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An Open Letter from Orson Scott Card to those who are concerned about "plagiarism" in The Memory of Earth


While most Latter-day Saints who have read my novel The Memory of Earth (the first in a five-volume series called Homecoming) have immediately understood that I was retelling the story of the Book of Mormon in a science fiction context, some have also leapt to the conclusion that this constituted plagiarism.

Some have written or telephoned me directly, which I appreciate, since it allowed me to lay their concerns to rest without embarrassing them. Others have written to my publisher and (I have no doubt) to general authorities of the Church in an attempt to "expose" my "crime" and, presumably, get me punished, without any attempt to contact me directly beforehand. This has caused me to spend a bit of time apologizing ruefully to my publisher for the ignorance of Church members, and has no doubt stolen some of the Brethren's time as they may have had to deal with an issue which, with the tiniest bit of research, need not have been an issue at all. That tiny bit of research would have told these helpful watchdogs:

1. You cannot plagiarize history.

2. There is a long, distinguished history of fiction writers retelling stories from history, legend, myth, and sacred writings.

3. There is no obligation to inform the reader of the source of the retelling or that a retelling is going on at all; quite the contrary.

4. Even if the Book of Mormon were fiction, retelling the story in completely different words is not plagiarism.

5. Even if I were using the exact words of the Book of Mormon, the copyright ran out long ago.

6. A careful examination of The Memory of Earth will show that not only am I using the Book of Mormon as my source of story events, but I am also being very careful to treat it reverently and respectfully even as I use it as a springboard to my own thoughts, ideas, and concerns.

With your indulgence, I will explain a bit more about each of these points.

You Can't Plagiarize History

Either the Book of Mormon is a true history, written by ancient writers and translated by Joseph Smith with divine aid and under divine direction, or somebody made it up. If you believe that somebody made it up, you can skip this section. But if you believe, as I do, that the Book of Mormon is exactly what it purports to be, then the events depicted in it really happened.

Therefore, retelling those events as part of a work of fiction is fair use and the issue of plagiarism simply doesn't come up at all. The principle in the law is that you can't copyright facts. For instance, the phone book can't be copyrighted, insofar as it represents a faithful account of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the subscribers to telephone service. Only if you made up names and numbers wo uld it be copyrightable.

(I've heard that because of this, publishers of atlases include in every map some made-up town or geographical feature, so that they can catch competitors who are copying their map instead of going back to the original source.) When I wrote my novel Saints, every event in the story was based on some event in the historical record. The readers of serious historical fiction expect nothing less than thorough research. No one raised a question about plagiarism because I "stole" factual information from various old documents or from more recently published histories and biographies. If I had lifted whole word-for-word passages from recent original writings, plagiarism might have been an issue. But instead, starting from the source material, I then freely adapted it as fiction, explaining the characters' motives and responses according to my own imagination and understanding of them. No one has had the slightest trouble understanding that this is the proper relationship between a fiction writer and his sources. I have done exactly the same thing with The Memory of Earth. Of course, the Book of Mormon remains the only source we have for the actual plotline, which means I can hardly draw on alternate accounts. Nevertheless, I did study Hugh Nibley's commentary Lehi in the Desert, which will be quite obvious to anyone who has read both Nibley's book and mine. And in later volumes, careful readers will easily see the influence of John Sorenson's and other writers' thinking about the Book of Mormon. Am I therefore stealing from Nibley and Sorenson? Hardly. Rather I am using their writings as helpful guides into the true history of the Book of Mormon, which is exactly what they set out to create.

Even some quotations from history are fair to use, by the way. For instance, Nephi, in recording that he himself said, "I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded," witnessed that the speaking of that sentence was a real event. Even though he himself said it, he offers it as a historical fact that that was what he said on a particular occasion. Thus that sentence itself can be freely quoted within the context of the same story without fear of plagiarism. (Nevertheless, I paraphrased that sentence to place it within the cultural and linguistic context of the rest of the novel.) To the degree that you believe that the Book of Mormon is true history, you cannot accuse writers of plagiarism for using it as the source of their fiction.

