Elder Von Keetch of the Seventy died suddenly last week. He was just 57 years old:
I did not know him. I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe that I ever met him.
However, I look in, most days, on a virulently anti-Mormon and mostly atheist message board. It provides a window for me onto what the latest enthusiasms and fashions are in those often fascinating circles.
I’ve been interested in the reaction of some there to the death of Elder Keetch. To call that reaction hateful would be far too mild. They’re rejoicing at his passing and calling down curses on his head. One suggested, before the details of his sudden passing became public, that he might have “offed himself.” The most mild comment condemns him for unspecified “corruption.”
The reason Elder Keetch has been singled out for such vitriolic contempt is the fact that he was the Church’s principal legal advocate for a couple of decades, long before his call to the Seventy in 2015 — and that, as such, he was centrally involved in the court battles over California’s Proposition 8 and the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships.
Opponents of Proposition 8, you’ll probably recall, often styled it Proposition H8. And yet the only overt hatred that I have seen in this regard has invariably come from proponents of same-sex “marriage,” from enemies of Proposition 8. They destroyed careers, vandalized churches, and so forth.
The message-board reactions to Elder Keetch’s death that I’ve read are simply further (redundant) examples of that seething, vicious hatred.
In fact, some of the participants on that board have worked themselves up to such an ecstasy of rage and personal hostility that, now, they’ve begun to rejoice retrospectively over the premature deaths of two other defenders of the millennia-old concept of marriage — a pair of men, one a lawyer and the other a psychologist, whom I happen to have known slightly and to have liked very much.
As I’ve reflected on their behavior, I’ve asked myself whether I have ever hated anyone so much, and my honest answer has to be that, no, I never have. Not even close.
I’ve read about jubilant parties outside prisons where unrepentant mass murderers have just been executed, and I’ve found them profoundly wrong and unseemly. Even such deaths, to me, are tragic. Sorrowful. When Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006, when ‘Usama b. Ladin was killed in 2011, I felt that grim justice had been served — but I experienced no urge whatever to rejoice or to celebrate.
Alma 14 tells the story of the missionaries Alma and Amulek, who — imprisoned, bound with cords, beaten, deprived of water, and starved in the apostate city of Ammonihah — are forced to watch as their male converts are stoned and driven from the city and as the women and children who have accepted their teaching are burned alive.
The perpetrators of those horrors then mock and taunt Alma and Amulek, “gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?” (Alma 14:21).
The answer to that question, of course, is that they will look exactly as they did at that very moment. Such ugliness is the very essence of Hell.
Of course, not all of those who lose their faith become such horrors. Most don’t. They simply drift away. But those who do suffer that transmogrification provide powerful cautionary examples: Don’t ever become like that. And, if you find yourself going that way, think about what you’re becoming and pull back before you no longer can.
P.S. I myself am often the object of such hatred. Most directly relevant here, I’ve even occasionally read fantasies from such folks about the grotesque and sometimes obscene things that they hope to do to my grave, once the world is rid of my intolerably poisonous existence. I suppose that I should be grateful, in a sense, that Elder Keetch’s passing has temporarily distracted them from their obsessive fixation on me. They seem to need objects of hatred.
I can’t help but be reminded of the daily “Two Minutes Hate” in George Orwell’s great dystopian novel Nineteen Eight-Four:
On most days, at least on that one message board, I appear to play the role of Emmanuel Goldstein, enemy of the State. It’s nice to have a few hours off. In the meanwhile, I pray for the family of Elder Von G. Keetch, who was, by all reasonable accounts, a very good man.