SALT LAKE CITY — With a clear invitation to gay Mormons to “stay with us,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched a new website aimed at providing “greater sensitivity and better understanding” among Latter-day Saints with regards to same-sex attraction.
“When people have those (same-sex) desires and attractions our attitude is, ‘stay with us,’” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during a video that introduces the subject of the website. “I think that’s what God is saying: stay with me. And I think that’s what we want to say in the church: stay with us, and let’s work together in friendship and commonality and brotherhood and sisterhood.
“Here (in the church) more than anywhere, it’s important that there be love, that there be hope,” Elder Christofferson continued. “We want to be with you and work together.”
The website is part of an effort by the church “to teach and clarify the church’s positions” on various issues, said LDS spokesman Michael Purdy.
“There are some aspects of our belief and practice that are simply not well understood,” Purdy continued, adding that other issues will be addressed by the church in a similar fashion during the next few weeks.
Production for the site has been underway for more than two years, Purdy said.
"Too often these types of big, important issues are dealt with in sound bites, and often by individuals who do not have the complete picture of what the church is doing," Purdy said. "We hope (the website) will be a resource for better understanding and better communication."
Rather than provide a detailed presentation of LDS doctrine and policies relative to homosexuality, the website relies on text and video to “show the human face of a sensitive matter.”
Drawing extensively from personal, real-life stories told by members of the church who have first-hand experience with same-sex attraction themselves or through close friends and family members, the website’s stated objective is to help Latter-day Saints “come together to foster a climate of goodwill and a determination to understand the workings of God in each individual life.”
“We’re not endeavoring here to cover the waterfront and address every issue that could be, and needs to be, addressed in different settings relating to same-sex attraction,” Elder Christofferson said. “The idea is to open all of us to greater understanding.”
On the website, he said, “you’ll hear stories and experiences from people with quite a diversity of backgrounds and perceptions. They are genuine. They are real and authentic We feel this can only lead to greater sensitivity and better understanding among people, and that’s what we’re about.”
After being given an opportunity to explore the new website on Monday, Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, a non-profit organization that serves Utah's gay community, said she "applauds any institution, religious or otherwise, for increasing the availability of potentially lifesaving resources to bridge the gap in human understanding, respect and acceptance of differences."
"It is my hope that our Utah LGBTQ community will embrace the fact that saving lives may be the greatest gift of this new resource for LDS members, giving LGBTQ and questioning Mormons hope through knowing that their families and church leaders are committed to reducing judgment, rejection and isolation," Larabee said. "Having a resource whose purpose is to help Mormon families and leadership recognize the ways they can reduce the isolation and rejection often felt by LGBTQ or questioning Mormons is a huge step in the right direction."
Similarly, Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, a civil rights organization that focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, acknowledged the efforts of LDS leaders in creating what she called an "important resource for the LDS faithful to better understand gay and transgender people, and their lived experiences."
"We appreciate the level of demonstrated commitment to building communities based on our shared values: compassion, understanding and respect," Balken said.
"I think it is extraordinary," said Jim Dabakis, chairman of the Utah State Democratic Party, recently elected state legislator and an outspoken advocate of gay rights. "I'm very pleased with the website and its message. It shows wisdom, and the ability to temper doctrine in love that is the essence of Christianity.
"The church has its doctrine," Debakis continued. "But at the core of Christian doctrine is love and acceptance and understanding. This website is the beginning of an education process that will allow Latter-day Saints all over the world to speak about LGBT issues and not hide the discussion."
In a brief video on the website, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve makes it clear that the doctrine of the church – that sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married – “has not changed and is not changing.” But he also acknowledges that “there is so much that we don’t understand about this subject that we do well to stay with what we know from the revealed word of God.”
“What is changing, and what needs to change, is to help our own members and families understand how to deal with same-gender attraction.”
Among the issues not discussed on the website is the controversial subject of gay marriage.
“The church’s position on marriage is clear,” Purdy said. In 1995, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” in which the church’s position was stated: “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.”
Even so, Purdy noted that it is not the intent of the site to address every issue related to same-sex attraction.
“Rather, the site is a collection of personal reflections and experiences to help people understand the issue better and to better address it inside their families, their congregations and their communities,” Purdy continued. “The church has consistently recognized that this is a difficult issue for many, and has called for civility and respect in dealing with it. This site is another reminder and tool to make that happen.”
According to the website, the posted statements from Elder Oaks and Elder Christofferson “reflect the sentiments and teachings of the highest church authorities – the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” But the rest of the website comes from the thoughts of church members who speak “from the heart.” While their words “may not necessarily represent in every word and detail the policies or positions of the LDS Church,” they “speak with authenticity because they reflect what has happened in their own lives and the experiences of those they love.”
“It is important that people hear the first-hand experiences of others,” Purdy said. “Much like no two stories are the same, there is no one approach to addressing same-sex attraction.”
And that, Elder Christofferson said, is critical for everyone to understand.
“Each case is different and each person is different,” he said. “We don’t take a uniform position and say ‘yes’ always or ‘no’ always.”
Elder Christofferson also observed that “although we don’t know everything, we know enough to be able to say that same-sex attraction is not itself sin. The feeling, the desire is not classified the same as homosexual behavior itself.”
Sexual identification, he continued, “is but one aspect of any person’s life, and it need not become the consuming element of any person’s life.”
What is important, he said, is “how we relate to one another, how we preserve hope and understanding and love, and how we struggle together in some cases.”
“We want people to feel that they have a home here (in the LDS Church), and that we have much more in common than anything that’s different about us,” Elder Christofferson said.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company