doctrines, which are the core of Mormonism.)

I will say that I think leaders could do a better job of stressing the fact that homosexuals are equal with the rest of us as long as they keep the law of chastity. There are still many who think otherwise and many who assume that having homosexual urges is a sin in itself. Also, I think that there needs to be better quality control with bishops so that homosexuals are not told to just get therapy, or worse, get married in order to be "cured." These old myths die a very slow death, just like certain myths about black people being pre-existence fence sitters, etc.

Anonymous said...

You outline an interesting scenario.

So if a gay person were chaste for the 40 or so years of prime sexuality (let's assume a person can do this without going completely nutz) what would that mean for eternity? A life without companionship followed by an eternity alone? To do what?

And if the gay person were a woman....

anonymous alice

The Faithful Dissident said...

The eternity part is something I have no answer for and it does, of course, bother me to think that a gay person would be alone for eternity. And I realize that the "hope" of being heterosexual and provided with a partner of the opposite sex in the next life doesn't really offer much "hope" to anyone who is gay in this life.

But gay or not gay, I don't think that being chaste necessarily has to make you nuts. People have actually managed to make it through life without sex without becoming maniacs, though they may be few in number. I think that any single, chaste person would be offended by that.

Anonymous said...

I hope I wouldn't offend any chaste single person. It's not my intention to tell such a person how to live their life or suggest that they can't deal with whatever challenge it presents but to sympathize with having no allowable outlet for what is a basic, primal instinct that does not go away because it may be inconvenient.

anonymous alice

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I should add that when I use "nutz" with a "z" I mean "wound up" as in unable to have a state of stasis. I don't mean "nuts" as in irrational or weird in any way.

No reason you should understand my personal eccentric language...

anonymous alice

The Faithful Dissident said...

I get it now, Alice. Thanks for clearing up. :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

Very interesting post here from a fellow blogger that I wanted to share. Talks about apostles and their political views. Stapley wasn't the only one who opposed the civil rights movement.

Fifthgen said...

Is it too obvious to point out that George Romney (whom I like so much better than Mitt) did not accuse church leaders of intellectual tyranny? He, apparently, acted upon his conscience, but that did not include direct attacks upon the church. I know PLENTY of active, faithful members of the church who are open about their disagreement with the Protection of Marriage Act, and other aspects of the Church's position on homosexuality, and I do not see them getting themselves into any trouble with the institutional Church.

And, for what it is worth, I think President Hinckley and others have stated pretty clearly that we should love those who are gay/lesbian. I recognize that many (including myself, at times) find that directive hard to square with other statements of the Church, but it certainly represents at least an attempt to follow Christ's teachings to love all our neighbors.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Fifthgen, I don't disagree with you. But I do often ask myself whether there's much difference between Danzig and some of us bloggers (you can even include me, if you like). I'm not defending what Danzig did, nor do I agree with all his views, but I do find it difficult to see much difference between him and other members of the Church who are critical of doctrine or policy, such as in regards to homosexuality and The Marriage Act. Is the only difference the fact that he signed his name on that letter and that it was published in the paper for all to see? If he had apologized for writing the letter, but not necessarily for his personal opinions, would it have been enough to escape discipline?

Now, I haven't read anything in the Bloggernacle that's directly accused the Church of "intellectual tyranny" but it's certainly insinuated in some cases and some would perhaps agree. To be perfectly honest, I have sometimes felt that way myself, particularly in the way that Church history has sometimes been recorded. There are many deep discussions and debates about some very deep doctrine on a daily basis in the Bloggernacle. If everyone in published their names and addresses on their blogs or comments, would we see more Danzigs? This is something that I've often wondered about.

Fifthgen said...

I have wondered about the same thing. The anonymity of the bloggernacel is interesting - - and it kind of cuts both ways. By that, I mean that anonymity gives the speaker the freedom to say things that he or she might not say for attribution. On the other hand, anonymous (or virtually anyonymous) comments lack the credibility that a signed letter to the editor carries. And maybe that makes the comments less threatening. If one is not willing to say what one thinks in the light of day, does anyone really need to pay attention? And practically speaking, how would the Church go about trying to police what was said on the internet (assuming it were inclined to do so), and what kind of resources would it have to commit to do so?

I think the bloggernacle has provided a realtively unique forum where ideas can be bandied about in a way that is not too threatening to any one or anything (i.e., the Church). Accusing Church leaders of intellectual tyranny with a signed letter to the editor of a newspaper strikes me as a different kind of statement.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Do you think though, that the Church does regard the Bloggernacle as threatening in a way? As you said, it is certainly difficult, if not impossible to police. Perhaps the leadership would feel threatened by such open and frank discussions, not to mention the ideas that are thrown around and discussed (such as homosexuality being the "priesthood ban" of our time, just as an example)? On the other hand, could it be that they in fact appreciate the fact that members can discuss everything on the Internet, mostly anonymously, without drawing attention to themselves in the way that Danzig did? Members have been encouraged to blog, but did they really think that we'd all just create these generic Church-manual type blogs that totally avoid anything controversial?

I wonder if there are any bloggers who are active members who have made comments similar to Danzig and have their identity posted on their blog. I've also wondered whether the leadership follow what's going on in Mormon cyberspace.

Fifthgen said...

I think the Church leaders are smart, sophisticated men and women (well, mostly men). I think they see the bloggernacle as unquestionably a mixed bag. My sense is, they were wary of the internet, but then saw that the Church was being defined by those from the outside rather than by our own members, just in terms of sheer volume of commentary. So, they encouraged students at BYU Hawaii and other Church members to jump in, knowing that not everyone was going to produce stuff they would want on If I had to guess, I would say that "they" follow, at least to some extent, what is going on in the bloggernacle. And, perhaps some of them even see it as a healthy release valve for faithful dissidents everywhere!