On December 6th, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) launched a new website designed to open the dialogue about LGBT issues inside the Mormon faith.
This had particular meaning for me, since I'm not your ordinary Mormon. But I'm not your ordinary gay man, either. For the past 16 months, I've served in a priesthood leadership role in my local Mormon congregation as my authentic self -- an openly gay man. It has been my desire for many years to start this kind of dialogue inside our Mormon community, so I take this website as a sign of hope -- guarded hope, but hope nonetheless.
I was pleased to see use of the term "gay" more regularly, instead of the primitive and mythical label "same-sex attracted" we've used to describe LGBT individuals for decades. This gives me a bit of hope that we might someday emerge from our archaic and misguided understanding of what it really means to be an LGBT individual: a complete human in the eyes of our Savior, with desires, feelings, and a sexual orientation as complex as and equal to that of our straight fellows.
While some of the videos embedded into the site continue to reflect antiquated notions and misguided concepts -- even from some gay Mormons themselves -- among them are some that are deeply thoughtful and touching, showing glimpses of authentic understanding inside the Mormon community. President Roger Carter -- my own Stake President -- is featured and the message he drives home is very clear: Keep your family together. This provides explicit guidance to parents who for years have felt compelled to choose between their gay child and their church, and helps eliminate the terrible choice some Mormon parents feel compelled to make when they discover their child is gay.
The personal story of Judy was particularly poignant. She talked about one gay member, who struggled to figure out his place inside the faith, and he got an answer to his prayers. That answer was "You belong here. Not when you have it all figured out, not when you're straight, but right here -- right now." I am that member. I have for many years believed that we, as LGBT Mormons, belong inside our faith -- our testimonies, our strength, our commitment to being our authentic selves as gay children of our Heavenly Parents enriches our communities and fortifies our faith as a whole.
While this doesn't represent changes to some of the more troubling doctrinal issues inside the Mormon faith when it comes to LGBT Mormons, it does mark cultural change -- and that is step in the right direction, however small.
Baby steps matter. They add up.
But as in almost all things our faith does to help LGBT Mormons, we fall short. This site really does more to help straight members than it does LGBT members, and really just brushes the surface -- and does so in ways that aren't particularly helpful. We didn't include the remarkable research done by the Family Acceptance Project that demonstrates evidence-based ways Mormon families and communities can respond to LGBT individuals in a way that keeps them safe from significant health risks, including depression and suicide. I think that's a significant miss here.
And it's time for the Mormon community to stop simply talking about what our Savior would do, and roll up our sleeves and actually do it. In order for LGBT Mormons to truly begin to have a different experience inside our faith, we need to move beyond words -- and begin to do things differently.
It's my hope that local Mormon leaders will look at this website and begin to emulate what we're doing here in the San Francisco Bay Area: opening the doors to everyone, without fear of judgment or excommunication. That means that every LGBT Mormon who chooses can be part of our ward family as their authentic selves: whether they're living inside the confines of the policy as we understand it today, in a monogamous committed relationship with a spouse of their same gender, or dating someone new every night.
Our Savior's message was simple: "Love one another." There was no asterisk on that statement. There is no test to take to be included in His circle. And once we, as Mormons, grasp that more fully and include our LGBT brothers and sisters unconditionally, we can begin to consider ourselves one step closer to emulating the kind of love our Savior already has for all of us.
Gay Mormons belong inside our family of faith. Our Savior wants us there. We belong to Him. We always have.
Once our straight Mormon fellows understand that fact -- and begin to act differently -- we'll have the seeds of truly remarkable change.