Mormon culture is changing.
On Sunday, October 19, the leadership of the Seattle North Stake (similar to a diocese) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a special service delivering a message of love, inclusiveness, and welcome to any Mormon who has felt harmed by or pushed out of the faith -- especially LGBT Mormons and their families.
Local leadership in Seattle put in place this year a theme based on Ezekiel 34:16, and set out to "seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and bind up that which was broken" within its boundaries. The outreach began with a direct mail letter, signed by the leadership of the Washington Park Ward, and mailed directly to over 900 inactive Mormons -- and included Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to many of the city's LGBT locals. The letter's message: Please come back.
The letter itself and portions of it made the rounds in the press and on social media -- creating quite a buzz both in the Mormon and the LGBT communities.
Contrary to some reports, the initiative driven by Seattle leadership does not sidestep official Church doctrine, which has not changed. Local leaders are given a great deal of flexibility to decide how best to serve their members. Church discipline for anyone (gay, straight or anywhere in between) who does not align with the Church's Law of Chastity is a decision left to local authority. And in Seattle, the focus is not on discipline -- but Christlike love and inclusion, and emphasizes God's second greatest commandment: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
In fact, the steps Seattle Mormon leaders are taking are in direct alignment with instruction given to Mormons when it comes to LGBT individuals. On the Church's official website on the topic, Elder R. Holland reminds us that, "As a Church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach."
This isn't the first time we've seen this happen inside local Mormon communities. Seattle is now the fourth city to publicly announce the move to throw the doors open to everyone who wishes to attend, following Beaverton, Oregon; Oakland, and San Francisco, California, where I served in a ward calling as my authentic self -- and was asked to help implement a similar plan.
For LGBT Mormons, that means we no longer have to wear the cloak of fear that often enshrouds us in our religious life, and we are free to be our authentic selves. And, as one of the talks delivered on Sunday so aptly puts it, "No community thrives if its members offer less than their authentic selves, or withhold their essential generosity and love."
This public move by the Seattle leadership is certainly meaningful to LGBT Mormons. But it's also meaningful to literally tens-of-thousands of traditional Mormons who've begun to think differently about their LGBT brothers and sisters, and who enthusiastically support this kind of cultural change.
I carefully watched the comments on social media this week from those who attended -- or were moved by -- Sunday's meeting. And while I could expound upon why this is of great importance to both LGBT and traditional Mormons (and the larger LGBT community as a whole), hearing the words of those affected does far more justice to this work than my thoughts as an observer could bestow.
•"It is these types of things that give me hope; real hope that change is happening, that hearts and minds are opening, and that there are people who are really making a difference and setting such a wonderful, compassionate example." - Traditional Mormon Mom
•"I felt like the talks were for me, a married lesbian, but also for every straight person in the congregation, too. I felt loved, just as I am. I would feel comfortable putting my 3 and 9-year-old children in primary and not worry that they would be made to feel ashamed of their family." - Lesbian Mormon Mom
•"It was wonderful to have a Mormon leader speak to me, my husband, and my children as if we were [equal to someone who is] straight -- and to have them recognize that in God's eyes, we are." - Gay Mormon Dad
•"I think today is the first time I've ever felt like the fact that I am a child of God was more important than who I date." - Gay Mormon
•"The overall message was simple and beautiful: whoever you are, you belong here, and this just as much your church as anyone else's. I met some amazing people who refuse to choose between living the gospel and living authentically. Best Sunday I've had in years." -Traditional Mormon Mom
•"I have been going through a significant faith journey for about two years now. Prop 8 was my first indicator that what I felt in my heart about reaching out in love and compassion like the Savior taught, differed from what the brethren of the church were preaching. I needed to know why there wasn't a place for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the Church. Today gave me hope." - Traditional Mormon Mom
•"This is the kind of Church culture Christ himself would establish. If only more congregations would follow suit; can you imagine the example it would set, and the change it could create in the hearts of members everywhere?" - Traditional Mormon Dad
•"I felt like I was on holy ground today as I sat among those who bravely stepped back into an LDS chapel after feeling so rejected in the past. The words spoken were just what I needed to hear. I'm a straight ally who felt squeezed out of the main body of the church, no longer accepted for my own struggles with certain doctrines, cultural traditions and my advocacy for those who are marginalized. I felt the pure love of Christ for me personally, for the first time in my life, through the words that were spoken. It was unconditional. It was the Savior's message. It was holy. I felt like I was coming home to my people, the way it should be. It was a glimmer of what Zion might be like." - Traditional Mormon Mom
•"All I have ever wanted is to come home. Now, I can." - Lesbian Mormon
An email from one woman described both the Mormon initiative and the simultaneous unfolding of news our Catholic fellows are considering responding differently to LGBT individuals as a "big win for Christianity." And perhaps she's right -- but I suspect all of this is really a big win for our Savior. After all, He's the one that reminded us to, "Love every one."
And in Seattle, Mormons are doing just that.