Mormon bishop says church responsible for gays' emotional wounds
The way gays are treated and perceived by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an "atrocity," an LDS bishop from Illinois told a group of gay Mormons Sunday.
"If you leave here not remembering what I have to say, remember this: I'm sorry," Bishop Kevin Kloosterman said at an interfaith service held at the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City.
Kloosterman spoke at the final event of a weekend-long seminar dedicated to exploring gay Mormon issues, titled Circling the Wagons. He said he recently became aware of LGBT issues and had a "mighty change of heart."
"I began to see the emotional wounds and scars that many of you have today," Kloosterman said, "and I began to ask, 'Where did you get these wounds?' And the answer, unfortunately, was in the house of my friends.
"The straight members of the church have a lot of repenting to do," he said.
He clarified that he was speaking only on his own behalf and did not intend to represent the views of the church.
The conference drew about 300 people from across the country, said John Dehlin, a researcher and founder of Mormon Stories and the Open Stories Foundation, the organizations that hosted the event.
"I thought it was highly significant just to have a sitting bishop who cares so much for these issues that he's willing to fly himself out here and speak publicly."
Kloosterman was joined Sunday by the Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, the executive officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, as well as Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist minister who lost his ordinational credentials after officiating at many same-sex commitment ceremonies.
In 2002, the Episcopal Church became the first in a major Christian denomination to elect an openly gay bishop.
"Have patience," Nestler said. "God is not done with any church yet."
Creech said that in 1998 he officiated at a marriage ceremony for two women in Nebraska, one of whom was raised LDS in Salt Lake City and tried to commit suicide twice before leaving the church and choosing to live openly as a lesbian.
"There is something about love that is revolutionary," Creech said. "That pushes down barriers."
Michael Ferguson, a 29-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of Utah, said he attended the service Sunday in search of "wholeness," the continued pursuit of trying to reconcile his sexual orientation with the conservative Mormon values he was raised with.
"That might sound trite," he said. "But I think it's indispensable."
Ferguson said he moved to Salt Lake from New York City two years ago in search of that wholeness, wanting to make sure he was not merely being influenced by his environment.
He has since stopped attending church, he said.
Dehlin said research he has conducted in association with Utah State University has shown that 70 percent of gay Mormons end up leaving the church.
That is unacceptable, Kloosterman said.
"We all need to change our thoughts," he said.