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Letters from alums about Professor Edmund White

June 8, 2004

Holly Chandler '03's June 9 response to Garrett Mitchener's *03 letter merits its own response!

Chandler intimates strongly that the Christian belief system condemns homosexual persons. S/He is mistaken. The Christian Bible does proscribe homosexual behavior in both Old and New Testaments, but also speaks of those, who by faith in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, were able to give up the behavior associated with homosexual attraction to become newly minted Christians. This is an issue that challenges the authority of Scripture and is at the heart of the dramatic controversy between the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglicanism.

In fact, some of the most successful reparative therapy for homosexual attractions is conducted by Christians such as Leanne Payne, Exodus International Ministries, and other groups. For those who view this as incredible, the potential for change has recently even been attested to by Dr. Robert Spitzer, one of the psychiatrists who, believing that homosexuality to be immutable, was instrumental in removing homosexuality from the APA  DSM-II manual of psychiatric disorders in 1973.

Not only did Christians not persecute those who engaged in homosexual behavior, they instead shared with them the message of Jesus and His power to change the lives of those who would surrender to the will of God. The key word is surrender. Jesus did (does) not force Himself on anyone nor did he personally exclude people.  He asked all people to repent of their sin(s) and follow Him.  Jesus can do nothing in our lives if we insist on being in control. It is those who insist that they control their own bodies who are excluding Jesus. That is a hard lesson for many today because we are conditioned to think that we can define ourselves as we please.

Emily Volz s’69
Capitol View, Md.

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April 28, 2004

Garrett Mitchener *03's letter in the April 21 issue of PAW condemns a statement I had particularly admired — Professor Edmund White's quote in the March 10 issue, "Any self-respecting gay should be an atheist.'"

An atheist myself, I was glad — nay, relieved — to hear such a direct, honest statement, unfettered by political correctness. However, instead of pausing to appreciate Professor White's audacity, Mitchener not only took him to task for it, but also misunderstood it.

Mitchener's conclusion that the professor was "asserting that sexual preference should determine religion" ignores the context of the quote; Professor White had been voicing his opinion that "the single biggest enemy to homosexuality is Christianity'" and that, consequently, gay people who "try to accommodate Christianity and create their own gay group within the Catholic church or the Mormon church'" irritated him. He was not demanding that atheism be a prerequisite for homosexuality. Rather, his remarks point to the fact that it is psychologically damaging, not to mention hypocritical, to subscribe to a belief system that condemns your very existence. How can people believe in something that hates them without hating themselves? How can people who don't hate themselves believe in something that hates them?

I suspect that much of Mitchener's complaint stems from the blunt manner in which Professor White expressed himself. But should we expect anything less from an author whose writings so boldly disrupt the status quo?

Holly Chandler '03
Harvard, Mass.

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April 20, 2004

I was extremely pleased to read the letter by Garrett Mitchener '03 responding to Prof. Edmund White's March 10 piece in PAW. It mirrors my thoughts, but expresses them much better than I could, or would, have.

Charles A. Warder '55
Greenville, S.C.

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March 15, 2004

I read the interview with Dr. Edmund White in the March 10, 2004, issue. In the process of criticizing Christian opposition to homosexuality, Dr. White makes the peculiar statement that "Any self-respecting gay should be an atheist." I suspect that he merely intended to express frustration with Christianity, but his statement as quoted means much more, and I can't help but worry that he and some of his readers might actually believe it. So, I feel obligated to point out some of the consequences of such an approach to religion and encourage Dr. White to rethink his statement.

Religion is fundamentally a question of beliefs and consequences of those beliefs, especially answers to the great cosmic questions: "Is there a God, and if so what is God like? Or are there many gods, and what are they like? What purpose is there in existences? What are 'good' and 'evil'? And what shall I do today?" Does Dr. White really propose, as his statement suggests, a system of theology that begins with sexual habits and somehow concludes from there that there is no God?

Religion is also concerned with identity. Our culture is already full of lies about identity: "You are what you own. You are what you control. You are what other people say you are." All of these are lies because they demand that you place a lesser aspect of your identity over and above a more substantial aspect. They come from greed, fear, and vanity, and ask us to put aside love and integrity in determining who we are. Christianity would say instead: "You are who God is making you into. You are how you love and serve others." Dr. White's statement places the lesser identity of homosexuality above religious identity by asserting that gay implies atheist, thereby reducing religion to a consequence of sexuality and creating another lie: "You are your sexual preferences, first and foremost."

Most religions are also very much about action, particularly service to some authority. Our society tempts us to enslave ourselves to our careers, our wealth, and our reputations, and to put these demands above all else. By asserting that sexual preference should determine religion, Dr. White's statement tempts people to enslave themselves to their sexuality and to obey its demands above all else. The interview itself speaks of his first book that isn't about overtly gay themes, which indicates that Dr. White may have experienced this slavery firsthand and is in some way seeking to free his creativity and move beyond it.

I hope Dr. White will understand if I am reading something out of his statement that he did not intend. However, as a professor holding politically controversial views at a top-notch university, Dr. White has to take responsibility for what he says and its potential implications. I ask him to please think twice before advising people to make important decisions about the nature of reality with their penises and vaginas. The heart and mind are much better at that sort of thing.

Garrett Mitchener *2003
Durham, N.C.

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