Independent Mormon historian and scientist Gregory Prince holds fast to his faith, but he believes just as strongly that his church eventually must find a way to fully embrace its LGBT adherents.
Such views have been milestones in Prince’s decadeslong mission to merge his secular renown as a leading infectious disease researcher with his lifelong membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In his former role, he has written or co-written some 150 scholarly papers. As a chronicler of LDS history, he has published numerous books, among them the award-winning “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism“ and, more recently, a biography of the late LDS historian Leonard J. Arrington.
On Wednesday night, Prince will share some of that journey — and his hopes for his faith’s future — in a University of Utah Tanner Humanities Center lecture at Salt Lake City’s downtown library, 210 E. 400 South.
His address, “Science vs. Dogma: Biology Challenges the LDS Paradigm,” will call on Mormon leadership to “rethink” its long-held conclusions about LGBT people — including those within its own ranks.
Historically, at least, “all LDS policies, doctrines and attitudes toward homosexuality have been built on the assumption of it being a choice that can be unchosen,” Prince told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday.
The Utah-based faith currently holds that the cause of same-sex attraction is unknown and teaches that being gay is not a sin, only acting on it is. It opposes same-sex marriage.
Prince — also a board member of Affirmation, a support organization for LGBT Mormons, their families and friends — insists that, “The arc of science continues to bend in the direction of showing that homosexuality is complex and multifactorial.”
Indeed, Prince adds, researchers believe same-sex attraction stems from “a biological imprint of the brain that is established during fetal development and is immutable.”
Prince credits the LDS Church for “significant change” in some same-sex-attraction-related policies in recent decades. Still, there remains “a strong homophobic strain within many church members and some church leaders.”
“The future composition and vitality of the church will, to a large extent, be reflective of the ability of the church to project moral authority and social justice on [gay] issues,” Prince predicts.
The LDS Church has made progress toward a more inclusive view on LGBT matters in recent years, Prince notes, though he points to an ebb and flow of helpful and harmful steps.
The church’s open support of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 — an eventually overturned push to define marriage as only male-female — brought a stunning backlash both outside and within the faith.
“That caught the people in Utah, and particularly church leaders,” Prince says, “by surprise in its immediacy and ferocity.”
The nationwide reaction also proved “the catalytic event in opening up an ongoing dialogue with the LGBT community, both outside and inside the church,” Prince says.
In 2015, the LDS Church threw its hefty support behind legislation banning employment and housing discrimination against LGBT individuals. The predominantly Mormon, Republican Legislature passed it overwhelmingly. Later that year, however, church leaders unveiled a policy labeling gay Mormon couples as “apostates” and generally forbidding their children from LDS religious rites until they turn 18.
Earlier this month, the Mormon church signed on in support of a Colorado baker arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court over the right on religious grounds to refuse baking a wedding cake for a gay couple.
That, Prince believes, was another step backward — one indicative of “ongoing tension” within LDS culture over just how far the church should go on LGBT issues.
“It’s been a bumpy road,” he acknowledges, but he remains hopeful that some day his church will offer “full equality, full fellowship” to its members regardless of their “sexual identity or gender identity.”
Those hopes inform some of what he plans to include in a future book, Prince says.
Prince’s Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture will be held at the library at 7 p.m. Admission is free.
Prince will follow his speech with a book signing event hosted by Salt Lake City’s King’s English Bookshop.