Monday, April 7, 2008

LDS Church Officials Agree To A Sitdown With Gay Mormon Support Group Affirmation - No Change In Church Doctrine On Homosexuality Expected

While President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Thomas S. Monson was reaching out publicly to the "inactive" and "offended" during his first Conference address at the just-concluded 178th Annual General Conference on April 6th, 2008, LDS leaders have already been reaching out more privately towards gay Mormons. Church officials have apparently agreed to meet with a gay Mormon support group that has sought to forge understanding between the faith's leaders and its gay members. Full stories reported by KSL Channel 5, the Deseret Morning News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Provo Daily Herald. Note that although these media links all have essentially the same story, each link also has public comments appended which might be of interest to the reader.

In a letter received last week, leaders of Affirmation, which has emerged as a leading support group for gay Mormons, were invited to meet with Fred M. Riley, commissioner of Family Services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Harold C. Brown, the agency's past commissioner. "We're pleased the church is opening up the possibility for dialogue," said Dave Melson, Affirmation's assistant executive director. "Affirmation has tried 5 or 6 times over the past 31 years to meet with church leaders. This is their second response. The first resulted in platitudes and nothing more."

The church's letter apparently is in response to an appeal by Affirmation for dialogue issued back in February 2008, just three days after 80-year-old Thomas S. Monson was named president of the 13 million-member church. And President Monson apparently took a personal interest; Riley's letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, says he and Brown were asked by Monson to meet with Affirmation on his behalf. "We believe that is always important to have the opportunity to be given better understanding of your points of view so that the church can appropriately understand your organization and how best to be helpful," Riley wrote.

The meeting is scheduled for August, Riley confirmed Sunday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Among the specifics Affirmation wants to address: the historical treatment of gays by the church, including recommendations for aversion therapies to "cure" homosexuality; recommendations for more effective counseling methods; ways to avoid family break-ups; and a change in the honor code at church-owned Brigham Young University that can result in expulsion for sexually active gay students. The same standard applies to straight students. Affirmation claims these changes would not require a change in the church's basic doctrine. LDS doctrine holds that homosexuality is another form of sexual misconduct, the practice of which can lead to disfellowshipment or excommunication. However, the Church has also stated that it is the practice of homosexuality which trigger sanctions; mere homosexual orientation alone will not result in any sanctions as long as one remains celibate.

Affirmation's Dave Melson does not believe the Church is merely trying to placate Affirmation, nor does he anticipate any immediate changes. "They said that there won't be immediate changes, but they are definitely interested in helping ... that they are sincere," Melson said. "We would like to start to a dialogue, even if it isn't immediately fruitful".

For Affirmation, which has about 2,000 gay, lesbian and transgender members worldwide, an official meeting with anyone from the church organization is unprecedented. Founded in secret by gay students at BYU in 1977, Affirmation has traditionally been ignored by church leaders.

LDS Family Services, with offices across the country, is the only church-endorsed source of counsel for gay members and their families. All therapists are licensed and trained to use treatments that best fit the individual. However, LDS Family Services has used some controversial techniques, including electroshock, as part of their strategy. In a 2007 interview posted on the Church website, Apostle Dallin Oaks acknowledged that some abusive practices, including over-medication and aversion therapies, had been used in the past and phased out by professionals over time. Oaks said the church has no position on the types of treatment used by doctors and accepts no responsibility for out-of-date treatments.

Analysis: Perhaps one reason why the Church has responded to Affirmation's invitation is because, for the first time, Affirmation has explicitly stated "no change in Church doctrine is expected". To tell a church to change its doctrine just to make you happy provides no incentive for dialogue. So Affirmation is merely asking the Church to apply its existing doctrine in a more inclusive fashion.

This is a positive step for a gay rights lobby, for it shows that Affirmation is not trying to supersede the public interest with its agenda, but may be working to better tailor its agenda to fit within the framework of the greater public interest. Finally, we may have a gay rights lobby that merely asks us to tolerate them, and not to embrace or celebrate them.

This is a more realistic strategy. Too many of us, as a matter of conscience, will never accept homosexuality as a legitimate alternative lifestyle, so the gay rights lobbies waste valuable political capital and promote backlash against individual gays by forcing this issue.

And while the LDS Church once denied blacks the priesthood, it wasn't due to misconduct. Being black was never defined as an excommunicable offense. But the practice of homosexuality, by Church definition, is an excommunicable offense. So the Church is unlikely to change its position on the issue. It is foolish for the gay rights lobby to advocate under the false flag of the racial civil rights movement.

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