The Mormon Church is launching a new website intended to soften the religion’s tone toward its LGBT members following a recent policy that branded married same-sex couples as “apostates.”
Mormon and Gay, an official website sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, stresses tolerance and understanding of what the church calls “same-sex attraction,” as the church has historically refused to recognize being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender as a fixed orientation or identity. The site’s front page banner stresses its new message: “God Loveth His Children.”
The changes in the church’s rhetoric are small but profound.
“Many people pray for years and do all they can to be obedient in an effort to reduce same-sex attraction, yet find they are still attracted to the same sex,” the website reads. “A change in attraction should not be expected or demanded as an outcome by parents or leaders.”
This statement is a reference to conversion therapy, the widely condemned practice of seeking to “change” the sexuality or gender identity of LGBT youth.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association advised mental health practitioners and to avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.” “There is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation,” the APA added. “Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose.”
The LDS Church spoke out against conversion therapy for the first time in March.
“The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices,” said Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the Mormon Church, in a statement. “We hope those who experience the complex realities of same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors and church members.”
“It's a nice counter to the ‘You can pray the gay away,’” Erika Munson, cofounder of Mormons Building Bridges, a support group for LGBT Mormons and their allies, told the Associated Press. “You hear that less and less in Mormonism, but it's still a big part of our culture.”
Through testimonials, the new website preaches that being LGBT isn’t a choice.
“I now speak directly to church members who experience same-sex attraction or identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual,” L. Whitney Clayton, an elder in the church, said in a video posted to the site. “We want you to know we love you. You are welcome. We want you to be part of our congregations.”
The tweaks to the religion’s official rhetoric, however, do not include changes in its doctrine. Being LGBT is still considered a “sin” in the Mormon Church.
The church has not stated how the call for inclusion and acceptance will extend to its controversial decision to bar anyone in a legally recognized same-sex union from participating in services. The policy, instituted in November 2015, also states that the children of married gay couples are blocked from baptism until they turn 18. In order to receive the blessing of Christ, children must “specifically [disavow] the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.”
This conservative shift was a shock to many after years of increasing cooperation between the Mormon Shurch and the LGBT community following the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008. The church was instrumental in the repeal of same-sex marriage in California, with many members funding the effort to overturn it at the ballot box.
That led to a great deal of soul-searching in the LDS Church as well as the historic passage of employment nondiscrimination law in Utah.
In 2015, church leaders worked with LGBT rights groups to pass a bill preventing workers from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That legislation, widely known as the “Utah Compromise,” passed by a wide margin in both the House and Senate, given the thumbs up by a combined vote of 88 to 15.
Clayton hopes that in mending the continued rift between these two groups, the website will prove a step in the right direction. In recent years, church attendance has continued to drop — especially among LGBT congregants. In a 2016 survey from John Dehlin of the Mormon Stories podcast, he found that two-thirds of LGBT respondents had left the Mormon Church. Those who stayed experienced evelated rates of depression.
“We hope it will help people minister to one another,” Clayton said. “That it will increase love, that it will help increase hope.”