Monday, September 21, 2009

The Rhetoric of Elder Hafen's Evergreen Address

The thing that really struck me, when reading Elder Hafen's September 19 address to Evergreen International, was his choice of words.

On being gay

When discussing the homosexual condition he used negative words that paint a picture of tragedy, sorrow, and suffering:
. . . I learned that the operative word for him really was “suffer.”
Sometimes you may feel frustration or anger or simply a deep sadness about yourself.

Other terms Hafen employs: Daily struggles, victims, challenges, difficult, miserable, angry dog, immoral behavior, imperfection, mortal bitterness, estranged from God, afflictions, confused, disturbed. He also twice compares the same-sex attracted to those who have been abused as children (more about that below).

The Church's Response

So, through his rhetoric, Hafen paints the gay person as one who suffers a terrible situation. Consequently, he tells us that the church's response to this tragic condition, is, or should be, one of glowing compassion:
Remember President Hinckley’s confidence in you: “Our hearts reach out to [you]. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters.” And President Packer has echoed, “We do not reject you… We cannot reject you… We will not reject you, because we love you.” With that kind of leadership, I pray that all Church members are learning to be more compassionate and understanding.

Only once does Hafen suggest that the culture contributes to the hardship of being gay. But only to say it is because of "increasing cultural confusion that now swirls around the topic of homosexuality," by which he means that society is becoming more accepting and tolerant which makes it harder for gay LDS members to live the strict moral code the theology requires!

On the Atonement

When Hafen discusses the effect of the Atonement, he must first set up a condition to be remedied. Given that church leaders now emphasize that being attracted to those of the same sex is not itself a sinful condition, what is it that the Atonement needs to reconcile? Without evidence, Hafen posits that gay people "feel" estranged and separated from God. Apparently Elder Hafen has not read the accounts of LDS suicides, where knees were worn from lengthy prayer or where one chose the temple grounds to die so as to be more quickly received by God's angels. Still, Hafen has described being gay in such tragic terms that surely gay people must feel estranged. It is one of the blessings of the Atonement to heal this "sense" of separation from God:
Even though same-gender attraction is by itself not a sin, its presence can make us feel estranged from God. That sense of separation arises from our knowing that this attraction runs counter to our eternal nature as a son or daughter of god.
. . .
I classify same-gender attraction within the category of “adversity,” because typically you haven’t brought it upon yourselves. It has consequences similar to being harmed by the sins of others, such as the separation from God felt so commonly by the victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Here again, gays are compared to victims of "childhood" sexual abuse, because, according to Elder Hafen, both commonly feel separated from God.

The Atonement, then, gives those gays who feel estranged from God a sense of being "more at-one with God even while still overcoming the attraction."

Hafen all but admits that gays won't necessarily be "healed" or changed into heterosexuals in this life. So he describes a second blessing of the Atonement as one where Christ "helps us bear the burden of our afflictions." Therefore, he instructs the Evergreen attendees that if Christ "doesn’t deliver you right now, for whatever reason, you[r faith must run so deep that you] will not give up on Him or on yourself. There truly is light at the end of your tunnel, no matter how long it is."

The language of Reparative Therapy

Although the footnotes include several works by Dean Byrd and one by David Pruden, there are clues in the text of Elder Hafen's address that convince me that LDS church leaders have drunk the Kool-Aid and aligned themselves with the theories and therapy of Joseph Nicolosi and those at NARTH.
Stop focusing so much on yourself, including hating yourself, and spend more energy caring about other people. Build good associations with people of your gender. Find a therapist who can help you identify the unmet emotional needs that you are tempted to satisfy in false sexual ways.

The self-loathing gays who seek support from groups like Evergreen and Exodus International are taught that they are gay because of bad parenting. The thesis is that homosexuals suffered a developmental deficit in early childhood which can be "repaired" through safe, appropriate same-sex bonding experiences later in life. Elements of this theory go back to Freud, but the entire model was developed by Elizabeth Moberly in her 1983 popular work Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, and extended by Joseph Nicolosi in his 1991 book Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality.

Hence, Hafen admonishes Evergreen participants to "Build good associations with people of your gender" and "Find a therapist who can help you identify the unmet emotional needs." This advice is a direct reference to the so-called "reparative therapy" developed by Nicolosi. It is “reparative therapy” speak. The phrase “false sexual ways” refers to the thinking that gay people unconsciously seek to fulfill unmet childhood same-sex parent-bonding needs through same-sex sexual activity.

The other link to Nicolosi's NARTH organization is the comparisons by Hafen to childhood sexual abuse. A frequent assertion by NARTH and the Focus on the Family's Love Won Out ex-gay roadshow is the claim that most women become gay due to childhood sexual abuse. So I found it revealing that Elder Hafen would insert indirect references to childhood sexual abuse in his address. Hafen even offers Evergreen Executive Director and NARTH Vice-President of Operations, David Pruden's wild assertion that:
. . . we know from the research that among women up to 80% who have same-gender attraction were abused in some way as children. (David Pruden, Lead My People, Audio CD, 2005)

Hafen's alignment with NARTH, whose major focus is that therapy can help gays become straight, furthers the LDS credibility problem among progressive society because it appears, by nearly all accounts, that the therapy just isn't working.

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