In this Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 file photo, women walk by a statue of Joseph and Emma Smith outside the church office building during the 182nd Semiannual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently announced a new Web site featuring outreach to its gay members.
Early Thursday of last week I received a call from a friend and reporter for the BYU Student Review, letting me know that the long awaited and rumored new Web site from the LDS Church about homosexuality had just gone live. Pulling up www.mormonsandgays.org on my iPhone, my hands shook with great anticipation and also concern – what if it wasn’t all that I’d hope it would be? What if it was better than I expected?
The first thing that impressed me was the use of the word “gay” in the Web site’s URL–the beauty alone of putting the words “Mormons and gays” together seemed to formalize a relationship. Then, as I scrolled through the site I saw several important messages presented: 1) sexuality is not a choice, 2) love and be inclusive of your gay and lesbian family members, friends, and church members, and 3) listen and seek to understand them.
The site conveyed the importance of unconditional love and acceptance within families and in LDS congregations – respecting individuals to make their own hard choices and refraining from characterizing individuals who have chosen different paths as bad people. It emphasized the importance of being real and authentic and truly set a tone of viewing LGBT individuals as “us” rather than “them.”
I thought of the unique Mormon scripture:
With this new Web site, the church seems to be finally encouraging those members who had been previously unwilling “of their own free will,” to accept and include their gay family and church members on religious grounds, to now engage in Christian empathy and understanding around the subject of homosexuality.
In many ways, the church’s new outreach can be seen as a formal recognition of the ongoing grassroots activism done freely by Mormons in the spirit of Christian love. Over the past few years, work has dramatically accelerated among many straight and gay members of the church – from creating videos of the authentic lives of gay Mormons from around the world, to the creation of podcasts and forums for discussing difficult Mormon subjects – homosexuality in particular, to the hundreds of Mormon allies who marched in Salt Lake City’s Pride parade, and the many other hundreds combined who marched in 17 Pride parades worldwide to demonstrate their love for their LGBT brothers and sisters. Much of this also coincided with spiritual renewals at LGBT Mormon “Affirmation” gatherings in the oldest LDS Temple in Kirtland, Ohio and most recently in Seattle, Washington.
Last week’s new site is also a perfect example of how Mormonism’s unique belief in continuing revelation works. Continuing revelation not only requires the highest leadership of the church to wrestle with and pray over issues not yet settled, but it also requires the average member to anxiously engage of their own free will in working towards what they, by personal revelation, feel inspired is right. Eventually, the two meet – like last Thursday.
Many would argue that what happened last week was not revelation – because it does still call my same-sex relationship a sin, does not offer me full fellowship in the church and the same message was already taught by Jesus almost 2000 years ago. Maybe so, but one thing has been clearly revealed – the parent, sibling, neighbor, or church leader who does not seek to love, include and understand their fellow gay Mormon is now clearly found in sin. This has already made an impact in the lives of various people I know personally, including one friend’s sister who apologized openly on Facebook for how she had previously treated her gay brother. It will make even a more profound impact in homes and congregations in the developing world where the church is growing the fastest and where homophobia is persistent.
One essential question remains unanswered: What does this call for love and understanding really mean for gay Mormons who are seeking or already in committed same-sex relationships and want to be involved in the church but currently feel like a group of the poor, described in a Book of Mormon story, who felt they could not even worship in their own synagogues? (Alma 32:5) What will it take for more church leaders and members to act of their own free will, as those in a handful of wards and stakes are doing today (including mine), and proactively reach out to and include all gay members despite their relationship status? How can we really get them to focus on the Christian imperatives of inclusion over exclusion, ministering over disciplining, and meeting people where they are and bringing them to Christ?
In my opinion, the Web site will have only reached its full value when we finally see LGBT Mormons feel welcome in every LDS ward around the globe. In my dream, I see them contributing their talents and gifts with their ward community and I see straight members opening up their homes to them. I see the gay couple sitting together in the pews with a straight couple next to them, while both couple’s children crawl around together below the pew. I see them helping care for the sick and afflicted, mentoring youth, singing in the choir, performing musical numbers, receiving and giving home teaching visits and sharing their testimonies in church – despite their relationship status. I see them using their understanding of what it feels like to be outcast as a balm for reaching down and helping the least of God’s children. This is my dream, and for me and a few others it is beginning to come true. Now, let’s as Latter-day Saints not wait again to be commanded in all things. Let’s follow our church’s call to Christian love and make this dream come true.
Randall Thacker is president elect of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons which supports LGBT Mormons, their families and allies by encouraging spirituality, providing information resources and working for equality.