"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
March 12, 2009
Letters better off not sent
by Orson Scott Card

For many years, our stake worked with the executive at our local cable television company to try to get General Conference on the air through the community access channels.

There have been complications -- the Church often bought its satellite time rather late, so that by the time we could make our official request, the time slots had already been granted to other groups in the community.

And even when we did succeed in getting Conference on a cable channel, there were sometimes technical glitches. Since we live in the Bible belt, the Sabbath is taken seriously enough that there is often no technician on duty on a Sunday morning if something goes wrong.

It happens that the executive in charge is a friend of mine -- and a friend of many Mormons, for he has been the conductor for many years of the local oratorio society's presentation of Handel's Messiah. I and a couple of dozen other Saints have sung under his baton; we like him a lot, and he likes us.

So imagine his surprise when he got a flurry of very unpleasant letters from Mormons each time General Conference was not carried, and a flood of it when a technical glitch interrupted a scheduled cablecast.

The letters were accusatory and often very unpleasant in tone. The senders seemed to think that there was some malicious conspiracy to keep the Mormon message from being heard. Never mind the paranoia of such assumptions -- the sheer unforgivingness of these letters took him aback.

After all, he was doing all he could to make things work for us. But imagine the sour taste those letters left in his mouth.

I remember also reading national news stories about some controversy about a high school athletic coach in a Utah town, where the offending coach actually received death threats and other vilification from citizens of the town. And since the town was something like 95 percent LDS, it was hard to imagine that all the letters were written by that tiny non-Mormon minority.

And then there's my dear friend in a mostly-Mormon community who spoke out against a regional non-Mormon official who had molested him and other boys when he was in the Scouting program. You'd think that the Mormon community would want such predators weeded out of a program we send our Young Men to take part in -- but he, too, got the hate-mail treatment. From his fellow Saints.

Which brings me to Big Love.

It was my fifteen-year-old daughter who sent me an invitation to join a Facebook group that was petitioning HBO not to broadcast the "temple ceremony" episode of Big Love.

Several times I have written about the principle of plural marriage in the early days of the Church and in biblical times. My musical play (with Robert Stoddard), Father, Mother, Mother, and Mom, along with my novel Saints and my Women of Genesis series, thoroughly examine the many accommodations faithful Saints have made in order to thrive within it.

But I have also had encounters with various groups that practice polygamy today, fancying themselves the "keepers of the flame" or the "leaven in the loaf." They are, in my opinion, neither: They are those who cannot abide a living prophet, and instead cling to their favorite instructions from dead ones. And among them are those who have turned to evil.

One thing is certain: What they do now has very little to do with what faithful Saints did when plural marriage was required of them by God. So I was never interested in HBO's sanitized and romanticized version of the lives of ex-Mormon polygamists. It was obvious that it was going to be a stick to beat the Church with, and so it has become.

The official Church response is the correct one -- the more we protest, the more we increase the publicity for the episode and the higher its ratings will be.

My favorite essay on the topic was written by my good friend Terrance D. Olson, and I urge you to read it.

But that didn't stop me from writing a letter to HBO, using the feedback form provided on their website.

I wrote a polite letter asking them if their airing of this episode of Big Love was consistent with their treatment of other minorities, religious and otherwise.

It happens that the same day I wrote that letter, I read Maureen Mullarkey's essay called "The New Blacklist: Freedom of speech -- unless you annoy the wrong people" in The Weekly Standard (16 March 2009, pp.12-14).

Mullarkey gives an account of how she, a New Yorker, has been punished for contributing money to the Proposition 8 campaign in California.

She works in the arts, and has created art and exhibits sympathetic to gay people. She has no ill feelings toward homosexuals -- she just doesn't see any reason to redefine marriage into nonexistence.

This is her right as an American -- to make up her own mind on a political issue, and vote with her ballot (when possible), her time, her money, and her words.

In her essay, she talks about being "outed" as a Prop. 8 contributor, and the flood of vile hate mail that she has received since then. Even some people she counted as friends have attacked her, and quite viciously.

The attacks are all personal. There is no attempt to persuade her. No, she is simply wrong -- and not just wrong but evil, deserving of no consideration, no rights, no respect as a fellow-citizen.

Reading her essay reminded me of my own experience with hate mail. Mine started many years ago, with an essay in Sunstone in which I pointed out the hypocrisy of some gay activists who claimed to be Mormons while denying the Prophet's sole authority to inform us of what is and is not sin in the eyes of God.

It was in that essay, I believe, that I obliquely coined the term "cultural Mormons," which is now embraced by people who consider themselves superior to those Mormons who actually believe the doctrines of the Kingdom of God.

The mail I got ranged from attempts to make me feel guilty (for sustaining the Prophet?) to outright vilification. Over the years, the vilification comes and goes in waves -- but it never lets up.

I also get mail, of course, from people who have lived as homosexuals and have since left that community and repudiated the dogmas of gay activists. I have heard from others who wrestle with their conflicting desires, but still remain faithful to the commandments.

Oddly, though, I find both sets of letters somewhat encouraging. Wouldn't it be disturbing if I spoke so vaguely or hypocritically that those who push the agenda of gay activism did not realize that I find their arguments misguided and sometimes deceptive, and their agenda, if enacted, harmful to themselves and to society as a whole.

At the same time, I recognize that there are good and intelligent people who disagree with me; I have dear friends who are on the other side of this issue. But these friends are tolerant people, as am I: We recognize that it is possible to disagree strongly and yet still treat each other with respect and affection.

From them I have heard stories of their continuing struggles with anti-gay bigotry, the vicious letters they receive, along with messages even more intimidating -- signs and vile symbols left on their property, open threats.

So Mullarkey's essay, my own experiences, and the experiences of my openly gay friends expose a common problem: People who are so sure they are right that they have no compunction about spewing verbal filth and intimidation against those who disagree with them.

We have no trouble recognizing the unfairness, the irrationality, the counterproductiveness of such campaigns when they are directed against us.

But there are also among us people who think they do not need to treat their fellow-citizens with decency and respect.

Do you feel angry? Persecuted? Hurt? Outraged? We have all felt such things from time to time, I think.

But God measures us, not by how we feel, but by what we do about it. We are expected to stand firmly for what we believe in; but we are not condoned in lashing out to hurt other people. There is something about "the other cheek" and how we are to treat our "enemy" in the New Testament -- I'm sure we all remember the words.

Writing hate-filled letters may help you vent your feelings; but sending them is never right.

There's a rule I learned from watching talk shows and political debates over the years: Whoever gets mad, loses.

When we watch people in verbal conflict, the ones who remain civilized and polite and patient earn our respect, and we listen to what they say. But the ones who get angry or prickly, who shout down the other person and constantly interrupt, who seem to feel persecuted ("Can I finish? Can I finish?") -- those make us uncomfortable, embarrassed; we turn away; we no longer heed their message.

They lose.

Not only is it morally wrong to treat others with hate and anger merely because we disagree, it is also completely ineffective. It never makes them wish to be on our side. It never earns us their sympathy or understanding.

I thought of that as I imagined thousands of letters sent from Mormons to HBO. How many of them would be like those letters my friend received from Mormons who were disappointed not to get General Conference? How many would be like the messages my gay friends have received from supposed "Christians" who threaten and vilify them?

Jesus said: "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man" (Matt. 15:11). I think he would count letters and emails, too -- don't you?

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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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