Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scylla and Charybdis, Mingled with Scripture

According to ancient Greek myth, Scylla was a creature who was rooted to one spot in the ocean, and regularly ate sailors who passed by too closely. Her appearance has varied in classical literature; she was described by Homer in The Odyssey as having six heads perched on long necks along with twelve feet, while in Ovid's Metamorphoses, she was depicted as having the upper body of a nymph, with her mid section composed of dog's heads. Across a narrow strait from this fearsome nymph dwelt Charybdis, the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. She was depicted with a single gaping mouth that sucked in huge quantities of water, and belched them out three times a day, creating whirlpools.

In epic poetry, hero Odysseus lost his ship in Charybdis, but he managed to save himself by clinging to a tree overhanging the water. Later the whirlpool spat up the ship, and Odysseus dropped to safety on its deck. Jason and the Argonauts were able to navigate through without incident due to Hera's assistance, while Aeneas was able to bypass the deadly strait altogether. "Between Scylla and Charybdis" (or the modern iteration "between a rock and a hard place") has become a way to describe the difficulty of maneuvering between two conflicting opinions; a predicament in which avoidance of either of two dangers means exposure to the other.

Myself, I’ve been hovering between Scylla and Charybdis for quite some time, and recent talks by our Apostles haven’t helped me navigate the voyage, but have only served to make the rocks seem more dangerous. I am, of course, speaking of the Church’s involvement in gay rights issues and their advice to those with “same-sex attraction.” In Boyd K. Packer’s recent General Conference talk, he referenced legal involvement in such issues by saying,
“There 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… A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. Do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks also gave a talk addressing the issue in a talk delivered September 17th at the Salt Lake City Tabernacle as part of a secular celebration of the Constitution’s 223rd birthday. Elder Oaks emphasized that defining marriage is a power reserved to states, responding (as I see it) to the federal district court decision to overturn Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.
“If the decisions of federal courts can override the actions of state lawmakers on this subject [marriage], we have suffered a significant constitutional reallocation of lawmaking power from the lawmaking branch to the judicial branch and from the states to the federal government.”
Here’s my dilemma: All of my adult life in the Church I have listened to cautions from the pulpit that the Church maintains political neutrality and that members should vote their conscience. My conscience and what I can understand from scientific evidence tells me that homosexuality is a complicated condition, consisting in at least some cases of natural and inborn tendencies. Thus, I don’t believe in legislating the behavior of people who are not members of the Church. But since the 2000 initiative of Proposition 22 in California (at which time I was a resident of the state), the Church has entered the political arena in a large way, asking for support from its members.

As I’ve pondered the Church’s stance, it has not escaped me that scriptural passages supported by modern revelation teach that in these Last Days people’s eyes will be blinded and they will not be able to discern the truth. What happens in your mind as you read this passage in Isaiah?
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!  Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! (Isa 5:20-21)
As I read these things, I think that it is possible that my comprehension of the truth might be in error and the climate of scientific rationalism in which I was raised has limited my perception of spiritual veracity. Should I place more credence in what is being taught by those who I have accepted as my spiritual guides? But even as I reach into my pocketbook to contribute to political campaigns, as I hold the sign that’s been given to me to be placed in my yard, as I stare at the telephone list I am expected to contact, I realize that these actions would pit me against what both my heart and my intellect tell me deep inside. I am caught between the Scylla of religious devotion/spiritual submission and the Charybdis of personal integrity.

There have been several places to discuss the various iterations of Boyd K. Packer’s talk, including the following:
Here I hope to further the discussion by examining the dilemma of a committed Latter-day Saint who hesitates to legislate marriages in the wider population. Isaiah makes it clear what the Lord’s opinion is regarding those who choose to ignore the debate:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Rev 3:15-16)
Elder Oaks and President Packer have brought the debate to the fore, making it almost cowardly not to take a stand either way. Is it the better part of valor to show loyalty to my Church leaders, to keep my covenant of not speaking against the “Lord’s anointed,” to defend their position? Or shall I speak my own convictions, realizing they could be seriously in error and place me outside the pale of Church membership, even jeopardizing my very salvation?


M said...

I really love this post. I have been struggling with the same issues over and over again. I'm dismayed that so few of my family and friends even think that there's an issue.

Bookslinger said...

I think that in order to navigate this, one has to separate sexual orientation from sexual acts. And forgive me for the connotation, but it harkens back to the old familiar dichotomy of the sinner and the sin.

Biv, to get a broader view of how the GA's are viewing this, I would suggest talking (casually as a friend, not as a patient) with an 65-year-old or older psychologist or psychiatrist.

Someone in that age group can inform you of how the psych profession started changing its views on homosexuality in 1973.

Much of the givens, assumptions, social knowledge or "what everyone knows" about homosexuality actually goes against what the previous generation of psych professionals learned.

What is currently 'common knowledge' about homosexuality in our society goes against real life. The "story" of homosexuality has literally been rewritten in the last 37 years. Under the guise of removing discrimination and hatred, a new story with plenty of falsehoods has taken its place.

In other words, much much much has been left unsaid about homosexuality (especially about the dark side of it ) in our media and culture.

Though it's still possible to find some under-65 professionals in the psychology profession who maintain the old-school views of homosexuality, but a lot harder.

Bishop Rick said...

I would choose personal conviction over religious dogma every time. In the 70s, BR McConkey talked about how negroes were a lesser race and would never receive the priesthood prior to the millennium (11th hour alert). Then SW Kimball changes that and BRM makes a full scale retraction. For years though, people chose the religious dogma over personal convictions, and they were wrong to do so.

Just sayin.