Hundreds of gay Mormons, their families and friends will meet in Salt Lake City this weekend to explore issues of homosexuality and same-sex attraction at a conference titled "Circling the Wagons."
The purpose of the conference, sponsored by researcher John Dehlin, along with Mormon Stories and Open Stories Foundation, is "to create a space where LGBTQ or SSA individuals and their families and allies can gather to acknowledge, explore and honor shared experiences."
It will bring together speakers such as author and playwright, Carol Lynn Pearson, retired Brigham Young University microbiology professor Bill Bradshaw, Utah State Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis, filmmaker Kendall Wilcox, psychologist Lee Beckstead, as well as Dehlin, who has helped conduct online research within the LDS gay community.
A recent online poll, co-sponsored by Bradshaw and Renee Galliher of Utah State University, invited commenters from Mormon blogs, Facebook, LDS gay and lesbian support groups, media outlets and word of mouth.
Researchers found nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the 1,600 respondents had tried to change their orientation, and 86 percent classified church counseling that sought to end their same-sex attraction as not helpful, somewhat harmful or severely harmful.
About a third (29 percent) of the respondents said they remained active in the LDS faith, a little more than a third were inactive (36 percent) and 26 percent asked to have their names removed from the church's membership rolls.
Still, nearly 70 percent said they believed in God, 52 percent believed in Jesus Christ, and 36 percent believed that LDS Church founder Joseph Smith was "a prophet of God."
The question of a Christian response to same-sex attraction became paramount to Jimmy Creech, one of the conference's featured speakers and a former United Methodist minister, when a member of his congregation came out as gay.
Creech, now retired and living in North Carolina, studied various translations and interpretations of the Bible's passages about homosexuality. He concluded that the translations "had been botched and dangerously distorted," he wrote, "and came to believe that discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is morally wrong."
Since then, Creech has performed several same-gender commitment ceremonies, which caused the United Methodist Church to revoke his ordination credentials.
"No issues strike more deeply than who we love and how we understand and honor God," organizers said in a news release. "These issues carry an especially profound weight in Mormon communities and have been the source of a great deal of misunderstanding, judgment and hurt. Consequently, gay Mormons are deeply divided over how to address same-sex attraction and negotiate the choices they face."
About the conference
"Circling the Wagons" will run Friday through Sunday. The main portion of the conference will be Saturday at the First Baptist Church, 777 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City. For times, other locations and registration information, go to http://mormonstories.org/?p=1962.