KUCINICH SHINES FOR ALL
As John Nichols's "Kucinich Rocks the Boat" [March 25] indicates, Representative Dennis Kucinich has become a shooting star in the political firmament because of his willingness to challenge the irresponsible roller coaster ride on which George Bush has placed the nation. How far his courageous stand has taken Kucinich is reflected in his being one of eight national political figures to be nominated for this year's Wayne Morse Award for Integrity in Government. Candidates must demonstrate integrity and independence, the qualities for which the Oregon Senator was known during his quarter-century in the Senate.
GEORGE BERES, chairman
Wayne Morse Integrity in Government Committee
'PITY THE OFFENDER, BUT...'
Certainly no one who respects citizens' rights wishes to see anyone placed in "indeterminate confinement" unjustly. Alexander Cockburn's March 11 "Beat the Devil" column, however, inspects this issue through a narrow lens. He seems to argue in favor of letting sexual predators out of prisons and mental hospitals but offers no alternative to the current methods of determining which predators are safe for release. I will accept his scorn of courts, juries and multidisciplinary teams if he is willing to offer me something besides a goat's entrails as an alternative method of divining the future.
Cockburn quotes Bill Andriette, whose comments about culture are reasonable enough, but is he an expert on sexual abuse and the lifetime of posttraumatic suffering it causes? Marita Mayer, whose laudable purpose as a public defender is to win justice for her clients, is quoted not as an expert on recidivism among sexual offenders, and she seems not to discriminate between the repeat offender and the rehabilitated one. She is quoted not as a victim of such offense, yet she refers to sexual criminals as committing "a tiny crime" without having experienced that crime. She says "people don't care about child rapists," but they do indeed care very much about the victims of child rapists, even if she has lost sight of them.
There is a body of literature that supports very real public concerns about repeat offenses among this class of people. That same literature finds that they offend not because children are "the last stand of unbranded humanity, precious and rare," but because they themselves were abused as children. Every offense has the potential of creating a new offender.
As a healthcare provider who has served abused children and adults, I propose we owe it to thousands of years of human suffering to do all we can to prevent future suffering. As does Mayer, we should pity the offender but also prevent him from injuring another child. We shouldn't limit our pity to the offender but extend it to the next victim as well.
Recidivism rates are high for violent criminals who don't sexually molest their victims but who injure them badly, often leaving them with a lifetime of psychic or physical trauma. But no one suggests they be locked up in the penitentiary or a prison/madhouse on an indeterminate but never completed sentence. All sorts of criminals cause terrible injuries, including those who practice financial fraud and leave their victims destitute. Even determinate sentencing in this country is grotesque, with people regularly sent off for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years for offenses that scarcely merit these vast stretches of hard time. Studies show that after about three years in prison any rehabilitative function is over and all you are doing is hardening the prisoner.
I've found it startling to read letters from readers who regard a fifteen-year sentence for rape as trifling, and thirty years or life as more appropriate. The same people express impatience at my concern for constitutional restraints, regarding them as nonapplicable when it comes to sexual offenses. So yes, if Eric Wolf wants to call regard for constitutional protections as looking at the problem through "a narrow lens," I plead guilty. In recent months we've heard others arguing that the war on terrorism needs a wider lens than the Constitution, a lens that permits breaches of due process, or torture.
To say that we are living through a period of extreme hysteria about sexual offenses is not to condone the offenses, any more than to deprecate the frenzy over "satanic abuse" in daycare centers is to exonerate or discount the reality of child abuse in the home. Nor do I discount the existence of violent sociopaths who might well repeat their crimes if released into society without controls or supervision. There probably are some who should be locked up for good. American streets, shelters, diners and jails are filled with psychic time bombs, many of them veterans. It would probably be safer to lock them all up, after application of the sort of broad-band statistical tests imposed at Atascadero.
