A Response to A. Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox and Jeffrey Robinson's “A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement”
Note: “A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement” is a review of Fred and Marilyn Matis's and Ty Mansfield's In Quiet Desperation, and it is posted at www.fairlds.org/pubs/journal/FJ200507.html.
by William Bradshaw, Robert A. Rees, Ron Schow, Marybeth Raynes
Over the past several decades, discussion of homosexuality within the Mormon community can accurately be characterized as conflicted. One group has tended to recognize that homosexuality is a complex human condition and that our understanding of it continues to evolve with new scientific knowledge and therapeutic treatment as well as a more enlightened religious ethic. The other group has tended to reject any science, therapy or religious interpretation that does not accord with its views. The first group has tended to suspend ultimate judgment about the causes of homosexuality, believing that it is largely an unchosen condition resulting from a combination of genetic, biologic, and socializing influences. The second group has argued that homosexuality is a chosen condition or, if not chosen, clearly subject to alteration and even elimination. The first group tends to view scriptural references to homosexuality as reflective of an incomplete understanding of human sexuality within ancient cultures and a misunderstanding by contemporary readers of the context of many biblical references to homosexuality. The latter group tends to insist on a literal and selective interpretation of biblical statements about homosexuality.
Were the difference between these two positions merely academic, it would be of little import. However, since the implications of the respective positions have significant consequences for the lives of hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint homosexuals and their families and congregations, it is essential that uninformed readers understand the differences. It is our contention that the inordinate influence of the second group within the Mormon community has produced and continues to produce conditions that divide families and congregations and cause many homosexuals to leave the Church and, in extreme cases, to take their own lives.
It is important to establish the above background in order to understand the point of view of the following comments about the recent FAIR review of the book, In Quiet Desperation, by Dean Byrd, Shirley E. Cox, and Jeffrey W. Robinson. We see this review, "A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement," as clearly reflective of the second group described above.
Byrd, Cox and Robinson tend to see homosexuality in black and white terms. They reveal their bias from the very beginning by stating that In Quiet Desperation fosters "the innate, immutable theory of homosexuality," arguing that "such a view finds support neither in science nor in gospel doctrine." They then cite selective scientific studies and statements by Church leaders to bolster their position.
A favorite tactic by Dean Byrd and others over the past several decades has been to impugn the motives of those with whose position they disagree. The current review is no exception. Thus, Byrd, Cox and Robinson state that the Matis-Mansfield book was "ostensibly written to help those with homosexual attraction by encouraging compassion and understanding" (emphasis added). To question the motives of the Matises or Ty Mansfield is to do a grave injustice to the open, honest expressions one reads in their book.
The reviewers see any who disagree with their interpretation of either science or religion as somehow having a sinister agenda. They continue to refer to their opponents in this dialogue as being "activists" ("activist," a pejorative slogan used to denigrate any who disagrees with their point of view, is used seven times in this review). In one instance the reviewers include an anti-Semitic slur, speaking of one researcher, a "pro-gay activist," as a "self-identified secular-humanist Jew" (what, one wonders, does this researchers Jewishness have to do with anything?). It is shocking to read such sentiments in a supposedly scholarly review.
The reviewers don't limit their criticism to the authors of In Quiet Desperation; they also attack the publisher, Deseret Book Company ("the errors rest not only with the book's authors, but also with the publisher"). Many who have read In Quiet Desperation have praised Deseret Book for publishing a book that so openly and honestly reveals the personal anguish experienced by Latter-day Saint homosexuals and their families.
The most disturbing part of Byrd, Cox and Robinson's review is the misunderstanding it perpetuates about religion, especially about how God operates in the world and the purpose of the atonement. The authors reject the possibility that God could create or allow conditions that would lead to same-sex orientation: "An emerging theme [from letters sent as consolation to the Matises] was quite disturbing, a theme that somehow God intended for some people to be 'gay.'" But one might look at all kinds of psychological and physiological conditions, including a range of genetic disorders, that might challenge such an understanding of God's will. If God didn't specifically intend that homosexuality could be a human condition then it seems that he would not have created the genetic, biologic, and social conditions that influence homosexuality. God created a world in which there are not only genetic disorders, psychological dispositions, and biologic anomalies, he also created a world in which volcanic, climactic and other natural conditions cause untold suffering. In addition, he created human beings with the potential to create enormous evil, including creating conditions that rob individuals of their most rudimentary human rights.