The Literary Tradition of Fiction Based on Sacred Writings

Like many Latter-day Saints, I believe that the Book of Mormon is a sacred writing, on the level of the Bible in its authority and truth. But to most people in the world, the Book of Mormon remains closed precisely because of the fact that it is the sacred writing of a particular religion. Because they are not Mormons, people refrain from reading the Mormon book, in much the same way that non-Muslims generally do not read the Koran. And when they do read it, people must make a decision about belief. That is what Moroni 10:4 is all about. If you come to believe the book, then you read it from "inside" the story and it can have a powerful shaping effect in your life. If you do not believe it, then you remain "outside" the story; it has little transformative power over you, and you cannot therefore truly understand what the story is, what it does, what it's for. This is true of all sacred literature. You are either inside it or outside it. You either give it power over you or you remain a detached observer (including, of course, the snide critic). That's what "higher criticism" of the Bible was all about, and why it has always made believers so uncomfortable: It is obviously written from "outside" the Bible instead of inside it. And the result is always the same: Sacred writings lose all power and truth when studied from "outside." A fiction writer is in the unique position of being able to take a sacred story and retell it in such a context that it can be received with some of its transformative power by those who remain "outside" the original. When you sit down to read the Book of Mormon, you know you must make a decision about whether it is true or not. However, when you sit down to read The Memory of Earth, you already know that what you are reading is a work of fiction. It is, prima facie, "not true." Nevertheless, in our culture at least, most readers approach fiction quite open to the possibility of personal transformation. We give the fiction writer the opportunity to put real-seeming scenes, characters, ideas, and events into our memories, and when the events seem to us to have particular truth or importance, those memories can havesome transformative power in our lives.

This is precisely why, I think, Milton wrote Paradise Lost. For Puritans, the Fall of Adam and Eve was the central defining myth of their religion. (I use myth, not in the sense of "false story," but rather in the sense of "transcendent story.") Yet the account of the Fall in Genesis is short and, to those who did not understand the Puritan view of the story, who were not "inside," the story simply didn't have the power to move them as it did the Puritans. So Milton took his powerful gifts as a storyteller and poet and retold the sacred story. He made no claim that the surrounding material the various angels and devils, the conversations, the scenery was anything but fiction, his own imaginative interpretation and extrapolation of the story. Paradise Lost was offered as a fictive work. Nevertheless, there was a core of sacredness and, despite the fact that our language and our manner of storytelling have changed in the years since Milton wrote it, the poem retains its ability to give those who are "outside" the Puritan belief system some taste of the transformative power of their fundamental myth.

While I do not bring anything like the gifts of a Milton to my project, I nevertheless had in mind one of Milton's goals: To make the central defining myth of my own people available to those who do not believe it as scripture but might nevertheless respond to it as story. People who read The Memory of Earth do not have to decide whether they believe in the Book of Mormon or not, and yet they can receive some aspects of that powerful story into their memories, where it has the possibility of influencing the way they view the world. This remains voluntary, of course. Those who feel no sense of harmony with the portions of the Book of Mormon story in The Memory of Earth will remain uninfluenced by it; but those who are predisposed to respond favorably to it are given some taste of it without (at that point) having to make a belief decision. I offer, not the real thing, but perhaps a taste of it, a hint of it, and insofar as that taste or hint has the power to do good in the world, then my story will do that much good.

Milton is hardly the only example. Archibald Macleish's J.B. is only one\of many retellings of the Job story. Countless novels and plays have been based on the gospels, many of them "disguised" rather than being historicals. The stories of Gideon, Moses, Samson, Esther, Ruth, and many others have found their way into fiction.

