SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A top leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints laid out Saturday how the faith intends to navigate its delicate balance of firm opposition to same-sex relationships while being empathetic toward LGTBQ members.
People should love everyone no matter their difference, but the zeal to achieve that doesn’t mean people should forget the faith’s belief that God’s laws prohibit gay marriage and prevents people in those relationships from receiving heavenly salvation, said Dallin H. Oaks, a member of a top church governing board called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Our walk demands that we not compromise on commandments but show forth a full measure of understanding and love. Our walk must be considerate of children who are uncertain about their sexual orientation, but it discourages premature labeling because in most children such uncertainty decreases significantly over time,” said Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court Justice. “Our walk opposes recruitment away from the covenant path, and it denies support to any who lead people away from the Lord. In all of this, we remember that God promises hope and ultimate joy and blessings for all who keep his commandments.”
It marked the third time in the last month that Oaks or church President Russell M. Nelson has spoken about LGBTQ issues and the faith’s continued doctrinal rejection of gay marriage despite widespread societal acceptance.
Earlier this week, Oaks said in a statement released by the church that a person’s gender assigned at birth is “essential to the plan of salvation” and expressed mystery about why people face confusion over sexual identity or sexual orientation.
Oaks’ speech followed pleas by two fellow leaders during the twice-yearly church conference in Salt Lake City to adhere to the faith’s strict rules despite mocking from others or temptations by Satan.
Quorum member D. Todd Christofferson bemoaned what he called a “hedonistic age” that leads many people to ignore God’s teachings.
“This is a day of sometimes merciless attacks in social media and in person against those who seek to uphold the Lord’s standard in dress, entertainment and sexual purity,” Christofferson said.
Fellow Quorum member David A. Bednar said Satan tries to make people confused and unhappy and use their bodies “improperly” and “love as we should not love.”
Several blocks away from the conference, hundreds of people that included many ex-members of the faith gathered Saturday morning to call on the church and other religions to implement stronger rules to prevent child abuse and make sure young Latter-day Saints aren’t asked inappropriate questions about their adherence to the faith’s rules for sexual behavior.
The “Protect Every Child” group is led by Sam Young, who was kicked out of the religion last year after his public opposition to closed-door, one-on-one interviews of youth where he and his followers say inappropriate sexual questions lead to shame and guilt.
Former church member Stuart Shellenberger held a sign that read, “Protect every child. No sexual questions.” The 41-year-old father of five from Show Low, Arizona, said he was asked inappropriate sexual questions when he was a youth, and he wants the faith to ban those questions in the interviews.
Church leaders have defended the so-called “worthiness” interviews as an important way for bishops to get to know youth better and determine their religious habits and obedience to God. The church changed its policy last year to allow children to bring a parent or adult with them and published the list of questions that are asked.
Lisa Thredgold, who left the faith two years ago, the changes were a good step. But she said it would better to scrap the interviews all together.
“In my eyes, all children are worthy,” said Thredgold, 42, of Salt Lake City. “There’s no reason to interview them for their worthiness. In God’s eyes, they’re worthy.”
The two-day conference comes during a period of heightened anticipation and excitement about what Nelson might do next following a dizzying number of policy changes he has made during his first two years at the helm of the faith.
Earlier this week, Nelson announced that women can now be official “witnesses” at two key ceremonies — baptisms and temple sealings for married couples — in a move considered to be a small but important step toward breaking down rigid gender roles in the religion. Nelson said Saturday he hopes the changes will increase family participation in the events that are so important to the religion widely known as the Mormon church.
He also told women they have a “unique moral compass” and are vital to the religion, even though they can’t hold the priesthood or top leadership positions.
He announced Saturday a change to the organizational structure at the congregational level that will put local leaders called bishops in closer contact with young members of the church, and evenly distribute funds for youth activities between girls and boys. Nelson also announced that eight new temples will be built around the world.
The changes add to a long to a long list of noteworthy moves made by the 95-year-old former heart surgeon since he assumed the post in January 2018.
He hasn’t touched core doctrine, but he has launched a campaign calling on people to stop using the shorthand names “Mormon” and “LDS,” severed the faith’s century-old ties with the Boy Scouts of America and shortened Sunday worship by an hour.
He also rescinded rules banning baptisms for children of gay parents and branding same-sex couples apostates subject to excommunication. Those 2015 policies had generated widespread backlash.
Like his all church presidents before him, Nelson not only oversees church operations, he is considered by church members to be a prophet who speaks with God. Nelson has spoken openly about this role, often citing the faith’s belief in “ongoing revelation” for the changes.
Nelson’s changes are part of an interrelated effort to help the religion build on “the rock of our salvation,” said Jeffrey R. Holland, member of the Quorum of the Twelve.