In defending their position, Byrd, Cox and Robinson cite the Proclamation on the Family: "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose." If this statement is intended to be taken as a scientific or even a doctrinal statement, one wants to ask how it explains hermaphroditic births. Those born with this condition have ambiguous genitalia, and some spend their lives in confusion about their sexual identity. Are the authors prepared to declare exactly which gender such persons belong to? One could argue that free-agency is also "an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose," and yet there are millions of people born under conditions (or who later become victims of social systems) where there is so little free-agency as to make the term meaningless. The Proclamation on the Family is intended as a guide to family governance, not a scientific treatise on sexual orientation.
Byrd, Cox and Robinson's understanding of the atonement is equally misguided. They accuse the authors of In Quiet Desperation of "inadvertently limit[ing] the power of the atonement in the lives of people who struggle with homosexual attraction." Further, they assert, "There is no struggle for which the Atonement is not sufficient." The atonement of Christ was undertaken to pay the price for our sins and to lift our burdens, not to change our physiology. There are any number of human conditions that are not affected by the atonement. While it may be true that the atonement may lighten emotional burdens and ameliorate "struggles," including struggles with homosexual attraction, it does not, as Byrd, Cox and Robinson seem to suggest and as Dean Byrd had argued in other publications, "diminish homosexual attraction" or change one's sexual orientation. To argue such is also to argue that the atonement can change color blindness, left-handedness, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, or other conditions that fall outside what might be considered the norm. When they argue that "the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of change, and we (including those who struggle with homosexual attraction) cannot sink lower than the arms of the atonement can reach," the authors are really arguing for something that goes significantly beyond what the scriptures describe as the scope and power, let alone the purpose, of the atonement.
Thus, one of the main points of Byrd, Cox and Robinson's argument is that those who experience homosexual thoughts and feelings "can overcome" their attraction "by committing themselves to a program of change." The authors set up a straw man by suggesting that those who do not agree with them are proponents of the "born that way" explanation for homosexuality. Since scientists are still investigating the cause or causes of homosexuality, it is more accurate (and therefore more professionally responsible) to say that we do not know all of the factors that lead to same-sex orientation. Responsible ecclesiastical leaders take an agnostic position on the subject, as evidenced by President Hinckley's response to Larry King's question about whether homosexuality was innate. He replied, "I don't know. I'm not an expert on these things. I don't pretend to be an expert on these things."1
Without providing adequate scholarly documentation, Byrd, Cox and Robinson refer to the success of reparative therapy (although they don't label it as such). They contend that "many men (and women)," "many individuals," "many people," and "many men and women" "make successful transitions out of homosexuality." In a review critical of others' use of scientific evidence, one would expect some reference to a scholarly study that details exactly how many "many" is. Given the fact that Byrd was the lead person directing therapy for same sex attraction at Church Social Services during a period when many hundreds of Latter-day Saints were undergoing reparative or change therapy, one would think he would cite the findings of such therapy. It is in fact scandalous that such studies either were not undertaken or have been suppressed since the findings would help enlighten our present discussion of this subject. We are acquainted with one therapist at Church Social Services during Byrd's tenure who did a large portion of this work in that he counseled with nearly a thousand homosexuals and whose experience contradicts the point of view taken in this review.2
The pernicious consequence of promoting the idea that homosexuality is a chosen and changeable condition is that tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint homosexuals, believing that the atonement will change their homosexual inclinations, become disillusioned with God and Christ (and the Church) when they make every sacrifice of which they are capable in the belief that they will be free of homosexual feelings—only to discover that their efforts are ineffective. More often than not, they may blame themselves for having insufficient faith and either lose all faith, suspend their belief, or take their lives. Ecclesiastical leaders who have experience counseling with Latter-day Saint homosexuals know the heartbreak associated with such cases. One wants to say as did Jeremiah about another pernicious teaching, "Let this be taught no more in Israel!" (Ezekiel 18:1-5)
It is disturbing that Byrd, Cox and Robinson, all of whom have had extensive experience in counseling, would make judgments about both Stewart Matis and Ty Mansfield that they are in no position to make. Without knowing anything about the personality or therapeutic history of either man and based only on what evidence they find in the Matis-Mansfield narratives, they draw therapeutic conclusions, characterizing Stuart Matis as having "temperamental sensitivity," "an obsessive preoccupation with being different," and "perfectionism." They assert, again without having counseled with him, that Stuart's "story may have had a much different outcome had Stuart found. . . needed help"; they challenge the Matises' interpretation of "their son's attraction for other boys ('crushes') as somehow related to his homosexual attractions," by stating declaratively, "They are not"; they state, "What Stuart failed to secure was competent, professional help, the kind of help that could assist him deal [sic] with very chronic, very difficult challenges."