And it isn't just the writings sacred in our own time that have been used as sources. How many thousands, perhaps millions, of literary works have been based on Greek and Roman myths, for instance, often retold in modern or futuristic or fantastic settings far removed from the original Mediterranean cultures? Tolkien used Norse sagas and sacred tales as a powerful source for his work; Evangeline Walton and Lloyd Alexander have both written from the Welsh Mabinogion.

Legends, too, which are more of a folk history than a sacred one, are another kind of "inside" storytelling which can be shared through a fictional retelling. When Mallory wrote his Morte d'Arthur the old Arthurian tales had long since become culturally foreign, and since that time how many retellings of the Arthurian legends have there been including many that transformed or disguised the setting?

Within the community of science fiction and fantasy readers and writers, it is quite a common thing to research the sacred or legendary writings of another culture and then retell those stories as fiction in a way that will make them accessible to the contemporary Western reader. Indeed, I am not the only one to have looked at the Book of Mormon as a possible story source, and if Philip JoseFarmer ever does produce his novel based on Mormon's book, I for one will be delighted to see what he has made of it!

The fact remains, though, that a writer who is "inside" a community of believers in a sacred story has a unique opportunity (and responsibility) to present that sacred writing in fictional form to those who remain unbelievers but who might nevertheless find value in the tale. I take that opportunity and responsibility quite seriously.

There Is No Obligation to Inform the Reader

Some of those who have been upset by my Homecoming series have felt that my sin lay in not informing the reade r of what I was doing. Remembering their high school and college term papers and the importance of listing their sources, they pounce on the fact that I did not as proof that I did something "wrong." What they don't realize is that the rules for fiction are different from the rules for term papers.

When Shakespeare retold story after story based on classical and contemporary sources, he never once, that I'm aware of, referred within the body of his play or poem to the original source. Why not? Well, for starters, there are few ways within a work of fiction to refer to an external story source. In a novel, play, or film, the storyteller tries to create a convincing milieu, to catch the audience up and rush them along without anything that would jar them and remind them of the real world. Any device within a story that would give "credit" to a source will either be missed by the audience, in which case it was useless, or will make the audience stop and think, Ah, that's where this story comes from, which kills the forward momentum of the tale.

Admittedly, in Shakespeare's time there was a great deal less concern over "originality" than there is now he had no qualms, it seems, about taking the storyline from a play by a contemporary and retelling it in his own brilliant way, thereby eclipsing permanently the original source (just try finding a production these days of the forerunners of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet). But I don't have to go back to Shakespeare to find examples of retelling older stories without citing the source. Perhaps the best example in recent times is Isaac Asimov's original Foundation trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. The project began at the suggestion of Asimov's editor at Astounding (now Analog), John W. Campbell. Why not retell Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, only make it science fiction by setting it at the end of a galactic empire?

Nowhere in Asimov's original volumes is there any overt reference to Gibbon's monumental work. Why not? The reason is simple. For those who were educated enough to know Gibbon, no overt mention was necessary. Indeed, one of the pleasures of the book was the dawning realization that this was a fictional retelling of the Decline and Fall. And for those who did not recognize the work, it simply didn't matter. Why distract them from a wonderful story by nudging them and saying, Look where I got this bit! Look how I worked in that one!

The Memory of Earth and its companion volumes function exactly the same way. One of the pleasures (I hope) for readers familiar with the Book of Mormon is the dawning realization that this is, event for event, a precise retelling of First Nephi, and my naming of Nafai for Nephi and the physical shape of the Index my stand-in for the liahona were meant to be dead giveaways. Yet for those who don't know the Book of Mormon, there was no reason to distract from the story by making them aware of a connection with a book that they haven't read. You don't have to know the Book of Mormon to read The Memory of Earth, because if fiction works at all, it works as a story in itself without the reader resorting to specific knowledge of other literature.

