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The LDS Church's latest statements on homosexuality were not given over the pulpit at General Conference, in an article in the church's official publication, a pamphlet to be distributed to all bishops, a letter from the First Presidency or a press release.
Instead, they were quietly posted two weeks ago in the "newsroom" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Web site, www.lds.org, in the form of an interview between an anonymous public affairs official and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and Elder Lance Wickman, a member of the First Quorum of Seventy. The questions are wide-ranging and thorough; the answers complex and personal. The lengthy interview is, well, conversational. The two Mormon leaders - both lawyers - clearly represent the church's perspective but make no claims to divine or institutional authority. Oaks and Wickman share their views on what causes homosexuality (they don't know), whether gays choose their attractions (not likely), change therapies (they don't endorse any of them), whether Mormon gays should marry women ("doesn't usually solve the problem"), the distinction between civil unions and marriage for gays, the arguments connecting early Mormon polygamy and same-sex marriage and why the church endorsed a constitutional marriage amendment. When asked what prompted the interview, LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said this week that the format enabled Mormon leaders to address the issue in full context "without having their message diluted through the news media." The LDS Church is constantly looking at new media technologies to get its message out, Trotter said. "Use of the Internet in this way remains an option - although there are no immediate plans for similar interviews." After the church posted the Oaks/Wickman interview on Aug. 14, news of it raced around Mormon sites on the Web like a cyclone, churning up debate and discussion on dozens of blogs. Bycommonconsent.com logged 222 comments the first day, while millennialstar.org hit 446 comments in its initial discussion and another 48 on a second thread begun Thursday. The number and tone of the comments show how volatile the issue continues to be and how difficult it is to arrive at a consensus.
Richard Ferre, an LDS psychiatrist in Salt Lake City, hailed the Oaks/Wickman interview as a step forward on homosexuality.
"They put together a reasonable response to the questions that are on people's minds as an ongoing dialogue in trying to reach understanding," Ferre says. "It's not like they're pronouncing doctrine or speaking for the prophet or the church." This interview opens the door for more listening and dialogue on the issue, he says. "This is not meant to be the end statement." Rosalynde at millennialstar also liked "the emphasis on maintaining family and church relationships with gay men (no mention of gay women, interestingly); clear retreat from and repudiation of heterosexual marriage as a cure for homosexuality; clear admission that homosexual inclination is not chosen." But others were more critical.
Gary Watts, co-chair of Family Fellowship, a support group for Mormon gays, was disappointed by the pair's explanation of why homosexuality and same-gender marriage are important to the church.
"Elder Oaks chose to emphasize that it was important because church policy was being criticized and was receiving 'unrelenting pressure from advocates of that lifestyle to accept as normal what is not normal,' " says Watts , who lives in Provo. "I would have preferred to hear him say that it was important because so many of our good church families with homosexual children were hurting and were having a difficult time reconciling the reality of their lives with a church policy that, too often, seemed to divide, rather than unite their family members." He also objects to the idea that all homosexual behavior is sinful.
"I know so many gay people in committed relationships that I think are every bit as moral as any straight person's," Watts says. "That's the healthiest thing for gay people to do." Buckley Jeppson's reaction to the interview was even more harsh. It was, he says, "objectionable, insulting, untrue, and manipulative." Jeppson, of Washington, D.C., was troubled by Oaks' comments on civil unions, particularly because he and Mike Kessler were married in Toronto two years ago. "It was the closest we could come to showing our commitment to each other and to our belief in the importance of a family structure," he says. "I feel like this statement makes clear that my marriage should never be viewed as lawful, valid, or genuine."
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To read the interview, visit www.lds.org/newsroom/issues/answer/0,19491,6056-1-202-4-202,00.html