They conduct the same kind of arm-chair psychological analysis of Ty Mansfield: "Though Mansfield notes that his homosexual feelings have remained unchanged, this is impossible"! As they do with Stuart Matis, Byrd, Cox and Robinson, pigeonhole Mansfield as suffering from "temperamental sensitivity, obsessive introspection and perfectionism." They seem to know Mansfield's therapeutic experience: "Rather than seeking help, however, Mansfield seems stuck in his gender confusion"; "Mansfield has simply conceded victory to his homosexuality." Such conclusions are as irresponsible as the medical analysis of Senator Bill Frist upon viewing videotape of the comatose Terry Shiavo. If these authors are familiar with what are surely the confidential medical and psychotherapeutic records of Matis and Mansfield, they should say so; otherwise, their analysis is not only inappropriate, it is professionally irresponsible.
Byrd, Cox and Robinson repeatedly insist throughout their review that the authors of In Quiet Desperation are confused (they use "confused" seventeen times in their review!), make incorrect statements, and have false notions. Most of their criticism of Fred and Marilyn Matis and Ty Mansfield centers on the issue of "overcoming the attraction" and making "successful transitions out of homosexuality." Another example of the authors' unprofessional analysis of individuals about whom they most likely do not have personal experience is to claim that both Matis and Mansfield suffered from "gender confusion." Based on the personal knowledge of one or more of us, we can state that neither of these young men had (or, in the case of Mansfield, currently has) any confusion about his masculinity. Both have been clear and certain as to their gender. The issue here is persistent attraction to the same sex, not gender confusion.
Byrd, Cox, and Robinson make frequent reference to "science" in an attempt to discredit the authors of In Quiet Desperation and validate their own narrow views of the origin and necessary mutability of homosexuality. These assertions are wrong on at least two levels. Their claim that ". . . the biological theory of homosexuality has been thoroughly discredited by most credible, scientific researchers" is categorically and demonstrably false. Moreover they misrepresent the positions of those investigators, whose empirical studies have contributed to our understanding of the biological issues, whom they cite in support of their position.
A rational approach to the question of the causes of homosexuality would be to pose the relevant questions, search the appropriate literature, examine the empirical data, and draw conclusions supported by them. Byrd, Cox, and Robinson take a quite different approach. They begin with the a priori assumption that homosexuality must and therefore can be changed through imposing the external influences of counseling and reparative therapy. It must then follow that external influences such as negative social relationships in a family have to be responsible for inducing homosexuality in the first place. Therefore, the suggestion that homosexuality could be innate and the result of biological mechanisms must be dismissed out of hand.