Furthermore, stating the source material can often drive off readers who might otherwise enjoy the story. If Asimov's Foundation had first been published in book form with the heading "based on that great work of Roman history, Gibbon's Decline and Fall" emblazoned on the cover, many a reader who had no interest in history, or at least in Roman history, would have been put off from reading the book. Their negative attitudes toward "history" would have deprived them of a story that they might well have enjoyed. Likewise, if The Memory of Earth had proclaimed its connection to the Book of Mormon, many people who have enjoyed the story in itself would have assumed, wrongly, that you had to be a Mormon or interested in Mormons to read the book.

So I'm following in distinguished footsteps when I don't overtly inform the reader of the source of the Homecoming books. And to those who assumed that I was trying to pull a fast one, let me just point out that if I was trying to fool anybody, I certainly did a bad job of it, didn't I? I mean, if you recognized the Book of Mormon story, then who exactly did you think would not catch the connection, apart from people who simply didn't care?

Retelling a Story in Different Words Is Not Plagiarism It is language, not story, which is copyrighted, and therefore it is only if you copy the language, not the story, that you have committed plagiarism. When you think about it, it's obvious why. There are no new stories. Basic relationships crop up again and again, in culture after culture. And not just an event here and there: Whole series of events in different and supposedly unrelated stories resemble each other rather closely. Should I, as the author of Ender's Game, have the right to sue or prosecute the producers of The Last Starfighter or Toys because they use the device of having a videogame turn out to be the real thing after all? I wouldn't have a leg to stand on in a copyright action. Only if they used the same language would copyright laws apply.

Think back on the famous plagiarism stories in recent years accusations concerning Senator Biden, for instance, or some insufficiently documented quoting and paraphrasing in some early writings of Martin Luther King. These cases dealt with copying of specific language, not just ideas or events, and even these cases were on somewhat uncertain ground. The accusation of plagiarism is a serious one, and those who make it have an obligation to make sure they know what plagiarism actually is before accusing someone of committing it. There is no plagiarism in any of my work, period, and I am quite naturally annoyed at those who, calling themselves Latter-day Saints, go about accusing me of such a crime without bothering to educate themselves at even a rudimentary level about the subject.

Perhaps those who have written to my publisher to try to "expose" my wrongdoing (my editor was fully informed that the Book of Mormon was the primary plotline source all along), or who have wasted the time of General Authorities by plaguing There is a short list of sins murder, theft, and lying for which the Saints are instructed to deliver up a sinner into the hands of the civil law. If you think plagiarism falls under the category of theft or lying, and that my book was a crime under those laws, then your action should have been to take the matter to the civil authorities, whereupon you would quickly have learned that I had not committed plagiarism, and therefore you would have known not to accuse me of such a thing. Or you might have thought that this particular case should be treated as a dispute internal to the Church, in which case you might have followed the admonition of verses 88 and 89: "And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled. And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world." It is well known, especially to those holding a copy of The Memory of Earth, that I live in Greensboro, North Carolina. A quick consultation with directory assistance at (919) 555-1212 would provide anyone with the information that my telephone number is listed. Even if you got my answering machine or my assistant, you may be sure that if you left a message about your concern that I might have committed plagiarism, you would have had a quick response from me. If you made the slightest effort to follow the admonition of the scripture that you not accuse until after you have made an effort to speak with the offender personally, you would have avoided wasting a great deal of time your own and others'.

And, if these watchdogs hadn't enough interest in the matter to make contact with me, by what right did they go about accusing me to others of such a crime? Perhaps they might do well to remember D&C 42:27: "Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor, nor do him any harm."

Of course, some who have been concerned about this matter have done exactly what the scripture advises: They have written to me or called me, and have thus given me a chance to explain the context of literature of the kind I am writing, so that they can understand that while they are correct in recognizing that The Memory of Earth is based on the Book of Mormon, there is no wrongdoing at all involved in the endeavor.

