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LDS Church’s new ‘Mormon and Gay’ website wins cheers and some jeers for ignoring controversial policy

First Published      Last Updated Oct 25 2016 10:41 pm

‘Mormon and Gay’ » Softened stance elicits cheers and some criticism for ignoring controversial policies; the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage is unchanged.

Much has changed for gays and lesbians since 2012 in the U.S. and many parts of the world — same-sex marriage is legal, for starters — so the LDS Church decided it was time to redo, revise and reboot its website addressing that population.

Among the biggest changes? The letter "s."

The previous site was known as "Mormons and Gays" — as if those two groups were separate or even opponents. The one that launched Tuesday is "Mormon and Gay," signaling the notion that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be — and are — both.

Unlike the former site, which had a home on the internet separate from the church's official one, causing some to wonder how seriously to take the counsel, pronouncements and mandates, the new materials are found on lds.org. Bringing this content under that umbrella is seen as a key move, showing authoritative approval that stretches up to the faith's governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Like the previous version, "Mormon and Gay" features video clips of LDS gays, lesbians, their family and friends, sharing agonizing accounts of dealing with their own or others' sexuality. It also highlights short sermons from church leaders, including advice from Carol F. McConkie, a counselor in the Young Women general presidency for teenage girls, who says, "I know people who come to church every Sunday … and walk away feeling judged and unneeded, like there is no place for [them] at church."

Mormons at every level "need to do this differently," McConkie says. "We cannot allow judgment to dictate the way we interact with people. It's just not right."

There are sections dealing with definitions (the use of "same-sex attraction" vs. "gay," for instance), tips for parents, whether to seek professional counseling, and help with suicidal thoughts and depression.

Outsiders and insiders offer restrained praise for the Utah-based faith's efforts — though many point to the site's failure to address or even mention the church's hotly disputed policy labeling same-sex Mormon couples "apostates" and forbidding their children from religious rites until they turn 18.

"For the mother of a recently discovered LGBT kid in Alpine, southern Utah, rural Idaho or in other areas of the world, it's a step forward," says state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City and an openly gay member of the Utah Legislature. "The trajectory seems to be going in the right direction."

Ty Mansfield, a board member of North Star, a support group for believing gay Latter-day Saints and their loved ones, goes even further.

The site is "really good," says Mansfield, a marriage and family therapist in Utah County. LDS officials "were trying to walk a sensitive balance between doctrinal fidelity [the teaching that heavenly sanctioned marriage is only between a man and a woman] and trying to convey a sense of empathy, compassion and outreach."

What he likes about this new mormonandgay.org is that the personal narratives are not just about a single individual, but include other voices with each video — parents, siblings, friends, bishops.

"These are broader stories that encompass a constellation of people, a network," Mansfield says. "It provides a nice sense of the community and relationships we each need."

The site's language may be softer, but the church's position on homosexual relationships remains hard and fast: Being gay is not a sin; just acting on it is.

That leaves Josh Searle — a gay Mormon in Idaho who entered same-sex relationships before being disciplined by the faith and returning to the fold — with few choices.

"Am I doomed to live a life of misery and loneliness as I try to live a celibate life? Is my choice to remain single and try to be celibate emotionally or mentally healthy, or even possible?" Searle asks in one of the site's featured videos.

Living as a celibate gay member "is difficult," he concedes. "There are sacrifices made, lonely nights felt, and sorrow that the eye cannot see. But God has blessed me with moments where I emphatically say I am here to stay the course."

Mormon gay activist Kendall Wilcox applauds the new website, especially the church's willingness to allow interviewees to use terms like "gay and lesbian," rather than insisting on the less-common term "same-sex attracted."

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