There is a vast body of evidence from empirical scientific studies supporting the conclusion that biological processes, especially those operating prenatally to regulate the sexual differentiation of the brain, influence a person's sexual orientation. These data have been derived from a variety of disciplines including genetics, biochemistry, and neurobiology. Among the subjects of these investigations are twin and sibling studies, brain anatomy, hormones and their cellular receptors, correlates of homosexuality in handedness and hearing, cognitive (brain function) studies, and the behavior of humans with genetic defects that alter gender characteristics. Of special significance is the demonstration that for measures that are sexually dimorphic, that is, different between heterosexual men and women, homosexual persons are atypical for their gender. Homosexuality is heritable and imprinted early (often embryonic ally) in human development. It is also important to note that when genetic studies demonstrate that there is some component of the variability in sexual orientation not directly attributable to genes, and therefore "environmental," this does not necessarily refer to influences, such as social interactions, outside the individual. Such influences could well be biological (for example, hormonal influences that operate within the environment of the individual, but are derived from, and exert their effects upon the genetic constitution of that person, and hence are epigenetic). The fact that no single unified theory can as yet explain all of the data, and that the responsible processes are probably not the same in gay men and lesbians, does not diminish the fact that the biological evidence is compelling. Space here does not permit the citation of the voluminous scientific information. Instead, we invite the reader to carefully examine the data, beginning with review articles that summarize the results of the various studies. These are summarized at http://members.aol.com/slevay/page22.html as well as in the articles listed in this footnote.3
It is absolutely ludicrous to marshal the names of Simon LeVay, Dean Hamer, and Michael J. Bailey to discredit a biological explanation for homosexuality when the work of these investigators has contributed so importantly to that very proposition. The reader will note in the following citations from these scientists the sentiment that the biological evidence is very strong; and though there is very little credible empirical support for environmental, i.e., social explanations, they don't rule them out. This cautious, conservative language is in keeping with scientific objectivity, that conclusions must always be open to refinement based on potential new information. First, LeVay:
"This is not to deny any role for human culture in the development of sexual orientation but merely to acknowledge that, in our present situation, a biological approach seems to offer the best prospect for advances in our understanding." LeVay also states, "I have covered many environmental theories earlier in the book: prenatal stress, parenting styles, patterns of childhood reinforcement, early sexual experiences, and so on. Although most authorities, as cited above, are confident that at least some of these factors play a role, I am not sure that there is any compelling reason to believe this, given that genetic differences and random prenatal processes could easily provide all the diversity that exists. But equally, it is impossible at this point to rule out a contribution from postnatal environmental factors."4
It is also important to note that LeVay has directly challenged Byrd's misrepresentation of his research: "Dean Byrd's quotes may be literally correct but they offer a totally misleading impression of my beliefs. In my writings, I consider a variety of points of view (some of which Byrd quotes) and then present what I think is the most reasonable conclusion (which Byrd certainly doesn't quote). For example, he cites a passage in which I described Richard Green's early views on childhood gender nonconformity and homosexuality, but does not cite the following section in which I described how Green totally changed his views as a result of his own research findings. Similarly, he cites a passage in which I reviewed other people's opinions about the origins of homosexuality, but doesn't cite the remainder of the chapter in which I emphasized the significance of biological factors. Also, bear in mind that since the time when the book he quotes (Queer Science) was written there has been enormous progress in our understanding of sexual orientation, and the evidence supporting a biological basis has grown much stronger. That is not to say that the answers are totally in or that sexual orientation is 100% genetic or biological--it may well not be. But we can say with confidence that biological factors (probably acting prenatally) have a strong influence on a person's sexual orientation."5
The story of Dean Hamer's efforts to identify human genes that influence sexual orientation is documented in his book The Science of Desire. In addition, he takes a very strong position that many other aspects of human personality are rooted in biology and are to be explained genetically.6
Finally, at the end of a 40-page summary of scientific studies on homosexuality, Bailey and colleagues draw the following conclusions. "Based on the data summarized in this review, it should be clear that sexual orientation is influenced by biological factors to some degree. . . . biological factors seem to exert a portion of their influence before birth. . . . genetic factors appear to explain the familial variation in sexual orientation. . . . Although precise genetic mechanisms have yet to be definitively specified, these are likely to be identified in the future. . . . although further replications are needed, brain anatomy and neuropsychological measures all point to structural and functional brain differences related to sexual orientation in women and in men."7
As these brief citations make very clear, Byrd, Cox, and Robinson have engaged in gross distortion in attempting to align the positions of these three scientists with their own view that homosexuality is not an innate human condition rooted in biological processes. They are equally guilty of misrepresenting the views of Friedman, whose stated position in the following quotations is at odds with their emphatic assertion that appropriate therapy can alter sexual orientation for many people. "Despite the fact that there is no unitary biological 'cause' of any type of homosexual orientation, we agree with Isay that it makes sense to consider homosexual orientation to be innate in most gay men and in life-long lesbians."8 That is why Friedman says in response to the Spitzer study, "During therapy, sexual orientation does not change, but the person's pathological conscience structure is modified to be compatible with his or her present life philosophy." Friedman adds, "It is possible, for example, that most people who requested the intervention were either not helped by it or actually harmed in some fashion. The design of the study was such that these issues were intentionally not addressed. As a single point study of people selected to have benefited from the treatment, the sample was obviously highly biased. The data base reported on in the study therefore does not support any generalizations about reparative therapy per se. Spitzer cites estimates of success in sexual orientation change by Socarides and Nicolosi but their global impressions do not meet scientific standards for acceptable data."9
LeVay, Hamer, Bailey, and Friedman are not playing on the same team as Bryd, Cox, and Robinson.