Those who go about accusing me behind my back, however, whether to Church authorities, my publisher, or just your friends or acquaintances, should be aware that a false accusation of criminal or immoral behavior is slander or libel, and because I am not guilty of wrongdoing, they are. It is a requirement, not only of decency but also of law, that when you accuse someone you make some reasonable effort to make sure your accusation is correct. I suggest that those who have carelessly accused me ought to examine their own conscience with at least as much rigor as they applied when searching for deficiencies in mine.

The Copyright Has Run Out

If I were a plagiarist and were taking the actual words of the Book of Mormon and trying to pass them off as my own writing, then, while this would be unethical indeed, it would not violate the copyright protection on the Book of Mormon because, in fact, the Book of Mormon has no copyright protection. Rights in a literary work are not permanent. Copyright eventually expires. The copyright on the Book of Mormon ran out years ago. Anyone can publish an edition of the Book of Mormon, altering it in any way, adapting it to any form, without requesting the permission of any person or organization and guided only by their own sense of responsibility to the original material. And since what I published is not the very words of the Book of Mormon, but instead is a free adaptation of the storyline, interspersed with a far larger amount of my own imagined story, character, milieu, and ideas, my work falls under the category of free adaptation of a literary work that is in the public domain. You can write your own adaptation of Book of Mormon stories if you like, and many others have done so and are doing so even as we speak, producing plays, children's versions, fictional adaptations, and so on, freely adding their own invented material and language as they see fit.

Reverently and Respectfully

Finally, having dismissed all the quasi-legal questions, we come down to the matter of whether my adaptation of the story told in First Nephi is good or not. I don't mean "good" in the sense of "literarily excellent" there will be varying opinions on that and it's a fundamentally uninteresting question since it is really up to the individual reader. What I mean to ask is whether, as a Latter-day Saint with a commitment to our community and therefore a responsibility to those fundamental beliefs and experiences we share, I have acted with decent reverence and respect toward a book whose divine origin is one of the primary tenets of our faith.

There are those, of course, who start from the assumption that science fiction is a trivial literature and therefore any treatment of sacred matters in a science fiction context is disrespectful on its face. There's nothing I can do or say that will satisfy such judges, since they don't recognize the value or seriousness of a literary community in which I have chosen to take part. However, I can say that for those of us who do work and read regularly within the community of speculative literature, there is nothing trivial or debasing about the storytelling that we do.

Indeed, I believe that speculative fiction is the one literary tradition available today to writers who would like to deal seriously with great moral, religious, cosmological, and eschatalogical issues without confining themselves to members of a particular religious group. That is, if I want to write about the end of the world, and I do it in a specifically LDS context, then I will only be able to speak to other Latter-day Saints because my work, avowedly religious and tied to just one religion, could only be published within and for the LDS community. But when I deal with such issues in the context of science fiction or fantasy, the issue of belief is sidestepped and the ideas can be developed as thought experiments which a much wider audience can take part in, so that my speculations and explorations can be shared with and responded to by a much wider spectrum. Stupid people don't read science fiction, and few closed- minded ones either, with the result that by writing stories dealing with issues that I care about and believe in, I can get a much more serious reception from the science fiction community than I would ever get were I treating such issues in the so-called "mainstream."

When I do deal with Mormonism explicitly, as in the mainstream novels Lost Boys and Saints, I am required to avoid all but the most rudimentary exploration of doctrine, precisely because if I force the reader to decide whether he or she believes the doctrine, I will eventually limit my audience to believers. Instead, in these books (and in Folk of the Fringe and a handful of other explicitly LDS writings offered to the world at large) I am writing with one hand tied behind my back so that I can remain accessible to the non-Mormon audience.

When I write in a science fictional context, however, I have the luxury of setting my stories in places far away and in another time like the planet Harmony and the city Basilica in the novel The Memory of Earth. I can invent cultures that clarify moral issues about which I am speculating. I can invent alien species whose life cycle highlights particular social concerns. In short, while never overtly talking about religion at all, I can deal with religious, theological, and moral issues with greater clarity in science fiction than anywhere else, precisely be cause science fiction allows the writer to set these issues at one remove, freeing writer and reader from biases and issues relating to particular religions or philosophies in the present world.