Back to my narrow focus: Here in California, as Marita Mayer pointed out, a system has evolved whereby no judge, prosecutor, juror or prison shrink is going to take even a notional "risk" when the utterly safe alternative is to keep locked up forever all those who have committed violent sex crimes in the past. The situation is the same or even worse in other states. That's wrong.
MORMONS ON HOMOSEXUALITY
As a Latter Day Saints Church member, I think I can speak for a lot of middle-of-the-road Mormons when I say that I am tired of the bashing [Katherine Rosman, "Mormon Family Values," Feb. 25]. If the Olympics had been held in Riyadh or Kabul or Medina, would The Nation gratify us with an anti-Islamic exposé on how badly gays are mistreated by Muslims? I am a proud member of a new generation of LDS people born in the seventies and raised in the eighties who have no problem at all meshing our devout faith with the realities of the world around us. I have gay friends; my wife and I have been to gay weddings; we love and support these people as just that: people. The fact that our religion says homosexuality is wrong in no way impacts our ability to be friends with, or even to love, people who choose this lifestyle. And we are happy and content in our religion, strict as it may seem to some on the outside. The fact of the matter is, we didn't decide that homosexuality is wrong, God did.
What's perhaps most galling is that the LDS Church is a unique minority in America. I thought The Nation would rush to take up the defense of any minority, especially one so misunderstood as the Mormon faith. I thought wrong.
BRAD R. TORGERSEN
Salt Lake City
As a gay Mormon, I grew up with the "love," "respect" and "inclusion" the Mormon Church says it practices. Some people do practice this toward gay members, but most don't. Growing up, I couldn't, and I still can't, take a same-sex date to a congregational social activity--especially a dance. That's a bad example for the youth. I know of teens who have tried this and have been threatened with excommunication.
I researched what current Mormon material says about homosexuality. The result shocked me; there are eighty-eight pieces of homophobic material readily available for church members. Here's an example, from a manual for 13-to-18-year-olds: "The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity.... The Lord condemns and forbids this practice. 'God made me that way,' some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves.... This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be 'that way'?" (See www.affirmation.org.) I found three pieces encouraging self-respect for gays.
The Mormon Church has no official support groups for its gay members and will only refer gays to groups or individuals who practice reparation therapy. Anyone who doesn't fit its mold is doctrinally or socially ostracized. This is a sad commentary on a people who were once excluded from the national social fabric for practicing a unique form of marriage.
As a former LDS bishop I can tell you I have met church members who have succeeded in reparation therapy. Of course, they have not rid themselves of same-sex attraction but have learned to not act on those feelings. While the church holds fast to its belief that same-sex attraction is not in accordance with moral behavior, just as premarital or extramarital sex is not condoned, the position of the church is to counsel these members from a perspective of love and concern, not condemnation. I agree that church leaders have made harsh remarks about homosexuality in the past, but I also believe that Gordon B. Hinckley has spoken more supportively of those with same-sex attraction than any other church president. His comments may not satisfy gay rights activists, but they have turned the corner on the ignorant positions of the past.
K. LAMONTE JOHN
Summerveld, South Africa
I was a Mormon bishop in South Africa and a member for fifteen years when I left the LDS church. Social banishment and absolute judgment of others were two reasons I left. There were many other historical and doctrinal reasons as well. The Mormon Church is a church of expedience, and when it is no longer expedient to uphold a doctrine for which they receive widespread and deserved condemnation, Elohim gives the prophet a revelation and things get changed (e.g., polygamy and opening the priesthood to black men). No doubt at some stage homosexuality will be acceptable to the church. For the first century of the church's existence there was no opposition to homosexuality, and it is thought by many that the women who were the first two general presidents of the primary organization were lovers. Furthermore, it was also known by many during the 1970s that Eldred Smith, the last Patriarch, was at least bisexual.
THE GENTLE MAN OF ENRON
Though all his colleagues dashed toward the shredder
Like famished vermin bearing down on cheddar,
He folded papers into shapes fantastic
And wore a grin quite origamiastic.