In referring to a well-established method of classifying sexual attraction, Byrd, Cox and Robinson call it the "discredited continuum of Kinsey," and yet Byrd used essentially the same seven-point scale in an article he co-authored in 2000 for both pre- and post-therapy measures.10 If it is indeed "discredited" then one wants to ask why he used it.
The Byrd, Cox and Robinson review leaves much to be desired in terms of scholarly standards. Not only is it ungrammatical in places (examples of pronoun confusion and agreement) it is simply inaccurate in others. For example, they state, "The author James Baldwin identifies Mansfield's dilemma," and then supply a quotation from one of Baldwin's novels. Since Baldwin died in 1987 and had no knowledge of Ty Mansfield, he couldn't possibly have identified "Mansfield's dilemma." Also, one finds it curious that the authors would cite such an avowedly open homosexual as Baldwin to make their point!
Perhaps the most important observation to make about Byrd, Cox and Robinson's review is that it treats homosexuality as a single etiology. Whether the authors accept or reject the Kinsey Scale, they have to acknowledge that there is a spectrum of sexual attraction which Byrd, at least, has used in published research. Whether heterosexuality starts at 0 or 7 on the scale, there is a difference between someone who is clearly heterosexual, someone who is clearly homosexual, and someone who is in between these poles (bi-sexual). While some in the middle may have some choice as to which part of their dual sexual attraction they emphasize, choice diminishes (and disappears) as one moves to the extremes. Thus, it may be true that some people who have some degree of homosexual attraction can, with constructive therapy and spiritual help, emphasize their heterosexuality—even to the degree of being able to bond intimately with members of the opposite sex—but to generalize from such cases to all who have homosexual feelings is absolutely irresponsible.
Not acknowledging the complexity of sexual attraction and advocating a philosophy of change for all homosexuals is to condemn those who are unable to change to a life of disappointment and, often, misery. If, as Byrd, Cox and Robinson contend, with proper therapy, gospel living and the atonement homosexuals can "be free of same-gender attraction [and] overcome that attraction and find hope by turning to the lord and committing themselves to a program of change,"11 then the only conclusion for the estimated hundreds of thousands who have not been able to do so is that they either haven't received the proper therapy, are not living the gospel, or have not availed themselves of the benefits of the atonement. Such conclusions have led many good Latter-day Saint homosexuals to abandon their faith, to leave the Church, and, in far too many instances, to take their own lives.
Those who are convinced by such arguments that they can change often are encouraged to marry, with the result that many such marriages either end in divorce or are maintained without sufficient intimacy for either partner. When children are involved, the tragedy is magnified. Thus, in their insistence that marriage was/is a choice for Stuart, Ty and others like them, Byrd, Cox and Robinson perpetuate the myth that marriage is a viable option for many if not most Latter-day Saint homosexuals. We speak and counsel regularly with young Latter-day Saint homosexuals who have tried dating the opposite sex for months and sometimes even for years without being able to generate sexual feelings for the opposite sex. Most who undertake such a course do so with faith and good will, expecting, because they have been led to believe, that doing so will cause a change in their sexual orientation. When this doesn't happen it is often a crushing defeat. Some enter into marriage with the expectation that with intimate relations they will have a greater chance of changing while others courageously face the prospect of not marrying. Since both President Hinckley and Elder Oaks have counseled against homosexual-heterosexual marriages as a solution to same-sex attraction, to encourage such marriages goes against not only ecclesiastical counsel but against the best interests of those who enter into such marriages.
