Salt Lake City
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons, has stunned observers by launching a campaign urging its members to show more compassion to gays and lesbians.
The Mormon church debuted a new website, mormonsandgays.com, on Thursday, calling on Mormons to show "love and understanding" towards LGBT individuals.
"Few topics are as emotionally charged or require more sensitivity than same-sex attraction," the site says. "This complex matter touches on the things we care about most: our basic humanity, our relationship to family, our identity and potential as children of God, how we treat each other and what it means to be disciples of Christ."
"The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people," the site continues. It then goes on to drop what many observers say is a bombshell-- an acknowledgement that homosexuality is not a choice, even while affirming that homosexual behavior is still considered a sin:
"Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to react to them. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is."
"With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God's children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters," the site says.
Importantly, the site urges Mormons not to "shame or reject" gays.
"We recognize in each other our common needs for intimacy and companionship and can discuss them without shame or rejection."
Equally important, the site asserts that homosexuality "should not be viewed as an illness or a disease."
It also urges LGBT Mormons not to hide their true identities.
"Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex."
The site goes on to celebrate "our common humanity," stating that "the human family comes in every shade of difference."
This shift in attitude is remarkable, coming from an organization that did not allow blacks to become priests until 1978 and was instrumental in securing the passage of Proposition 8, the successful California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in that state.
LDS Elder D. Todd Christofferson told the Deseret News that the message behind the new outlook is "stay with us."
"When people have those [homosexual] desires and attractions, our attitude is 'stay with us,'" he said. "I think that's what God is saying: stay with me. And I think that's what we want to say in the Church: stay with us, and let's work together in friendship and commonality and brotherhood and sisterhood."
Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, a non-profit organization serving the state's LGBT community, told the Deseret News that the church's apparent shift should be applauded.
"[Utah Pride Center] applauds any institution, religious or otherwise, for increasing the availability of potentially lifesaving resources to bridge the gap in human understanding, respect and acceptance of differences."
"It is our hope that our Utah LGBTQ community will embrace the fact that saving lives may be the greatest gift of this new resource for LDS members, giving LGBTQ and questioning Mormons hope through knowing that their families and church leaders are committed to reducing judgment, rejection and isolation," Larabee added, calling the church's move a "huge step in the right direction."
Zack Ford, ThinkProgress LGBT editor, welcomed the shift, albeit with a dose of skepticism.
"These improvements over blatant ostracization and condemnation could very well save the lives of many young people and help keep families together," Ford wrote.
"However, with this approach, the Mormon Church has essentially only caught up to the 'hate the sin, not the sinner' approaches of the Catholic Church and many evangelical Christians, which are still incredibly problematic."