And, in fact, most science fiction writers are doing exactly the same thing, whether consciously or not. Ursula K. LeGuin deliberately used a semi- alien species in The Left Hand of Darkness to explore the idea of a culture in which no one knows what sex they are going to be from month to month or year to year: What then, she asks, would the roles of men and women be, if you were not permanently a member of one or the other group? Isaac Asimov, though an avowed atheist, consistently wrote about people caught up in fulfilling (or flouting) the will of a quasi-divine character who has plansand purposes for the human race in other words, God. Whereas academic-literary fiction has largely shunted aside religion and religious issues, treating religious characters as either charlatans or dupes (Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe being a marvelous exception), all the great questions and issues are still available within the field of science fiction.

To my mind, then, retelling the Book of Mormon as a science fiction story is the best way to give the great moral and religious issues within it the respect and reverence that they deserve.

And, in fact, anyone who closely examines The Memory of Earth will realize that, while I insert a vast amount of my own speculations on every issue under the sun, those parts of the story adapted from the book of First Nephi are rigorously faithful to the original meaning. That is, I don't have Nephi kill Laban by accidently hitting him too hard in the head, or tripping and cutting his head off by mistake; on the other hand, I don't have him kill Laban as an act of personal vengeance. I am guided by the Book of Mormon at every point, and my character Nafai, as he contemplates the drunken, supine figure of his enemy Gaballufix, goes through exactly the same moral arguments that Nephi shows us in his written account.

But that is not all. Since I believe that the Book of Mormon is true, and that an older Nephi was still concerned enough about the moral issues involved in his killing of Laban to take a great deal of time, writing on metal plates, to explain exactly his process of reasoning that led up to an act that will always carry tremendous moral weight, I also showed my character Nafai being deeply troubled by what he had done, for even though he knew it was "right," this does not remove the fact that a helpless man died at his hands. He could not escape culture or conscience so easily, as the Book of Mormon clearly shows Nephi himself did not. And while some would have us believe that whenever prophets are acting in obedience to the Lord they are untroubled, I think that the stories of Abraham and Isaac, Nephi and Laban, and even Joseph and Emma Smith in relation to the question of plural marriage, clearly troubled the prophets greatly. How else would these be tests of faith? W hy else would we honor them as moral heroes, if the acts were easy and the questions simple?

I have loved the Book of Mormon from childhood on, as I graduated from Emma Marr Peterson's children's version to the book itself, and as I read the book over and over again, each time for a different purpose. When I started writing plays it was the Book of Mormon I worked with first and to which I returned most often as the source of my storytelling. I felt that when I was called upon to write the new script for the Hill Cumorah pageant, I had been preparing to produce that work all my life. And, when I came to my work on Homecoming, you can be sure that I bring to it the same love for the book, the same respect for it, the same reverence, and the same sense of passion and vitality that I have drawn from the book since I first heard those stories at my parents' feet.

At every stage in my treatment of the Book of Mormon in these novels I have devoted great thought to what I was doing to the story as I trans formed it into my own fiction. I felt it was important, in my version, to make the story just as real and rich for women readers as for men, and therefore I caused the prophetic, spiritual role to be shared equally among characters of both sexes. I felt a need to show a morally and politically decadent city in terms that nonmembers of the Church, living in our poisonously licentious society, will recognize as sick without necessarily recognizing it in terms of the so-called Judeo-Christian ethic. And, of course, I also had to develop plausible and interesting (to me, at least) extrapolations of the future I was inventing so that the novels would work as science fiction.

At any of these endeavors there is always the chance that I have failed, that you will disagree with my thoughts, that you will find my choices artistically or morally wrong. But what you cannot find, because it is not so, is that I have ever, in the writing of this book, treated the Book of Mormon itself with anything less than deep reverence or respect.