To emphasize that they do not see marriage as an option for everyone, the First Presidency recently (October 2004) issued a statement addressed to those "who are attracted to those of the same gender" with "understanding and respect" and said they "realize there may be great loneliness in their lives." Of the many requests for help from individuals with same sex attraction to an LDS hotline devoted to providing information about homosexuality, 40% are from married men. No one has yet calculated the cost for the many women who enter marriages with homosexual men (or men who enter marriages with homosexual women), but the happiness of far too many individuals has been sacrificed on the altar of promised change in sexual attraction.
We all need to acknowledge our limitations when it comes to understanding homosexuality, and we all need to have greater charity for one another as we seek more light and knowledge. Most of all, we need increased compassion for our fellow saints who live lives of desperation or acceptance of a human condition that yet defies easy categorization or solution.
1. December 26, 2004, http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0412/26/lkl.01.html.
2. Our informant has told us that in over a 30 year career at LDS Family Services he worked with about 400 single men, 200 of whom left therapy after 1-2 sessions. Of the remaining 200, only 20 (10%) were able to marry. Furthermore, 19 of the 20 who married identified themselves as bisexual when they entered therapy. The quality of these marriages is unknown. Another Latter-day Saint therapist with whom we are familiar reports that of the hundreds of clients with sexual identity issues she has seen only those clearly identified as bisexual are given any chance of making successful marriages.
3. B.S. Mustanski, M.L. Chivers, and J.M. Bailey, "A Critical Review of Recent Biological Research on Human Sexual Orientation," Annual Review of Sex Research, 12 (2002), 89-140 (Hereafter, Mustanski, Chivers and Bailey); Qazi Rahman and Glenn D. Wilson, "Born gay? The Psychobiology of Human Sexual Orientation," Personality and Individual Differences, 34 (2003), 1337-1382; S. LeVay, http://members.aol.com/slevay/page22.html.
4. Simon LeVay, Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 107, 275.
5. In the same correspondence referred to in the text, LeVay adds, "Here's another example: Byrd's quote: 'Gay activism was clearly the force that propelled the APA to declassify homosexuality" (Page 224). The complete passage reads: 'Gay activism was clearly the force that propelled the APA to declassify homosexuality. Without the efforts of Kameny, Gittings, Littlejohn, and the rest, homosexuality might well still be listed as a disease today. But the APA's decision was not a spineless capitulation to the mob, as Bieber and Socarides declared. Rather, the activists were successful in causing psychiatrists, singly and collectively, to question their time-honored assumptions and prejudices concerning human sexuality. The ensuing dialogue, although rancorous by academic standards, was an intellectual process, more than a political or emotional one.' In the remainder of the chapter I reviewed and discussed the details of that intellectual process" (Personal correspondence with Marc Croux, 26 August 2005; copy in our possession).
6. Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, Living with Our Genes: Why They Matter More Than You Think (New York: Doubleday, 1998). Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, The Science of Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994).
7. Mustanski, Chivers and Bailey. 129.
8. Friedman and Downey, 83.
9. Richard C. Friedman, "Sexual Orientation Change: A Study of Atypical Cases" in "Peer Commentaries on Spitzer," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32 (2003), 433, 434; see also Richard C. Friedman and Jennifer I. Downey. Sexual Orientation and Psychoanalysis: Sexual Science and Clinical Practice (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 107, 275.
10. J. Nicolosi, A.D. Byrd, and R.W. Potts, "Retrospective Self-reports of Changes in Homosexual Orientation: A Consumer's Survey of Conversion Therapy Clients, Psychological Reports 86 (2000), 1071-1088.
11. The authors give no citation for this quote.
See author bios (Bradshaw, Rees, Schow, Raynes),