In recent weeks, media sources across the country have covered several suicides by young people wrestling with same-gender attraction. These heartbreaking accounts have brought national attention to the anguished lives of youths confused by strong feelings that can put them at odds with the expectations of friends, family, community or church. What has made these stories particularly horrifying is the brutal and belittling behavior that preceded each suicide.
To any affected by such tragedy, we express sorrow and we condemn the incivility that violated the dignity of these youths.
This week, activists for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community have attempted to raise our community's consciousness about the challenges facing LGBT youths. This consciousness raising has been styled as a reaction to a talk by President Boyd Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, given at the church's 180th Semiannual General Conference last Sunday.
This focused attention on the LDS Church is deeply ironic given the church's shared condemnation of hate and violence toward gays and lesbians, its mutual support of anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians and its compassionate ministry to LDS Church members who have same-gender attraction.
This past week, the LDS Church re-emphasized "that there is no room in this discussion for hatred or mistreatment of anyone." This is not new — it mirrors, for example, how the LDS Church helped to champion a Salt Lake City ordinance banning discrimination of gays and lesbians in housing and employment. And it is consistent with how the LDS Church has ministered to members with same-gender attraction.
In a 2007 article in the LDS Church's Ensign magazine, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland relates a conversation with a self-described gay member of the LDS Church: "You are first and foremost a son of God, and He loves you. What's more, I love you. My Brethren among the General Authorities love you."
Interestingly, given the events of this week, Elder Holland spoke about other church leaders: "I'm reminded of a comment President Boyd K. Packer made in speaking to those with same-gender attraction. 'We do not reject you,' he said. '… We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you.' "
While opposing all sexual relations outside of traditional marriage, the LDS Church has consistently reached out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.
Perhaps the focused attention has come because the LDS Church continues to assert principled opposition to same-sex marriage, a view shared by most Americans. Indeed, the majority of states have passed legislation clarifying that marriage is between a man and a woman. For activists in the LGBT community who reject what Latter-day Saints and members of other faith traditions believe to be the divine origins of marriage between man and woman, there may simply not be room for agreement on this important issue.
Because of our concern for civility and respect, we find common ground with those who, with dignity, wish to condemn hatred and violence against those who struggle with same-gender attraction.
Nonetheless, tactics used this week ostensibly to accomplish these purposes were counterproductive. Instead of seeking genuine common ground around issues of mutual concern, activists began this week with a grossly misguided caricature of the LDS Church's support of traditional morality.
The tactic is now all-too familiar: take a statement out of context, embellish it with selective interpretation, presume hostile intent, and then use the distortion to isolate an entire group, in this case a church.
We encourage all to read President Packer's talk rather than simply rely on the media interpretations and selective quotations. It stretches all credulity to find in President Packer's pastoral counsel what some are calling a hateful message "that can lead some kids to bully and others to commit suicide." Contrary to what some have written in provocative press releases, nothing in President Packer's talk says that "violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable."
This distortion is not only misguided and political, it is dangerous. It frays trust that helps people of goodwill from different perspectives to constructively address the serious problems under consideration. By holding up a caricatured account of people's spiritual leaders, those in greatest need of pastoral care may be mistakenly alienated from the very people who can compassionately help them get access to professional resources and counseling.
The challenges facing the families and individuals affected by same-gender attraction are poignant and real. Religion provides a unique perspective on how these challenges can be addressed that has every right to be heard and evaluated on the merits. Indeed, religious organizations provide the vital infrastructure for the economy of care that undergirds our community. For the sake of our youths and the health of our communities, we call for thoughtful and civil dialogue on this and all difficult conversations. That dialogue should respect context, should not prejudge motive and must work to include instead of isolate.