My own personal standard is this: There is nothing I have written, in my entire career, which I would not gladly place in the hands of the Savior, knowing that he will understand the intention and meaning of all that is in my work. That he might chide me for this or that error of judgment is possible, but I am not afraid to be corrected. What he will know is that in every case my intention was one that I promised long before I was ever asked to do so formally: that all my work, in one way or another, will contribute to the cause of good in the world. I can now look back on earlier work and see how I could have achieved that purpose better had I only been a better writer or a wiser person, but I also look back on the self that created those works and know that what I created then was the best that I could do at the time; and I know that what I am creating now is the best that I can do at this time. I ask no more of any other human being than that.

There are many times in our lives within the Church that we come into conflict with other members, when both parties in the dispute are trying their best to do what they think is right. Only when one or the other (or both) attempts to force his will on the other instead of working by persuasion and meekness and with unpretended love is there any transgression involved.

Thus when I write my books, I offer them to the world and to the Saints. No one is forced to read them, or, having read them, to like them or approve of them. You are free to review them, to critique them, to labor to undo any harm you think that my books are doing, and to write your own books that present your own vision. The Saints and the public at large will sort between you and me quite readily and may surprise us by finding that the differences between us are nowhere near as important as our common ground. We may find this ourselves, in time. But what crosses the line is the attempt to silence me by personal attack, by slander, by secret letters to General Authorities, by efforts to get me fired or otherwise punished for having dared to write or say that which you thought should not be written or said. This bespeaks a desire, not to teach, but to compel, and it falls clearly within the category of unrighteous dominion. Those who have attacked me anonymously, clandestinely, furtively, when was it that they intended to show forth an increase of love toward me, lest I esteem them to be my enemy? How was it that they intended to show me that their faithfulness was stronger than the cords of death? There is an unfortunate tendency among some members of the Church not many, but enough to cause great grief to many to think that their obligation as Saints is to spend their time watching for and stamping out all incorrect actions or incorrect opinions. This is a human tendency, of course, and I have run into it in many guises. I have been attacked by the American religious right because my writings are "obviously" attempts to propagandize innocent readers with subliminal Mormon doctrines. I have been attacked even more vigorously by the fascists of the left for not being sufficiently in line with their list of "progressive" values which are to be tolerated and for adhering too much to unfashionable ones which are to be obliterated in their supposedly "free" utopia.

Painful and annoying as these attempts at coercion and punishment may be, they do not gall as much as attempts at unrighteous dominion by fellow Saints. I suppose I have the naive notion that we should know better, that we should teach and persuade each other as the gospel directs. And, in the main, we do a pretty good job. But the spiders remain among us, weaving their invisible webs, biting their poisonous bites, and sucking the lifeblood out of the community of Saints whenever and wherever they can. Others have suffered from such people a great deal more than I have, but more important is the harm they do to the Church at large. They foster the illusion of uniformity, but that has nothing to do with creating real harmony.

When we find ourselves in disagreement with another member of the Church particularly when we think they are doing something harmful or wrong in relation to the Church itself then we should act with courage and patience and generosity and vigor. Courage enough to face the offending person directly and name our disagreements clearly; patience enough to listen to their views of their own actions or statements; generosity enough to grant them the possibility of finding ways of supporting the gospel and the Church that are different from those you might prefer; and vigor enough to take the time to do all this rather than lazily leaping to conclusions and speaking ill of our brothers and sisters behind their backs. It is one of the joys of my life that, in partaking of the community of the Saints, most of the people I encounter live as if D&C 121 were written in bright letters in their hearts. If you are one of those and I know who some of you are, because, troubled by what they thought of as my wrongdoing, you wrote or called me directly and spoke to me with courtesy then I'm glad to count myself your brother.

Sincerely,

Orson Scott Card


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